Thursday, December 28, 2006

New But Not New

Another major breakthrough in molecular biology has just been reported [Jefferson researchers discover new way nature turns genes on and off]. (I've lost track of how many times traditional molecular biology has been overturned in 2006—has anyone kept a list?)

Here's the startling news,
Peering deep within the cells of fruit flies, developmental biologists at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia may have discovered a new way that genes are turned on and off during development.
Reading a bit further, we find,
According to Dr. Mazo, the researchers found that one of the likely mechanisms behind ncRNAs' ability to regulate essential coding genes is through a "transcription interference" mechanism. "Such mechanisms are known in bacteria and yeast, but not much is known in higher organisms," he explains.
In other words, it's not new at all. I've been teaching transcriptional interference during bacteriophage lambda development since 1979 and it's in many textbooks, including mine (1994).

Question: What the heck is a "higher organism?"
Answer: It's a term we look for in order to identify people who don't understand evolution.


  1. Furthermore, if a system is present in bacteria AND yeast, it'll probably be found in all/most eukaryotes. Yeast are just as high as flies (and humans) if we measure height as the presence of a nuclear membrane.

  2. Exactly. It would have been a surprise if there wasn't some form of transcriptional interference in animals.

  3. "Higher organisms" are defined in terms of their height from the slide under the microscope.

  4. I thought higher organisms were defined by the proximity of their closest branch point on a cladogram to Homo sapiens -- rather like picking the nearest twig to you on a tree and measuring height from that point.

    It's all in the frame of reference. My favorite twig that is 7 feet off the ground is actually the tippy top, if you just imagine rotating the whole tree by about 170°.

  5. Back in the day I was a higher organism, but now I've given up herbal "remedies" I'm a straighter organism.

  6. I think it has to do with how tall you are. I'm a higher organism. PZ and John Wilkins are much lower organisms. I don't know about rpm.

  7. That hardly seems fair. All of that extra height seems to be made of the same cells, repeated over and over again, with slight variations in patterns of gene expression.

    Wouldn't a better measure be who has the most diverse cells? Let "higher organisms" be those with the greatest variety of gut microbes, i.e., those who are most full of shit win.