Semen’s Lesser-known Roles in Reproduction

Author: Brooke Wolford

Editors: Andrew McAllister, Molly Kozminsky, and Whit Froehlich

tinder_sperm
Image by Sierra Nishizaki

If you’re a millennial who thinks dating in the age of Tinder is difficult, you may find parallels between your dating life and the complexities of reproduction. The process of a sperm meeting an egg to create a cell that successfully implants in the uterine wall and subsequently creates a human is incredibly intricate. Similar to the world of dating, two have to meet, decide they like each other, and then invest time and energy to grow together as a couple. From finding a mate to the biological processes behind pregnancy, reproduction may seem downright impossible. Luckily mother nature has devised sneaky and fascinating ways to improve the chances of a successful pregnancy. Evolution favors those who pass their DNA on to as many offspring as possible, and natural selection has worked for years to optimize reproduction. If only Tinder were that good at getting you a date!

Continue reading “Semen’s Lesser-known Roles in Reproduction”

Where Do Genes Come From? Part 2: De novo Genes

Author: Bryan Moyers

Editors: Theresa Mau, Alex Taylor, and Kevin Boehnke

“The probability that a functional protein would appear de novo by random association of amino acids is practically zero.” ~ Francois Jacob, 1977

If you’ve ever gotten into arguments about evolution, you may have heard the argument that goes something like this: A new gene randomly forming is as improbable as a tornado blowing through a junkyard and assembling a working 747. The above quote by Francois Jacob shows that scientists have been pretty skeptical about this idea, too.

But something seeming unlikely doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. As we learned last time, most mutations are harmful, and most gene duplications are lost—but the rare times when they are beneficial, a new gene can have a huge effect on species survival.

So, is it possible that a protein-coding gene might form randomly? Continue reading “Where Do Genes Come From? Part 2: De novo Genes”

Of Sporks and Scorpions: Where Do Genes Come From? (Part 1)

Author: Bryan Moyers

Editors: Theresa Mau, Alex Taylor, and Kevin Boehnke

What exactly separates us from other animals?  For that matter, what makes any species or group of species special?  How is life so diverse?  How can cephalopods camouflage themselves so well, and how did platypuses become so bizarre?

Part of the answer is in genes.  Genes are sections of DNA that perform a specific function, usually after being translated into proteins by special cellular machinery.  Every species has genes that code for proteins, but different species have different numbers of genes. Humans have around 20,000, fruit flies have around 18,000, and the tiny water-flea has around 31,000 genes. Different sets of genes produce animals with different structures and functions.

Continue reading “Of Sporks and Scorpions: Where Do Genes Come From? (Part 1)”

What the octopus genome can tell us

Author: Shweta Ramdas

Editors: Irene Park, Ada Hagan, Alisha John

The team at MiSciWriters certainly finds cephalopods fascinating, and we aren’t alone. Last year, the octopus (Octopus bimaculoides) was added to the growing list of organisms whose genome sequence is known.

Octopuses belong to a class of organisms called cephalopods, which literally means ‘head-feet’ (members of the cephalopod family have a head and tentacles or arms). These tentacles enable the creatures to do some very clever maneuvering, such as escaping their aquariums to eat crabs outside their tanks. It’s no surprise then that these are the most intelligent amongst invertebrates and now new information about the octopus genome can tell us more about these fascinating creatures.

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Interpreting ancient DNA: Not so easy a caveman could do it

Author: Brooke Wolford

Editors: Alex Taylor, Jimmy Brancho, Bryan Moyers

Imagine the year is 1856 and you are toiling in a quarry in the Neander Valley, a few kilometers from Düsseldorf, Germany. Strangely, something is abruptly sticking out of the landscape. You dig around and find ribs, a skull, and other bones—your best guess is that you have stumbled upon the final resting place of a bear. However, what you have actually found are the first identifiable remains of ancient hominins, later named Homo neanderthalensis.

Continue reading “Interpreting ancient DNA: Not so easy a caveman could do it”

Michigan Meeting 2016 Coverage

microbe mtgs

MiSciWriters is proud to partner with the UM Center for Microbial Systems to provide live coverage of the 2016 Michigan Meeting “Unseen Partners: Manipulating Microbial Communities that Support Life on Earth.” In lieu of our traditional Tuesday post, we will be live-blogging the event at the links below, and live-tweeting from @MiSciWriters during the following times:

  • Monday, May 16 9:00am-3:30pm, 7:00-8:30pm
  • Tuesday, May 17 9:00am-3:30pm, 7:00-8:30pm
  • Wednesday, May 18 9:00-12:00

We hope you’ll join in the conversation by commenting on the blog, or tweeting with the hashtag #MiMicrobe. Enjoy!

Update: Live blogging coverage is released as an event unfolds, placing the posts in reverse-chronological order. So if you want to read everything, start from the bottom of the page.

Monday, May 16 Coverage – https://misciwriters.com/portfolio/michigan-meeting-2016-monday/ 

Tuesday, May 17 Coverage – https://misciwriters.com/portfolio/michigan-meeting-2016-tuesday/

Wednesday, May 18 Coverage – https://misciwriters.com/portfolio/michigan-meeting-2016-wednesday/

Evolvability: The race against extinction

By Bryan Moyers

It’s easy to think that evolution only works over long periods of time.  As much as 4.1 billion years ago, life began on Earth.  Some 420 million years ago, animals found their way onto land. Around 65 million years ago, an asteroid wiped out most dinosaurs. Two million years ago, our genus, Homo, emerged.  It almost seems like evolution is a strictly theoretical field.  After all, evolution doesn’t affect things in our lifetime…  right?

Continue reading “Evolvability: The race against extinction”