RNAi is an arrestingly interesting little mechanism for protecting the health of cells. The “i” stands for interference, and with good reason. RNAi is made up of a series of molecules which work to detect and destroy possible viruses and RNA which could be viruses.

It was first detected in 1986 when an attempt was made to make a really, really purple flower. The reason was purely for aesthetics, but it would prove to be far more important.

Knowing the gene which coded for purple pigmentation in petunias, geneticists made the logical conclusion and figured adding a bunch of those genes to the flowers would increase the depth of purple coloring in them. But as it turned out, they were wrong. In fact, they were remarkably wrong. Instead of deep purple flowers, they produced white flowers. Not a hint of purple anywhere.

No one had an answer to why would be. It took 12 years until researchers came up with the answer (and another 8 until they were awarded a Nobel Prize).

When viruses invade a cell, they ‘seek’ to make copies of themselves by utilizing the available DNA source. Post-transcription, this comes out with a funny shape due to the RNA making a mirror image of itself. The RNAi then recognizes this strange shape and destroys it with dicers. But it doesn’t stop there. Any sequence which comes out of the nucleus thereafter is also destroyed. This prevents any of the viruses (hopefully) from being translated and replicating (thus exploding out of the cell and infecting other cells).

Something similar happened when the geneticists tried making the super purple flowers. There wasn’t a mirror-image RNA sequence, but there was a funny sort of shape created by all the extra purple pigmentation genes. The RNAi recognized this as a potential virus and began destroying it. All of it. This meant there were no genes for purple getting translated into proteins.

Example petunia plants in which genes for pigmentation are silenced by RNAi. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rnai)

Example petunia plants in which genes for pigmentation are silenced by RNAi. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rnai)

So far this is pretty exciting stuff. It’s a post-transcriptional defense mechanism against viruses no one ever knew existed. But it has so much more potential than just as a passing curiosity.

Think about it. If RNAi can essentially turn off genes by destroying them through a sort of sequence-detection, then what stops it from curing diseases? This discovery has the serious potential to cure all the major ailments facing the world today: AIDS, cancer, Alzheimer’s. There has already been success in treating macular degeneration. This is a disease where too many blood vessels are growing in the eye. It damages the retina over time and makes vision majorly cloudy and blurry. There are simply too many genes for blood vessels being produced. But one way to stop this disease is to stop that blood vessel growth. To achieve this, a patient is given an injection which contains a copy of the gene with its mirror image (two mirror strands of DNA). The RNAi detects this misshape and destroys it. It then destroys all other likewise sequences. The same principle could be applied to any number of diseases.

There is an excellent NOVA video on RNAi which can be viewed here. It’s certainly worth watching (and only 15 minutes long).


Exemplifying the wacky right

Over at Brad Locke’s blog (which is mostly about sports, but not hockey so who cares), there’s a post about spanking. It exemplifies the wacky right.

He first quotes a discipline expert from a CNN article.

Every public school needs effective methods of discipline, but beating kids teaches violence, and it doesn’t stop bad behavior. Corporal punishment discourages learning, fails to deter future misbehavior and at times even provokes it.”

That’s all true. Striking a person is negative reinforcement and only serves as a short term solution to behavioral correction; it offers no long term benefits. This has long been known to science for quite some time. But then, the right doesn’t care about science, does it? Locke writes,

I remember one afternoon during my 7th grade science class a friend and I decided we would throw paper balls as hard as we could to each other when our teacher, Roger Chism, wasn’t looking.

The problem, though, came when I misfired and nailed Coach Chism in the face just as he was turning around. Let’s just say my school didn’t have a problem with corporal punishment. Three licks later, I learned my lesson. It didn’t provoke violence within me, and I didn’t make that mistake again.

That’s a common fallacy in this argument. The anti-science group on the right always trots out anecdotal examples (usually themselves). Notice that in the quote from the discipline expert (Alice Farmer), she says spanking “at times provokes” violence. No one is claiming that spanking = violent kids. It’s simply that spanking encourages more violence among kids.

Same thing happened when I got bold enough to talk back to my dad during my early teenage years. Again, lesson learned. A very painful lesson at that.

Haha. This goes straight to another point made by Farmer: “Corporal punishment discourages learning”. How dare a teenager have the audacity to confront a parent! Everyone knows parents are right 100% of the time. It’s also well known that parents do not need to explain their actions or words to their children because, well, they’re older and bigger. It’s sort of like how a bully doesn’t need to explain why he’s taking your lunch money. He’s older and bigger and thus right 100% of the time. Right?

But Locke isn’t done. He needs to bring out the machismo guns.

You know what? Maybe that’s what’s wrong with society today. We’ve wussiefied our discipline to the point kids aren’t afraid of getting into trouble.

Oh, those fucking wussy kids! Why don’t they fucking man up?! Stupid little pussies! Eat a SlimJim!

This guy needs to stop typing with his penis. But he doesn’t.

There is no fear.

Of course! Why haven’t all the child psychologists, therapists, experts, and, um, educated think of that! FEAR! That’s the best teaching tool there is. Well, minus the “teaching” part. “Tool” is still pretty valid, though.

And it’s not just in the homes. We see it from our athletes.

Used to, if a player got in trouble, there was a severe suspension levied. Now, not so much. Coaches make so much money, they feel the pressure to win, even at the risk of keeping a troubled star on the team with very little recourse.

Wow. Talk about your non-sequitur. Suspending a student and hitting a student are not related except insofar as they both happen to be punishments. The real problem with coaches keeping troubled stars on the team has to do with what Locke already said: so much money. There’s no “wussification” (ARRRGGGHH!! STEAK AND POTATOES!) going on here. It’s an entirely unrelated problem.

Spanking teaches violence? Whatever.

Remember, spare the rod and spoil the child. Well, into today’s translation it would read, spare the spanking and you get a spoiled brat.

So I suppose there’s a causative link (hell, I’d settle for a correlation) with brats and a lack of spanking, right? Or maybe THESE KIDS JUST NEED MORE SLIMJIMS, FUCKING WUSSIES! AAARRRRGGGHH!

In my own household, the wooden spoon was the trick. Most times, I didn’t have to use it. After a few discipline sessions, all I had to do was point to the spoon if trouble of a different nature arose. Trust me when I say that worked.

Awesome. So this guy is raising his kids by threatening them with violence, as if they’re his pets (which would be deplorable for his pets, too). This is likely to lead to adults who are less well equipped to decide what makes something right and what makes something wrong. He is FAILING to teach anything about how the world works. I hope his children go off to college where they can be around WELL educated people instead of this joke of a father.