Somewhere the the middle of researching a paper I’m supposed to write for this biology class, I started to distract myself by thinking about the differences between the biology classes I’m taking now and the physics classes I was taking 5-10 years ago during my real undergraduate career (I don’t even know how it’s been that long, let’s not even go there).

The impression I keep getting is that the biological sciences are more EXCITING!1! on the research side of things than physics was. Physics always felt a little bit dead, as though the point of the entire exercise was to figure out the math equations that modeled the nature of the universe and then call it good and go home. If we can’t figure it out (probably, we can’t), then we’ll just tweet about spooky action at a distance on our smart phones. This isn’t actually true, but modern physics seemed sandwiched between Philipp von Jolly telling Max Planck not to bother with physics because it’d already been figured out, and, and then 130 years later, my inability to understand the crushing strangeness that is pretty much everything in physics after 1900.

But then again, that could just as easily be an artifact of the differences between what sorts of research gets reported, or teaching styles at UW as at WWU, or the fact that I’m more aware of current research now than I was back then (and if I had more time to read into what’s going on in the parts of physics that still interest me, I’d see that actually there’s quite a lot being done that isn’t impossible to understand).

Caveats aside, biology feels newer. Genetics/genomics (especially once we consider the epigenome, and all the other omes… there are so many omes now. It seems like every time I turn around, I trip over another ome) feels like it’s a field in the process of exploding.

Maybe it’s not so much that there’s more going on in the biological sciences, as it is that it feels more accessible to me than what’s going on in physics.

My educational regrets are poised somewhere between, “I miss physics, I wish I’d been better at it… I wonder if I’d have done better if I hadn’t been working 30-40+ hours every week.” and “I should have been a bio major.” Either way, it’s kind of awkward to have this disconnect between what I “know” on paper (physics degree) and what I actually know about (at least I feel like I know a lot about genomics right now…).

Just in case anyone is still reading this nonsense, here’s an 11 minute video about X chromosome inactivation:

Also, it sort of explains what epigenetics is if you’re still sitting there going “wtf is this epigenome stuff” the too long; didn’t watch version is that epigenetics looks at small molecules that get stuck onto DNA, proteins, DNA related proteins, etc as markers. So, for example, some epigenetic markers are little methyl groups — a carbon with three hydrogens stuck on it — that get attached to the C in some DNA and basically say “DON’T TOUCH THIS GENE, LEAVE IT OFF! OFF!!!1”. There’s a lot of other stuff going on there, too, though. That’s just one example.

X chromosome inactivation is what happens if you have more than one X chromosome LIKE SO MANY OF US DO. Gene dosage is fairly important (if you only have one copy of a gene and are supposed to have two, or have more than one copy of a gene when you’re only supposed to have one, that’s generally bad). You only need one copy of X chromosome stuff, so if you’ve got two, then one of them gets shut off in every cell.

But I like this video because the combination of animation and sound effects make me think of open chromatin as a giant necklace of evil candy. Also, it makes the proteins super creepy. OH GOD IT’S COMING LOOK OUT IT’S A TRANSCRIPTION FACTOR OH GOD A HISTONE MODIFYING ENZYME RUN aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

The RNA polymerase is kinda cute though. Look at it chugging along there. You MAKE that RNA, little polymerase. Good job.