The selfish gene is one of the most successful science metaphors ever invented. Unfortunately, it’s wrong.
"Now, I don't write many short stories these days, but I'm a sucker for the right kind of charity approach. And besides, I had a hypothesis I wanted to test: that every short story can be improved by adding dinosaurs and sodomy." SF author Charles Stross (metafilter's own) shares a short shaggy dog story he wrote back in 2011 containing sex, waterfowl, and reverse-engineering evolution: "A Bird In Hand."
This 419-Million-Year-Old Fish Has the World’s Oldest Known Face What makes it remarkable is everything that’s come after it: It’s the oldest known creature with a face, and may have given rise to virtually all the faces that have followed in the hundreds of millions of years since, including our own.
In March 2012, inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture uncovered a problem in Elgin, Texas. Beef sausage from a small family-run meat processor appeared to have been contaminated with a nasty bacterium called Listeria monocytogenes. The bug can make people sick and, in rare cases, be deadly. The processor had to recall more than a ton of sausage. It’s the kind of story that strikes terror in the hearts of other sausage peddlers, including Mike Satzow, so he uses phages to keep his small company's sausages safe to eat.
Unleashing Genetic Algorithms on the iOS 7 Icon - In the pursuit of something just a bit tighter than Marc Edwards' superellipse approximation, Mike Swanson applies genetic algorithms to the task of making a better button-making script.
"The majority of fossil discoveries worth publishing about can either strengthen previous studies or dish out little parcels of new data. These allow us to slowly piece together the history of life on Earth, but do not significantly rock the boat. But every now and then you are confronted with a jaw-dropping specimen, a fossil that says, “forget the textbooks, THIS is how it happened…” Momentous discoveries like Lucy the Australopithecus and the first batch of Chinese feathered dinosaurs that unleashed a tsunami of new information, bringing sudden clarity to our view of the distant past, and forcing us to rethink what we thought we knew about evolution. Now joining their ranks is a little armoured fish called Entelognathus, described in Nature by an international team of researchers led by Prof. Zhu Min at IVPP, Beijing." [more inside]
The Year Of Wallace (who wasn't Darwin) is pretty well-covered on MeFi. But there's news, history keeps evolving: First, a 17-year-old pupil rediscovered Wallace's butterfly collection at the Oxford University Museum. Second, a new book details how evolution was discovered. [samples here and here | both links link to .pdf files, the second one a biggie] And finally, The Darwin-Wallace mystery solved.
What, really, is a wolf-dog?? Wolf-dogs already blur the line between dog and wolf - BUT things get really muddy if dogs are proven to have evolved themselves : "The evolutionarily correct way to state all this is that human beings, with their campfires and garbage heaps and hunting practices, but above all with their social interactions, represented an ecological niche ripe for exploitation by wolves."
Selfish traits not favoured by evolution, study shows "Evolution does not favour selfish people, according to new research. This challenges a previous theory which suggested it was preferable to put yourself first. Instead, it pays to be co-operative, shown in a model of "the prisoner's dilemma", a scenario of game theory - the study of strategic decision-making. Published in Nature Communications, the team says their work shows that exhibiting only selfish traits would have made us become extinct. "
Are human beings the descendants of chimpanzee/pig hybrids? This radical theory might seem easy to disprove, but "decent arguments against the hybrid origins theory are surprisingly hard to find."
The results of the Cambrian explosion are well documented in the fossil record, but its cause -- why and when it happened, and perhaps why nothing similar has happened since -- has been a mystery. Now a recent paper in Nature (abstract) suggests that the answer may lie in a second geological curiosity -- a dramatic boundary, known as the Great Unconformity, between ancient igneous and metamorphic rocks and younger sediments.
"For nearly two centuries, biologists have been struck by a mystery of geography and biodiversity peculiar to Europe. As Edward Forbes pointed out as far back as 1846, there are a number of life forms (including the Kerry slug, a particular species of strawberry tree and the Pyrenean glass snail) that are found in two specific distant places—Ireland and the Iberian Peninsula—but few areas in between." -- How did a specific snail species from the Pyrenees end up in Ireland but nowhere else?
The evolution of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" is an excellent interpretation of their latest single through different decades.
Cocks (almost) don't have a penis, a trait common to 97% of bird species, but they can grow one when the expression of the Bmp4 gene is prevented. The expression of this gene causes the percursor of the phallus in the chick embryo to undergo apoptosis (cell death) and Bmp genes are also involved in 3 other bird traits: feather development, toothlessness and beak shape. In penis-less bird species, copulation requires a sex maneuver nicknamed the cloacal kiss (in French) which requires a full cooperation of the female (3 min of tender parrot sex). In species where males have a penis, like ducks, females are less lucky: the coevolution of the rather convoluted morphology of male and female genitalia has been hypothezised to occur through sexual conflict [many previouslies]. The evolutionary mechanisms that drove phallus reduction in most birds species are still unknown.
In the past few days, the Internet has been filled with commentary on whether the National Science Foundation should have paid for my study on duck genitalia, and 88.7 percent of respondents to a Fox news online poll agreed that studying duck genitalia is wasteful government spending. The commentary supporting and decrying the study continues to grow. As the lead investigator in this research, I would like to weigh in on the controversy and offer some insights into the process of research funding by the NSF.
Come for the passionate defense of basic science, stay for the explosive eversion of a duck penis.[more inside]
With incisor-like claws that can tunnel beneath your skin in seconds, ticks are rapidly establishing themselves as the Swiss Army knife of disease vectors. Carl Zimmer walks into the woods to find out why these tiny beasts appear to be skyrocketing in number – and outsmarting environmental scientists trying to control them with every bite.
Social Evolution - The Ritual Animal "Praying, fighting, dancing, chanting — human rituals could illuminate the growth of community and the origins of civilization." [more inside]
Researchers have found that size does matter as it relates to overall proportions of the male body (PNAS link, PDF)
"What happens if you repeatedly run Kafka's Metamorphosis through YouTube's auto-transcription? Structure emerges!" via Sean Roberts
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]
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]
To put a human face on our ancestors, scientists from the Senckenberg Research Institute used sophisticated methods to form 27 model heads based on tiny bone fragments, teeth and skulls collected from across the globe. Here is a video showing those different models morphing into one another. Original article here. [via] [more inside]
Evolution of Mom Dancing [SLYT] In honor of the First Lady's "Let's Move" campaign, and to encourage parents everywhere to get up and get moving with their kids, Jimmy Fallon and Michelle Obama present the "Evolution of Mom Dancing."
"Hundreds (maybe thousands) of spiders congregate between poles in the town of Santo Antonio de Plantina / PR." [more inside]
Dougal Dixon is a scientist, author, and illustrator. While he is most famous for his work on dinosaurs, his books After Man: A Zoology of the Future and Man After Man: An Anthropology Of The Future attempt to explore what might happen in the far future. The Posthuman Art Of Dougal Dixon. [more inside]
Even though you've heard of Darwin, it's quite possible that you're not familiar with Alfred Russel Wallace (previously), co-discoverer of the theory of evolution (a shame; in many respects he's the more interesting of the two!). Fortunately you can now learn more about the man through transcripts and scans of his letters with family and colleagues, which the UK Natural History Museum have just published online. [more inside]
Go home, evolution, you're drunk. A photo of a pelican that looks like a urinal. Brought to you by WTF, Evolution?
Group selection, which was once widely rejected as a significant evolutionary force, is now accepted by all who seriously study the subject. There is still widespread confusion about group selection, however, not only among students and the general public, but among professional evolutionists who do not directly study the subject. We list eight criticisms that are frequently invoked against group selection, which can be permanently laid to rest based upon current knowledge. Experts will always find something to critique about group selection, as for any important subject, but these eight criticisms are not among them. Laying them to rest will enable authors to openly use the term group selection without being handicapped during the review process. [HTML], [PDF]
"it's quite clear that there's tons of cultural transmission that's just strictly by observational learning."
The Norovirus: A Study in Puked Perfection, "Each norovirus carries just nine protein-coding genes (you have about 20,000). Even with that skimpy genetic toolkit, noroviruses can break the locks on our cells, slip in, and hack our own DNA to make new noroviruses. The details of this invasion are sketchy, alas, because scientists haven’t figured out a good way to rear noroviruses in human cells in their labs. It’s not even clear exactly which type of cell they invade once they reach the gut. Regardless of the type, they clearly know how to exploit their hosts. Noroviruses come roaring out of the infected cells in vast numbers. And then they come roaring out of the body. Within a day of infection, noroviruses have rewired our digestive system so that stuff comes flying out from both ends." [more inside]
Woese once said of himself and his work that when a wise man points out the moon, only a fool looks at the finger. Let us all be fools if just for a moment .
Microbiology's Scarred Revolutionary(PDF), Carl Woese (pron.: /ˈwoʊz/), a biophysicist and evolutionary microbiologist whose discovery 35 years ago of a “third domain” of life in the vast realm of micro-organisms altered scientific understanding of evolution, died on Sunday at his home in Urbana, Ill. He was 84. [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]
What's Going On In Japan? "Really Japan is quite a remarkable case, since neither fiscal nor monetary policy seems to be working to achieve the anticipated results. This year Japan will have a fiscal deficit of around 10% of GDP and gross government debt will hit 235% of GDP, yet the country is still struggling to find growth. Instead of reiterating old dogmas (whether they come from Keynes or from Hayek) more people should be asking themselves what is happening here. This is not a simple repetition of something which was first time tragedy and is now second time tragedy, it is something new, and could well be a harbinger for more that is to come, elsewhere. Oh, why oh why are economists not more curious?" [more inside]
'If you’re like me, you’ll have asked yourself many times, “Why do toucans have such ridiculously big bills?”' [more inside]
It is common behavior for humans to develop an avatar to present a larger-than-life version of themselves on the web, often as a defense mechanism. For the first time, this activity has been observed in another species.
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.
Deciphering the Tools of Nature’s Zombies: The ability of parasites to alter the behaviour of their hosts fascinates both scientists and non-scientists alike. One reason that this topic resonates with so many is that it touches on core philosophical issues such as the existence of free will. If the mind is merely a machine, then it can be controlled by any entity that understands the code and has access to the machinery. This special issue of The Journal of Experimental Biology highlights some of the best-understood examples of parasite-induced changes in host brain and behaviour, encompassing both invertebrate and vertebrate hosts and micro- and macro-parasites. Full issue annotated inside: [more inside]
In just a few weeks single-celled yeast have evolved into a multicellular organism, complete with division of labour between cells. This suggests that the evolutionary leap to multicellularity may be a surprisingly small hurdle. More from Scientific American blogs. [Full Text PDF of the Publication of Note] [more inside]
The cosmos is also within us, we're made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos, to know itself.
Cosmos: A Personal Voyage is a thirteen-part television series of one hour shows written by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Steven Soter, that was aired at the tail end of 1980 and was - at the time - the most widely watched series in the history of American public television. It is best introduced by an audio excerpt of one of his books, The Pale Blue Dot. Inside is a complete annotated collection of the series. [more inside]
"Pretty much everyone interested in dinosaurs, in the history of life, or in such matters as the evolution of intelligence and/or brain size, will be familiar with the various speculations on ‘humanoid dinosaurs’ that have made their way into the literature." - Tetrapod Zoology on Dinosauroids [more inside]
Secrets of T-Rex sex! An interview with John Long, author of The Dawn of the Deed: The Prehistoric Origins of Sex. Long's four-part series on Evolution: This View of Life - 1) Down and Dirty in the Devonian; 2) Palaeozoic Paternity Problems; 3) From Bones to Behavior; 4) From Clasper to Penis. Also a Scientific American video ("Long discusses a fossil central to this new view of the origin of copulation and live birth: a 375-million-year-old expectant mother fish dubbed Materpiscis attenboroughi").
State of the Species: Will the unprecedented success of Homo sapiens lead to an unavoidable downfall? [Via]
One of the many problems farmers of various kinds of legumes need to deal with is the pea aphid. They reproduce incredibly fast and live by sucking the sap out of the plants, an electron micrograph of one in action. However, while they are terrifying parasites of legumes, they have their own yet more horrific parasites, a parasitoid wasp. Here is a really nice close up picture of one doing its thing, a video of the act, and here is a brain meltingly horrific video of a dissection of the mummified aftermath 8 days later. Essentially, these wasps deposit their eggs in a pea aphid and the growing larva feeds on it, developing there for about a week, and then consuming the host from the inside out like a Xenomorph. When it’s done, the wasp larva dries the aphid’s cuticle into a papery brittle shell and an adult wasp emerges from the aphid mummy. Legume farmers love them, and you can even order their mummies online these days. However, farmers noticed that the wasps didn't work as effectively on all of the aphids, and so researchers went to work figuring out why. It turns out that all aphids have a primary bacterial endosymbiont living inside their cells, in addition to and just like a mitochondria, and that many have some combination of five other secondary endosymbionts. Interestingly, two of those other five, Hamiltonella defensa and Serratia symbiotica have been shown to confer varying levels of resistance to the parasitoid wasp, allowing the aphid to survive infection. However, it turns out that there is yet one more layer to this story, [more inside]