Showing posts from September, 2012

Endogenous Retroviruses: Fascinating Evidence for Evolution

Endogenous Retroviruses are without a doubt one of the coolest phenomena in all of biology. The human genome is made up of a string of some 3 billion "letters" (either A,T,C or G) using the alphabet of DNA. However, a significant portion of that string of letters (~8%) is not actually human DNA. Instead, it is composed of strands of virus DNA (chunks around 10,000 letters long) that have inserted themselves into our genome. How does this happen, and is there anything we can learn from it?

As you may have learned in high school biology, viruses are so effective because they hijack our own cellular machinery to spread themselves. A virus can be as simple as a strand of DNA or RNA (with a protective coat of protein) that contains the instructions for copying and making more of itself. When this virus gets inside one of your cells, your cell can't tell the difference between your genetic material and the viral genetic material. So your cellular machinery starts reading the …


I don't watch TV, so it is understandable that I would miss such things. However, in the past few months, two people have mentioned a mockumentary to me called Mermaid: The Body Found,in whichmultiple "scientists" claim to have discovered a myriad of evidence for the existence of mermaids. First of all, one of the two people mentioning it could actually not distinguish it from a real documentary. This brings all sorts of things to my mind (how do we educate children to think critically? What are the ethical issues around producing television shows/movies that are fictional but might be mistaken for truth by uneducated viewers?). Second of all, the show makes all sorts of references to science and scientific theories that are bogus. Lots of movies like to use fictional "scientific" mumbo jumbo to sound more legitimate to the average audience member, and I do not spend much time poking holes in or debunking those. However, since I personally know at least one per…