Sunday, January 24, 2010

What are the instructions for making me ME? Viruses? Really?

Well, we are even stranger than we think we are. Apparently upwards of 8% of our genome can be traced to viruses that infected our ancestors millions of years ago. And not just the retrovirus kind, like HIV, that are specifically made to insert themselves into our DNA and often stay for good. Recently a group of Japanese virologists from Osaka found a different sort of virus lurking in our genome - one called the borna virus that seems to have hung around in the nucleus and been hijacked into our DNA. This means that much more of our DNA may be cobbled from viral invasions than we think! Now the borna virus in particular has been found to cause crazy fits in horses and its elements in our DNA are somehow indispensable for the development of the placenta and therefore human fetal growth. Makes you wonder if we can blame it for the all out, lie on the floor screaming kicking episodes that kids sometime have (not ours of course but other people's kids). "Its the borna virus in his DNA honey, Jimmy can't help it!" Well, interesting news for a sequel to Instructions for ME. What are the instructions for making me ME? For making me do what I do and....

You can check out the original borna virus paper here and an article about it in the New York Times called 'Hunting Fossil Viruses in Human DNA'.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Can you catch a ray of light?

Here's a cool and fortuitous article we found on Science News for Kids. Here's an excerpt:

"It’s easy to imagine catching a ball, holding it for a moment and then throwing it in the air again. It’s also easy to imagine scooping up a handful of water — say, from the ocean — and then releasing it again. But what about light? Is it possible to “catch” light — and then let it go?

Scientists from Harvard University recently demonstrated a way to catch and release light—but it’s not easy. In other words, no one will be using the new method to play a game of catch with flashlight beams anytime soon."

Cool because light is cool and very mysterious, and fortuitous because we have a fun book in the works called 'Can you catch a ray of light?' Won't be out for some time but it is about a little girl who tries all sorts of home grown experiments to catch light and understand what it is. Thinking how we might incorporate this....