Random Blog Post Number Three. (Genetics, baby!)

Hello readers, and welcome to another day of random fact blog posts. So far we’ve covered archery and cooking. So, following this trend, today will be about genetics! (Just kidding, there is no logic, life is anarchy). Today, we will be learning how to understand your own DNA, some facts about the human genome, and how to destroy the world with some time and a $300 Crispr kit!

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Hear me out. Genetics are literally the source code of all life as we know it. And yet, some people know absolutely nothing about what makes them tick!

 

Okay. We will start at the basics. DNA.

 

DNA is the stuff that tells your body what proteins to produce and basically dictate how your body works. The entirety of the coding part of DNA is made up of four nucleotides that we call T,C,A, and G. Sort of like binary. Four different amino acids may not sound like enough options to code for all life as we know it, but human beings have three billion pairs of these in our genome. That allows for a lot of variation. Trust me.

 

On a side note, those fun little $75 ancestry DNA tests that are all the craze nowadays (I did them, they are really cool) only sequence about 900,000 base pairs depending on the test, so don’t put too much stock in the results when it comes to diseases. Many illnesses are influenced by many different genes, so just because one might say you are 2x more likely to get diabetes doesn’t mean that’s necessarily true, as you could have five other genes that state the opposite. If you really want to know, get your whole genome sequenced or go home. The price is really affordable now. It’s gone from $3 billion to a few thousand dollars in just the fifteen years since the first human genome was sequenced! That’s quite a reduced rate!

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Back to understanding DNA. You have three billion base pairs in your genome. This means that you have three billion base pairs of DNA in each cell. Crazy right? That’s the equivalent of 700mb of data stored in each human cell, or roughly 70 Zetabytes of data in the human body. That’s nuts. That is more than the entirety of data used by human beings. More than every movie, every website, every image and secret government AI ever created in the history of the digital age. In one human body. Insane.

 

As a side note, as the entire human genome can fit in 700 mb, all of what makes you you can be stored on a CD. Hilarious. Of course, most genomes are so similar, we could probably compress it down a lot further than that, but why? A CD costs next to nothing at Best Buy .

 

Alright, now we’re going to discuss Autosomal dominant and recessive traits. Autosomal simply refers to DNA not inherited from the sex chromosomes.

 

So, each human has two sets of chromosomes, one inherited from the mother, one from the father. When you have a child, you only pass down one of your two chromosomes to your kids. It’s (mostly) random. This means that if you have a gene on one chromosome, say, for an extra finger, and one chromosome without that gene, you have a 50/50 shot of passing on that gene to your kid. If the child gets the gene from you, and a normal one from his father, and gains an extra finger, the trait is dominant. If the kid gets the gene from you, a healthy gene from his father, and only has five fingers, then the trait is recessive, meaning both genes need to have the same mutation to express it. Most diseases are recessive, as if you had a dominant disease in prehistoric times, you often didn’t survive to child bearing age, whereas if the disease is recessive, you could carry the mutated gene and pass it on without showing symptoms due to your other, healthy gene.

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However, some autosomal dominant diseases, such as Huntington’s, do exist today. These diseases are often particularly horrible as many people don’t know they have it until after having kids and having a 50/50 chance of passing it on to them.

 

Now inheritance is usually a little more complicated than this. There usually isn’t a “blue eyed gene” or a “smooth skin gene”. Many genes factor into having one trait, and untangling them all is often confusing. In addition, recently scientists have begun to understand the effects the environment has on influencing what genes get expressed in your genome.

 

There was actually this really cool study done on twins where the genomes of two identical young twins were compared with the genomes of two old identical twins. It turns out that the older identical twins actually had fairly different genes being expressed, despite being genetically identical at birth, due to differences in what they ate, where they lived, ect. This is how one identical twin could be more likely to get cancer, or go bald a little earlier.

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This environmental effect on gene expression actually explains a lot about why we can’t just insert a gene into someone and know the outcome, or why a person with a lower genetic likelihood of cancer might still get cancer.

 

However, despite all these crazy factors influencing our genes, scientists are getting closer and closer to cracking the human genome. In fact, there is a crazy cool new project being implemented where scientists are collecting one million human genomes through volunteers to help solve this mystery once and for all. I’m going to sign up. And no, I’m not afraid of government subsidized cloning, or insurance companies getting hold of my DNA because let’s be honest here, all it takes is a single skin cell to know your entire genetic makeup. In ten years, DNA tests will probably be so cheap, any Joe Shmo could pluck one of your hairs and get it sequenced for the price of a meal.

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So that’s the basics of genetics. We are only going to discuss one more really freaking awesome and slightly terrifying thing today and that is the idea of gene drives.

 

“What’s a gene drive?” you ask, as you’re not totally bored yet by my rambling. Well, remember how I said that the mommy and the daddy each pass down one gene? So if the mother has a gene for, say, invisibility and one for laser eyes, the child could get either one? Well, gene drives allow you to play God in that you can choose which gene will always be passed down. So you can design it so that invisibility will be passed down to all the kids, and all the kids’ kids, and so on forever until every person on the planet has invisibility. This is wicked crazy.

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How a gene drive works is a little too complicated for a random fact post on a book blog, but let me grossly oversimplify it. Basically, scientists take, say, a mosquito and alter one of its genes with CRISPER/Cas9 (a cool new technology that lets us edit DNA). This new gene has whatever we insert in, plus a little segment that instructs the “normal” gene in the other chromosome to be cut out. So, after the normal gene is gut out, the broken chromosome needs to repair itself, and does so using the second, altered chromosome as a template, thereby copying the altered gene. As the mosquito has little nasty mosquito babies, the gene gets passed down to them, altering the other, healthy chromosome. Now, with two altered chromosomes, that trait is 100% likely to be passed down to the next generation. And on. And on

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So think about it for a minute. If we were to use a gene drive to make all female mosquitoes infertile, the gene would rapidly spread via the males until every female mosquito is dead, and the entire mosquito population becomes extinct. I’ve also heard it hypothesized that with the rate of reproduction, rendering an entire mosquito species extinct by releasing a handful of altered mosquitoes would only take a few years. That’s it. A few years and a 300 dollar CRISPR kit to wipe out humanity’s #1 killer (other then other humans). Isn’t life insane?

 

So yes, genetics is terrifying, and complex, and it’s easy to shy away from it and not want to know or give anyone your genetic information, or use this technology on plants or animals. And you have a very valid point. However, for better or worse the genie is already out of the bottle, so if you really want to save this planet from humanity’s mistakes, make all research go through very public, government approved processes and pass preemptive legislation. Banning GMO’s and burying your head in the sand is more harmful than it is helpful. We all have a responsibility in this new age of unprecedented technological advancement to use our new tools with caution and respect, and the best way to make that happen is to educate yourself and encourage transparency. So let’s do it!

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On a side note, happy May Day everyone!

 

 

How to Properly Caramelize Onions

408_09.jpgHello loyal readers. It is time for yet another of my (soon to be) famous random informational posts! Last time we learned the basics of how to shoot a bow and arrow. Today we will be discussing something even cooler.

How to properly caramelize onions.

Now, just for the record, I can’t stand onions. They are slimy, smelly, weird tasting, and just generally unpleasant to find in your food. This is why I love to properly caramelize the daylights out of my onions. The more I do, the smaller and less visible they get. They also taste…not bad (really amazing) when caramelized properly.

Okay” you might be thinking. “Why is this worth my time? I just dice them up and put them in hot oil, right? Isn’t that okay?”

Well, when I went to my one and only Indian cooking class last summer, and the woman saw me tearfully dicing up the onions (I have absolutely no onion tolerance, it’s horrible) she kind of gave this restrained pterodactyl screech, then proceeded to tell me that I had pretty much almost ruined the entire meal with my heathen onions. What she showed me next changed my life.

  1. Do not dice the onions. Cut them in large, paper thin strips, like this, but even thinner:

onion slices.jpg2. Heat up the oil before you put the onions in. That way the onions don’t absorb the oil and get soggy and gross.

3. Now, here is the most challenging part. Put the heat on medium-low. Put the onion strips in. Then be patient.

You see, in order for the onions to properly caramelize, it must be cooked slowly, ideally over a period of 15 to 20 minutes. Although I won’t lie, I usually get impatient and turn the heat up a little. Don’t do that. It’s worth it to wait. Just make sure to give them a little stir every now and then.

If you sliced beautiful, paper thin onions, and slowly caramelized them over low heat, you should eventually get something like this:

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I know, right? With these babies, you could make a killer curry, or marinara sauce, or a creamy mushroom potato soup, flavored by caramelized onions, with croutons and a light sprinkling of middle eastern yoghurt over the top. Or something.

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So what are you waiting for? Go and cook! And have an excellent Sunday.

The Very Basics of Archery (How Not To Suck, pt. 1)

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Today’s blog post will be on something completely not related to books, because it’s my blog and I can do whatever the hell I want.

Namely ARCHERY!!!!

Today’s informative post will be on how to shoot a bow like a badass, i.e. how not to do the stupid things you see actors doing in the movies and looking like an idiot. While there are many types of bows, each with slightly different shooting styles, today we shall focus on my favorite, the recurve bow:

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  1. Put the string on the bow the right way around.

 

There’s this lovely Facebook group called The Back to Front Archery Club , where they post hilarious pictures of people literally putting the string on the bow on the wrong side in movies, which looks stupid and will, quite literally, either cause the string to fly off the bow and hit you in the face (which would be hilarious) or just kind of make your arrow poop a few feet when you let go, as the bow is not supposed to bend in that direction, and just won’t bend very well in that direction.

 

Fig 1. The Wrong Way. i.e. That String Looks Like It’s Going to Fly Off And Hit Him in the Balls

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Fig 2. The Right Way i.e. Notice How The String itsn’t Going to Hit Her in the Balls If She Had Balls?

The right way

 

  1. Put your feet parallel to each other a shoulder’s width apart. If there was a stick at the end of your toes, they should be facing towards the target.

 

There are other ways to stand, but this is basically what you want to start with.

Fig 1. Like This.

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  1. Make the girl scout salute (Three fingers straight up) and place them right under your arrow when it’s clipped onto the string (without touching it). When you pull back the string, keep it on the tips of your fingers in a light grip. That way, when you let go and shoot, the bow won’t be jerked around, and you’ll be able to aim better.

 

While I prefer a different method to grip the string, this way is much better for beginners.

Fig. 1 Grip the String Like This (But don’t touch the arrow.)

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Fig. 2 No

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  1. When you pull back the arrow you want to pull it back to the same place each time, or else you might aim at the same spot, but each time you shoot, the arrow will go somewhere else. Therefore, when you pull your string back, put your hand below your jaw, with the string touching the tip of your nose. This way, when you shoot, you will be pulling the string back the same distance, in the same place, every time.

 

You may see archers pulling back to the corner of their mouth. This is not ideal for recurve bows, as “the corner of your mouth” isn’t a super accurate descriptor, whereas “below your jaw” stays the same each shot. This is because, if your hand is below your jaw and touching it, you physically can’t move your hand any higher. And, if you move your hand lower or to the side, you’ll no longer be touching your jaw, and you’ll know you done goofed.

 

Fig 1. The Right Way.

Note* She is gripping the arrow in the way that I shoot. While technically it is better, the way you grip your arrow really doesn’t matter until you get really good, and it’s too easy for beginners to screw up.

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Fig 2. The I Suck and/or Want To Loose an Eye Way

Notice how they are pulling the bow back in such a way that they probably can’t perfectly recreate? That’s why you want to pull it back to below your chin, hand touching the face, string touching your nose. Like fig. 1. Got it? Don’t be like Katniss and definitely don’t be like Ygritte.

 

  1. Brush your face when you release the bow. That way you won’t jerk the bow to the side. You keep shooting too far to one side? Probably because of this.

 

This sounds nitpicky but trust me, it’s super duper important.

 

Example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwpVYV6QTKo at 24 seconds in.

 

Alrighty. This was fun! Now, when you go to that bachelorette party, over 40’s meetup, or drunken escapade with projectile weapons, you’ll be able to impress the shit out of everyone else. And not look like a jackass. Win win.

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P.S. Please do not aim at the sky like some sort of video game character. If you let go, the arrow is eventually going to come down, and impale someone’s face or, if we get lucky, your face, so….just don’t do that. Please. Or aim at your friends. Or…maybe just take an actual archery class. Don’t learn this shit off the Internet. Seriously. People on the Internet are bullshiters. Don’t trust anyone.

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