So far this year there have been 118 cases of measles reported in the United States. [more inside]
Ants are one of the most abundant groups on earth, but, curiously, not a lot of things eat them. Yes, there are anteaters (who also eat a lot of termites), and some lizards specialize on ants, but the little critters are full of noxious chemicals and pheromones that put them way down on the list of predators’ preferred foodstuffs. Because of this, many other insects and arthropods have evolved to mimic ants, taking advantage of the aversion of predators to anything antlike. These mimics are called myrmecomorphs, and they’re the subject of a really nice eponymous feature in this week’s Current Biology.[via]
Behold the Manul! Otherwise known as Pallas's cat, it was one of the first two modern cats to evolve. (Via The Ark In Space, an amazing compendium of creatures.)
The Thinking Atheist: 'Nothing More To Talk About' (SLYT) - Many religious family members pray for their atheist and agnostic loved ones graciously, honoring personal boundaries and showing respect for the skeptic's right to form his/her own worldview... This video is not about them...
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]
Dare 2 Share Ministries offers profiles and tips on how to "share your faith" with fourteen different types of friends a teen Christian might have, such as Andy the Atheist, Marty the Mormon, Jenna the Jew, Sid the Satanist, Mo the Muslim and Willow the Wiccan. If none of those strategies work, they also offer articles on how to "use the buzz in current teen culture to initiate God-talk with your friends" by "sharing your faith" through Indiana Jones, Halo 3, Brokeback Mountain, Kung Fu Panda and The X Files.
Ray Comfort calls the Atheist Experience. The Atheist Community of Austin run a live call-in show on public access. Over the years, they have challenged Ray Comfort to call in. This week, he finally does, and talks to AE hosts Matt Dillahunty and Russell Glasser. The only banana joke is visual. Ray reacts. Matt D reacts. AE fans react. [more inside]
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]
Consider this animal, the newest fossil discovery from Jianni Liu in China. She calls it "the walking cactus." We have grasses and flowers and beetles in more varieties than you can imagine, and yet, in some deep architectural way, the developmental paths were set way back then, 500 million years ago. The Walking Cactus is just another souvenir of that crazy moment.
Humans, Version 3.0. "The next giant leap in human evolution may not come from new fields like genetic engineering or artificial intelligence, but rather from appreciating our ancient brains." [Via] [more inside]
"We all can agree...that this text is red. We can also similarly agree that this text is blue." [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.
Watch your computer design a 2 dimensional car. What happens when you give a computer, instead of a predefined function to run, a set of parameters, a goal, and the ability to mutate those parameters? You get a genetic algorithm. At its core, genetic algorithms can best be described as Darwinian evolution of computer functions. Is it better to use a streamlined, wide-wheel-base motorcycle to cross terrain, or something that looks like a cross between a fish and a tank? This simplistic simulation shows just what's going to cause the rise of Skynet.
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]
What species of food is 2000 years old, has evolved copious adaptive variations, and still tastes delicious as ever? [more inside]
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]
“NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST (11am PST) on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.” Watch it HERE live. [more inside]
Our wisdom teeth need to be pulled because our brains are too big: The Top Ten Daily Consequences of Having Evolved
Philosopher Alvin Plantinga discusses the evolutionary argument against naturalism with philosopher Stephen Law. Plantinga, now retired from his position at Notre Dame, is one of the most well known analytic philosophers of recent times. The podcast is targeted at a non academic audience and keeps things on a fairly basic level in non-technical language. Plantinga and Law conduct a congenial, mutually respectful discussion of the issue. Previously. [more inside]
Husband-and-wife team Christopher Ryan and Calcilda Jethá have written a book, Sex at Dawn, that challenges what they describe as the "standard narrative" of human sexual and social relationships. In a recent Savage Love podcast featuring Ryan as a guest, Dan Savage described the book as "...the single most important book about human sexuality since Alfred Kinsey unleashed Sexual Behavior in the Human Male on the American public in 1948." [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)
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]
Our minds boggle at how the wolf could become the chihuahua, the Saint Bernard, the poodle and the Komondor. Artificial selection was likewise responsible for transforming the humble wild mustard plant Brassica oleracea into cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and the breathtaking fractal Romanesco, all in the span of a few centuries. [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.
"Darwin Fest" videos of talks given at the 50th anniversary of the Darwin Conference at the University of Chicago in 2009. [more inside]
"Sorry, vegetarians, but eating meat apparently made our ancestors smarter — smart enough to make better tools, which in turn led to other changes."
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]
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."
In a fundamental re-think of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, a research team lead by Arizona State University's Doug Kenrick has replaced the personal need to achieve status and respect, culminating in self-actualization, with the biological imperative to find a mate and reproduce, culminating in parenting. Kenrick also replaces Maslow's strict design, in which needs replace one another, with a design in which needs overlap over the course of a lifetime. [more inside]
The silver fox, domesticated over 40 generations by the late Siberian scientist Dmitri Belayev. Belayev and his students started this experiment in 1959 by selecting specifically for human-friendly behaviors. More on the observed differences between domesticated and wild foxes in the original paper that appeared in American Scientist Early Canid Domestication: The Farm-Fox Experiment (pdf). [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.
Past Thinking about Earth-Like Planets and Life [pdf], presenting a brief history of thought on finding extraterrestrial life-like phenomena, is the first chapter of James Kasting's new book, How to Find a Habitable Planet. He participated in a discussion on BBC's The Forum.
First there was Ida, the first molecule to self-replicate. (that's one hypothesis, anyway.) From Ida, eventually, came the Last Universal Common Ancestor, or Luca. The first substance to store information about itself in the form of a genetic code. Luca may be the form of Life from which all Life has evolved.
"So I called my dad over and about five metres away he started swearing, and I was like 'what did I do wrong?' and he's like, 'nothing, nothing - you found a hominid'."The remarkable remains of two ancient human-like creatures (hominids) have been found in South Africa. Some researchers dispute that the fossils are of an unknown human species, but others say they may help fill a key gap in the fossil record of human evolution. [more inside]
The Evolution of Morality explains morality from a framework of kin selection, reciprocity, and learning. [more inside]
Affirmed evolution (and anti-intelligent design) biologist Francisco Ayala has won the 2010 Templeton Prize. In 1981, Ayala was a pivotal expert in overturning an Arkansas law that required the side-by-side teaching of creationism and evolution. Besides his nationally recognized work in evolution and genetics, the former Catholic priest has sought to reconcile evolution with religious belief, noting that science and religion are not mutually exclusive. [more inside]
Misunderstanding Darwin: Natural selection’s secular critics get it wrong. Ned Block and Philip Kitcher review Jerry Fodor's (previously) and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini's book What Darwin Got Wrong. Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini respond: “Misunderstanding Darwin”: An Exchange.
Depression's upside. Could depression be an evolutionary gift? Could kindness? Charles Darwin himself had a history of ailments that may help to illustrate the idea.
View, rotate, and interact with fascinating 3D scans of some of humanity's oldest artifacts. [more inside]
Reddit interviews Peter Norvig (reddit discussion) related: Seeds of AI at Google -- how the internet is shaping intelligence and learning and, in turn, the role of human culture in natural selection1,2 and why we are not living in western civilization. (via)
Nearly a third of Texans believe humans and dinosaurs roamed the earth at the same time, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. Meet the Flinstones.
Ilkka Pyysiäinen and Marc Hauser have a new paper in the journal "Trends in Cognitive Sciences". The origins of religion : evolved adaptation or by-product? (via) [more inside]
'As part of its budget for the next year [pdf], DARPA is investing $6 million into a project called BioDesign, with the goal of eliminating "the randomness of natural evolutionary advancement."' Via Futurismic [more inside]