FALL, 2003

Genes and Suns

Name:  Anna Banana
Subject:  Steroids and Osteoporosis
Date:  2003-11-04 01:42:45
Message Id:  7100
This is in response to the two articles listed on this web site which were quite interesting...
1. Icelandic Company Says it has found Osteoporosis Gene
2. How a New Steroid Was Decoded

To summarize the Steroid article, basically a "designer" steroid, or performance enhancing drug was just discovered from a dirty syringe given to officials by an undisclosed track coach. Using previously taken urine samples from WICKED famous athletes, they found this steroid THG (tetrahydrogestrinone (someone please figure out what that stick and ball structure looks like) in the pee of Marion Jones, Regina Jacobs, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and others.
I have always thought athletes like Michael Jordan and Joe Montana and Marion Jones were just not.....human? They seem to posess superhero powers, and really, be freaks of nature, not in a bad way, but just in a mutated sense. I feel cheated to think that their abilities are not real and authentic, but aided by some drug. If one thinks about cloning, and picking out specific genes in people to isolate and perhaps inject or whatever they do to give that gene to another person--it's wild to think that there might be a predisposition to super height, or super quickness, or super jumping ability.

In reference to the Osteoporosis article, duh, there might be a predisposition to brittle bones if you have a certain gene, and guess what the perscribed prevention is if you have it? Diet and excercise, just another reason to follow the blood type diet to prevent stuff like that.

Name:  Nomi
Subject:  Lost Idols and Ordered Stars
Date:  2003-11-04 17:03:03
Message Id:  7114
Anna's reaction to the steroid article reminded me of the betrayal I used to feel each time I discovered a favorite, idealized actress or singer or teacher or friend was actually FALLIBLE, imperfect. It seems perfection as we see it just is not a quality of life, and nor is "super" anything. Nonliving things can be perfect (or extremely close to it); for instance, a gaseous planet can be pefectly spherical, and so can a proton (as opposed to an orange, which is never exact). Or perhaps we simply cannot see the imperfections on these scales, and see them only in living things, which are within our typical size range?!

Even so, I think life just IS imperfect (and this more than anything I HATE to accept), and I think that imperfection is due to, as well as the source of, life's variation and diversity. Eyeballs, for example, are generally spherical, but if everybody's eyes where perfect spheres, there would go that piece of variation -- eyeball shape! Of course this has more of the same implications regarding the genetic "fine-tuning" of human traits.

I know I've completely strayed from what Anna said about feeling deceived by steroid-using body-builders. Well, I think part of understanding biology is that even with the seemingly amazing things that go on, there can be no "magic"; there must be valid biological explanations behind them. Living systems follow very precise rules, so if it's too good to be true, it isn't: if a biological phenomenon (such as outrageous muscles and performanace) seems to transcend ordinary, natural biological processes, it's probably getting some help.

The thing about being alive is it's so darn limiting! You can only grow a certain amount, change a certain amount, control a certain amount.

New topic: I've been wondering and wondering about what super-ordered entity out there might be decomposing to an extent even greater than that at which highly-ordered living beings are put together. Perhaps I misunderstood the question, but I thought life is THE most structured, orderly thing we know of. If the second law of thermodynamics states that matter always moves from a state of greater to lesser order, I'm stumped; certainly, there are things more MASSIVE than living systems, but what has greater ORDER than life?

I'm tempted to pick stars, though they don't fit the criteria. They contain the most and the original energy of the universe, and, as the saying goes, we are all made of stardust. Being so massive and numerous, stars definitely have energy to spare for us little living things! Still, are stars highly ordered, highly improbably assemblies? No, I don't think so! Stars are made of things like rock and dirt and gas, which are all fairly probable mixtures. Life is the most ordered, the most improbable --isn't it?! I really can't imagine what the answer might be to this one!

Name:  alison jost
Date:  2003-11-05 10:37:20
Message Id:  7119
At the beginning of last class, Prof. Grobstein made it very clear that there is no one gene that causes depression, no one gene that causes osteoporosis, and so on. Instead, such maladies are the result of a predisposition to, say, osteoporosis, compounded with environmental factors. My question, then, concerns a body's "predisposition" to something. Where is this predisposition manifested,if not in one gene? Are there a series of genes which, when exposed to environmental factors, chemically react to induce osteoporosis? If somebody is predisposed to a certain condition, but is never exposedn to certain outside factors, will the condition still manifest itself in one's body? Basically, I feel like it's easy to say that somebody is more "predisposed" to something than another person might be--but what, exactly, is meant when it is said that somebody has a biological predisposition??
Name:  Maria Scott-Wittenborn
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2003-11-06 08:50:36
Message Id:  7139
Did talking about the sun going out in roughly 10 billion year make anyone else feel sort of irrationally depressed? I know I won't be here when it happens, but still, it's an alarming idea, isn't it? THe sun, which makes life possible to begin with, will eventaully be the thing that kills us (or whatever happens to be on earth at the time.) I also thought that using the comparison to the water wheel made it much easier to understand exactly what Professor Grobstein was talking about regarding the "cuplet" of things moving from a highly improbable organization and things that are moving to a highly improbable organization. It's such an interesting concept, and it sounds so abstract when you first hear it but when you really look at it you find that it's true, that it makes sense.
Name:  Natalya Krimgold
Date:  2003-11-06 14:30:34
Message Id:  7140
I've been thinking about this idea that in order for something to become ordered something else necessarily is becoming more disordered. You could relate it to human technology today. Cars, for example, are pretty highly organized machines, but they create disorder in the form of ozone-eating polution. (Is this an appropriate analogy?) Even the new battery- powered ones might likely have some other negative repreccussion. So, as, I think someone brought up in class, does this make progress inevitable? Why do we even keep trying?

As Americans improve their quality of life more people around the globe (and even in America) are plunging into poverty, political chaos, and suffering. Can anything be done? Or would any solution only pose greater problems?

Name:  Melissa H.
Date:  2003-11-06 16:50:58
Message Id:  7141
"At the beginning of last class, Prof. Grobstein made it very clear that there is no one gene that causes depression, no one gene that causes osteoporosis, and so on. Instead, such maladies are the result of a predisposition to, say, osteoporosis, compounded with environmental factors"
-- Allison

Something which has been of interest to me recently is eugenics, more specially Richard Dawkins concept of a "selfish gene." Dawkins proposes that the gene, the basis of heredity, is a fundamental entity of selectivity. Only the "strong" genes, which serve their own self-interest, replicate themselves from generation to generation. Environmental variables play a key role-- as no genetic traits are "fixed" or immutable.

My questions revolve around the magnitude to which these factors can impact a gene. Also, if self-determination is a fundamental aspect of Dawkins "gene", why do such maladies exist? Is it to strengthen mankind, leaving , excuse the cliche, only the strong to survive?

Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2003-11-06 21:30:48
Message Id:  7145
Nomi's comment: "I've been wondering and wondering about what super-ordered entity out there might be decomposing to an extent even greater than that at which highly-ordered living beings are put together."

That's an interesting point, Nomi, and I've been wondering the same. It seems contradictory to say that for every "creation" of order there must be an equal or greater "destruction" of order. But wouldn't "destruction" of order imply some greater "order" that was there to be deconstructed? My question is, how did that "order" get there in the first place if the second law of thermodynamics states that *it* couldn't develop without its *own* reciprocal move towards "disorder?" If there has *always* been a net movement towards disorder, how did order develop in the first place?

Additionally, the second law of thermodynamics fails to explain *why* this must be so. For example, *why* is Life's counterpart "move towards disorder" the sun? I know life depends on the sun, but why choose *that* particular entity as Life's partner in the thermodynamic tango? It implies a relationship between the two that may not actually exist. I'd like to see biologists/physicists *prove* that the reason Life can develop order is that the sun is devolving into disorder...

Name:  Brittany. Doi.
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2003-11-06 21:31:26
Message Id:  7146
Doi. That last post was Brittany, by the way.
Name:  Laura Wolfe
Subject:  Why doesn't sugar fall out of the sky?
Date:  2003-11-07 14:37:29
Message Id:  7150
I've been neglecting to post in the forum for the past few weeks (I'm sorry!) so I'm going to try and make up for it from now on. The biggest reason is that I've been having trouble sorting my ideas into words - although I've been forgetting to post in the forum I have been thinking A LOT about our lectures and finding connections between everything we discuss and my other classes, it's almost overwhelming!

Seeing the sun as a large, improbable entity which is giving itself away piece by piece to allow the earth to become more complex and improbable is actually a lot more comforting to me than the thought of our sun as a gigantic yellow ball of energry. I find it hard to imagine "energy" as some abstract thing that magically makes life. But to think of the actual light and heat being physically used in plants and other molecules (and letting off APT) is much easier to imagine because there's evidence, it's actually tangible. I know other people thought it was disturbing that the sun will die out in 10 billion years, but to me that is more realistic than not knowing how we fit in the least we know the universe will continue when our solar system and planet and all our cultures have passed.

So I've been thinking - what is the point of culture? What is the point of helping out other humans if we all share the same fate? I guess the discovery I've come to is that the more we learn about science, the more I see spirituality as a realistic possibility of how to explain the world and life. I know there are a lot of religious stories that might not fit with scientific stories, but maybe they're just on oposing levels such that both are integral to how we see everything. I don't have any specific religion but I consider myself very spiritual, and hearing that the sun is slowly falling apart so that life can begin sounds very religious to me - whether or not the sun has a "personality" or a "face", could it still be a deity to some people? Is that where religion comes from - the amazment of science?

Things I noticed about diffusion and tendency to move towards a more probable state - I can see how this is true of water and other substances, and it feels to me that it's also true of people's lives. Without organization or structure in the day people tend to do nothing all day, letting their brain cells slowly fall apart. But if you're learning or thinking the movement towards improbability is accelerated, and the brain activity is more complex and less probable - I feel like it's a metaphore for anything - it's more improbable to have lots of knowledge, because of all the many circumstances necessary to create that knowledge. It's the same as culture and art, and music - these are all extremely improbable assemblies and without maintaining them they could all potentially move towards a more probable state....I think...

Name:  megan
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2003-11-09 17:19:41
Message Id:  7161
If no gene can cause things such as osteoporosis, why are certain groups of people more subceptible to different things? For example, Asians and African Americans are more likely to have osteoporosis. If its not hereditary, or coming from a gene, then why is it more common in some than in others? I guess it goes back to the age old controversy over whether or n ot there is biological race. Also, why are people with parents who had cancer more likely to have cancer, if its not in their genes? Is it an adaptive quality that their family line just does not have?

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