In praise of D-III hoops

February 28, 2009

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It’s been a heart-rending week at The College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio.  Far-removed from the glitz and glamor of big-time D-I basketball, a story as compelling as you’ll get at Rupp Arena, MSG, or anywhere else.

Follow these links for a weepy moment or two.

A tough way to go into the league tournament.

Before beating Kenyon (sorry, Hoppe, y’all had no chance) 89-71.

Tonight, Wooster gutted out a 84-72 win over Wabash to cap the emotional week, and earn a berth in the NCAA Division III tournament..

If we’re (that would be Heather ‘n me) lucky, Wooster gets sent to a close-by locale next weekend for their NCAA D-III tournament opener.

Go Scots!

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On the utility of evolution in experimental biology and medicine

February 28, 2009

A recurring theme amongst ID antievolutionists holds that evolution really doesn’t contribute useful directions or concepts in the realm of biology or medicine. Philip Skell regurgitates the theme in a recent commentary in Forbes magazine:

“Examining the major advances in biological knowledge, one fails to find any real connection between biological history and the experimental designs that have produced today’s cornucopia of knowledge of how the great variety of living organisms perform their functions. It is our knowledge of how these organisms actually operate, not speculations about how they may have arisen millions of years ago, that is essential to doctors, veterinarians, farmers and other practitioners of biological science.”

And later:

“The essence of the theory of evolution is the hypothesis that historical diversity is the consequence of natural selection acting on variations. Regardless of the verity it holds for explaining biohistory, it offers no help to the experimenter–who is concerned, for example, with the goal of finding or synthesizing a new antibiotic, or how it can disable a disease-producing organism, what dosages are required and which individuals will not tolerate it. Studying biohistory is, at best, an entertaining distraction from the goals of a working biologist.”

The blogosphere (and probably print media) are replete with summaries and specific cases that show Skell’s assertions to be a crock. This essay summarizes one such example. I have chosen this one because it refutes, specifically, the claim that an understanding of the evolutionary history of an organism “offers no help to the experimenter–who is concerned, for example, with the goal of finding or synthesizing a new antibiotic, or how it can disable a disease-producing organism”. It also ties Skell’s uninformed comments in with another subject that causes ID antievolutionists much consternation – the origins and evolution of organelles.

Read the rest of this entry »


What we’re talking about

February 26, 2009

A recent paper from James Manley’s lab details a proteomic analysis of the polyadenylation complex.

In this study, the polyadenylation complex was purified using an affinity technique, attaching a functional polyadenylation signal to a series of MS2 coat protein binding sites (of course, all within the context of an RNA), incubating this RNA with Hela cell extracts, and purifying the RNA using a maltose binding protein-MS2 coat protein fusion. The protein components of the complex were characterized using the so-called Multidimensional Protein Identification Technology (MudPIT). In addition to the usual players* (CPSF, CstF, CFIm) were found proteins suggestive of links with transcription, splicing, and DNA repair. Curiously, the sole poly(A) polymerase found was not the canonical enzyme but an isoform first identified as an enzyme that adenylates the RNA present in the so-called Signal Recognition Particle (SRP). Moreover, readily detectable was a testis-specific CstF64 variant (CstF64-tau) as well as the canonical 64 kD subunit of CstF. CFIIm was largely absent. Read the rest of this entry »


First they stole our coach …

February 23, 2009

… and now this.

“It used to be that 678 nuns, all School Sisters of Notre Dame to be specific, noted for their dedication to their creator first and education second, used to speak with some levity about their impending deaths.

“When we die,” they’d say, “our souls go straight to God, our brains to the University of Kentucky.”

As of late last year, their brains are going elsewhere. The Nun Study, the nation’s most famous investigation into Alzheimer’s disease, has moved back to the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus, where it began, since study originator and UK researcher David Snowdon has decided to retire.”

Well, actually, no one is stealing anyone’s brains or research.  This is but an orderly progression or transition, and is being done at the request of the nuns’ order:

“The University of Kentucky tried hard to retain the brain and tissue banks, the writings and archive records when Snowdon decided that he would apply for no more National Institutes of Health grants for his work.

But, ultimately, says UK vice president for research James W. Tracy, “the living sisters have control over the collection. The mother house of their order is in Minnesota and the work was begun there. They are closer to the collection there.””

But still, I mean, first Tubby, and now the Nun Study.  It seems as if MN has it in for KY?

This study was (is) pretty influential in helping us understand Alzheimer’s disease:

“Dr. William R. Markesbery, director of both the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging and the Alzheimer Disease Center, says the Nun Study has so far yielded two things of great consequence.

First, “we’ve learned that if you have the disease and superimposed stroke, you go downhill faster. Second, if you have low linguistic ability early in life … you are more likely to develop the disease later in life.””

For more on The Nun Study, visit this site.


My response

February 22, 2009

There’s been a bit of a kerfluffle about a suggestion (challenge) made by a Discovery Institute associate to a professor of biology at the University of Vermont.  The first paragraph:

“Dear Professor Gotelli,

I saw your op-ed in the Burlington Free Press and appreciated your support of free speech at UVM. In light of that, I wonder if you would be open to finding a way to provide a campus forum for a debate about evolutionary science and intelligent design. The Discovery Institute, where I work, has a local sponsor in Burlington who is enthusiastic to find a way to make this happen. But we need a partner on campus. If not the biology department, then perhaps you can suggest an alternative.”

There have been a variety of “responses” to this challenge floating around the blogosphere.  Gotelli himself responded thusly: Read the rest of this entry »


More strangeness …

February 22, 2009

Awhile ago, I discussed a flurry of papers in Science that showed some curious aspects of transcription and promoters.  It seems as if every passing day brings a new report that pertains to the phenomenon.  A recent issue of Nature brings us two papers, back to back, that are relevant.  The bottom line is that bidirectional transcription is a widespread phenomenon, at least in yeast.  Moreover, this phenomenon is responsible, not just for divergent transcription of mRNA-encoding genes, but also for the production of so-called Cryptic Unstable Transcripts and other uncharacterized RNAs.  The abstracts and some brief commentary are beneath the fold. Read the rest of this entry »