Sunday, February 16, 2014

And we are back!

So the last year has been a doozy. Some ups and some downs. Focusing on the positive, I'm happy to report I have become a real boy and taken a faculty position. I'm slowly settling in and am feeling that bug to blog again.

One interesting thing I got to be involved with was the University of Maryland School of Medicine (where I am now) Festival of Science. The video of my presentation, which is a summary of my research, plus some actual big names in science can be found here.

I've embedded my segment below (in theory):

Tell me what you think!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Epistasis and Quantum Computing

I read an article in the NYTimes about the advent of the "first" (if it gets there) commercial quantum computer. This could be really cool for the stuff I do where combinatorially we are limited by current computers. I would like to look at epistasis and its effect on evolution and disease mapping, but it is a very tough problem that a quantum computer (if I understand correctly which I may not) could help alleviate.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Julia Child's advice on mistakes

My wife just finished reading Julia Child's autobiography. After describing a failed attempt at making eggs florentine for a friend Julia Child states:
We ate the lunch with painful politeness and avoided discussing its taste. I made sure not to apologize for it. This was a rule of mine. I don't believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make. When one's hostess starts in with self-deprecations such as "Oh, I don't know how to cook...," or "Poor little me ...," or "This may taste awful ...," it is so dreadful to have to reassure her that everything is delicious and fine, whether it is or not. Besides, such admissions only draw attention to one's shortcomings (or perceived shortcomings)...Usually one's cooking is better than one thinks it is. If the food is truly vile, as my ersatz eggs florentine surely were, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile - and learn from her mistakes. (pg. 71-72 of My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme; bold is mine)
This principle goes far beyond cooking. I tend to be the person who apologizes for things even when they 1) were not my fault but I feel bad, or 2) were my fault but were so minor you probably didn't notice and now my apology clues you into my self-analysis of the situation. My wife has been especially fond of this quote; it can be very liberating when we can move on from mistakes and not overburden ourselves. We need to learn from our mistakes, but not apologize when we have done our best. I think this is an area I could improve on.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't apologies for when we have truly wronged someone, but we can relax when we do are best and come up short.

Monday, January 7, 2013

An Astounding Material Miracle

I saw this on the NY Times recently. Fantastic(al) in its application, this was a really cool use of interdisciplinary science:
Desperate to save her, her parents sought an experimental treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, one that had never before been tried in a child, or in anyone with the type of leukemia Emma had. The experiment, in April, used a disabled form of the virus that causes AIDS to reprogram Emma’s immune system genetically to kill cancer cells.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

An Amazing Example

I saw recently that one of my favorite examples of hard-working scientists has passed away. Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini died at the age of 103. She was a Nobel laureate and worked until the day she died. The story about how she worked during WWII was especially moving (and motivating):
... after she graduated in 1936 the fascist government banned Jews from academic and professional careers, and Dr Levi-Montalcini set up a makeshift laboratory in her bedroom, experimenting on chicken embryos.
"She worked in primitive conditions," Italian astrophysicist Margherita Hack told Italian TV. "She is really someone to be admired."

Monday, December 10, 2012

What Child is this?

This is my new favorite version of this song. An mp3 can be downloaded from here. The text is great, but what I really love is Greensleeves (the music). It has always been one of my favorite Christmas songs and this version was masterfully done.

For whatever reason, music is not at the center of my religious experience. I like music and have some training (9 years of viola which I haven't done for 10 years now), but I don't usually find that music contributes much to my spiritual experiences. For example, I like watching General Conference afterwards by skipping the songs and focusing on the talks, where I feel the spirit more. I'm weird and I totally understand that music is important for many and in some contexts it has been for me. Just not generally.

One specific exception has always been Christmas music. I love Christmas time, and the music always makes me think more about the Savior, His life, and what He has done for me. I hope you enjoyed this song as much as I do.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Genetics of Binge Drinking

There is an interesting article that just came out in PNAS by Prof. Gunter Schumann. To the BBC he states:

We now understand the chain of action: how our genes shape this function in our brains and how that, in turn, leads to human behaviour.We found that the RASGRF-2 gene plays a crucial role in controlling how alcohol stimulates the brain to release dopamine, and hence trigger the feeling of reward. So, if people have a genetic variation of the RASGRF-2 gene, alcohol gives them a stronger sense of reward, making them more likely to be heavy drinkers. (source)

And the BBC article continues:

He said more work was needed to prove this theory - the study only looked at young teenage boys, making it difficult to assess a link with long-term drinking patterns.

It is a preliminary association (ie the study design was not explicit for the finding they made), though the functional work (animal model) looks promising.

In my own family history there is strong evidence of alcoholism, and binge drinking as well. Findings like these make me want to have my genome sequenced. But other reasons, money being a prohibiting factor anyway, keep me from doing so. Its just cool when we can combine this kind of information to understand our genes.