There are 6.8 billion reasons why holistic organic tofu farming won’t take off

4 08 2009

You may remember I offhandedly posted a link to a new hard-hitting piece of environmnetal investigative journalism “Food Inc” back ago. You can read a bit more about it at ERV (Her non-judgemental words: “a new movie bitching about GMOs and food production in the US”).

Unsurprisingly the US meat/livestock/poultry industries have put together a debunking website: which includes an enlightening myths & facts section.


Hack the Planet

14 09 2008

I don’t think I have seen a better science fiction film than GATTACA for the pure fact that it gets the science so spot on.

ERV brings up the emergence of Genetic Medicine as a serious consideration, and there is also a feature on DNA-based diets in this month’s Australasian Science.

Hack the Planet. Sequence Everything!* – I whole heartedly agree. The race-based approach of recent past is seriously flawed, even to a dangerous degree. Genetic medicine will require individualised sequenced genomes, which is approaching as a realistic proposition.

Sequencing is largely automated these days, so it is simply a matter of getting investors interested. Early trendsetters are jumping on the sequencing bandwagon (GTG Australia). I think the publlics interest in tailored working diets will probably be the major motivator to look out for.

With genetic screening tests also coming a true reality, and fertility treatments proving more and more popular, will GATTACA become the prophecy. Will we see a future where your children’s children’s future is set by their genetic framework? Can the dystopia be avoided?

*I want a T-shirt

How do virus move?

27 08 2008

Another awesome science question answered by scienceblog’s ERV.

An ERV-ling asks how do viruses get about without some sort of motility structure, like flagella or cilia?

This is an excellent question, especially as someone who grew up in the world before 2008, viruses used to be considered barely above complex chemicals.

In true virus free-loader fashion, the methods of movement usually entail getting some other living thing to do all the hard work for them. Actin rocket packs sound cool though.

Sex, lies, and vomeronasal organs

20 08 2008

That seems to be the end of the MHC-smelling your mates and the recent pill “revelation”.

Already I was disappointed when erv used science (or, well high school statistics) to make a mockery the latest hot news item.

It is a very bad shame that people who are supposed to be competent to report on science don’t understand what error bars are for.

I’d heard of MHC-smell relatedness before back when I was in high school from the BBC and ABC. But by the time I got home from work, erv has gone a destroyed my trust in the whole idea, with real science (this time she actually goes and talks to a scientist*)

Humans do not have well developed vomeronasal organs. Ok, what what? That’s ~nasal as in nose, or, oh, just look at wikipedia. As human-like apes have become more reliant on colour-based vision, our sense of smell has diminished. We just don’t have the capacity for being able to strongly sense smell differences associated with MHC.

So why is research still being done with smell-based MHC detection in humans?

Could there be non-olfactory cues in MHC distinction in humans and human-like apes? Differences in sweat light refraction perhaps?

*yes erv is a scientist in her own right, but just to perfect, she goes and talks to a scientist with appropriate knowledge – it’s a machiavellian scheme alright

The tree of life just got bigger

11 08 2008

The natural world is an amazing place.

Ever changing and full of new discoveries, some French scientists have just made a migraine for taxonomists, high school teachers and textbook publishers – they’ve decided to tack on extra bits to a cornerstone piece of high school biology – the Tree of Life.

If you have access you can go to the source at Nature.

Meanwhile, there is Australian Life Scientist, and Scienceblogs coverage by Scientist, Interrupted, Not Exactly Rocket Science and ERV.

Not only has the discovery that Viruses get sick pushed them into the “alive” category, it has produced a whole new category of “virophages” that infect them. Although one might protest that virophages are still technically viruses (nucleic acid hijackers), let’s not get too carried away with our gardening.

Aside from the nightmare that this new piece of information will probably take several years before it is accurately represented in high school texts – this is an exciting and amazing discovery.

From ERV:

Sputnik isnt just a cool virus that can ‘infect’ other viruses– its representative of all the cool stuff we dont know. All the cool stuff thats floating about, right under our noses, just waiting for someone to discover … Sputnik represents the fact we have no friggin idea whats out there

Koala retrovirus

6 07 2008

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Koala retrovirus
Virus classification
Group: Group VI (ssRNA-RT)
Family: Retroviridae
Genus: Gammaretrovirus
unclassified Gammaretrovirus[1]

The Koala retrovirus (KoRv) is a retrovirus affecting many populations of koalas. It has been implicated as the agent of an AIDS-like immunodeficiency and a range of cancers in the native Australian marsupial. The virus is thought to be presently undergoing a transition between an active infective form and endogenous state within the koala genome.


Koala retrovirus was initially described as a novel endogenous retrovirus found within the koala genome in 2000. Sequence analysis strongly suggested a relationship with Gibbon Ape Leukemia Virus (GALV).[2]

New research however has shown that some populations of koalas, particularly an isolated colony on Kangaroo Island do not appear to have the provirus form of the retrovirus. This suggests that the gene sequence is a new acquisition for the koala genome. Studying the spread of the virus amongst Australian koala populations appears to show a trend spreading from the north down to the south of Australia. Northern populations are completely infected, while some southern populations (including Kangaroo Island) are free.[3]

It is thought that further studying KoRv will allow valuable insight into how endogenous retrovirus develop and incorporate themselves into mammalian genomes.[3]


  1. ^ Koala retroviurus Uniprot taxonomy
  2. ^ Hanger, Jon J.; Bromham, Lindell D.; McKee, Jeff J.; O’Brien, Tracy M. & Robinson, Wayne F. (May), “The Nucleotide Sequence of Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) Retrovirus: a Novel Type C Endogenous Virus Related to Gibbon Ape Leukemia Virus”, Journal of Virology 74 (9): 4264–4272, <>
  3. ^ a b Stoye, Jonathan P (21 Nov), “Koala retrovirus: a genome invasion in real time”, Genome Biology 7: 241, doi:10.1186/gb-2006-7-11-24

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Does nobody know the internet anymore?

4 07 2008

via erv

I’m with her, wasn’t this sort of obvious. What else is the internet made for?

I can understand someone like Ignoramus MD, Dr Michael Egnor, being unaware of the nature of the intertubes, but EA – come on, there is some expectation this is within your sphere of expertise.

Spore is THE GAME to come out for god-genre fans. If I can’t get an intel processor by September (Australia release date) I will be seriously contemplating an ebay auction for my spare kidney.

I did think their rating of “E” might be a bit light, for a biology/society game that will obviously have some elements of both war and sex thrown in there.

It also highlights a problem that will always arise with freely shared user-made content. EA is presented with the option of either censoring innapropriate content, or accepting liability for minors accessing content. I think the compromise of a user-checks system, that has been shown to work moderately well with sites such as YouTube is probably the easiest option without restricting user gameplay.

Yes some content won’t be flagged, and yes some flags will be placed on content that don’t deserve it. But as I understand it Spore will have some sort of random monster generator. I think that some creationist gamers (or gamer parents) will now get an education in what “massively parallel” random events can achieve (quote mining John Wilkins from here, better explanation of concept available at FAQ). I mean, what are the chances of Spore programming producing a giant dildo-mon by chance?

Image credit: Original caption, photo from Flickr *Gasp Shock* by wednesday181 cc-sa