636 posts tagged with Biology.
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Why Vaginas?

Sure, we may be a little weird compared to our close relatives for not having a baculum (penis bone), and maybe that's the sort of thing you want to explain for whatever reason, but does human penis size and shape need a uniquely human story? Assuming it's correlated to the vagina like it probably is in many other species, then no it doesn't... unless the size and shape of the human vagina has an exceptional story. Does it? We wouldn't know. [more inside]
posted by sciatrix on Nov 25, 2015 - 44 comments


Humans 2.0 - "With CRISPR, scientists can change, delete, and replace genes in any animal, including us. Working mostly with mice, researchers have already deployed the tool to correct the genetic errors responsible for sickle-cell anemia, muscular dystrophy, and the fundamental defect associated with cystic fibrosis. One group has replaced a mutation that causes cataracts; another has destroyed receptors that H.I.V. uses to infiltrate our immune system." [more inside]
posted by kliuless on Nov 16, 2015 - 69 comments

Poor sleep may spur college weight gain

As the first semester of the school year reaches the halfway mark, countless college freshmen are becoming aware that their clothes are feeling rather snug. While the so-called freshman 15 may be hyperbole, studies confirm that many students do put on five to 10 pounds during that first year away from home. Now new research suggests that an underlying cause for the weight gain may be the students’ widely vacillating patterns of sleep.
posted by sciatrix on Nov 14, 2015 - 38 comments

Who do you mean by we?

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari - "The book delivers on its madly ambitious subtitle by in fact managing to cover key moments in the developmental history of humankind from the emergence of Homo Sapiens to today's developments in genetic engineering." Also btw, check out Harari on the myths we need to survive, re: fact/value distinctions and their interrelationships.
posted by kliuless on Nov 8, 2015 - 7 comments

Building Bones: rearticulating animal skeletons with Lee Post and others

In the late 1970s, a bicycle mechanic named Lee Post moved to Homer, Alaska to run a small bookstore with his mother. He also volunteered at the town's natural history museum, where he took on the task of assembling a beaked whale skeleton.

Post thought, well, I've repaired bikes — surely I can repair a whale skeleton if I have a book to follow, and conveniently, I run a bookstore. He searched for any books about reconstructing whale skeletons. “There was no such thing,” he says.
This is the story of how a bookseller from Homer, Alaska became the an international animal skeleton re-assembly expert (Bay Nature). [more inside]
posted by filthy light thief on Nov 5, 2015 - 10 comments

Four Months Hand-Cutting A Paper Microbe

“Cut Microbe” is a sculpture entirely hand cut out of paper. Measuring 44 inches/112cms in length, it is half a million times bigger than the ecoli bacteria upon which it is based. I wanted to create a sculpture that reflected in the process of being made the incredible scale and complexity of this microbiological world. I am amazed at the strange beauty of the natural world and wanted to open people’s eyes to aspects of it that they rarely see. -Rogan Brown
posted by jammy on Nov 5, 2015 - 19 comments

Field Work Fail

In FieldWorkFail, scientists working in the field share their more embarassing stories !
posted by Blasdelb on Oct 22, 2015 - 34 comments

Global Bleaching Event Underway

The world's coral is suddenly and rapidly starting to die - "This is only the third time we've seen what we would refer to as a global bleaching event. [The prior events] were in 1998 and 2010, and those were pretty much one year events. We're looking at a similar spatial scale of bleaching across the globe, but spanning across at least 2 years. So that means a lot of these corals are being put under really prolonged stress, or are being hit 2 years in a row." Can 'manually breeding supercorals capable of living in increasingly inhospitable waters' help in time? (via/via)
posted by kliuless on Oct 12, 2015 - 18 comments

The birds that fear death

A study published in the journal Animal Behavior found that crows can recognize their fellow dead crows and learn to avoid the dangerous circumstances associated with death. The BBC described the study, which involved a "masked individual playing bad cop, arriving on the scene holding up a dead crow." [more inside]
posted by Rangi on Oct 2, 2015 - 38 comments


The extraordinary case of the Guevedoces. "Johnny lives in a small town in the Dominican Republic where he, and others like him, are known as 'Guevedoces', which effectively translates as 'penis at twelve' ... Like the other Guevedoces, Johnny was brought up as a girl because he had no visible testes or penis and what appeared to be a vagina. It is only when he approached puberty that his penis grew and testicles descended." [more inside]
posted by homunculus on Sep 20, 2015 - 15 comments

Genetic modification via parasitic wasp

It's well understood that many species of parasitic wasp, when they lay their eggs on host caterpillars, also inject viruses that prevent the host's immune system from attacking the eggs. But it was recently discovered that some of those virus genes, as well as genes from parasitic wasps themselves, have become a part of the genome of some lepidopteran species (even protecting these species from a different type of virus), thus demonstrating horizontal gene transfer between insect species (link to paper).
posted by J.K. Seazer on Sep 18, 2015 - 23 comments

The inner life of the fig

The Queen of Trees is a documentary (52 minutes) on the sycomore fig tree, focusing on the intricate mutualism between a fig tree and its fig wasp. Filmmakers Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble spent two years camped out in the Kenyan bush to capture fascinating scenes of life around the sycomore, including inside the figs.
posted by parudox on Sep 13, 2015 - 17 comments

My hovercraft is full of Petromyzon marinus

One person's harbinger of river health is another's slayer of kings is another's invasive species. Take, for example, sea lampreys. They are making a comeback in rivers around the UK thanks to conservation efforts. [more inside]
posted by mandolin conspiracy on Sep 7, 2015 - 17 comments

"...pretty much all biologists love junk."

Last night, Virginia Tech grad student Ann Hilborn, her labmate Chris Rowe, and their research supervisor Marcella Kelly were posting pictures of animal genitals on their lab’s Twitter account (@Whapavt). When Hilborn added some more from her collection, one of their readers called it a “junk-off”. And thus a hashtag was born. [NSFW?]
posted by Room 641-A on Aug 26, 2015 - 29 comments

Everything you always wanted to know about panda sex

Since the pandas’ arrival, the team at Edinburgh zoo had already tried three times to breed the bears – with considerable fanfare and public attention – and each attempt had ended in disappointment. After a thoroughgoing review of these attempts in late 2014, this year’s season carried with it a sense of added pressure. But the keepers had also come up with one or two new tricks. A few weeks earlier, Maclean had daubed urine from Long Hui, an impressive male panda kept at Schönbrunn zoo, in Vienna, all over Yang Guang and Tian Tian’s enclosures, in order to spice the air with competition and possibility. “She spent a lot of time sniffing and seeing what was going on,” said Maclean. “He came out and was just like, ‘Whoa!’ He was all over the place.”
posted by ChuraChura on Aug 26, 2015 - 17 comments

ASO Right To Know

Spreading awareness of Artificially Selected Organisms. They have a Facebook page full of images sure to go viral, and even a White House petition. [This is satire.]
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 on Aug 12, 2015 - 56 comments

Small Science

Not all science is about going to Pluto, curing cancer, or ripping apart the fabric of the universe. Chris Buddle gives an object lesson in curiosity, passion and science for its own sake. [more inside]
posted by Devonian on Aug 8, 2015 - 8 comments


"Accidentally glued myself to a crocodile while attaching a radio transmitter." The #fieldworkfail hashtag reveals the hilarious perils experienced by the Science side of Twitter.
posted by magstheaxe on Aug 4, 2015 - 17 comments


Since it folds in three dimensions, we could store all of the world’s current data—everyone’s photos, every Facebook status update, all of Wikipedia, everything—using less than an ounce of DNA. And, with its propensity to replicate given the right conditions, millions of copies of DNA can be made in the lab in just a few hours. Such favorable traits make DNA an ideal candidate for storing lots of informations, for a long time, in a small space.
But how stable is DNA? The Reed-Solomon method, long used to error-check data transmission and duplication, is now being explored as an adjunct to the long-term archiving of information encoded in DNA. A post by Alex Riley at the PBS Science blog NOVA/NEXT.
posted by Rumple on Jul 30, 2015 - 35 comments

What is thy name?

"Humans as Superorganisms: How Microbes, Viruses, Imprinted Genes and Other Selfish Entities Shape Our Behavior" by Peter Kramer and Paola Bressan discusses the idea that an individual homo sapiens is only one component of the human superorganism we call a person, focusing on the psychological and psychiatric ramifications thereof. (Paola Bressan previously.)
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth on Jul 27, 2015 - 17 comments

Rosin Cerate

Rosin Cerate is an "intensely researched blog" bringing you all kinds of interesting and odd knowledge about biology and creatures and how certain esoteric metals give you garlic breath. [via mefi projects] [more inside]
posted by moonmilk on Jul 17, 2015 - 5 comments

Proposing certain things in terms of dystopia that are not untrue

"Science, Chance, and Emotion with Real Cosima": A Longreads profile of Cosima Herter, the show's science consultant and the inspiration for Orphan Black's character Cosima. Mostly not directly about the show, but probably contains some spoilers if you're not fully caught up through season three.
posted by Stacey on Jul 2, 2015 - 9 comments

There's no such thing as AN octopus

The intelligence of octopuses is increasingly recognized, but nature is more creative than us glorified chimps ever realize on first blush. You see, octopuses are just full of neurons, but their nervous structure raises all kinds of uncanny questions--What is "intelligence" for an octopus? What is it like to be an octopus?--because most of them are in its arms. [more inside]
posted by byanyothername on Jun 4, 2015 - 26 comments

an alternative explanation for coconut migration

Octopus carries coconut halves as portable shelter
posted by NoraReed on Jun 4, 2015 - 34 comments

I .. did not believe there are structures .. that we are not aware of

"In a stunning discovery that overturns decades of textbook teaching, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have determined that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels previously thought not to exist." While the article at Sciencedaily.com may be a bit breathlessly excited about it, even the more somber source article in Nature agrees that this "may call for a reassessment of basic assumptions in neuroimmunology"
posted by rmd1023 on Jun 2, 2015 - 95 comments

You can't get your ass to Mars

Every sensate being we’ve encountered in the universe so far—from dogs and humans and mice to turtles and spiders and seahorses—has evolved to suit the cosmic accident that is Earth. The notion that we could take these forms, most beautiful and most wonderful, and hurl them into space, and that this would, to use Petranek’s formulation, constitute “our best hope,” is either fantastically far-fetched or deeply depressing.
As Impey points out, for six decades we’ve had the capacity to blow ourselves to smithereens. One of these days, we may well do ourselves in; certainly we’re already killing off a whole lot of other species. But the problem with thinking of Mars as a fallback planet (besides the lack of oxygen and air pressure and food and liquid water) is that it overlooks the obvious. Wherever we go, we’ll take ourselves with us.
Project Exodus: Elizabeth Kolbert on Mars, Earth, exploration versus science and astronautical reach exceeding grasp. [previouslyish]
posted by byanyothername on May 28, 2015 - 107 comments

"So, what do you do?"

A 10-step guide to party conversation for bioinformaticians
posted by a lungful of dragon on May 23, 2015 - 36 comments

“The brain is the station where every railway line passes through.”

Can evolution explain acts of kindness, and morality? [The Guardian]
We arranged a debate between a sceptical Tom Stoppard and the evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson. Stuart Jeffries acted as referee. We arranged for the two to meet recently in the grand boardroom of Wilson’s London publishers to discuss their differences, and reflect on two hard problems – what is the proper scope of science, and what is it to be human.
posted by Fizz on May 22, 2015 - 32 comments

A way to keep pollinating bees around without chemicals? There mite bee.

"The first 21 days of a bee's life in 60 seconds" is a time-lapse video by photographer Anand Varma, who discusses his collaboration with the bee lab at UC Davis in breeding a naturally mite-resistant line of honeybees. (Via.)
posted by a lungful of dragon on May 22, 2015 - 15 comments

The Wasting

Raimondi had recently found himself undergoing an unexpected and not entirely desirable career shift: He had been thrust into the role of sea star detective. Though he is a marine biologist who divides his time between analyzing data and conducting research trips along the Pacific Coast, Raimondi is not entirely ill suited to the part. There is a private-investigator quality to his round, inquiring face, active eyes, and urgent, impatient voice.
posted by ellieBOA on May 19, 2015 - 9 comments

What's the deep history of birdiness?

Scientists say they have reversed a bit of bird evolution in the lab and re-created a dinosaurlike snout in developing chickens.
posted by curious nu on May 13, 2015 - 28 comments

Bad Biology: How Adaptationist Thinking Corrupts Science

Biologist/blogger PZ Myers provides a nice introduction to evolutionary theory, and explains how classical Darwinism is distorted by proponents of scientific racism and other pseudoscientific movements.
posted by overeducated_alligator on May 4, 2015 - 16 comments

On biological ensembles

Biologists E. O. Wilson and Sean Carroll in conversation @ Mosaic Science. [more inside]
posted by khonostrov on May 4, 2015 - 4 comments

Most assuredly *not* 42

This is my vision of life. A conversation with evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins. (Video and transcript)
posted by zarq on May 1, 2015 - 4 comments

Evolution Lab

"What could you possibly have in common with a mushroom, or a dinosaur, or even a bacterium? More than you might think. In this Lab, you’ll puzzle out the evolutionary relationships linking together a spectacular array of species. Explore the tree of life and get a front row seat to what some have called the greatest show on Earth. That show is evolution." Evolution Lab is a educational game created by the Life on Earth Project and NOVA Labs
posted by brundlefly on Apr 28, 2015 - 13 comments

Revisiting the Spandrels of San Marco: an interview

The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme” was written by Harvard biologists Stephen Jay Gould and Richard C. Lewontin and published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London in 1979. Their critique of their own field of evolutionary biology spilled out of the Ivory Tower onto the pages of general intellectual forums such as the New York Review of Books. I talked by phone with Lewontin on March 2 2015. In his mid-eighties, he is still scientifically active and could recall his collaboration with Gould in detail. Our conversation is highly relevant to the “Just so story” critique that is frequently leveled against Evolutionary Psychology.
posted by sciatrix on Apr 20, 2015 - 15 comments

Charging toward an era of genetically modified humans

The CRISPR Revolution [ungated: 1,2,3] - "Biologists continue to hone their tools for deleting, replacing or otherwise editing DNA and a strategy called CRISPR has quickly become one of the most popular ways to do genome engineering. Utilizing a modified bacterial protein and a RNA that guides it to a specific DNA sequence, the CRISPR system provides unprecedented control over genes in many species, including perhaps humans. This control has allowed many new types of experiments, but also raised questions about what CRISPR can enable." [more inside]
posted by kliuless on Apr 16, 2015 - 28 comments

Of true love, AI, and dedicated zookeepers

Chris Crowe has a girlfriend. She stands a leggy 5 feet tall, weighs a trim 11 pounds, and sports a set of wings like you’ve never seen. Walnut the white-naped crane is the most genetically distinct endangered crane on the block — which means she needs to have been making babies, like, yesterday. Walnut was raised by humans at a zoo, and as a result, she recognizes and trusts humans — and is deeply hostile to other cranes. How hostile? She killed the two male cranes that her former keepers attempted to pair with her. "I like to jokingly tell people that Walnut ‘allegedly’ killed two male cranes," Crowe says. "It’s not like she was tried and convicted. We don’t know her side of the story."
posted by ChuraChura on Apr 11, 2015 - 23 comments

Selfish shellfish cells cause contagious clam cancer

The clam leukaemia is a contagious cancer—an immortal line of selfish shellfish cells that originated in a single individual and somehow gained the ability to survive and multiply in fresh hosts. Until Metzger’s discovery, there were just two exceptions to this rule. The first is a facial tumour that afflicts Tasmanian devils. It spreads through bites, and poses a serious threat to the survival of these animals. The second is a venereal tumour that affects dogs. It arose around 11,000 years ago and has since spread around the world. That was it: two transmissible tumours. Now, there’s a third—and perhaps more on the way.
posted by sciatrix on Apr 10, 2015 - 27 comments

ovary punch! cramp! blood!

Rainbo: First Blood. Dawn of the Red. Wonder Womban. What do these puns have in common? Well, they're all monikers for different styles of Period Panties, humorously allusive undergarments intended to be donned during the wearer's menstrual cycle.

But is the stereotype of premenstrual aggression empowering or invalidating of female emotion? And why on earth are we still afraid of periods? [more inside]
posted by divined by radio on Apr 7, 2015 - 42 comments

Defending Darwin

I’m occasionally told my life would be easier if I backed off from my relentless efforts to advance evolution education. Maybe so. But to shy away from emphasizing evolutionary biology is to fail as a biology teacher. I continue to teach biology as I do, because biology makes sense only in the light of evolution.
posted by ellieBOA on Apr 7, 2015 - 63 comments

There's something fishy about fish oil

Fish oil: it's been touted as a solution to heart health, dementia, glaucoma, and a host of other ailments. Unfortunately, it turns out that most of the evidence for its benefits is equivocal at best. And it turns out that fish oil isn't particularly useful for our pets, either. Worse, it turns out that the foundational study that kicked off interest in fish oil as a supplement is not quite as promising for fish oils as it is usually construed and cited. Given that fish oil can induce strokes in high quantities (and may interfere with treatments like chemotherapy), is poorly regulated, and is expensive, should we be promoting fish oil supplements as strongly as we do?
posted by sciatrix on Apr 6, 2015 - 113 comments

Model organisms in the wild: beyond the laboratory

In biology, model organisms are the workhorse species in which most biological science gets done: fruit flies (D. melanogaster), house mice (M. musculus), shale cress (A. thaliana), zebra fish (D. rerio), nematodes (C. elegans), yeast (S. cerevisiae), and bacteria (E. coli.) They are science's heavy hitters... in the lab. But most scientists know almost nothing about how these species behave in the wild, outside of the context of humans. ELife's new series on the natural history of model species aims to change that. So far, they have published on the natural history of zebra fish, E. coli, and nematodes, with more to follow.
posted by sciatrix on Apr 1, 2015 - 5 comments

Orchids underground: a beautiful parasite

In 1928, a farmer digging in his garden found a flower blooming underground. Three years ago, scientists discovered that it's so well adapted to living underground that it has lost almost all of its chloroplast genes. While this species is unusual for an orchid in the extent of its parasitism, it turns out that all orchids are actually parasites--stealing nitrogen from tiny fungi in the soil without trading any carbon back as plants usually do. See photos of the underground orchid here.
posted by sciatrix on Mar 25, 2015 - 31 comments

A Mammal Big Day

A "Big Day" is a popular birding exercise where a person or team tries to see as many bird species as possible in a single 24 hour period. These are often competitive affairs. A group of Northern California biologists recently wondered what a mammal Big Day could net - and set a North American record in doing so.
posted by primalux on Mar 15, 2015 - 23 comments

Saving species is essentially a forever-type problem.

If other horses are the equivalent of feral dogs, then the Przewalski’s horse is a wolf. In its native Mongolia, where it goes by the name takhi, it is known as the father of horses. Mongolians regard the takhi as spiritual, holy animals, and for millennia they largely left them alone... The trouble all began in the late 19th century, when the Western world finally took note of the takhi. Nikolai Przewalski, a Polish-born explorer serving as a colonel in the Russian army, “discovered” the horses during an 1878 expedition to the Mongolian-Chinese frontier. Naturally, Przewalski named the horse after himself, and when he returned to the West, word quickly spread among zoos, adventurers, and curio collectors about the mysterious wild horses.
posted by ChuraChura on Mar 13, 2015 - 5 comments

Let's go sunning / It's so good for you

Leafy, verdant Elysia chlorotica (the Eastern Emerald Elysia) is a sea slug with a secret: they photosynthesize. These marauding mollusks slurp up chloroplasts from their favorite algal snack, Vaucheria litorea, incorporating them into their own digestive cells and putting them to work soaking up sunshine (and, incidentally, acquiring a healthy green glow). But how? [more inside]
posted by byanyothername on Mar 10, 2015 - 16 comments

Why don't rodents vomit?

A few years ago, it occurred to a few scientists that neither mice or rats are capable of vomiting. What about other rodents? It turns out that being unable to vomit is a trait common to all rodents, not just mice and rats. Interests piqued, the researchers set out to find out why.
posted by sciatrix on Mar 10, 2015 - 49 comments

Get ready to rumble, if you are furry and nurse your offspring.

That's right - it's time for Mammal March Madness! "Battle outcome is a function of the two species' attributes within the battle environment. Attributes considered in calculating battle outcome include temperament, weaponry, armor, body mass, fight style, and other fun facts that are relevant to the outcome. These are one on one- head to head combat situations- um except for the mythical mammals that have multiple heads. Some random error has been introduced into calculating battle outcome & the amount of that error is scaled to the disparity in rankings between combatants. Early rounds, the battle occurs in the better-ranked species' habitat (home court advantage). BUT once we get to the ELITE EIGHT, battle location will be random: forest, semi-arid desert, intertidal zone, or snowy tundra." Action kicks off on March 9 with the wildcard match up between the pygmy jerboa and the bumblebee bat (Kitti's Hognosed Bat). You can follow the action on twitter using the hashtag #2015MMM or on the blog Mammals Suck. In the meantime, start filling out your brackets - common names or binomial nomenclature.
posted by ChuraChura on Mar 5, 2015 - 13 comments

Troubles in Paradise

Troubles in Paradise is a review of the history and arguments of the creationism/intelligent design movement, written by James Downard.
posted by brundlefly on Mar 4, 2015 - 25 comments

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