Ask Prof. Steve Steve #1

| 15 Comments

Welcome to the first edition of Ask Prof. Steve Steve. Our first question comes from Jeremy Porath of Purdue.

Professor Steve Steve,

I read an article a while back about a group of Australian scientists who were attempting to bring back an extinct animal, the Tasmanian Tiger (or Thylacine) with cloning.

However, about two years ago, I read a book (What Do Martians Look Like?) that contained a rant against Jurassic Park that lead me to believe this sort of endeavor would be impossible. The relevant portions of the book and article are quoted on my LiveJournal.

I was hoping that you, or one of your colleagues, could perhaps shed some light on this and tell me which group is “correct”–or both, or neither, as the case may be.

Many thanks, Jeremy Porath, Junior, Purdue University

Jeremy, the Tasmanian Tiger cloning experiment is possible because the species only went extinct in the last 100 years. Unlike, dinosaurs Tasmanian Tiger DNA is still young enough to be potentially usable.

Our next question comes from Bruce Collins of Kobe, Japan.

Dear Prof. Steve Steve, I want to gain at least an undergraduate’s firm comprehension of biology (and evolution)as it is being (well) taught in today’s universities, and to attempt to lead my 15-year-old son through it as well. I’m in Japan, with limited access to non-Net materials, etc. I had been struggling through Biology (an old edition) and thought I could perhaps manage to get something like a solid grip on the subject by going through the newest addition w/ CDRom in a determined manner, with some nice biology person’s occasional advice or correction of my understanding. What do you think? Any advice about this would be wonderful. I have never felt at ease bothering some poor professor with what now is nothing but a “hobby” kind of interest. Yours, Bruce Collins, Kobe, Japan

This is the recommendation of my good friend, Dr. Paul R. Gross, University Professor of Life Sciences, Emeritus, at the University of Virginia.

I have a suggestion for Mr. Collins, a better choice–for his particular purpose–than any current standard biology text book (they get carried away): John A. Moore, Science As a Way of Knowing: The Foundations of Modern Biology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993). Chapters 7 through 10 of this book are a survey of evolutionary thought, the history as well as the basics of the modern synthesis, plus enough contemporary input from molecular biology and development. It’s up to date to ~1990, which is plenty good enough, and it’s beautifully written. I used it for three successive years in a “meet the senior faculty seminar” for entering students at the Univ. of Virginia. They loved it.

Additionally, M.J. Farabee of Estrella Mountain Community College in Avondale, AZ has written an online biology textbook, and you may find it a useful supplement.

If you’ve got a question about science or cultural issues around it, drop me a line at [Enable javascript to see this email address.] or [Enable javascript to see this email address.]. I will not answers questions posed in comments.

Please include your name, school, town, and science course, as appropriate.

15 Comments

Prof. Steve Steve-

I have a question for you. Regarding the Science vs. Science Fiction question asked of Dr. Mr. Behe at the trial in Dover this week, is it true that there is a difference between science and science fiction? If so, does that mean that transporters and stargates and bodiless heads in jars of liquid are not likely to come true in the near future?

Thank you for your kind consideration of my question.

Bob Davis I have no scool affiliation at this time. (My previous affiliations have all been disowned by the universities in question, and the legal proceedings prevent me from identifying them.)

Bob,

Prof. Steve Steve will only answer questions that are sent via email.

Rockets to the moon and space stations were science fiction but came true; other science fictions have not come true. That science and science fiction are (of course) different does not imply anything about whether or when some specific science fiction will come true. Isn’t this obvious? I have trouble comprehending the sort of thought process behind the query – it doesn’t seem anything like rational.

don’t forget transparent aluminum (ala Star Trek 4):

http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123012131

Jeremy, the Tasmanian Tiger cloning experiment is possible because the species only went extinct in the last 100 years. Unlike, dinosaurs Tasmanian Tiger DNA is still young enough to be potentially usable.

Aside from being ungrammatical, this makes no sense and doesn’t address any of the objections raised in “What Does a Martian Look Like?”

don’t forget transparent aluminum (ala Star Trek 4):

I didn’t forget anything; I mentioned two science fictions that came true; there are of course others (“other science fictions have not come true” does not mean that that no others have come true). Clarke’s communications satellites are a well known example.

which specific objections would you like to address, Morbius?

that DNA doesn’t actually code for an entire organism (please don’t say you agree - cloning using independent DNA has already been done succcessfully)?

or that it would actually require a living tasmanian tiger egg in order to clone a tasmanian tiger?

or was there some other objection you particularly glommed onto?

I didn’t forget anything

?? i wasn’t addressing that to you specifically, merely adding a fairly recent and interesting sci-fi to reality example.

?? i wasn’t addressing that to you specifically

Then who was to not forget? If merely adding an example, simply say here’s another example, rather than suggesting some failure on someone’s part (to remember, in this case).

which specific objections would you like to address, Morbius?

Uh, why not read the page that Mr. Porath cited in his query? The fellow quoted material that made specific objections; the response did not address them. What part of that aren’t you able to comprehend?

ok, that’s enough of you.

raise a specific point or quit your inane whining.

In other words, comprehension is beyond you.

Morbius said: I have trouble comprehending the sort of thought process behind the query — it doesn’t seem anything like rational.

With a name like Morbius, you would think you would have a little more sympathy for those of us who are science fiction challenged. Please don’t get angry because we ask questions.

Since I didn’t express any anger, certainly not about asking questions, your further comment is equally irrational. I find it sad that there are so many people with poorly functioning brains, but I’m not angry about it.

Uhm… I think Morbius may be a Vulcan…

That said, I also think the esteemed Professor’s answer to question 1 is inadequate. (Perhaps the Professor becomes too emotionally involved when issues relating to extinct and endangered species are concerned.)

If the Professor does not want to try adding to his answer, I will try to do it, although it may take me a few days (I have a bunch of deadlines looming).

Since the Thylacine has only been extinct for a century, it probably has some close ancestors who are still alive. Popping the Thylacine DNA into one of their eggs might very well produce a Thylacine by providing the ancillary functions that decode the DNA, feed the growing embryo, etc. I think there are some plans to do this with the extinct Asiatic Cheetah.

I notice the MyLiveJournal site says that rat DNA won’t develop properly in mouse eggs. Does anybody know how long it’s been since mice and rats split off from each other? I’d guess millions of years. It’s certainly not hundreds.

I’m very unimpressed with one of the points raised on MyLiveJournal: “The example of the anglerfish, already mentioned, is instructive: here the fish’s DNA does not even tell it which sex it should be.…”

That may well be, but it’s dollars to donuts that the anglerfish carries DNA that tells how to make BOTH a male and a female, with the temperature or some other factor determining which piece of DNA gets expressed and thus what sex the animal becomes.

That would also be the case for those animals which switch sex mid-life. They have DNA for both sexes and the sex of the animal depends on which DNA is expressed.

For that matter, all humans carry DNA that will cause the fetus to develop into a female - UNLESS a piece of DNA on the Y chromosome is activated early in gestation which generates a chemical which in turn switches on other parts of the DNA to generate several other chemicals at various times which cause the ovaries to develop as testes, the clitoris to develop into a penis, the inner labial lips to develop into a scrotum, etc. Details are in “Why is Sex Fun” by Jared Diamond.

P.S. Creationist/ID/Conservative Religious web sites do NOT like that book! It destroys too many of their prize theories.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Prof. Steve Steve published on October 23, 2005 1:06 PM.

What else could I have done? was the previous entry in this blog.

John Calvert lies about KCFS at AEI is the next entry in this blog.

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