Your Inner Fly: Fighting dipterans share genes with you and me

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This is very useful for my current Molecular Biology class. Also for anybody getting introduced to Drosophila.

Why Evolution Is True

Introductory note by JAC: Matthew has produced a terrific post here, and I hope people will read it. The results of this scientific analysis are amazing and the genetic tools required to produce them are breathtaking—tools I couldn’t have imagined were possible when I was a graduate student. If I had one hope for 2014, it would be that more people would read the science posts. (Maybe you do, but just don’t comment on them!) kthxbai


by Matthew Cobb

In 2007, the genomes of 12 closely-related Drosophila species were published in Nature. This was an important moment because it enabled researchers to look beyond their traditional friend, D. melanogaster, and to study the similarities and differences between the behaviour and genes of ‘the’ fly and those of its relatives, for some species had separated only a million or so years ago, while others were much more…

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Dear American Gut & uBiome: You Have Some Explaining To Do.

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Well now I am curious…

Ex-RNA in exosomes?

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Ex-RNA in exosomes?

It’s fun to read about things that were part of my life and kept going. Like exosomes. My little review from 2005 still gets a lot of hits due to the current popularity of exosomes. I follow what exosome people do in their Facebook page. It was a cool project to do. Lots of ultracentrifugations. Good times. What do you think about little vesicles and exosomes? Will they be the next diagnostic breakthrough?

Frequent Players Of Video Games “See The World Differently”

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Frequent Players Of Video Games “See The World Differently”

This is interesting. I have been thinking for a while about engaging students who are gamers and get their feedback and ideas about online course design. On the other hand, this is obviously heavily tilted toward visual learners. Still, interesting 🙂

Cal State may turn to virtual labs | Inside Higher Ed

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DIY Practicum

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Glomerulus in the kidney.

The first time it was awkward. “Are we making the questions?” The students were not really sure what was the point of them creating the questions for a mock-practicum in the anatomy and physiology course. They got there eventually- and along the way they learned also about questions and questions- how hard it was to answer questions about minutia, and how important the wording of the questions were. I assigned them topics, so each student was responsible for their set of questions. They loosened up eventually, snapped pictures of the slides and the dissected sheep brain, laughed at how hard some of their own questions were, and if they paid attention, they did good at the real final. For the second time, they were ready and I heard some say “cool!” This time it was more sophisticated- they had hearts and kidneys and open fetal pigs, and they had to set up the microscopes with slides, and devise questions to go with them. The group moved around, they were checking their books, talking to each other, and sometimes even asking me questions. They may not know it, but I have such an admiration for this small group of women mastering not only the content of biology, but also its dynamics and its inner beauty. 

After less than one hour, we had the practice stations set up. Dissected specimens had pins attached and labeled, slides were taped to microscopes, and each student had developed a set of questions for their assigned topic. Some went overboard, others made simpler questions, but they were all engaged, comparing notes, discussing the results, communicating. Thinking. Creating. 

Yes, it is hard sometimes to be an educator. But there is this moment, when a student’s unfocused gaze suddenly sparks, and he or she says, OH, I got it now…and one can almost hear the wheels turning in their brains and the synapses firing. And THAT is priceless.

I have found that there are many occasions in the classroom when one can flip the instruction and empower students. The logistics is simple, just chunk the material or the task, and give it to individuals or small groups. Give them time to think and discuss. Be there for hints and clarification. Provide ample positive feedback. They may be suspicious in the beginning, but eventually they will embrace it. And at the end, this is the time when they come to life during class. They even forget that I am there.

And that is the sweetest thing of all!

My scary shirt and the invisible gorilla

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My scary tee.

“Your shirt yesterday was scary,” says Armando (not his name). “I am glad you brought a different one today.” It is a Sunday afternoon in one of California’s many State Prisons. We, a team composed by two outsiders and five inmates, have just finished a Basic Alternatives to Violence workshop in Spanish, and are going through the required post-workshop processing. The workshop went well, everybody is happy and relaxed. “What do you mean scary?” I ask. The day before I wore a black long-sleeved tee with pink girly motives, bought at a winter resort sale years ago. I needed a warm but not too thick something for skiing, and since it had become a comfy informal attire. “It had brass knuckles on it,” Armando says. “And razorblades.” The other guys nod in agreement. I frown, trying to visualize my tee. Cherries, a little bird, and high-heeled shoes come to my mind. Brass knuckles? “Oh, come on! Those are bear paws!” I remember finally. Armando shakes his head. “Those are brass knuckles,” he says with an authority I do not dare to dispute. He must know much better than I do. While this group of men has long ago renounced their violent past and seek for ways to rehabilitate themselves, there is no denial that their 25 to life sentence was for a reason.

I do not really know what a brass knuckle looks like. I google the image, and then compare it with the supposed bear paw on my shirt. They look identical. For the first time since I bought it, I start actually looking at the motives. Cherries, a high-heeled shoe, a bird. A razor. A razor blade. Brass knuckles. A cold, uncomfortable feeling settles in my stomach.


Brass knuckle

I bought the tee because of its fabric and its fit. I looked briefly at its decorations, and saw what I wanted to see- a silly collection of girly fluff: cherries, little birds, shoes. The image of brass knuckles was not familiar to me, so my mind substituted it with the nearest similar image- bear paws.

After this experience, I had searched a bit further and have discovered many websites featuring merchandise with brass knuckles on them, including women’s t-shirts.

While going to a State Prison may not seem similar to enter a classroom, there are indeed many similarities, and one involves to consider what we wear. There have been many discussions about what is preferred in a classroom: a serious formal attire or a relaxed, modern outfit. The former is sometimes appreciated by students and can elicit respect for the educator; but may be also seen as stiff and distant. The latter may help to establish a more open classroom community, but some formal students may see a jeans and sneakers-clad instructor as too lightweight. At prison, besides the rules (no blue, orange, or khaki, no jeans) it is important to avoid clothing with messages on them that may be disturbing or proselytizing, and similar care has to be taken in the classroom.

I was not aware of the menacing meaning of my supposedly harmless piece of clothing.   It was sold by a well-known apparel company, as part of a very ordinary-looking selection of winter shirts.

This is the end of my story- my shirt has been relegated now to the pile of exercise clothes, and I will be looking much more closely at any other piece of clothing with small decorations on it. Semiotics experts may discuss the importance of symbols. Other disciplines may analyze how the human brain interprets information (see the famous gorilla video or the more recent gorilla in the radiology image study).

But it still bothers me.

If you wish to know more about the organization I volunteer for, Alternatives to Violence project in California, please visit the website

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