My Ada – #findingada

Image courtesy of South Carolina Governor's School for Science & Mathematics
Image courtesy of South Carolina Governor’s School for Science & Mathematics

As she is every Ada Lovelace Day, my “Ada” is Jenn Taylor. She doesn’t just talk about inspiring students to become scientists (in their approach to life or professionally), she does it. Every. Single. Day.

Here she is with her Advanced Genetics class. At the request of students (inspired by her college-credit introductory biology classes), Jenn created a college-level Advanced Genetics course at the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science & Mathematics. The material is challenging (I’ve seen the problem sets); but the students rise to the challenge, especially when they are given the confidence that they can handle it and the support when they need a little boost.

I also get to see her the time and effort she puts into recommendation letters, using her reputation and track record to makes sure students have all the opportunity they can handle when they leave her classroom.

Everyday is Ada Lovelace Day in my house.

We still don’t know why children resemble their parents

AmericanGothicBack in May, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch held a mother-daughter look alike contest. In their write-up of the results, they turned to a geneticist, Barak Cohen, for some expert commentary on why daughters look like their mothers:

We asked Dr. Barak Cohen, professor of genetics at Washington University Medical School, to explain this phenomenon.

“They are just the ones, who in a sense of the word, won the genetic lottery,” he said. In these cases, most of the mother’s genes are dominant.

(Barak tells me this quote was the outcome of a 30 minute conversation.)

The real truth is, we still don’t understand why children look like their parents, or rather, we don’t understand how DNA builds complex traits. Over at Pacific Standard this week, I discuss the case of the missing heritability and recent evidence that genetic variants with small effects might be a big deal. Go check it out. (And please don’t come back and talk to me about epigenetics.)*

A few more (largely personal) thoughts on genetic variation below the fold: Continue reading “We still don’t know why children resemble their parents”

Aristotle wrestling with the concept of haploid gametes & diploid organisms

He takes on the problems of Pangenesis to boot, 2,100 years before Darwin adopted it as his theory of heredity.

On the Generation of Animals, 722b:

Again, if the semen come from all parts of both parents alike, the result is two animals, for the offspring will have all the parts of both. Wherefore Empedocles seems to say what agrees pretty well with this view (if we are to adopt it), to a certain extent at any rate, but to be wrong if we think otherwise. What he says agrees with it when he declares that there is a sort of tally in the male and female, and that the whole offspring does not come from either, ‘but sundered in the fashion of limbs, some in man’s…’ For why does not the female generate from herself if the semen comes from all parts alike and she has a receptacle ready in the uterus? But, it seems, either it does not come from all the parts, or if it does it is in the way Empedocles says, not the same parts coming from each parent, which is why they need intercourse with each other.

Yet this is impossible…

– Translation by Arthur Platt, from The Basic Works of Aristotle, Richard McKeon, ed., Modern Library (1941).

Peer reviewers rejected Fisher’s paper that defined variance

The rejection of R.A. Fisher’s groundbreaking paper defining variance seems to be one of the bigger mistakes of peer review:

Fisher completed his paper on Mendelism and biometry by June 1916 and submitted the paper to the Royal Society of London for publication. The referees suggested it be withdrawn. He subsequently submitted the paper to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which with his financial assistance published it on 1 October 1918 under the title “The Correlation between Relatives on the Supposition of Mendelian Inheritance.”

The Origins of Theoretical Population Genetics, William Provine (1971), p. 144

This paper has 2439 citations according to Google (which sounds extremely low), as well as its own Wikipedia page. I’d call that a success.

In addition to its importance in statistics, the paper was a key landmark in the synthesis of genetics, evolution, and biometry.

“Take a Chance on Me”, only for suckers that can’t do a Punnett Square

Physicist Sara Callori uses Punnett squares to try to figure out who Sophie’s father really is in Abba’s Mamma Mia?.

One of the interesting implications of her approach is that our expectations would changes with each new casting of the musical.


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