Ooooh, Fishy, Fish! Please Land on My Dish

Yes, I am a Monty Python fan and I like to play the “Find the Fish” video on YouTube when I need some midday amusement. However, this video brings up the topic of eating less red meat and enjoying more fish on my dish. My husband and I are trying to curb our beef-eating activities by diversifying the protein sources in our diet. We have recently adopted some dining rituals that include Friday Fish Fry (leaning more toward broiling, even though it’s hard to resist a traditional Wisconsin fish fry) and Meatless Mondays for vegetarian fare. One reason for doing this is to hopefully find more sustainable approaches to supporting a healthy diet.

So I was intrigued to learn more about fish farming (aquaculture) at sea when I read Sarah Simpson’s article in the February 2011 issue of Scientific American titled “The Blue Food Revolution”. Sustainability has become more important in many of the buying choices I have made lately, especially after learning that our global population will reach 7 billion in 2011 and is expected to grow to 9.3 billion by 2050. Yikes! How do we provide high-quality protein and nutrition to so many people? Continue reading

Worms with the Guts to Play Games of Chance: Stochastic Effects and Binary Output in Gene Expression

How do you explain the phenomenon of incomplete penetrance, which happens when individuals carrying an allele for a given phenotype don’t always express the phenotype? For instance, individuals carrying the same mutation associated with a genetic disease do not always develop that disease.

Sometimes environment influences gene expression and plays a role, or other genetic differences among the individuals of a population can affect the expression of the gene in question. But, incomplete penetrance is also observed in model organisms that are raised in controlled environmental conditions and that have “identical” genetic makeup.

Biologists have proposed that random variability in gene expression could account for such events, and in clonal populations of microorganisms random variation in gene expression may even be important for generating genetic variability. However, in more complex organisms that have specific cell types organized into tissues and organs, gene expression needs to be highly controlled for the organism to develop properly. So, if there are random fluctuations in gene expression, somehow they need to be “buffered” in normal development.

Until the recent Nature paper published by Raj et al. (1), little experimental data existed to support the theory that essential developmental pathways include mechanisms to buffer the effects of random variations in gene expression. Continue reading