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Feb
5th
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E. Salcedo-Albarán, I. de León-Beltrán, D. A. Sastre on viruses, genes, information and functionalism

“The gene is a package of information not an object. The pattern of base pairs in DNA molecule specifies the gene. But the DNA molecule is the medium; it’s not the message. Maintaining this distinction between the medium and the message is absolutely indispensable to clarity of thought about evolution (…). The constant process of transferring information from the physical medium to another and then being able to recover that same information in the original medium brings home the reparability of information and matter. In biology, when you’re talking about things like genes and genotypes and gene pools, you’re talking about information, not physical objective reality. They are patterns.” — George C. Williams, “A Package of Information”. In Brockman, J. The Third Culture. . New York, Touchstone Books, 1996:42.

The virus as a floating piece of information

              

                                                               (Picture source)

“The size of a virus oscillates around the 100 nm. It means that a virus is smaller than a mitochondrion, which is cellular organelle. The amount of information carried by a single viroid can be calculated:

“The simplest viroid contains only 240 bits of information, near ten million times less than the information contained in the human genome (three trillions of bits). These 240 bits are arranged in a circular chromosome (the equivalent one of the medium of the storage of the computer) and contains a set of signals that allow the molecule to duplicate itself” (Levine 1991:2). (…)

Viruses are acellular and do not have organelles. It means that viruses do not have a reproductive system. A virioid only carries genetic information, which allows interpreting it as a piece of algorithms protected by a capsid. These algorithms always need a specific hardware in order to be executed and to be replicated, which is a characteristic of genes and DNA molecule: the eternal self-replication (Dawkins 1976:23). The reproduction of viruses implies the replication of the carried viral genetic information (Kay 1986). Because a virus only carries genetic information and isn’t composed by any organelle, a virioid is defined as piece of self-replicating information (Nahmias and Reanney 1977); a virus is a piece of self-replicating information floating through the environment. (…)

When the virus releases its genetic information to be executed in the cellular machinery, the basic functionalist distinction between the physical and the logical support is evident: the virus dismisses the physical support where the viral genetic information was originally carried and then releases and executes the genetic information inside the host cell machinery in order to achieve the self-replication process. It means that in nature it is possible to find a phenomenon where information is separated from its original storing media, executed in a new physical support and then self-replicated.

The existence of a natural system where the physical and the logical support can be distinguished is sustained by the following syllogism: (i) (ii) genes are self-replicating information or self-replicating algorithms, and not physical objects; (ii) viruses only carry genes; ergo, (iii) a virus only carries selfreplication instructions. This syllogism is supported by experiments and theoretical work in fields like molecular biology and computational analysis. In those fields algorithmic order in the base pairs of nucleic acid is considered as patterns of information; altering those patterns modify the physical transformation of the system. (…)

John Searle would have to assure that genes are nothing but physical objects without any kind of information that can be distinguished from the physical support where they are stored or executed. It does not seem like an easy work to prove that information does not exist in nature since current biological observations prove that once inside the cell, genes are nothing but instructions being executed in order to produce new copies of the initial virioid.”

Eduardo Salcedo-Albarán, Isaac de León-Beltrán, David A. Sastre, Viruses, information and functionalism (pdf), Metodo. Transdisciplinary research group on social sciences, Working Paper No. 55., Oct 15, 2008

See also:
Homo Sensus-Sapiens: The animal that feels and rationalizes

Jan
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Uncertainty principle: How evolution hedges its bets

"Variety is the key to survival in a changeable world – and evolution may have come up with an extraordinary way of generating more variety. (…)
As he looked round, Feinberg's eyes came to rest on a nearby plaque commemorating physicist Paul Dirac. This set him thinking about quantum theory and evolution, which led him to the idea that epigenetic changes - heritable changes that don’t involve modifications to DNA sequences - might inject a Heisenberg-like uncertainty into the expression of genes, which would boost the chances of species surviving. That, more or less, is what he wrote on the piece of paper.

Put simply, Feinberg’s idea is that life has a kind of built-in randomness generator which allows it to hedge its bets. For example, a characteristic such as piling on the fat could be very successful when famine is frequent, but a drawback in times of plenty. If the good times last for many generations, however, natural selection could eliminate the gene variant for piling on fat from a population. Then, when famine does eventually come, the population could be wiped out.

But if there is some uncertainty about the effect of genes, some individuals might still pile on the fat, even though they have the same genes as everyone else. Such individuals might die young in good times, but if famine strikes they might be the only ones to survive. In an uncertain world, uncertainty could be crucial for the long-term survival of populations.

The implications of this idea are profound. We already know there is a genetic lottery - every fertilised human egg contains hundreds of new mutations. Most of these have no effect whatsoever, but a few can be beneficial or harmful. If Feinberg is right, there is also an epigenetic lottery: some people are more (or less) likely to develop cancer, drop dead of a heart attack or suffer from mental health problems than others with exactly the same DNA. (…)

No one now doubts that environmental factors can produce changes in the offspring of animals even when there is no change in DNA. Many different epigenetic mechanisms have been discovered, from the addition of temporary “tags” to DNA or the proteins around which DNA is wrapped, to the presence of certain molecules in sperm or eggs.

What provokes fierce argument is the role that epigenetic changes play in evolution. A few biologists, most prominently Eva Jablonka of Tel Aviv University in Israel, think that inherited epigenetic changes triggered by the environment are adaptations. They describe these changes as “neo-Lamarckian”, and some even claim that such processes necessitate a major rethink of evolutionary theory.

While such views have received a lot of attention, most biologists are far from convinced. They say the trouble with the idea that adaptive changes in parents can be passed down to offspring via epigenetic mechanisms is that, like genetic mutations, most inherited epigenetic changes acquired as a result of environmental factors have random and often harmful effects.

At most, the inheritance of acquired changes could be seen as a source of variation that is then acted on by natural selection - a view much closer to Darwin’s idea of pangenesis than Lamarck’s claim that the intent of an animal could shape the bodies of its offspring. But even this idea is problematic, because it is very rare for acquired changes to last longer than a generation (Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics, vol 9, p 233).

While epigenetic changes can be passed down from cell to cell during the lifetime of an organism, they do not normally get passed down to the next generation. “The process of producing germ cells usually wipes out epigenetic marks,” says Feinberg. “You get a clean slate epigenetically.” And if epigenetic marks do not usually last long, it’s hard to see how they can have a significant role in evolution - unless it is not their stability but their instability that counts.

Rather than being another way to code for specific characteristics, as biologists like Jablonka believe, Feinberg’s “new way of looking at evolution” sees epigenetic marks as introducing a degree of randomness into patterns of gene expression. In fluctuating environments, he suggests, lineages able to generate offspring with variable patterns of gene expression are most likely to last the evolutionary course.

Is this “uncertainty hypothesis” right? There is evidence that epigenetic changes, as opposed to genetic mutations or environmental factors, are responsible for a lot of variation in the characteristics of organisms. The marbled crayfish, for instance, shows a surprising variation in coloration, growth, lifespan, behaviour and other traits even when genetically identical animals are reared in identical conditions. And a study last year found substantial epigenetic differences between genetically identical human twins. On the basis of their findings, the researchers speculated that random epigenetic variations are actually “much more important” than environmental factors when it comes to explaining the differences between twins (Nature Genetics, vol 41, p 240). (…)

"The mice were from the same parents, from the same litter, eating the same food and water and living in the same cage," Feinberg says.

Despite this, he and Irizarry were able to identify hundreds of sites across the genome where the methylation patterns within a given tissue differed hugely from one individual to the next. Interestingly, these variable regions appear to be present in humans too (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol 107, p 1757). "Methylation can vary across individuals, across cell types, across cells within the same cell type and across time within the same cell," says Irizarry.

It fell to Irizarry to produce a list of genes associated with each region that could, in theory at least, be affected by the variation in methylation. What he found blew him away. The genes that show a high degree of epigenetic plasticity are very much those that regulate basic development and body plan formation. “It’s a counter-intuitive and stunning thing because you would not expect there to be that kind of variation in these very important patterning genes,” says Feinberg.

The results back the idea that epigenetic changes to DNA might blur the relationship between genotype (an organism’s genetic make-up) and phenotype (its form and behaviour). “It could help explain why there is so much variation in gene expression during development,” says Günter Wagner, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University. But that does not necessarily mean epigenetic changes are adaptive, he says. “There has not been enough work on specifying the conditions under which this kind of mechanism might evolve.” (…)

he modelled what would happen in a fixed environment where being tall is an advantage. “The taller people survive more often, have more children and eventually everyone’s tall,” he says.

Then, he modelled what would happen in a changeable environment where, at different times, it is advantageous to be tall or short. "If you are a tall person that only has tall kids, then your family is going to go extinct." In the long run, the only winners in this kind of scenario are those that produce offspring of variable height.

This result is not controversial. “We know from theory that goes some way back that mechanisms that induce ‘random’ phenotypic variation may be selected over those that produce a single phenotype,” says Tobias Uller, a developmental biologist at the University of Oxford. But showing that something is theoretically plausible is a long way from showing that the variability in methylation evolved because it boosts survival.

Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Chicago, is blunter. “There is not a shred of evidence that variation in methylation is adaptive, either within or between species,” he says. “I know epigenetics is an interesting phenomenon, but it has been extended willy-nilly to evolution. We’re nowhere near getting to grips with what epigenetics is all about. This might be a part of it, but if it is it’s going to be a small part.”

To Susan Lindquist of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, however, it is an exciting idea that makes perfect sense. "It’s not just that epigenetics influences traits, but that epigenetics creates greater variance in the traits and that creates greater phenotypic diversity," she says. And greater phenotypic diversity means a population has a better chance of surviving whatever life throws at it. (…)

While Jablonka remains convinced that epigenetic marks play an important role in evolution through “neo-Lamarckian” inheritance, she welcomes Feinberg and Irizarry’s work. “It would be worth homing in on species that live in highly changeable environments,” she suggests. “You would expect more methylation, more variability, and inheritance of variability from one generation to the next.”

As surprising as Feinberg’s idea is, it does not challenge the mainstream view of evolution. “It’s straight population genetics,” says Coyne. Favourable mutations will still win out, even if there is a bit of fuzziness in their expression. And if Feinberg is right, what evolution has selected for is not epigenetic traits, but a genetically encoded mechanism for producing epigenetic variation. This might produce variation completely randomly or in response to environmental factors, or both.

Feinberg predicts that if the epigenetic variation produced by this mechanism is involved in disease, it will be most likely found in conditions like obesity and diabetes, where lineages with a mechanism for surviving environmental fluctuation would win out in the evolutionary long run.”

Henry Nicholls, Uncertainty principle: How evolution hedges its bets, New Scientist, 10 January 2011 (Picture source)

Aug
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Our ancestors have been human for a very long time. If a normal baby girl born forty thousand years ago were kidnapped by a time traveler and raised in a normal family in New York, she would be ready for college in eigh teen years. She would learn English (along with—who knows?— Spanish or Chinese), understand trigonometry, follow baseball and pop music; she would probably want a pierced tongue and a couple of tattoos. And she would be unrecognizably different from the brothers and sisters she left behind.
Jul
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Culture gene coevolution of individualism - collectivism

                            

                                                 Picture source

Dual Inheritance Theory (DIT), also known as Gene-culture coevolution, was developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s to explain how human behavior is a product of two different and interacting evolutionary processes: genetic evolution and cultural evolution. DIT is a “middle-ground” between much of social science, which views culture as the primary cause of human behavioral variation, and human sociobiology and evolutionary psychology which view culture as an insignificant by-product of genetic selection. In DIT, culture is defined as information in human brains that got there by social learning. Cultural evolution is considered a Darwinian selection process that acts on cultural information. Dual Inheritance Theorists often describe this by analogy to genetic evolution, which is a Darwinian selection process acting on genetic information. — (Wikipedia)

"Culture–gene coevolutionary theory posits that cultural values have evolved, are adaptive and influence the social and physical environments under which genetic selection operates. Here, we examined the association between cultural values of individualismcollectivism and allelic frequency of the serotonin transporter functional polymorphism (5-HTTLPR) as well as the role this culture–gene association may play in explaining global variability in prevalence of pathogens and affective disorders.

We found evidence that collectivistic cultures were significantly more likely to comprise individuals carrying the short (S) allele of the 5-HTTLPR across 29 nations. Results further show that historical pathogen prevalence predicts cultural variability in individualism–collectivism owing to genetic selection of the S allele. Additionally, cultural values and frequency of S allele carriers negatively predict global prevalence of anxiety and mood disorder.

Finally, mediation analyses further indicate that increased frequency of S allele carriers predicted decreased anxiety and mood disorder prevalence owing to increased collectivistic cultural values. Taken together, our findings suggest culture–gene coevolution between allelic frequency of 5-HTTLPR and cultural values of individualism–collectivism and support the notion that cultural values buffer genetically susceptible populations from increased prevalence of affective disorders. (…)

In addition to cultural factors, human behaviour is influenced by specific genes, such as the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4), which regulates serotonergic neurotransmission (5-HTT). (…) In particular, exposure to chronic life stress, such as interpersonal conflict, loss or threat, is considered a well-known environmental risk factor for depression in S allele carriers of the 5-HTT. (…) Evidence from population genetics reveals greater population frequency of 5-HTTLPR S allele carriers of the 5-HTTLPR functional polymorphism within certain geographical regions of the world, such as East Asia. In a typical East Asian sample, 70–80% of individuals are S carriers compared with a typical European sample where 40–45% of individuals are S carriers of the 5-HTT genotype. (…)

It remains unclear why there exists genetic selection for S relative to L allele carriers in East Asian regions, but not other geographical regions of the world. One possible explanation for greater prevalence of S allele carriers in East Asia is that geographical variability in environmental pressures has led to cultural variability in individualism–collectivism via genetic selection. Recent research has shown that geographical variability in historical and contemporary pathogen prevalence predicts variability in individualistic and collectivistic cultural norms. That is, nations with greater historical and contemporary prevalence of disease-causing pathogens or infectious diseases (e.g. malaria, typhus and leprosy) are more likely to endorse collectivistic cultural norms, likely due to the anti-pathogen defence function that collectivistic norms may serve. Given the adaptive value of collectivistic cultural values, it is possible that increased pathogen prevalence in East Asian regions may be associated with increased collectivistic values due to genetic selection of the S allele of the serotonin transporter gene within collectivistic cultures. (…)

On the contrary, evidence from a number of cross-cultural epidemiological studies indicates that East Asian populations consistently report lower prevalence of negative affect, such as anxiety and mood disorders relative to Western populations. (…)

Culture–gene coevolutionary theory proposes that cultural traits, such as individualism and collectivism, have evolved and are adaptive. Supporting the notion of cultural traits as evolutionary adaptations, recent cross-national evidence shows that cultural values of individualism and collectivism serve an adaptive, ‘anti-pathogen’ function, protecting vulnerable geographical regions from increased spread of disease-causing pathogens via the promotion of collectivistic social norms, such as conformity and parochialism. (…)

Similarly, here we propose that by favouring social harmony over individuality, collectivistic cultural norms may have evolved to also serve an adaptive, ‘anti-psychopathology’ function, creating an environmental niche that reduces the risk of exposure to environmental pathogens, such as chronic life stress, for group members. Consistent with a geneby- environment (GxE) theory of affective disorders, reduced exposure to chronic life stress for individuals living in collectivistic relative to individualistic cultures would then cause reduced prevalence of affective disorders among genetically susceptible individuals. Hence, culture variation in the epidemiological prevalence of anxiety and depression is likely due to geographical variation in the cultural adoption of collectivistic social norms. (…)

Taken together, these results indicate that historical, but not contemporary, pathogen prevalence predicts cultural variability of individualism– collectivism due to increased S allelic frequency of the serotonin transporter gene. (…)

Taken together, these findings dovetail nicely as two examples of how cultural values serve adaptive functions by tuning societal behaviour so that social and environmental risk factors are reduced and physical and mental health of group members is maintained. Importantly, in the current study, we found that population frequency of the serotonin transporter gene was a singular predictor of cultural values of individualism–collectivism across nations, even when controlling for historical and contemporary pathogen prevalence. Hence, our findings illustrate that gene frequency plays a unique role in explaining global variation in the adoption of cultural norms and is fundamental to any comprehensive understanding of culture.

A central claim of culture–gene coevolutionary theory is that once cultural traits are adaptive, it is likely that genetic selection causes refinement of the cognitive and neural architecture responsible for the storage and transmission of those cultural capacities. (…)

Recent behavioural evidence indicates that individuals carrying the S allele exhibit stronger attentional bias for negative words and pictures whereas individuals carrying the Lallele demonstrate a stronger attentional bias towards positive pictures and away from negative pictures. By extension, S allele carriers may be more likely to demonstrate negative cognitive biases, such as engage in narrow thinking and cognitive focus, which facilitate maintenance to collectivistic cultural norms of social conformity and interdependence, whereas L allele carriers may exhibit positive cognitive biases, such as open, creative thinking and greater willingness to take risks, which promote individualistic cultural norms of self-expression and autonomy. (…)

Neural activity within brain regions innervated by serotonergic neural pathways, such as the human amygdala, may serve as another likely information processing mechanism involved in the storage and transmission of cultural values of individualism and collectivism. (…)

For people living in collectivistic cultures, heightened selective attention and increased amygdala response to negative information may be advantageous to achieving collectivistic cultural norms, such as maintaining social harmony. For instance, greater vigilance to negative information may be useful for early detection of another person’s anger or fear as well as foreshadowing and avoiding actions or interpersonal situations that may induce negative emotional states in others. Also, greater vigilance to negative information may encourage a stronger narrow thinking and cognitive focus, enabling one to effectively conform to social norms. By contrast, for people living in individualistic cultures, heightened selective attention and increased amygdala response to negative information may be disadvantageous to achieving individualistic cultural norms of self-expression and assertion of self-interests. (…)

Taken together, these studies underscore the utility of incorporating cultural traits, such as individualism–collectivism, in macro- (e.g. cross-population) and micro-scale (e.g. within-population) models of GxE factors underlying complex affective disorders and the importance of culture–gene coevolutionary theory for understanding typical and atypical human behaviour, more broadly construed.”

— J. Y. Chiao and K. D. Blizinsky, Culture gene coevolution of individualism - collectivism and the serotonin transporter gene (pdf), Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA, The Royal Society, 28 October 2009

Jul
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Flynn effect


                                     Source: Alex Kurtagic, Intellectual Radioactivity

"The Flynn effect describes an increase in the average intelligence quotient (IQ) test scores over generations (IQ gains over time). Similar improvements have been reported for other cognitions such as semantic and episodic memory. The effect has been observed in most parts of the world at different rates.
The Flynn effect is named for James R. Flynn, a political scientist from New Zealand, who put forth this observation, although it was substantiated by various other psychologists and academicians. The term itself was coined by the authors of The Bell Curve." — (Wikipedia)

"This effect has been observed across cultures, although in varying degrees. You would have come across people, or even you might have noticed that now-a-days children are more intelligent or quick to absorb a new concept. (…)

The cognitive psychology of a succeeding generation has a lot of stimulation for the abstract mind, and hence a better interpretative ability to assimilate these ideas. This demands a lot of thinking and reasoning from an average human brain. A simple example can be the scientific advancement which has undergone a sea of change. A person now in his 40s had limited access to technological inventions, the web, or mobile communication in his childhood. In stark contrast to this, consider his son born in the 1990s, who is quite adept and comfortable using these advancements. Even though he is using these technologies unknowingly, (his brain comprehends more facts than what his father’s did, at his age) the average effort put in by his brain to understand a particular system is higher than his father’s brain. This can be due to variety of reasons like better nutrition, large scale exposure to many concepts at a relatively tender age, interactive media and so on.” — (Prashant Magar, What is the Flynn Effect, Buzzle)

                                          Possible projection of Flynn through ages

Curve of IQ evolution during History. Correlation of the Flynn effect and observation of Dickens en Spensdale versus limit declared by Jensen. How intelligence has grown during Ages and how we observe a possible actuel limit.

(…) By reverse-engineering the pattern of improvement in IQ tests, you can tell how mental priorities have changed over the century. It turns out that we, far more than our recent ancestors, take seriously the ability to find abstract similarities between objects. And we are better at applying logic to finding abstract patterns, as in Raven’s Progressive Matrices.

"At that point I began to get excited", says Flynn, "because I began to feel that I was bridging the gulf between our minds and the minds of our ancestors. We weren’t more intelligent than they, but we had learnt to apply our intelligence to a new set of problems. We had detached logic from the concrete, we were willing to deal with the hypothetical, and we thought the world was a place to be classified and understood scientifically rather than to be manipulated."

Flynn cites his own father, who was 50 when he was born in 1934: “He was a highly intelligent man. But he had only an intermediate school education; he and all his brothers had gone into factory work between the ages of 12 and 14. I don’t think he would have taken a ‘matrices’ problem seriously. He wouldn’t have had any practice in his everyday life at finding logical patterns in abstract shapes; he could do logic all right, but it was mainly applied to concrete situations.”

(…) "I reject the idea that either these are intelligence gains or else they’re insignificant," says Flynn. "They’re not in any simple sense intelligence gains, but they are still highly significant." His father was also rather unwilling to waste his time on profitless speculation. "I remember frustrating occasions when it was natural for me to take hypothetical situations seriously and he thought of this as silly. We might argue about race, and I would say: ‘What would you think if your skin turned black?’ And his response would be: ‘Who has ever heard of such a thing?’ Most moral argument cannot get off the ground unless you take the hypothetical seriously."

(…) this story makes me think of my own 18-month-old son, who, when I took him to his room the night before our conversation, had turned the light switch on and off, again and again, until finally, to his disgust, I had pulled him away to put him in his cot. “Exactly! Merely being surrounded by mechanical contrivances prepares you to have a different mindset. They are artificial causal networks. That in itself helps to free the mind.”

There is still the puzzle of how environmental differences can be so weak when we compare individuals born at the same time, but so strong over time. The key, which Flynn attributes to fruitful discussions with his collaborator, William Dickens, an economist at the Brookings Institution in Flynn’s home town of Washington, DC, lies in the observation that superior genes cause superior performance by co-opting superior environments.” — (The world is getting smarter, More Intelligent Life, The Economist, November 27th 2007)

According to Flynn, the environment will always be the principal determinant of whether or not a particular genetic predisposition gets to be fully expressed. “There is a strong tendency for a genetic advantage or disadvantage to get more and more matched to a corresponding environment.” — (EzraKlein Archive)

”(…) There is one way an individual can walk a personal path to enhanced cognitive skills. He or she must internalize the goal of seeking challenging cognitive environments — seeking intellectual challenges all the way from choosing the right leisure activities to wanting to marry someone who is intellectually stimulating. Better off still are those who develop a certain kind of character formation — a character such that I carry about within myself a stimulating mental environment I myself create. Then I would be relatively free of needing good luck to enjoy a cognitively enriched environment throughout life. I would have instant access to a portable gymnasium that exercises the mind. Books and ideas and conversation are easier to transport than a basketball court. No one can keep me from using mental arithmetic so habitually that my arithmetical skills survive.” James R. Flynn, Rethinking intelligence and what affects it (doc)

See also: James R. Flynn, The Flynn Effect: Rethinking intelligence and what affects it

Merrill Hiscock, The Flynn effect and its relevance to neuropsychology (pdf), University of Houston, Houston, TX, USA

May
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Turning Into Gods - ‘Concept Teaser’ by Jason Silva

"Turning Into Gods is a new feature length documentary exploring mankind’s journey to ‘play jazz with the universe’… it is a story of our ultimate potential, the reach of our intelligence, the scope of our scientific and engineering abilities and the transcendent quality of our heroic and noble calling.

Thinking, feeling, striving, man is what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called “the ascending arrow of the great biological synthesis.”… today we walk a tight-rope between ape and Nietzsche’s Overman… how will we make it through, and what is the texture and color of our next refined and designed evolutionary leap? (…)

"We’re on the cusp of a bio-tech/nanotech/artificial-intelligence revolution that will open up new worlds of exploration. And we should open our minds to the limitless, mind-boggling possibilities.

According to physicist and writer Freeman Dyson, in this New Age of Wonder, “a new generation of artists will write genomes with the fluency that Blake and Byron wrote verses. — Source: Why We Could All Use a Heavy Dose of Techno-optimism, Vanity Fair, May 7, 2010

Mar
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Free will is an illusion, biologist says | PhysOrg.com
When biologist Anthony Cashmore claims that the concept of free will is an illusion, he’s not breaking any new ground. At least as far back as the ancient Greeks, people have wondered how humans seem to have the ability to make their own personal decisions in a manner lacking any causal component other than their desire to “will” something. But Cashmore, Professor of Biology at the University of Pennsylvania, says that many biologists today still cling to the idea of free will, and reject the idea that we are simply conscious machines, completely controlled by a combination of our chemistry and external environmental forces.
Three different models explain the causal mechanism of free will and the flow of information between unconscious neural activity and conscious thought (GES = genes, environment, stochasticism). In A, the intuitive model, there is no causal component for will. Will influences conscious thought, which in turn influences unconscious neural activity to direct behavior. In B, a causal component of will is introduced: unconscious neural activity and GES. But now will loses its “freedom.” In C, the model that Cashmore advocates, will is dispensed with. Conscious thought is simply a reflection of, rather than an influence on, unconscious neural activity, which directs behavior. The dotted arrow 2 in C indicates a subservient role of conscious thought in directing behavior. (Credit: Anthony Cashmore.)

Free will is an illusion, biologist says | PhysOrg.com

When biologist Anthony Cashmore claims that the concept of free will is an illusion, he’s not breaking any new ground. At least as far back as the ancient Greeks, people have wondered how humans seem to have the ability to make their own personal decisions in a manner lacking any causal component other than their desire to “will” something. But Cashmore, Professor of Biology at the University of Pennsylvania, says that many biologists today still cling to the idea of free will, and reject the idea that we are simply conscious machines, completely controlled by a combination of our chemistry and external environmental forces.

Three different models explain the causal mechanism of free will and the flow of information between unconscious neural activity and conscious thought (GES = genes, environment, stochasticism). In A, the intuitive model, there is no causal component for will. Will influences conscious thought, which in turn influences unconscious neural activity to direct behavior. In B, a causal component of will is introduced: unconscious neural activity and GES. But now will loses its “freedom.” In C, the model that Cashmore advocates, will is dispensed with. Conscious thought is simply a reflection of, rather than an influence on, unconscious neural activity, which directs behavior. The dotted arrow 2 in C indicates a subservient role of conscious thought in directing behavior. (Credit: Anthony Cashmore.)

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Mapping the Epigenome via Now: The Rest of the Genome by Carl Zimmer | NYT 
DNA contains the genetic blueprint for all human cells, but the reading and execution of the blueprint inside each cell is controlled in part by chemical markers attached to the DNA. Scientists have begun to map some of these epigenetic markers, including CpG methylation.

Mapping the Epigenome via Now: The Rest of the Genome by Carl Zimmer | NYT

DNA contains the genetic blueprint for all human cells, but the reading and execution of the blueprint inside each cell is controlled in part by chemical markers attached to the DNA. Scientists have begun to map some of these epigenetic markers, including CpG methylation.

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Human genome history
"The human genome is the genome of Homo sapiens, which is stored on 23 chromosome pairs. Twenty-two of these are autosomal chromosome pairs, while the remaining pair is sex-determining. The haploid human genome occupies a total of just over 3 billion DNA base pairs. The Human Genome Project (HGP) produced a reference sequence of the euchromatic human genome, which is used worldwide in biomedical sciences.
The haploid human genome contains ca. 23,000 protein-coding genes, far fewer than had been expected before its sequencing. In fact, only about 1.5% of the genome codes for proteins, while the rest consists of non-coding RNA genes, regulatory sequences, introns, and (controversially named) "junk" DNA". (More: Human Genome Project)

Human genome history

"The human genome is the genome of Homo sapiens, which is stored on 23 chromosome pairs. Twenty-two of these are autosomal chromosome pairs, while the remaining pair is sex-determining. The haploid human genome occupies a total of just over 3 billion DNA base pairs. The Human Genome Project (HGP) produced a reference sequence of the euchromatic human genome, which is used worldwide in biomedical sciences.

The haploid human genome contains ca. 23,000 protein-coding genes, far fewer than had been expected before its sequencing. In fact, only about 1.5% of the genome codes for proteins, while the rest consists of non-coding RNA genes, regulatory sequences, introns, and (controversially named) "junk" DNA". (More: Human Genome Project)