The Brain on Trial. Advances in brain science are calling into question the volition behind many criminal acts. A leading neuroscientist describes how the foundations of our criminal-justice system are beginning to crumble, and proposes a new way forward for law and order.
"We may someday find that many types of bad behavior have a basic biological explanation—as has happened with schizophrenia, epilepsy, depression, and mania."[more inside]
The New Republic examines what they're calling "America's Next Great Civil Rights Struggle" and asks, "What will it take for America to accept transgender people for who they really are?" [more inside]
(Sunday night arthropod terror filter): YouTube user memutic has uploaded several dozen high-quality backyard video recordings of exotic insects, arachnids, crustaceans, and millipedes native to Central America, Southeast Asia, and the US. [more inside]
The Beer Archaeologist. "Biomolecular archaeologist" Dr. Patrick McGovern has unearthed millennia-old alcohol recipes and ancient medicinals, "by analyzing residues in ancient pottery. Now he's working with brewer Sam Calagione, (of Discovery Channel's Brew Masters, (autoplaying video)) whose pub Dogfish Head serves up beers based on recipes that are thousands of years old." (Via) [more inside]
More than 300 heavily-annotated books from Charles Darwin's personal library have been digitized in a collaboration between Cambridge University, which holds the collection, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library, a project that has so far digitized nearly 50,000 titles from the natural sciences. And if you're looking for what Darwin wrote, rather than what he read, the University of Oklahoma has digitized the first edition of each of his 22 books.
The Triumph of New-Age Medicine "Medicine has long decried acupuncture, homeopathy, and the like as dangerous nonsense that preys on the gullible. Again and again, carefully controlled studies have shown alternative medicine to work no better than a placebo. But now many doctors admit that alternative medicine often seems to do a better job of making patients well, and at a much lower cost, than mainstream care—and they’re trying to learn from it." [more inside]
A Mismeasured Mismeaurement of Man. Stephen Jay Gould's classic The Mismeasure of Man argues that 19th century scientist Samuel George Morton inflicted his own racial biases on his data to demonstrate that Caucasians had larger brains than other races. A new paper in the Public Library of Science: Biology debunks Gould's account by remeasuring the same skulls Morton used. Whatever biases Morton may have had, they are not reflected in the data.
Larry Gonick is a veteran American cartoonist best known for his delightful comic-book guides to science and history, many of which have previews online. Chief among them is his long-running Cartoon History of the Universe (later The Cartoon History of the Modern World), a sprawling multi-volume opus documenting everything from the Big Bang to the Bush administration. Published over the course of three decades, it takes a truly global view -- its time-traveling Professor thoroughly explores not only familiar topics like Rome and World War II but the oft-neglected stories of Asia and Africa, blending caricature and myth with careful scholarship (cited by fun illustrated bibliographies) and tackling even the most obscure events with intelligence and wit. This savvy satire carried over to Gonick's Zinn-by-way-of-Pogo chronicle The Cartoon History of the United States, along with a bevy of Cartoon Guides to other topics, including Genetics, Computer Science, Chemistry, Physics, Statistics, The Environment, and (yes!) Sex. Gonick has also maintained a few sideprojects, such as a webcomic look at Chinese invention, assorted math comics (previously), the Muse magazine mainstay Kokopelli & Co. (featuring the shenanigans of his "New Muses"), and more. See also these lengthy interview snippets, linked previously. Want more? Amazon links to the complete oeuvre inside! [more inside]
Though primitive, even these early species had already adapted fully to parasitism on the plastic membranes of apple bags.
Do cats always land on their feet? No. Unless...
The life and times of Tom Eisner, father of chemical ecology, photographer, musician and champion of environmental and human rights
Thomas Eisner, a Cornell biologist best known for his extensive work (PDF) with chemical ecology, passed away on Friday, March 25th, 2011. Eisner was more than a "bug guy," he was one of the "original guiding lights" in the study of chemical interactions of organisms, most often focusing on insects. He also was a photographer, pianist and occasional conductor (PDF), and conservation activist. More on his fascinating life inside. [more inside]
Fungus of the month, since 1997. Discover the bright aqua green stain fungus, which turns wood green, and was used by woodworkers in the Renaissance to add natural greens to inlaid wood work. Stinky and obscene dog stinkhorn fungus (maybe NSFW), like pink wieners growing out of your mulch. And many more, poisonous, infectious (warning: gross), hallucinogenic, with interesting photos and stories, for what he calls "the myco-curious". Bonus: I survived the destroying angel, an account of what happens if you eat a poisonous Amanita mushroom and are really, really lucky. [more inside]
The E. chromi project is forging ahead with its plan, using recombinant bacteria to detect and display disease states of the human body in your toilet. [more inside]
Big dust up about kin selection. Biologists E.O. Wilson, Martin Nowak, and Corina Tarnita publish a paper attacking kin selection, the idea that the reproductive success of a gene is influenced not only by its effects on its carrier, but also by its effects on related individuals (kin) carrying the same gene. 130 some odd other biologists respond. Richard Dawkins weighs in. Some talking bears offer a summary. [via]
I Heart Banana Slugs, or Is That Piece of Poop Moving?! Daniel Williford, a District Interpretive Specialist working in the Bay Area's Santa Cruz Mountains, gives an enthusiastic overview of the beloved banana slug. [more inside]
Could the three established domains of life - eukaryotes, bacteria and archaea - be joined by a fourth?
It was Alex St. Martin's gory musket injury that paved the way for cow fistulation, a hands-on method to explore the inner workings of bovine digestion.
The Creature Connection: Our love for animals can be traced to our capacity to infer the mental states of others, which archaeological evidence suggests emerged more than 50,000 ago. This article is part of a NYTimes series on the relationship between humans and the animals we raise. [more inside]
Five years ago this week, the BBC started broadcasting one of the most extraordinary documentaries ever to grace television: Planet Earth. The culmination of five years of field work, it employed the most cutting-edge of techniques in order to capture life in all its forms, from sweeping spaceborne vistas to shockingly intimate close-ups -- including many sights rarely glimpsed by human eyes. Visually spectacular, it showcased footage shot in 204 locations in 62 countries, thoroughly documenting every biome from the snowy peaks of the Himalayas to the lifegiving waters of the Okavango Delta, a rich narrative tapestry backed by a stirring orchestral score from the BBC Concert Orchestra. Unfortunately, the series underwent some editorial changes for rebroadcast overseas. But now fans outside the UK can rejoice -- all eleven chapters of this epic story are available on YouTube in their original form: uncut, in glorious 1080p HD, and with the original narration by renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough. Click inside for the full listing (and kiss the rest of your week goodbye). [more inside]
Swimming around in a mixture of language and matter, humans occupy a particular evolutionary niche mediated by something we call 'consciousness'. To Professor Nicholas Humphrey we're made up of "soul dust": "a kind of theatre... an entertainment which we put on for ourselves inside our own heads." But just as that theatre is directed by the relationship between language and matter, it is also undermined by it. It all depends how you think it.
Bad Project. For anybody who's ever worked in a bio lab, or know people who have. (SLLadyGagaParody.)
The Price of Altruism - George Price, a (troubled) father of group selection thru his discovery of the eponymous Price Equation, has a rather interesting biography... [more inside]
A new paper about bees in Biology Letters, Blackawton bees concludes with "We also discovered that science is cool and fun because you get to do stuff that no one has ever done before." The authors are 25 children between 8 and 10 from the Blackawton Public School, becoming the youngest scientist to be published in a Royal Society journal.
CreatureCast is a collaborative blog and podcast from evolutionary biologist Casey Dunn, who uses it as a teaching tool at the Dunn Lab at Brown University. The Lab investigates ways in which evolution has produced a diversity of life, and the blog includes neat, invertebrate zoology-related videos that may cover anything from "mating when you're stuck to a rock" to Flying with Squid to Multicellularity to Diving for Jellies. (Via) [more inside]
Dmitar Sasselov is an astrophysicist, Director of the Origins of Life Initiative at Harvard and a co-investigator of the Kepler space telescope project to find Earth-like planets around the Cygnus constellation and discover extraterrestrial life. But no matter how successful the Kepler project may be, it still won't answer the most fundamental questions of astrobiology: How diverse is life in the universe? If alien life exists, will it have Earthly DNA and proteins? Or will it run on something else? So Dr. Sasselov has decided to collaborate with two synthetic biologists, asking them to create a life form based on mirror-image versions of what we know as the essential building blocks of living things on Earth. [more inside]
"It is only fitting that the story of the brain should be a visual one, for the visuals had the ancients fooled for millenniums. The brain was so ugly that they assumed the mind must lie elsewhere. Now those same skeletal silhouettes glow plump and brightly colored, courtesy of a variety of inserted genes encoding fluorescent molecules. A glossy new art book, “Portraits of the Mind,” hopes to draw the general reader into neuroscience with the sheer beauty of its images." Slide Shows: The Beautiful Mind and Portraits of the Mind [more inside]
Introducing the 'Squid worm' - a new species in a new genus discovered 3,000 metres down off the Indonesian coast.
The dhole, the maned wolf, and the Tibetan sand fox are just three of the creatures featured at The Featured Creature, a neat (and not overly serious) wildlife blog. There are even some that aren't canids, I think. [more inside]
Bacteria can communicate with each other, take concerted action, influence human physiology, alter human thinking, and work together to change their environment. The bacteria in your gut are talking to each other, and to you, and you are talking back to them. The mind boggles. [more inside]
The panda: surprisingly good at life - "New research has revealed that, contrary to popular beliefs, pandas are surprisingly well-equipped for survival." (via ners)
Using a 3-D petri dish, Researchers at Brown University and Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island have built a completely functional artificial human ovary that will allow doctors to harvest immature human egg cells (oocytes) and grow them into mature, ready-to-be-fertilized human eggs outside the body. (In vitro) The advance could eventually help preserve fertility for women facing chemotherapy or other medical treatments that may be destructive to ovarian folliculogenesis. Press Release. Article link. (paywall) [more inside]
There has been a new discipline developing in molecular biology for some time now, Bioanimation! Projects have ranged in size from WEHI's colossal compilation to Harvard Biovision's magnum opus "Inner Life of the Cell" to commercially produced masterpieces to smaller projects by university PIs and enthusiasts. much [more inside]
With the passing of Executive Order 13505, Removing Barriers to Responsible Scientific Research Involving Human Stem Cells, in 2009 President Obama expanded federal funding and rescinded George W. Bush's policies that eliminated most federal funding and restricted human embryonic stem cell research to the use of existing, contaminated cell lines. On Monday, federal judge Royce C. Lamberth blocked this new order after protestations from James L. Sherley, a former scientist with the Boston Biomedical Research Institute, and Theresa Deisher, who operates the Ave Maria Biotechnology Company, which aims to do "pro-life" therapeutic research without the "taint of embryonic or electively aborted fetal materials". [more inside]
You know what's great about Hawaii? Its isolation can produce interesting forms of life, such as Eupethecia staurophragma i.e. carnivorous caterpillars! Don't believe it? Watch the video or view the photos (via boingboing).
Aww, are you giant carnivorous centipede lovers feeling neglected? No, problem Mefi has covered that.
Aww, are you giant carnivorous centipede lovers feeling neglected? No, problem Mefi has covered that.
Ray Kurzweil: Reverse-Engineering of Human Brain Likely by 2030. PZ Myers: Ray Kurzweil does not understand the brain.
Today's issue of Nature contains a paper with a rather unusual author list. Read past the standard collection of academics, and the final author credited is... the FoldIt multiplayer online gaming community. Even though most of them had no biochemistry experience, the human players of FoldIt turned out to be better at identifying three-dimensional protein structure patterns than the algorithms of Rosetta@Home. (Previously on MeFi)
New Adventures in Recent Evolution - In the last few years, biologists peering into the human genome have found evidence of recent natural selection. cf. Social Darwinism: 21st century edition [previously] (via ip) [more inside]
Paedomorphic flightlessness and taxonomic affinities of an enormous Recent bird is a talk on the anatomy and evolutionary history of a certain flightless bird indigenous to New York City.