Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Dinosaurs Today

Since I was about six years old I have been fascinated with dinosaurs. Giant scaly beasts that could run threw dense jungle or arid desert on two legs attacking their prey with massive teeth the size of an adult human hand. Some dinosaurs would meander through different environments on four legs content with their safety because they were protected with plates of armor and weapons made of steel-hard bones and scales. Our earth was a fantasy world that we can only imagine now.

Then came the book Jurassic Park that spawned a new hope that it may someday be possible to resurrect dinosaurs by finding their DNA trapped, and preserved, in solidified amber. Of course it unknown to me when the book was released that DNA degrades very slowly but fast enough that dinosaur DNA would be nearly unusable after two and half million years, exactly the amount of time it took for humans to evolve and figure out how to use DNA. My hopes of someday having to fear leaving my house, or waiting at the bus stop, because a Tyrannosaurus might be lurking behind a nearby home ready to come rushing out and tear me apart were dashed.

Then, today, I read an article that sparked back into life all the hopes and dreams of my childhood: scientists have modified chicken DNA that encodes genes called catenins, or specifically in the chicken the talpid2 gene, and caused chickens to grow teeth similar to the type of teeth that alligators grow. The catenins are regulated by another fun gene called Sonic Hedgehog, which the scientists were looking at in relation to tooth growth when they found that it regulated the tepid2 gene in chickens. The teeth that grow in the chickens are fully functional making the chicken capable of tearing flesh and bone. Oooh, how awesome and scary!

What’s next? Well, the next step, in my opinion, is to cause scales to grow on these chickens rather than feathers, increase their bone density, increase their size, and finally, grow limbs with claws instead of wings. That would be my dream come true: a living dinosaur amongst us. Is this ethical? I don’t see anything wrong with it but I’m sure there are religious folks out there that believe we should leave nature to follow its own path, or not to meddle with God’s work. Of course those people should then also not allow themselves the benefit of modern medicine either because that would also be interfering with God’s intentions to give them disease.

Here is an easy to read article about the chicken with teeth: ScienceNow.

One more thing: at present I would totally love to have a gaurd-chicken with teeth to protect my valuables. There will be a "Beware of Chicken" sign on my door.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

It's Funny Because It's True

The whole world has gone hilarious on us. Here are three funny things going on in the world:

1. Millions of Muslims are pissed off over a cartoon depiction of their prophet Muhammad. Until now, I thought the only people upset over cartoons were over-protective mothers in rich white neighborhoods. So in response an Iranian newspaper held a contest to have cartoons drawn to make light of the Holocaust. Are they twelve years old, or just really immature? Now an Israeli newspaper has decided to show some humility and requested cartoons drawn by Jews to make fun of Jews, and I think it is a great idea. I only hope that some really good humor comes from this, as well as I hope the violent riots due to a comic pencil sketch ends.

2. Dick Cheney, a gun enthusiast that has always claimed that the correct training and education about guns makes them safe, accidentally shot his friend in the face with a shotgun. Hahahahaha! Oh my God that is classic irony, and when I heard the story I smiled a very big smile. Of course it is pretty terrible that Whittington got shot in the face, but he is alive still and doing well (excluding a minor heart attack suffered in the hospital because a metal pellet was lodged in his heart), so it’s okay to laugh right? Another hilarious aspect of this is that the press was all worked up in a frenzy about not getting the story sooner. Now if I was a reporter I might be a little upset that I didn’t land this little gem of a story myself but I mean, really, who cares whether we learned about this 24 hours after it happened? Still, I do think this administration is far too secretive about everything it does and probably because most of what it is trying to do would not be supported by the majority of Americans. Oh also, the bird he was hunting was a wingless pheasant that was released from the back of a truck. Comedic gold! I hope Dick Cheney is the next president that would give us at least four more years of hilarity.

3. President Bush has cut spending for Family Planning groups. Hilarious! Now we can all laugh really hard when we see hundreds more pregnant teens on Maury Povich. White trash jokes have always been some of my favorites and now we will have more material to work with since there will be many more dead-broke teens living in trailer homes with their kids under Bush’s plan. Even the UK, ie Tony Blair, that does almost whatever Bush wants, has decided to back Planned parenthood with millions of dollars because of how dumb they think President Bush’s policies toward abortion and female rights are. Here is a quick run down of some the hilarious jokes Bush has graciously volunteered for us: Selling off of National Forrest land to help pay for the unjust war in Iraq; destruction of the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge in order to get a few more barrels of oil; Education cuts – no child left behind, but all children left at the bottom I guess is the idea there; And, as if we had a huge surplus of money already, he’s gone and advocated further tax cuts. Man they should make Bush the next late night talk show host he is so full of good humor.

Monday, February 13, 2006

History of the Universe

Lesson 1: The Universe to Love

It all began in pure harmony; an infinite number of dimensions with an infinite amount of energy oscillating between them, all contained in an infinitely small amount of space. Then, due to the probabilistic nature of the movement of energy, the oscillations quivered in a slightly different way causing the waveform to cancel out, or destroy, some dimensions. Finite amounts of energy got trapped within the still existing dimensions causing them to expand or to collapse. With finite energy in a finite amount of space the forces of nature as we know them today started to cause interactions between the different pockets of energy. Soon particles were created and the universe continued to expand and cool down to such a degree that some of these particles started to stick to one another forming atoms. All the atoms formed a large hot cloud of gas that slowly reached a critical density collapsing in on itself forming the first stars completely made up of hydrogen and helium. Inside these stars was a reaction equivalent to the reaction in a hydrogen bomb, called fusion, which slams atomic nuclei together forming new atoms and releasing a lot of energy in the form of light and a few massive particles. These stars eventually burned up all of their fuel, and by doing so reduced their mass, and therefore their gravity, and they exploded. The explosion released all of these new atoms that had been created by fusion, which dispersed among the rest of the universe over billions of years and collided into each other forming new molecules. Soon new stars started forming and around them were a cloud of gas that had the new atoms and molecules within. These heavier atoms and molecules began to clump together as smaller less dense clumps of matter than the stars and they eventually coalesced into planets. Among a few of the new elements created were carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, and when combined in various patterns (with several other types of atoms also) these atoms created the molecules that now comprise life as we know it, these molecules are called organic molecules.

Life was quick in the making compared with the time line of the universe. As the earth cooled down water started to collect on the surface as liquid rather than just as a gas in the atmosphere. Many of the organic molecules got stuck to rocks in tide pools, especially molecules called nucleic acids that easily stuck to lime rock. Waves crashed on the shores and brought in more nucleic acids that bound strongly to the others on the rocks forming chains of these different nucleic acids. Eventually a chain formed that was capable of twisting and bending in such a way as to trap other nucleic acids very easily and link them to one another. Long strands of these started forming across the entire planet and then suddenly something miraculous happened: one of the randomly linked together sets of nucleic acids was capable of linking other nucleic acids together in almost the exact same order as itself. In other words, it could reproduce itself. After billions and billions of copies were made, many with slight mutations from the original (which then caused a massive multiplication of this new form), there was something that resembled life: a chain of nucleic acids that could reproduce itself trapped within the confines of a bubble of oil. Not only could it reproduce the chain of nucleic acids it also happened to collect more oil from its surroundings that helped maintain the bubble. As time wore on these became what we now know as bacteria.

As bacteria grew and changed over time, fighting for resources in different areas, new organisms started to develop from these founders. Due to the process of evolution, animals, plants, fungus, protozoans, and different types of bacteria formed and invaded almost all areas of the planet. The dinosaurs came and went. Saber toothed tigers, six ton sloths, and enormous birds, then dominated the planet, but most notably in the history of our planet humans also evolved.

The physical forces between energy in multi-dimensions form particles, those particles form molecules, those molecules link together to form life, but how then can the interaction of molecules of life explain human emotion? The brain is made up many cells called neurons. There are neurons throughout the body also that can take a stimulation and send a signal to the brain as to what that stimulation was. The eye is a good example, it has many specialized neurons in it that are called rods and cones that change form when light with enough energy hits it. When this happens it causes a cascade of events to unfold that end with an electrical signal being passed down the length of the neuron. When the electrical signal gets to the end of the neuron that neuron then emits millions small molecules, called neurotransmitters, that cause other neurons in the vicinity to send another electrical signal, eventually the signals end in different parts of the brain, and sometimes that part of the brain interprets the signal and sends a new one back out to the muscles throughout the rest of the body. Sometimes it takes several stimulations to activate the neuron to produce a signal. The more stimulation that the neuron gets the easier it becomes to then stimulate it again. This is why it takes around eight repetitions in order for the brain to commit something to long-term memory. To explain emotion and thought in general take for example a child at a young age who's brain may have committed the memory of a close relationship with the mother to long-term memory as being a good stimulation. This has allowed the brain to interpret close relationships with people as being a benefit for the person and therefore a good memory, and good memories are to be sought after. Of course there are many different ways in which having people other than the mother or father interact with the child, or even adult, can form lasting memories that the brain interprets as “to be sought after”. Once the object, or person, or sensation, etc. if found or achieved, the brain reinforces itself thus making it easier to signal these “feelings”. This is what is called an emotion, and, being that it is now Valentine’s Day, this is how we can explain the feeling of love.

Love it of hate it, this extremely basic introduction to the workings of life and the universe is what happens... Well, basically. I actually made up a lot of how the universe was created, and I made very poor generalizations of how life developed and especially how the brain works, but the point is clear: we are a miracle of happenstance. A chemical and physical reality that is capable of realizing itself and forming relations, emotions, and complex thought. Incredible.

Here is a little quote I found in a book on my shelf entitled, This Book Will Change Your Life:

There is 1 chance in 140 trillion that the Earth should exist.

There is 1 chance in 795 billion that life should have evolved on Earth.

There is 1 chance in 89 billion that life should have evolved into mankind.

There is 1 chance in 12 billion that mankind should have created the alphabet and thus civilization.

There is 1 chance in 6 billion that your parents should have ever met and got together.

There is 1 chance in 90 million that you should have been the lucky sperm that fertilized your mother’s egg.

Overall you’re pretty lucky to be here. Today remember that and show some cosmic humility.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Boston Up to Now

I have now been in Boston a grand total of three and a half months and I thought it was time to give people an update on my life so far. I do not like to discuss my personal life on this blog because I don’t like the idea of “keeping a journal”, and my personal issues are really not that interesting to anyone but myself and they do not spur discussion as this blog was set up to do so I will avoid those topics of my experience here in Boston.

First of all Boston is a very small city. One can walk across the entire city in about half an hour, in contrast to Seattle where walking across all of Seattle would take several hours. However there is a difference, in Massachusetts city borders are all very small. For instance, the city of Allston (where I live) is about the same distance from Boston as the Ballard area from downtown Seattle, and I believe most people would claim Allston is basically part of Boston. All in all the downtown area of Boston and downtown Seattle are about the same size as far as building size and density of buildings, but Seattle might be slightly larger.

This city is one of the oldest cities in the US and has a lot of history, such as Paul Revere, Boston Tea Party, etc. but I have actually not done much research into the historical value of the city unfortunately. However, because of the age of this city several attributes have made themselves apparent to me since living here: 1. The roads are horrendous. Road conditions are horrible; there are potholes everywhere, and barely any lines separating different lanes and constant construction to fix these things without any success. Those problems stem from the old brick and cobble stone roads that were laid down in the late 1600’s.
In Europe all roads lead to Rome, as the saying goes, but once in Rome it is impossible to find your way to anything. The same holds true for Boston. I-90 goes west to east all the way from Seattle to Boston hitting very little in-between, except Chicago but I refuse to acknowledge anything in Illinois because of their toll system. Once outside of the greater Boston area there is not much but small suburbs all the way up to Canada and all the way down to New York City. In the city itself all streets are one way and going in the wrong direction to be of any use. Most streets are named after Harvard; I have encountered Harvard Ave, Harvard St., Harvard Terrace, N. Harvard, and I'm sure there are plaenty of others. There is no possible way of finding where you want to be by car so I tend to take the T or just walk almost everywhere.

The weather in Boston is very nice, even though I have only been here for the winter months. I have seen a blizzard only once and people tell me that it was not much of a snowstorm, but I thought it was really fun. Mostly the days have just been very cold, temperatures hovering around 0 degrees, or 32 degrees for all you weird American types, since the day I arrived here and it has been clear skies for the most part as well. The clear blue sky is a big deal to me because the cloudy gray skies of Seattle tended to have a strong S.A.D effect on me.

The people in Boston have the stereotype of being assholes, hence the name “masshole”. However, I have found that only the men that grew up in this area fit that stereotype, and only a small fraction of them at that. The girls I have met have been extraordinarily nice to me and helpful for me adjusting to my new life here.
People around here like to drink. I like that. Although I do have to say my liver cannot compete with some of the drinkers I have been hanging out with around here and I am going to have to start takin’ ‘er easy, as the Dude would say.

My job is of top priority to me at the moment and lucky for me I actually really enjoy my work. I have found a way of reducing, and possibly eliminating, a certain type of brain tumor called glioblastoma multiforme. This is accomplished by injecting specific RNA sequences, otherwise known as the messenger for DNA, into the blood where they are then able to get to most cells in the body. I am also working on my own project of isolating autologous stem cells from the skin that are capable of differentiating into many different cell types that could be beneficial for myriad autoimmune diseases, or injuries. The former project may lead to a publication with yours truly as the first author and the latter project may lead to a patent with my name on it for Tufts University. Exciting!

If you have any suggestions for me about how to make my experience here in Boston a great one then please let me hear it. Or if you think I am an idiot/moron/fascist/pig headed jerk, as some of the girls that post comments here have hit upon, then let me know, because I love to discuss just about anything.