Wednesday, January 7, 2009

DIY DNA Extraction

This is awesome

One summer years back I worked in a plant genetics lab doing something not completely unlike this to isolate DNA. I guess the main difference would be in the purity and integrity of the DNA collected - you certainly couldn't use this method to get analyzable samples. The kits we used in that lab contained lots of buffer solutions, enzymes, and other chemicals to break down the cell walls, remove the proteins, and precisely isolate the DNA. At the end, you get a few micrograms of the stuff. I'll stick with the stovetop method from now on. It's probably not hard to modify this to get DNA from other things - certainly other plants - but what about animals? You would have a hard time getting a big enough sample to collect a visible amount of DNA, and it might be more fragile. I've never done that, so I'm not sure how the procedure differs.

Maybe one day I'll be outside poking around in the dirt and come across some fossilized amber with a mosquito inside. I'll take it back to my kitchen, pull out the blood from the mosquito and...

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Year of Science

2009 is here, big and bold.

An alliance of scientific organizations has declared this the Year of Science. The ScienceInsider blog (which I would recommend for science policy news) of the AAAS has more information. The Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science is spearheading the outreach, organizing programs at science conferences, new websites for teachers, and other public programs. It's a nice idea. Whatever gets more people interested in this sort of thing, the better. I especially like the idea of providing people with simple, instructive content about the nature of the scientific process (particularly its iterative, ever-changing nature - something few people fully appreciate).

I recently read an article about the increasing disinterest in science seen among US students. As kids grow up, science is presented to them as less fun and more hard work. They lose the Mr. Wizard mentality, adopting a more cynical view. I think this in part explains why we are seeing fewer science degrees in the US, relative to other nations. People that don't find science interesting are more likely to distrust it. If something is viewed as closed off, obscure, or just hard, few will take the time to investigate it and this, over time, erodes the integrity of our science infrastructure. The public's perception of science is a lynchpin for future progress.

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