I have eaten the best beef brisket in the world

Guess who won first place in beef brisket at the most prestigious barbecue competition in the world? That’s right, my brothers’ team, Brew-B-Q! A huge congratulations to my brother Pat, brother-in-law Danny, and brother Chris (who apparently traveled to Tennessee to be their third team member for the competition).

 Chris, Pat, & Danny

I think it’s pretty amazing that some people compete in these things professionally, doing 40+ competitions a year, while my brothers won just have this as a cool hobby where they compete three or four times a year. As someone who’s eaten this brisket, I can tell you it’s deserving of the title Best Brisket in the World.

Om nom nom.

Good luck, bros!

My brother Pat and brother-in-law Danny’s barbecue team, Brew-B-Q, is competing in the 23rd annual Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue this weekend. I wish them the best of luck, though I know from experience that their stuff is delicious. I think this is the first time I ever wished I was in Tennessee.

And if you ever wondered if self-deprecation runs in the McCreight family, here’s your answer from an interview their local paper did:

McCreight and Peters made the drawing after winning a Wisconsin state title at the Kenosha Grill Games in August.

“If you’re really good, which we’re not, you can automatically qualify for the Jack by winning seven state championships during the season,” McCreight said. “Each year, there are a handful of teams that do so.”

I also have a special interest in the team, since I drew their logo back in 2008:

Yep – drunk, cannibalistic farm animals. My family is weird.

Good luck, guys!

Happy End of the World!

I’m sure you all remember when the Rapture happened on May 21, right? It was subtle – Christians didn’t go flying through the air because it was a “spiritual” judgement day. Or something. But according to Harold Camping, today is actually the end of the world. Get ready for the earthquakes and meteorites, I suppose.

I just hope God waits until later in the evening before smiting us. My big research presentation is at 3:15pm, and I don’t want to realize I wasted my final week on this planet making PowerPoint slides. Plus, no one wants their last moments of life spent trapped in a lecture hall. If God is truly compassionate, he’ll at least give me time to have dinner, drink some beers, and dance with my friends like we’ve planned. Might as well try to have extra fun just in case the flood gates open at midnight.

…That may be the first time I’ve ever sided with the logic of Pascal’s Wager.

This gives a whole new meaning to high-throughput sequencing

The marijuana genome has been sequenced by researchers at the University of Toronto and University of Saskatchewan.

It’s actually a pretty neat study. They compared two strains of Cannabis sativa: Purple Kush (a “potent” strain used for getting high) and Finola (a hemp cultivar). From looking at the genome alone, researchers weren’t really able to find any striking differences. But then they turned to the transcriptome.

What the hell is that? Time for a quick flashback to high school biology! DNA is transcribed into messenger RNA. That mRNA leaves the nucleus and heads out into the cytoplasm, where ribosomes use it as a set of instructions on how to make protein. A “transcriptome” is all of the mRNA produced by an organism. And yes, it differs from a genome – some genes are highly expressed and produce lots of mRNA, others can be completely turned off, and many are somewhere in the middle. The quantity of mRNA is something marked in the transcriptome.

By looking at the transcriptome, they were able to find that Purple Kush exclusively expresses the gene involved in the production of THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. The hemp strain, on the other hand, didn’t express this gene at all, despite having it in the genome.

You can check out a draft of the paper at Genome Biology, and even search through the marijuana genome here.

I think the most entertaining part is looking at all of the bad puns journalists are putting in titles. Though I have to take offense at Science’s introduction on their blog post:

Attendees at Burning Man, the famously free-wheeling yearly Nevada art gathering, don’t usually take note of new genomic sequences, but they may want to check out a paper published today in Genome Biology.

Maybe this is just because I’m in Seattle, but I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority in my field because I never tried pot. How dare they imply that stoners aren’t interested in genomics when they’re the ones sequencing the genomes. Especially when Francis Crick admitted to experimenting with LSD when he discovered the structure of DNA. Our field is apparently inspired by psychoactive drugs.

Open Thread

Grad school is totally owning me this week. The second year PhD students all give a big research presentation to the department in the fall that describes what they achieved this summer, and my presentation is this Friday. Our presentations always make us frantic, but it’s extra crazy this week. Today and tomorrow is our 10th annual departmental symposium, so it’s two full days of talks from superstar scientists. Oh, and Svante Paabo (the guy whose group is behind the Neanderthal genome) decided to publish a paper on Thursday related to my work, and that has given me 1988472 new analyses to run. Thanks, Svante. Oh well, at least he didn’t totally scoop me.

Unfortunately this means I’ve been neglecting my blog. You know, for my real job. Sorry guys! Consider this an open thread to talk about whatever or plug your own stuff. The default of the efficacy of machine gun arms on dinosaurs is a good fall back if you run out of things to talk about.

You’re going to the Women in Secularism conference, right?

Atheism and feminism go together like peanut butter and chocolate.* While lots of us have been blabbering about it on the blogosphere or giving the occasional talk somewhere, there’s now a whole conference devoted to the intersection. The Center for Inquiry is hosting the Women in Secularism conference in Arlington, VA May 18-20.

(Side note: Isn’t that website snazzy as hell? Props to whoever designed it.)

Anyway, I’ll be speaking there along with some impressive and amazing women. I’m honored to be listed among them, even though I currently have no idea what my talk will be about. I may talk about the student movement since I seem to be the only speaker from that demographic, but that isn’t particularly feminism-themed. Ideas?

*Unless you’re one of those freaks who doesn’t like peanut butter and chocolate. For reasons other than allergies, that is. Though the metaphor doesn’t extend any further than that – I promise I’m not trying to call you a misogynist.

Today’s dose of “My life is weird”:

I’m reading the ongoing debate on whether the Wikipedia article about me should be deleted.

It’s weird enough that I have a Wikipedia article. It’s weirder that four people have already chimed in in defense of the article, and they’re currently outnumbering those that think it should be redirected to Boobquake. Which oddly enough, has its own article as well.

EDIT: It’s also weird finding things wrong with my article and not being able to fix it, due to the rules about not editing stuff where you have conflicts of interests. I won the Undergraduate Student Research Award from the American Society of Mammlogists, not Microbiologists! And then there are other awards I’ve won that don’t have documentation available on the internet, and therefore get lost in No Citation land. Oh well.

What the hell did I just watch?

Every Wednesday my department has an hour long seminar with an invited speaker. I feel like I should preface this post with an explanation that our speakers are generally very good. Sometimes I’m personally bored out of my mind, but that’s because we’re a diverse department and occasionally things will be completely out of my field and realm of comprehension. But every once in a while we get someone particularly wacky or nonsensical that leaves the whole audience baffled.

Today was one of those days.

The only thing keeping me sane was livetweeting the madness and texting other students suffering with me, which I will reproduce here for your pleasure.

Jen: “I have no clue what is happening during this seminar”

Jen: “Speaker: “huh, you can’t see that for shit. Oh well.” I have no idea what is happening right now”

He then went on a three minute tangent about how one of his lab techs was a brilliant physicist who went into hedge funds instead because it paid ten times as much money as research.

Jen: “I’ve been in this seminar for 20 minutes and I still don’t know what it’s about”

At this point my friend pointed out that the speaker was holding about 20 feel of microphone wire bundled up in a mess, even though the mic was clipped to the collar of his shirt. And it got progressively disheveled as the talk went on. I could not look away.

Jen: “Started listening again when he said “straight as the pope.” I do not know context. I do not know if there was context”

The line on the graph was not very straight. The same friend texted me saying he heard me laugh at that from across the room.

Jen: “WTF is this? This slide is a crime against humanity”

Jen: “This diagram looks like it was sketched on a napkin and scanned ahahahhaha”

Jen: “Oh god, he’s going over the time and there hasn’t even been Q&A yet”

The fact that an established professor spoke for 75 minutes and none of us came out knowing the topic of his talk says a lot. I’m not sure what, though. That when you get established you stop giving a fuck? That eccentric scientists tend to be successful? That the fact that I just spend four pages of my NSF proposal saying how wonderful I am at communicating science to my peers and the general public was a complete waste of time? Or maybe that we now have to write four pages about our communication skills exactly because there are people like this that are eventually going to retire, and we want someone who can give a coherent talk to replace them?

My brain, it hurts.

Not associating with atheists is more important than curing cancer, apparently

The American Cancer Society recently turned down a $500,000 donation. Why? They keep giving conflicting, vague, or demonstrably false excuses. But it’s obvious from their stonewalling and differential treatment what the reason is – because those donations came from atheists.

Greta Christina has an excellent summary of the whole debacle here. I think this is the take home statement:

Now, in case you’re wondering if this is standard behavior, find someone who works as a development director for a nonprofit. Ask her what her response would be to a $250,000 matching offer from a philanthropic foundation. And ask if her organization would be drooling, celebrating wildly, and bending over backward to make it happen — or if they would be evading, delaying, dodging, deflecting, changing their stories, treating the potential benefactor with irritation and dismissal, and finding an endless series of excuses for not accepting the offer?

As someone who’s on the board of a nonprofit…uh, the former. Definitely the former.

If the barrage of comments from atheists on the American Cancer Society’s facebook page says anything, this may become a bit of a PR problem. You should desperately want to use a half million dollars