As of March 4, 2020 the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, has spread to more than 77 countries. More than 93,000 cases have been reported, and just under 3,200 deaths. It’s thought that the virus infected its first human victim in the city of Wuhan in China, in November, 2019. That case was apparently caused by transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from an animal. Since then, it has spread by human-to-human contact. The virus probably originated in bats, and then likely passed through another animal before it found its human host.… Read the rest “The Drift of Coronavirus”

View More

The agitated detective barks, “I need that DNA now. There’s a killer on the loose, and I have to know if we’ve got him in custody. I don’t give a damn how busy you are . . . ” We’ve all been there, on the edge of the couch, watching a cop show on TV and hoping that the magic of DNA testing will give a clear answer to the question “DidHeDoIt?” And indeed, DNA fingerprinting, more accurately ‘DNA profiling’, has transformed crimefighting.… Read the rest “DNA profiling I”

View More

Gel electrophoretic separation of DNA fragments containing Variable Numbers of Tandem Repeats. Each vertical lane contains one DNA sample. PCR-amplified fragments have been labeled, with different probes having different fluorescent labels. The red bands are internal calibration markers. The positions of the bands reflect their different mobilities, which in turn reflect their lengths (larger fragments move more slowly in electrophoresis). Capillary electrophoresis and automatic recording are used today instead of gel electrophoresis.

DNA profiling resulted from the convergence of scientific curiosity, technological advances, and the desire to provide a social benefit.… Read the rest “DNA profiling II”

View More

Charles Best and Frederick Banting, with one of their research subjects. University of Toronto Archives

This post describes some of the many pathways to scientific discovery. No single model applies to all discoveries, and most discoveries contain elements of different models. I will focus on the field I know best, biomedical research. Biomedical discoveries are usually, but not exclusively, the result of hypothesis- and curiosity-driven “small science”. In contrast, the first report of evidence for the Higgs Boson at the LHC in Switzerland listed over 2500 authors from some 180 institutions, and depended on the construction of a 5 billion dollar supercollider with an annual operating budget of one billion.… Read the rest “THE ART OF SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY”

View More

Dr. Lyudmila Trut and a human-friendly fox, 1974.

Foxes have a reputation for being elusive, canny, shy. . . in other words, foxy. Wild foxes in captivity are innately aggressive and fearful of humans – not friendly at all. With a great deal of patience, you may be able train one to be more docile, but it would not be a dog-like pet. However, if you have a slightly weird desire for a pet fox that will behave more like a cocker spaniel than a wild fox, you may be able to get one from a genetic research institute in Russia.… Read the rest “The Curious Case of the Friendly Russian Foxes”

View More

In April 2017 I published a post titled “Why is there so much talk about Epigenetics?”. I think I did a pretty decent job explaining what Epigenetics is, and why it is such a critically important part of biology. The gist is, that the regulated output of our genomic information depends on Epigenetics. This is achieved by specific chemical groups and protein along the chromosomes that control their expression into the proteins and other products needed for the life of a particular cell.… Read the rest “Why there is so much talk about Epigenetics”

View More

Dr. Brian Druker and Ms. LaDonna Lopossa, one of the earliest patients to benefit from Gleevec

Rob Schick is the Branch Manger of the Baird Wealth Management Group in Portland, Oregon. Most people would probably consider him lucky. For starters, Portland is one of the most desirable cities in the United States to live in. He and his wife have three grown children, one of whom works at the same company. In addition to his success in business, Rob Schick’s efforts on behalf of the Knight Cancer Institute, where he has helped raise millions of dollars for research, were nationally recognized in 2015 by a National Community Service Award from the Invest in Others Foundation.Read the rest “Chronic Myeloid Leukemia: A Molecular Solution”

View More

Jesse Owens starting the 200 meter race at the 1936 Olympics. Reproduction of photograph in “Die Olympischen Spiele, 1936” p.27, 1936. 

Coverage of the recent victory of the New Zealand team in the America’s Cup yacht race featured sailboats flying along on their underwater foils at ridiculous speed, speeds reaching more than 50 miles (80 km) per hour. Whether it’s running, or driving a car, or sailing these mutant boats, speed is exciting.Read the rest “Speed Limits”

View More

It’s a good idea to look critically at any powerful new technology, and the creation of genetically-modified organisms, GMOs, is no exception. Like any new technology, it might have unanticipated, deleterious consequences that outweigh any benefit. Many criticisms of GMO have of course been raised, as a brief interrogation of the internet will show. But unfortunately, the criticisms of GMOs we hear most often are not the most important ones, and the ones that are most important are often not heard clearly.Read the rest “GMO”

View More

(C57 Black/6 mouse) Attacking cancer with the immune system is one of the most enticing dreams of cancer researchers and oncologists. This dream has floated in and out of the foreground for over a century; as early as the 1890s, such a mechanism was probably responsible for a number of “miracle” cancer cures, even if the immune system was still much of a mystery. Since then, the dream of cancer immunotherapy has offered up promising results, but has never fully revealed itself.Read the rest “Mice and Men”