Genetic Strength in Numbers

On the Weizmann Wave, researchers have made a discovery surrounding exons—”bits of genetic code that are snipped out of the sequence and spliced together to make the protein instruction list.” When a cell needs to make a protein, it pulls exons out of pre-messenger RNA and stitches them together to form messenger RNA. Alternating sequences called introns are left out. By tracking the unused introns, researchers observed that “in some cases, pre-mRNA production shot straight up – to ten times or more than that of the mRNA that followed.” They call this “production overshoot,” for when “the cell needs a rush job on the manufacture of certain proteins.” On Pharyngula, PZ Myers tackles the phylogeny of modern primates. Although chimpanzees are our closest living relatives, 30% of the newly-sequenced gorilla genome is closer than chimp to human. This is the result of Independent Lineage Sorting, which Myers calls an expected outcome of evolution, not an obstacle to its acceptance. Myers says “The only way you would fail to see ILS is if every genetic difference between two species emerged simultaneously, in lockstep, in one grand swoop.” Like mRNA production, speciation in practice is a lot more messy.

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How We Get Along

i-5f262b906f9a4df69427ce47ab6e161d-sharebuzz.jpgOn The Primate Diaries, Eric Michael Johnson writes “not acting our age may be the very reason why we’re so successful as a species.” Like the bonobo which can be seen unlocking the cage of an unrelated individual just to share food, humans may retain juvenile characteristics that help us to “cooperate and share with others.” But while sharing food is laudable, telling the world how drunk you got last night can be a bit less noble. Jonah Lehrer on The Frontal Cortex calls Facebook “a perfect example of too much information” and says that despite technological platforms, “our social lives haven’t changed that much since we were hairy apes patrolling the African forest.” And Sharon Astyk blurs the lines of genealogy on Casaubon’s Book, saying the tribe is due for a comeback as the future makes new demands on our lifestyle. Sharon writes, “sometimes the tribes will be biological in nature. Sometimes they will be mostly chosen. Most often, I think they will be odd intersections of both.” So let’s get together; here’s to one big happy family.

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