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Minimal Cell Modeled in Computer

“The basic design rules relating the regulation of cellular function to genomic structure is of broad interest,” begin three Cornell microbiologists writing in PNAS,1 and so they have turned their attention to the smallest theoretical living cell: A �minimal cell� is a hypothetical cell possessing the minimum functions required for sustained growth and reproduction in […]

Does Ethics Emerge From Genes Alone?

Gene Robinson wants to get us “beyond nature and nurture” in discussions of behavior.  Robinson, of the Department of Entomology and Neuroscience at the University of Illinois in Urbana, wrote an essay in the April 16 issue of Science1 that suggests it is not “either-or” but “both-and” – both genetics and the environment affect the […]

Fish Gene Gives Darwinists Hope

It doesn’t take much to excite an evolutionary biologist.  A little bit of microevolution that might be a stepping stone to macroevolution is all it takes.  This story almost reads like a Good News – Bad News joke.  The good news is that one gene that regulates the spines on one kind of fish has […]

Sea Genes Multiply

A potential paradigm-shifting discovery has been made in the doldrums of the Sargasso Sea: there are many more genes in plankton than expected.  Craig Venter’s Celera team sampled the genetic content of microbes off the Bermuda coast, and in 1500 liters of surface seawater, found 1.5 million new genes.  Falkowski and de Vargas, writing about […]

Cellular Cowboys: How the Cell Rounds Up Chromosomes Before Dividing

Two cancer researchers from UC San Diego describe mitosis (cell division) in the Mar. 4 issue of Nature.1  Pulling together the latest findings about this elaborate and important process, they begin by describing the puzzle that the cell needs to solve: At the beginning of mitosis, the process of cell division, chromosomes are organized randomly […]

We Don’t Know How We Know that Genes Make Minds

“If the mind can be explained from the workings of the brain, and the brain develops by direction from our genes,” Anthony Monaco (Oxford) writes, “then presumably the mind can be explained from our genetic make-up.  But how can only 30,000 genes make a brain with billions of neurons and encode the particular aspects of […]

How to Get a Genetic Code by Chance

The Feb. 17 issue of Current Biology1 has a Q&A magazine feature on the genetic code.  After dismissing some myths about it being universal, consisting of only 20 amino acids and obligated to only three codons (there are some minor exceptions to these mostly-true principles: see 04/30/2003), the authors tackle the big question: where did […]

Early Man Studies: Start Over

Anthropologist Leslea J. Hlusko (U. of Illinois) had some stern advice for her paleoanthropologist colleagues in PNAS1 recently.  Noting that “Competing interpretations of human origins and evolution have recently proliferated despite the accelerated pace of fossil discovery,” she thinks an approach is needed that integrates genetics and development with the search for bones.  She takes […]

“Utmost Precision” Found in DNA Repair Enzyme

The cell has many helper enzymes that can repair DNA damage.  One such enzyme, named MutY, has been described in the Feb. 12 issue of Nature.1  Reviewer Tomas Lindahl sets the stage: “Damaged DNA must be removed with the utmost precision, as mistakes are costly.  The structure of a repair enzyme bound to its substrate […]

Darwinian Phylogenists Do the Funky Chicken

Fredrik Ronquist is active in phylogenetic systematics, the art of drawing evolutionary trees from DNA comparisons.  And he admires Joseph Felsenstein, an “icon in the field.”  But when he reviewed Felsenstein’s new book, Inferring Phylogenies (Sinauer, 2004) in the Feb. 5 issue of Science,1 he had mixed feelings about the author’s biases and his choice […]

E-I-E-I-O in Old McDarwin’s Animal Farm

One would think that if all animals are related according to Darwin’s theory of common descent, this should be clearly evident in the genes.  It would also seem that the more genomes we sequence, the clearer the evolutionary pattern should be.  At least that’s how Raible and Arendt lay their foundation in a paper in […]

Does Microevolution Add Up?

Do numerous small changes add up to big ones, like Darwin thought?  In the Jan. 15 issue of Nature,1 New Zealand kiwi David Penny (Allan Wilson Center for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, Massey University) is hopeful that the new chimp genome will prove it so: The fundamental issue here is Darwin’s bold claim that “numerous, […]

Centromere Shows More Gems in “Junk DNA”

A biochemist at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a colleague sequenced a hard-to-sequence part of the rice genome, the centromere, and found four genes in it.  Previously, it was thought to be a vast wasteland of repetitive, non-coding DNA.  The scientist, Jiming Jiang, thinks his work provides a “window to evolution” of the centromere, according to […]

How Do Plants Know When to Bloom?

Scientists like to use big words to impress the rest of us, so they have a term for how a plant decides when to bloom: vernalization.  But making up a word for a phenomenon is not the same as explaining it.     Everybody observes that plants seem to just “know” that spring is here, […]

How Long Can DNA Survive?

An international team of scientists takes issue with recent claims that ancient DNA has been found in ice, amber, salt or rock many millions of years old (see 05/23/2002 entry, for instance).  They think such cases are due to contamination and have not been independently replicated.  They gathered samples in Siberian and Antarctic permafrost under […]
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