Saturday, October 13, 2012

Science and SF Tidbits: October 13, 2012: Nobel Prizes, Bringing Back Dinosaurs, Martian Biorhythms

Have you watched my live interview with artist Brian Kolm yet? We talk about his design of the Biology in Science Fiction logo, teaching art, and socializing with other artists. Be sure to check it out!

From around the web:

• G Protein-Coupled Receptors (GPCRs) win 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry | The Curious Wavefunction, Scientific American Blog Network
On Thursday the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to two biochemists: Brian Kobilka (Stanford) and Robert Lefkowitz (Duke). Their work helped explain how a signal on the outside of the cell (such as a neurotransmitter, hormone or even light) is translated into physiological changes inside the cell and altered gene expression. Their research focused on a particular class of receptors in cell membranes that are associated with "G protein" signalling molecules inside the cell. The article linked above is a pretty good overview of how they function.

• An Interview with Sir John Gurdon winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize Winner in Physiology or Medicine
I recommend this Cambridge University video interview with John Gurdon. He talks about his original work on frog cloning in the early 60s, the relevance of his work today, and how his parents helped him pursue studies in science after his teacher made him out to be a failure in the subject.

• DNA has a 521-year half-life :: Nature News
After 6.8 million years nearly every bond in a DNA molecule would be broken. That means no Jurassic Part-style cloning of extinct dinosaurs will be possible. Sad news for those of us wishing for a cute cloned Sciurumimus as a pet. It also brings into question reports of extracting DNA from very ancient amber.

• Weird Things » Blog Archive » Who Needs DNA to Bring Back the T-Rex?
Perhaps dinosaurs could be reconstructed even without their DNA. The trick is to use what we know about T. rex anatomy and modern animal biology and fake the rest:
"The blueprint for this creature will be everything we know about the T-Rex. We can design bone structure, ligature and a thousand other tiny details we’ve learned from the fossil records. Although we may never find DNA, we have found cells inside T-Rex fossils, resembling the same kind in ovulating birds. Cells, protein and other kinds of information can help us build a replica that’s perhaps 95% accurate"
• Ridley Scott Explains Prometheus, Is Lovably Insane | Tor.com
Ryan Britt summarizes Ridley Scott's commentary from the DVD release of Prometheus. Sounds either quite brilliant or a bit unhinged, or maybe both.  I may have to watch the movie with commentary myself to see what he says about the dumbest biologist in the galaxy (ooh, the goo in this alien building full of dead bodies is unexpectedly turning into a snake-like creature - let me pet it!)

• Fossil of Ancient Spider Attack - only one of its type discovered
About 100 million years ago a young spider was about to start munching on a wasp caught in his web. But before he could commence munching, tree resin flowed over spider, wasp and web and they were trapped in amber.  Click here to see the fantastic large image.

• How Blue Light And Caffeine Will Help Humans Move To Mars
Mars days are 24.6 hours long, which means we humans with Earthly 24-hour internal clocks can find it hard to adjust. It turns out the key is carefully timed blue light, caffeine, and a comfortable sleeping environment. Tests on members of the Mars Phoenix mission suggests it works, even for folks here on Earth.

• Science In My Fiction » Mind-Control and Instant Skill
Optogenetics combines advanced genetic engineering of neural tissue in the brain and implanted fiber optics to allow external control of behavior and learning in mice. It has even been shown to work to some extent in monkeys. And simply stimulating the brain with electrical current and speed up learning in humans.  Not surprisingly, the military is at he forefront of this sort of research. But it's still in it's early stages - there won't be human "mind control" using this technology any time soon. But if it did work, would you allow your brain cells to be manipulated if it would give you instant skills?

• Report: Ukraine Trains Dolphins With Friggin' Pistols on Their Heads | Danger Room | Wired.com
Pistols attached to dolphins may be far fetched, but it's already the case that navies (including the United States) use dolphins for mine clearing and other underwater operations. The US also apparently uses sea lions "equipped with a spring-loaded clamp that can be attached to a diver’s legs. The sea lion then swims back to its handlers, who can reel the enemy diver in like a snagged fish."  But if you want to make dolphins really lethal, give them mechanical arms and hands. Not only will they be able to kill, before you know it they'll be piloting starships!

Image: Courtesy of Brian Kolm at Atomic Bear Press. Used with permission.

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