Friday, May 15, 2009

Who's got three thumbs and love electrophoresis?

These Unicorns.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Best Picture

No, this isn't another post about Star Trek. This is about my new favorite photo, chock full of famous synthetic biologists. I'm hoping it is the first in a series of us posing with celebrity scientists.

Special thanks to David Jeruzalmi for taking this marvelous photo, Craig Venter for having a good sense of humor, and George Church for making that crazy face off to the side.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek: (Pon Farr)^(Pon Farr)

I'm feeling like I was born on the wrong planet. Just feast your eyes people. Feast. Your. Eyes.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Is Spock sterile?

First things first, the Unicorn's rating for the new Star Trek movie:

Overall Scale: 4.5 out of 5 Pon Farrs

Things blow up. Kirk and Spock fight aliens. Chekov and Scotty show off their funny accents. A few space babes, but its not the same when Kirk isn't wearing a girdle. There were no debates about morality or the prime directive, maybe next time (there was too much stuff to blow up this time).

Now, for our post-movie discussion topic. Its no spoiler to say that Spock is half-Vulcan, half-Human. According to my calculations, there is only a 1.5 x 10^-22 chance that Humans and Vulcans have fully compatible chromosomes (and I am of course taking into account the common galactic origin of humanoids). This means he is likely sterile. It has not escaped our attention that this may have consequences for Pon Farr. I hope that the new Star Trek series will properly explore the angsty new Spock's conflicting urges. It would certainly be logical.

Unicorn Endorsement

Lil Wayne: Official Recording Artist of the Hydrocalypse

out of this world though
i'm so sci-fi
and i don't sit still i
keep it movin like a drive-by

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Unicorns School of Design

We at the Hydrocalypse have a passion for design. When it comes to agarose gel electrophoresis, we know that good science can be beautiful, and beauty is truth. Our design philosophy acknowledges the metaphysical continuity from science to engineering, function, form and art.

Our colleague and Friend of the Unicorns, Buz Barstow, has recently auteured these sketches for an agarose gel mold.

Clean lines, modern design, all calibrated to within one micron. Brought to you by the Unicorns of the Hydrocalypse.

Star Trek Theme Week: TNG Identity Crisis

With the Unicorn's exclusive viewing of the new Star Trek movie only hours away (Pre-Review: its going to be awesome), the blog content explosion must continue. Today, we analyze another biology themed TNG episode: "Identity Crisis."

As Synthetic Biologists™ we know that completely rewriting the DNA of an organism is fun and anyone can do it. All you need is years of expertise and millions of dollars. In the future, any yahoo with a tricorder and a Galaxy-class starship can do the same.

On stardate 44664.5, we discover that members of Geordi LaForge's old crew abord the USS Victory are mysteriously disappearing. Upon realizing that all those disappearing were all members of a mission to an unexplored planet, Geordi and the Enterprise return to investigate (always a bad idea). They find a planet full of mysterious aliens that are invisible to the naked eye. Here's the shocking twist: some of those aliens are actually the former crew members, who got infected when they visited the planet. The aliens reproduce by a method much more efficient than sexual reproduction: infected visitors have their DNA rewritten over a number of years, and once the transformation is nigh, the infected people experience an uncontrollable urge to return to the planet. During the investigation, Geordi transforms into an alien, ditches his clothes, and runs around naked on the planet's surface. With time running out in the episode, Data decides that its time he gets involved, devises a way to detect the invisible aliens, and Dr. Crusher resets all of Geordi's DNA to its original state in time for supper.

Lessons learned about rewriting DNA:
- Why have sex when you can create an overly elaborate virus? (the aliens must have been lovelorn synthetic biologists)
- It can make you invisible (I believe that this was accomplished via GFP and the Lac promoter)
- It can induce uncontrollable urges (there's a Pon Farr joke in there somewhere)
- Its easy to do and undo (we're still working on the second part)

So there you have it. I have more thoughts on Star Trek, but its time to get in line for the new movie!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Craig Venter is on a Boat

I know what you're thinking: how is it possible to make two awesome videos in one week? Well, it takes hard work, patience, and inspiration. This time, in the form of Craig Venter and his amazing boat. For those of you who may not know, Craig Venter has been described as "The Justin Timberlake of synthetic biology;" he is one of the co-sequencers of the original human genome sequence, and is currently working on building whole genomes from scratch. At the same time, he goes yachting with sequencing machines so that he can "find cool stuff" in the ocean and "get a tan." To you, sir, we tip our hats.

And don't worry, we haven't forgotten about star trek week. Here is a video of me killing Klingons in 1990.


We must briefly interrupt Star Trek week with important news. Taking some time out of our normal research, we've isolated the original animal from which the current swine flu outbreak started. Footage below.

Stay tuned for more Star Trek and more videos....

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Star Trek Theme Week: TNG Genesis

The events of 47653.2 should be an example to those of us in the Synthetic Biology community. For our (presumably few) readers unfamiliar with stardates, I am referring to the tragedy that befell the Enterprise D in 2370 as she tracked a stray torpedo through the Typhon Expanse.

The story is painful to recall, even hundreds of years before it will happen. Lieutenant Barclay gets the Urodelan flu, so Dr. Crusher activates his dormant genes with a synthetic T-cell for treatment. But Dr. Crusher, getting sloppy, misinterprets her agarose gels and fucks up the T-cell transfections. So naturally the cells run amok on the Enterprise, activating the crew's secret introns and causing them to devolve into whatever weirdo animals their species evolved from. Long story short, Barclay devolves into a spider, Dr. Crusher gets sprayed with venom, Data's cat turns into an iguana for some reason, and Ensign Dern is gored by a space-crab.

Ensign Dern: Another victim of Synthetic T Cells.

So what lessons can scientists draw from this? The first lesson is obviously to avoid over-medication. As is well known, the Urodelan flu is generally mild. Even in the 24th century, fluids and bed rest are the best medicine.

Second lesson: All engineered organisms eventually escape and run amok. So what are you going to do about it when it happens? Lysine contingency? Suicide gene? Release a new organism, deadlier still, to hunt and kill the first thing? I don't have all the answers, so I'm happy to leave this thorny question to the appallingly uninformed voters.

Thirdly, what is all this iguana and spider DNA doing in the human genome? Do you want monkeys in your introns? Gross! I propose that we use Synthetic Genomics, sister-discipline of Synthetic Biology, to rewrite the human genome and eliminate all non-human DNA. This kind of thing is already working for viruses, therefore humans are the next logical step. If we can get it done by 47653.2, we may be in time to save Ensign Dern.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Early 21st century genetic engineering

According to Star Trek, Khan was a genetic superhuman that was created in the 1990s. As 21st century genetic engineers, we have advanced far beyond that. Here's our latest creation in action:

I'm referring to the stuff inside the tube, not Christina. As far as I know, she isn't genetically engineered...or is she?

Star Trek Week

Unless you live under a rock you know that the new Star Trek movie is coming out this week (and if you do, please collect some dirt samples for us). For this wonderful week, we will honor our love of Star Trek through blogging from our special futuristic biology point of view.

To get started, I just want to mention what is probably the best known of the Star Trek biological breakthroughs: Khan Noonien Singh. Khan may be "the product of late 20th century genetic engineering," but that chest, my friends, is simply a work of art.