A woman scientist at the 29th Fungal Genetics Conference held at the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, California, in March 2017, sponsored by the Genetics Society of America. I gave the Fungal Conference Perkins/Metzenberg Lecture in 1993, and I am pleased to see such growth in the field and the rise of women in science.
I’ve not been at the bench in science for over ten years. While since devoting my time to a more sedentary, different profession as writer of memoirs and family sagas (www.cardyraper.com), I’m still fascinated by what’s going on in science, especially genetics.
Last month I escaped a 20-inch snowfall in Burlington, VT, to attend the twenty-ninth Fungal Genetics Conference at Asilomar, CA, on beautiful Monterey Bay. I went to just listen and learn. And this is what I learned: 1) Young folks give better talks than we old folks of the past. 2) New investigative tools allow these youngsters to find out more in two months than we old fogies could have done in years. 3) Women have ascended to at least half the numbers, maybe more, of scientists in this field. 4) The science of genetics holds more unforeseen mysteries than ever!
Ha, we thought DNA was the absolute blueprint of how living creatures look, behave, and reproduce—not so. RNA (an evolutionary precedent of DNA) and proteins (the products of a special kind of RNA that translates the DNA message) have a lot to say. What’s more, environment shapes their function! A whole new field of epigenetics is taking off.
I used to think we had to wait for mutations in the DNA to adapt to a changing environment, but now we know it’s possible to adapt through small RNAs that alter expression of the genome.
If I had another life to live, I’d go for epigenetics as a master detective.
Ken Burns’ latest series, The Roosevelts sparks memories I have of the nineteen thirties and forties.
Eleanor was my first idol despite my mother’s disapproval. Mom, a Republican and proud member of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) thought a wife should stay home and look after her husband and children. She had enrolled me in the CAR (Children of the American Revolution), and our chapter traveled to Washington in 1937 when I was but an adolescent. We went to the White House where Eleanor received us. The moment I looked up into her kind face and shook her hand, I became a fan. Her welcoming warmth traveled throughout my young body. Little did I realize then how much the life she lived would influence mine.
Eleanor became my heroine for the courage she showed in doing what she felt needed to be done despite public criticism. She became her husband’s partner in affairs of state, and carried on with that work long after his death—First Ladies just didn’t do that at that time in history!
At age eight, I had announced to my mom, “I want to grow up to be a scientist”, Mom replied, “That’s nice, dear, you can be a nurse”, which then, of course, was the only proper goal for a girl keen on science. Nonetheless, I became a scientist and Eleanor served as my model.
Ultimately, Mom changed with the times. She voted for Kennedy and grew proud of my scientific accomplishments. I think she also came to admire Eleanor after all.
I think it is time to start blogging. So here I am, planning to post periodic thoughts hopefully worth mentioning.
For starters, I was asked in a recent radio interview whether or not I believe in God. Wow, how to answer that question when talking to unseen strangers of various faiths! Well, I can’t quite remember just how I answered without checking back to the podcast (www.barryshainbaum.com/radio.html
, March 3 show) but it went something like this: Although brought up believing in an all powerful, all knowing, personified God who sits in judgement of all on earth, that concept no longer fits my thinking. I just don’t know how or why I am here on this planet within a universe that started with one big bang. I just don’t know where that big bang came from to begin with. It simply doesn’t help me to think of it as God’s doing, because then I must ask what begets God. I think of God as an unknown force, probably never to be truly known by the likes of us.
I don’t even know why I started this blog with such heady thoughts, except for that interview yesterday.