Gene Logic: Finding your (micro)Identity

The secret to success in life is to find your identity, particularly if you are a cell. Achieving and holding an identity is the prime concern of life at its most fundamental, cellular level; it is the key to engaging in behavior which best meets the challenges and demands of the molecular thicket that is the environment of the cell. Life can downright bewildering on the micron level. An identity makes this world navigable. Identity determines how a cell looks, what it eats, and the company it keeps. It specifies what environmental signals can be received, and what responses those signals elicit. An E. coli bacterium metabolizing a favorite monosaccharide in your gut, a yeast cell looking to hook up with one of the opposite gender, a nerve cell in your brain primed for an electric response, that light-detecting rod cell in your retina, the myocyte harboring a molecular power train in your bicep, and a cancer cell gone rogue: each of these has at its core an identity that dictates its behavior.
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Going with Your Gut

The bacteria in your gut (known as the microbiota) are the new cool. And, by cool, I mean the bogeyman for everything that is wrong with you. That is not to say they aren’t very, very important; but the science exploring the role of the complex colonies of microbes residing inside your gut[1] and comprising ten times as many cells as in your actual body[2] is still developing and enormously complex.

According to a new study by Heijtz et al. in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the gut microbiota also affects neural development in mice[3]. Continue reading “Going with Your Gut”

Non-coding DNA function… surprising?

The existence of functional, non-protein-coding DNA is all too frequently portrayed as a great surprise uncovered by genome sequencing projects, both in large media outlets and in scientific publications that should have better quality control in place.

Eric Lander, writing a Human Genome Project 10th anniversary retrospective in Nature, explains the real surprise about non-coding DNA that was revealed by big omics projects.

Despite ravings about the newly identified mysteries of the ‘dark genome’, it remains a fact that functional, non-protein-coding DNA has been known for more than half a century, well before such interesting things as micro RNAs, ribozymes, and long ncRNA were discovered. The diversity of functional (and dubiously functional) RNAs has been genuinely interesting, but, in my humble opinion, not nearly as surprising as the discovery made about the relatively small slice of the human genome that shows strong evolutionary conservation (and is therefore most likely to be functional). Lander writes:
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Chwarae Teg neu Budr

The big controversy from the weekend, amongst rugbyphiles[1], was about Jonathan Davies (center for Wales) tripping Chris Ashton (wing for England) in their recent Six Nations[2] match. Tripping is illegal in Rugby (but not in Glastonbury[3]) and considered quite dangerous, leading fans to wonder/worry whether Davies would be disciplined for the incident[4], seen here:

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