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“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”
-Mark Twain, maybe

I like this quote and I envy its author. It is rational, clear headed, and it makes all kinds of sense. Earlier this year Makagutu had a post asking people about their views on death. I would have loved to have replied with this quote, but that would not have been honest. I did not take part in the conversation as my views are not as sensible as this quote or those from the other commenters. While I do see the wisdom of the quote, fear rarely listens to reason. I have feared death for most of my life. My journey into science and atheism has done very little to help with it. It isn’t just the prospect of dying, it is oblivion. Everything that I am will dissolve, degrade, decompose, and disappear. Eventually this will happen to everything that will ever live. I won’t even exist in memory. While this is sometimes a distressing thought, it isn’t the real problem. What really gets me is the inevitable end of everything and an eternity of nothingness.

The Heat Death of the universe has plagued many of my sleepless nights. The thought of the universe so expanded that there is no energy or matter left to spread out is terrifying. Nothing ever changing, nothing ever warm, just frozen pure entropy encompassing all of existence Forever. I have dealt with a lot of theists who throw about words like ‘eternity’ and ‘forever’ without really thinking about what that means. They talk about true immortality as being a good thing. If you spent half a second actually considering Forever, you would soon realize that an eternity of anything would eventually become hell. But of all the possible hells, the worst must surely be that of everything being stuck as the ultimate barren wasteland of Heat Death. Read the rest of this entry »

Designer babies, the end of diseases, genetically modified humans that never age. Outrageous things that used to be science fiction are suddenly becoming reality. The only thing we know for sure is that things will change irreversibly.

Well, if we don’t immolate ourselves first, some interesting things await for us in the future. :)

The simple elegance of our ever churning atmosphere on display from space.

spacecloud1 spacecloud2 spacecloud3 spacecloud4

 

I’m glad that our Universe is so large that we shouldn’t have to worry (much) about being erased as a species by a gamma ray burst.  :)

Health fads come and go, some shouldn’t, but some should definitely make a quick exit.  Here is a guide to the good and the bad.

**Update** – One of our merry band of contributors here at DWR, Bleatmop,  astutely pointed out that the last graph that was posted here, has some glaring problems with accuracy of the claims being made.   That infographic has been removed from DWR and replaced with another with links to where they got their data from.  Consider visiting Information is beautiful.net to see the graph in its full size and interactive format.

 

1276_snake_oil_superfoods_Apr14

Link to studies cited in poster here.

Scientists are predicting the Perseid Meteor Shower will be extra-spectacular this year, with up to double the usual number of meteors – up to 200 per hour!

Arb and I are probably not going to get to see them: the forecast is for clouds and rain a good portion of the night.  If any of our dear readers manage to take in the sight, I’d love to live vicariously through your reports!

Here is the new ‘joke’ –

What did Watson & Crick discover?

Rosalind Franklin’s notes.

 

Rosalind Franklin’s Legacy

When it comes to her place in the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA, Rosalind Franklin has not received fair treatment. Or so maintains Lynne Osman Elkin, a professor of biological sciences at California State University, Hayward, who spends much of her time these days trying to clarify Franklin’s significant role in one of the 20th century’s greatest scientific achievements. In March 2003, Elkin published a lengthy article on Franklin in Physics Today, and she’s hard at work on a biography. In this interview, hear what Elkin has to say about exactly where Franklin stands in her mind—and where Photo 51’s creator ought to stand in the history books. Click on highlighted words or phrases for a glossary.

img tag With all she did to make Watson and Crick’s discovery possible, Rosalind Franklin was essentially “a de facto collaborator,” says Lynne Osman Elkin. EnlargePhoto credit: © Novartis Foundation

 

Within reach

NOVA: How close did Franklin actually come to deciphering the structure of DNA?

Elkin: She was very close. She had all the parameters of the helical backbone. She was the one who figured out that there were two forms of DNA, which made solving the whole structure possible. She had figured out that backbone of the A form is antiparallel. It wouldn’t have been very long before she figured out that the B form backbone was antiparallel as well.

The other thing was base-pairing, which was Watson‘s brilliant idea, made possible by chemical information supplied by Jerry Donohue. But if you look at her notebooks, she was very, very aware of hydrogen bonding. She was very, very aware of the difference between enol and keto forms, which were the key to base-pairing. She was aware of Chargaff’s ratios. She was aware of Donohue’s work. All the stuff that circled around base-pairing.

How soon might she have worked it out if Watson and Crick hadn’t gotten her data?

Well, at one time Crick estimated that it would have taken her three months. I don’t know how long it would have taken her, but I think the critical thing with the timing is that she was about to publish her paper on the B form. That’s the March 17th draft that Aaron Klug discovered. And that paper was written well before March 17th, and then after the Watson-Crick structure was figured out, she modified it very minimally, and it became the third Nature paper.

“After Watson saw Photo 51, he went out to dinner with Maurice Wilkins and pressed him for the interpretation of it.”There is no way without her data that Watson and Crick could have figured out the structure before [her March 17th draft] got published. Now, if that had gotten published first and then they figured it out—remember, she talked about the double helix in that paper—then even though they had figured out the actual structure, they would have had to incorporate her information and credit her properly, and she would not have been written out of history.

img tag Franklin’s famous Photo 51, which led to Watson and Crick’s breakthrough insight into the double-helical structure of DNA Enlarge Photo credit: © Franklin, R. and Gosling, R.G./Nature

 

Picture perfect

What did Watson actually get out of Photo 51 beyond the idea that the “X” signified a helix?

After Watson saw Photo 51, he went out to dinner with Wilkins and pressed him for the interpretation of it—the 34-angstrom measurements and so on. At that early date Watson didn’t know how to interpret a diffraction photo, other than that an “X” meant helix. In terms of getting measurements out of it, he hadn’t the foggiest—at that point. It was Wilkins who told him how to interpret it. [For a closer look at the image, see Anatomy of Photo 51.]

What about the idea that the sugar-phosphate groups were on the outside? Did Watson get that from Photo 51?

No. That was from the MRC report. Watson and Crick got a tremendous amount of information from that MRC report. Now, they persisted in wanting to put the bases on the outside. And it’s absurd—you don’t put a hydrophobic thing on the outside of a structure in a cell. You put the hydrophobic stuff on the inside where it’s protected, and the hydrophilic phosphates and sugars on the outside.

As a chemist Franklin knew that automatically, and so did even a graduate student at King’s, Bruce Fraser, when he tried building a model. But Watson and Crick, being weak in their knowledge of chemistry, kept putting it on the outside. And Wilkins said, “You know, Rosalind said it should be on the inside.” So Wilkins once again was telling them information that he knew from Rosalind. They kept resisting, however, because to put it on the inside, it seemed very difficult to know how to pack things.

But when Crick saw the MRC report—in which Franklin had not only said that the phosphates are on the outside but had offered measurements of the interphosphate distances—even he couldn’t argue with that anymore. So when Watson once again was trying to build a model and it wasn’t working, Crick said, “Why don’t you put the phosphates on the outside, like Rosalind said?”

img tag Of Franklin and the Nobel Prize she never won, Elkin points out that “even Watson begrudgingly says that she should have gotten it.” EnlargePhoto credit: © Corbis Images

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