Reading this chapter made me think of the issue with patents discussed in class a while ago, and gives me a remembrance of the question if patents are more effective than platforms. Mendel did not receive any recognition for his work, this surely was an annoyance for him. Do you think if his work was patented and he got all the credit for his work, it would have had an effect on others implementing his work because they knew it was his. His work was ultimately a platform because even though it was his idea, others were able to feed off of it legally.
“the majority of geneticists were still concentrating on protein at the time, and were apparently loath to abandon something into which they had poured so much time and intellectual energy” (Weinberg 34)
This one belief could be one of the most frustrating part of science: scientists are stubborn enough to work on something for years even if they know it is leading to know where. This is across all fields of study, scientists who have poured their lives into an idea that will never come to fruition because it is just not right. I have always wondered how many countless technologies and theories have been struck down simply on the belief of a majority of scientists that your idea is wrong; just because a majority of scientists believe something, does not mean it is right, for 50 years before inflation theory was discovered, scientists believed that the universe was constant, Einstein himself believed this.
One of the biggest contributions to both DNA and Chapter 3 of Pointing From the Grave is Gregor Mendel’s work with pea plants. Through his studies Mendel was able to learn more about how offspring inherent different genes from their parents, and about the dominance and recessiveness of different genes. The most fascinating part of Mendel’s story in my opinion is that he did not receive any response or any recognition when he presented his discoveries. It took the dawn of a new century for Mendel’s work to be understood for its greatness. This chapter got me thinking a lot about Mendel and I wanted to learn more about his advancement of genetics. Attached below is a Ted Talk that I think you guys may enjoy. After watching this video I understood Mendel’s work in a whole new light, and definitely a more visual light. Check it out!
“Miraculously, everything then fell into shape. Crick saw it and no matter how hard he tried, could not come up with a reason why it should not be the solution.
‘From the start we hoped for some chemical revelation that would lead to the correct structure,’ Waston wrote. ‘But we never anticipated that the answer would come so suddenly in one swoop and with such finality.
It was a true Eureka moment.” -Weinberg, pg 38-39
This section grabbed my attention immediately. After reading Johnson’s book, we learned that true ‘Eureka moments’ are much rarer than they’re made out to be. Watson and Crick are portrayed as almost overconfident in their intelligence and their abilities; it’s understandable that Watson wanted it to seem as though the answer to their DNA problem came to them so quickly.
But if we look at the rest of the chapter, we can see that their discovery wasn’t really a Eureka moment after all. Like many good ideas, it was a matter of finding and combining all the right pieces, such as the work of their colleagues before them. It was in part because of a hunch that Watson and Crick had, the idea that DNA was likely a helix structure.
The revelation that DNA is a double helix did not come to Watson and Crick all at once; it was a problem that both of them thought about for a long time, gathering bits and pieces of information that would eventually come together and lead them to the answer.
He found, to his excitement, that in almost exactly one-quarter of the cases, the characteristics of the “lost grandparent”-the “recessive”-re-emerged. Thus dwarf pea mixed with a tall one might produce tall offspring in the first generation, but when these self-fertilized, they each gave rise to a dwarf plant from one in every four seeds. (Weinberg 30)
This idea of a one in four dwarf pea immediately reminded me of the punnet square. In this case, the second generation pea plants had the following genetics, BB, Bb,Bb,bb. The first three of these would have been the tall pea plants that the monk, Gregor Mendel, observed. The only plant with the recessive dwarf gene was the last one, bb. That 25% chance of a recessive, bb, gene was what inspired the idea of dominant and recessive genes and how they operate. This discovery sparked much of what we know today about genetics and DNA. Along with Watson and Cricks, Mendel is a father of genetics.
Helena’s research on DNA probes reminded me of a technique I learned about in synthetic biology that is widely used today in science. Since these DNA probes were synthetic short single-stranded chains of DNA, they were able to adhesively attached to its complementary strand in a mixture of media. To bring it to the next step, is finding out the sequence needed in order to make that synthetic strand of DNA. Helena’s group may have had one specific sequence of interest but what if a research wanted to know the sequence of an entire genome?
Honestly, how this process works doesn’t make much sense but for researchers, it has been an amazing tool. One technique is called Shotgun Sequencing. Basically, in short terms, you “blow up” the genome into smaller fragments and a computer system puts it back together by looking for overlapping sequences. This technique was proven to be more efficient with both time and cost of the process. The previous type of sequencing took a very long time and cost a large amount of resources. However, if I remember correctly, whole genome shotgunning sequencing is not as accurate. Since you are breaking up the whole genome and putting it back together in one piece rather than piece by piece, if there is a problem with one section, theres no way of telling what section went wrong.
“Yet only a dew countries away, in an Austrian monastery, a fat amiable monk had already-literally-planted the first seeds of what came to be called genetics”-Weinberg (pp.29)
After reading the chapter third chapter. I found that it began explaining the precursors that led to the discovery of DNA. One of the scientists that helped contribute to this discovery is Gregor Mendel. His finding shows one way parents pass on their genetic traits onto their offspring. This sparked interest for me to search for inherited genetic disorders prevalent today. One of the diseases that I found was Huntington’s disease.
Huntington’s disease is an “autosomal dominant allele” that gets passed on from parents on to their offspring. Describing Huntington’s disease as ‘”autosmal dominant” means to say that if a parent is affected with the disease then their children will also suffer from the same disease. And the children will pass on the disease to their children and so forth. The signs and symptoms of this disease causes individuals to suffer from involuntary jerking, muscle problems, slowness in processing thoughts, social withdrawal, insomnia, and fatigue. With individuals affected with Huntington’s disease do not display signs at a young age they do appear around the ages of 35 to 40.
Currently, there is no cure for for Huntington disease. Physicians recommend affected patients to avoid pregnancy because of the high chance that their children will also suffer from the disorder.
Chapter four explains the process by which Mendel was able to come up with the idea of inheritance. On page 32, Weinberg goes into the explanation of how William Bateson coined the term ‘genetics.’ Weinberg writes, “Bateson subsequently immersed himself in the life and work of Gregor Mendel, translating his paper into English, and lecturing on its significance around the world. In 1909, one of his fellow disciples, the Danish evolutionary biologist Wilhelm Johannsen, game a name to Mendel’s units of inheritance – “genes” – and the science of their study became known as genetics” (Weinberg, 32). Relating this back to the book Where Good Ideas Come From, I think that Bateson and Johannsen took what they knew from Mendel’s discovery and applied to to their own. In this case, one may say that Mendel’s discovery acted as the first platform or the initial hunch which then others built upon. Likewise, all heredity discoveries can be considered platforms that are expansions of Mendel’s experiment/discoveries.
There’s a documentary called “The Race for the Double Helix” which we watched in my biology class last year. This was an interesting movie because it highlighted how much work Franklin did to help Watson and Crick and how she got almost no recognition because she was a woman. They used all her ideas and passed them off as their own. It’s really interesting to look at the scientific world and how competitive it is. This race was not only based on learning information, it was also based on trying to get ahead of other scientists. This is something to consider when looking at research done by scientists.
“The academic world apparently did not have enough time to read a paper on peas Written by and unknown monk and published in an obscure journal” (Weinberg, 31).
When something that is introduced that could change the game, why is it that we are reluctant to look at it or even fear what it has to say, Brother Mendel discovered a new theory about genetics,”but there was no reaction. no response, no recognition”(31). He was also ridiculed by a bishop for it secularly, and geneticists in Russia were sent to Gulags for it being a different thought. Going back to Johnson, some things ,such as DvD’s, take a while to be accepted by the general public. It can seem odd, Why would we not immedietly accept a new finding, well we have grown up with a different view on things, and changes can take a while to digest, its just in our genes.
After reading Chapter 3 of Pointing From The Grave, I thought it was very interested that Weinberg devoted this chapter to focusing on the development of DNA, its base pairing, and eventual uses. One part that really stuck out to me was the discussion of running DNA on an agarose gel. Specifically, Weinberg stated that,
“Using a restriction enzyme – a protein that cleaves the DNA strands at designated positions. These lengths would be immobilized by dropping them on one end of the dish of agarose gel to which an electric current would be applied” (p 41).
This discussion of using DNA on a gel in order to discover the sequence stood out to me because it related back to my time in Synthetic Biology. Today, we use gel electrophoresis, similar to the one described in the novel as a southern blot, to detect the sequences of DNA in our whole fragment. In Synthetic biology specifically we used restriction enzymes to cut as specific points in order to understand banding pattern and sequences present in yeast. In addition, this correlates to what I learned in Cancer Biology and what I am doing in my independent research of breast cancer cells. Essentially, we used Western blot to understand protein expression to characterize cancer cells and their aggression. Overall, it is very interesting to see the development of DNA and the technologies associated with it in different types of labs, whether it was synthetic or cancer related.
” ‘From the start we hoped for some chemical revelation that would lead to the correct structure’, Watson wrote. ‘But we never anticipated that the answer would come so suddenly in one swoop and with such finality’. It was a true Eureka moment” (Weinberg 38-39).
I think that this quote, about Watson and Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA, illustrates Steven Johnson’s point about slow hunches being the basis of all good ideas. There actually aren’t generally such things as “eureka” moments. True, it seemed as if Watson just miraculously stumbled upon the answer to DNA’s structure, but in reality his process was different. For one, he collaborated the whole time with Crick, and so his ideas were inevitably influenced by and checked by someone else.
For another thing, Watson and Crick were basically at a stumped point in their research when they went and saw Rosalin Franklin’s work of X-ray photographs of DNA. Weinberg even says that with “more earnest manipulation of their models” (Weinberg 38), they started working harder to find the solution. This basically means that competition was a driving point to them making their discovery.
Finally, the two scientists were trying the whole time to answer one question: what was the structure of DNA? They were searching for this specific answer. They had exhausted basically all other possibilities and answers when they made the discovery. From this, one could argue that they just naturally arrived at the answer from their slow hunch.
While reading chapter 3 of Weinberg’s book, I noticed that many of Johnson’s ideas on how to come about a great innovation were used by many scientists who played a role in discovering how DNA worked. This was very interesting for me to see how the ideas that we read about in our last book were implemented in a different context.
“So instead of pooling their resources—Wilkins’s theoretical advances and Franklin’s photographs of DNA…they huddled in separate labs, and moved far more slowly than they should have” – Weinberg, p37
This is a great example of how sharing your ideas with other people, one of Johnson’s main arguments, is the most efficient way of creating monumental innovations. If Wilkins and Franklin shared their ideas with one another instead of working separately, they would have been able to reach the discovery that they eventually stumbled upon much sooner in their careers.
Platforms were another one of Johnson’s ideas that was present in chapter 3 of Weinberg’s book.
“In the spring of 1900, three botanists, working separately in three countries, simultaneously stumbled upon Mendel’s paper, and credited it in their own writings on patters of inheritance” – Weinberg, p31
Without the early work of Mendel, later discoveries of DNA would not have been possible. Mendel created the platform that many other scientists were able to work off of. The lack of resources at the time impacted Mendel’s discovery, but because of Mendel’s initial interest in DNA, scientists were able to discover the secret behind it.
“It explained so much: why sibling humans can differ in hair and eye color, for example, why brown-eyed parents can have a blue-eyed child, but not the other way around; it is the way individualism is preserved.”
Brother Gregor Mendel’s discovery was not put into consideration that he got depressed and did not want to know more about science. However, his discovery was not only crucial for plant pees, but for human characteristics as well. My siblings and I are always asked why don’t we look alike, it is a common question, and he brought out the answer. However, it was not taken into consideration. In our history, it is kind of common that we feel like some discoveries are not as important. Just like in the chapter they also said that the world was not ready to know what the DNA was like. Nevertheless, they could have known if they had listened. It just took them a bit more time to accept the discovery. Brother Mendel made a great discovery using pees that it is not only helpful for plants, but for us as well.
“Every long lost dream led me to where you are/Others who broke my heart they were like Northern stars/Pointing me on my way into your loving arms/This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road/That led me straight to you”
-Rascal Flatts, “Broken Road”
“You make me thank god for every mistake I ever made,/Because each one led me down the path that brought me to you.”
-Pablo Neruda, “Just knowing”
While reading this Chapter, I thought of all of the events that had to occur exactly the way they did for life as we know it today to exist. For instance, Brother Gregor Mendell had to be born to peasant farmers to know about planting. If he had not known about gardening, he would not have invested time in manipulating the “genes” (as they were eventually known by thanks to his research) of pea plants. Without Mendell’s first experiments with hereditary, Watson would not have “become polarized toward finding out the secret of the gene.” (Weinberg, 35) And if Watson had not gone to the specific seminar in Naples were he heard Maurice Wilkins speak, he would not have become “suddenly…excited about chemistry.” (Weinberg, 35). Without Watson’s (and Crick’s) chemical, genetic, and biologic pursuits, DNA and all of its benefits would not be around in the same form today.
It’s fascinating all of the things that had to fall into just the right time and place in order to happen.
“Biotechnology firms raced to turn the results of pure research into applicable technology. By luring some of the best scientific brains with salaries that academia couldn’t hope to match, they too started to push back the frontiers of knowledge, driving the world of the universities, much as they had originally had been driven” (Johnson 40)
Is money the main motive for driving the frontiers of the scientific world? When thinking about the question, I decided to research how money and the desire to profit affects the healthcare world. According to Forbes magazine, healthcare costs in the United States might be so high because there is a huge desire for profit. Russell Andrews, a neurosurgeon interviewed by the magazine claims that “we have transformed healthcare in the U.S. into an industry whose goal is to be profitable.” Another situation described by Forbes magazine is the story of Martin Shkreli, the pharmaceutical entrepreneur who raised the price of a life-saving HIV drug by 5000% overnight. Though Shkreli claims that the profits his company will make off of this drug (due to its high price) will fuel even more HIV research, he has made it so thousands of people who need the drug are not able to afford it.