And Now for Something Completely Different

Let’s take a break from litigation and turn our eyes on ligation. The type of ligation I am talking about is connecting two strands of nucleic acids (RNA in this case; a similar process with the same name takes place with amino acids) to make a longer strand. This is an important concept in origins-of-life research (and in biology), because it allows long strands with high information content to be assembled in shorter segments, kind of like a chemical assembly line. (Note that I am using “information content” in the sense of compressibility). In essence this allows Nature to reduce the odds against producing the right sequence of bases in a long strand. It’s generally much easier to reliably produce short strands than it is to reliably produce long strands.

Of course, it doesn’t do you any good if the shorter strands are simply connecting at random – this doesn’t reduce the probability. So what you want is a process that reliably connects the correct strands in the correct order. The process doesn’t have to be perfect, just better than random. One way to do this is by speeding up the ligation process for the right strands in the right order – in other words, use a catalyst. RNA has an interesting property – it has a “backbone” that strongly connects linearly, as well as matching base pairs that connect weakly. This means that RNA can act as a catalyst for itself – an autocatalyst. Are there combinations of short RNA strands that reliably catalyze into longer strands?

What would be even cooler is if the longer strand could act as a catalyst that takes the short strands and makes another long strand just like itself. That’s self-replication, the first step towards life.

Chemists at the Scripps Research Institute did just that.
Read the rest of this entry »


No Can Has Cert, Berg

Jan 12 2009  Petition DENIED.

The Supreme Court announced today, in a totally expected move, that they were denying certiorari to Philip Berg’s quixotic attempt to prevent Obama’s ascendancy to the office of President of the United States of America.  This also makes moot this Friday’s hearing on the injunction pending disposition of cert – the cert has been disposed.  Properly.  In the circular file.  Rumors of hysterical laughter emanating from chambers are as yet unsubstantiated.

Read the rest of this entry »

Vegas Vicarious

I have great news!  I will be guest blogging for Ed Brayton over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.  Ed is going to Vegas this week – anyone who follows his blog know that he enjoys gambling.  Since he usually posts 5 times a day, he invited several bloggers to  fill in for him.  He pulled together a crack team of bloggers: Radley Balko, Chris Rodda, Jon Rowe, James Hanley, and the infamous DarkSyd, a veritable Who’s Who of legal blogging.  So why me?

He’s a gambler.  It’s no fun going with just the safe bets, eh?

So join me over at Dispatches all week long, and maybe I can kick start my own creative juices.