Why would an evolutionary biologist study words? It turns out there is an astonishing parallel between the evolution of words in a lexicon and the evolution of genes in an organism. The word two, for example, has been around much longer than most, and will likely be with us for millennia, whereas the comparatively rare and recent word dirty has undergone many mutations, and will probably be extinct in a few hundred years. Professor Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading, UK, tells us why on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's program As It Happens. Pull slider to 16:00 to start the seven minute interview.
Sparks of Life. "That the electric 'spark of life' figured prominently in debates over the nature of life in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries is well known. Less well known is the fact that prior to this period, gunpowder was often identified with the substances that were necessary to life, if not as a vitalistic spirit, then as an essential element in the animation of the body. The idea of a spark of life went back to ancient times, likening living beings to the glowing embers of a fire. In the Old Testament, for example, the wise woman of Tekoah begs for the life of her son, pleading 'they will stamp out my last live ember.' But from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, this vital flame was often equated with gunpowder. There was fire in the blood: not electric, but pyrotechnic fire."
Dr. Aric Sigman has told us that TV is literally killing us, that it makes children pregnant, that Batman makes our kids violent and that multitasking ruins children's attention span. Now he says that social networking can cause cancer, strokes, and dementia. (PDF of press release)
Juan Enriquez: Tech evolution will eclipse the financial crisis. "Even as mega-banks topple, Juan Enriquez says the big reboot is yet to come. But don't look for it on your ballot -- or in the stock exchange. It'll come from science labs, and it promises keener bodies and minds. Our kids are going to be ... different."
What Invasive Species Are Trying to Tell Us. "Walking snakeheads, carnivorous snails, and the superpredator from the reef: The invasion has begun." [Via]
Why music? Music is a human universal, but why did we evolve a desire to create, perform, and enjoy it? From a biological standpoint, does it contribute to survival or, more likely, mate selection and reproduction?
"This is a regular Russian school biology textbook owned by some Russian school. He has modified some illustrations so now it’s hard to say sometimes what was there originally and what has appeared as a result of his imagination."
30 years ago the BBC celebrated the anniversary of Charles Darwin with the drama series The Voyage of Charles Darwin depicting his life. The whole thing is now on Youtube. ) [more inside]
Darwin the abolitionist. "The theory of evolution is regarded as a triumph of disinterested scientific reason. Yet, on the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species, new research reveals that Darwin was driven to the idea of common descent by a great moral cause." [Via]
Molecular Movies features cell and molecular animations, along with animation tutorials. [more inside]
"Because competent mating did not occur," the zoo statement said, veterinarians anesthetized both pandas on Saturday, collected semen from Tian Tian and inserted it into Mei Xiang's uterus. [previously 1 2 3]
My Genome, My Self: Steven Pinker considers what we can expect from personal genomics. Searching for Intelligence in Our Genes: Carl Zimmer looks at the hunt to learn about the role of genes in intelligence.
Although the evolution of the eye is often pointed to by evolution's skeptics as evidence of design, biologists have been quick to point out evidence to the contrary. Today, Julian Partridge of Bristol University's Ecology of Vision Research Unit has brought to light evidence of a Pacific fish that has evolved biological mirrors for navigating murky water.
Scientists at the Auckland Museum will be performing a necropsy of a great white Shark between 11am and 1pm New Zealand time on Thursday. Though they will be examining the contents of its gut, they will also, among other things, look at its sex organs (female) and jaw. The necropsy will be viewable on the web from 2pm NZ time (when's that?). [more inside]
Mushrooms Save the World (long form) -- Paul Stamets on mycelia. Previously: 1 2 3 [bonus: slime molds]
British scientists discover hundreds of new species in a remote forest in Mozambique using Google Earth. The pictures are the best part.
Bracing for Islamic Creationism (PDF). "To avoid a vast rejection of evolution in the Muslim world, scientists can present the theory as the bedrock of biology and can stress its practical applications." [Via]
Why should you risk your own life to save another human being? Maybe altruism in innate, like a bird's pretty song, or is it something that must be learned?
The Orienting Stone. "A snowy white stone that gives shape to the universe: as it happens, we all carry within our skulls the vestige of such a thing, a kind of existentially reversed qibla (this one perspectival, the other metaphysical) that gives us our sense of being at the center of things, the sense that we are upright at the origin point of a three-dimensional space..." [Via]
Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE) is the first video journal for biological research accepted in PubMed, featuring hundreds of peer-reviewed video-protocols demonstrating experimental techniques in the fields of neuroscience, cellular biology, developmental biology, immunology, bioengineering, microbiology and plant biology, free of charge.
"We were looking for pretty animals that have eyes, are coloured, or glow in the dark; instead, the most interesting find was the organism that was blind, brainless, and completely covered in mud." Some of the oldest fossil records may need to be reconsidered: Dr. Mikhail Matz of the University of Texas has discovered Gromia Sphaerica, a species of protist, making tracks.... [more inside]
Pictures and descriptions of sea slugs - an absolutely stunning species of marine life
On Growth and Form (1917) was D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson's pioneering effort to explore the mathematical principles that underlie biological form. He studied the similarity between the shapes of a jellyfish and a drop of ink, a splash and a hydroid, between dragonfly wings and bubble froth, the growth of radiolaria and snowflakes, the spirals of nautilus and mollusk shells and sheep horns. More recently, Adrian Bejan's Constructal Theory aims to explain all biological shape from one thermodynamic principle. This month there is an interview with Bejan for the layman. [more inside]
Now: The Rest of the Genome. "Only 1 percent of the genome is made up of classic genes. Scientists are exploring the other 99 percent and uncovering new secrets and new questions."
Hunting the Hidden Dimension. You may be familiar with fractals, but in this PBS Nova episode, divided online into 5 parts, fractals go beyond the impossible zoom of the Mandelbrot set. Scientists are using fractals to describe complex natural occurrences, like lava, capillaries, and rain forests. In part 5, scientists measure one tree in the rain forests, and the distribution of small and large branches mirror the distribution of small and large trees. Fractals, it seems, are nature.
iBioSeminars is a new project from the American Society for Cell Biology to release freely available lectures from leading scientists on the web. It features talks on such diverse areas as stem cells, malaria, HIV, and biofuel production.
Link found between physical and emotional warmth l Metaphors of the Mind: Why Loneliness Feels Cold and Sins Feel Dirty. "Our mental processes are not separate and detached from the body". Sensory metaphors l The Metaphor Observatory, top 10 metaphors of 2007.
How We Evolve: "A growing number of scientists argue that human culture itself has become the foremost agent of biological change, making us — for the past 10,000 years or so — the inadvertent architects of our own future selves." [more inside]
The fungi fire their spores up to 55 miles an hour–which translates to an acceleration of 180,000 g. Research from the lab of Nicholas Money. Music video by Dr. Money's students. (SLYT) via
Cornelia Hesse-Honegger paints watercolours of mutated insects from radioactively contaminated areas in Ukraine, Switzerland, the United States, and Europe. She has recently published a scientific article incorporating these paintings (5 MB PDF). site also available in German
Hundreds of New Reef Creatures Found in Australia. Hundreds of new marine creatures have been discovered in three Australian reefs by CReefs, a census of coral reefs which is part of the Census of Marine Life, a ten-year initiative to assess global ocean diversity.
Rethinking Evolution with Stuart Newman, The New Master Of Evolution? Video Interview: Evolution Politics. A reformulation of the theory of evolution. Susan Mazur presents most of the players in her latest e-book: Will the Real Theory of Evolution Please Stand Up? [more inside]
Scientists Repurpose Adult Cells - "Scientists have transformed one type of fully developed adult cell directly into another inside a living animal, a startling advance that could lead to cures for a variety of illnesses and sidestep the political and ethical quagmires associated with embryonic stem cell research." [nature abstract, nature writeup, audio announcement]
Get your learn on. 180+ ways of investigating the human brain = hours of fun for the whole family. Thanks to an innocuous question by a 5 year old, my entire evening is now being spent investigating and discussing the structure and workings of the human brain. This flash site lets you explore the workings of the brain according to 12 subject areas (each with subtopics which are not included in the "180" count), within each of which are 5 levels of organization from social to molecular, within each of which are three levels of explanation (beginner, intermediate, and advanced.) discovered via Wikipedia.
Superbugs. "The new generation of resistant infections is almost impossible to treat."
Scientists report a breakthrough in stem cell production: Stem cells created from ALS patient and used to make neurons. [Via]
EO Wilson believes in
Darwinism group selection: "evolution as a multi-level process1 that can evolve adaptations above the level of individual organisms."
When you first hear of a shrimp breaking out of it's tank, the prospect isn't really frightening. But when you learn that the mantis shrimp has punched through the glass container, it becomes a little more serious. [more inside]
Festooning The Tree Of Life. Carl Zimmer describes new research on lateral gene transfer which makes the Tree of Life look more like a Gordian Knot.
Surtsey was first observed on November 14, 1963, as a pillar of smoke on the water some ways south of Iceland. The very next day lava and tephra broke the surface of the Atlantic and by May, 1964 the formation had grown to 2.4 km². Over the next three years lava eruptions continued, coating the loose debris in a hard shell and protecting it from erosion. An island born. Naturally, Surtsey has been under close scientific observation since its emergence, and courtesy The Surtsey Research Society you can read published reports on the geology and biological colonization of this new earth.
A University of Chicago doctoral candidate has shown that the evolution of the flatfish was much more gradual than previously thought.
Mapping the Structural Core of Human Cerebral Cortex. A new study of the connections in the brain has identified the brain's central hub.