Small Intros to Big Questions: Did evolution have to happen this way?

Equilibria will occasionally post lightning introductions to our favorite big questions in biology. This is our first, and is in collaboration with Josh Cofsky, a PhD student in Jennifer Doudna and John Kuriyan’s labs at UC Berkeley. 

The world teems with an incredibly diverse array of lifeforms, each shaped by millions of years of evolution. Biologists and philosophers have long pondered: was the evolution of the particular varieties of life that we observe on Earth today a predetermined process, or a product of chance? Or, perhaps a bit of both?

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The cancer cell next door

We know a lot about what can go wrong inside cells during disease. But what about the healthy bystanders?

Your body is a mosaic of cells, all squished together to form the tissues and organs that allow you to digest, think and breathe. The proper function of these organs depends entirely on the health and behavior of the individual cells that make them up, and disease occurs when cells don’t behave normally. For example, cancer is caused by cells that divide over and over again when they should not. But what happens to the innocent bystanders, the well-behaved cells next door to the troublemakers, during disease?

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A day in the life of a dark matter scientist

This is a guest post by Eric Copenhaver, a Physics PhD student in Prof. Holger Müller’s lab at UC Berkeley. Follow him on Twitter @ecopenhaver.

If you walked into my atomic physics lab at the University of California Berkeley two weeks ago, you would have found me in a pensive pose. Left hand nestled inside my right elbow, right hand clasping my chin, with an intensely furrowed brow, I was staring off into space while leaning up against the counter. I spend a lot of time like this these days. I spend a lot of time in the dark. I mean that proverbially, but the lab I was standing in was also rather dimly lit to avoid disturbing my light-sensitive sample. I was standing in the shadow of my experiment, an SUV-sized mess of cables and lasers and mysterious boxes. There was a problem somewhere in there. The machine wasn’t working as it should — something in that morass of cables and sensors was different than it was the day before. And I had to find it.

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