The Atavism

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This a PhD student in evolutionary genetics who very occasionally thinks he has something that the internet simply needs to know

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  • September 19, 2010
  • 12:52 AM

Sunday Spinelessness - Throwing pesky males off the scent

by David in The Atavism

We often think about evolution as a competition, but it's not always clear who the competitors are. Popular accounts of evolution often talk about species competing for survival, Darwin saw evolutionary change as the result of individual's struggle for existence and Richard Dawkins recast individuals as proxies in a battle between genes. A new paper form Kerstin Johannesson and her colleagues at the University of Gothenburg highlights another ongoing competition which explains a good deal of bio........ Read more »

  • August 28, 2010
  • 05:21 PM

Sunday Spinelessness - New Zealand's GIANT Sprintgtails

by David in The Atavism

I know, a couple of week it was multiple exclamation points, then a reference to lyrics from a band anyone who is remotely cool is trying to forget they ever liked and this week it's all caps all the way. Hopefully, by the end of this post you'll agree that, this time at least, the subject left me with no option. I missed out a little fact about peripatus when I wrote about them the other day: Dunedin is full of them. There is even a local endemic species which appears to be restricted to one pa........ Read more »

  • July 28, 2010
  • 10:42 PM

The First New Zealanders and their rats

by David in The Atavism

Crispin Jago has made a very cool thing, a periodic table of irrational nonsense. Rolling my eyes over the groups, wondering how people can believe some of these things, made me think about New Zealand's unique ecosystem of kooky ideas. We don't have to suffer creationists in any organised sense and I don't think anyone is too into ear candelling, but those TV psychics have found themselves a niche to exploit and most people seem think chiropratric and homeopathy are normal parts ........ Read more »

Holdaway, R. (1996) Arrival of rats in New Zealand. Nature, 384(6606), 225-226. DOI: 10.1038/384225b0  

  • June 7, 2010
  • 11:12 PM

If some of us have Neanderthal genes, are Neanderthals us?

by David in The Atavism

I got a little bit starry eyed writing about the Neanderthal genome the other day. I chose to retrace the arc of scientific progress that links the initial description of Neanderthal man as something different than modern humans to the point reached last month, where we are able to tag some of those differences to a single gene. Most of the news stories about the Neanderthal genome focused not on the genes that made us different from them, but a small percentage of the genome that reinforced th........ Read more »

Green RE, Krause J, Briggs AW, Maricic T, Stenzel U, Kircher M, Patterson N, Li H, Zhai W, Fritz MH.... (2010) A draft sequence of the Neandertal genome. Science (New York, N.Y.), 328(5979), 710-22. PMID: 20448178  

  • May 22, 2010
  • 05:22 PM

Sunday Spinelessness - Attack of the Killer Sponge!

by David in The Atavism

Chondrocladia turbiformis, a ruthless carnivore hauled from bottom of the sea off new New Zealand by NIWA scientists, has been named among the top ten new species described last year. This abyssal predator isn't a kraken, a plesiosaur that time forgot or even an improbable (but awesome) hybrid. It's a sponge.
It may come as some surprise that a sponge can be a carnivore, or even that sponges are animals. Sedentary as they are, sponges tick all the boxes for inclusion in the kingdom Anamalia. T........ Read more »

Vacelet, J., Boury-Esnault, N., Fiala-Medioni, A., & Fisher, C. (1995) A methanotrophic carnivorous sponge. Nature, 377(6547), 296-296. DOI: 10.1038/377296a0  

Jean Vacelet,, Michelle Kelly, & Monika Schlacher-Hoenlinger. (2009) Two new species of Chondrocladia (Demospongiae: Cladorhizidae) with a new spicule type from the deep south Pacific, and a discussion of the genus Meliiderma. Zootaxa, 57-68. info:/

  • March 26, 2010
  • 01:33 AM

Does a forty thousand year old finger point to another human species?

by David in The Atavism

DNA extracted from a 40 000 year old finger bone found in a cave in Siberia might be evidence for a previously unrecognized human species. Or it might not be. The bone, which comes from what New Zealanders call a "little finger", Americans call a"pinky" and paleo-anthropologists call the "distal manual phalanx of the fifth digit", was found in the Denisova cave, in a region of Siberia from which remains of members of both our own species (Homo sapiens) and Neanderthals (H. neanderthalensis) hav........ Read more »

  • February 26, 2010
  • 12:41 AM

Nucleotide diversity - what two new African genomes mean

by David in The Atavism

If you wanted evidence that we live in a post-genomic age you would need to look no further than the headlines in the science section of the newspaper last week. A man dubbed Inuk who lived and died in Greenland 4 000 years ago had dry earwax and might have gone bald if he lived long enough, Tutankhamun was inbred and had a cleft palate and Desmond Tutu has had his whole genome sequenced. What about the science behind the hook? Ed Yong has the the story of Inuk (whose genes tell us about migrat........ Read more »

Schuster SC, Miller W, Ratan A, Tomsho LP, Giardine B, Kasson LR, Harris RS, Petersen DC, Zhao F, Qi J.... (2010) Complete Khoisan and Bantu genomes from southern Africa. Nature, 463(7283), 943-7. PMID: 20164927  

  • February 4, 2010
  • 02:47 AM

Did the Moa's ancestor fly to New Zealand?

by David in The Atavism

Unlikely cousins? Tinamou from brunorigin @ flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0| Moa from PLoS Biology

New Zealanders often think of our unique biota as a sort of time capsule - a glimpse at lifeforms that have long since been extinguished in other parts of the world. New Zealand has been apart from the rest of the world for 85 million years. At that time the land that makes up our mini-continent split from the super-continent Gondwana, opening up the Tasman Sea and moving northward . A land apart fr........ Read more »

  • January 14, 2010
  • 09:22 PM

The why of the Y-Chromosome's amazing evolutionary rate

by David in The Atavism

There is something faintly pathetic about the Y-chromosome when its lined up with its peers in a karyotype. Each of the 22 numbered chromosomes pair off with a near identical partner just their size while the Y has to shape up to the X which has more than twice as much DNA and 25 times as many functional genes.

The puny Y-chromosome only looks worse when you realise that mammalian sex chromosomes weren't always so mismatched. 160 million years ago the X and Y were just another pair of chro........ Read more »

Hughes, J., Skaletsky, H., Pyntikova, T., Graves, T., van Daalen, S., Minx, P., Fulton, R., McGrath, S., Locke, D., Friedman, C.... (2010) Chimpanzee and human Y chromosomes are remarkably divergent in structure and gene content. Nature. DOI: 10.1038/nature08700  

  • September 28, 2009
  • 05:41 PM

Where did you get that preposterous hypothesis

by David in The Atavism

From time to time you find youself disagreeing with something you read in a scientific paper. Perhaps you don't think the authors have applied a method correctly or ,more often, you don't think that the results they present are enough to justify the claims made in the their discussion or their university PR department's breathless press release. You don't often end up wondering if the third most prestigious journal in the world might have an April Fool's day issue. But what else is one to thin........ Read more »

  • September 6, 2009
  • 08:09 PM

I TOLD you you're all mutants

by David in The Atavism

Recently I tried to make this case that a mutation in my mitochondrial DNA
didn't make me so very different than the rest of you:

Our typical conception of mutation is drawn from the tragic effects of those
relatively rare mutations, induced in our bodies or passed on through germ
cells, that lead to diseases (or, in movies to super powers). In fact, we
are, each of us, mutants. DNA replication is not perfect, we are born with about
6 or 7 new mutations...

Well, a paper published last ........ Read more »

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