Posts Tagged ‘science’

(The Not So) Central Dogma of Molecular Biology

Original Diagram (circa 1958). Nature 226: 1198 (1970).

The Central Dogma was coined by Francis Crick in the late 1950s as the following:

The central dogma of molecular biology deals with the detailed residue-by-residue transfer of sequential information. It states that information cannot be transferred back from protein to either protein or nucleic acid.

Hence, the end process, which is protein production can never be reversed and always originates from the DNA sequence. There have been many analogies that sought to describe this concept in simpler terms. The famous house example is just one of many. In this example the instructions are the DNA, the copies are the RNA and the end products, which is the house, are the proteins. The information flow originates from the DNA to the protein, with the RNA being the intermediary. These products are what makes us who we are- at least physically. Some examples of this are our eye color, skin tone, and the size of our bodies. This is a very common analogy that is sometimes used to describe how our specific traits and characteristics are generated from tiny regions and fragments of DNA. Each step in the process is important and any mistake and/or error may result in cell death, or more dire consequences. Essentially, if given a string of DNA, we can predict the proteins that would be produced.

This is traditionally taught in modern textbooks and courses. However, as we build upon our knowledge through research and discovery, we find that it is not  so simple. There are numerous exceptions that were found in the past as well as presently. The more one reads the latest articles, publications and journal entries the more one doubts this molecular biology paradigm. Nonetheless, it is still a very general and important concept to grasp as it illustrates a fundamental concept.

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15

06 2011

Citizen Science: When Science becomes a Civil Duty

The notion that science is an abstract discipline—one that is only accessible to the few elite that are professional or trained—is slowly fading away with the expansion of citizen science. As new technologies are being used as revolutionary tools for rapid data analysis, gateways for volunteers with no formal training to become a part of the professional field have opened up.

According to Wikipedia

Citizen Science is a “term used for projects or [an] ongoing program of scientific work in which individual volunteers or networks of volunteers, many of whom may have no specific scientific training, perform or manage research-related tasks such as observation, measurement, or computation”.

In short, Citizen Science can be considered a layperson’s observations and research in a scientific endeavor that is incorporated into a larger study answering and solving a particular issue or a set of questions. Furthermore, studies are not confined to a particular sub-field in science, but may be applied to a broader spectrum of different fields ranging from genetics to physics. [1]

Though there is a modern form of Citizen Science that has expanded in the past few decades, it has origins in the past. Science as a profession is a relatively new idea. Centuries ago most scientists, including Benjamin Franklin and Charles Darwin made their living in other professions, but were still able to contribute to science tremendously. Historically, most of the contributions towards the field were through some form of citizen science. It was not until the late 19th century that science became a paid profession. Nonetheless, employment did not eliminate or disengage citizen scientists— especially in fields where skills in observation can be more important than expensive equipment like archeology and ecology.

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03

06 2011

Is Life Possible?

Cell Life Cycle

Is life possible? At first glance, it certainly does not seem so, at least on a thermodynamic and molecular level. Our skin cells are replaced every six to eight weeks. Every atom in our body is replaced every year by other atoms that were once created billions of years ago, and light years away. So, in what sense are we the same person from year to year? Definitely not in the physical sense. Nonetheless, we consider ourselves alive, but in what sense do we actually exist? In what sense are we “alive?” Our genetic makeup, though thermodynamically fragile is dynamically repaired and transmits fidelity, but not perfect fidelity. Imperfections arise from time to time usually in the form of a mutation. Without these mutations evolution could not proceed and take its course. Hence, these same entropic forces that threaten to destabilize our very existence and form of life, simultaneously allow us to sustain, maintain and evolve life to higher levels. How and why is this possible? [1]

Food for thought.
[1] Plotkin, Joshua. Short Talk. University of Pennsylvania: Arts and Sciences. Philadelphia, Pa. 19 April 2009.
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22

02 2011

Neurotheology: Bridging the Divide between Science and Faith

Personal accounts and anecdotes of spiritual experiences have become topics of fascination and interest for many years now. Many people describe such events as profound “experiences” or “feelings” that are immeasurable. Some argue these experiences are just concoctions or infatuations, while others contend that they are real depending on their personal or religious beliefs. Now, with the advent of state of the art technology, scientists are able to quantify spirituality.

Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist professor and author at the University of Pennsylvania, is currently conducting studies that track how the human brain processes religion and spirituality. It’s all part of new field called neurotheology, which explores the relationship between the brain and religious experience. According to a recent featured story, Newberg has developed a way to measure the differences of brain activity and imagery during a spiritual experience.  He scanned the brains of praying nuns, chanting Sikhs and meditating Buddhists.

“We evaluate what’s happening in people’s brains when they are in a deep spiritual practice like meditation or prayer,” Newberg says.

He and his team then compare that information with the same brains in a state of rest.

“This has really given us a remarkable window into what it means for people to be religious or spiritual or to do these kinds of practices.”

His most recent work, Principles of Neurotheology, tries to lay the groundwork for a new kind of scientific and theological dialogue. Read the rest of this entry →

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07

01 2011