Mice Sing, Teach of the Genetics of Speech

Scotinomys sp. singing mouse. Photo courtesy of Bret Pasch.

While hiking through an oak savannah with the dogs yesterday, we heard plenty of rodent vocalizations. Though we only saw one, we recognized the vocalizations as those of chipmunks, Tamias sp. The pitch and staccato of the vocalizations made them easily recognizable as warning calls. And since we were interfering with the chipmunks’ acorn gathering on a lovely, fall-like day, there was no doubt that the dogs and I were really annoying the chippies.

Warnings are not the only reason for vocalizations in wild rodents. Mate selection is influenced by Scotinomys’ (Alston’s singing mice) singing as well. And where mate selection is at play, can hormones be far behind? Continue reading “Mice Sing, Teach of the Genetics of Speech”

STATs and ChIPs- Learning A Lesson Or Two About Transcriptional Activation

During my childhood, my family and I spent many a vacation in the Swiss Alps.  From the mountain tops I used to look out into the horizon as far as the eye could see with peak upon peak stretching out into the distance.  If I was lucky, I would have a map that allowed me to identify each peak, perhaps even distinguish the highest from the lowest and thus really get a sense that I understood the underlying topography.  However, I quickly realized how little I actually knew about the vast, undulating Swiss countryside.  What I had initially observed as a homogenous ‘mat’ of peaks stretching out into the horizon was in fact a rippling of deep valleys that would make an afternoon hike anything but a walk in the breeze. 

Looking back on these experiences I am struck by how closely they reflect the landscape of modern science— a broad mat of detailed knowledge with its own peaks of specialization.  I am reminded of the words of writer Bill Bryson who described science as “tens of thousands of people that do tiny, tiny things that all accrete into a larger body of knowledge” (1).  Continue reading “STATs and ChIPs- Learning A Lesson Or Two About Transcriptional Activation”