Archive for the ‘Speculation’ Category

h1

Biology of Gilgamesh

July 25, 2012

Considered to be one of the oldest stories, the Epic of Gilgamesh originated in Mesopotamia most likely based on a 2500BC King of Uruk, which is now modern day Iraq. I could summarize the story, but in this Star Trek episode, Captain Picard does a mighty fine job.

Gilgamesh, though most likely based on a real king, is supposed to be 2/3 god and 1/3 human. Though we cannot precisely determine why the legend would include such an odd detail, or what the people who passed this story down were trying to say, I was curious as to how someone could be 2/3 of something and 1/3 of something, genetically. I have a few hypotheses that I would like to discuss.

Mathematically, this is impossible.

Because Gilgamesh most likely was human, we can safely assume he had two biological parents, like all of us. So the question is, how could the union of two people produce a person who is 2/3 one thing and 1/3 another thing?

Let’s say a god and a human have a child. That child (N) will be 1/2 god and 1/2 human, making him not enough god.

If N1 then had a child with a god, the new child (N2) would be 3/4 god and 1/4 human, making N2 too much god.

If N2 then had a child with a human, he would be way too much human, but if he had a child with a god, he’d be way too much god. So what if N2 had a child with a child like N1 (1/2 god 1/2 human)? He would end up with a child (N3) that is 5/8 god and 3/8 human, which makes him not enough god.

Diagram of the limit as it approaches 2/3.

If we continue this pattern, of child N procreating with child N-1, we will never get a perfect 2/3 god 1/3 human, and that is simply because we are working with pairs. No power of 2 will ever come out to be divisible by 3.

Perhaps there’s a third parent.

When a man and a woman love each other, they can make a baby. While his sperm donates 22 chromosomes and a Y, her egg donates 22 chromosomes, an X, and mitochondrial DNA. So genetically there is inherently some inequality in the amount of genetic information passed down. Disregarding the fact that the X chromosome holds so much more information than the Y, which really holds just the male determining genes (the SRY), the woman is responsible for giving her child good mitochondria, because her eggs hold the mitochondria that the developing baby must have in all of its cells.

Mitochondria are the energy producing organelles in the cell, and they originate from bacteria that formed a symbiotic relationship with ancient cells. Because they used to be bacteria, they also come with their own DNA. Even though over the years a lot of the mitochondrial genome has been transferred into our genome, quite a few important genes are still made in mitochondria, such as mitochondria specific proteins and mitochondrial tRNAs.

Mitochondrial DNA is also implicated in many human diseases as a result of the important genes it has. As a result, many have considered the possibility of a therapy for these diseases; instead of the mother giving her genome and her egg which holds the mitochondria, the egg and mitochondria could come from another woman who doesn’t have a mitochondrial disease. But this sort of procedure is still really in development and requires legal work to be done.

But even if the ancient Mesopatamians did have the in vitro fertilization technology to do this, one god’s mitochondrial DNA is certainly not enough to give her equal credit to the god and human that gave half their genomes.

Polyploidy

Though we are all diploid organisms, or organisms that have two copies of each chromosome with one coming from each parent, there are strange cases of having extra copies of chromosomes. The two most famous being trisomy of chromosome 21, which leads to Down Syndrome, and Kleinfelter’s Syndrome, which is where a man has 3 sex chromosomes: 2 X chromosomes and a Y. Unfortunately, these are the most well known because they are the only ones that are mild enough to lead to live births, any other kind of trisomy leads to death and miscarriage.

But these are just trisomies, where there is just one extra chromosome. Triploidy, or having three sets of each chromosome, definitely does not lead to a live birth, usually ending in miscarriage. These embryos come from either the egg or the sperm not properly dividing and thus still being diploid and not haploid. But the reason these embryos cannot develop is because there is just too much genetic information for the babies to handle. And in many cases, there are genes that we actually only want to have one active copy. Many of genes are called imprinted genes because only the mother or only the father’s gene is usually active.

So this is definitely not a reasonable explanation for Gilgamesh’s 2/3 god and 1/3 human genetics, but it does come the closest. If Gilgamesh’s godly parent donated twice as much DNA as the human parent, and he was still able to develop, then this could work. He would still have two parents, but his triploidy would make him genetically 2/3 god and 1/3 human. And who knows, maybe Gilgamesh’s godly genes have special proteins that can deal with the extra genetic information.

h1

Biology of Group Pokémon

July 23, 2012

My previous Pokémon post got be thinking philosophically about Pokémon. I jested last time about Combee being three different bees stuck together, when in reality one Combee is the set together because the two top bees are not sentient beings, and if you were to split them apart, you would not get three whole bees. Though this idea of Combee having three faces, yet only one brain is incredibly strange, I will dedicate that discussion topic to a future post, as it fascinates me.

But today, I want to  discuss this strange set of Pokémon that are groups of Pokémon, something the writers did many times.

Dugtrio

Dugtrio evolves from Diglett. But strangely, this is a case where all Dugtrio really is, is three Digletts stuck together. I quote, “a team of Diglett triplets….” though later on they mix it up slightly by saying, “Dugtrio are actually triplets, emerging from one body…” either way the fan art really did get interesting for this one.

Magnaton

Another fusion like Dugtrio, Magneton are just three Magnemite that are stuck together. Presumably, they are attached as a result of magnetic forces. Magneton does evolve, into Magnezone. Though this Pokemon looks very different, implying that each Magnemite then differentiates to serve different roles so that the final form can more efficiently get things done.

Metagross

Metagross, though it is hard to see it, is actually 2 Metang stuck together, and Metang is actually 2 Beldum stuck together. So 1 metagross is actually 4 Beldum.

Probopass

As the name suggests, this is a nose Pokemon. Probopass is the evolved form of Nosepass and is just a much larger amd mustachio-ed version of Nosepass. But, Probopass also has attached to it two Nosepass. These nosepass can actually detach and be live creatures. So the question really is, does probopass asexually reproduce by budding, thus once the Nosepass leave, another can be born in that spot, or are these Nosepass born by other means, and then just choose to attach themselves to a nearby Probopass upon evolution, much like Magneton and Dugtrio? To investigate this we could easily do some DNA testing of the Nosepass and Probopass to see if they are genetically identical.

 Weezing

I’m not sure if this one counts. Weezing is said to be two Koffing attached together, but their appearance does change a bit including size and coloration. Weezing is a really unsavory and useless Pokémon, so let’s just not discuss this further.

Exeggcute

Sort of like Combee, Exeggcute is not 6 pokemon stuck together, but rather it is the initial Pokemon, and justconsists of 6 different heads that each express a different emotion. Strangely seeds are not attached in any way, so I wonder what would happen yet they separated…

Klink

Similar to Exeggcute, Klink is two faced objects stuck together, but it seems unlikely they are supposed to both be sentient. I’m not even really sure if the two bodies can be separated even. I don’t think this one really counts, but it sort of belongs in the Combee Exeggcute family.

Thoughts.

The question I have about Dugtrio and Magneton is if they really are three Diglett stuck together or three magnemite stuck together, they should have then exactly three times the power of a single Diglett or a single magnemite. So for example, its hp, attack and special attack should all triple in the evolution if there are three working together. Actually, you would really expect all of the stats to go up with the exception of speed, which should stay the same or decrease. Yet for the most part, though they do gain some obvious strength and advantages, they are not 3 times as strong. That means this union has negative cooperativity, or in other words, by coming together they lose some powered potential power.

This is me sort of using a term strangely. Negative cooperativity in biology usually refers to when an enzyme binds a substrate, which then makes that enzyme somewhat less able to bind another substrate. So the first thing makes it harder for the second thing. Positive cooperativity also exists, and that just means if an enzyme binds a substrate, the enzyme becomes more able to bind another substrate. If I were to continue this analogy, it would be like if one Diglett had a base attack power of 55, the Dugtrio, with powers combined and helping each other, having a power of 200 instead of 55*3=165. But instead they are incredibly negative in cooperativity, so their attack power together is only 80.
But the whole idea of a single Pokémon being many sentient beings grouped together is so strange. I mean, a single Vespiquen is thousands of organisms! In real life, we would never refer to a beehive as a single being. And even if we had a conjoined twin situation, we would still refer to them as two different beings. Yet in Pokémon, we can have different sentient beings in a little group, and we refer to it as one.
Although, the idea of what an organism is might actually be hard to determine biologically. First of all, humans are a huge collection of cells. In evolution, multicellularity evolved a few times. Groups of cells living together decided to start dedicating certain groups of cells to specific jobs, in spite of having the same exact genes. One of the major cell types usually determined are the germ cells for preservation of a complete intact genome, and naturally the somatic cells, which are all the other non-germ cells. For example, the first animals were sponges, which are really incredibly complex and massive colonies of cells that have a few different cell types for feeding, signal transduction, and of course, reproduction.
Secondly, in most animals, we contain tons of cells that aren’t ours per se. We have so much bacteria inside us that are crucial for our digestion, and something and something. Microbiology has made huge advancements into understanding how our gut bacteria contribute to our physiology, and there is still an unbelievable amount of work to be done. But to refer to a human and not include his or her bacteria would be just wrong. They are such an essential part of us that we can’t ignore.
Lastly, even organisms we consider to be single celled organisms show multicellular characteristics. A few labs study how bacteria can form incredibly complex colonies as well as how bacteria can talk to each other.

Colonies of cells. Even “single celled organisms” can show incredibly multicellular characteristics. Courtesy of http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2174258/

So who am I to say a group of sentient beings referred to as one Pokemon is strange. We are all groups of organisms all working together to survive. And to a certain extent, isn’t that what society is? Not one of us can easily do all of the things needed for survival, like grow food, prepare it, protect ourselves, shelter ourselves, etc. Ancient animals realized a long time ago that by living in societies and giving certain people certain tasks, we could accomplish much more. Thus we have a positive cooperativity, or we all gain something by working together. So maybe that’s whats the true error with these group Pokemon. By forming the group, they should actually become much stronger than the sum of the parts.
h1

Biology of Cyclops (X-Men)

July 12, 2012

I thought it would be fun if in this blog, I tried to figure out, hypothetically, how different superhero superpowers could work, biologically. Obviously, I can’t do a lot of superpowers because they are just so fantastical that there really would be no basis for a biological explanation (such as Storm’s ability to control weather, though if you think there is a way, please tell me!). But a few superpowers may be kind of fun to think about how that could actually happen, and though the topic of today’s post is a huge stretch, considering how it could work might teach us a little about biology.

Cyclops, whose real name is Scott Summers, is a leader and one of the founding members of Marvel’s X-Men. Though I have read a lot of comic books, I certainly don’t have a complete and extensive knowledge, so some of the descriptions of his powers are based on what I have read, seen on many movies and animated cartoons, and read on wikipedia.

The Superpower.

Called the “optic blast,” Cyclops has, what many may consider a disability, the power of shooting beams of high energy light from his eyes constantly. Though these beams are illustrated as red beams, this is most likely an artistic rendering of a much more powerful electromagnetic radiation than just red light. (Can you imagine how lame it would be if his power was just his eyes glow really really brightly red?) His optic blast is said to not give off any heat, as well as not have any kind of recoil effect (meaning shooting the beams doesn’t push his head backward, which makes sense because otherwise he’d constantly feel his head pushed back). His power as well as his own life depends on sunlight, with him getting weak and even losing the optic blast after prolonged time in darkness. The comics describe him having the ability to metabolize sunlight and even little amounts of energy that surround him.

He is also immune to his own power, meaning though his beams can hurt other people he doesn’t feel any pain, thus allowing him to be able to close his eyes with no eyelid damage. Additionally, his brothers Havok, or Alex Summers, and Vulcan, or Gabriel Summers, have similar powers where they can use light and ambient energy and change it in different ways, though Vulcan probably has the strongest amount of control. Interestingly, while Cyclops and Havok are immune to each other’s beams, neither are immune to Vulcan’s, and Vulcan is not immune to Havok’s, which is very strange.

Note: I thought I would try to cover a biological basis of ALL of Cyclops’ powers, but I only ended up really getting at one. Stay tuned in the future when I try to tackle more!

Metabolizing the Sun’s Energy.

This is definitely not a foreign concept. You may have heard of the organisms on our planet that can convert light energy into chemical energy. They are called plants, and they use photosynthesis to do this everyday. Photosynthesis occurs in a special part of their cells called the chloroplasts, and these chloroplasts are little membrane sacs that are filled with chlorophyll, which does the action of using light energy to split water into protons (H+), oxygen (O2), and electrons. These electrons are high in energy, so the chlorophyll convert that energy into usable chemical forms of energy, like ATP and NADPH.

Photosynthesis is a crucially important biochemical process for life on earth as we know it. Animals, a group in which humans are included, cannot convert light energy into usable energy, instead requiring energy from their diet. That energy naturally comes from plants. But I must note that plants, like trees and flowers, don’t contribute to the majority of photosynthesis on the planet. The algae and the cyanobacteria in the oceans contribute most of our planet’s photosynthesis. So you should really thank these single celled organisms for all the oxygen you breathe in. Cyanobacteria don’t have chloroplasts, but instead just have the chlorophyll and thus the capability to do photosynthesis. Additionally, scientists have discovered that plants’ chloroplasts are the result of ancient cyanobacteria going inside and living harmoniously with ancient cells (endosymbiosis), and they slowly evolved to be dependent on each other. (The evidence for this lies in the fact that chloroplasts have their own DNA, which is very similar to cyanobacteria DNA).

How Humans Could Get this Power.

So the ability to turn light energy into chemical energy is not necessarily a superpower as it is seen in the natural world. But for a human to be able to do it is remarkable. There are a couple ways I can think of in which Cyclops could have been able to biologically get this ability.

1. He could have spontaneously had a few random gene mutations that turned a few genes he had into genes that are photosythesis-like genes.

2. He could have had some strange endosymbiotic event while he was an embryo that led to a photosynthetic organism becoming part of his physiology.

The first of my ideas are completely implausible. It would be to say photosynthesis was created in a day. Though photosynthesis does require the use of a few proteins we have in the animal world, namely the electron transport chain which we have in our mitochondria (as do plants in their mitochondria), the shear number of other proteins that would be required to spontaneously appear in his biology would be impossible.

Additionally, the fact that his brothers also have the ability to metabolize sunlight makes the likelihood of this spontaneous generation of photosynthesis implausible. Though in the comics his parents don’t have any superpowers, making that impossible.

But the more likely explanation is the second way. Instead of having all the right mutations to be able metabolize light, perhaps at an early embryonic stage, his cells absorbed some bacteria that could do photosynthesis, and thus gave him the ability. If this were the case, then that means the real mutation was in his mother. One option is that his mother had some kind of maternal effect gene that causes her embryos to absorb cyanobacteria and enable a mutualistic relationship. This is an attractive idea because that would mean she would have had a mutation that would not result in a phenotype for her, aka she can give her children powers, but she has none. Another option is if she had the ability/bacteria, then she would have passed down the bacteria in her eggs. But this is unlikely because she would have known she had this ability. Note that in either case, the father doesn’t matter, because the embryos don’t develop inside of him so he can’t give them anything special during development, and he only donates sperm which does not pass down things like mitochondria or other organelles, just DNA. This theory is supported by the fact that none of Cyclops’ children (Cable and Rachel Summers) can absorb and use sunlight, instead all inheriting abilities more similar to their mother Jean Grey.

Metabolizing Ambient Energy.

Finally, the more intriguing thing about this power is that they can absorb and use ambient energy, or as I interpret it, any kind of extra heat energy given off from any number of sources that just flows out into the environment. Thermodynamically, this sort of energy is usually thought of as energy that cannot be recovered. Though I don’t believe any organism is known to be able to capture this kind of energy, if something could, that would be a huge development. So here is where the biology sort of escapes me, and this ability to absorb energy really does become a superpower.

h1

Biology of Prometheus

July 5, 2012

The movie Prometheus, which came out June 8, 2012 and is supposed to be a prequel to the Alien series, is about a team of biologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, and spacemen that travel to a planet they suspect holds the origin of our lives, which they heartwarmingly refer to as answers. Their hypothesis is that human culture has been fascinated with a certain star system over millennia, and in that star system is a race of beings they call, “the engineers,” who created us. Their goal is to meet their makers, and figure out why we exist, (or why they made us).

Spoiler alert!

They discover these humanoid engineers, but they are all dead from some experiment gone wrong. The experiment turns out to be some weapon of mass biological warfare intended to destroy human civilization, that ultimately produces the Alien we all know from the original movies.

Spoiler over!

Ultimately, these engineers seem to be some kind of biological engineering experts, and the technology they created, though fictional, are the topic of today’s post. Specifically, I want to discuss how it might work, some issues, and some thoughts I had about it.

What we know.

In the first scene in the movie, they basically show their entire technology/process that led to our creation.

(Note: This clip is not the complete opening)

We see a humanoid man(?) eat some kind of black sushi roe, his blood vessels go crazy, he keels over, then falls into the water. As his body and cells disintegrate, we see his DNA turn black and degrade. Then cells appear with new DNA, and the cells divide in a manner very similar to early developmental cleavage.

We are to assume that these dividing cells lead to human development, but it remains unclear if these cells then evolved, or if those things became little Adam and Eve embryos.

Additionally, later in the movie we see three more similar processes happen. The first involves a man ingesting just one of these black eggs, the second involves a man getting attacked by a large eel (which we should note is the result of the virus infecting little worms), and the final is one of the “engineers” being attacked by a large squid.

In the first of these, they torch the man prior to his development into some kind of creature, while in the second, we see the body dead, but then he later becomes some kind of super zombie. And finally the third results in the death of the engineer, but the birth of the characteristic alien from the original movies.

How it might work.

Clearly, inside these eggs is the ability to transform a host organism into a monster via a couple different mechanisms. What this basically sounds like is a virus. Except viruses big enough to see with the naked eye have not really been discovered, though we don’t know if one of those black egg things are one unit of virus or maybe a big bag of them. Additionally, this virus is potentially one of the most sophisticated viruses, so perhaps it needs to be big. Regardless here’s my schematic for how I think the process works:

1. A creature must be infected.

a. via – ingestion, sexual contact, attack
b. Can be transmitted straight from the eggs/virus, or from host to host.
c. Sexual contact can transmit the virus to mother, but not actually infect her, instead opting to become an embryo in her womb.

2. The egg/virus DNA then takes over the host DNA.

a. This is the viral life cycle, a virus injects its DNA into a cell, forces the cell to use that DNA to make more virus, then destroys the cell to release more virus.
b. Though it may seem like the virus should be self-sufficient, in this case and in the case of real viruses, a host is required to provide nutrients.

3. A novel creature forms.

a. One option is for the entire body to completely disintegrate, and creatures to form from what remains. (Humans would be an example of this)
b. Another is for the formation of a monster/zombie.
c. Lastly a monster forms within the body of the host.

So the technology seems to require viral DNA and a host for the viral DNA to take over, or absorb nutrients to create a new creature.

Some issues.

The main issue I want to discuss is really how DNA is perceived. The writers did a good job of really creating a complete story around this technology, and the way they illustrated DNA is really quite exquisite, but how they described their process was a little suspicious sounding.

The writer says things like “DNA getting infected” a couple times, and they ultimately choose to illustrate it as the engineer’s beige DNA turning black to mean it has become infected. Unfortunately, this just shows what a foreign concept DNA is to many people. DNA isn’t some kind of liquid one poisons, or a cloth you can spill wine on. It is a macromolecule (meaning a molecule that is made up of molecular units called monomers) that has information coded into it based on the sequence of molecules. If something were to “infect” it, it would have to either physically break the molecule apart and add things to it (which is how viruses many times work), or it would have to actually change the molecules into other things to scramble the message (which is how mutagens such as UV rays and carcinogens work). If either of these mechanisms were the case, they both require something of the virus to interact with the DNA, either viral DNA coming in and adding itself, or some kind of protein or other chemical messing up the bonds in the DNA. (I doubt UV rays or another kind of energy could be contained in the eggs and cause such specific kinds of mutations.)

But perhaps my analysis is incorrect then, and the technology is not viral, but instead biochemical; so instead of viral DNA inserting itself into the host genome, the eggs instead mutate the host genome in a specific way to create the beast. This would require the black eggs to have encoded in its genome, genes that make incredibly sophisticated proteins that can specifically bind certain sequences of the host’s genome, and mutate it in a specific way to create the monsters. This could actually work quite well as a mechanism. And if this were the mechanism the writers were going for, then the way they illustrated the infection, from an abstract point of view, is not necessarily the worst, though you should remember that this kind of mutation would require some kind of protein or chemical interacting with the DNA.

But another strange issue with how they illustrated the process is showing the DNA disintegrate, and then come back together spontaneously and form cells around it. I can not honestly think of a way for this to really work without taking an incredibly long amount of time. Especially for cells to form de novo, or more simply put, from raw materials. Additionally, if the DNA actually does disintegrate, then all information should be lost, regardless if the eggs use viral DNA, or scramble the information by mutagenesis.

Some thoughts.

Though our understanding of proteins and their structure get better with every passing day, we are not yet at the sophistication to be able to create proteins that can specifically mutate specific sequences in a specific way to create something different. And we know a whole lot about viruses, their mechanisms, and their history, but we are far from being able to create a virus with the information capacity to make huge organismal changes like this.

But could you imaging the applications of these kinds of technology? We could create proteins that could specifically target a site in the genome and change it to something different. This would revolutionize medicine. People with genetic disorders could be cured as an embryo and literally never even have the possibility of passing the disorder to their children. It would wild!

h1

Lateral Meme Transfer

September 6, 2009

So the first paper I had to read in my Cell Bio course was a paper by Carl Woese at the University of Illinois from 1998 called “The universal ancestor.” LUCA, or Last Universal Common Ancestor by many scientist, is our sort of Adam and Eve: some simple cell from which environmental factors and genetic mutations led to the vast array of organisms we see and observe today, including ourselves. His theory, in short, is that LUCA could not have been one species as we know it today, having all of the essential little biological processes we see in our cells or even simpler organisms like bacteria. Instead he proposes that LUCA was instead a community of “progenotes” or extremely simple cells that lack large RNA sequences with each cell providing a different crucial aspect to life. As the community of cells survived, they had to give and share with each other, proving that the cells were not self sufficient as we would see later.

In the paper he says that the method of evolution for LUCA was different than the method we see today. Today we evolve through genetic inheritance. Family trees. Mom and Dad are different from each other, they have a kid, and if that kid got good aspect of mom and good aspect of dad, he will survive to adulthood and produce a bunch of children who hopefully will also have those same good aspects. Aspects in this case being genes that lead to a stronger ability to survive. But in the chaotic … cluster fuck … of the progenotes, everything evolved differently. Calling it lateral gene transfer, he proposes that the cells of LUCA easily shared genetic information. If things worked well the genetic information could move around and be taken by other cells and if things failed, the information would be quickly lost as those cells died. So evolution moved extremely fast with direct genetic movement from cell to cell instead of what we have today that requires slow generational movement.

An interesting aspect of his paper is his discussion on translation. Translation is how genetic information, like RNA and DNA, become proteins, proteins being the workers of the cell. He says the poor early ribosomes, ribosomes being the RNA machinery that does translation, were extremely inefficient. This means that mutation rates were high, and only small proteins could be made from equally small genomes. And with eventual efficient ribosomes being made that had much better accuracy, traditional vertical, family tree inheritance could occur. Because with better ribosomes meant less mutation and larger proteins which could not be genetically transferred laterally. This all just reminded me of HIV. HIV relies on a poorly functioning reverse transcriptase to be able to adapt to anything. But this is a side note and I’ll get back on topic…

While this theory of his is based on supposition, although his reasoning is extremely well thought out and very believable, the idea of lateral inheritance is an important one. I’ve been thinking about religion a lot lately. Being around the nonbelievers (aka, the biologists) have really got me thinking. Biologists tend to, more than any other science, reject religion. This is the result of evolution being a major aspect of our career. “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” a famous quote by Theodosius Dobzhansky. We stake our experiments on evolution. I’m currently working on a project in yeast that looks at a system in yeast that is conserved in humans. Without evolution, I’m wasting my time: who cares about yeast. But with evolution, I’m looking at a system so important to life, even a single celled organism has it.

But is rejecting religion a bad thing?

I’m going to make the case, with lateral gene transfer, that it might be. This is coming from a biologist, remember. A godless biologist at that.

Religion is a very important aspect of our development into society. Religion brings our people together and gives us a culture. For I don’t know how long, religion has worked in doing that. Look at marriage. A religious institution, it has for the longest time, brought two people together to care and nurture their children. What is more evolutionarily stronger than this institution? We have a long tradition of courtship that leads to two dissimilar people (opposites attract) getting together and sharing their differing genes. Then we bind them together to ensure that these children survive the difficulties of childhood and become successful, child bearing adults. Marriage is a meme that proved to succeed in raising tons of strong children, so it stuck.

(Skip this is you know about memetics) A meme is a cultural gene. The theory of memetics is relatively new (1970’s Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins). It states that we pass down genes to our children. But with human thought, we have developed a new self replicating “gene” that strictly relates to culture. He called these meme’s, or the cultural genes that like genes, go through evolution and natural selection. Some memes survive, marriage, and some die, Pogs. And some memes evolve, in this case religion.

So religion is, in my opinion, the most successful meme(s). It has held so many societies together, keeping children alive, and getting us to work together and live longer. It keeps us moral, defining what is good, like helping out your neighbors, and bad, killing your neighbors. It has led to cultural bloom: JS Bach is considered one of the best composers, and his Mass in B minor is considered one of the best works ever written, and it’s church music!

But only recently have we seen a different ideology spread. With mass communication and an acceptance of free thought, we are seeing it possible to be moral, care for children, form a working society without religion. Atheism is spreading, and not resulting in tons of anarchists burning houses down and lynching Christians. So is this the end of religion? Maybe.

But I doubt it. Because as ironic as it is, religion, specifically Christian religion, has child bearing in it’s roots. The Duggars have 19 kids with more on the way. Not because pregnancy is some kinky infatuation, but because God told them children are gifts from up above, so more gifts are better than less. But that’s evolution! The person with the most successful progeny wins! And ironically, the godless people working in media are providing them with money to show godless America a crazy Christian household. Guess what, the godless are giving this Christian family money to be even more successful, both evolutionarily and societally.

But are the atheists producing 19 children? Are we listening to the word of Darwin and crapping out as many children as we can to spread our thinking in the world. And I have a feeling we’re not. Even Richard Dawkins, who many biologists have come to view as the atheistic leader of evolutionary thought, has only one child. That guy should be producing tons of children to someday spread his thought to the world. He preaches a militant atheism. How does he plan to do it without vertical, family tree inheritance of ideas?

He does it by lateral meme transfer. If atheists aren’t having enough kids to pass this ideology down, they need to spread it laterally. Show the rising youth, confused by war and famine in spite of one dollar spicy chicken sandwiches at BK, a scientific view of life. Show them that hoping for a peaceful, paradise heaven is affecting their happiness in the life they are experiencing today. Show them that they too can have a family, a marriage, and a happy, successful life, without god.

Atheism depends on lateral conversion. So many families are ingrained into their religious ways, and with atheist families so small in number, the only way to make is to convert them.

Will it succeed? I don’t know. My advice? Atheists need to instead of talking about a rejection of God and the importance of evolution, give people a sense that they too can question life, questions fate and destiny, and still create a viable, happy family. And that vertical meme inheritance, allowing your numerous children to also freely believe what they want, and listening to the facts, needs to also be prioritized. It’s worked for religious families for thousands of years. We need to utilize every memetic tool at our disposal. Or else we will see atheism and free thought disappear, just like that your super awesome shiny gold pog that just landed facedown.

h1

Women are Winning

August 4, 2009

Over the past year I have heard news twice that men are genetically inferior to women. While this ensures in my mind that the feminist movement can finally declare to the world that they have in fact, well, won the battle, I don’t really know what to think of it. So just to think out loud, I’ll go through both things I’ve heard about this year, and give a little perspective.

1. Y-Chromosome Disappearing

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/MensHealthNews/story?id=8104217&page=1

What this article is theorizing is that because the Y chromosome has shown to have lost many of its genes over the course of evolution, the Y chromosome may end up obsolete. Recall that women have genetically two X chromosomes (more on this later) and men have an X chromosome and a Y chromosome. So let’s break this down.

First of all, the idea of the Y chromosome degenerating is not a new idea whatsoever, which the article states. In fact, it has long been thought that the Y chromosome is an already degenerated X chromosome.

Second, the genes the Y chromosome does carry are important for male development. But this does not mean the Y chromosome is the sole necessary thing for man to happen. Male developmental genes are all over the chromosome, which is part of the reason these researchers are theorizing a possibility of Y chromosome disappearance, because the genes that are on the Y chromosome could also find homes elsewhere in the genome.

Finally, this ABC article actually does not make any sense. It is in no way saying the Y chromosome is disappearing. At most, it is saying it may undergo so many changes that it will just not be the same.

But let’s theorize. What if the Y chromosome were to disappear. Here’s what would need to happen.

1. Evolutionarily, a loss of a chromosome would be energetically beneficial. If the cell must work to divide the all the 46 (times 2) chromosomes, it would in theory be less energy to divide 45 (times 2) chromosomes (this is mitosis, or even cell division, or one cell becoming 2 cells by copying everything inside).
2. So the genes on the Y chromosome have to go somewhere. Through genetic machinery like transposons (a complicated bugger, think ferry rides taking genes from one place to another) and genetic conversion (more common, think two cities that look exactly the same and just getting lost and choosing the wrong one) all the genes (according to this article, all ~80) would have to transfer to another chromosome. Each gene transfer though would have to lead to an evolutionary benefit, because while the gene will still be expressed, the different location would have to result in an advantage. And example would be if a male development gene ended up next to another highly active gene and thus make it easier for that one to turn on (for example, having to buy a cucumber and a t-shirt of a cucumber might require going to Whole Foods and the Gap, but it would be easier if you just go to a Super Wallmart).
3. Once all the genes are gone from the Y, the Y would have to be lost due to unequal cell divisions in the testicles, thus leading to sperm with X, sperm with useless Y, sperm with X and useless Y, and super sperm with no X or Y. And then ultimately, these sperm would have to get the egg, which might be more likely because it would be more advantageous if it has more energy due to a lack of a useless chromosome. And then these super no Y men would have to impregnate a bunch of girls (knocked up back of a car style) and pass this lack of Y to all his sons.
4. And these super no Y men would have to some sort of a sexual selection. Maybe the lack of Y gives them a bigger penis. Maybe the easier cell division will lead to an earlier puberty and thus an earlier age to start fatherhood. Maybe it will lead to faster brain and muscle development and lead to a super smart and ripped abs guy. But the gene would have to be passed on to the next generation.

And while this could happen, each step would take thousands upon millions of generations. Changes of this genetic order must take a long time. And with global population and communication making us get to know everyone, the change will take even longer because we’re not even in inclusive societies anymore. And with the sexual revolution allowing everyone to hook-up, even the failures of the world (read: trekkies), the likelihood of this seems low.

Well this was a long post. I think I’ll just leave the next part of my post for next time.