Thursday, November 13, 2008

Count your Great-Great Grandparents

How many great-great grandparents did you have? If the answer is less than 16 then there must have been some inbreeding. Don't worry- an Icelandic study has found that 3rd cousin marriages are the most fecund! (although the actual reasons behind this are hotly disputed).

In any case, we are all inbred- if we weren't we'd all have more ancestors than have ever lived on the planet. I got to thinking about this after listening to iTunes U Berkeley History 4A (again) on the end of the Roman republic- specifically regarding Cleopatra (VII) - empresss of Egypt.

Although the Ptolemaic dynasty were Greek ( descendents of one of Alex-the-Great's generals) - they continued the Egyptian tradition of inbreeding. Cleo herself only had 6 great-great-grandparents ... and most of these were related! Reminds me of the hysterical "30 Rock" episode with Prince Gerhard Messerschmidt Rammstein von Haupt - the genetically deformed Habsburg prince who falls in love with Jenna. I guess the character was based on the last Habsburg king of Spain: the mentally and physically disabled Charles II.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The New Genetics

Another great article by the always-brilliant Carl Zimmer on migrating exons, HERV's, epigenetics - and 'non-coding DNA'.

Fascinating that somebody just made up the word 'gene' ... just as somebody else made up (co-opted) the work "quark". I guess it makes sense - these two concepts are so revolutionary that they needed new words created for them. What will be the neologism that will define our current networked era? Probably "Spam".

Monday, November 10, 2008

No Need for Religion to be Religious

Probability waves- interacting and becoming particles, held together by nuclear glue, orbiting electrons, atoms and molecules, DNA unwinding, transcribing, proteins made on a ribosomal anvil, pushing out into the cytoplasm, nerves transmitting, thoughts, moving fingers made of bone, typing sentences made of language. Love, children, happiness, music. All this from a single cell- divided again and again- folded, kneaded and then pruned. Grown in my mother. The recipe now 14 billion years old. At midnight- staring out with monkey eyes at a starry sky - each point from a different age, a billion neutrinos silently streaming up from the sun through my feet. Imagining i'm pulling on the universe just as it is pulling on me.