1st November 2009

I was very dissapointing when Clive James, someone whom I respect and admire, reveiled himself as a climate change sceptic. I was listening to him on the radio where he was presenting a point of view which he was doing with his usual dry whit, relating an anicdote about golf ball chrisps which he was using as a an example of why it is useful to be sceptical.  

It was a very funny story. Comedy can be a very strong method for convincing people was used to convice people of a particular point of view. But it was with growing dread that I realized, as I listened, that it was being used in favor of the wrong side of the argument. In my opinion it is far better to use logic to persuade.

Far to many discussions on climate change, debated on the radio or in the newspaper headlines, are over too quickly to properly allow a proper presentation of a logical argument.  There are a lot of people who  rightly challenge the scientific data, but there is a difference between scientists discussing between each other the accuracy of one particular model for the effect of increase CO2 levels (or methane for that matter) on global temperatures and someone with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo or somebody who does not want to change their lifestyle saying that global warming is a myth. But the point that I want to make disregards such discussions.  

Quite simply, it is better to do something about the (possibly) disastrous consequences of releasing CO2 and be wrong about global warming happening at all, than it is to do nothing about it and be wrong. Let me elaborate. There are two possibilities: current CO2 production will give rise to a disastrous 4 degrees increase in average temperature; and current CO2 production will not give rise to such an increase.  There are also two responses to the possibility of climate change: we try to reduce or reverse CO2 production; or we do nothing.  This gives us 4 possible scenarios: climate change is real and we do nothing to stop CO2 production; climate change is real and we stop CO2 production; climate change is not real and we continue to produce CO2: and finally climate change is not real and we stop CO2 production.  I would say that the first scenario is a lot worst than the last so we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by cutting emissions. For example, if we do not cut emissions and the climatologists are right then there could be a 4 degree increase in average temperatures, which means a 8 degree increase in the maximum temperature (this means for example 50 degrees in Athens in the summer) and a 30% decrease in crop yields (and I don't have to say what that means for people who are already starving in Africa). These are numbers quoted by the British Minister for Science who you can hear talk on the Guardian Science Weekly Podcast from 26/10/2009 (available free from the iTunes Store).  The other outcome would be that we do something about climate change and were wrong to do so, in which case we have waisted out time and acted before we had to. But we would have done good anyway and reduced a potential risk in the future because there are two facts that are indisputable: that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and we are releasing it.

23rd October 2009

I have been doing a lot of reading recently and I have realised how much for granted I have been taking the old literature.  Most of the time, and I don't think that it this uncommon, I simply disregard a paper if it is older than, let's say, twenty years.   The techniques that people were using 50 years ago, for example, were pretty basic by today's standards and we know so much more these days about the basics of how things work. Right?  

Well obviously that is not the case: it it is easy to forget that our understanding today of how things work is based on the good research done in the past even if it was done with what we think of as old, and we assume, not so reliable techniques.  

I found a book in the library that seemed to be perfect for what I wanted to know.  The name of the book is "Regulation of Purine Biosynthesis" by J. Frank Henderson.  It was published in 1972 but I thought that biochemistry doesn't really change so it didn't matter. However, most of the experiments that he described were done in the 50s so I started to feel a little sceptical, especially as the experiments were mostly done by feeding animals on a particular diet and measuring the amount of a particular metabolite that was excreted.  

But after reading on I thought differently. This was how most of the biochemistry that we take for granted was discovered. By intelligent scientists making discoveries based on good chemistry and logical thinking. Only we think these days that it is impossible to really discover anything without first cloning the gene and purifying the protein. Or more commonly in the last 5 years, simply mining the data bases of sequence data that already exists.  It is a huge complement to all those old scientists that every assumption that we make based on a sequence alignment turns out to be true because somewhere is a data base it says that the enzyme is carrying out such a reaction that we know happens based on biochemistry done 60 years ago. 

15th October 2009

Tony and I are talking a lot about what I should work on.  Tony seems very excited about ATP production and consumption, and the more we talk about it the clearer the project becomes. I am reading a lot and find the topic very interesting, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out.  In the meantime I continue to practice dissection of the worm and familiarizing my self with the microscope.


C. elegans progressing through the first division. The cell is expressing beta tubulin fused to GFP and histone fused to GFP. Interval 3 min.

7th October 2009

It felt really good to get my hands dirty and do some wet work rather than all this reading that I have been doing since I arrived.  Maria showed me how to dissect the worm, and I could get my first images of the embryo.  


Formation of the cleavage furrow.