Gene Hackman, Gene Kelly, Gene Wilder, Gene Autry, Gene Krupa, and Genomes (the complete set of DNA within a single cell of an organism).

U of A has a Science Lecture Series on Wednesday evenings at this time of the year that I enjoy.   Last year it was Living Beyond 100.  This year is Genomics Now.

Last week we learned about The Genesis of the 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic.  Very interesting.  Helps that the lecturers have a good sense of humor.  (The College of Architecture & Landscape Architecture also has lectures the same night; I went to the first one and the guy was boring as all get-out.  I left after an hour and decided that I’d rather do science.)

This week it was Genomics and the Complexity of Life. I didn’t know that Mendel the Monk was the father of mice genetics.  (Before the Abbott said he didn’t want him working with animals that had sex and so he started on pea plants, which have sex.)   First we had to guess how many genes humans have.

Between 2000 and 2003, a light-hearted betting pool known as “GeneSweep” was run in which genome researchers could guess at the number of genes in the human genome.  Bets ranged from 25,497 to 153,438 genes, with a mean of 61,710, as indicated by the plot below.gene #

tattooWe’re between chickens and grapes.  (Round of laughter.)
Chickens 16,736
Humans  22,333
Grapes    30,434

And did you know that Darwin’s evolutionary tree is a trendy tattoo?

Then there were the studies on the Rock Pocket Mice (the Snickers bar of the desert, eaten by hawks, snakes, owls, coyotes…) on Nova.  Couldn’t find the Nova video but there is a cute 20 second summary on this link.  Play the mov:

I knew that with mammals (and fruit flies) the males are XY and females XX but I didn’t know that with birds and butterflies it’s reversed: females XY, males XX.  Then my son informed me that the duck-billed platypus is XXXXXXXXXX versus XXXXXYYYY.

He also said,

I went to a pretty interesting lecture about “weird genomes” recently. The emphasis was on protists, single-celled ancient organisms. It’s important to remember that life has been on earth for 3-4 billion years (I don’t remember the exact amount off the top of my head) but the kind of stuff we think of when we think “life” (i.e. plants, dinosaurs, duck-billed platypus) have only been around for a few million years; the rest of the time there were ONLY single celled organisms.

There was a bit conjecture from religious groups about how genomes would look; basically they expected that humans (being the most evolved organism) would have the largest and most complex genome, and as we stepped down the tree of life you would see a progressively simpler genome. This is not the case (as you’ve learned), but it gets weirder when you get to protists. I’m sure you’ve heard of an amoeba – the simplest animal, single-celled, the butt of countless jokes. Humans have 3 billion base pairs in their genome; amoebas have 670 billion base pairs.

Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance!1

The history of the musical has some pretty dull stuff – a stiff-backed guy (Nelson Eddy playing opposite Jeanette MacDonald) singing with an operatic voice and a lame plot.

But we watched the title number to RagtimeWOW!  The singing, the choreography of history!  Watch this youtube:

Death by Gun

After all I had written about the Blade Runner2, I am very sorry to add this:

South African “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee who became one of the biggest names in world athletics, was charged on Thursday with the shooting death his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, at his upscale home in Pretoria.

Guns do not make a family safer.  The Blade Runner killing was in South Africa, but here are some statistics for the US:

A gun at home doesn’t keep you safer. For every time a gun is used in self-defense at home there are seven assaults or murders; 11 suicide attempts and four accidental shootings; and 43% of households with kids have at least one unlocked gun.

In 2011, nearly 10 times more people were shot and killed in arguments than by civilians trying to stop crime. In 2010, almost six times more women were shot by husbands and boyfriends than male strangers.

A women’s chance of being killed by their abuser increases more than seven times if he has access to a gun. High gun ownership states ups the chance of a woman being killed by a gun 4.9 times compared to states with low ownership.3


2 and and


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