Hi all! This is LisaJ, and I’ll also be guestblogging here on Pharyngula for the next 10 days or so. I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity to chat it up with you fine folks here on Pharyngula, and I hope I can do my part to keep everyone stimulated and satisfied.
I would first like to echo MAJeff and Danio’s sentiment and send a big thanks to PZ for inviting me to participate as a guestblogger. I too was very surprised and flattered to be asked. What a nice guy that PZ is! Just to briefly introduce myself: I’m a 3rd year PhD student studying novel functions for the pRb/E2F tumour suppressor pathway in nervous system development. Although this is my favourite protein pathway, largely because it takes up most of my waking thoughts and, you know, these proteins are just so awesome and multifunctional, I will likely be contributing various Science related posts during my time here, among other topics that will just come as I go!
I’m also a pretty proud Canadian girl, currently living in Ottawa, our beautiful capital city. Since alot of the posts here on Pharyngula center around the news, politics, crazy christian crusades, etc, going on in PZ’s fine country, the US of A, I thought that for my first post I would lead a little discussion on what makes its Northern neighbour such a special place… but also, not really that different at all in some respects.
First, one example of what makes Canada special. Here’s an exciting Science story covered in the Toronto Star today. Dr.s Cheryl Seguin and Janet Rossant and their team at the Hospital of Sick Children have found that you can promote the limited differentiation of embryonic stem cells to endoderm progenitor cells by expressing a single transcription factor, called SOX17. Their results are very significant because they were a) able to arrest differentiation at the progenitor stage, instead of immediately creating a fully differentiated endoderm cell, b) they can culture these cells at extended passages, meaning that you can expand these endoderm precursors, creating many more of them before asking them to differentiate into a more specialized cell type, and c) all this with a single transcription factor! This study offers great potential for organ and tissue repair in the gut. Now that these researchers can culture endoderm cells in the progenitor state they can study what factors need to be expressed to create the different cell types in the gut, and eventually they can promote the specialized differentiation of these cells to whatever cell type is required. There’s lots of potential here, and congratulations to them on a great study.
Seguin, C.A., et al. Cell Stem Cell. 2008. 3(2): 182-195.
It’s exciting studies like these that makes me love Science and, when they come from a Canadian lab, makes me proud of my fellow countrymen. This brings me to the part of my post where I remark on why we Canadians are not always all that different from some of those fine Americans when it comes to ignorance and stupidity. If you scroll down to the bottom of the Toronto Star article that I’ve linked to above you’ll see a few posts by readers describing what they think of these new findings. Now, granted there aren’t many posts, and most of them are of a celebratory nature, but a couple of these posts jump out as just purely embarrassing. One poster has titled their entry ‘Not helpful to mankind’ and feels that these technologies are best to be avoided because they will only be used by mankind in the future as weapons of mass destruction. A second post is titled ‘Mixed Blessing’, and this incredibly paranoid individual has equated this exciting new finding to a Brave New World scenario. Come on people! These researchers have slaved away in their lab for years on end and have discovered something that may one day save your sorry asses. Have some respect! Nothing annoys me more than when I see someone cut a Scientist’s work apart based purely on lack of education and paranoia.
Just one other story I came across today that demonstrates how Canadians and Americans are not so different on one other subject: fear of terrorism. This story in the Ottawa Citizen today describes how three provincial government buildings in Toronto were evacuated for hours yesterday because of a suspicious looking package. Apparently an X-ray tech. scanned the package and thought it contained a ‘wiring device’. Turns out it was simply a stapled stack of papers. That’s it. Paper with staples in it. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a story like this in my local new paper, folks. Ever since 911, even my country has been plagued by irrational fear of terrorism… and I just have to laugh my ass off every time I read one of these stories.