The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

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  • May 28, 2013
  • 06:18 AM

Life Below Zero Degrees

by GDW in The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

What do you do when you’re looking for life? Well, while there are a lot of new ideas and discoveries lately, expanding the limits of where we know life can occur, an often used phrase is ‘follow the water’. But what if that water’s frozen? Recently, bacteria from the Antarctic permafrost (aka Planococcus halocryophilus strain […]... Read more »

  • May 14, 2013
  • 07:44 AM

Cheating Your Way to Extinction

by GDW in The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

For a long time, it has been thought that evolutionary and ecological research were quite separated from each other. After all, evolution takes place on long timescales while ecological events usually happen much faster. At least, that was the common perception. Lately, however, it has become clear that, in some cases, the relevant timescales in […]... Read more »

  • May 5, 2013
  • 05:22 AM

The (Lack of) Changes in Ecological Research

by GDW in The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

Ecology is a rapidly changing, dynamic field of research. In recent decades, there’s been a major shift from considering ecosystems as stable and poised to seeing them as systems that are in constant flux. At least, that’s what ecologists want (us) to believe. But how much of this claimed change has been able to seep [...]... Read more »

Carmel, Y., Kent, R., Bar-Massada, A., Blank, L., Liberzon, J., Nezer, O., Sapir, G., & Federman, R. (2013) Trends in Ecological Research during the Last Three Decades – A Systematic Review. PLoS ONE, 8(4). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0059813  

  • April 27, 2013
  • 07:51 AM

A Year of Blogging

by GDW in The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

Exactly one year ago, The Beast, the Bard and the Bot were born. Time for some reflection. But first, a bit of numerical material (current at the time of writing). Some Numbers Posts: 96, including this one. Total views: 19672 Max views on single day: 631 Top 5 countries providing visitors: United States (8264) United [...]... Read more »

  • April 8, 2013
  • 04:08 AM

Publish and Perish: Aspects of Science Fraud

by GDW in The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

If you want to make it in the academic world, you better publish. A lot. Preferably in so-called high-impact journals. Otherwise, no job and no funding (or the other way around). Hence the use of the phrase ‘publish or perish’ to capture the enormous importance of generating sufficient publications in sufficiently respectable journals. And most [...]... Read more »

  • March 13, 2013
  • 08:46 AM

Predicting Technological Progress: Putting Moore’s Law to the Test

by GDW in The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

Being able to predict the pace of technological development could be quite useful for a lot of people. No surprise then, that several models (or ‘laws’) have been posited that aim to describe how technological progress will unfurl (the most famous one probably being Moore’s law, for those interested: original article here). However, these laws [...]... Read more »

  • March 6, 2013
  • 09:03 AM

Body Size and Life Span, or Big Dogs Die Soon(er)

by GDW in The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

When looking at mammals in general, being big correlates quite well with living long lives (barring disease, being eaten and things of that nature, of course). But, within species, it seems that the bigger individuals live less long than their smaller conspecifics. What could be going on here? And what better species to study this [...]... Read more »

  • February 25, 2013
  • 04:08 AM

Studying Human Evolution. In Mice.

by GDW in The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

The evolutionary history of humanity isn’t the easiest tale to tell. As time passed, we, unlike other primates, spread across the globe, colonizing the various lands we explored. All these different habitats were surely characterized by diverging sets of selection pressures. Lo and behold, there arose diversity among human beings. But finding the exact genetic [...]... Read more »

Grossman, S., Andersen, K., Shlyakhter, I., Tabrizi, S., Winnicki, S., Yen, A., Park, D., Griesemer, D., Karlsson, E., Wong, S.... (2013) Identifying Recent Adaptations in Large-Scale Genomic Data. Cell, 152(4), 703-713. DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2013.01.035  

Kamberov, Y., Wang, S., Tan, J., Gerbault, P., Wark, A., Tan, L., Yang, Y., Li, S., Tang, K., Chen, H.... (2013) Modeling Recent Human Evolution in Mice by Expression of a Selected EDAR Variant. Cell, 152(4), 691-702. DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2013.01.016  

  • February 16, 2013
  • 08:33 AM

Fighting Disease with Biodiversity

by GDW in The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

Biodiversity is, in most cases, good. And, as I’ve written before, biodiversity matters. In general, a healthy dose of biodiversity is something to strive for. It can, as a recent study in Nature shows, even help fighting disease. (Warning: modest bullet point bonanza below.) The researchers performed their investigation on three levels: First, sampling ‘in [...]... Read more »

  • February 9, 2013
  • 08:08 AM

The Subglacial Saga Continues…

by GDW in The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

Cold… Darkness… … And life. Sure, microbial life, but life nonetheless. Lake Whillans, part of the Whillans Ice Stream, to be found at the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, has been reached and sampled a little less than two weeks ago. Now, researchers of the WISSARD team report the presence of microscopic life in the samples. [...]... Read more »

Priscu, J., Powell, R., & Tulaczyk, S. (2010) Probing Subglacial Environments Under the Whillans Ice Stream. Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union, 91(29), 253-254. DOI: 10.1029/2010EO290002  

  • February 2, 2013
  • 08:27 AM

New Species, Born in Conflict?

by GDW in The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

The ancient and mysterious Greek philosopher Heraclitus once purportedly said that war is the father of all things. Now, a recent article in Trends in Ecology and Evolution presents a new perspective on the phrase. The genome, that collection of genes representing the hereditary information of an organism might seem like quite a peaceful place. [...]... Read more »

  • January 28, 2013
  • 07:19 AM

Safe for Consumption: Genetically Engineered Food

by GDW in The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

Imagine crops that need less pesticides because they possess an inherent resistance to certain bugs. Imagine crops that can thrive in our changing climate, or produce extra vitamins. Or grow faster. Now stop imagining. Growing knowledge of genetics and development of molecular techniques enables us to produce such crops. In fact, genetically engineered food crops [...]... Read more »

  • January 18, 2013
  • 08:08 AM

‘Social Chromosome’ in Ants

by GDW in The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

A lot of ant species are very social. So social in fact that they’re called ‘eusocial’. But, even though the common conception involves a single queen leading her tightly organized colony, many social systems are possible. Even within a single species. For example, in the red fire ant Solenopsis invicta two different social organizations are [...]... Read more »

Wang, J., Wurm, Y., Nipitwattanaphon, M., Riba-Grognuz, O., Huang, Y., Shoemaker, D., & Keller, L. (2013) A Y-like social chromosome causes alternative colony organization in fire ants. Nature. DOI: 10.1038/nature11832  

  • January 12, 2013
  • 08:07 AM

Malthus, Darwin, and the (Sustainable?) Future of Humanity

by GDW in The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

In 1798, Thomas Robert Malthus, a British scholar, published (anonymously at first) An Essay on the Principle of Population. In this highly influential work on population dynamics, he noted that “the increase of population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence.”. Put simply, a population can’t keep growing, as the resources it needs are [...]... Read more »

Nekola, J., Allen, C., Brown, J., Burger, J., Davidson, A., Fristoe, T., Hamilton, M., Hammond, S., Kodric-Brown, A., Mercado-Silva, N.... (2013) The Malthusian–Darwinian dynamic and the trajectory of civilization. Trends in Ecology . DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2012.12.001  

  • January 5, 2013
  • 08:27 AM

Alzheimer’s Disease in Space

by GDW in The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

Space travel. Few things speak more to the imagination than the possibility of leaving our ‘pale blue dot’ and exploring the vast universe in which we’re only a speck of dust. But, making a journey to the stars or planets is not the safest endeavor. There are obvious matters such as accidents, computer failures and [...]... Read more »

  • December 29, 2012
  • 08:22 AM

Crowdfunding Science

by GDW in The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

Scientific research costs money. And in times where the economy isn’t exactly booming, it’s an area where, wrongfully I believe, budget cuts are quite likely to occur. When austerity reigns, governments and funding agencies alike allocate less and less capital to scientific research. Time to consider alternative routes of funding. One of these relies on [...]... Read more »

  • December 20, 2012
  • 06:30 AM

We recycle less than we think

by GDW in The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

Most of us are aware of the strain our waste puts on the environment and our health. And what is more, most of us care about it. So, we recycle. But we don’t recycle as much as we think. Studies show that there is almost always a discrepancy between self-reports and observed behaviors of recycling [...]... Read more »

  • December 16, 2012
  • 05:57 AM

Premature Babies Poll Results

by GDW in The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

Ten days ago, I asked you all a question in a poll and I promised to let you know the results. To recapitulate: Studies had shown that the survival of extremely premature (~22 weeks) babies has increased over the past decade, but also that the risk these babies run to develop severe disabilities hadn’t changed [...]... Read more »

  • December 11, 2012
  • 07:35 AM

We’re All (Flawed) Mutants

by GDW in The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

There’s no such thing as the human genome. Every person’s genome is unique (even identical twins aren’t really identical genetically). So, it’s no surprise that each of us carries a unique combination of alleles and mutations. And, so new study shows, we all carry a unique set of flaws in our genes. The study took [...]... Read more »

  • December 6, 2012
  • 07:53 AM

POLL: Very premature babies

by GDW in The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

Preterm birth is risky. And, not surprisingly, the earlier a baby is born, the greater the risks. Two new studies (part of EPICure) address the survival and further development of babies born way too soon (after between 22 and 26 weeks of gestation). The studies found that survival has increased, when comparing premature babies born [...]... Read more »

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