My paper on connexin deafness in Africans

It’s my second published paper; this time I am the first author! I’m not going to go into much detail on this because it’s not really of general interest and the paper itself is only a few pages long. In short, we examined two connexin genes, GJB6 and GJA1, to see whether there are changes in the gene sequences that may cause deafness in Africans. GJB6 is known to cause deafness, usually with GJB2, in Europeans and earlier research, later shown to be mistaken, had suggested GJA1 might play a role in deafness in Africans. We didn’t find any evidence that mutations in either gene cause deafness in patients from Cameroon or the Xhosa population of South Africa. Continue reading

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Indulging superstitions comes at a real cost

Often we think of people’s superstitions as harmless quirks that have are easily tolerated. No one gets hurt if someone says a prayer before eating, refuses to walk under a ladder or doesn’t go out on Friday the 13th. Those are all superstitions, ie irrational beliefs in the supernatural, but ones that are so common or harmless that we give them a free pass. When some people take their superstitions to even greater extremes, like claiming lego will destroy children’s souls or that Dungeons and Dragons is evil, we find it ridiculous but don’t pay it much attention other than as a curiosity. Continue reading

Homophobia in Africa

It can be very depressing to read the news. The ethics and legality regarding homosexuality should be one of the simplest questions to resolve. No one’s personal autonomy is undermined and it has no negative effects on anyone who isn’t involved. It’s an entirely ethical practice and there is no reason for it to be illegal. Yet that’s the case in so much of Africa, with Nigeria recently making it illegal for homosexuals to even hold a meeting. A Ugandan anti-gay law was recently blocked by the President, which sounds like a positive step. However, it turns out that he blocked it because he thinks gays are defective and need to be helped to overcome it rather than being thrown in jail or killed. And, in Zambia, the government has rejected calls to provide condoms to prisoners to prevent the spread of STDs, asking, “What are they going to be used for?” The power of wilful ignorance. Continue reading

Quicklink: Shareefa Dalvie on ENCA

I’m going away for a few days but I’ll share this. As I mentioned before, one of my fellow lab members, Shareefa Dalvie, was involved in the sequencing of the first human genome done on African soil. You can watch a short insert on this on the ENCA website. There was another interview that focussed on her specifically but it doesn’t appear to be available online. This is part of her PhD work to understand the genetic causes of bipolar disorder.

Quicklinks: Science

I’ll start with a link that claims dolphins are unexceptional! This article is based on a book that looks at the claims made about dolphin intelligence. I do think they are particularly intelligent so it might be worth buying if I happen to see it.

Also in the ocean is this interesting report of a mutant lobster, now heading to the Maine State Acquarium. It seems to have too many claws on one of it’s arms, however PZ Meyers takes exception to referring to them as claws. I don’t know enough about lobsters to comment but it’s unusual and interesting. It’s unusually interesting.

Cheetah (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

There’s an encouraging story here about using dogs to keep cheetahs away from livestock in Namibia. This decreases the conflicts between cheetahs and farmers, which is important as they are endangered. When I was younger I had the opportunity to stroke a live cheetah at Cheetah Outreach. They have since relocated but it’s still possible to visit and meet cheetahs in the flesh.

I’m a big fan of open source technology. I do think it is the best direction for us and this is an encouraging example of what it can accomplish. A South African man who lost part of his hand learned how to make his own prosthetic with a 3D printer and has released the plans for anyone to use. This drops the cost of a prosthetic hand from US$10 000 to US$500!

The final story is close to home. One of my lab members, Shareefa Dalvie, has had one of her samples be the first human genome sequenced on African soil! This is a huge achievement for genetics, the University of Cape Town and the University of Stellenbosch. Large sequencing projects like this are the future for genetics research and can help us understand the causes of many diseases. In this case, it should bring us closer to understanding the genetic underpinnings of bipolar disorder.

A death in the open-access movement

I saw an article on Yahoo! today about the death of Aaron Swartz. Swartz was a computer programmer who co-authored RSS 1.0 (If you subscribe to the feeds for either new posts or new comments it is thanks to a later version of RSS), was co-owner of Reddit, a Wikipedia editor and activist. He committed suicide on 11 January, seemingly due to depression and stress relating to charges against him with regards to his activism relating to the open access movement. Continue reading

Divisive views promoted by the President

South African Coat of Arms

You would think the president would make an effort to unite people to create a stable country where people can go about their lives in peace and equality. You’d be wrong. What we actually get is the president saying this:

Let us solve African problems the African way, not the white man’s way.

Continue reading