The most widely used example of epistasis has to do with guinea pigs, where the gene that controls melanin production in these furry creatures is epistatic to the gene that regulates melanin’s deposition. If the deposition gene is recessive then the guinea pig will be white, even if it has the gene for a black coat. This is a classic example used in basic genetics classes to show that the traits we develop aren’t usually caused by one single gene. Our bodies and the way they function are a result of millions of little interactions, mostly ones we don’t even know are there yet.
In all honesty, I’m not quite sure where I am going with this comic, but it felt good to get it out. If you bear with me, I think this might turn into something, eventually.
“Blue Lion FIght”
Yesterday, Ed Yong, author of the National Geographic Blog Not exactly Rocket Science, shared links to his favorite articles of this past week. The first one was a David Quammen piece entitled “The Short Happy Life of the Serengeti Lion,” which Yong endorsed by saying that the article is “Quammen at his absolute best.” I have to say that I completely agree. This longread is simply captivating.
You see a lot of bite wounds on lions, reflecting the competitive struggle for food, territory, reproductive success, sheer survival. With luck, the wounds heal. Less luck, and the loser is killed in a fierce leonine battle, or he limps away, losing blood, maybe crippled, maybe destined to die slowly of infection or starvation. “So the lion is the number one enemy of lions,” Packer said. “It’s why, ultimately, lions live in groups.”
Passages like these are both informative and incredibly evocative. And learning that the number one killer of lions is actually other lions (in an undisturbed environment) is what prompted me to draw these.
“Red Lion Fight”—Same drawing in red.
©Copyright Arielle Duhaime-Ross
Last Friday, friend and fellow science writer Lily Hay Newman alerted me to a New York Times article entitled “A Disease Without a Cure Spreads Quickly in the West.” The report tackles the medical mystery, called Valley Fever, afflicting the Southwest of the United States. But the article also addresses the fact that this disease, which attacks your lungs, is spreading in prisons.
After reading the article, I couldn’t get the image of an inmate wearing a surgical mask out of my head, so I had to draw it. This drawing isn’t quite as cheerful as usual.
Today is Pride Day in New York City, so I thought I would spread some LGBTQIA love around (have you heard about all the awesome marriage equality going on in the U.S. these days??!!). But if this doesn’t satisfy your need for queer-science cheer, check out this list of “Queer Scientists of Historical Note,” brought to you by the National Organization for Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals.
Not So Fierce
Dragonflies with backpacks are a prime example of why science writing is so fantastic. Sure, you could make that up, but why would you? Knowing this is an actual science experiment is just so much better. But the backpacks in this experiment aren’t meant to look whimsical. Scientists from Intan technologies and Duke University are using them to record dragonfly brain cell signals. Scientific American‘s Gary Stix writes:
Leonardo and team designed a 40-milligram backpack that is powered by energy from radio waves. By doing so, they can record from the insect’s steering neurons that guide it during prey capture…
Dragonflies happen to be perfect models to study prey capture behavior because they are incredibly efficient hunters. Seriously, don’t let the backpacks fool you—these guys are fierce.
Synthetic blood is on its way—sort of. According to a report on the Wired blog Underwire, a group of Scottish researchers got the go-ahead last month to start producing synthetic blood made from pluripotent stem cells. Pluripotent stem cells are adult cells that scientists force to behave like embryonic cells, allowing them to take on most any form, like blood cells for instance. If this ” blood product” works, it could make a huge difference in terms of world blood supply and disease transmission. But whether we will see synthetic blood factories pop up in the near future is anybody’s guess since the researchers haven’t even started human trials yet (this is the first time that a government agency has given scientists permission to test synthetic blood on humans).
The Wired report also brings up other issues, like the possibility that the researchers might try to file a patent on their work. This would make it very hard for other people to build upon the scientific knowledge the Scottish team will gain.
In any case, this story presents an amazing opportunity to reference the True Blood television show or the books that made the show possible in the first place. I would like to say that I managed to stay away from referencing Sookie Stackhouse’s world or the drink that allows vampire-human coexistence, “True Blood,” but I honestly just couldn’t pass up a chance to draw a vampire. I hope you will forgive me.
Also, Also, Also: Happy Sunday!
“Too Soon For True Blood”
p.s. For those who are wondering, I drew the image above on an iPad mini using Inspire Pro and the Jot Touch 4 stylus.
A couple of weeks ago, science and food writer Michael Pollan wrote a piece in the New York Times about the bacteria that surrounds us and lives within us. The reason I bring it up is that I have had trouble getting one specific bacterial “fun fact” out of my head:
Knight’s lab has sequenced the bacteria on toothbrushes. This news came during breakfast, so I didn’t ask for details, but got them anyway: “You want to keep your toothbrush a minimum of six feet away from a toilet,” one of Knight’s colleagues told me.
As it turns out, storing my toothbrush six feet away from the toilet hasn’t been that easy. The passage ended up inspiring this one-panel comic. Happy Sunday!