from the world's big
A Personal Interest in Autism
Early in his career, Dr. Wigler developed methods for engineering animal cells with his collaborators at Columbia University, Richard Axel and Saul Silverstein. These methods are the basis for many discoveries in genetics, and the means for producing medicines used to treat heart disease, cancer, and strokes. Dr. Wigler continued his genetic explorations, and in the early 1980s isolated the first human cancer genes. In the mid 80s, Dr. Wigler and his collaborators demonstrated conservation of cellular pathways in humans and yeast, thereby providing deep insights into the function of the cancer genes.
In the early 1990s, Drs. Wigler and Clark Still developed a method for building vast chemically indexed libraries of compounds, an approach that is still in use for drug discovery. During the same period, Wigler’s group developed the concept and applications of representational analysis, RDA, which led to identifying new cancer genes and viruses. He later enhanced this concept through use of microarrays, a method now widely used commercially for genetic typing.
Dr. Wigler’s research is presently focused on the genomics of cancer and genetic disorders. He expects this work will eventually improve the targeting of cancer treatment and lead to early detection tests for cancer. His studies in human genetics led to the discovery of a vast source of genetic variability known as copy number variation (CNV), and to the breakthrough that spontaneous germline mutation is likely to be a contributing factor in autism. His genetic theories and methods suggest to new approaches to understand many other cognitive and physical abnormalities.
For his fundamental contributions to biomedical research, Dr. Wigler is a recipient of numerous awards and honors and is a member of the National Academy of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Question: How did you become interested \r\nin autism?\r\n\r\n
\r\n\r\n Michael Wigler: My personal interest in\r\n autism dates\r\nfrom when I was a child, and I had a friend whose brother was quite\r\nstrange. And when I was in medical\r\nschool, I realized that he had autism. \r\nIt was actually Asperger’s. He was a very bright kid, never \r\nlooked you\r\nin the face, constantly was throwing his arms up like that as though he \r\nhad\r\nmade some great discovery; and knew everything about baseball \r\nstatistics. And so it made an imprint on me at an\r\nearly age. And it’s sort of a\r\nwonderful, it was sort of a wonderful thing to see this fellow who \r\nactually\r\ngrew up to, I think he had a successful career as a disc jockey. So, I was always interested in autism\r\nand because I come from a family that’s somewhat left-wing, always \r\nlooking for\r\nways I can do something that is a benefit to society. And\r\n it struck me that autism was not a disorder that was\r\nstudied by the scientific community very deeply. But\r\n in the worst cases, it was tragic for the families that\r\nhad an autistic child.
Michael Wigler: My personal interest in\r\n autism dates\r\nfrom when I was a child, and I had a friend whose brother was quite\r\nstrange. And when I was in medical\r\nschool, I realized that he had autism. \r\nIt was actually Asperger’s. He was a very bright kid, never \r\nlooked you\r\nin the face, constantly was throwing his arms up like that as though he \r\nhad\r\nmade some great discovery; and knew everything about baseball \r\nstatistics. And so it made an imprint on me at an\r\nearly age. And it’s sort of a\r\nwonderful, it was sort of a wonderful thing to see this fellow who \r\nactually\r\ngrew up to, I think he had a successful career as a disc jockey. So, I was always interested in autism\r\nand because I come from a family that’s somewhat left-wing, always \r\nlooking for\r\nways I can do something that is a benefit to society. And\r\n it struck me that autism was not a disorder that was\r\nstudied by the scientific community very deeply. But\r\n in the worst cases, it was tragic for the families that\r\nhad an autistic child.
So, I was motivated by both of those things to have\r\n an\r\ninterest in autism. And when we\r\nbegan to study cancer, which was in the early 1980’s, I knew at the time\r\n they\r\nwere studying cancer that the tools that we were developing could later \r\nbe\r\napplied to genetic disorders. Not\r\nthe kind of genetic disorders where you inherit something from your \r\nparents,\r\nbut the kind of genetic disorders that arise spontaneously because of \r\nmutation\r\nin the parent’s germ line.\r\n\r\n
An example of those kinds of mutations that \r\neverybody’s\r\nfamiliar with is Down syndrome; or Trisomy 21 I guess is the clinically\r\ncorrect way to refer to it. These\r\nare new mutations. You don’t\r\ninherit it in the classical sense, but it was obvious to people who \r\nthought\r\nabout it that human genome is not static; it changes over time. That’s how we evolve. And most \r\nof those changes are not\r\ngood. They result in some disorder\r\nor another, but they’re hard to study. \r\nMost people who study genetic disorders study inherited kinds of \r\ngenetic\r\ndisorders. I was interested in the\r\nother kind of genetic disorders that result from new mutation. And new mutations are what we study\r\nwhen we look at cancers. When\r\nwe’re comparing a cancer to the normal person’s genome, the cancers \r\ndiffer by\r\nnew mutation. That’s called\r\nsomatic mutation.\r\n\r\n
The same tools that find somatic mutation can find \r\ngerm line mutations if you compare the child to the parents. The\r\n incidence of autism being relatively high—and by and large, these \r\nchildren are so different from their parents—it seemed to me that it was\r\n likely, just a priori, that autism was the result of new mutation in \r\nthe germ line\r\npossibly affecting many, many, many genes that result in the same end \r\nbehavior,\r\nor similar end behaviors, and that was being ignored by the community.\r\n\r\n
So, when we had the tools to go look at this, we \r\ndid\r\nso. And so it was a combination of\r\nopportunism because we had developed the tools, and intrinsic interest \r\nfrom\r\nboth a social point of view, the social good, and also from a personal \r\npoint of\r\nview. That is, I had a personal\r\ninterest in how does the brain go from being what we would recognize as\r\nbelonging to a normal person to somebody who is, in wondrous ways, very\r\ndifferent from us.
The brother of a childhood friend inspired Michael Wigler’s research into the minds of those who are, "in wondrous ways, very different from us."
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.
Vaccines are more likely to get through clinical trials than any other type of drug — but have been given relatively little pharmaceutical industry support during the last two decades, according to a new study by MIT scholars.
Want help raising your kids? Spend more time at church, says new study.
- Religious people tend to have more children than secular people, but why remains unknown.
- A new study suggests that the social circles provided by regular church going make raising kids easier.
- Conversely, having a large secular social group made women less likely to have children.
Be fruitful and multiply<p>Scientists in the United Kingdom collected data on more than 13,000 mothers and their children. Most of them were religious, but 12 percent were not. The data included information on their church habits, social networks, number of children, and the scores those children achieved on a standardized test.</p><p>In line with previous findings that religious women have more children than secular women in industrialized countries, a connection between at least monthly church attendance and fertility was confirmed. However, religious parents showed they could avoid the pitfalls that having more children can bring. </p><p>Typically, more children in a family leads to reduced cognitive ability and height in each <a href="https://academic.oup.com/ije/article/37/6/1408/729795" target="_blank">child</a>. Some studies find that children do less well in school for each <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13524-016-0471-0" target="_blank">additional sibling they have</a>. This makes a kind of intuitive sense, as parents with more children would have to divide their time, energy, and resources among more people as families expand. One would expect that the larger families would also lead to things like lower test scores. </p><p>Despite the expectation, the children of religious parents didn't have lower scores on standardized tests. There were small positive relationships between the size of the mother's social network, the number of co-religionists helping out, and the children's test scores. However, this association was small, didn't show up in all of the testings, and was unrelated to other variables. </p> These effects might be explained by the size and helpfulness of the social networks around the more religious. Women who went to church at least once a month had more extensive social networks than those who never go or who attend yearly. These social networks of co-religious people mean that there are more people to turn to for help with child-rearing, a point also demonstrated in the data. The amount of aid women got from their fellow churchgoers was also associated with a higher fertility rate. <br> <br> Conversely, an extensive social network was associated with fewer children for secular women. This finding is in line with <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1207/s15327957pspr0904_5" target="_blank">previous studies</a> and suggests that the social networks comprised of co-religious individuals differ from those found elsewhere.
So, how quickly should I join a local religious group?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="6RrmYM8M" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="9eb4740a7d1e10108a75fd2ed627a90f"> <div id="botr_6RrmYM8M_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/6RrmYM8M-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/6RrmYM8M-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/6RrmYM8M-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The study is not without its faults, and more investigations into the relationship between fertility, childcare, ritual, and social networks are needed.</p><p>These findings all show correlation, not causation. Though it might be said the results point towards causation, various alternative interpretations of the data are apparent. The authors note that most religions are explicitly pro-natal. It is possible that religious women have internalized these values and simply choose to have more children than secular women do.</p><p>This idea is similar to a potential interpretation of why large social networks have the opposite effect for secular women. The authors suggest that, in some cases, these more extensive social networks are associated with work and exert an anti-natal influence. Again, the people who build such networks may be people unlikely to have large families under any circumstances.</p><p>However, the researchers' hypothesis endured. The help religious women get from their church-based social networks allows them to have larger families than those who lack these support systems. In some instances, these support systems also prevent the adverse effects of larger families. </p>
The community religion offers<p>As we've mentioned <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/what-is-secular-humanism" target="_blank">before</a>, religion offers a community, and a community provides social capital. As religion continues to decline in the West, the social bonds of faith communities that used to tie social communities together begin to decay. However, as has been noted by a variety of observers for the last few decades, fewer and fewer new organizations appear ready to replace religion as a source of community in our lives.</p><p>While many different organizations might offer social support that religion once provided the whole of western society, this study shows that different social circles can differently affect the people in them. This finding must be considered by those trying to find new communities to join or the authors of future research. </p><p>The community offered by religious groups provides real benefits to those who join them. As this study shows, having the support network religious community offers allows some parents to avoid pitfalls that bedevil those lacking similar support. It suggests that previous studies demonstrating that group ritual offers benefits like increased amounts of <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797612472910" target="_blank">group trust</a> and <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1069397103037002003" target="_blank">cooperation</a> are onto something and that those benefits have a variety of applications. </p><p>While this study is not without its blind spots, it offers a strong starting point for further investigations into the nature of ritual in our modern lives and how local support networks remain vital in our increasingly globalized world. </p>
What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?
Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>