The Gene Silencer
Dr. Gregory Hannon is a molecular biologist and a Professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, as well as an Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. His research focuses on growth control in mammalian cells and post-transcriptional gene silencing. Dr. Hannon received his PhD from Case Western Reserve University in 1992.
Question: How does your lab typically operate?\r\n
Gregory Hannon: Sure. The lab is sort of organized chaos. There are about 35 or 40 people in it. Graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, technicians, support staff, etc. We have probably an unusually broad research program. We focus in on three major areas. We work on the biology of small RNAs, we work on cancer biology, usually with the roles of the small RNAs in cancer and ways in which we can use small RNAs to understand cancer. And then we have a third area, which is technology development and genomics and mostly making use of some new generation sequencing technologies to try to understand everything from the evolution of cancer to human evolution.\r\n
Question: What is RNA interference?\r\n
Gregory Hannon: Well, RNA interference actually now describes a fairly broad range of biological phenomena. The notion is that RNA has a sequence just like DNA does. So then that sequence can be used to recognize complementary RNAs that share the sort of inverse of that sequence, the image of that sequence if you want to think of it that way. And through that recognition, a lot of jobs can be done. The RNAs recognized can be destroyed, they can be taken to different places in the cell, or they can even guide processes as strange as taking pieces out of the genome, depending on what organism you are talking about.\r\n
Question: How can RNA interference be used to “silence” genes in living cells?\r\n
Gregory Hannon: The evolutionarily deepest role of RNAi is as a genome defense. It’s a way that plants, for example, recognize and fight viruses. It’s a way that animals recognize parasitic pieces of DNA within their genomes, called transposons, and shut those off. It’s also a way that the cell uses RNA to program the regulation of its own genes, and we can exploit any one of these responses, essentially tricking the RNAi machinery into silencing any gene that we want just by fooling the machinery into recognizing it as, in essence, one of these foreign elements. And we can use that for a number of purposes. The one we mainly use it for is for trying to understand the biology of those genes. And again, in our case, mostly trying to understand what different sets of genes do in tumor development.\r\n
Question: What experiments have you performed to investigate the role of the RNAi pathway in animals?\r\n
Gregory Hannon: We’ve done a number of experiments in mice to try to figure out really, what RNAi does in animals, and I can give you a couple of examples. One is, we’ve looked at the small RNAs that the cell makes in order to regulate its own genes and compared the spectrum of those small RNAs in normal cells versus tumor cells.\r\n
In one of the first cases that we did this was in a tumor type called D-cell lymphoma. And by making that comparison, we discovered that there were a set of micro-RNAs, which is what these endogenous small RNAs are called. They’re different between the normal cells and the tumor cells. It turns out that that locust, that gene which encodes those micro-RNAs is often amplified in that specific tumor type. And if we reproduce that event, adding extra copies of that micro-RNA gene, we actually accelerate the development of that particular tumor in mice.\r\n
Another way we approach this problem is by taking all of the components of the RNAi machinery, all the proteins that actually bind to the small RNAs and that the small RNAs programmed to do these regulatory events and delete them from the genome and ask what the consequences are. And it was in part those experiments that led us to the realization that RNAi in animals placed this sort of genome defensive role, protecting the DNA of germ cells from the ravages of these mobile genetic elements called transposons.
Recorded on February 9, 2010
From the "organized chaos" of Dr. Gregory Hannon’s laboratory, new ways of studying the evolution of cancer are emerging.
A recent study gives new meaning to the saying "fake it 'til you make it."
- The study involves four experiments that measured individuals' socioeconomic status, overconfidence and actual performance.
- Results consistently showed that high-class people tend to overestimate their abilities.
- However, this overconfidence was misinterpreted as genuine competence in one study, suggesting overestimating your abilities can have social advantages.
Is this proof of a dramatic shift?
- Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
- Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
- A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses
Dramatic and misleading
Image: Reddit / SICResearch
The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.
Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.
The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.
Let's zoom in:
- It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
- By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
- Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
- In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
- Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
- By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.
Image source: Reddit / SICResearch
This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?
- "The end is near."
- "The idiocracy grows."
- "(It's) like a spreading disease."
- "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
- "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
- "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
- "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
- "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."
Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:
- "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
- "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
- "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
- "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."
"Old people learning to Google"
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)
But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:
- "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
- "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
- "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
- "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."
A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.
The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.
One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.
Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.
It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.
CNN, Fox and MSNBC
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison
For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):
- Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
- MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
- CNN: 706,000 (-9%)
And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
If you thought your mother was pushy in her pursuit of grandchildren, wait until you learn about bonobo mothers.
- Mother bonobos have been observed to help their sons find and copulate with mates.
- The mothers accomplish this by leading sons to mates, interfering with other males trying to copulate with females, and helping sons rise in the social hierarchy of the group.
- Why do mother bonobos do this? The "grandmother hypothesis" might hold part of the answer.
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