Saturday, May 24, 2008

Biology in Science Fiction Roundup: Spring Cleaning Edition

Spring is almost over, so I figured it was time to clean out some of the links I've been accumulating over the past couple of months:

Written SciFi

Damien G Walter blogs for The Guardian about mundane science fiction. And what is the apparent epitome of mundane? Biotechnology. (Caption from the associated image: "It may not look thrilling .. a scientist indicates an image of one of the first cloned human embryos at the Newcastle Institute of Human Genetics in 2005. ")

Mark Alpert writes in Scientific American about the need for more fiction that accurately portrays scientists (AKA Lab Lit). Allera Goodman's novel Intuition, which features the intrigues in a lab studying a genetically modified virus that might shrink tumors, is given a special mention.

Nancy Kress talked to SciFi Wire about her Nebula Award-winning novella "Fountain of Age:
Although the story is SF, there's minimal science in the story. "Cancerous tumors are cells that don't die (unless you poison them)," Kress said. "That became the basis for my anti-aging treatment in the story."
The Tor Books MySpace TV channel has an interview with Daniel Kalla his novel Resistance.

PZ Myers writes about Jay Hosler's comic book Optical Allusions:
Wrinkles the Wonder Brain is an animated, naked brain working for the Graeae Sisters, and he loses the one eye they share between them — so he has to go on a quest to recover it. I know, it sounds like a stretch, but it works in a weird sort of way, and once you start rolling with it, you'll find it works. Using that scenario to frame a series of encounters, Wrinkles meets Charles Darwin and learns how evolution could produce something as complex as an eye; talks about the sub-optimal design of retinal circuitry with a cow superhero; discovers sexual dimorphism with a crew of stalk-eyed pirates; learns about development of the eye from cavefish and a cyclops; chats with Mr Sun about the physics of radiation; there are even zombie G proteins and were-opsins in a lesson about shape changing. This stuff is seriously weird, and kids ought to eat it up.


The Andromeda Strain miniseries is set to air this Monday and Tuesday nights on A&E. SciFiCool and Ain't It Cool News have reviews, and it isn't looking too good. I'll probably record and watch later, so I can fast forward through the dumb and/or boring parts (and commercials 'natch).

Eva at Easternblot writes about her "Facts Behind the Fiction" articles for the Canadian series ReGenesis.


At LabLit Jennifer Rohn looks at the portrayal of the scientists (and science) in I Am Legend.

io9 writes about Jurassic Park IV, which apparently has been "heavily reworked" from the leaked plot which involved gun-toting government-agent dinos. If you are interested in the science that likes behind the Jurassic Park movies, check out the "Science of Jurassic Park" FAQ created by the San Diego Natural History Museum.

Miscellaneous Bioscience

PLoS One published a paper last week that demonstrated the insertion of a gene from the extinct Tasmanian tiger into mice - the first time "DNA [...] from an extinct animal has functioned inside a living host." The PLoS blog rounds up the media coverage, which leaned heavily on Jurassic Park references.

If you've ever wondered why aliens haven't contacted us, check out Charlie Stross's post on the Ferm Paradox revisited. Robin Hanson has a slightly different take.

At io9 Annalee Newitz has a quick overview of science fiction diseases, sexually-transmitted and otherwise.

At Cocktail Party Physics Jennifer Ouellette references Connie Willis's The Doomsday Book in her post on the bubonic plague.

ScienceNews reports on scientific research within Second Life. Students could listen to microbiologist Joan Slonczewski "discuss science and science fiction" on the American Chemical Society's island, while at Second Nature 3 Drexel neurobiologist Corey Hart has created an evolving virtual ecosystem. Sounds pretty cool. I just worry that if I download the software I'll never get up from my computer! (via BoingBoing)

Ben Bova's March 8 column for the Naples [Florida] Daily News: "Evolution just a theory? That's just fine."

Scientific American looks at current research on human body part regeneration.

At Tetrapod zoology Darren Naish writes about dinosauroids and the intelligence of dinosaurs.

The Rockefeller University has posted videos of the lectures at it's recent symposium "From RNA to Humans: A Symposium on Evolution". There are a number of interesting talks from the big names in evolutionary biology, including Jack Szostak on "The Origins of Cellular Life", Luca Cavalli-Sforza on "Evolution of Human Populations", and Svante Pääbo on "A Neanderthal Perspective on Human Origins." (via Afarensis).

The Chinese are growing giant pumpkins, cucumbers, eggplants, chili peppers, watermelons and tomatoes from seeds that orbited the earth on the Shijian 8 satellite. (via Posthuman Blues)
How sending seeds into space produces such enormous fruit is yet not fully understood, but it is thought cosmic radiation, micro-gravity and magnetic fields may play a part.
The March issue of National Geographic has an interesting article on "Animal Minds".
The April issue of National Geographic has an interesting article on "Biomimetics".
Both have lovely animal photography.

CNET reports that IBM is experimenting on creating chips built on a DNA scaffold (via The World in a Satin Bag).
"These are DNA nanostructures that are self-assembled into discrete shapes. Our goal is to use these structures as bread boards on which to assemble carbon nanotubes, silicon nanowires, quantum dots," said Greg Wallraff, an IBM scientist and a lithography and materials expert working on the project. "What we are really making are tiny DNA circuit boards that will be used to assemble other components."
Seed Magazine took a look at the Blue Brain project, which is attempting to create a supercomputer that models real brain behavior.
It took less than two years for the Blue Brain supercomputer to accurately simulate a neocortical column, which is a tiny slice of brain containing approximately 10,000 neurons, with about 30 million synaptic connections between them. "The column has been built and it runs," Markram says. "Now we just have to scale it up."
Vaughan at Mind Hacks writes about Ray Kurzweil and conscious AIs.

Big Think has video of Methuselah Foundation founder, chairman and chief science officer Aubrey de Grey talking about his scientific ideas and answering questions. Futures in Biotech has an episode on "Aubrey de Grey on the Thousand Year Lifespan."

PhysOrg reported on Jim Mielke's wireless "Digital Tattoo Interface" that is literally fueled by blood.

Protein scientist David Baker has teamed up with game designer Zoran Popovic to create a protein-folding game called FoldIt. Humans are "better at seeing the big picture than computers are", so the game uses human brain power to improve computer-designed proteins. Play FoldIt yourself.


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