Sunday, January 31, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different

...or maybe not. Honestly, I'm a math major, but whenever interesting research comes up, it's about biology (heck, this is the first post on my blog that even has the "math" tag). Is it that the barrier to entry for interesting math research is way, way too high for me? Probably. I could post about how interesting I find the Twin Prime Conjecture and the Riemann Hypothesis and infinitely differentiable Riemannian manifolds (Bozhe moi), but I'd just be doing a vaguely boring rehash in most cases. Oh, exception: I find it really neat that the Cantor set contains an uncountably infinite number of points (and the proof of this is really neat, too, and illuminates the name 'Cantor ternary set'), that these points are arranged in segments, and that it still has measure 0 (that is, if you add up the length of all the segments in the set, it sums to 0). Fractals = mindscrew.

This brings me neatly to the subject of evolution. No, really. Woese and Goldenfeld claim that collective evolution, mediated by lateral gene transfer, should dominate our understanding of the formation of genetic novelty in early life. I'd try to give a better summary the way I did last time, but the topic is too big and the paper is too small and I just don't know enough. Upshot: I need to start taking biology again next semester. Oh, and there's a new paradigm of understanding biological innovation and all that.

Query: I seem to recall that some 5-8% of the human genome is sourced from endogenous retroviral light of that, how should the collective view of evolution described above influence our understanding of the interaction between extremely complex organisms (like us) and extremely simple ones (like the virii)? Also, can I use virii as a word? Some things to look into.


Alioth said...

Biology is pretty kickass. And yeah, this lateral gene transfer stuff is pretty interesting, and I'll be interested to see what the algorithm-smiths do (or are already doing) about it. Makes me wish that MIT didn't have such a strong emphasis on synchronic, molecular/cell biology, to the exclusion of diachronic and environmental/evolutionary biology.

Beschoren said...

I (biologist) could safely say human genome has a lot more of "junk" besides that viral stuff. but then I would be lying.

for the surprise of many, it could even be adaptative. think that those 5-8% of DNA in each of your cells that has to replicate in every cell cicle actualy dosen't kill you. but heck, i bet there are other mean viruses around that would love to take that place and mess thing up for good.

it's pretty much like a niche inside the molecules inside the nucleus inside the cell. a niche occupied by a non-harfull budy isntead of, say, ghoul fever virus.