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[ 0 ] July 20, 2010
NYU neuroscientist Daniela Schiller with an excellent piece in Scientific American about the recent research on courage, linked in last week’s QuickHits:

Mouse OCD linked to Immune System

[ 3 ] July 15, 2010

A recent study published in Cell magazine has shown that mice who exhibit “excessive grooming behavior,”  which is analogous to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in humans (OCD), can be cured by a bone marrow transplant.  The disorder was linked to deficient immune microglia cells, the street-cleaners of the body (they clear-up cluttery microbes and broken down cellular byproducts).  Healthy-mouse bone marrow was transferred to the OCD mice and within four months they returned to normal grooming patterns.  The gene responsible for healthy microglia – Hox8 – is a vital developmental gene, and it’s connections to observable behavioral patterns, like OCD, are intriguing and will certainly inspire further research.

Audio from the Authors:  Pathological Grooming in Mutant Mice


The Music of Your Genes

[ 2 ] July 14, 2010

Scientists and composers worked together to create an epic production fusing genetics and music performed yesterday by the New London Chamber Choir at the Royal Society of Medicine in London.

DNA is composed of just four chemical compounds, which inspired musician Andrew Morley to tie each compound of the genetic code to a different note, leading to the final composition entitled “Allele,” where each performer moves through a sequence of notes that is based on a sequence of their own DNA processed in a lab. Here is a three minute clip via the BBC of a recent rehearsal of the piece:

London Chamber Choir rehearse “Allele” (MP3)


Consilience, Before it was the Buzz

[ 1 ] July 11, 2010

From Aldous Huxley, Literature and Science (1963):


Thought is crude, matter unimaginably subtle.  Words are few and can only be arranged in certain conventionally fixed ways; the counterpoint of unique events is infinitely wide and their succession indefinitely long.  That the purified language of science, or even the richer purified language of literature should ever be adequate to the givenness of the world and of our experience is, in the very nature of things, impossible.  Cheerfully accepting the fact, let us advance together, men of letters and men of science, further and further into the ever-expanding regions of the unknown.

Aldous Huxley

The History of Life on Earth

[ 0 ] July 9, 2010

Italian street artist Blu has created an epic stop-motion video using graffiti and plenty of everyday objects as inventive props to tell the story of life on earth, from the big bang to the way it all might end. The film is entitled “Big Bang Big Boom,” it’s ten minutes in length, and it presents some of the most creative representations of evolution I’ve ever seen:


Behavior to Genes and Back Again

[ 0 ] July 7, 2010

I have heard it cynically said that “the best thing for a writer is a bad childhood.” But what accounts for the effects of early experience on later behavior? In an essay this month for Science, Greg Miller reviews the exciting and controversial field of behavioral epigenetics. Epigenetics is the study of molecular mechanisms that alter the activity of genes without changing their DNA sequence.

The way DNA is folded within our cells determines how it is unpacked to give the code for building basic molecules in our body. Epigenetic factors can change the way DNA is folded, thus altering the way it is decoded.

One of the central claims of the field is that environmental experience can shape genetic activity in the brain, with potentially lifelong effects. The work of pioneering researchers Michael Meaney and Moshe Szyf suggests that epigenetics could be responsible for something like a relationship between bad childhood and artistic expression, if one exists.

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