Adela Crandell Durkee

The Black Tortoise, A Noun Blog: Writing about People, Places, & Things

STEM Tuesday: THE GENE and sexual identity

I hope you waited patiently for Part 2  of of my take on  NPR’s “Fresh Air.”  Siddhartha Mukhera won the Pulitzer Prize in General Non-fiction for The Emperor of all Maladies:  A Biography of Cancer in 2011.  He’s like the Carl Sagan of medicine.  He explains things in a way that both simplifies and enthrall.  Part 1 is here.  STEM Tuesday: GENE by Siddhartha Mukherjee

A quick recap about Siddhartha:  He’s an oncologist and a cancer researcher.  He has a PhD from Stanford University of Oxford where he studied cancer-causing viruses and he’s a graduate of Harvard Medical School.  Siddhartha works on discovering new treatments for cancer using innovative biological methods.

Clicking on this photo will direct you to Amazon.

“Fresh Air” talked to him about his new book The Gene:  An Intimate History.  I took notes from the 45-minute podcast to create my post. I my first post, I summarized some of the things Siddhartha has to say about Genes and cancer.  Today, I’ll tell you some fascinating gene discovery about sexuality and sexual identity.

According to Siddhartha, the “Centerpiece of the book is that

First a bit about epigenetic.

Have you ever wondered about how a kidney cell, a skin cell and a nerve cell can have such different functions, and at the same time have exactly the same genetic make up.  When I took developmental biology, what back when, I learned that the same cells that become skin, also develop into the digestive system.  Some of  the same responses are common between the two types of cells.  For example, when we blush or pale as an emotional response, so does our intestines.  We have the same type of allergic response in our guts as we do on our skin.

Even the term epigenetics is in a bit of a turmoil because it means “on top of the gene.”   The genome is not a passive blueprint.  Proteins regulate how it gets  activated, inactivated and there’s a whole release cascades. Plus, master regulators can recruit other cells to combine their work.

Identical twins are great to study because they have the same genetic code. Yet, their genes are not expressed identically. If one twin has schizophrenia the other is 3-5  more likely to have it than the general population. However, it’s not a 1:1 link. Environmental factors over time, and in utero have an impact in whether the gene gets expressed.   It’s the same thing for  most chronic diseases.  If one twin develops the disease, the chances are 20% the other will too.

Women who carry the Brca gene  are at a strikingly high risk for breast cancer, yet not everyone who carries the Brca gene develops breast cancer.


Sexuality and Sexual Identity

Scientists know that there is one gene on the Y chromosomes that determines anatomy.  This gene is a master regulator gene.

 Again, identical male twins tell us a lot.  Although the chances twins will share the same sexual orientation is higher than among siblings, it’s not  100% the same.  There are some other factors that have a powerful effect on sexual orientation, which involve more than a single gene, but rather, scientists believe there are many genetic determinants, and also sociological and environmental influencers of the gene expression.     Siddhartha stresses the “need to be clear or we end up fostering nonsensical controversy.” Although there he doubts there will be a “gay gene” identified, sexual orientation does have a genetic component.

We seem to know more about how gender identity works.  Discrepancy between anatomy and identity.

One gene determines anatomy, which  sits on the Y chromosome. It happens to be a master regulator game. There are cases where a person inherits the Y chromosome, but the anatomy and identity is female.  But for the most part, the anatomical gender matches the genetic gender. That said, there are many discrepancies between sexual anatomy and identity.

You probably remember from earlier that a master regulator recruits cells to do downstream things. In other words, master regulator cells are the commanders.  The chain of command is a cascade of events with  infinite variations along the hierarchy.  Slight or radical variations can result in gender identity shifts.  The ways the commands percolate can be very radically from one person to another, creating infinite ripples or variations in individuals. I recently heard that there are oner 50 sexual identifications to choose from.  Facebook recognizes 51.  If you’re interested here’s a link  to what those identities are:  Facebook’s gender identities.

What about genetic testing?

Biology is not destiny.  some aspects are commanded very strongly by genes.  Thousand of variations influence our destiny.  Although we are learning a lot about genetics, the truth is in the details, which are yet to be discovered. “Without a clear understanding we can be easily lead into discourse that is incorrect.”

Siddhartha cautions against genetic testing for diseases unless there’s a very strong 1:1 connection  Even though he has schizophrenia in his family and he knows that gives him a genetic predisposition, he chose not to be tested until there are answers that are more predictive.  Right now we’re nowhere close.  He doesn’t want to be a “previvor,” someone who thinks of himself as having a disease that has not yet manifested.  “Until we can create a better map, I won’t be tested. However he feels differently about the Brca gene.  “If history of breast cancer is striking enough, I recommend it to my patients.”

Siddhartha reminds us how much we are alike.

Photo Friday:  Changing perspectives

I got my final chapter back into bed – Again.  Whew!  I hope that insolent child stays where she belongs.  

Next adventure is two pronged:  enter writing contests and seek out publishing opportunities.  

CoCo got an apartment, which means I will have an empty nest, but feathered nest. An exciting and a scary embankment all at the same time.

I took some photos of my verbinum.  It’s beautiful this year.  The cooler spring and abundant water was just what she craved. 

Look at what I saw up close:

I thought her blossoms were just white, maybe a little green mixed in before the blossoms became fully mature.  A close look revealed so much more.

There such deep texture and dimension in that little white cluster.  It’s like a bouquet of blossoms.

A little further out, and the deepness becomes a little fuzziness around the edges.

From below, sturdy branches reach skyward.

Always tethered close to home and hearth.
Yes. CoCo is stretching and growing. Every day I see new facets of her blossoming beautifully.

As always, more beautiful photos over at Pierced Wandering.  Just follow the link below.  

Pierced Wonderings

Get back in bed, you insolent child

In Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird she tells us that after we think we’ve tucked our story into bed, it will jump out and demand a drink of water or one last before bedtime song.  Those aren’t her words. They’re my interpretation of her words.

Guess what?  Today the last chapter of my novel came tiptoeing over and demanded a re-write.  Helping to push her out of bed were two readers who said, “Oh, that was quick.  I tried to turn the page and read more, and it was over.”

Again, my interpretation.

So, final chapter, you win.  One more try before I tuck you in again.

While I’m doing that, here’s a picture of me with my new glasses, and a slightly new haircut.  Back to the modified mohawk for the summer.  My neck feels so cool and breezy.

Photo on 5-18-16 at 3.15 PM

Oh my.  Look at all those books in my ‘gotta read’ pile.  I better get cracking.’ Wait no, my chapter is calling.  Maybe I’ll just catch up with my Facebook friends.  Or do a load of laundry.  Or finish that invoice.

No the little brat… I mean darling needs my attention.

Yes, those are interpretations of other things Anne Lamott and Bird by Bird taught me.

Here’s an actual quote from the book:

E.L. Doctorow said once said that 

STEM Tuesday: GENE by Siddhartha Mukherjee

I heard this on NPR’s “Fresh Air.”  Actually, I heard bits of it on two separate trips. It’s one of those broadcasts that fascinated me so, I had to find it on the internet and listen again.

Siddhartha won the Pulitzer Prize in General Non-fiction for The Emperor of all Maladies:  A Biography of Cancer in 2011.  He’s like the Carl Sagan of medicine.  He explains things in a way that both simplifies and enthralls.

First a little biography on Siddhartha:  He’s an oncologist and a cancer researcher.  He has a PhD from Stanford University of Oxford where he studied cancer-causing viruses and he’s a graduate of Harvard Medical School.  Siddhartha works on discovering new treatments for cancer using innovative biological methods.

Clicking on this photo will direct you to Amazon.

“Fresh Air” talked to him about his new book The Gene:  An Intimate History.  I took notes from the 45-minute podcast to create my post. Although this new book has a strong cancer component, it encompasses much more.

According to Siddhartha, the “Centerpiece of the book is that biology is not destiny. But some aspects of biology and some aspects of destiny are commanded very strongly by genes.” Continue reading

Gratitude Monday: It’s a Circus in Rockford

gratitude - 2I love the circus.  CeCi invited me to go with her family,  Rockford is a hour’s drive from her house.  It’s closer than Chicago where the CIRCUS comes.  We went to the circus.  Just one ring.  Just a half-full stadium.  Just two clowns, some acrobats, and some jugglers.  And camels performing. Sometimes little things are sweet. Don’t you think?

Today I give you some little things that bring gratitude to my heart:

  • Five redbreast robins hopping and stopping in the early morning dew.  Each stops, tilts her head, and  to pulls a worm from the freshly mowed lawn.
  • Lily of the valley unfurling to display pearl-sized bells waving their delicate perfumes.
  • Rays of sun bursting through dark clouds like a revelation from the heavens.
  • An afternoon cacophony that reminds me of my trip to the Amazon.  Each bird with its own voice happy about the 60°F weather.
  • CoCo on the phone to Grandma explaining how she’s getting an apartment.  Echoes of the conversation I had with Mom this morning.  Mom surprised and amazed by CoCo’s every word.
  • Watching The Night Manager with Loved-One.  It’s a new TV six-part mini-series that has us intrigued.  I love that it’s only six parts, The main character is unique and has us both thinking and wondering.
  • Elephants at the circus.  I’m happy they’re retiring and at the same time, happy to see them one last time.  Circus always came with elephants.  What would Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen be without the elephant?
    gratitude - 3

Oh, that reminds me:  I also went to a Christening.  A trip down memory lane with energetic little boys being, well, being energetic little boys.  Still free enough to run a race car over the Pascal candle holder.

gratitude - 1

Photo Friday: peering through the core

I admit, I’m a little jealous of Pierced Wonderings’ vista of color each week. New Orleans splashes across my screen until I swear I can smell bourbon and my skin itches from briny water of the sea mixed with the muddy Mississippi. When the sun beats through my office window in the afternoon, and Jen’s photos grace my monitor, I can feel the sultry heat of the South permeate my nerve endings and widen my synapses.  If only I had Mardi Gras to photograph….

common core - 1 (1)

Last week I visited Indian Prairie Elementary School. The school just turned 25 years old. The K-5th grade school began with Mrs. Kathleen Savage and she retires this year.  Things have changed a lot since she began teaching, mostly due to technology.

Now we have fewer books and more hands on learning.

common core - 8

Mrs. Savage writes plays and every student who auditions gets a speaking part. Continue reading

Read my lips

fortune telling - 1

A month ago, I readied myself to attend BAM16.  This is one of my two favorite conferences for writers.  These are my “birds of a feather.”  I met friends I only knew virtually, reconnected with friends I made last year, and got a whole new gaggle of friends.  For anyone thinking about attending next year, I highly recommend grabbing a roommate.  Sure it cuts down on cost; but the best benefit is the lasting friendships.  My roommate from last year, Pam Lutrell, and this year’s Julie A Wallace are now two of my favorite people.  Pam’s Over 50 Feeling Feeling 40 made me begin to feel more confident about fashion and style.  I still feel a bit more like Style from the Stylus, if you know what I mean.  Still, Pam and the other style bloggers pumped me up.

Julie, from WordStormCasserole came in a day early and had a leg up networking with the other bloggers.  She literally crammed me into her gaggle of friends and before long, the five of us became the ClownCarChronicles (Midlife Bloggers Gone Wild.)  We formed our own Mastermind group and plan to meet once a month to keep each other accountable.

Again at this conference, my mind swirled with ideas about monetizing, ambassadorship, and branding.  What is my brand, anyways?  I want to be known as a good writer.  A storyteller. I want to get my novel published so I can proudly call myself a novelist.

So what’s up with the lip prints, perhaps you wonder. While at BAM16, we each got a lip-reading.  Jennifer Connolly, from A Well Styled Life  suggested I try a shade of the complimentary lipstick just a bit brighter  than I usually wear.  I picked Cover Girls “Outlast” in shade 925. Wow! That shade really does brighten up my face.  Thanks Jennifer.

Not that I really believe in fortune-telling, but everyone came back happy about what they heard:  “Your creativity is about to break through to something big;” “You are on  the verge of a partnership;” “you’re a natural-born caretaker:” and more great things like that. So here’s what I remember hearing.

See those holes in your lip print? That’s a sign that energy is escaping.  You have many irons in the fire.  Perhaps more than you can keep track of.”

Whoa Mama.   Continue reading

STEM Tuesday: Landing on my feet

We all want “land on our feet” after a bad experience.  There’s even a book called Land on your feet, not on your face. It’s a leadership book, not a book about how to stay upright on your bicycle.  I could use one on the latter subject, since I have an uncanny ability to hit my noggin every single time I fall.  I believe it’s because of my undying belief that I can right myself and not fall.  At any rate, my phenomenon results in me taking an Arty Johnson type plunge into the sidewalk or roadway. (Remember LaughIn?)  Yes, that is why I always wear a helmet.

stay-cation 2

I probably should take photos while I’m on my bicycle

Did you know that the phrase, “land on your feet,” may have come from cats’ uncanny ability to land on their feet after a fall?  Cats can do this because they have what’s known as “cat righting reflex.” Cats have an unusually flexible spine and no collar bones to get in the way of twisting around. Although yoga will help me with the flexibility, I, alas, will continue to have collar bones.

Scientists believe cats have this ability because in nature, they spend a lot of time in trees.  Any creature who does that, has a survival advantage if it can land safely.

Cats are so good at landing safely, they’re said to have nine lives, and to be the familiars of witches.  People got so concerned about the possible bewitching of cats, they routinely defenestrated them, and lo and behold, the cats landed on their feet and walked away.  (New vocabulary word for the week:  defenestration:  throwing someone or something out of a window.)


My cats, Sasha and Misha love to sit by my office window. They love to practice fight, just like human sisters.

I love WBEZ.  Last week I heard a piece about cats falling out of buildings in Manhattan. Cats plummet to the ground at a rate of one each day during the summer in Manhattan.   No, they’re no longer being thrown out of windows.   Most likely, the cats fall because they plunge after a bird or insect that their primal instinct tells them are suitable prey. even though they just had some kitty kibble and really don’t need to hunt. Anyways, that’s enough “raining cats”  to make up a small study.

It turns out that those cats who fall less than 5 stories, pretty much walk away unfazed. Those who fall more than 9 stories seem to walk away with only minor injuries.  

. This happens so much that it has its own name: “high-rise syndrome.

According to a BBC report:

In a 1987 study of 132 cats brought to a New York City emergency veterinary clinic after falls from high-rise buildings, 90% of treated cats survived and only 37% needed emergency treatment to keep them alive.

However,  those who fell between 5 and 9 stories had the worst injuries.  Why?

As the cat approaches the ninth floor, gravity pulls them faster and faster, until they’re going about 60 miles an hour.  After that, the wind resistance equals the velocity and the fall is on “cruise.” The cat begins to relax and spread out a bit like a flying squirrel. The high-rise falling cat ends up belly flopping on impact, thus the bruised chest and chipped tooth.



The next segment on WBEZ tells us why we fall at all.  This flummoxed even Einstein.  Why we fall. It has something to do with the curvature of space and time.  To find out more, go here.

I found another video of a cat in zero gravity.  The cat’s reflexes quickly reoriented him to whatever surface was near.  Since the cat floated in zero-gravity, the surface kept changing, which essentially made the cat keep spinning around, trying to land on a new surface.  Although scientifically interesting, it looked pretty cruel.

Here’s something I never considered.  The cat must get all four paws facing the ground, with nothing to spring against.  To do this, she spins the front part of her body in the opposite direction as the bottom half.  It’s the same mechanism figure skaters use to pirouette.  The BBC has a bunch of caracal cat behavior videos that I found fascinating.

Sasha and Misha do  this when they trie to catch a “bird” on the end of a fishing pole. They seem to be having so much fun.

I wonder who can tell me why I fail to put my hand or foot out to break my fall when my bicycle grows unsteady and a fall is unavoidable?

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