Archive for June, 2013

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Welcome to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday. To find inks to other participants in WWW click the logo above; for Snippet Sunday click the one below.

This finishes the 2013 blogathon, and I certainly hope I never wind up doing another from a hospital bed! I’m reasonably perky right now aside from water retention, but I’ll be starting chemo in a couple of weeks so no promises about visiting once that starts! First priority is going to go to editing Rescue Operation.

I’m choosing sentences from near the end of the chapter I’m blogging from War’s End, continuing on from last week. Next week will be Horse Power again, as it will be free again next weekend; then a final snippet from War’s end. After that? I think I’ll go back and pull bits from my published works. For right now, Coralie is speaking.

NGC2818, Hubble“And what Kelty said about Michelle trying to take us to a ‘safe’ place—that feels right, too.”

“What about having the dog and Kelty scout for a better spot for a permanent camp tomorrow?”

“Can the dog warn me of vegetation it isn’t safe to touch?” asked Kelty. “I’m not a wilderness explorer type! The best at that would probably be Coralie, but she obviously can’t right now.”

Coralie looked over at Bounce, who was sprawled on her side sound asleep, and then out at the rain and the dense vegetation, barely visible in the light of the fire they had built. “It might work better if I sent her out by herself first, with the order to look for a safe place. I can see through her eyes a little, so I’ll have some idea of what she finds.”


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Other Uses of DNA

DNA Molecule

A schematic of a DNA molecule. (Public Domain image from Wikimedia commons.)

So far I’ve been talking strictly about my results from the genographic project. This project is aimed at clarifying the history of the human species, but this is far from the only way human DNA sequencing is used.

Genographics focuses on mutations that are relatively old and allow us to track the spread of the human species around the planet. There are two other commercial DNA testing services that use a similar method of testing but are focused on slightly different uses. All use y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA as well as the 22 sets of autosomal chromosomes, and all look for mutations specific to specific groups. But uses a set of relatively recent mutation that are most useful for finding recent relatives, while 23and me puts more emphasis on testing for genes know to be associated with health conditions. All three are useful adjuncts to conventional genealogical research, especially for those who have hit a “road block” with a known ancestor of unknown background.

But genealogy is far from the only use of DNA analysis. At the other extreme of price and usefulness is whole genome sequencing, where all 23 pairs of chromosomes are sequenced, letter by letter. This is expensive and rarely done, though the price is dropping fast. We are still talking thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars, not something to do for curiosity alone! However, such sequencing may be useful in finding an abnormal gene in a person with a health problem that cannot be pinpointed, and through knowing what the normal gene does even leading to a cure.

A far more common approach to health studies using DNA is based on the fact that many diseases are closely associated with specific genes. Finding such genes may aid in diagnosis, or (if the genes are found in prospective parents) may lead to counseling about the advisability of having children.

I’m running into this right now. There are a couple of variants of the BRCA gene that lead to an increased chance of breast and/or ovarian cancer, especially in relatively young women. I’ve had breast cancer, though at an age where it’s common. My recent (like this month) ovarian cancer has no obvious relationship to that breast cancer, from which I appear to have recovered, and the ovarian cancer was caught early enough (stage 1) that the chemotherapy I’ve been prescribed is mostly precautionary. But could I have a general susceptibility to this class of cancer? If so, would it be worthwhile removing my remaining breast tissue?  This is why genetic counseling should accompany or even precede this type of testing.

Finally, there are all kinds of forensic genetic tests. Like the genealogical tests, these are generally incomplete and depend on markers—regions where the DNA is known to vary markedly among people. I am no expert in these tests, but they have cleared more than one person on death row.

kudzuThese People are not warlike, though they have their share of disputes. As a general rule the shamans deal with these, but now and then the shamans are the problem.

It’s a matter of group size. If a group is too small, there are not enough hunters for their preferred method of running down game in relays. If the group is too large, they must range over too large an area to find game. But the prestige of a shaman is to some extent linked to the size of the group for which he or she is responsible.

This works fine as long as the shaman is more interested in the welfare of the group than in his or her own prestige. Now and then, however, a shaman inherits a group larger than that person is ready to handle and refuses to let relatives find mates in another group. None of the shamans I have known well have made that mistake. This year, however, we have two fighting over the eventual affiliation of two young people who want to stay together.

Jarn’s Journal is the journal of a fictional human-like alien stranded in Africa 125,000 years ago. He has become affiliated with a group of primitive humans, the People. The story is part of the back story of my science fiction.

Glass Beads

SusansBeadsWhile I was visiting the Corning Museum of glass, they were having a special exhibit on beads. As it happens this is the one aspect of glass art I have some experience with, through a friend who makes glass beads and has given me several. Hers are in the category the museum called wrapped beads.

bead_moose2These beads are made on a mandrill, which is a metal core coated with something that makes the beads release easily. Glass heated to a taffy-like consistency is wrapped onto the core. Blobs of glass may be added and either used to form a shape (like the moose, one of my friend’s beads) or to produce color. But producing color isn’t simple, as the bead is glowing orange through this process! An experienced bead-maker may have a pretty good idea of the finished colors, but I certainly don’t by watching!

bead_dragonfly2Small “seed beads” are most often made by cutting hollow rods of class into small lengths. In this case, the artistry is in how the beads are combined into the finished piece.

The museum had exhibits of all kinds of beads, and explanations of how they were made. I’ll content myself with photos of an exhibit showing numerous kinds of beads mounted in a pattern on the wall, and a closeup showing a few of the beads in more detail.

bead displaycloseup- beads

Quotes from Mercedes Lackey

The first six quotes tweeted by @sueannbowling from June 20 through 26 were from The Snow Queen, by Mercedes Lackey.

cover, Snow Queen“There are always repercussions to everything, magical or not.” Annukka, reflecting as she is weaving a spell of protection into a cloak.

“Life moved at the pace of the land here, not the pace of man.” Describing the land of the Sammi

“If a teacher did not come to you, it was up to you to find the teacher.” Part of the way of the Sammi.

“A necklace—now that was an investment.” A major courtship gift indicated the man was serious in his intentions.

“Strong magic had to acknowledge fear in order to conquer it.” A basic principle of magic.

“Difficult? No more difficult that teaching a cat to herd reindeer.” Annukka’s thoughts on getting the Sammi to fight together.

“There will be a next area, I have no doubt about that.” Marna, trying to convince a planetary administrator to boil all drinking water during a plague she suspects is water-spread. Sue Ann Bowling, Tourist Trap.

Glass Sculptures

I’m home from the hospital, but my energy level is still pretty low. So once again you’re getting pictures from the Corning Museum of Glass.

Most of these sculptures are my height or more, especially this one.

Most of these sculptures are my height or more, especially this one.

A beautiful example of making glass look like fabric.

A beautiful example of making glass look like fabric.

I debated over including this one, because of the the reflections on the case. But it's a beautiful piece of work.

I debated over including this one, because of the the reflections on the case. But it’s a beautiful piece of work, especially in three dimensions..

WildRose 6:23:13The longest day – and the shortest night – of the year are over. On June 21 the sun rose at 2:58 am and set at 12:47 the following morning, for a night just 2 hours 11 minutes long. It’s not much longer today – 2 hour and 13 minutes, with sunrise at 3 am. Between Cornell, Cambridge and Anchorage I haven’t been home much – but it’s been hot. Highs in the 80’s have not been uncommon, nor have daily temperatures 10°F above normal. It was so cold in May, however, that the wild roses are still blooming. (They hadn’t started when I went down to Anchorage June 11.)

TameRose 6:24:13As regular readers of this blog probably know, I’ve been in the hospital for unexpected abdominal surgery. I may say more after talking with the doctor here next week, but it looks like chemo is ahead. The pathology looks negative so far and the grade was low, but it seems I had a very aggressive type of cancer and they want to play it safe. I’m pretty short of energy now (they just took the staples out Friday), and I have a feeling that blogging during chemo is going to be way down the list of priorities. I’m going to do my best to finish the blogathon (my energy should still be on an uphill curve for that) but from then on I’ll be lucky to keep up with Monday weather updates, Wednesday quotes, and Weekend Writers.

I had to skip what would have been my first Kachemak Bay Writers’ conference, but the way the surgery turned out I’m glad I didn’t postpone it to July so I could attend. I’ll probably skip the creative writing at the Summer Arts Festival for the first time since it’s been offered, too, though I hope they’ll let me drop in if I have a good day. I hope I have energy enough to be able to work on the editing of Rescue Operation; I talked to my editor last week and I think I finally have the plot arc working.

Meanwhile, enjoy the roses, wild and domestic. It was 86° yesterday when I took the photos, and the mosquitoes were out in clouds.

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Sunday again, and time for another snippet from War’s End. Audi has been discussing with the group the idea that they may be able to figure where on the planet they are. As usual, you can get to the list of authors on Weekend Writing Warriors by clicking on the logo above, and to the Sunday Snippets facebook page by clicking on the logo below.

Helix nebula, Hubble[Audi] glanced out into the rain and darkness. “But all that will do is locate us approximately on a map.” She went back to inventorying their scanty supply of diapers.

“I’d better have one of those diapers,” Madame Irela said. “No, I know how to change a baby, Coralie!”

Ginger was going though her medical kit, her expression thoughtful. “Coralie, do you think that dog of yours really knew something was dangerous about going on the courier?”

“Yes, I told you that.”

In context, Bounce had to be physically trapped to get her onto the courier in the first place – and her breed is noted for their esper abilities.

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Neanderthal and Densovan

DNA Molecule

A schematic of a DNA molecule. (Public Domain image from Wikimedia commons.)

Homo has been spreading out of Africa since long before the evolution of “true” or “modern” humans.  But what exactly is a “true” human? What is a species?

Once it was simple. God made the species, which were unchangeable. Then the naturalists got into it, and the head-scratching began. The recognition that species could actually go extinct made more problems yet. Which modern species were they most like? Were they even “new” species, or variants of modern ones? Remember that the first “natural histories” included some very odd beasts from travelers’ tales, some of which were probably at fourth and fifth hand.

Comparisons within the human family tree have always been particularly fraught. Quite aside from the fact that many still refuse to accept the evolution of human beings, every paleontologist wants to be remembered as the discoverer of a new species. But it seems likely that Homo habilus, Homo erectus (who left Africa and included the subspecies Neanderthal and Denisova) and Homo Sapiens were valid species in that it is unlikely that an early Homo Habilis could have interbred with a late Homo erectus – though DNA is providing some surprises.

Even a relatively few years ago, when Jean Auel’s first book was published, the idea that Homo Sapiens, the upright and noble cave artists, could have interbred with brutish Neanderthals was laughed at by many anthropologists. Physically impossible! Any such rare hybrids would have been sterile, like mules!

Then DNA sequencing from bone fragments became possible. DNA of two variants of Homo Erectus, Neanderthal and Denisovian, was successfully sequenced. Bits of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA were found in every human population except those of pure sub-Saharan African descent.

Love or war? We don’t know and most likely never will, but probably both. Obviously our DNA was still compatible. It is quite possible that the “extinction” of the Neanderthals by Homo Sapiens was more of a genetic swamping. We even know what some of the Neanderthal genes we retained were – part of our modern immune system. Makes good sense: the Africans would be wide open to cold-adapted parasites and diseases, while the Neanderthals had adapted to them over a couple of hundred thousand years.

We know far less about the Denisovans, though since I turned out to have a whopping 3% Denisovan, I’m going to be following their story with considerable interest.

Year 7 day 110

gazellesIt’s amazing how quickly the seasons fly by. I’ve come to count them in part by the coming and going of the People, and begun more and more to realize how brief their lives are. Many of those I first met as elders are gone, while many of the children are now adults with children of their own. Little WildDog is thriving, with a new brother or sister on the way, Little Gnu’s daughter is happily enjoying every opportunity of meeting others of her own age. Especially boys. Not that the boys of her own age are taking much notice yet!

I am being urged to choose a new acolyte for the coming season. Little Gnu has amassed an unequalled store of fine blades, and the women in particular are eager to get them for hide working. With his skills, I do not think he will have any problem keeping his family fed, even though his leg has never healed quite straight. He will be more comfortable back with his own group.

Of course that leaves me with the problem of choosing a new acolyte. I wonder ….

Jarn’s Journal is the (fictional) journal of a human-like alien stranded in Africa by a starship accident some 125,000 years ago. The full journal to date can by found on my author site.