Tuesday Science Times: 08.16.11

Some of my favorites from today’s Science Times:

Maybe it’s because I spent my undergrad years studying meiosis (the process of genetic recombination responsible for reshuffling genes during the formation of sperm and egg) or maybe it’s just because this is really cool, but I found this article fascinating.  “A Supergene Paints Wings for Surviving Biological War” by Nicholas Wade discusses the work of Mathieu Joron of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.  Joron is studying a species of poisonous butterfly that uses a supergene (a group or cluster of genes that don’t get reshuffled during meiosis, but act as a single gene so they are inherited all together) to maintain 7 distinct wing patterns that mimic the 7 distinct wing patterns of another poisonous species of butterfly.  Complicated- yup.  Cool- yup.  Mimicry, meiosis, Medelian genetics ratcheted up to the next level.

Maybe it’s because I spend my days studying cancer or maybe it’s because it’s hard to distill, but I’m not a fan of this article.  I appreciate how hard it is to simplify complex scientific problems to make them palatable enough for lay consumption, but I felt like this article (especially the accompanying video) over-simplified the concepts it presents to the point of inaccuracy.  I REALLY wanted to like the video, I hoped it would be an accessible, illustrated explanation of the concepts in the article, but after the initial explanation of what cancer is, it wasn’t.  What about cancer stem cells- an area of active research, intense debate, and emerging science also covered at the AACR conference?  Also, AACR was back in April- why is this just coming out now?  Slow news day, perhaps?

Have you seen those commercials on TV and in women’s magazines talking about how soy-based supplements can ease menopause symptoms?  Well, disregard.  It’s a bunch of marketing crap and they don’t work.  Generally if it isn’t FDA approved, it’s probably a scam.

And an article I heard on NPR on my way to work today:  “Why Cleaned Wastewater Stays Dirty In Our Minds.”

Would you drink water that was purified from raw sewage?  I would.  If it’s good enough for astronauts on the Space Station, why not for the average American?  Apparently sewage is psychological contagion- meaning in our minds, once the water is mixed with the sewage, it’s permanently contaminated.  For instance- if your toothbrush fell in the toilet, would you ever use it again even if your sterilized it in the dishwasher and boiled it in bleach?  Probably not.  The concept is kind of funny and the moment it was described, this was the first thing that came to my mind:

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