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DNA Primer (part 1)

If you already know something DNA and molecular biology techniques, I’m sure that you too will be laughing your knockers off about the pun in this post’s title. You see? An understanding of science really does make the world a brighter place!

However, if you’re one of the normal people, you almost certainly won’t get the joke. And this makes me sad. I want this blog to appeal to people across the spectrum. So occassionally I’m going to write about a broad topic that is crucial to science, and try and de-mystify it. Today I want to tackle some of the basics of DNA. It’s a big topic, so I will do this over a couple of posts I think.

We are living in a world where it is becoming increasingly important to have some understanding of DNA. There seems to be a more or less endless stream of stories in the papers talking about scientists finding the gene for this and that. In terms of the challenges that the increasing global population poses to sustainable food production, we’re going to have to start facing the reality of more and more GM foods. You don’t have to be a molecular biologist to be in a position where some understanding of genetics is necessary and/or assumed.

Continue reading ‘DNA Primer (part 1)’

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Preach the Controversy

God, eh? What’s that all about then? In this post I want to talk about the uneasy relationship between science and religion in the modern world.

I don’t think that science and religion have ever made particularly cosy bed fellows, and I doubt they ever will. But in many ways I think that this could, and should, be a non-issue. Just to lay my cards on the table, I’d consider myself a fairly staunch atheist. It would, quite literally, require a miracle to turn me into a theist. Now, contrary to what you might be expecting, I am not actually going to launch into an anti-religious screed. Probably.

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This isn’t right. This isn’t even wrong.

The title of this post is a quote from Wolfgang Pauli. It was the ultimate scientific smackdown in response to a terrible paper, which was vague and unfalsifiable.

Based only on Pauli’s quote, let’s then take these 3 statements:

A) Pauli was not supportive of the paper

B) Pauli was supportive of the paper

C) Pauli’s favourite Care Bear would have been TenderHeart Bear, had he not died in 1958.

Of course, A) is right B) is wrong and C) is not even wrong. Essentially, C) isn’t wrong but it certainly isn’t right. It is a disconnected supposition based on… well, nothing. We have no evidence to even begin to test the idea that Pauli would have loved TenderHeart Bear.

Continue reading ‘This isn’t right. This isn’t even wrong.’

Express Your Contempt

Right. The Daily Express. You know, that suppositry that thinks it’s a newspaper? Well, today it carries the headline “ASPIRIN STOPS BOWEL CANCER“. Apparently Princess Diana was unavailable for comment.

Whatever about bowel cancer, I can always spot the work of an arsehole.

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NICE attitude, jerk.

I’m sure you will have seen the furore recently over Avastin. To summarise, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE, and yes it irritates me that they left the H out. If they’d rearranged it they could have at least had NICHE) have ruled out funding the drug on the NHS, on the grounds of cost effectiveness. The media jumped all over this and NICE have been subjected to another PR whipping as a result.

Cancer is, of course, an emotive subject and of endless public interest. So stories like this get traction pretty easily. Generally, the media reported it by saying that Avastin is shown (incidentally, the article that links to made me punch my desk) to prolong life in colorectal cancer, but the meanies at NICE were keeping the purse closed. No sweeties for you.

Head of NICE

A NICE decision-maker steps out for a sandwich during the Avastin meeting. Source: the whole media.

Continue reading ‘NICE attitude, jerk.’

Symphony of Science

You may have seen some of these. And of course, I did not create these. However, I love this series of videos. People have a misconception that scientific study somehow diminishes the awe that you should feel when you think about the world in which we live. Well, these videos completely sum up why I think this argument is wrong.

When you attempt to truly appreciate the complexity and intricacy of the universe as it is, this doesn’t have to be a dry thought exercise. Nothing stands alone. Everything is intricately related. And this, to my mind, is absolutely breathtaking.

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Gene Genie – Careful What You Wish For

The last 60 years or so have been splendid for those of us interested in genetics. It’s striking to think that it wasn’t really until 1952 that we came to universally agree that DNA was the heritable material rather than protein. This is only a year before the famous structure of the DNA double helix was uncovered. I would venture that almost everybody with any amount of post-infant-school education would be able to state that we inherit things from our parents via DNA. I would then go double or nothing that they could at least identify a picture of DNA.

Ooooh, look at those curves. Yeah!

DNA: This macro-molecule is why you're as ugly as both your parents , combined. Fact.

Continue reading ‘Gene Genie – Careful What You Wish For’


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