Musing #1 Skiing, Genomics, Pay-to-Maim

The title of my blog does include the word “musings”, but I’ve been mostly focused on the “Motorcycle” part for awhile.  So, I figured I’d work on the musing part.  The word can be a noun, (meditation) or a adjective (thoughtfully abstracted).  So, here goes.

Skiing and Genomics

On the way up on the gondola at Keystone on Friday, I struck up a conversation with two fellows. They were at Keystone for a conference on immunology and Friday was the play day. We chatted about the acceleration of discovery in biology driven by sequencing the genome. They said there was a growing excitement at the conference over discoveries about the ecology of bacteria and viruses in the body. By count, there are more bacteria in our bodies by a factor of 10 than human cells. So who and what we are is likely more about the bacteria and interactions with our cells than it is about the DNA of our cells.  This seems similar to the revolution in cosmology where we learned  how small matter and energy are in the universe. Dark energy and dark matter make up 90% of the total. Our ideas about the universe are based on about 10% of what’s actually there.

Epigenetics is the emerging study of the interactions of DNA with the environment, bacteria and viruses. Science finds that gene expression is influenced by virus and bacterial interactions that can activate or inhibit gene expression. In some cases, this is the casue of disease. One of them pointed out a recent experiment with the Toxoplasma virus. It reproduces in cats and uses rats to infect other cats. The eggs move from cat feces to rats. Inside the rat, it causes changes in gene expression in rat brains making them less afraid of cats and easier to catch. When the cat eats a rat with Toxoplasma, it infects the cat thereby ensuring it’s survival. At that point, we got to the top of the mountain and bid adieu.

On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal had an article on this topic including a discussion about the Toxoplasma study. Serendipity.

As we improve our ability to measure and see at smaller and smaller scales in biology, we find once again that human’s aren’t center stage. We keep confusing our ability to ask questions and make connections with our overall importance.

Pay for Maming in Sports

When did we forget that sports should showcase sportsmanship and serve as a platform for the higher qualities of human character. There was a letter in the Saturday Wall Street Journal that asked why “assault” was not a prosecutable offence in the NFL? Or, said differently, why is premeditated intent to maim, or kill, not a criminal matter?  At a minimum, why doesn’t the NFL at least expel for life any player or coach for this kind of behavior? We do that in other “professions” when members violate the code of conduct.  I don’t get it.


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