Author: Van Wilson

  • The Viruses Within

    One of the most startling findings from sequencing the human genome is that humans aren’t entirely human. Approximately 8% of our DNA is viral, the result of ancient viruses invading our cells and inserting their DNA into our genomes. These insertions are scattered throughout our genomes and are primarily the remnants of a family of […]

  • Human Brain Evolution

    Primates are our closest relatives with chimpanzees sharing almost 99% of our DNA genomes. Neanderthals are even closer to modern humans with genomes 99.7% identical to ours and with brains nearly the same size as modern humans. Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) and humans (Homo sapiens) were so genetically similar that successful interbreeding occurred, resulting in a […]

  • Artificial Sweeteners and the Microbiome

    Obesity, hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), and type 2 diabetes are major medical concerns whose prevalence among adults and children has risen in recent decades, at least in part due to our sugar-rich diets. To reduce sugar intake, a variety of artificial sweeteners have been developed and marketed, including saccharin (e.g. Sweet’N Low), sucralose (e.g. Splenda), […]

  • Mosquitoes, Scents, and Viruses

    Many viral diseases are spread via mosquitoes. Some of the more familiar viral diseases in the Americas that are transmitted by these insects include West Nile, Saint Louis encephalitis (SLE), Zika, and dengue fever. Mosquitoes are typically not the primary host for these viruses and are just vectors that carry the virus from animal to […]

  • Polio 2022

    The last three years with COVID and the current monkeypox outbreak have dramatically illustrated that viruses are and will remain persistent dangers to human health. In addition to these new threats, the usual panoply of human viruses is ever present and continually spreading among susceptible individuals. The recent polio case in New York (an unvaccinated […]

  • Understanding Molecular Biology Part II – DNA Replication (If you missed Part I, check it out before going on to Part II below.)

    As a cell grows and gets ready to divide in two, its DNA must duplicate so that each new daughter cell receives a complete genome. To do this, the double-stranded DNA of each chromosome separates, and every single strand is copied to regenerate the double-stranded forms. This copying process requires many cellular proteins that aggregate […]

  • Understanding Molecular Biology Part I – DNA Structure and Organization

    I usually write about recent scientific publications that I find interesting and important, usually in the general area of biology. My goal is to promote scientific literacy and an awareness of the many remarkable advances in all areas of science. I try to provide some background context for the published study and then summarize the […]

  • Sniff, Sniff, Bite (Mosquitoes are Hunting You)

    Mosquitoes, the bane of summer, are persistent pests that can plague our outdoor activities. Not only do they produce itchy bites, but they can also carry a variety of disease-causing viruses including Zika virus, West Nile virus, dengue virus, and St. Louis encephalitis virus. There are 176 species of mosquito found in North America, with […]

  • A Mutational Limit for Lifespan?

    It has long been known that mammalian lifespan roughly correlates with animal size, i.e. larger animals live longer than smaller ones. Mice generally live less than 2 years, your average dog lives 10-13 years, and humans have a typical lifespan of 73 years. What is less clear is the mechanistic basis for this observation. Differences […]