Saturday, March 21, 2009

Biology Blast: Epigenetics in the News and Can your Hair Really Turn From Grey to Brown?

When I was studying biology in university, we were taught that we had one set of genes that determined everything from hair colour to which thumb naturally folds over the other when our hands clasp. You had one book of instructions. That was it.

Of course, we knew that obviously you could control (to a degree) the way your body kept in shape, or how it aged. You just needed to watch your diet and get enough exercise.

But last week when my friend, who suffers some premature greying, told me his grey hair "was turning brown again," I didn't believe him. Maybe that's changed too.

In lectures, we were taught that there were genes that didn't express themselves, like when someone is a "carrier" of a gene, but doesn't necessarily go on to develop breast cancer, for example. Still, we understood, that when two recessive genes were matched up from both parents, an offspring could express the trait of which neither of their "carrier" parents did. Sometimes this was dangerous, other times, it merely resulted in blue eyes.

Now it seems the whole study of genetics and DNA has had a revolution! I watched a BBC documentary which featured some geneticists who were studying the possibility of something outside of genetics affecting the way genetics themselves were operating. However, it was just a theory at that point. It proposed that we shouldn't only be talking about the set of instructions our bodies operate by, but which of those instructions are operating when, and how.

This is the relatively new (unless I'm the last to catch on) study of 'Epigenetics', best described as a set of "switches" in our genes that are either turned "on" or "off". We already know that specific deletions of genetic material can result in very different syndromes depending on whether the carrier is a man or a woman, now it seems as if a gene does one thing in one man and absolutely nothing in another. So genetics can't be explained by the genome alone. There's now the all epic epigenome.

I realized that scientists have now adopted epigenetics and are finding more applications for its study. Dr. William King was awarded researcher of the Month by the Canadian Cancer Society this March, for finding links between methylation, a DNA function which regulation the division of cells, and the possibility of detecting high risk patients, before they even develop colorectal cancer.
Read Article

Epigenetics has both exciting and chilling results that can be drawn as we learn more about it. With genetics, our thinking was that we could do whatever we wanted to to our bodies, and while that might affect our own health, it wouldn't have any affect on our children's health, or their children's. They would inherit the same chance of suffering from any various disease, it was up to them to protect themselves from the environment. But now, epigenetics has suggested that things like stress may have an affect on the way even our children's genes might be operating.

The preservatives, amount of exercise we get, the computers, cell phones, cigarettes and machinery we're exposing ourselves to day in and day out may not mutate our genetics today, but what if they have a sort of accumulation snowball affect? Perhaps environmental factors could have effects on our epigenetics, so that chemicals we're dispensing, polluting and eating today, affect the way future generations bodies work. Either way, the course of our evolution depends on whether or not we find out what exactly epigenetics is and how it works, and how best we can work, so that we don't destroy human epigenome, so that we can preserve life.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bitter Green, Sweet Spring!

"Bitter Green, they call her, walking in the sun."...Because it will be the first day of spring this Friday and I can't wait for more sun! Because I will probably be singing this Tony Rice song at karaoke tonight. It reminds me of driving around with my dad in his pickup truck when I was a kid, listening to the "oldies but the goodies".

Another one of my favorite pre-summer songs is "First Day of Spring" by Gandharvas.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Who Watches the Watchmen?

I will be! I've been anticipating this movie for years, ever since reading Alan Moore and Frank Gibbon's The Watchmen and it is finally here, as of today! There were many trials and tribulations involved in bringing this graphic novel to the screen, scuffles over ownership etc. In the end, the director of 300 (Zack Snyder) was able to make the movie.

Since the date of release kept getting set back, I re-read the novel in excited anticipation. Because I don't like large crowds of screaming teenagers, I won't be going tonight, opening night. But you can bet your secret superhero suit I'll be there next week!


Monday, March 02, 2009

What Katie Perry Can Teach Us About Poetry

Do you ever get sick of songs you have heard a million times? Of course you do! But Katie Perry's song 'I Kissed a Girl' probably tops it for this past year (or was it 2007's?) song that everyone can love to hate (or secretly just love).

There is still yet another way to beat a dead horse even deader, and that's to try an innovative exercise, employing the song. An exercise to rework our minds out of the most grueling overplayed (or is that just my fault for still having it as my ringtone?) brain-washing song's control over our psyche's. Bring it down from the inside; like a Trojan Horse.

This is an exercise you could really do with any song, whether it be Otis, Regina or Winehouse. But the goal of the exercise is to take a song and write alternate lyrics, while maintaining somewhat the same form and rhythmic flow.

The following may not a perfect picture of greatness, but I think I might have somewhat achieved the goal. I'll warn you it's a little stream-of-consciousness and as such, doesn't really make any sense at all, but here goes:

I kissed a girl and she liked it
I like the weave of her homemade plastic
I kissed a girl She's Earp, Wyatt
Her gunshot lips laid me in the casket.

And I reel so long and she falls so right
I think I might get dressed up tonight

I kissed a girl just to quiet
the longing urge I've felt to not deny it

I don't even know where I live
I've got amnesia
I wore my pants all inside out
well, whatever

don't dare me to
don't dare me not
I think that's ten cents I've got

I kissed a girl just to fly it
don't you tell me that you've never tried it

Yes! Don't tell me that you've never tried it! It's fun making up alternate song lyrics! That's probably how I made it through so many mindless part time jobs in the past, because I entertained myself. I invite you to add on, write alternate lyrics for songs we might know. See if we can guess which ones they are!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Thank God for Black Adder

Forgoing cable TV during these cold months, I have strived to get my entertainment where I can get it: on DVD or the internet. Convenient for me, I live just across from a public library whose free movie supply has yet to be exhausted. Although I'm familiar with Rowan Atkinson from Mr. Bean, Black Adder is a cult comedy that somehow slipped my notice...until now. I've blazed through and rewatched episodes from season one and two all last week.

The costumes are great, the characters witty and the plot about a scheming royal makes for a great series that seemingly never ends. The Black Adder is like the Coyote from Roadrunner, in that he has plan after plan to do his enemies in. The only consistent result is that he always fails.

No other theme song pumps me up as this one:

The sound of hoofbeats cross the glade,
Good folk, lock up your son and daughter,
Beware the deadly flashing blade,
Unless, you want to end up shorter,

Black Adder!
Black Adder!
He rides a pitch-black steed,
Black Adder!
Black Adder!
He's very bad indeed,

Black, his gloves of finest mole,
Black, his codpiece made of metal,
His horse is blacker than his vole,
His pot is blacker than his kettle,

Black Adder!
Black Adder!
With many a cunning plan,
Black Adder!
Black Adder!
You horrid little man!

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