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.
The Lucretian swerve: The biological basis of human behavior and the criminal justice system
As de Duve has written, “If … neuronal events in the brain determine behavior, irrespective of whether they are conscious or unconscious, it is hard to find room for free will. But if free will does not exist, there can be no responsibility, and the structure of human societies must be revised”.Ben Libet & free will, previously on metafilter. (And more on: Lucretius, Dualism, Philosophy of mind, and Free Will 1, 2.)
Tibetans May Be Fastest Evolutionary Adapters Ever. "A group of scientists in China, Denmark and the U.S. recently documented the fastest genetic change observed in humans. According to their findings, Tibetan adaption to high altitude might have taken just 3,000 years. That's a flash, in terms of evolutionary time, but it's one that's in dispute."
Vanessa Mae Nicholson is one of Britain’s most successful young musicians. A classical violinist and former child prodigy who self-describes her crossover style as "violin techno-acoustic fusion," her fans praise her modern creativity and frenetic, lightning-fast riffs. But is her talent learned or genetic? Documentary from BBC1 in 2008: Vanessa Mae - The Making of Me: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. [more inside]
An article in the June issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society of the Biological Sciences finds that "differences in reproductive strategies are driving individuals' different views on recreational drugs": namely, that views on sexual promiscuity are more closely related to views on recreational drug use than religion, political affiliation or other predictors. The study suggests attitudes against recreational drug use are an evolutionary attempt to promote reproductive stability.
Artist Henning Lederer has adapted Fritz Kahn's illustration "Man As Industrial Palace" [previously] as an interactive installation. [via SciencePunk]
Fake Eyes "To small tropical birds foraging on the rainforest floor, those two scowling eyes peering back at them from between the leaves could be a predator. But they also could belong to one of the hundreds of caterpillar species that have evolved eyelike spots and patterns to trick feasting birds."
The parasite Toxoplasma makes rats lust for cat pee and people drive motorbikes. Other behaviour-modifying parasites include Cordyceps (YouTube) and Sacculina. (Warning: Icky.)
"The ability to design and create new forms of life marks a turning-point in the history of our species and our planet." - Freeman Dyson, on the J.C. Venter Institute's creation of a cell controlled by a synthetic genome. We are now in the business of engineering life.
Circus of the Spineless #50 - the 50th in a series of collections of scientists' favorite disgusting, glorious, and gloriously disgusting invertebrates. Previously
Neandertals are the closest ancestral relatives to modern humans. Today, Nature published a special report on the Neandertal genome, for which a draft sequencing of three billion nucleotides has been completed. This high-throughput sequencing project shows how the genetic relationship between Neandertals and modern Europeans and Asians suggests localized interbreeding between the two species roughly 40-80,000 years ago, complicating the common "out-of-Africa" story of how modern humans originated. Additional research extends this low-coverage, first-pass sequencing with a microarray approach that uncovers specific differences between the human and Neandertal genomes.
Yale scientists analogize the Linux call graph with the E. coli gene regulatory network in an open access PNAS article. Carl Zimmer explores the implications of network design versus evolution, suggesting that a more modular architecture in bacteria leads to a rugged (i.e. robust) system that does not "crash" like a computer.