Wednesday, February 11, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different

I love science. It's probably a bit of the-grass-is-always-greener syndrome, but none the less, I am completely fascinated. To a lesser extent, I love scientists. Sure, their 'just the facts mam' mentality is sometimes frustrating to someone so fond of embellishment, but when it comes down to it they are simply refreshing. Scientists, on a whole, and yes I'm generalizing bear with me, approach the world with a fresh pair of eyes. They are so excited about everything. The world is a playground of exploration and possibility. As someone who wades around with jaded English, History, and Philosophy majors, (I'm trying to burn as many bridges as I can here) I can't help but love their mindset. So when I heard a report on NPR about some fun-loving fruit fly experts, I had to spread the love.

So geneticists (a field I briefly considered pursuing freshman year) have been studying fruit flies forever, or just about forever right? Well, when they unearth or create a new gene, they have the benefit, nay right, to name it. I have long been a proponent of having fun with learning. Turn things into a game and people will remember facts, details, names, more easily. These geneticists had the same idea. When it came to naming the various genes with their specific traits, they had some fun with it. For example:

Agoraphobic: larva that appear normal but never climb out of their shell.

Cheap Date: a fruit fly that is extremely sensitive to alcohol.

Ken and Barbie: fruit flies that fail to develop genitalia.

I'm Not Dead Yet: fruit flies that live longer than is typically usual.
(For those of you who don't know, it's a play on a Monty Python movie The Holy Grail. That's all the explanation I'm giving you. If you're not already familiar with it, I hope you are shamed into looking it up).

So, the point of sharing this was not just to illustrate why I love scientists. There's more to the story. Doctors who treat people with genetic diseases are up in arms (and these are the people I would have been dealing with had I gone into genetics, psh). The thing is, we share a bunch of genes with other creatures, as I'm sure you know. It is more than likely that a genetic disease in humans will be the result of one of these humorously named genes. Doctors don't want to tell people that the reason they will have a shortened lifespan or will live the rest of their days highly inconvenienced is the result of the Ken and Barbie gene or perhaps worse, the I'm Not Dead Yet gene. So the doctors are forcing the geneticists to change some of the more offensive names, which if you ask me, is completly lame.

The simple way around this is to simply turn the I'm Not Dead Yet or the Ken and Barbie genes into the INDY and KB gene. Of course the patient can still peruse the interwebs and discover the chatrooms of the fruit fly geneticists, but I'm pretty sure if they are actually ill, they'll have better things to do than check out nerdy discussion boards. Even if ill patients were to discover the CD gene making them sick stands for Cheap Date, they might get a kick out of it. After all, laughter is the best medicine.


Jeff Yager said...

If you haven't yet, read any book by, or about, Richard Feynman. He lived the mindset you talk about in your first paragraph.

One a side note, the word verification password I need to type to prove I'm a real human to post this comment is: "trypot" I think I might.

Christopher Patton said...

Re: "trypot"

That's hilarious--but totally random. I swear. :)

Jeff Yager said...

Also, I should mention, it's not just biologists who are good at naming things. Physicists have come up names for particles like: quarks, gluons, spin, strange, and many more. It's a nerd thing. Plus, we don't take ourselves nearly as seriously as MDs do. I think med school kills your sense of humor.