EppsNet Archive: Biology

Free Advice on Free Advice

5 Feb 2016 /
Shoulder pain

Today a colleague offered to fix the pain in my shoulder. “Sounds like a problem with the connective tissue,” he said. “I can push it back into place.”

“No,” I said. “No no no no no no no.”

“Why not? Are you homophobic?”

“Not wanting you to touch my shoulder is not homophobic.” Also this guy is not gay.

“You don’t trust me?”

“I was trying to think of a nice way to say that.”

“I have a gift for this. I’ve helped a lot of people.”

“You might be able to fix it. Probably you could. On the other hand, you might, just perhaps, push on it the wrong way and I lose the use of my left arm. Not worth the risk.”

He then recommended that I go to a health food store and buy some red something-or-other algae to use as an anti-inflammatory.

Which I’m not going to do . . . If someone recommends a movie I should see, I might check that out. Even if it turns out to be terrible, which it usually does, I’ve only lost a few bucks and a couple hours of time. Same with a restaurant. Or a book.

But on medical matters, when someone says “You should go to a health food store and buy some of this product and eat it,” I’m not going to do that because if I do that, and I die . . . because the recommender didn’t know anything about my health condition, medical history, medications I might be taking, didn’t know anything about chemistry, biology, pharmacology . . . I’m dead and the person who told me to do that is scratching his head going, “Hmmmm, that never happened before. Maybe I should have gone to medical school to actually learn something.”


A Male Chimp Can Spot an Ovulating Female From More Than a Quarter Mile Away

14 Jul 2014 /
Chimpanzee

An ovulating female chimp, that is. Nearly all female primates advertise their days of fertility with colorful genital swellings.

It seems like a useful indicator for humans trying to have babies or trying not to have babies, but for some reason evolution has seen fit to conceal the reproductive state of human females from observation.


I Slept Late But There’s a Reason for It

13 Jul 2014 /
Banksy's caveman

Think about our distant ancestors . . . energy in the form of food was scarce and hard to obtain. Those who survived had a genetic predisposition to not use energy wastefully but rather to store it up for times when it was really needed. This gave them an evolutionary advantage.

And that’s why I slept in and didn’t go to the gym this morning . . .


HW’s Election Previews: Proposition 37

4 Nov 2012 /
Crop Design - The fine art of gene discovery

From the Offical Voter Information Guide:

Requires labeling of food sold to consumers made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways. Prohibits marketing such food, or other processed food, as “natural.” Provides exemptions. Fiscal Impact: Increased annual state costs from a few hundred thousand dollars to over $1 million to regulate the labeling of genetically engineered foods. Additional, but likely not significant, governmental costs to address violations under the measure.

Notice this phrase: “Provides exemptions.” In other words, the statute requires certain things and prohibits certain other things — except when it doesn’t.

Not that it matters because $1 million a year isn’t going to buy you a lot of enforcement anyway. Who wrote this proposition, Dr. Evil?

Prop 37 is supported by people who hate freedom and having to think for themselves.


“Keep it Simple,” Nobel Prize Winner Advises

22 Jan 2012 /
English: Nobel laureate Dr. James D. Watson, C...

Image via Wikipedia

I soon was taught that [Linus] Pauling’s accomplishment was a product of common sense, not the result of complicated mathematical reasoning. Equations occasionally crept into his argument, but in most cases words would have sufficed. The key to Linus’ success was his reliance on the simple laws of structural chemistry. The \alpha-helix had not been found by only staring at X-ray pictures; the essential trick, instead, was to ask which atoms like to sit next to each other. In place of pencil and paper, the main working tools were a set of molecular models superficially resembling the toys of preschool children.

We could thus see no reason why we should not solve DNA in the same way. All we had to do was to construct a set of molecular models and begin to play — with luck, the structure would be a helix. Any other type of configuration would be much more complicated. Worrying about complications before ruling out the possibility that the answer was simple would have been damned foolishness. Pauling never got anywhere by seeking out messes.


Diagnosis Please

16 Sep 2011 /

What disease is indicated when a fecal sample smells of menthol?

I’m asking for whoever used the men’s room before me this morning . . .