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Defending Science Education Against Fundamentalist Attacks

by James E. Darnell - September 13, 2005

With a chronic shortage of funds, too few well-trained teachers, and in many cases inadequate physical plants, the public schools in America hardly need yet another serious problem. However another serious problem has arisen. A resurgent challenge to the teaching of science has been mounted by evangelical Christians. Teachers are being intimidated from teaching biological evolution by individuals and organized groups. In a survey by the National Science Teachers Association over 30 % of public school teachers reported being pressured to alter teaching of evolution. Well-funded and politically well-organized outfits like The Discovery Institute and its subsidiary, The Center for Science and Culture, in Seattle push demands to include “intelligent design” or ID in public school science classrooms on local school boards, state legislatures, and even in one instance the U. S. Senate.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 13, 2005
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12170, Date Accessed: 7/24/2021 11:19:01 AM

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About the Author
  • James Darnell
    Rockefeller University
    E-mail Author
    JAMES E. DARNELL, Jr., M.D. has for 40 years conducted research into RNA biosynthesis and regulation in mammalian cells. Darnell's group discovered in 1962-63 that ribosomal RNA was manufactured as a precursor molecule that was cut in two before use, the first evidence for RNA processing, molecular carpentry that changes the first product into a usable one. In 1971, Darnell and other scientists also obtained the first direct evidence for RNA processing in messenger RNA formation, the addition of poly A to the 3' end of large nuclear RNA transcripts. Darnell's group showed also that cells copy viral genes into very large nuclear RNA molecules, all beginning at a well mapped starting site. Since these were too large to be mRNA, it was strongly suggested that some of the copied RNA ends up on the cutting room floor. During the 1980’s and early 90’s Darnell’s group studied the coordinated control of sets of genes that are expressed mainly in liver cells and in so doing discovered a number of transcription factors that proved to be important in development. Perhaps the most far reaching results from Darnell's laboratory began with research in the 1980's that culminated in 1992 with the discovery of a direct signaling pathway, the so-called JAK-STAT pathway, from the cell surface to genes in the nucleus. Darnell's group discovered that a set of dual function proteins they named STATs (Signal Transducers and Activators of Transcription) remain quiescent in the cell until activated when circulating polypeptides bind to their specific cell surface receptors. There are seven human STAT proteins. Specific STATs then are activated, pair and travel to the nucleus to activate appropriate genes to support a wide variety of specific events in development and in maintaining homeostasis in adults. Recent research from the lab has concerned STAT3 which is persistently active in a large fraction of human cancers, serving, perhaps among other functions, to erect an anti-apoptotic shield. Details in the cooperation of STAT3 with other transcription factors in enhanceosomes are being acquired with the hope of providing well understood targets for inhibition and thus to serve as anti-cancer agents.
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