Saturday, May 27, 2006

NGS Geno Project - Mitochondrial Eve

Mitochondrial Eve is the name given by researchers to the woman who is the most recent common matrilineal ancestor of all living humans. We know about Eve because of mitochondria.
Naming Mitochondrial Eve after Eve of the Genesis creation story, has led to some misunderstandings among the general public. A common misconception is that Mitochondrial Eve was the only living female of her time — she was not (indeed, had she been, humanity would have probably become extinct). Many women alive at the same time as Mitochondrial Eve have descendants alive today. However, only Mitochondrial Eve produced an unbroken line of daughters that persists today — each of the other matrilineal lineages was broken when all the women in a particular matriarchal ancestry had only sons, or no children at all.

Simply put, Eve was a survivor. A maternal line can become extinct for a number of reasons. A soman may not have children, she may bear only sons, (who do not pass mtDNA to the next generation). She may fall victim to a catastrophic event (Volcanic eruption, landslide, flood, famine, etc), all of which have plagued humanity since the dawn of time.

After getting my DNA results back from the NGS my DNA goes all the way back to the Mitochondrial Eve, starting somewhere in or around the Olduvai gorge in Kenya, East Africa.

More on my DNA's particular journey in the next post.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

JPL open house -- Cassini-Huygens

Here's a picture of our latest adventures. JPL in Pasadena, CA had an open house this past weekend. What a blast. With life size and scaled models of everything from the Mars Rover, Opportunity and Cassini-Huygens (Saturn). It was very educational for both the adults and the kids. The kids asked very engaging questions and basically spent the whole day saying, "Wow!" and "Cool!" JPL holds this event open to the public once a year. If you ever have an opportunity, kids or no kids, GO! I personally had no idea we were orbitting Saturn or had placed a probe on Saturn's moon, Titan. Sounds almost Star Treky.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

NGS Genographic Kit Status

My DNA has been processed and my genome migration route plotted. Stay tuned to this blog for a description of my ancient ancestral migration and other tantalizing tidbits. As a reminder, detailed information on the project in general can be found under the NGS Genographic website here. And you can purchase a kit and be a part of an important study on the migration of hominoids here.

Part of the study has funded and contributed DNA markers to another important project studying recent (aka 10,000 years) changes in our DNA. These changes have occurred in different population segments depending on where in the world. The full article can be found here and here is an excerpt:

For example, major changes in diet occurred as nomadic hunter-gatherers slowly shifted to a settled agricultural existence. Pritchard says this transition left a legacy of strong selection on genes associated with the processing of carbohydrates and fatty acids. The clearest example—one previously known about by researchers—is the gene that allows for the digestion of milk into adulthood.

Among Europeans, whose ancestors relied on milk products as an important food source, this gene has become widespread. In most other human populations the gene is rare.
The study also provides new evidence that mutations to better digest different food products have spread in other groups. Asian and African populations showed selection in genes affecting the metabolism of the plant sugars mannose and sucrose. All three groups also showed selection for different genes involved in the uptake, storage, and energy conversion of dietary fats.
Another previously unreported example of natural selection involves the genes that people today rely on to process most pharmaceutical products.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Trunk Bay - St. John

This is a picture of Trunk Bay on the Island of St. John. It is a truly spectacular beach. This beach is part of a national park that encompasses most of the island. It has a fairly unique feature in that not only are their hiking trails but there is a snorkel trail. There is a snorkel travil that goes around that little island in the bay. I think it's probably about a 1/2 mile swim all around it. I did it, it was awesome!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A day in the life of a business traveller

My spirits are always buoyed at the thought of going home after a long trip. This morning was no different. Off to the St. Thomas airport I went with a spring in my step and a smile in my heart. As I approached the American Airlines counter I pondered how I was to get myself out of the middle seat on the Miami – LAX leg. You see, my itinerary was atrocious. In order to get home early I had to move carriers and fly AA. So the flight path was STT – San Juan Puerto Rico, then SJJ – Miami, then Miami – LAX. The Miami – LAX leg is 5.5 hours in the air.

Back to the middle seat – in the islands it is custom to greet people with Good (Morning, Afternoon, Evening). Hey, Hello or Hi is not appropriate. A lot of locals will not even acknowledge your presence unless greeted as such. Service quality often depends on your observance of this. I approached the AA ticket agent with the proper greeting and engaged her in polite banter. I’ve long learned that you can catch a better seat when procured with honey rather than vinegar. My diabolical plan worked and I was moved into my preferred aisle seat. You see, my ticket agent once flew to LAX in a middle seat with an arguing husband and wife on either side.

I had arrived in the STT with plenty of time to check in and clear customs because even though the US Virgin Islands are part of the United States, they aren’t treated as such. After clearing the way thru homeland security I relaxed at the gate. I wondered why the inbound aircraft hadn’t arrived yet. Turns out it was delayed over an hour from San Juan. This was bad. My connection in San Juan was tight and the connection in Miami, tighter still. I approached the gate agent with a humble demeanor as I really wanted to get home today. After much searching and rebooking it was deemed that yes, I probably would miss that connection in San Juan and I was rebooked with the following itinerary. STT – San Juan, SJJ – Dallas, DFW – LAX. Arriving 1 ½ hour later into LAX. She asked me to come outside with her to identify my bag for transfer. I followed her & while out of earshot of other customer’s she presented me with my new boarding cards. First class from SJJ to DFW. Ah, honey wins again.

After a very turbulent arrival in SJJ, I thought I would lose my breakfast at one point, I arrived at my gate for DFW. As I sat waiting I noticed a maintenance guy go thru the gate 19 door. I didn’t pay much mind as it was an hour before my flight. Then a little while later 2 maintenance guys strode purposefully past me thru gate 19. Hmmm I remarked. This is normally a bad thing. ½ hour later 3 more maintenance guys paraded thru the gate. Now I’m thinking either the plane is on fire or the lunch room is around the same corner. I stopped worrying until the captain showed up and didn’t go on the plane. Instead he grabbed a phone and I started to worry. When a captain doesn’t board his plane and you are to board in 20 minutes, it doesn’t bode well. Later we received an explanation that the battery in the aircraft was dead due to a power failure in that area of the field. Working in St. Thomas for a week, I’m familiar with power failures and other outages. It’s a way of life. Of the four external power carts, two were out of service and one was dead. The last was otherwise engaged. We would have to wait.

As I sit in First class sipping champagne and eating my warm nuts, I think about my luck today and wonder if I’ll make the DFW – LAX connection. You see, we left San Juan late….island time, baby.

Monday, May 15, 2006

St. Thomas Post 5 - Island Life

Life on the islands is certainly different. Here is one of my favorite pix of the week. I'll be in the air all day today. Wish me luck as I'm flying American Airlines not my usual United. I have a 5.5 hr Miami to LAX leg that I have a wonderful middle seat in.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

St. Thomas Post 5 - There is some fun to be had

Just so you don't feel too sorry for me, here's me eating lobster and notice the "parrot" drink to my left :-) And no, all those Coors Light behind me are not mine....

Saturday, May 13, 2006

St. Thomas post 4 -- Different life here

  1. Lunch is definitely an half hour longer than you want. Takes forever to get your food. It's island time baby.
  2. Cell phones can only be used in the car with a headset. You cannot dial while driving. Brian talked himself out of a ticket with the nice lady police officer yesterday on the way back to the condo. It's a $50.00 ticket for first offence. He knew he wasn't allowed but did it right in front of the cop so we got pulled over. He played dumb tourist. It worked.
  3. There are these things called "safari taxis". They sort of remind me of the taxis in Kenya that were white multi passenger vans and they drove around, picked people up and dropped them off, sort of like a bus route. It's similar here. A "safari taxi" will cost you $2 a real taxi ~ $15 per person for door to door service and $5 per person if you're locals. Surcharge for a tourist, imagine that. These are not buses though, they are Ford F350's with a flat bed on the back that has a bunch of seats on it with a fancy canopy. Big friggin' things.
  4. Internet connectivity goes down, island wide, a couple times a day. Very irritating.
  5. They drive on the left side of the road. I drove to/from site and lunch today. A little weird but not as bad as England. Here the steering wheel is on the US side. In England you're driving a stick that is in your Left hand, the steering wheel is on the RHSide of the car and you're driving on the Left. Here, it's steering wheel on LHside & drive on LH side. Why do they do this you ask? Perhaps its because they were owned by the Danes? Well that would be a logical explanation but the Danes sold the V.I. to the US for $21 million in 1917. There probably was only 2 cars on the island then. By the way, did you know why England drives on the LH side of the road? It comes from the knights and they wanted their sword hand free, the right, for approaching horsemen on the road. Thus, they rode on the Left.
  6. The USVI residents (all 110,000 of them) are US Citizens but cannot vote. They have one delegate in congress but he/she can't vote either. Seems like they are treated like 2nd class citizens. I can see why Puerto Rico is upset too.
  7. Everything rusts here. Drives me crazy.

Friday, May 12, 2006

St. Thomas Post 3 - Where I work

Ah, the glamorous life of travel. Everyone says, "wow, you get to go to the Virgin Islands, how cool!" Yeah, but actually its hot! This is where I spend my days....not by a pool, but in a dirty, hot warehouse. Notice the fan and the completely inadequate AC Unit. <-- you can click on the picture for a larger, more detailed view ;-)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

St. Thomas Post 2 - the price of gas

It amazes me that the price of gas in St. Thomas, an island in the middle of the carribean and far from land has gas cheaper than Los Angeles....

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

St. Thomas Post 1 - Condo View

This is the view from my condo balcony. Not bad. The view is nice but the humidity is killer. I'm not used to such high humidity. While St. Thomas is beautiful it is not lush. It does have cactus, guava plants and palm trees, it is quite dry actually. I was surprised. The waiter at the restaurant last night said that "it's no Kauai". And that my friends, is the truth.....

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

400,000 miles on my ass

As I flew over America's heartland in the middle of the night, my ass crossed the 400,000 mile flown mark. I think it's a milestone. My ass thinks its just a hard stone.... Since 1996 I've logged 400,000 flown miles. You may think, ah, that's not too many. I've got 200,000 on my Visa card alone. Well people, I'm not talking about miles you've earned by buying stuff or bonus miles you've received due to status, I'm talking actual flown miles. And these are only the miles logged on United. I've flown many different carriers over the years, although for the past 5 I have diligently tried to stay on United.

As the sleeping pill pulled me down on this red eye flight to Dulles my mind drifted. I thought of all the sight seeing I've been able to do, the countries I've seen and the people I've met. Then I thought of all the time I've been away from home. I think it may be time to be grounded. Perhaps the time has come to hang up my wings.

Then, 8 hours later I flew over St. Thomas and the other isles of the US Virgin Islands. The little thrill I get when going somewhere new, especially somewhere tropical. The white sand beaches and the aqua water beckoning. But the thrill wasn't as strong as it has been in the past. The old excitement level just wasn't there.

Sometimes one must examine their life and look toward the future. As I deplaned in the little airport on St. Thomas I sniffed the air. I smelled change.....