Archive for December, 2013

Sugary end of year thoughts

Last post of the year, perhaps – I have a couple of others brewing, but they need some thought. This has been an unusual year in some ways. First, a big thanks to all my readers – I know a few of you and I hope that my occasional posts are of some interest to you.

To start at the end, I enjoyed this year’s Royal Institution Christmas lectures, though I have a whinge. Why was hyaluronic acid called a protein. It isn’t. It is a glycosaminoglycan, polysaccharide, sugar, carbohydrate, polymer, but NOT a protein. Crucially, it is a secondary gene product. Polysaccharide synthesis is the consequence of the activity of enzymes, primary gene products, but the regulation of polysaccharide synthesis is at the whim of cell and organism physiology and only indirectly by the genome. This, I think, makes the entire business of the mole rat living longer than equivalent rodents and being cancer free even more interesting. If one can have “p53” named in the lecture, why not define hyaluronic acid correctly? Or is there a fear amongst those working with the central dogma of the messiness of things beyond? Generally, where things are messy in science is where the most interesting stuff is. Glycobiology is certainly messy, sticky and most interesting and I recommend it strongly to all – it is likely also to contribute to getting us out of the mess of global warming. (more…)


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This post highlights links to the American Civil war that I have unknowingly walked by in two European cities at different stages in life. (more…)

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I’ve had a few requests for the recipe for roast leg of lamb. This is rather simple. Total roasting time, 1 h per kg, at half time, turn leg.
Put the oven on high, (gas 8), put leg in roasting tray with ample fat (I use margarine), after 10 min put in 1 onion and 1 carrot chopped and turn down to gas 7.
When there is 1 h left, shift roast to bottom of oven, turn oven up to 8 and start the roast vegetables (I use a mix of parsnips, sweet potatoes and half boiled King Edwards).

Letting the roast stand and gravy follow standard procedures.

However, in my opinion, a far more interesting seasonal recipe is one I received some dozen years ago, which celebrates elements of my Irish-French heritage!

This is the “Recette Irlandaise pour préparer une bonne dinde au Whisky” set out below.

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Lots of tweets on the subject of great reads in the run up to Christmas, and, reflecting my preponderance for following science, most have been science flavoured. At the start of October this year I came across an article in the Guardian on a new translation of Herodotus’ Histories.
This is my Christmas read and I am extremely impressed. I knew of Herodotus, but had never read his work. Not without controversy in the ancient and modern world, there is no doubt that he does indeed present evidence and the source, and often weighs up the quality of the evidence. I find this refreshing, because in science now we seem to have drifted into territory where the quality of data are often ignored and the conclusion, regardless of the quality of the data is all. The truth is the opposite; data are everything, though truth remains awkward at the best of times.

This impacts directly on the growing debate on the reproducibility of science, also called the replication problem, which has recently elicited a fair amount of discussion, e.g., here and here. (more…)

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