Saturday, February 24, 2007

Biology of Vampires, Part 2

Of course it figures that after I write my post, I come up with a few more ideas.

Vampires have a very powerful seductive ability, typically. I'd attribute this to pheremones. Normally, we don't notice them too much, so they don't play a very strong role. My guess is that these guys either have enhanced pheremones and/or pump them out like crazy. Maybe they can even control the release.

One of the trickier issues is the spread of vampirism. It would be easy to attribute it to a virus, but that doesn't end the problem. It's not a unheard of assumption for a virus to change the phenotype of a cell. It's the entire basis of gene therapy. However, usually viral infection is associated with problems in at least some tissue. For a virus to replicate, it has to destroy the cell it infects. So, for a virus to affect the entire organism, why doesn't the vampire die? It could be that the virus can replicate in some tissues and not in others, such as appendix vs. muscles, but I'm not certain such a mechanism is possible. Typically, if a virus can get in, it can multiply.

Hm . . . well, I've run out of new ideas. Anybody else have some thoughts?

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Biology of Vampires

Here's another "my biochem class got me ta thinkin'" post, so if you didn't enjoy the last one, you might want to just hit the backspace button right now.

Actually, it wasn't just my class. I've been watching this show on Cartoon Network, Trinity Blood. It's great. Vampires vs. Christianity, with the Vatican running the western European empire while the Vampires control the eastern empire. In the show, vampires no longer have to feed on humans, which made me wonder what exactly they did to arrange this, which led me to wonder how a vampire might work, biologically speaking.

Of course, not all of the typical "lore" surrounding vampires would probably survive a scientific shakedown, but let's see what we can do.

First, let's consider vampires' incredible speed and strength. All physiological energy comes from the production of ATP in metabolism, due largely to the function of the mitochondria. Tissues which require more energy, and thus work harder, require more ATP and so have more mitochondria. Muscle cells, especially heart muscle, have a lot. So, maybe vampires get their physical prowess from an increased number of mitochondria in each cell.

That seems too easy, though. Just for kicks and grins, let's also hypothesize that they have an increased number of andrenergic receptors (cellular receptors which act as receivers for the signal adrenaline gives).

Okay, so we have a somewhat sensible take on stamina . . . what about their desire to drink blood? Well, mitochondria being as abundant as they are, the vampire's metabolic needs are probably much different. I would imagine they'd need to replace their materials more often. Part of the processes of the mitochondria are dependent on a protein called cytochrome C, which requires a heme group to function. You know what else is abundant in heme? If you said hemoglobin, you win the prize! (A lame blog post! Woo!) I'd guess that the thirst for blood comes from the need for heme. If their mitochondria are working overtime, those coenzymes aren't going to replace themselves.

Hm . . . what about silver toxicity? It's not uncommon for people to have allergies to metals (though I'm unfamiliar with the pathways involved in those). Perhaps it could be a racial allergy? I guess, but I think I actually have an possible explanation.

In the mitochondrial pathways (can you guess what I've been studying lately?), one of the molecules is dependent on copper ions. When studying copper binding proteins, silver can often make a suitable substitute, as the monovalent ions hold similar properties. However, it's not very good for the protein, typically. And I doubt it'd be very good for the vampire if his mitochondrial copper was being replaced with silver.

Not a very thorough explanation, but this isn't exactly going to be submitted to Science or Nature, so I'm not concerned.

The last one I think I can (reasonably) attach a biological function to is the sunlight allergy. Actually, it's not unusual for people to develop allergies to light in certain situations. People undergoing photodynamic therapy often run the risk of acquiring a sunlight allergy. It's because the drugs react with light to cause a reaction which can kill toxic cells, but it's hard to keep the drug in just the harmful cells. So, until the drug is eliminated from the system, most people have to limit sun exposure.

The same could be said for vampires. They're incredibly pale, so their skin cells most likely ceased to produce melanin. Perhaps the enzymes which manufacture melanin mutated so that the product is instead a photodynamic molecule which can cause the same reactions.

Of course, most vampires don't just shrivel up and die in sunlight, but actively burst into flames. I can't really come up with anything for that one. But an overactive photosensitizer instead of melanin seems to be at least somewhat plausible.

Not that plausibility really matters. We're talking about vampires, after all. But this was fun nonetheless.

Halbert's Cubicle

Better geekery through science.

Political Facebook Stalker

Did you hear about this? Some anti-war nutcase undergrad tracked down College Republicans from his school through Facebook. He showed up at one lucky guy's house acting like a military recruiter, but ended up in fisticuffs with the guy and his roommates. To top it off, he waited for the police to arrive and argue his case. The Rhodes scholar is out on bail at the moment, but yeesh.

I went to college with people like this. Absolutely no inhibitions, and the overwhelming self-assurance that everything they do is right, especially in pursuit of The Cause (whatever "The Cause" happens to be for that person).

I guess this just reinforces two things for me: That you should mainly discuss politics with friends who won't wig out on you if you disagree with them, and that you should always be very careful about what you put on Facebook.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Democrats Vs. Christians

Round . . . oh, I dunno, I've lost track at this point.

If you don't follow things on the internet, and aren't interested in politics, you might have missed this story. In fact, it's kind of old by this time, but I thought I'd write about it before it was too old to be relevant. Also, I've discussed such issues with my cousin before and thought it might be worth visiting.

Anyhow, John Edwards, Senator Kerry's running mate in the 2004 election, is running for the Presidential nomination for 2008. His campaign has a blog, and he hired two liberal bloggers to be his chief bloggers. I'd never really heard of them before this, but then I'm not a big purveyor of the port side of the blogosphere anyhow. These gals weren't Markos Moulitsas level stars or anything, but I guess they were fairly well read since they were picked up by a Presidential candidate.

Eventually, the two were fired due to complaints about their writings before they were picked up by Edwards' campaign. It seems they wrote a lot of highly inflammatory anti-Christian posts. I'll leave you to find them on your own; suffice it to say that they're either highly hateful or just vile. You'd think that someone working for Edwards would have noticed this before giving the "thumbs up" to hiring these two, but it seems not.

Others have written about this, and much more intelligently than I can probably muster. Still, I feel like voicing my thoughts on the matter. That's what the blog is for, right?

It's not a huge deal that he hired these two goonettes. If they want to bash Christians on their blogs, they can do so all the live-long day. The really bizarre thing is that you have a man who wants to be President, and he chooses them to be his ambassadors to the web? It boggles the mind. Imagine President Bush appointing Paris Hilton to be US Ambassador to the UN. Is that really how you want to present our country to the world?

I've had long talks with people about how Christians ought to be flocking to the Democrats. After all, they're all about social justice and such, things Christians are supposed to be very concerned with. You know, taking care of the poor, stopping oppression, being responsible stewards of the environment, so on and so forth. I guess it does get old hanging out with the Republicans after a while, what with their sodomizing puppies and all. The thing is, I've always noticed this thread of anti-Christian thought running through the Democratic party supporters, if not through some of its leaders. I wouldn't care too much, except it's usually people who are influential, not just Joy Peaceflower from the local chapter of the San Francisco Democrats for Kerry.

This sort of incident ought to give pause to those who think that Christianity ought to be running straight into the arms of the Democrats. John Edwards was the VP candidate in '04 and he seemed to have little issue with anti-Christian zealots like Marcotte. Do you think such a party has your best interests in mind?

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Chief Has Left the Building

Well, it finally happened. UIUC is finally getting rid of Chief Illiniwek as their mascot.

And it's about time, I say. Native Americans will never have the dignity and respect they deserve until we can completely forget that they ever existed.

A Non-Believer's Wisdom

Here's something you don't see too often: Ace has a post talking about Christianity vs. non-Christians. He's not actually a Christian (probably agnostic or atheist), but I actually agree with what he has to say on the matter.

His post is about non-Christians arguing with Christians about their "intolerance" and who ought to be let into Heaven's country club. But the question he asks is, why do you care about what people (who you think are crazy) of a certain faith (which you think is a lie) believe about you going to Hell (which you think is a fairy tale)?

It's a reasonable point. If you don't believe in my God, why do you care that I think he'll end up sending you to Hell? It's not like Christians take this stance out of malisciousness ("Ha ha, stupid unbeliever! You're going to Hell without Jesus, and I'm not giving him to you!"). What's the point?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Connect the Dots

Don't have much time for blogging tonight. But I saw this and couldn't pass it up.

First, read this Guardian article and/or Dr. Mohler's analysis of it. Then, read this opinion piece, which appeared in UMSL's paper. I'm willing to bet you see a connection.

You're still here?

Hey folks, I guess it's been a while since I've posted. I've been somewhat occupied with grad school lately, so the blog falls to the wayside. Hey, at least I'm doing well in my classes, right?

Anyhow, posting should resume . . . soon. Maybe tonight, if I get a presentation done early.

In the meantime . . . happy valentine's day? Those of you inclined to celebrate, have fun with that. I'll just be chillin' with my cats tonight. (Scott made this picture)