Tag Archives: dna

What Jim doesn’t know could fill a [INSERT REALLY BIG THING HERE]

Laura Helmuth pretty much nails it in her Slate piece on the auction of James Watson’s Nobel prize medal:

Watson…knows fuck all about history, human evolution, anthropology, sociology, psychology, or any rigorous study of intelligence or race. – Laura Helmuth

HT: Deborah Blum

“James Watson deserves to be shunned”

The phrase “must read” gets used too lightly. In this case, however, I must insist you read Adam Rutherford in The Guardian. Rutherford summarizes why we should respect the scientific discovery of James Watson, why we should shun the failed humanity of the man, and why this is far from a unique problem in the history of science.

Here’s our challenge: celebrate science when it is great, and scientists when they deserve it. And when they turn out to be awful bigots, let’s be honest about that too. It turns out that just like DNA, people are messy, complex and sometimes full of hideous errors. – Adam Rutherford

HT: Alok Jha

Science for the People: Troublesome Inheritance

sftpThis week, Science for the People is looking at the intersection of race, history and genetics in science writer Nicholas Wade’s 2014 book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History. DNA researcher Jennifer Raff and science journalist David Dobbs share their critiques of the claim that differences between genetically distinct “races” are responsible for global divergence in cultural and political structures. Blogger Scicurious walks us through the (delicious) basics of the scientific method with Cookie Science.

*Josh provides research help to Science for the People and is, therefore, completely biased.

Jargon will make time travel very confusing

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This was a gift from my sister and is a solid science fictiony quote – one that I’m quite happy to put on my wall1.

The Time Machine by HG Wells (1991 Bantam Classic Reissue from library of Josh Witten)

The Time Machine by HG Wells (1991 Bantam Classic Reissue from library of Josh Witten)

Being a fan of, but hardly an expert on HG Wells2 and being a fan of, but hardly an expert on the history of science, I had to wonder if this quote was actually from HG Wells’ The Time Machine, or was from one of the movie adaptations. As you will see, this is an easy question to answer. The trick is figuring out why you might want to ask the question in the first place.

HG Wells was brilliant and reasonably familiar with scientific research. To pen that line, he would also need to be a time traveler himself. Continue reading

The Eagle Pub and the BRCA2 cycle path

Despite its tiny size, Cambridge (UK) is full of science travel destinations. One of my personal favourites is The Eagle. This pub is the location where, in 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick first announced the helical structure of DNA. Their lab was right across the street, and when they solved the puzzle (after perusing Rosalind Franklin’s famous image) they went to the pub to tell everyone. Francis Crick announced that they’d “discovered the secret of life”.

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Two months later, they published the work in Nature, but the news was first announced right in this pub. Now, 50 years later, the helical structure of DNA has become iconic. You see it anywhere from scifi movies to biotech company logos.

IMG_0355Cambridge is particularly proud of its helix, and has even placed a statue of a DNA helix along a cycle path just outside of Addenbrookes hospital. If you’re on the right side of the train traveling from London to Cambridge, you can see it if you know where to look.

That helix structure marks the start of the BRCA2 cycle path: the cycle path along the train track is painted in stripes of four colours, according to the genetic sequence of BRCA2 – the gene which, when mutated, causes significantly increased risk of breast cancer. I wrote more about the cycle path here.

In a town that can’t get enough of DNA, it’s tempting to go along with the  biochemical geekery, and so after the 2011 SciBarCamb unconference a few of us posed in front of The Eagle pub with a model of two basepairs of DNA made out of balloons. Just another day celebrating DNA in Cambridge.

eagleDNA(Balloon DNA photo by Jim Caryl. Other photos by me.)

And don’t forget to check out our Have Science Will Travel map: