Useless body parts.
Nearly a century and a quarter after Darwin’s death, science still can’t offer a full explanation for why one outdated anatomic trait lingers in the gene pool and another goes. Modern genomics research has revealed that our DNA carries broken genes for things that seem as though they might be useful, like odor receptors for a bloodhound’s sense of smell or enzymes that once enabled us to make our own vitamin C. In a few million years, humans may very well have shed a few more odd features. So look now before they’re gone.
posted by psmealey
on Jun 5, 2007 -
Are these people qualitatively different from us? "I would think yes," says Hare. "Do they form a discrete taxon or category? I would say probably -- the evidence is suggesting that.Psychopaths.
They form about 1% of the population. They enjoy the excitement of power. Some choice bits
from Hare's book. The obligatory Bush
link, but, hey, it's got the test sections and the sad truth is that we do have some psychopaths in positions of power, though probably not the Presidency. [Gosh this is getting long] It turns out there's a biological
basis for it. Here's the DSM
description and some detailed
analysis/description (gosh, I
identify with some of those traits!) And here's some AskMe fodder
, "Are You Involved With A Psychopath?" And because of that lust for power... well, it could well be your boss
posted by five fresh fish
on May 28, 2007 -
Nerve pulses are sound pulses. The membrane of the nerve is composed of lipids, a material that is similar to olive oil. This material can change its state from liquid to solid with temperature. Molecules that dissolve in membranes can lower the freezing point of membranes. The scientists found that the nerve membrane has a freezing point, which is precisely suited to the propagation of these concentrated sound pulses. Their theoretical calculations lead them to the same conclusion: Nerve pulses are sound pulses.
This comes from their work on the Thermodynamics of General Anesthesia
(pdf). (via Stereophile?)
posted by caddis
on Mar 12, 2007 -
After two big Antarctic ice shelves broke off several years ago
, a world of new species was found underneath
and a press release came out yesterday, showing spindly orange starfish among other interesting creatures. Here is some more information
on the expedition.
The fact that the shelves melted when they did is most likely a result of global warming, but having them out of the way gave researchers a golden opportunity to study what lives beneath the ice.
Other occassions where a disaster has simultaneously been a great research opportunity include radioactive fallouts: at Chernobyl the evacuated area has been monitored
for the past decades to see which species move in and how they thrive (previously on Metafilter
posted by easternblot
on Feb 26, 2007 -
Cancer Cure Patented
A group of researchers claim that they are patenting a possible cure for cancer involving nothing more than sugar and short-chain fatty acid combination.
posted by TravisJeffery
on Jan 4, 2007 -
New research from evolutionary scientist Bruce Lahn suggests that humans and the now extinct
Neanderthal species mixed, and humans snatched up a valuable brain gene in the process. (The gene, MCPH1, and Lahn, discussed last year
on MeFi) This comes on the tails of yet another new study providing morphological evidence
that there was nontrivial interbreeding between humans and Neanderthals in Eurasia, despite the fact that Neanderthals may have been genetically closer to chimps
than humans. Contrary to popular imagination, though, the Neanderthal species had bigger brains and sophisticated intellects
, at least roughly on par with that of human beings. The gene regulates brain size during development, but its exact utility to humans is still unknown (and controversial
). The origin of this gene and the question of Neanderthal mixing will soon be answered more definitively by the, just launched, 2 year project to map the Neanderthal genome
, headed by Svante Pääbo (profiled in recent Smithsonian
articles). Pääbo calls
Lahn’s study "the most compelling case to date for a genetic contribution of Neandertals to modern humans."
posted by Jason Malloy
on Nov 8, 2006 -
Dolphin intelligence is under fire,
but are these arguments over brain size relevant in the face of overwhelming behavioral evidence?
Dolphins have been known to display almost all of the qualities which we would consider uniquely human, qualities that we would consider a mark of ‘higher’ intelligence. They are tool users
, they are highly creative
(perhaps even artistic
), they enjoy recreational and social
activities, from surfing (either on waves
or around the prow of boats
) to sex
, and they have proven time
and time again
that they are self-aware
. They’ve also formed symbiotic relationships with fisherman
, and recent reports suggest that dolphins even have names for each other.
But perhaps Douglas Adams said it best in the Hitchhiker’s Guide: “Man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much... the wheel, New York, wars, and so on, whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely the dolphins believed themselves to be more intelligent than man for precisely the same reasons.”
posted by heylight
on Sep 4, 2006 -
Altered Oceans: A Primeval Tide of Toxins The fireweed began each spring as tufts of hairy growth and spread across the seafloor fast enough to cover a football field in an hour. When fishermen touched it, their skin broke out in searing welts. Their lips blistered and peeled. Their eyes burned and swelled shut. Water that splashed from their nets spread the inflammation to their legs and torsos.
posted by MetaMonkey
on Aug 1, 2006 -
The Human Speechome Project
- "A baby is to be monitored
by a network of microphones and video cameras for 14 hours a day, 365 days a year, in an effort to unravel the seemingly miraculous process by which children acquire language.". Selected video clips
(PDF, 750KB). To test hypotheses of how children learn, Prof Deb Roy's team at MIT will develop machine learning systems that “step into the shoes” of his son by processing the sights and sounds of three years of life at home. Total storage required: 1.4 petabytes
posted by Gyan
on Jul 23, 2006 -
"Pandas are endangered because they are utterly incompetent... Pandas are badly designed, undersexed, overpaid and overprotected. They went up an evolutionary cul-de-sac and it is too late to reverse."
posted by kliuless
on Jul 2, 2006 -
has a somewhat technical but free supplement
on stem cells (alongwith a podcast and related blog
posted by Gyan
on Jul 2, 2006 -