Of Mice and Men
Learning from rodent evolution about human limb development and musculoskeletal disease
A Talk by
Prof. Kimberly Cooper
(Photo permission from Prof. Cooper)
Dr. Kimberly Cooper is an Assistant Professor in the in the Division of Biological Sciences at UCSD with an award winning Independent Research Program. Dr. Cooper earned her bachelor's degree in Biology at Cornell University and her PhD from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA. Her graduate research focused on how the motor neurons that control face and jaw movements develop using the zebra fish as a model species. She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School where she established the three-toed jerboa as a new research model to study limb development and evolution. This led to the establishment of her independent research program in the Division of Biological Sciences at UCSD where her lab continues to use the jerboa to understand mechanisms of skeletal growth, digit formation, bone fusion, and muscle maintenance.
Most of the genes required for limb development are needed by both the arms and legs. However, many animals have very different fore and hind limbs, and 92% of human limb birth defects specifically affect the arms or legs but not both. How are shared genes deployed differently in the two pairs of limbs? In her talk, Dr. Cooper answers this question and more by studying limb development in the mouse and its close relative, the three-toed jerboa. The jerboa is a bipedal rodent with “normal” arms and unique legs that allow it to bound through the deserts of Africa and Asia. It has extraordinarily long hind limbs (particularly the feet), fused metatarsals, three toes, and no foot muscles. Dr. Cooper’s lab capitalizes on these specialized features of the jerboa hind limb, the strengths of mouse genetic engineering, and the close evolutionary relationship of the two species to understand the mechanisms that shape limb form and function. Her research provides insight into the mechanisms that generate diversity among and within species and extends to an understanding of the fundamental causes of musculoskeletal disease and human birth defects.
Dr. Cooper’s lab is a substantial enterprise with post docs, graduate students and undergraduate students. She supports her research with prestigious research awards including the Packard Award, one of 18 nationwide, as well as a Pew Scholar award and a Searle Scholar award.
FROM THE PRESIDENT
Have you heard the buzz in the air about our annual Holiday Party on December 5? The event is being held again at Vi. The exciting news this year is that Vi is sponsoring the party by covering the costs of food, beverages, and servers. You and your guests are invited to enjoy delicious food and wine/beverage for just a token fee which will be used by Chairperson Barbara George to cover the cost of possible background music. This will be a great time to introduce your friends to SDIS. Don’t forget to mark December 5 on your calendar!
Those of you who attended one of our recent general meetings know that both speakers (Dr. George Tynan in September on fusion potential and Eva Struble in October on her journey as an artist) presented the kind of thought provoking programs that SDIS is known for. Praise was profuse for both programs. Program Chair Alvin Halpern has heard our November speaker (Dr. Kim Cooper on limb development and evolution) and says we can expect another interesting discussion. It’s our last general meeting in 2015 – hope to see you there.
INEQUALITY FOR ALL: A Review
At the September meeting of the Film Group we viewed Inequality for All, a very topical documentary narrated by Robert Reich. Reich reviews the causes of income disparity in a very easy-to-understand (and frequently humorous) way. Its impact on us was profound. I’d like to encourage fellow SDIS members to watch the film, which is available to purchase, rent, or to check out from local libraries.
Reich is currently a Berkeley professor who taught for many years at Harvard, a popular author, and a frequent commentator on numerous TV news shows. He has served in 3 presidential administrations, including Secretary of Labor under Clinton. He is well qualified as an observer of trends in the economy. He has been saying much of the same things about the economy for more than 30 years.
According to statistics, a disturbing gap in US incomes first began showing up in the 1970s. Reich attributes the beginnings of income disparity to a number of factors. The impact of unions, which sustained many middle class incomes, began to decline after Regan fired striking air traffic controllers. Globalization and advancing technologies (automation; robots) reduced jobs in this country. After the economy crashed in 2008, inequality worsened so much that it became a political issue.
Reich traces the reaction of consumers to the decline of their purchasing power of wages. (He notes that at the same time wages were declining, corporate profits were rising.) In order to prop up family income, coping mechanisms came into play. In the 1980s this meant more and more women went back to work. In the 1990s, more people worked longer hours and multiple jobs. In the mid/late 90s, borrowing against rising home values meant that people were using homes like ATMs. The debt bubble that burst in 2008 was caused by the middle class trying to maintain their standard of living.
Wealth per se is not a bad thing, maintains Reich. But with money comes the ability to control politics. An increasing amount of today’s wealth is used for donations to politicians and to pay lobbyists with the purpose of entrenching wealth.
Although Reich scarcely touches on how to address this problem in the film, in speeches around the country, he is more forthcoming. Suggested remedies from Reich and others are varied, and seem to be largely based on political philosophies. Reich is optimistic about the future, but after viewing the documentary, it’s easy to see why change will be slow.
Meeting Details are in Column 2
We discussed "truth," a word we've gone over previously, but is still ripe for discussion. After examining the significance of truth in several religions, we concluded that religious truth is a powerfully held belief, not easily challenged or altered by outsiders. A quotation from Absolom, Absolom, "truth changes," defines how, as we grow and learn, we begin to disbelieve "truths" we were taught in our youth. In science, truth is used very carefully, since so many new discoveries or believed "facts" are found to be incomplete or wrong, based on conclusions assumed to be accurate and valid. An immutable truth is one that can't be altered. Alterations of truth such as "truthiness" or "truthish" apply to things or beliefs that appear to be true, but aren't. Our next meeting will be on November 11 at 1:30. Our topic is "home."
MARY ELLEN STRATTHAUS
Culture One's first meeting of this year, October 22, 2015, was attended by a mix of former Culture One members and newcomers to the group. Those present had some familiarity with the book "Sapiens" though their coverage varied widely. Yet, all were extremely pleased with the book. They praised the author's scope of knowledge (from biology, to anthropology, history, paleontology), his writing skills, clear, concise, witty, and frequently personalizing the material so that trends were depicted in terms of people's lives as well as historic periods. Criticism was sparse but centered on Harari's use of words such as "myths" to convey the non-concrete aspects of society's beliefs. Discussion was lively and congenial. Thus, the book is well suited to serve as our frame of reference in studying the evolution and development of homo sapiens.
Our next meeting is scheduled Thursday, November 19th, 2:00 - 4:00 PM, Signature Room, Vi. Otherwise, Culture One meets on the fourth Thursday of each month, Jan - May 2016. The reading assignment for November is "Sapiens" Chpt 1 (An Animal of No Significance) and Chpt 2 (The Tree of Knowledge). Supplementary reading for those who wish to further pursue this material consists of background on hominids (e.g., "Lone Survivors", Chris Stringer; "Neanderthal Man", Svante Paabo) and articles referring to recent discoveries (e.g.," Homo Naledi", New York Times, 9-10-15). Culture One will not meet in December. However, additional supplementary readings will be provided at the November meeting to help keep you energized over the winter holidays.
For information regarding references or attending Culture One meetings, contact Sue R. Rosner, email, email@example.com.
SUE R. ROSNER
On Friday, October 23, the Culture Two study group began but did not complete its discussion of issues related to What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East by Bernard Lewis. Please contact Sam Gusman (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further information or inquiries about meetings of this study group.
The Film Group will meet Wednesday, November 4 at 10 a.m. at the home of Barbara Heckler to view Tracks, a 2013 Australian drama adapted from a memoir by an Australian woman who treks 1700 miles across the Australian dessert with 4 camels, a dog, and intermittently, a National Geographic photographer. Contact email@example.com for more information.
The Film Group will meet Wednesday, December 2 at 10 a.m. to watch Keep On Keepin’ On, a documentary about jazz great Clark Terry, and his mentorship of a young adult blind jazz pianist.Terry was an early jazz educator and his first student was 12 year old Quincy Jones.
The Literature Group will meet Monday November 16 at 10:30 a.m. at the home of Gerry Horwitz. Marcus Klein will lead the discussion of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Bring a brown bag lunch; dessert will be served. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Neuroscience Study Group
The Neuroscience Study Group will meet the third Tuesday of each month, at 3 p.m. in the home of Bea Rose. Discussions will focus on significant contemporary writings, including essays in the book This Idea Must Die, edited by John Brockman. On Tuesday, November 17, the group will discuss these essays:
--Essentialism by Richard Dawkins, p. 84
--Behavior = Genes + Environment by Steven Pinker, p. 188
--New Ideas Triumph by Replacing Old Ones by Jared Diamond, p. 486