Category Archives: genetics

The “selfish gene” redux: Aeon magazine collects opinion on the metaphor

Last December, David Dobbs published a jeremiad in Aeon magazine called “Die, selfish gene, die”.  And I criticized it in two posts (here and here), while Richard Dawkins, who of course coined the term “selfish gene,” and Steven Pinker also took issue with it. I’ll summarize Dobb’s original thesis by quoting my initial post on it: At […]

Caturday felid trifecta: The mystery of “rocket cats,” Google’s nefarious cat policy, and a litter of mitten kittens

It’s a three-cat day, thanks to several readers who proffered links. The first item involves a mysterious 16th-century (c. 1530) German book by Franz Helm, an artillery expert (see articles in the Guardian and TDS).  The book contains drawings of cats and birds  with rocket-like jetpacks strapped to their back. The unsettling thing is that […]

Your Inner Fly: Fighting dipterans share genes with you and me

Introductory note by JAC: Matthew has produced a terrific post here, and I hope people will read it. The results of this scientific analysis are amazing and the genetic tools required to produce them are breathtaking—tools I couldn’t have imagined were possible when I was a graduate student. If I had one hope for 2014, […]

David Dobbs mucks up evolution, part I

Although I haven’t read much by David Dobbs, I’m told he’s a good science writer. But you couldn’t prove that from his latest effort in Aeon magazine: “Die, selfish gene, die” (the subtitle is “The selfish gene is one of the most successful science metaphors ever invented. Unfortunately, it’s wrong.”) I was going to write […]

A parti-colored squirrel

This squirrel, whose photo was sent in by reader Craig, looks as it if fell into some bleach.  It is probably a mosaic for leucism, though it could also be a true albino in its nether parts (I’m guessing the former). There are two possibilities here. One, perhaps less likely, is that the zygote of […]

Google doodle honors Rosalind Franklin

Had she lived, Rosalind Franklin would have been 93 today. Born in 1920, she died at only 37 of ovarian cancer. And, as we all know, she was an unsung—but now recognized—hero of modern genetics, for her work on X-ray crystallography was pivotal in elucidating the structure of DNA. She’s recognized today with the ultimate […]

The Tuatara Genome Project

by Greg Mayer We’ve had occasion to celebrate the completion of reptile genome projects before here at WEIT (including the first, the Anole Genome, and the recent turtle genomes), so it is especially notable that one of our favorite animals, the Earth’s Only Extant Non-Squamate Lepidosaur*, is now the subject on an ongoing sequencing project […]

Supreme Court: Genes can’t be patented

This just happened, and information is sketchy, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that naturally-occurring genes can’t be patented.  This ruling came from a case in which the company Myriad Genetics was challenged because it holds the patents on the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2.  Those patents mean that no other organization, […]

The discovery of the molecule of heredity: Matthew’s new Guardian piece

This is another anniversary in the history of genetics: it’s been seventy years since three investigators at Rockefeller Institute in New York City (now Rockefeller University, where I began grad school)—Oswald Avery, Colin MacLeod, and Maclyn McCarty (“AMM”)—discovered that DNA was the genetic material. Although their paper on this work was published in 1944 (reference […]

The Great Man: a chat with James Dewey Watson

Yesterday I had the privilege and pleasure of spending 45 minutes in conversation with J. D. Watson, who, as you all know, is the co-discoverer with Francis Crick of the structure of DNA.  The working out of that structure, which immediately gave clues to not only how the genetic material replicated, but how it coded […]


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