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The california aggie

Science &Technology

wednesday, june 6, 2012 3

Hudson Lofchie

Education & indoctrination *Author’s note: While writing this column, I realize that I make many statements against religion that may offend individuals who identify as strongly religious. I do not wish to offend anyone, and I am merely using evangelical religion as an example of a concept.

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hat determines whether a child will speak English, Chinese or Spanish? What determines whether that child will be Democratic, Republican, or Libertarian? Jewish or Christian or Muslim? The brain of a newborn child is a blank slate just waiting to be filled with knowledge and culture. An in-

fant has no language, no political party and no religion. Parents have a huge amount of influence over what their children learn, and what cultural or social phenomena they are exposed to. But where do we draw the line between education, and indoctrination? To be clear, I am talking about indoctrination in the pejorative sense of the word, different from education in that individuals are expected to never question or critically examine what they are being told. While parents have no control over the nature of their children, they do have control over the nurture. With the unyielding advancement of modern science, many previously accepted dogmas have come to be viewed as immoral indoctrinations. Religion, the military and even Western culture demand a level of acceptance, “faith,” if you will, in the ideals that they propose. Many religions demand belief in a deity, the government demands belief in democracy, and much of Western culture demands belief in industrialization, purchasing power and the perfect tan. Perhaps the most controversial of these dogmas is the institution of

correct, or, just as importantly, organized religion, although the finding a flaw that will force us to government, and even Western culture, can be justifiably labeled keep searching for the truth. as indoctrinating. It is ignorant to say that religion has no place in society. It is Religious indoctrination has a shoulder for many to lean on, never been as pertinent an issue as it is today, with many of its a monolith of stability. But why is that? Let’s go back in time. founding principles clashing diNature must have seemed a terrectly with scientific discoveries. rifying and uncertain beast long Scientists accuse religious parago. We cannot fault the people ents of blinding children to the thousands of years ago for attribtruths of the universe, while religious families accuse scientists of uting rain to a rain god, the moon to a moon god exactly the same and the sun that thing. It is ignorant to say that rose every day to a Some people sun god. believe that scireligion has no place in ence and religion But humans are society can co-exist, with naturally curious. one complementEvery day, sciening the other, but tists and teachthe reality is that religion and sci- ers work to further the knowlence are not compatible, for the edge of the new generations and same reason that education is dif- improve the quality of life for ferent from indoctrination; evan- billions of people around the gelical religion says that the acworld. We now know through racepted knowledge is not to be tional inquiry that fire is not an questioned in any manner, that act of god; it is rapid oxidation. the words written thousands of Earthquakes are not an act of years ago are definitive proof of god; they happen because of tecdivine creation. Science, on the tonic motion. Lightning is statother hand, openly encourages ic electricity, things fall down beanyone and everyone to criticalcause of gravity, life originated ly examine accepted knowledge with abiogenesis. in the hopes of either proving it Religious beliefs are general-

Colorful butterflies share traits by crossbreeding Heliconius butterfly shows rare example of hybridization

By RACHEL KUBICA Aggie Science Writer

While studying the genome of the Heliconius genus of butterflies, researchers at UC Irvine found information not only relating to their abilities to smell and taste, but also the unusual source of their colorful wings. Different species of the Heliconius genus, a brightly colorful family, are able to acquire superior wing colors through crossbreeding. By studying the way these butterflies use crossbreeding to acquire superior wing colors, researchers hope to learn more about hybridization. Hybridization, which is considered extremely rare in the wild, occurs when members of different species interbreed. “This study is important because it now suggests that hybridization may be much more widespread than we thought and that it provides a much faster way for species to adapt than by evolving similar traits from scratch,” said Adriana Briscoe, UC Irvine associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and study co-author. “The study might prompt other investigators to look for evidence of trait-sharing in other species.” According to Arthur M. Shapiro, UC Davis professor of evolution and ecology, hybridization can be a creative force in evolution, producing genetic novelties. “In plants we have long known of and studied, [there is] a phenomenon called ‘introgression’ or ‘introgressive hybridization,’” Shapiro said. “In this case even a very small amount of hybridization can introduce genes from one species into the other, where they act like new mutations; if advantageous, they will spread

ly based on indoctrination of the new generations. Any thought against the prevailing philosophy, any critical examination of the anthropocentric workings of the universe, are quickly and definitively stamped out and marked as signs of demonic tendencies. Once again, I want to say that religion is not a target of these criticisms, but is merely an example of the concept of indoctrination. Even science can be guilty of indoctrination. When science vehemently puts down any alternate theories and insists that its way is the correct way, it is removing choice and freedom of thought in the same way that many religious institutions do. Religion has no place in schools, and science has no place in churches, synagogues or mosques, but it is wrong to raise the new generations with just one view of how the world works. It is the duty of the people raising the new generation to allow the unindoctrinated to choose for themselves what they believe. Without that freedom of choice, we take away what it means to be human. HUDSON LOFCHIE can be reached at science@ theaggie.org.

Coordinating traditional and renewable energy sources

Mathematicians address complex issues in electricity supply

Butterfly

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and increase in frequency.” This spread of advantageous mutations can thus improve the overall fitness of the recipient species, which is what is happening in the case of the Heliconius butterfly. “This study is thus a spectacular animal example of something previously known almost entirely in plants,” Shapiro said. The crossbreeding found in this genus wasn’t the only important finding in their genome. Because the Heliconius butterflies are active in the day and use their wing colors to attract mates and ward off predators, researchers predicted that the butterflies’ senses other than visual would be weakened. Instead, they found that the butterflies’ senses of smell and taste were similar in strength to night-flying moths, which rely strongly on the recognition of pheromones. “One of the most obvious morphological differences between a moth and a butterfly is in the shape of the antennae, where on a moth there are vastly more hairs for catching odors than on a butterfly,”

Briscoe said. “We were surprised when we found similar numbers of genes for smell and taste in both.” The olfactory similarity between these butterflies and night-flying moths could be considered a backup or supplemental method to the butterflies’ usual visual cues. “If you are a mimetic butterfly you may also have to rely on smell to identify potential mates when you are surrounded by other butterflies that look like you,” Briscoe said. “Another likely reason is that butterflies have long been in a chemical arms race with their host plants so finding the right kind of food to eat [by using their sense of smell] is crucial for their survival.” In addition to its implications for hybridization in other species, this study also establishes a precedent in research methods due to the researchers’ use of genomes. “We were particularly excited by the fact that we were able to sequence the butterfly genome by pooling our money together

See BUTTERFLY, page 5

Powerlines

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By BRIAN RILEY Aggie Science Writer

With the advent of renewable energy technology, such as wind turbines and solar photovoltaics, the public and quasi-public agencies that operate the U.S. interconnected power grid look for optimal ways to integrate traditional energy sources with new renewable energy sources. Power grid operators must decide how and when to switch on coal or gas back-up systems when wind or solar energy production drops in local areas. These decisions are made to provide continuity in the supply of electricity at lower costs. Two UC Davis professors were recently awarded grant funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to research this coordination problem.

Mathematicians refer to this coordination issue as the “electric power dispatch problem,” explained Roger J-B Wets, a professor in the UC Davis department of mathematics, and one of the researchers working on the project. Wets is widely recognized as a pioneer in a branch of mathematics known as “variational analysis,” and has worked on mathematical techniques which are being applied to the current problem for many years. When applied to real situations involving significant levels of uncertainty, the application becomes extremely complex. Since weather patterns cannot be predicted with certainty, mathematicians use models to find optimal

See ENERGY, page 5

Math helps biologists find size of clot-forming cells Why platelets are the size and shape they are

Cells

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By RACHEL KUBICA Aggie Science Writer

Using computational modeling, UC Davis mathematicians have developed a mathematical design for figuring out why platelets, the cells that form blood clots, are the size and shape that they are. Platelets are important for healing wounds, but having too many can cause strokes and other

conditions. Greater knowledge of how they form and behave could have wide implications. According to study co-author Alex Mogilner, UC Davis professor of mathematics and of neurobiology, physiology and behavior, an understanding of platelet behavior could be important for medicine. “There has to be a certain number of them [platelets], and they have to be 2-3 microns in diameter for humans,” Mogilner said. “There is a number of disorders associated with either too many platelets, resulting in life-threatening thrombi [blood clots] or too few platelets, resulting in equally dangerous excessive bleeding.” In addition to holding implications for physiology and medicine, this study is important for modeling the physical forces inside of cells. Mogilner, along with UC Davis postdoctoral scholars Jie Zhu and Kun-Chun Lee, developed a mathematical model of the forces inside the cells that turn into platelets in or-

der to predict their final size and shape. “We find that smaller cells always have to overcome a higher force in the hooping filaments [surrounding the cells] to start the deformation,” Zhu said. “Therefore, the size of final platelets could be determined by the barrier force in the filaments — cells will stop dividing if the barrier is too high.” The balance of the forces within these cells could provide insight into their form, which dictates their function. “One of the fundamental questions of cell biology is: what determines size and shape of cells?” Mogilner said. “There is a number of mechanisms [within cells], including the [mechanical] force-balance, which we confirmed for platelets.” Zhu likens the bending elastic filaments in these cells to the experience of drinking out of a water bottle. “These interesting findings reminded us of a scene that most people probably have experienced when drinking bottled water: If

you try to suck the water out without letting air flow in the bottle, the plastic wall of the bottle will collapse inward, often forming a barbell-shaped cross-section,” Zhu said. This barbell shape is important in understanding platelets, as it is the shape these cells take in an intermediate stage, as discovered by Mogilner’s collaborators, the Joseph Italiano team at Harvard Medical School. While Mogilner and his colleagues took a computational approach, the Harvard team took an experimental one. The Harvard team found that the preplatelet cell transitioned from a circular to the barbell shape before splitting into two daughter cells. “In coming up with a mathematical model, it is always nice to have some experimental data,” Lee said. “It is like watching a baseball being thrown across a baseball park making an arc; it makes sense because it fits our physical intuition and experience.” RACHEL KUBICA can be reached at science@theaggie.org.


June 6, 2012