General interest questions

Brian Smith-White smithwhi at
Mon Feb 21 18:34:00 EST 1994

In Article <2ju5gv$g76 at> "hcorbett at ()" says:
> Preamble: I am a TA for an introductory biology class (college level). To
> spark my students' interest a little, I had them each write questions to
> me, about anything in biology that interested them, and that at the 
> beginnning of each laboratory section I would briefly answer. I got some
> great questions! And with a resource such as your collective knowledge,
> I hope to be able to reliably answer the ones on which I have very
> little background or ideas for more local resources.
> So, here are some of the ones which have stumped me because I don't know
> where to look (outside of Medline, acquaintances, and basic bio textbooks):
> Why do salmon die after reproduction (also worded as, why can't they 
> undergo gametogenesis more than one time in their lives)?
For the first wording: For exactly the same reason that some, if not many,
moths, are adults for a single 24 hour period during which time they make the
undergraduate mating ritual seem tame. It is part of the genetic heritage of
that particular species. For the second wording: simple - they died after
the first one.
> How can one improve memory?
Only when memory can be defined with more rigor than the act of remembering
can the question have any pertinence. Sort of like the question: what is 
north of the North Pole?
> Why can people usually only sleep withtheir eyes closed?
Cynically, I would argue that there are many examples of people not only 
sleeping with their eyes open, but walking about performing a good imitation
of being awake. Physiologically, for the same reason that people sleep
expressionless - have you seen someone sleeping with a smile or a scowl? An
integral part of sleeping is relaxation - and relaxation of the muscles 
holding the eyelid up leads to the eye lid closing.
> Do alcoholics metabolize more alcohol for their energy source relative to
> glucose than non-addicted people? Why are people addicted to alcohol?
For the first question: How much alcohol is being consumed, how much glucose
is being consumed - once you know these values, the answer requires simple
arithmetic. For the second question: There are individuals claiming that 
alcoholism is determined by a particular genotype which predisposes the 
individual to respond differently to alcohol - leading to addiction. The most 
recent gene offered as the key that I remember was one of the G-protein 
receptors in the brain. There are individuals claiming that alcoholism is 
determined by a particular lifestyle (rodents forced out of the standard 
diurnal rhythm tend to choose to drink more alcohol-containing fluid than 
those remaining in the standard diurnal rhythm). Like all nature versus 
nuture questions, the full answer probably contains a bit of both extremes.
> What is the percent (roughly) difference between a mammalian and a plant
> genome?
Depends upon the mammal and the plant.
> Do men get breast cancer?
Men get breast tumors just like women. A large fraction of women's breast 
tumors are estrogen-responsive and this leads to selective affliction of
women with this disease. The same cell, if present in a male would not be 
in the appropriate hormone environment to proliferate. The fraction of
women's breast cancer which is not estrogen-responsive in the population of
women is approximately the same as breast cancer for men. It happens, 
it leads to the same fate - ....
> 	I think I have a handle on the other 25 or so questions, but I
> would appreciate a little detailed help with the above (not just yes/no).
> Thank you!!
> 	Heather Corbett, UC Berkeley

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