translating biophilia into a love of life

Posts Tagged ‘DNA

From paper to pangolins

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Awhile ago I came across this fantastic paper sculpture of a human torso, complete with removable organs, built by Horst Kiechle.  The anatomical detail is spectacular, considering Kiechle constructed the sculpture entirely from 200gms/sqm white card.  You can even build your own organs, using instructions found here.

Paper torso, by Horst Kiechle (link)

I soon found that the internet abounds with paper art crafted by science geeks, much of which is origami.  Below are some of the more interesting creations out there.

Origami is derived from the Japanese words “ori” meaning “fold” and “kami” meaning paper.  The traditional concept of origami is folding paper to create objects using only one piece of paper with no cuts or glue.

The Long-Term Effect of an MIT Education, by Brian Chan. Folded from an uncut paper square (link)

DNA (Double Helix) via Instructables (link)

And, while not officially origami (the use of two paperclips and several staples is involved), the Origami Embryo is probably the most clever tutorial on embryonic development I’ve seen.  Using three sheets of paper, Dr. Diana Darnell demonstrates how the ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm fold upon one another to create embryonic organs.  Working through this tutorial would likely help countless biology undergrads who are primarily tactile or visual learners get a better grasp (har har) on early organogenesis.

The Origami Embryo (link)

Finally, an origami post would be incomplete without at least one Eric Joisel (1956-2010) creation.  Here’s to you, beloved pangolin:

Pangolin, by Eric Joisel (link)

Gratuitous pangolin (link)


Written by morethangray

March 21, 2012 at 10:58 am

I’ve fallen behind in my tiger posts

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With all the talk of puppies lately, I’ve fallen behind in my tiger posts.  Thanks to the new Science blog, Origins, I have happy news for tigers and tiger conservation!

The regal Caspian tiger (1960s above, 2009 below)

The regal Caspian tiger–thought to have gone extinct nearly 40 years ago–lives on in a closely related subspecies, a new genetic analysis reveals.

Conservationists say they can use these relatives to help reestablish the Caspian tiger in Central Asia, parts of which are no longer inhabited by people and have plenty of suitable prey.

Once among the most widespread animals in Asia, tigers are now gone from more than 90% of their habitat. Biologists broke the original population down into eight subspecies, based on looks and geography, from the relatively small and dark Indochinese tiger of southern continental Asia to the massive Siberian tiger of the Russian far east. In 2004, researchers for the first time applied DNA analysis to the tiger family tree and confirmed the existence of five extant subspecies.

Caspian tiger DNA was readily distinguishable from most other tigers’ DNA. But when the team compared the genome of the Caspian tiger with that of the Siberian, or Amur, tiger, only one letter of genetic code separated them. Thus, the two subspecies are really one, with the supposed Siberian tiger splitting off from the Caspian tiger in the past century.

Written by morethangray

January 15, 2009 at 9:56 am

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The molecular world

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The future is moving toward me so quickly! In July, I was daydreaming of server gardens. Today, about 3 months later, Science released a report detailing a molecular computer that functions within living cells. Within a few clicks, I’d found evidence of other biological computers, including a DNA computer that is unbeatable at tic-tac-toe. The ability to control processes within living cells would offer the potential of a revolutionary approach to studying and healing biological systems. For example, a molecular computer could be used to detect cancer cells and enable the targeted release an anti-cancer drug.

The molecular world is a fascinating place. Our ability to probe, understand and manipulate objects invisible to the naked eye is phenomenal. Researchers have developed ways to visualize the complexity of life at a microscopic level, and Nikon’s Small World website is a showcase of life science, chemistry and materials science photomicrographs. The image I find the most striking – in part because it is also somewhat disturbing – is Chick Embryo , an image captured using stereomicroscopy by Tomas Pais de Azevedo:

Chick Embryo

Chick Embryo

Several years ago I considered purchasing a digital microscope for personal use, and bid for one on Ebay. I lost. Since then, my microscopic needs have advanced, and I think I’d require unlimited use of a scanning electron microscope (SEM) to be completely satisfied. Hopefully advances in technology will pave the way for a consumer grade SEM. Either that, or a biotech lab closure will flood the market with cut rate deals on high-end microscopes. I may have to wait to strike it rich, or receive one as a gift. So if the first year wedding anniversary is paper, the 41st anniversary is land, which anniversary is laboratory equipment?

Update: I just found a how-to wiki with instructions for how to take microphotographs with a standard digital camera and a decent lab ‘scope.  Good to know!

Written by morethangray

October 17, 2008 at 1:25 pm

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I envision server gardens

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I enjoy being around children because they are so unabashedly curious.  Their world is still full of possibility and “Why?!” is an entirely appropriate response to everything.

For the past few weeks, I’ve had an idea that seems completely sci-fi and outlandish.  I’m increasingly intrigued by the possibility of creating cybernetic plants capable of being programmed using a genetic language, possibly using synthetic genetic components to bridge the current divide between living and non-living components.  I envision server gardens.  As an “adult”, I’ve been quashing my inner child and trying my best to put the idea out of my head.

So when I came across io9’s Mad Scientist Contest (in which the participants are tasked with creating a new lifeform) a few days ago I was a bit excited.  Here is a group of people from respected institutions actually encouraging unusual ideas like mine.  And the prize?  The winner will be shipped off – all expenses paid – to the Synthetic Biology Conference in Hong Kong.  Supposedly to meet other folks who may also be professional daydreamers when it comes to biological possibility.  Still, I quashed my idea.

However, this morning I saw Seed’s tear-outable cribsheet on synthetic biology and I’m starting to pay attention to my server garden concept.  There seems to be a field called Synthetic Biology.  In fact, there is a department at good ‘ol Cal called Bioengineering.  I’m imagining K’Nex made of cytoskeletal components; mitotic spindles with nanotube scaffolding reorganized to form structures from simple shapes to complex circuit boards with electrical impulses translated into ion gradients and action potentials.  Why not?

Written by morethangray

July 14, 2008 at 8:01 am

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Toward engineered genetics

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Researchers in Japan have created what some are calling the first DNA molecule made entirely of artificial parts.  The unnatural bases are said to be capable of forming bonds with one another similar in shape and stability to those of the molecular framework associated with naturally-occurring DNA.

For the long, technical version of the story, you can read the .html version of the article on the American Chemical Society website here.  Below is an image from the article, visually comparing the natural (top row) and unnatural (bottom row) base pairs:


The following excerpt, taken from the Conclusions section of the article, is enough to ignite my imagination with sci-fi tales of the cybernetic future of humanity:

Therefore, the present molecular framework has a potential for storing genetic information and for application to enzymatic replication directed toward engineered genetics. Furthermore, the artificial DNA may be a superior building scaffold for constructing nanostructures of materials interest because of the stable C-nucleosides against ubiquitous naturally occurring enzymes such as DNase.

Written by morethangray

July 7, 2008 at 3:36 pm

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