Gender Fluidity is a Social Construct

My position in the university places me more-or-less on the front lines of the predominant cultural, political, and indeed, given that I’m a biologist, scientific issue currently en vogue in the United States: Gender. I’m not sure how to define it more specifically, since it’s not just an issue of so-called transgender rights, but also a sociocultural phenomena wherein the idea of gender is being blurred or entirely eliminated as a concept in our society and culture altogether.

I venture into this specific post knowing full well that claiming gender fluidity, the idea that gender changes over time, isn’t fixed, or is some non-binary culturally induced phenomenon, is incorrect, and that the idea of gender fluidity is in and of itself a socially constructed phenomena, is not likely to be well-received. Going against the predominant culture forces to proclaim something unpopular is not usually well received.

With that said, I’ll succinctly state that gender roles absolutely exist, and it’s the idea of gender fluidity that is socially constructed.

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Origins of Life Solved? Mechanism for Prebiotic RNA Synthesis Published

Following on the heels of yesterday’s post concerning abiogenesis, an article published in Nature Communications titled: Divergent prebiotic synthesis of pyrimidine and 8-oxo-purine ribonucleotides makes to bold claim of providing a potential mechanism to prebiotic RNA synthesis: the synthesis of RNA in the absence of biological organisms.

If you’re familiar with abiogenesis theories and hypotheses, you can feel free to skip this paragraph, as I’ll offer a brief explanation. Abiogenesis is the mechanism whereby life arises from non living chemicals, and is one of the most difficult questions to address in biology/biochemistry. There are a variety of different hypotheses surrounding how abiogenesis might have occurred, though a detailed discussion of these mechanisms is out of the scope of this post. The two main competing theories of abiogenesis are the RNA world hypothesis and the metabolism first hypothesis. RNA world proponents tend to find this idea appealing, as RNA is capable of retaining and transmitting biological information, as well as catalyzing it’s own synthesis. Recall that DNA stores biological information in a chemical form. RNA is the sister molecule to DNA, and provides a transcript for the synthesis of the cell’s working molecules, proteins. Thus RNA can function in place of both DNA and protein, theoretically. In contrast, proponents of the metabolism first hypothesis tend to believe that RNA is too complicated of a molecule to have arisen on its own, and required the development of some crude metabolic activities to direct the synthesis of RNA and other biological molecules.
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Lame Science #11: Insights into the Origins of Life Facilitated by Computer Models

The origins of life (OOL) is one of most perplexing, speculative, and controversial topics in all of biology, but it has always been one of my favorite issues to read about, discuss, and even debate. There are a variety of OOL scenarios hypothesized by researchers, each of which is fraught with its own specific and particular set of difficulties. Most people that have taken a biology class are familiar with the Miller-Urey experiment, wherein what was at the time believed to be the Earth’s early atmosphere was simulated, electricity pulsed through the “primordial atmosphere,” and the resulting compounds were analyzed. Produced in the experiment were a variety of biologically relevant compounds, including some of the alpha amino acids used in biological systems.

Considered to the be the quintessential OOL experiment, Miller-Urey initiated more than 60 years of research into the chemical origins of life, also known as abiogenesis. Any given abiogenesis scenario will have to account for a number of specific things in order to address the question adequately. These include, but are not necessarily limited to:
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Immune Reactions Induce Learning Difficulties: Potential Implications for Vaccine-Autism Link

Allow me to preface this post with a firm affirmation that I wholeheartedly support the use of vaccines. Vaccines, along with improved sanitation and hygiene, have resulted in massive increases in public health, and overall have had overwhelmingly positive effects on their recipients, and indeed, society in general. For that matter, I recently published a post that included an infographic that very effectively illustrated the positive effect that vaccines have had with respect to public health.

Furthermore, I was not then, am not now, nor will I ever be a proponent or the debunked Wakefield study that purported to show a relationship between the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism.

That said, data such as those shown in Figure 1 below, that show rates of autism over time in the U.S.A. and U.K., and further note the specific years that the MMR vaccine introduced in those countries, are constructed to lead the reader to believe that the noted increase in the rate of autism diagnosis correlates with the introduction of the MMR vaccine.
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Science: Moral enhancement technologies are neither feasible nor wise

Though science has given us much for which we should be grateful: antibiotics, air conditioning, electricity, etc., we should be most grateful for a study that was recently published in the journal Bioethics. The article, titled Moral Enhancement Meets Normative and Empirical Reality: Assessing the Practical Feasibility of Moral Enhancement Neurotechnologies, in which the authors claim they’re assessing “the practical feasibility of moral enhancement neurotechnologies,” which is a fancy way of saying that they’re investigating whether or not pharmaceutical and/or neurostimulatory techniques could be used to improve human moral behavior.

Though I am a scientist, and work in academia, I was unaware of the “fierce debate” that exists in science surrounding ethical aspects of moral enhancement. Perhaps it because I’m a molecular biologist… it must be cognitive neuroscientists that are causing all the trouble.
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Research suggests link between imbalanced gut microbiome and systemic sclerosis

FINDINGS

Americans and Norwegians with systemic sclerosis had higher levels of bacteria that can cause inflammation and lower levels of bacteria that are believed to protect against inflammation compared with healthy people, according to a new study by researchers from UCLA and Oslo University.

Study participants from United States, however, had a greater imbalance between the “good” and “bad” gut bacteria compared with the participants from Norway. The researchers suspect that the difference is because of a combination of genetics and diet.

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New lung ‘organoids’ in a dish mimic features of full-size lung

VIDEO: This video shows a mini organ in a dish mimics full-sized lung. Here is a Youtube link for embedding: view more

New York, NY (May 12, 2017)–New lung “organoids”–tiny 3-D structures that mimic features of a full-sized lung–have been created from human pluripotent stem cells by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). The team used the organoids to generate models of human lung diseases in a lab dish, which could be used to advance our understanding of a variety of respiratory diseases.

A paper detailing the discovery was published in the April 24 online issue of Nature Cell Biology.

Organoids are 3-D structures containing multiple cell types that look and function like a full-sized organ. By reproducing an organ in a dish, researchers hope to develop better models of human diseases, and find new ways of testing drugs and regenerating damaged tissue.

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Lame Science #10: Pilot comparative study on the health of vaccinated and unvaccinated 6- to 12-year-old U.S. children

Given that I teach a course on Immunology, and frequently discuss the unscientific nature of things such as homeopathy, acupuncture, and yes, vaccines-cause-autism-and-a-variety-of-other-disorders, I was intrigued when a student of mine asked if I had seen the new “study” purporting to show a link between vaccines, allergies, pneumonia, ear infections, and autism.

I told her that I had not, but committed myself to having a look at the study as soon as my exam was finished.

You may have noted that I placed the words study in quotations, as this particular article does not report on a study in any meaningful scientific context. Given that the data represent an internet survey of 666 homeschooled mothers, from this point on, the article referenced above, will be referred to as the “survey.”
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Arsenic Proudly Served Here

In a slight coincidence, or perhaps not, two articles detailing the potential dangers of arsenic in the food supply were recently published. Arsenic is a naturally occurring chemical element that is present in many minerals, often complexed with iron or sulfur. Though it has a (well-deserved) reputation for being toxic, arsenic functions as an essential trace mineral in many species of rodent, goats, chickens, and presumably, a variety of other species. Once the needs of the organism have been met, accumulation of excess arsenic can lead to arsenic toxicity and poisoning.

Intake of excessive arsenic has been linked to a variety of illnesses and conditions, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and even respiratory disorders. Arsenic is further believed to increase the risk of some cancers, skin, liver, lung, and kidney, in particular. The acute minimal lethal dose of arsenic in adult humans is estimated to range from 70 to 200 mg or 1 mg/kg of body weight/day.

arsenic-poisoning-acute-subacute-and-chronic-30-638

Despite its known toxicity supplements containing arsenic have historically been added to animal feeds in the interest of promoting weight gain and decreasing the incidence of parasitic infections. Arsenic containing supplements have been outlawed in both the EU and North America since 1999 and 2013, respectively. Despite these regulations, arsenic still enters the food supply.
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