Thursday, October 22, 2009

An Attempt at a Return

I think my relative absence of late can be described in two words: qualifying exams. Namely, they were just over a week ago, and I passed. Hooray! Now, perhaps, I can actually start research. If I'm lucky.

(On that note, and somewhat predictably I'm still waiting for antibodies to come in. The exciting life of the biologist.)

And, since I'm now into the long phase of graduate school, the one that takes four or five years and ends (if you're lucky) with a thing or two you can publish, I'm trying to use this transition to get myself back into some habits that I enjoyed, back when I did them regularly. (Things like, say, "cooking" things other than ramen and canned soup, and getting more than four hours of sleep a night.)

Also, writing. 100 words a day, either fiction or science, although I predict that the science will be harder on account of needing to get through a lot of definitions. Hopefully, sticking to one conclusion of one experiment will help. As an inauguration (reinauguration?) I've done two: 100 words of fiction inspired by the word "aesthete" and the fact that it was defined not as someone who was sensitive to beauty, but someone who cultivated sensitivity to beauty:

To be done properly, the experiment needed a control. It was a fact: you couldn’t test a hypothesis without a control. And the best control was… well.

The student thought it clever to name him Damien. Of course, the student who named him reaped the rewards of Damien’s first three years, took a few fMRI scans and graduated. That student was long gone before Damien stitched a sentence together; already tenure-track at a remote institution when Damien hit his troubling teenaged years.

The police found him, transfixed by the gore. He turned to them, smiled, and said, “Isn’t it beautiful?”
And 100 words of science, summarizing one finding from this article in Nature last week (which fits a current paradigm of science today which is: When in doubt, sequence!).
Methylation is a chemical modification of cytosine bases. The prevailing dogma is that mammalian genomes are methylated at cytosines found in the dinucleotide CG; and only in a genomic context where CG is rare. DNA methylation in promoters of certain genes has been associated with repression, and this association has been generalized to a differentiation hypothesis: cell-specific methylation stabilizes cell-specific expression which yields morphology. However, we may have been looking in the wrong place. A recent paper found methylation in embryonic stem cells at non-CG cytosines, and these sites were the ones that most changed between ES and differentiated cells.
I'm thinking, perhaps, that a sentence limit or a larger word limit on the science might be good. I don't think that turned out very well.

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