Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Shameless Plug

Special Seminar
University of Minnesota
Candidate for Director of the Stem Cell Institute
"Engineering the Zebrafish for the 21st Century Biologist"
Wednesday, March 22
I'm assuming this means I don't have to keep it under wraps any longer.
It's always nice to see good things happen for your PI!

Thursday, March 16, 2006


You know how dearly I love DNA. Is it not a serious contender for Most Fabulous Molecule? (For the record, RNA is pretty hot, too.) You may also know that despite my typically vehement disapproval of yellow, I love smiley faces. Ergo, you can only imagine how happy this makes me.

A map of the Americas measuring just a few hundred nanometres across has been created out of meticulously folded strands of DNA, using a new technique for manipulating molecules dubbed "DNA origami".

The nanoscale map, which sketches out both North and South America at a staggering 200-trillionths of their actual size, aims to demonstrate the precision and complexity with which DNA can be manipulated using the approach.

...It is not the first time DNA has been used to make structures - the idea was originally developed by Nadrian Seeman at New York University, US - Rothemund's approach takes things to a new level of complexity.

Although Rothemund has only made 2D shapes there is nothing to prevent the technique being applied to make complex 3D structures, he says. These could serve as disposable scaffolds to help molecules and carbon nanotubes self assemble.

Other examples "DNA artwork", creating using the same technique, include "smiley-faces", complex geometric shapes and a picture of a double helix with the letters "DNA" running above it.

Seriously--just look at the little guy

Now, if you will excuse me, I have sequencing data to look at, which may someday prove plenty thrilling in their own right. Alas, however, I am currently unable to make happy faces with transposons. That may have to go onto the to-do list.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Into the Fireswamp

Your humble Nomad here admits that she has a small problem, one she's known about for years (as have you): she has a tendency to bite off more than she can chew. Occasionally quite a lot more.

She realized this evening, as she sat down to begin--all right, all right, first she watched NCIS and The Unit--the putative proposal/tentative outline for her Lincoln seminar paper, that this would probably qualify as one of those "quite a lot more" occasions. I'm not going to release the topic just yet, but the current working title is Exit Strategy (not quite as good as Out-Lincolned?, I admit), and is actually intended as a full-length treatment of a short paper topic I wrote on previously. (In fact, said short paper turned out heinously badly; but it's such an intriguing and relevant topic I just can't shake it and have determined instead to wade back into the morass.)

The difficulty? Ah, yes. I've realized, whilst starting on a rough layout of matters that must be addressed, that 1) my answer remains "I don't know", which won't fill 25 - 50 pages; and 2) there's very likely a wealth of detail I ought to treat. At the very least, everyone else's papers promise to make for awesome work, especially given that several folks are writing on opposing angles of similar issues. Should our prof manage to get them published as a special issue or some such thing, a compilation should make for great reading.

Where is the Dread Pirate Roberts when a girl needs him?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

A Rose by Any Other Name

Why certainly--you can call it C. elegans; but at the end of the day, it's still a worm.

All right, all right; yes, the lowly nematode will tell you all sorts of things about genes, cells, and development--which is cool. But...the whole wormy thing... Guess I reveal myself as pro-vertebrate ;)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Necessity and the Constitution

Good morning!

And it's another day that has thus far and will continue to be spent catching up on things due today, rather in lab being mildly useful. Of course, with such a paucity of actual experience, "useful" is a relative term. For example, I realized this morning that I completely screwed up an entire injection batch by calibrating the dosage wrong. When I go in to clean up and evaluate the embryos today, they will all be dead, just you wait and see. Note to self--if when you're injecting and you think "gee, that seems like an awful lot of solution being injected," for goodness' sake, STOP, woman, STOP!! Stop and think very carefully for a minute. Ah well, asi es la vida.

So, I thought I'd try something different today: just to prove that as much as I like pretty shoes and being silly, I do sometimes have a quasi-substantive thought. Occasionally. I just don't always write them down. Ergo, below are some of them. It is, in fact, this week's 2-page paper for my Lincoln seminar. It's not great, but I thought it maybe wasn't completely horrible. Although I could be wrong, you never know.

Yes, there are a number of incomplete and underdeveloped positions in it. One, it's a rough product; Two, we're only allowed two pages, dagnabbit--you're not exactly looking at the next Sowell, you know. And yes, I am completely incapable of writing decent conclusions. Always have been, probably always will be. Deal :)

Does the Constitution Allow Interpreters to Entertain the Idea of Necessity?
Lincoln’s Argument in the Letter to Erastus Corning and Others, the Letter to James Conkling, and the Letter to Albert Hodges

While the argument Lincoln advances in the Corning letter is an argument about the constitution, once it passes from the realm of suspension of the writ of habeas corpus it is ultimately an argument from necessity. Despite Lincoln’s remarkable ability to express himself and his constitutional positions as President both clearly and persuasively, his argument in the letter to
Erastus Corning and others simply is not constitutionally sound. He is unfortunately quite wrong—not necessarily inherently so by including necessity in his argument, but in the substance of his argument as compared to the very text of the constitution.

His error is in claiming that the language of the writ suspension clause can be extrapolated to cover any action regarding any wartime situation in which “disloyalty to the Union” is suspected. That argument from necessity is constitutionally unsound and incorrect. While I might agree or be persuaded to agree that powers may be a little broader in wartime, his argument oversteps
constitutional limits outright in employing the writ suspension language to defend other actions not obviously connected to writ suspension itself, such as the heavy-handed treatment of or silencing of newspapers. Rather than so blatantly stretching that clause, he must seek support from elsewhere in the document, if it can be found. However, in the Conklin and Hodges letters, his argument from necessity for the Emancipation Proclamation is much more constitutionally sound.

Therefore, we see that an argument from necessity can be a constitutional argument. Put perhaps more completely, such an argument is not necessarily anti-constitutional in and of itself, nor is it one the mere consideration of which automatically risks grievous injury to the constitution. There is nothing in the constitution itself to indicate that necessity cannot be a consideration under at least some circumstances. In fact, the document itself entertains the concept of necessity, albeit on a far more mundane scale, in the Necessary and Proper clause; more importantly, the constitution considers necessity as a valid factor in what are all essentially situations of dire emergency.

Harboring great concern, even innate suspicion of an argument from necessity is valid, defensible, and highly compatible with our need to be jealous guardians of liberty. It is not, however, valid as a final pronouncement. As the constitution itself hints, the question is one of limits. Again, the
constitution does not rule out necessity entirely. The words of the writ suspension clause clearly indicate that the Founders understood that there will indeed be instances of severe national emergency, and that in such situations, certain actions taken out of necessity are entirely valid and justified. (Or that there could be such instances: ideas, attitudes, and reactions of our own
times as to whether or not nation-threatening situations actually exist or can truly exist line up remarkably well with those expressed in Lincoln’s.)

Whether an argument from necessity is a constitutional argument depends on what action or position is being argued, as well as the constitutional provision(s) at issue; there is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question, as demonstrated by the letters to Corning, Conklin, and Hodges. Lincoln instinctively understood this, and the concept of constitutional constraints, as evidenced by his
statement in the letter to Hodges:

I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. …And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling. …I understood, too, that in ordinary civil administration this oath even forbade me to practically indulge my primary abstract judgment on the moral question of slavery.

But in the argument espoused in the Corning letter, he ignored this principle. Therefore, an argument from necessity is not inherently an unconstitutional one; there are times when necessity may be a valid constitutional argument.

Update 3.7.06: Marked "V. good!" With an exclamation point, no less!