After Hours

Genetics Calulators and Volcanic Dust

Geekiness is seeping into other areas of my life.  Well, okay, it has been there for a long time. For those who know me, it is obvious that I am an animal lover.  I have two dogs, a cat, fish, a turle and most recently 5 gerbils.  I have trained my dogs in obedience and agility, and one has been trained to be a therapy dog.  I have been active in the Feline Diabetes newsgroup (until the cat I had with diabetes passed away.)  Most recently, I have applied and been accepted to the American Gerbil Society, basically the AKC for gerbils.

How is this geek related, you may ask.  Two of my gerbils are a mating pair.  Gerbil genetics is a well studied field, and in my geekiness, I have begun to download and modify gerbil genetics calculators and database systems.  The software is supposed to take the genetics of each parent, and calculate the probably genetics of the offspring.  It is sort of like permutations in math.  One looks at all of the possible results, gathers the like kinds, and throws out that which is impossible (or lethal), and from those results a good guess can be made.  Of course, without DNA testing, the genetics of the starting pair is somewhat speculative. 

A short course in genetics: There are three types of genes commonly discussed in basic genetics: Dominants, recessives and co-dominants (this is really basic, kids, there is much more to this).  A gene is said to be dominant if it only take one of the two in a chromosome pair to show its trait. A gene is said to be recessive if it must have both chromosomes in the pair to show its trait.  A gene is said to be co-dominant if one chromosome will partially show its trait alone (an example of this is human blood.  If mother passes an A and Dad passes a B, the child is AB.  The two traits SHARE the glory.)

The problem I am having is that one software I have chosen (written originally in CSH, then modifed to C, then compiled for Windows 95), only takes into account 4 of the 7 factors I am tracking.  It also doesn't allow me to do more than one mating, and I have to enter each chromosome separately.  The second program is much more user friendly, but I have to enter a bunch of stuff on a separate screen, and then can only choose from a drop down menu.  So while that lets me test mate between animals I have, I can't speculate what would happen if I mated against an animal I haven't entered. 

I am seriously considering writing my own calulator in Java, attaching it to a database on my personal website, and accessing it via ASP.  I just hate reinventing the wheel.  Though my gerbils love their wheel. 

The other problem with my gerbils right now, is that they love to take dust baths.  They have these small ceramic covered dishes into which I pour volcanic dust.  They get in there, roll around, kick it all over the place, and generally have fun.  The problem is that I then get a fine layer of dust on top of my tower.  If it is landing on the tower, how much is getting into the machine?  I don't want to move the gerbils, because I find it soothing to watch them when I can't think anymore.  The constant sound of their gnawing and chewing on cardboard is like the drumming of rain on a window.  Plus, when I really hate the world, I can reach in, pick one up, and find myself the center of a gerbil universe.  I am the god of food and toilet-paper roll-giving.  I provide the lucious black seeds.  It is in my hand that they get special treats.  It may not be the same power one gets from being in charge of a huge important network, or from creating a superlative program, but it is good.

Now, if only I could genetically engineer a gerbil who could code the new genetics calculator....

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