The number of genes in modern organisms range from a low of a few hundred in some parasitic bacteria to up to tens of thousands in higher vertebrates and plants. In the days prior to whole genome sequencing, it wasn't even clear how many genes there actually were, much less how they all arose. With the results of the last few years, it's clear that many of the genes are the results of two processes. Duplication of genes provides extra copies that can vary to take on different functions while leaving the original intact. Alternately, bits and pieces of existing genes can be swapped and merged to add new functions to a previously less complex protein.
Left unanswered was the question of how often new genes are formed out of DNA that previously did nothing, such as non-coding or junk DNA. The latest issue of PNAS has a paper that begins to address this question. The authors compared the genome of that old biological favorite, Drosophila melanogaster, to some of its neighboring species, and looked for genes that were present in this species, but absent in others. After a very rigorous screening process, they were left with five genes, all of which came from non-coding DNA within the last five million years. The newly established protein coding regions appear to be under selective pressure to pick up functional changes (which we know by looking at the Ka/Ks ratio). When the expression of these new genes was examined, it was found that they're all produced in the testes. Sex seems to be a primary motivator of yet one more aspect of biology.
A new gene every million years or so doesn't sound like much, but the authors note that this is likely to be a conservative, lower limit. After all, most of the genes in a genome are identified based on the fact that they look like something we're familiar with. Truly new genes don't look like anything we've seen before, and so are quite likely to slip through the identification process without being recognized. It's also worth pointing out that these genes are being used for a process, namely sex, that is a major contributor to the formation of new species. As such, their impact may be more significant than their numbers suggest.
After this post to his blog, it really seems as if all the pressure is starting to get to Major Nelson. I think he handled it the wrong way, when you have a lot of people clamoring for product—for things they'd like to spend their money on, calming them down isn't always the best thing. If the problem is that it takes a long time to get things on XBox Live, and so many people are complaining that he felt the need to remark on it, shouldn't they devote more worker-hours on speeding things up?
What Microsoft needs to do is make damn sure they have some great product coming down the pipe in the next few weeks, and then use Major Nelson to whip everyone into a frenzy waiting for it. It's only a safe play if they know for a fact they can deliver, but this is Microsoft we're talking about. These problems can be fixed with time and money, and sadly money can also be used to buy time. Speed up the process, add bonuses to get the work done quickly, and then meet the demands of the customer.
This blog post makes it sound as if Major Nelson thinks these customers will always be there, and that they'll always buy what Microsoft is selling. The more time they spend getting things ready, the more they calm the public down, the easier it gets to just blow the Marketplace off completely and start to wait for the Wii and the PS3.
Mr. Nelson, when a big group of people is waiving money at you—money they want to give you—telling them to calm down and stop asking about release dates is maddening. It was said best in Glengarry Glen Ross: They want to give you their money, are you man enough to take it?
The use of the term "casual gamer" is starting to become quickly outdated, and a study released by the Macrovision Corporation says that "casual" players spend more time on games than many hardcore gamers. At this point, how do we determine which is which?
…according to a recent worldwide survey, 37 percent of those who use casual games play nine or more two-hour 'sessions' each week.
In addition, the survey, of 789 worldwide participants, found that casual gameplay happens most often at night, as opposed to during commute hours or other 'quick break' times during the day, again indicating that the moniker 'casual' is a little anachronistic for the gameplay style.
So with that amount of time being spent on games, why are they still casual? Is it because they play games on their cellphones and flash titles on their computers instead of going to the gaming stores for the newest releases? Is it because they don't spend enough time researching games or arguing about them online? Casual gamers are spending some serious time playing, and their money goes just as far as ours. With findings like this, it wouldn't be that much of a stretch to start seeing ads for casual games in more publications and during more mainstream programming.
So what do we call these people? Do we needa term that means hardcore-casual gamer? It seems as if more and more people are finding videogames an acceptable way to spend their time,and a lot of time at that. If they only playMahjong for ten-hour sittings,does that make them any less of a gamer than someone spending the same amount of time playing Battlefield 2?
Broadband competition has been problematic on both sides of the Atlantic, but European Union regulators are preparing to open up the market in Europe. Earlier today, the European Commission announced plans to change how broadband service is regulated. Taking an opposite approach to their counterparts in the US, the EC regulators will force incumbent providers to share their infrastructure with competitors.
Under previous EU directives, member countries are supposed to be taking the initiative in ensuring broadband competition exists within their borders. Movement has been slow, however, leaving phone companies such as France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom AG (better known as T-Mobile in the US) with over 80 percent of broadband connections in some countries.
"We must open the markets where they are dominated by dominant players," said EU commission Viviane Reding. "Where the markets are opened, investments are done and price go down for consumers."
The EU’s approach contrasts with that of the US, which is content to let the telecoms and cable companies keep their infrastructure all to themselves. The Federal Communications Commission’s position is that competition between broadband modes is all that is necessary, so if a market is served by both cable and DSL ISPs, adequate competition exists. It’s nice in theory, but not practical in many urban areas where the infrastructure isn’t up to the task of providing adequate DSL service or where consumers have the choice between two equally bad alternatives.
Last week, 34 European nations endorsed a new initiative that would, among other things, ensure that 90 percent of all Europeans have some form of broadband access by 2010. If this proposal to strengthen broadband competition is approved, some Europeans would go from having no broadband service at all to being able to choose from a number of different providers in just a few years.
The environmental impact of throwing away old computers continues to increase as more and more PCs are sold each year. Consumer concern over this impact is also increasing worldwide. In response, Dell has announced that they are increasing their global recycling programs.
“We have a responsibility to our customers to recycle the products we make and sell,” said Michael Dell, chairman of Dell. “Our direct relationships with consumers allow us to offer this easy and free service and we encourage others in our industry to do so as well.”
Dell’s old policy was no-charge recycling of any brand of used computer or printer with the purchase of a new Dell computer or printer. This service included free home pick-up of the used computer. Under the new policy, the company will also offer no-charge recycling of any Dell-branded product, whether or not a new product was purchased. Dell is also offering recycling of toner and ink cartridges for Dell printers. The new service is scheduled for launch in the US in September and worldwide by November of this year.
The new policy has earned praise from environmental groups. “Dell is setting the standard for the industry with this new policy,” said Kate Krebs, executive director of the National Recycling Coalition. “Recycling of used consumer electronics remains a challenge and Dell is taking concrete steps to remove the barriers of cost and inconvenience for consumers.”
In addition to the new recycling policy, Dell has partnered with the National Cristina Foundation (NCF) to donate used PCs to disabled and poor children. The company will still offer recycling options for computers, printers, and other electronic items from other companies for a US$10 fee, plus shipping costs.
According to the BBC, up to 70 percent of heavy metals such as lead and mercury found in landfills are a result of “e-waste.” In a recent survey, people all over the world indicated that they would be willing to pay more for an environmentally-friendly PC. Will Dell’s announcement help the company regain its edge, after falling behind the growth rate of the rest of the market? Or do Dell consumers only care about price, not environmentally-friendly policies?