17 January 2008

Weekly Sampler 2

Well, I still haven't gotten to my "junk DNA" posts, which is a shame since the topic has been pretty hot in the blogosphere lately. The term ("junk DNA") is confusing in itself, which creates cover for propagandists, but there are some actual disagreements among the real scientists. The discussion among various bloggers is largely technical in nature, but the rancor is oh-so-bloggy.

1. Bickering about non-coding DNA is not new, and there is healthy controversy in the field. The simmering pot seems to have boiled over most recently when Greg Laden posted a little review of a paper on non-coding RNA that is expressed in the brain. Laden made a few errors, and although I happen to agree with his critics, T. Ryan Gregory and Larry Moran (at least because Gregory is an expert on the subject) I do think Laden is being spanked a little too hard. Read the comments in Laden's followup post to get a taste of the rhetoric.

Much of the "debate" is semantic, but ultimately I think Moran's got it all right here:

I hate to break it to you Greg, but junk DNA is not a myth. It really is true that a huge amount of our genome is junk. It's mostly defective transposons like SINES and LINES [Junk in your Genome: LINEs]. It's a lie that we don't know what most non-coding DNA is doing. We do know. It's not doing anything because it's mostly screwed up transposons and pseudogenes like Alu's.
More to come. No, really.

2. Read my friend and colleague Jamie Smith on the Fall in a book review in Books & Culture. His piece is plainly highly relevant to ongoing discussions here on QoD regarding the Fall, scripture and common descent. This paragraph is a feast:
What is consistently lacking in these secularized or formalized versions of the Fall is the distinct nuance of the Christian vision, viz., the ability to imagine the world otherwise. Without the prior goodness of creation, there is no Fall. Our present condition is "not the way it's supposed to be," as Cornelius Plantinga so aptly put it. So, too, the doctrine of the eschaton, which enables the Christian story to imagine humanity remaining finite and human but inhabiting the world otherwise. This is why Abraham Kuyper suggested that Christian scientists and scholars would always be "abnormalists," not tempted to confuse our currently observable world with the way things ought to be. To confess with the creed that God is the "maker of heaven and earth," and conclude our confession with the hope of "the resurrection of the dead," is to be able to imagine humanity otherwise while still affirming the finitude and embodiment that are constitutive of being creatures.
"Abnormalist"? Moi?

3. You've probably read elsewhere about the new publication from the National Academies, Science, Evolution, and Creationism, which can be freely downloaded from the NAS site. The NCSE has posted an article noting praise for the book in the press.

4. I'm not the only Reformed Christian who has praise for the New Atheists; The Banner is the newsmagazine of my church denomination, and a recent issue includes this gem: "Thank God for The God Delusion."

5. Here's a refreshing new voice, writing about his "journey" to The Dark Side an understanding and acceptance of common descent. Check it out, and go Mike!

6. We're counting the days in our household...we intend to be in the front row, and we'll camp out if we have to. Unos...dos...tres...CATORCE! (If you think I'm pitifully ignorant of Spanish, the joke's on you: according to Bono, this is Gaelic.)

7. I wonder if anyone at the Discovery Institute has mentioned or discussed an important article, published in the 13 December issue of Nature, titled "The origin of protein interactions and allostery in colocalization." I'll review it here soon.

8. In that same issue of Nature you'll find an article on "The molecular sociology of the cell." I'll give a prize to anyone who can explain the joke.

9. I gave a guest lecture at Calvin on Monday in the Evolutionary Biology course, on evolutionary genetics. Missed it? Here are some of the articles we discussed:
Restoring sight in blind cavefish, Current Biology, 8 January 2008
Using mobile genetic elements to determine whale ancestry, PNAS, 31 August 1999
Signs of selection: the concept of a "selective sweep" in a genome, PNAS, 10 February 2004
Mobile elements & how they drive genome evolution, Science, 12 March 2004
Detecting positive natural selection in humans, Nature, 18 October 2007
10. It was otherwise a hard week at Calvin.

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