Archive for March, 2009

Adaptation, the affordable option

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Anti-science people usually hate evolution. But science denier and House Representative Joe Barton (R, Texas) likes it. He thinks it’s a practical, affordable strategy for dealing with climate change in these hard economic times. Here he is presenting his idea before Congress at the March 25 hearing on climate change:

A few gems from his speech:

Adapting is a common, natural way for people to adapt to their environment.

I think that mankind has been adopting—er, adapting to climate as long as man has walked the earth. When it rains we find shelter, when it’s hot we get in the shade, when it’s cold we find a warm place to stay.

Adaptation is a practical, affordable, utterly natural reflex response to nature when the planet is heating or cooling.

Representative Barton is a long-time global warming skeptic, opponent of greenhouse gas emissions regulation, and advocate for the oil and coal industries. He is a ranking member and former chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

On the other hand—but same side of the issue—Pastor Calvin Beisner doesn’t pick and choose which parts of science are acceptable. At the same congressional hearing, he invoked the “balanced, Biblical” view in his address to Congress: “The Biblical world view sees Earth and its ecosystems as the effect of a wise God’s creation and… therefore robust, resilient, and self regulating, like the product of any good engineer.” And like any good science denier, Paster Beisner hates evolution.

Think of the children… work on Drosophila

Monday, March 2nd, 2009
bolducfly3-1small.jpgFigure 1 from Bolduc and Tully’s recent paper in Fly. It shows that many genes characterized for memory function in animal models affect mental retardation in humans. Click to enlarge.

Way back in October, politics were stressful and Sarah Palin (and others) were confused about fruit fly research. But now, even politicians should understand that there is no conflict of interest between basic science research on fruit flies and saving the children: in a special issue of the journal Fly, a new review paper describes the utility of Drosophila in studying the biology of intellectual disabilities.

Many forms of mental retardation have genetic determinants, and science research into the biological basis of these disabilities is an obvious avenue to improving lives. As the paper by François Bolduc and Tim Tully describes, Drosophila is a valuable animal model for investigating the genetic basis of intellectual disabilities. About 87% of the genes identified in humans to cause mental retardation have orthologs in Drosophila.

It turns out that Drosophila is an especially good model for studying mental retardation. Genes for learning and memory are more well-conserved between humans and flies than other classes of genes, and flies are well-developed as a model system for conditioning and memory assays. Because they are small and breed quickly, flies are also a useful resource for testing pharmaceutical treatment. This paper describes a number of mental disabilities that are caused by mutation at single genes, and the insights gained by evaluating the Drosophila orthologs. And as more genetic determinants are identified, research on model systems like fruit flies will reveal valuable information on how these genes are expressed and whether medical interventions are safe and effective.