Wolf Gang

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The Silicon Valley Shuttles, Revealed

"The elite's mass transit" versus "underfunded Caltrain." Is this really a class divide, with all the perils that class-based thinking implies? These buses have to drive to San Francisco because the geeks on board aren't willing to buy a big house in the suburbs of Silicon Valley. They want to live in a city, where they step over homeless people and deal with crowds but also have access to all that a city offers. So they're an unusual elite.

If you love inner-city living so much that you're willing to commute almost two hours a day, then I expect you're someone who's happy with the basic proposition of city life. That means that you're used to being in close proximity to strangers, so I'd guess you'd be a willing passenger on a public transit system if that transit system were useful.

So the real story here is not the upscale demands of "elites" but the story of "underfunded Caltrain" and and more generally the way that infrequent, slow and poorly connected transit systems are forcing these big employers to run so much expensive service of their own. [...]

But why should people have to commute such distances at all? In this case, it happened because a whole mass of companies decided that they all had to have vast corporate campuses that are too big to be in walking distance to anything. The critical mass of Silicon Valley congealed in the high-car age, as early icons like Hewlett and Packard outgrew their garage. Stanford University has always sat in Silicon Valley's midst like a queen bee, happy to seem the indispensable center of the burbling mass of innovation. Since then every new breakthrough firm, from Google to Facebook, has felt they had to be there.

But now, that critical mass is in the wrong place for the needs of the next generation. A few of the area's suburbs are trying to build downtowns that will give a bit of the urban vibe that younger geeks seem to value, but many of these suburbs are dominated by people who want nothing to change. So it comes down to how the next generation of internet employers choose think about how to attract top employees. Twitter made a courageous choice, moving its headquarters right into San Francisco, but Apple is digging itself deeper, building an even larger and more car-dependent fortress in its corner of the Valley.

Finally, this joke is on the lords of Silicon Valley itself. The industry that liberated millions from the tyranny of distance remains mired in its own desperately car-dependent world of corporate campuses, where being too-far-to-walk from a Caltrain station -- and from anything else of interest -- is almost a point of pride. But meanwhile, top employees are rejecting the lifestyle that that location implies.

Geeks whose brilliance lightens the weight of our lives have bodies that must be hauled 70 or more miles every day, at a colossal waste of energy and time. Is this really the future?

Previously, previously.

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Cow engineered to produce less allergenic milk

Researchers milk mice, make cow that should provide "high cheese yields."

But deleting the gene is a real challenge. Unlike mice, where genes can be knocked out routinely, the techniques for elimination of genes and cloning of embryos in the cow are quite a bit less advanced. So, the authors turned to a different approach, called RNA interference. This involves designing short pieces of RNA that match sequences in the messenger RNA produced by the BLG gene, which allows them to base pair and form stretches of double-helical RNA. This keeps the messenger RNA from being translated into the BLG protein. [...]

But a cultured cell doesn't actually make any milk. So, the authors turned to a convenient research animal: the mouse. Unfortunately, the mouse (like us humans) doesn't make any BLG protein. So, the authors first had to engineer a construct that caused the mice to produce bovine BLG in their mammary glands. Then they had to insert a second construct, one that produced the interfering RNAs. Then they had to get the mice pregnant and milk them. I am not making this up. Their methods section includes the description, "Milk was collected manually into capillary tubes by gentle massage of teats following oxytocin administration."

Again, it all seemed to work nicely. Mice without the interfering RNAs produced lots of BLG, while those with them barely made any. With the general approach validated, the authors turned to the lengthy and expensive process of making a transgenic cow by injecting the DNA that encodes the interfering RNA into cells in culture, then transferring the nucleus of those cells into a cow's egg in order to make a clone. This process is generally inefficient in many mammals, and often produces defective embryos. Only five pregnancies resulted from 57 cloning attempts, and only one produced a live birth. "Unexpectedly, the miRNA 6--4 calf was born without a tail." Oops.

The authors can't tell whether this was a cloning defect, a defect caused by the insertion of the genes for the interfering RNA, or simply a random genetic defect that has nothing to do with the experiments. Breeding should help sort that out.

Fortunately, the calf was a female, and hormone treatment got it to make milk. Which (no doubt much to the authors' relief), did not contain BLG. In fact, the protein levels in the milk remained constant, as other proteins were increased to compensate for the loss of BLG. These include the caseins, which the authors suggest "should provide for increased calcium levels and high cheese yields."

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

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DNA Lounge: Wherein Halloween just keeps coming.

We finally got the details for the second of our three Halloween parties, Halloween Booootie on Sat Oct 27.

This will be the very first night that the new "Above DNA" space will be open to the public! (The second time will be the party on Halloween proper, Wed Oct 31.)

Like the Bootie poster? It's for sale in the store! It was designed by Jason Burke and it's full of gags about the Grammys. Spot them all!


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