The Brainiac Edition

The promise was nothing short of miracles.

The mapping of the human gene was suppose herald a new age of medicines, enhancements, and things even science fiction writers would have trouble imagining.

The human genome, that helical puzzle that defines us as a species, required years of intense computer analysis, the attention of scores of scientists from several countries, and cost billions of dollars. To date, about 93% of the human genome has been mapped, the rest is considered “junk genes”, evolutionary remnants that likely would yield little important information.

The Human Genome Project declared the human genome completely mapped in 2003, though a draft copy was announced in 2000. Since that time the data has been refined and enhanced several times, and the amount of data is growing exponentially.

So, where’s my clone?

Where’s Steve Jobs’ lab-grown liver? Where’s the cure for Alzheimer’s Disease? Why do we still have cleft palates and other congenital defects? Why aren’t we living to be 200? How come I can’t grow new teeth, or an arm? Why can’t I have wings, gills, and eyes as sharp as an eagle’s?

Well, mapping the human genome is one thing, understanding what we’re looking at is another thing entirely.

It turns out that genes, not just our genes, but all genes from every living thing, is wired strangely. Flipping one gene on or off affects things we never would have expected. So, while mapping our genes has been a worthwhile endeavor, understanding what we’ve mapped will take us a whole lot longer.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been progress on all the fronts I’ve mentioned and more. The map gives us places to consider when looking for answers to why some people are affected by certain diseases and others are not. We are beginning to better understand the processes involved with cellular reproduction and why cells start and stop acting certain ways. This, in turn, helps us understand why salamanders can regrow whole limbs and where to look in our genetic makeup for similar abilities.

For instance, dentists will soon be able to implant “seeds” in our mouths that will grow into healthy teeth to replace diseased ones. Similarly, doctors will soon be able to “seed” serious wounds using our own stem cells genetically altered to replace damaged skin and muscle. In ten years, we won’t need to wait for some accident to befall some unfortunate soul in order to get the organs we may need to live, organ farms will be able to grow new ones using our own cells so there won’t be a risk of rejection.

We may be able to use viruses modified to plant new genetic information into existing cells so that our bodies can learn to heal themselves.

So, no wings just yet, but I may be able to modify myself to be even more handsome than I am today, if that’s possible, just by paying a few visits to my geneticist.

Why I’m talking about genes and what do they have to do with Free on iTunes? Well, for one thing, I like talking about cool, brainy biological stuff, it turns on hot geek-girls. For another thing, there’s a special free iPad edition of Nature magazine that celebrates ten years (or there abouts) of having the human genome mapped (or there abouts).

This is a pretty cool app all around and worth a download, even if you don’t know your GCAT for your FCAT. There are articles to browse, interactive graphs, videos, and much more.

It’s true that some of this might not be considered light reading, but Nature has a way of explaining complex things so well that even Forrest Gump would take notes.

Grab Nature’s The Human Genome at Ten. You’ll feel smarter just having it on your iPad.

Speaking of smarts, the Summer is winding down, and that means school will soon be starting up.

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with school. I loved when it let out for the Summer, and hated it when I had to go back in the Fall.

I did enjoy some of the classes though, and since I was talking about genes and stuff like that I may as well talk about the cells that contain the genes.

Every plant or animal on Earth is made up of cells, often millions of them. Cells form the muscles that lets our hearts beat, our eyes to see, and our brains to think. The curious thing is that no matter what kind of cell it is, be it a single amoeba or the cells that make up Mr. America, all cells share similar traits. So, understand the make up of one cell and you go a long way towards understanding all cells.

To help you, or your school-bound kid to understand the anatomy of a cell you could do a lot worse than downloading the 3D Cell Simulation and Stain Tool app from the Apps Store.

If you could dissect a cell like you might a frog in junior high biology class then your result may look like the 3d model that welcomes you when you start up the app. There you can spot the nucleus, the mitochondria, the Golgi, and all the other bits that make up a common cell, and you can get details on each bit.

The only bad thing about 3D Cell Simulation and Stain Tool is the they don’t label the parts of the cell, you have the figure that out for yourself, and there is some fun in that.

Anyway, grab 3D Cell Simulation and Stain Tool. It’s free and a lot easier to see than through a microscope.

Cell Theory was proposed in 1839, and it was the theory that postulated that all animals and plants are comprised of at least one cell. The theory was developed by Matthias Schleiden and Theodor Schwann, born April 5, 1804 and December 7, 1810 respectively.

Benito Mussolini was born July 29, 1883 (he was made up of a bunch bad cells), and Andrew Jackson was born on December 29, 1808, caused by the mingling of cells from Mr. and Mrs. Jackson nine months earlier (or there abouts).

I know these facts because I have This Day from World Book (yeah, the encyclopedia people) on my iPad.

This Day is a nice little app that lists a handful of event that occur on any given day of the year. The app automagically displays the events associated with current date and it lets you pick any day in the calendar year and see what’s up there.

What’s cool is that you can get more info about the person, place, or thing of importance by tapping the link. When you do a little window pops up with the info. In instances where audio might enhance the experience, the national anthem of Estonia for example, that audio will automagically play. It pretty cool really, I just wish it would show more events per date because it seems to average only four events per date. (Make sure to see if there is more events by scrolling the page up.)

This Day is a pretty neat little app that might come in handy if Junior wishes to impress his teachers or girlfriends. Or not.

Anyway, get it and see.

That’s a wrap for this week.

Earlier this week I wrote a piece on ABC’s apps, ABC Player and ABC News of iPad. Both are stellar apps and you should go grab them as well. They are free!

More free stuff below with direct links.