April 2014
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DNA-themed iPhone wallpaper

Ricardo Vidal of My Biotech Life just released some iPhone and iPod Touch wallpapers with the DNA Network logo on it. It’s pretty, go dowload:

Things to read

A thing I wrote:
The article I wrote on OpenCourseWare is available in an easy to read online format after all!

A thing I read:
I read this awesome New Yorker article “Darwin’s Surprise” about human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) when I was preparing my last Facts behind the Fiction piece for ReGenesis. I don’t know why I even bothered writing stuff myself, because this piece is so clearly much better. I put it as the first reference, but don’t know if people ever click on the references (I don’t even know if people actually ever read my pieces!) so I’m telling you now, this article is great, and you should read it.

Oliver Smithies lecture

I went to a lecture by Oliver Smithies this morning. I most enjoyed his stories of things that didn’t work. His PhD thesis that nobody ever read, his inventions that nobody ever used, and the story of when he spilled beta-mercaptoethanol* on his shoes.
He also showed a lot of pages from his notebooks, and noted that most of his most important work was done on weekends. I’ve noticed the same in my own (not at all Nobel prize-worthy) work and have sometimes even wondered why I bother coming during the week…

The talk he gave was very similar to the Nobel lecture he gave last year, and that is online at the Nobel Prize website, so you can have a look at the slides (lots of old notebook photos!)
He did add a bit more recent work as well, and had lab notebook photos as recent as a few weeks ago. Yes, he is still active at the bench!

“It’s not about what you do, it’s learning how to do it.”
-Oliver Smithies about PhD research

*beta-mercaptoethanol smells very strongly like rotten eggs. Even tiny amounts smell really bad.


If you’re at or near UofT right now and don’t have anything to do at 4 PM, I’m giving the final seminar of my PhD work in room 2172 of the Medical Science Building (one of the lecture halls behind Tim Hortons). It’s for the Biochemistry department, but anyone is welcome to attend, and it’s busy enough that you can easily slip in unnoticed (I always like knowing these kind of things before going to strange seminars.) Also, it doesn’t start until 4:10 PM, and nobody is actually there at 4:00, because half of our department is at SickKids and has
There is free coffee and cookies, and I will be talking about how melanocyte cells regulate pigmentation, and how I’ve been studying this.

This also explains the lack of updates on here, by the way.


Foldit is a web based computer game that lets you fold proteins, and contribute to science while playing.
From the site:

“Figuring out which of the many, many possible structures is the best one is regarded as one of the hardest problems in biology today and current methods take a lot of money and time, even for computers. Foldit attempts to predict the structure of a protein by taking advantage of humans’ puzzle-solving intuituions and having people play competitively to fold the best proteins.”


Etsy Wednesday – I Am Starstuff

Raven Hanna’s “Made With Molecules” work has been featured on the blog before, but this new bracelet on Etsy was worth mentioning:

It spells out “I am starstuff” in amino acids, and was inspired by Carl Sagan’s statement that we are made of starstuff. The bracelet itself, and the amino acids it represents (which are part of us) are all made of starstuff. In the artist’s words:

“The atoms that make up our proteins and DNA are from the stars. And these elements have evolved to make beings like us who look up and contemplate the stars. It’s amazing how much we know and how much we can learn through observation and experiment. I love science because it tells us about our DNA and the Big Bang. I especially love science because it shows how interconnected everything is. That I and you and everything we see were once stars.”

She also makes custom jewelry using the amino acid code. You can spell anything with the letters for which there is a single letter amino acid abbreviation available (that’s everything except B, J, O, X, or Z. Certain people, who have had to memorize the amino acid alphabet, might have expected the letter U in the list of unavailable letters, but that one is available as selenocysteine.)

YouTube Tuesday – Lego Biochemistry

I’m thinking of posting a video every Tuesday, partly because I like videos, and partly because I like how “YouTube Tuesday” sounds.

First up: Lego figures teach biochemistry:

(Near the end the background music is Pachelbel, which reminded me of another YouTube video.)