Sunday, June 22, 2014

Familiar Paths

I'm recently back from several months living in the Midwest. I liked it in Des Moines and developed some comfortable routines, including favorite bike rides. But now back home in DC, I've returned to the many paths and byways that I've used for the past 35 years. Being at home feels good for various reasons. It's nice to be back with family and friends. But I get a distinct pleasure from biking or walking along long familiar paths. In certain seasons, I'm drawn to particular greenways. Something about doing this plucks deep neural cords, satisfying an apparently primordial need to keep to the well-worn paths of home. Perhaps it harkens back to the time when we lived in small bands in a particular place where it was vital for survival to know the routes and places where we could find food and water through the changing seasons. Evolution might have favored development of behavior that anchored such knowledge through the release of endorphins when triggered by the right external markers. This might suggest the need for all of us to find ways to allow ourselves to be so anchored along familiar ways that bring us to be somehow in nature.

Just a thought.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

New Letters for the DNA Alphabet

Scientists recently created a life form – using a living bacteria as a starting point – with two extra letters in the DNA alphabet. The DNA of all living creatures on earth is made up of four such letters – the nucleotides A, C, G and T. They pair up – A with T and C with G – to form DNA “words” that direct protein construction and the development and maintenance of every living organism. These scientists added two synthetic nucleotides thus adding two new letters to the genetic code. They note that this opens up the possibility of creating new DNA-based “nanomaterials and proteins with exotic abilities.”

This discovery may be the hidden sleeper of recent scientific developments. When one considers that all of life as we know it – and which we have not even yet discovered all the forms – is built up of long strings of two-letter genetic words, adding a new letter – and why stop there – could open up vast vistas of new products and even new life forms. It may give brand new meaning to “genetically modified.” Cultures that grow rather than construct their technology is a common motif in science fiction. There may be careers out there for those who can write genetic code as we now write computer code.