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Science: Biology / Molecules / Language

March 15, 2011

This, the first post for this blog, is a self-referential exercise, in order to explain what it’s about. To start with, its name is meant to convey some of the flavors of the planned blog content. Depending on one’s background, a composite term like ‘biopolyverse’ may conjure up a number of things. Biology (‘bio’) is a key theme, but from a broad perspective, as perhaps suggested by the ‘manifold’ connotations of ‘poly’ – as in polygamy, polymath, and so many other words. But in the minds of most biologists, I am sure, the ‘biopoly’ fragment would spring out as the root of ‘biopolymer’, or biological macromolecules.  And indeed, biopolymers will be a recurring theme here (although there is also plenty of room for small molecules of biological relevance). At the same time, the poly-fragment teams up with the final syllable (of this polysyllabic coinage) to form ‘polyverse’, which might convey a sense of universality…..or might prompt a quite different train of thought, towards ‘many poems’. While the intent was definitely the former, in a biological context, I can attempt to marry the two, as follows:

Herein find some bio-thoughts

Musings long, or missives short

Useful news

Bio views

A bio-potpourri of sorts…….

….but I doubt that I’ll make a habit of it.  But (at least in my mind) ‘verse’ also has the effect of directing one towards the general area of language, and in turn the alphabets which are used to convert spoken languages into their written forms. This too will be a frequent topic here, both at the level of human language itself, and (at a very different level) the molecular alphabets which are used to construct the vast array of large functional molecules found in living biosystems. Though human language is obviously a higher-order result of some very complex neurobiology, increasingly it is becoming amenable to analysis through the power of modern molecular genetics. So real languages can be looked at either by a ‘top-down’ process (starting from the higher neural and brain areas involved), or from the ‘bottom-up’, by looking for genes and the products which are associated with linguistic phenotypes. Eventually, top and bottom may meet to provide a real and comprehensive description of language…but certainly not yet.

‘Biopolyverse’ henceforth becomes a member of the set of all blogs (the ‘blogosphere’, if you prefer), simply by virtue of its existence. Now, while thinking about how newly-contrived terms can be evocative, it is well to note that the word ‘blog’ itself is spectacularly ugly, through suggesting blah / blot / bog / blob, and so on. Obviously, that is a matter of opinion, but it is one that evidently is shared by a great many others out there. (At least English speakers – those with a different mother tongue might not immediately sense the same bloggeristic connotations). But I raise this as an excuse for using ‘BLOG’ as a ‘backronym’, to act as another means of expressing this blog’s future content:

So, biopolyverse BLOG =

Biology: Life, Organisms, Genes

“       : Logic, Organization, Genomes

“       : Language, Order, Groups

“        : Looking Over Generally

And there’s a lot of diversity in there (biopoly-[di]-verse-[ity]?) to look over.

It has been surprisingly difficult to adequately define the phenomenon of life in such a way as to fully encompass its diverse activities. To ‘grok the fullness’ of it….One definition I’ve always liked was put forth quite a while ago by the crystallographer J. D. Bernal, as: “Life is a partial, continuous, progressive, multiform and conditionally interactive self-realization of the potentialities of atomic electron states” [1]. Going down to the potentialities of atomic electronic configurations – that’s really taking the bottom up approach! Comprehensive biology is then pretty damned comprehensive.

No more navel-gazing after this. For background on myself, go here, which also provides information on my book Searching for Molecular Solutions.

Posts to be on a weekly basis unless otherwise indicated.

Reference:

[1] Bernal, J. D. The Origin of Life; Weidenfeld & Nicolson) 1969.

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