Is it time to put natural selection in its place? Jello Biafra once famously wrote that "If evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve." But while it likely comes as no surprise to specialists working in the field or to those who've been following developments in evolutionary biology closely, there's an emerging view among experts that Darwin's view of natural selection as the primary driver of speciation and evolutionary change may be incorrect or at least drastically overstated. It's long been understood that non-adaptive evolutionary mechanisms like "genetic drift" and random mutation also play non-trivial roles in evolutionary processes, but a recent study (link to abstract with full-text PDF available) casts new doubts on the primary role of natural selection, finding that "Neutral models, in which genetic change arises through random variation without fitness differences have proven remarkably successful in describing observed patterns of biodiversity." [more inside]
The Hidden Life Of the Cell (57:24) There is a battle playing out inside your body right now. It started billions of years ago and it is still being fought in every one of us every minute of every day. It is the story of a viral infection - the battle for the cell. This film reveals the exquisite machinery of the human cell system from within the inner world of the cell itself - from the frenetic membrane surface that acts as a security system for everything passing in and out of the cell, the dynamic highways that transport cargo across the cell and the remarkable turbines that power the whole cellular world to the amazing nucleus housing DNA and the construction of thousands of different proteins all with unique tasks. The virus intends to commandeer this system to one selfish end: to make more viruses. And they will stop at nothing to achieve their goal. Exploring the very latest ideas about the evolution of life on earth and the bio-chemical processes at the heart of every one of us, and revealing a world smaller than it is possible to comprehend, in a story large enough to fill the biggest imaginations.
You may be familiar with molecular movies from my two previous megaposts collecting them, but this extended documentary uses original animation that is collected into a coherent educational narrative and is just so fucking gorgeous. Enjoy.[more inside]
Science Fiction Comes Alive as Researchers Grow Organs in Lab
1997 -- Charles Vacanti of University of Massachusetts Medical Center and Robert Langer of Massachusetts Institute of Technology report the growing of a cartilage structure – in the shape of a human ear – on a mouse’s back. 2008 -- Doris Taylor at the University of Minnesota and colleagues grow a beating rat heart in the lab. 2008 --Surgeons in Spain transplant a new windpipe into a patient. The organ is made from a cadaver windpipe stripped of its original cells and reseeded with the patient’s own cells. 2010 -- Researchers at Mass General Hospital grow a rat liver. 2010 -- Yale University scientists grow a functioning rat lung. 2010 -- Alex Seifalian in London transplants a lab-made tear duct into patient 2011 -- Dr. Seifalian makes a windpipe from nanocomposite materials plus a patient’s own stem cells; the new windpipe replaces the patient’s cancerous one, saving his life. In a separate procedure, an artery made at Dr. Seifalian’s lab is transplanted into a patient. 2012 -- Surgeons in Sweden transplant a major blood vessel into a 10-year-old girl. The vein was taken from a dead man, stripped of its tissue, then reseeded with the girl’s own cells. 2013 -- Scientists from Cornell University report the making of a human ear using living cartilage cells.
What do 3D printing, jelly, liver transplants, chainmail, dental fillings, ferrofluids, and the Six Million Dollar man have to tell us about our future? Materials scientist and engineer Mark Miodownik lets us know in this Royal Institution lecture.
Andrew Ferguson explains and defends eminent philosopher Thomas Nagel, who has been stirring up outraged refutations (e.g. here or here) with his new book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. Also in the defense column is philosopher Edward Feser's extensive series on Nagel's book.
seaQuest: what if we could learn to live on/underneath the oceans (or in orbit)? [previously(er)] [more inside]
Defense contractor takes break from F-35 JSF, finds a way to eliminate 99% of the energy cost of desalination. Lockheed-Martin has developed a way to craft sheets of carbon a single atom thick, which can filter the salt (and just about anything else) from water with a tiny fraction of the energy required by current processes. "Lockheed officials see other applications for Perforene as well, from dialysis in healthcare to cleaning chemicals from the water used in hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," of oil and gas wells." Previously.
Why are owls so wise? Perhaps it's because they're utter badasses.
Ferocity is essential for a bird whose frigid, spotty range extends across northeastern China, the Russian Far East and up toward the Arctic Circle, one that breeds and nests in the dead of winter, perched atop a giant cottonwood or elm tree, out in the open, in temperatures 30 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Dr. Slaght’s colleague Sergei Surmach videotaped a female sitting on her nest during a blizzard. “All you could see at the end was her tail jutting out,” Dr. Slaght said.The New York Times Science section gives an update on some current owl research. [more inside]
Hello and welcome to Links to the Damn Paper, an open discussion community showcasing the best in freely-available biology research. If you’ve ever tried to have a discussion about science on the Web and been stymied and frustrated by inaccessible articles, misrepresentation of research in science journalism, or a community that seems uninterested in digging into the actual research behind a topic, then welcome: you are our people. If you’ve ever wished for a place to talk about the Science of Life where you could be sure that the actual articles were available, where compelling research was presented in a way that allowed it to speak for itself, and where you could discuss science with actual scientists and with other people who are passionate about science for its own sake, then you have found your haven.MeFi's own Blasdelb, ChuraChura, and Scientist have G(T)OB. And it is good. [via mefi projects]
John And Hank Green (previously), amusing youtube teachers of world history and biology have finished the first cycle of their educational series Crash Course (previously) and have wrapped up mini lessons on Literature and Ecology. Now they've just started two brand new series on U.S History and Chemistry (to come). Outtakes.
Quantum Biology - Disappearing in one place and reappearing in another. Being in two places at once. Communicating information seemingly faster than the speed of light. This kind of weird behaviour is commonplace in dark, still laboratories studying the branch of physics called quantum mechanics, but what might it have to do with fresh flowers, migrating birds, and the smell of rotten eggs? More: Quantum smell' idea gains ground Both BBC.
Go home, evolution, you're drunk. A photo of a pelican that looks like a urinal. Brought to you by WTF, Evolution?
Jennie Linn McCormack "isn’t the only woman in recent years to be prosecuted for ending her own pregnancy. But her case could change the trajectory of abortion law in the United States": The Rise of DIY Abortions. [more inside]
“When I spoke at the two Ron Paul events in Tampa, a young man kind enough to pick me up at the airport told me a fascinating story. The vast majority of young Ron volunteers in offices he visited all over the country were paleo. If a kid ordered pizza — which was always the primary or perhaps only campaign food — he was practically booed,” Atossa Araxia Abrahamian writes in The New Inquiry about the paleo diet, libertarianism, and the appealing idea of a healthy, undistorted state of nature to which we can return if we are only pure enough. [more inside]
Promiscuous Males And Choosy Females? While previous studies have poked holes in Bateman's classic experiment, a recent study reveals fundamental methodological flaws. PDF slides with an excellent explanation.
291 diseases and injuries + 67 risk factors + 1,160 non-fatal complications = 650 million estimates of how we age, sicken, and die
As humans live longer, what ails us isn't necessarily what kills us: five data visualizations of how we age, sicken, and die. Causes of death by age, sex, region, and year. Heat map of leading causes and risks by region. Changes in leading causes and risks between 1990 and 2010. Healthy years lost to disability vs. life expectancy in 1990 and 2010. Uncertainties of causes and risks. From the team for the massive Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2010. [more inside]
"Older parenthood will upend American society." "Is waiting to have kids a big mistake?" "Why do women believe they can delay children for so long?" "Older men are more likely than young ones to father a child who develops autism or schizophrenia, because of random mutations that become more numerous with advancing paternal age."
The Translucent Jewel Caterpillar, the Nudibranch of the Forest. Gorgeous caterpillar covered in break-off gumdrops that may help it escape predators. Turns into a bright orange furry moth.
Researchers at the National Veterinary School of Alfort in Paris recently carried out a study of the friendliness of different cat breeds, surveying the owners of 129 cats about the cats' interactions with people. The survey determined that pedigree cats are significantly friendlier than crossbreeds, a difference which the researchers put down to pedigree kittens being left with their mothers for longer at a crucial developmental period and/or breeders selecting for friendliness as a genetic trait. The friendliest breed of cat is reportedly the sphynx, an exotic hairless breed, possibly due to its reliance on proximity to humans to keep warm.
"The milk curds were then strained and pressed, yielding unique smelling fresh cheeses" "These cheeses are scientific as well as artistic objects" [more inside]
Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses male mythology, biology and Raymond Chandler's Private Dick
Things I Learned as a Field Biologist #65: "Collecting the fecal matter of your study subject is an art form, and not nearly as simple as one might think. In a perfect world, you would look through your binoculars into the canopy and see the prized excrement emerge freshly from the posterior of the exact animal you’re hoping to sample. This ample and cohesive bolus will fall magically, directly, to the ground at your feet, making for easy and immediate retrieval…"
State of the Species: Will the unprecedented success of Homo sapiens lead to an unavoidable downfall? [Via]
Hacking the President’s DNA. "The U.S. government is surreptitiously collecting the DNA of world leaders, and is reportedly protecting that of Barack Obama. Decoded, these genetic blueprints could provide compromising information. In the not-too-distant future, they may provide something more as well—the basis for the creation of personalized bioweapons that could take down a president and leave no trace."
The Genome Compiler is an IDE for DNA projects for all you DIYbio enthusiasts. Previously. Previously.
"In an effort to outwit raccoons, are we pushing their brain development and perhaps even sending them down a new evolutionary path? Using high-definition, infrared cameras that turn pitch dark into daylight ... Raccoon Nation [alt link] achieves something that has never been done before: it intimately follows a family of urban raccoons over the course of six months as the young – under the watchful eye of their mother – grow, develop, and begin to find their way in the complex world of a big city." "Raccoon populations have grown twenty-fold in North American cities over the last seventy years. And as this documentary will show, city life is changing raccoons in remarkable ways." (45:08 min. video)
When looking for inspiration, most songwriters to go well-used emotional wells – triumph or loss, love or heartbreak. But Peter Larsen, a biologist at Argonne National Laboratory, looked to the microbes of the English Channel. He used seven years’ worth of genetic and environmental data, converting geochemical and microbial abundance measurements into notes, beats, and chords.
With the possible exception of the Nobel awards, physicists seem to get all the press these days, whether they're doing quantum level work at the LHC, or cosmology via the latest satellite data. Biologists, not so much. It's too bad, because Richard Lenski is running one of the great evolutionary experiments of our time, and it's producing interesting results. [more inside]
You're about to be the base doctor at Halley Research Station in Antarctica for a year. For ten months, no one gets in or out. Fourteen lives are in your hands, including your own. What do you put in your medical kit? And how do your choices differ from those of your predecessors (Eric Marshall and Edward Wilson) a century ago?
This is a real life story, with images, that contains the following head turning phrase: "...Hilton's doctors stowed it away inside her stomach..." [more inside]
Pitohui - Lesson and Garnot, 1827 (poisonous New Guinea bird) The name comes from a response to tasting it
In 2005, the Discovery Channel aired Alien Worlds, a fictional documentary based on Wayne Douglas Barlowe's graphic novel, Expedition: Being an Account in Words and Artwork of the 2358 A.D. Voyage to Darwin IV." Depicting mankind's first robotic mission to an extrasolar planet that could support life, the show drew from NASA's Origins Program, the NASA/JPL PlanetQuest Mission, and ESA's Darwin Project. It was primarily presented through CGI, but included interviews from a variety of NASA scientists and other experts, including Stephen Hawking, Michio Kaku, John Craig Venter and Jack Horner. Oh, and George Lucas, too. Official site. Previously on MeFi. [more inside]
In 2003, the BBC reported that a population explosion of Great Gerbils had destroyed more than 4 million hectares of grasslands in China's north-western Xinjiang region -- an area about the size of Switzerland. By 2005 the damage covered 5 million hectares, and the Xinjuang Regional Headquarters for Controlling Locusts and Rodents were reported to be breeding and attracting pairs of golden eagles to curb the gerbil population. So McSweeney's Joshuah Bearman was assigned to the story. His report: An Investigation Into Xinjiang's Growing Swarm of Great Gerbils, Which May or May Not be Locked in a Death-Struggle With the Golden Eagle, With Important Parallels and/or Implications Regarding Koala Bears, The Pied Piper, Spongmonkeys, Cane Toads, Black Death, [and] Text-Messaging..
Do you like biology? Do you like numbers? Like, actual numbers and not the television show? Take a look at BioNumbers. [more inside]
Nature constantly engineers new and creative solutions to all sorts of problems—turning our stereotypes about sex upside-down along the way.
Icky face-pooping flesh mites are only the tip of the iceberg. You've heard that your gut bacteria are necessary to help you digest, meaning not all germs are bad. Without them, we couldn't digest healthily. But stop and look at how far our interconnectedness with other forms of life goes: 1. Human DNA itself is at least 8.3% ancient viruses; without one of these viruses you could never have been born. 2. Mitochondria in human cells originated when the same type of bacteria that causes typhus disease raided one of our cellular ancestors and instead of hijacking it was pressed into service. (The same origin as chloroplasts in plants from cyanobacteria). 3. Far more of the cells in your body are non-human microorganisms than actual human cells. This relationship is not just interconnectedness. This is integration. [more inside]
"A spectacular African fruit is more intensely coloured than any previously known biological substance. The fruit's metallic blue hue is produced not by a pigment, but by specialized structures in its cells, concludes a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences." Scientists believe the shininess of the fruit evolved to attract birds to it, as it holds no nutritional value.
In 2001, we learned the sequence of our genome; now, we have amassed a vast amount of knowledge about what those sequences actually do. Yesterday, the data from the ENCODE project went live. [more inside]
Chimp Fights and Trolley Rides from Radiolab's morality episode: "try to answer tough moral quandaries. The questions--which force you to decide between homicidal scenarios--are the same ones being asked by Dr. Joshua Greene. He'll tell us about using modern brain scanning techniques to take snapshots of the brain as it struggles to resolve these moral conflicts. And he'll describe what he sees in these images: quite literally, a battle taking place in the brain. It's 'inner chimp' versus a calculator-wielding rationale."
Science is Rewriting the Rules of Reproduction Aarathi Prasad's new book investigates taking sex out of the reproduction equation. [more inside]
"This study is important and overwhelming in its implications for both the human and biological communities living in Fukushima." . . . "These observations of mutations and morphological abnormalities can only be explained as having resulted from exposure to radioactive contaminants." Severe abnormalities found in Fukushima butterflies. Full report here.
Researchers sneak up on sleeping sperm whales (.mpg video, hosted by Current Biology.) Matt Kaplan, writing in Nature, summarizes a 2008 article in Current Biology: "An accidental encounter with a pod of sleeping sperm whales has opened researchers’ eyes to some unknown sleep behaviours of these giant sea creatures . . . A team led by Luke Rendell at the University of St Andrew’s, UK, were monitoring calls and behaviour in sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) off the northern Chile coast when they accidentally drifted into the middle of a pod of whales hanging vertically in the water, their noses poking out of the surface. At least two of the whales were facing the boat, but not a single animal responded." [more inside]