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Journal Samantha Wright's Journal: Biology Help Desk Again 25

I'm really not sure how long these last as comment-on-able, so here's another one. I'll try to be a little more vigilant in making sure there's always a journal open for asking questions.

A little more elucidation: I'm in the fourth year of a combined bioinformatics/medical informatics degree. Most of my semester is from the CS curriculum, but I have gotten through biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, physiology, and organic chemistry courses. (Mostly in the presence of pre-med students.) I've also taken genomics-specific courses and worked in a molecular biology lab studying C. elegans, and a medical lab studying Autism.

So ask away!

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Biology Help Desk Again

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  • What the hell are you doing here then? Or do you like slumming?
    • Slashdot has a very diverse user community. Surely that's become apparent long ago? If it's any consolation, most of my classmates are generally Facebook-loving doorknobs just like any other population of college students.
      • Slashdot has a very diverse user community.

        Not really. Lots of technocrats, not much else.

        Surely that's become apparent long ago?

        Actually, it's the other way around. We used to have a diverse, lively and chatty community, but this site's love of stasis drove most of them away several years ago.

        And those of us who chose to remain only do so because we're lazy, stubborn or lacking in useful hobbies.

        If it's any consolation, most of my classmates are generally Facebook-loving doorknobs just l
        • Exhaustion is not quite true—every time a NASA article pops up, we get lavish replies from actual aeronautics engineers. I've also spotted a few other biologists ambling around; you can pick them out fairly easily because they don't seem to know how to speak in the active voice and say things like "is associated with" or "interacts with" instead of more specific verbal clauses. (That being said, they probably have real-world social lives.)
  • Hi Samantha.

    I think that they last about 2 weeks before being archived.

  • I was under the impression that just 1 is enough, but I figure that a single germ would have to overcome so many hurdles.

    A quick Yahoo! search seems to indicate that there are a couple of theories for why we get sick. I ask because I don't want to become a germaphobe, and I do want to take it seriously.

    • Everything—everything—in biology is a game of chance. The human body is extremely resilient to disease and uses a myriad of methods to protect against invaders in general, so it's very improbable that a human in a sterile room with a single bacterium or virion scattered somewhere in that room would show any symptoms. That being said, there are most certainly some diseases that can evade detection and overpower the immune system if they're able to get into the bloodstream via an exposed wound, ev
      • Thanks! That already clears up my perspective a bit.

        1) Throughout life, I've been taught that drinking fluids can help to combat illness. I believe that fluids will boost the body's ability to manufacture things that combat germs, but does the body flush out germs using fluids? For example, if I have a germ on my hand, and the momentum of the tap water pushes it off, then the water physically removes it. It does not send white blood cells, and it does not use body heat to kill the germ. Does the body do som

        • Drinking water doesn't directly have an effect on the body's ability to perform anabolic (constructive) chemical reactions. However, a dehydrated body is generally weaker than a hydrated one, because it limits our ability to expel unwanted chemicals through the urine. This means that our cells have to work harder to pump these chemicals out, constantly. Cells are like leaky boats that stay afloat because they constantly pump out unwanted molecules. When sick however, we excrete a lot of water, especially th

          • Great answer! You mentioned a lot of keywords that should be able to help me search for more information, if I am curious. I appreciate you offering your time.

            2) Is there a way to help our bodies store excess water?

            • Water with a little bit of sugar and salt is more effective at rehydrating the body than just straight water. Hence, the abominations that are sports drinks.
      • 3) Let's assume that we got rid of those serious diseases which only need an exposed wound and 1 virus or bacteria. I'm curious about how easy it is to pass the remaining germs around if no hands are washed. I think that our hands are like rubber stamps, in that after several touches, we should pass less and less germs per touch. I'm really a wash-your-hands type of person, but I'd like to know if there is a guiding principle to knowing what's on my hand.

        3.a) Let's say that somebody with a flu and a cold, c

        • 3. Unless you rinse with an ultraviolet bath or rubbing alcohol, there will always be some bacteria on your hands. It's not a bad thing; they are actually beneficial to have around. Washing your hands with water eliminates about 90% of the stuff on your hands, and soap is slightly more effective.

          3. a. Yes, but like with all things related to biology, it doesn't matter as much as most people believe.

          3. b. Pretty high—but your mouth is full of bacteria anyway.

          3. c. See above. Water is pretty effective a

  • Hi, This is a question I've been meaning to ask someone "in the know" for a while. I've been programming for years, but I never finished my CS degree. The last 3-4 years I've been doing website development full time, but I'm looking to... I'm looking to branch into new challenges. Biology has always fascinated me, but... I'm a cheap and lazy bastard who doesn't want to go back to school. Given those criteria :-p Do you think there is a need or place for someone willing to learn bioinformatics programming
    • One of the pervasive issues in the "wet lab" sciences (biology, medicine and chemistry) is that they're extremely steeped in meritocracy at the higher levels. Your worth is assessed, generally, by the number of acronyms after your name, or more importantly, by how many papers you've published and how much impact they've had.

      Bioinformatics is a little better than this, because the field in its modern form owes a great debt to perl programmers and has a very open source attitude. Unfortunately, what demand fo

  • 4) You have probably heard of the idea that eating a few germs gives our immune system something to do, which strengthens it. Therefore eating something that might have fallen on the floor, or touching something dirty before returning to food handling, are all okay. I believe that there is significant truth to that, but I also believe that people are not thinking about it thoroughly. I think that we have to be concerned about more than germs. Are there chemicals or substances that we might need to be concer

    • Well, cleaning products tend to be fairly unpleasant—but in general, unless you're drinking bleach, their contribution to poor health is essentially negligible. If you keep your body fortified with vitamins and other essential-but-minor nutrients, you have little or nothing to worry about.
  • What is the accepted definition of speciation, and have we ever directly observed a speciation? The obvious definitions I've found have all been lacking: e.g., "if they can produce viable offspring together, they are the same species" fails to account for ligons, tigers, polar/grizzly hybrids, and so forth.
    • I have mostly bad news for you: there's debate about what constitutes speciation [], and has been since the time of Darwin. However, the generally accepted definition is that two animals are of the same species if they bear significant genetic differences and naturally do not have a means of being reproductively viable (perhaps their gametes can fuse but their genitalia are incompatible, or perhaps they're physically isolated, etc.) although there are examples that violate even this. When two populations aren'

Promising costs nothing, it's the delivering that kills you.