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The Dragon Genome

Since starting grad school, I’ve had a running joke with a couple of other guys about the importance of sequencing the dragon genome. There is even a sign.

Why sequence the dragon genome? Because dragons are an example of vertebrate hexapods (most descriptions of dragons found in our, non-exhaustive, literature search include four limbs plus two wings*). Because we could start our paper off with “To the best of our knowledge, the work reported here represents the first complete genome sequence of a mythological creature to be published.” But mostly, we should sequence the dragon genome because, like Mt. Everest, the dragon genome is there.**

Wait what? Dragons! Little tiny ones. I do hope this isn’t some elaborate hoax. Story from sciencepunk, h/t to denim and tweed for pointing me to it.

Note the four limbs as well as two independent wings. (In all honestly this isn't really a hexapod. The wings clearly didn't evolve from a set of limbs, the origin bird wings, bat wings and pterodactyl wings.)

Now somebody bring me its DNA! (Ideally in pre-sequenced form so I can get straight to the fun parts.)

*The same is true of descriptions of angels, but who wants to walk around campus with a sign saying “sequence the angel genome”? Although I feel like there’s a sleazy genomicist pick-up line in there somewhere if I think about it hard enough.

**George Mallory is famously quoted as having replied to the question “Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?” with the retort: “Because it’s there.” <– quoted from wikipedia give it as much or as little credence as you like.

A new plant (in the apartment, not the world)

A christmas gift from my folks that only just arrived:

I don’t believe people can identify this plant from this picture, but just in case someone wants to take a shot at it, I won’t reveal the answer until below the fold. (more…)

Name That Plant: Nondescript Root Edition

Do you have any idea how long it’s been since we’ve had a name that plant post? The last one was almost a year ago on January 11th. So rather than let the tradition go a year untouched, this is an special edition of Name… that… Plant!

Can you name this root vegetable?

If you guess it correctly (and I’ve no idea if this one will be hard or easy but prior experience suggests someone will know within the first couple of comments, though on this other hand this isn’t a great picture) I’ll let you know as soon as I see the comment. If no one gets it by new year’s eve I’ll update again with the answer (and a better picture that gives it away).

This is what my part of California looked like on the Monday before Christmas! Glad I'm celebrating the holidays somewhere with snow.

Merry Christmas

I hope everyone is having a great holiday (even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, if you live in the US it’s hard to get much work done today).

Right before I left town to celebrate the holidays with my folks, my zygocactus decided to flower for the first time ever*. I guess it really is a christmas cactus!

Christmas cactus in bloom!

Wishing all a safe and happy holiday!

*Well since it’s been a free living plant. As previously mentioned, the plant goes back at least four human generations propagated by cuttings.

My Zygocactus is Getting Ready to Bloom

Some background: as an exciting and awesome plant scientist as myself might be expected to maintain a wide range of plants around the house. Instead I have exactly one*, a Christmas Cactus that’s been clonally** in my family for four generations (human generations, my Christmas Cactus is only a third generation plant).

My Christmas Cactus is not happy. At my old apartment I had it on the kitchen table, where…someone… had an accident involving it and a pressure cooker. Right after we moved I left it on a windowsill with the window open and the blinds (blowing in the wind) cut into it even more. On top of all that, the new place offers only north facing windows***.

So needless to say I wasn’t expecting so much as a single flower given everything it’s been through. Which is why I was so surprised when I went to water it and discovered…

Christmas Cactus blooming... also a sample of the less than thrilling view out my bedroom window.

Christmas Cactus blooming... also a sample of the less than thrilling view out my bedroom window.

Before I rotated the plant, those two branch tips were pressed right against the window, which makes me think something like a vernalization response (temperature dependent) is involved in signaling to a Christmas Cactus that it’s time to flower. There are buds on many of the rest of the branches, but they’re still tiny.

Thanks to Mr. Subjunctive for introducing me to the name Zygocactus, even if it was in a post about how he was giving up on the (awesome sounding) name in favor of Schlumbergera.

I also want to name-drop Liza of Good to Grow. My plan is to continue following her site and use it as inspiration to increase my plant collection so by next year my Christmas Cactus won’t be so alone.

*This is what happens when you’ve moved into a new place six times times in the past six years, plus two moves of ~1000 and ~3000 miles respectively.

**The easiest way to make new Christmas cactuses is to break off several of the segments that make up one of it’s branches, put them in water to root and then plant the new plant in soil. Since the new plant is genetically identical to the old (after all it grew from a PIECE of the old plant), in other words it’s a clone. Cloning plants is much easier than cloning animals…

***When it warms up I’m planning a commando raid to sneak the poor plant onto my roommate’s balcony for a bit more sun.

What is it about purple plants?

I’m really at a loss here, but there’s just something way cooler about eating a purple colored plant over a more regular color. I’m not sure what it is (I’m not particularly partial to the color purple in other contexts).

Consider the case of the cauliflower. (more…)

Rainbow of Carrots!

Carrots ranging from yellow to almost black:

Carrots from pale yellow to black

At least five distinct colors: yellow, light orange, orange, purple, and near black

Still missing  dark red lycopene containing carrots, but it’s a wonderful range of colors. And there’s something different about the purple and black carrots. Check it out:

Yellow, orange, and purple carrots. Chopped onions too.

Yellow, orange, and purple carrots. Chopped onions too.

Notice how the purple carrots are still white in the centers? I want to know more about why!

Best Hat Ever

Hardly Strictly was awesome. Picked up the new Sonata Arctica CD today (also awesome), and then spent the evening doing sequence analysis, and listening to good music.*

While at Hardly Strictly, I saw this:

Best Hat EVER

That is, in fact, a cowboy hat made out of a pabst blue ribbon beer case.

*Which by the way is still the best job anyone has ever had.

Red Skies in Sydney

Australia is in the middle of one of their worst drought of recorded time. Bone dry topsoil is vulnerable to be swept away by the wind, the same thing that happened in America during the dust bowl. The windborne soil is creating enormous dust storms like this one which hit Sydney yesterday. The pictures are both gorgeous and disturbing. To me they look like something out of science fiction. Can you imagine going about your business on what you think is just a foggy morning until the sun comes over the horizon and everything turns red?

All the dust used to be topsoil. The fertility of central Australia is literally blowing away in the breeze, and for me that tips the balance solidly from gorgeous to disturbing.

Such a plant biologist

So I’m halfway down this gorge:

 The Path Down the the Beach

On my way to this deserted beach:

Empty Beach 2

And I have to stop and fumble out my camera because I see a cool looking succulent I can’t identify:

Cool Looking Succulents