As Many Exceptions As Rules

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Exceptions to natural and biological rules are used to increase interest in biology. Recent studies, and not so recent studies, are described in order to demonstrate amazing organisms and practices. Core concepts of biology are emphasized, with side trips into the research of topics that give insight into the evolution and interelatedness of all life.

Mark Lasbury
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  • April 15, 2015
  • 08:00 AM
  • 46 views

Boy Plants Are From Mars …..

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Darwin missed the boat on plants. He recognized sexual dimorphism and sexual selection in animals, but didn’t see the same thing in flowers. Boy plants can look, grow, smell or locate very different from female plants. And it matters – some beetles seek out boy plants for their smell and deliver pollen to girl plants as a bribe for letting them lay eggs there! They have learned to tell guy from gal.
... Read more »

Okamoto, T., Kawakita, A., Goto, R., Svensson, G., & Kato, M. (2013) Active pollination favours sexual dimorphism in floral scent. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 280(1772), 20132280-20132280. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2013.2280  

  • April 8, 2015
  • 08:00 AM
  • 83 views

Why Do Males And Females Look Different?

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

You see a spotted hyena – is it a male or female. There’s no way of telling without a blood test or a litter of pups. Other animals have obvious differences between males and females; eclectus parrots have green males but red and blue females, while male elephant seals weigh 10x as much as females. Are the differences for sexual selection or natural selection?... Read more »

Cunha, G., Risbridger, G., Wang, H., Place, N., Grumbach, M., Cunha, T., Weldele, M., Conley, A., Barcellos, D., Agarwal, S.... (2014) Development of the external genitalia: Perspectives from the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta). Differentiation, 87(1-2), 4-22. DOI: 10.1016/j.diff.2013.12.003  

Hammond, G., Miguel-Queralt, S., Yalcinkaya, T., Underhill, C., Place, N., Glickman, S., Drea, C., Wagner, A., & Siiteri, P. (2012) Phylogenetic Comparisons Implicate Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin in “Masculinization” of the Female Spotted Hyena . Endocrinology, 153(3), 1435-1443. DOI: 10.1210/en.2011-1837  

  • April 1, 2015
  • 08:00 AM
  • 93 views

The Bird Jaws Of Life

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Do birds have teeth? No, but they did once, and sometimes a throwback mutation can create a chick with a full set of chompers. That’s weird, but bird mouths get weirder. Birds can open their upper jaw, not just their lower. And some birds take being weird even farther. The crossbill has a mouth where the upper and lower beaks scissor past one another while the wrybill has a beak that always turns right. ... Read more »

Meredith, R., Zhang, G., Gilbert, M., Jarvis, E., & Springer, M. (2014) Evidence for a single loss of mineralized teeth in the common avian ancestor. Science, 346(6215), 1254390-1254390. DOI: 10.1126/science.1254390  

Smith, J., Sjoberg, S., Mueller, M., & Benkman, C. (2012) Assortative flocking in crossbills and implications for ecological speciation. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 279(1745), 4223-4229. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2012.1500  

Benkman, C., Parchman, T., & Mezquida, E. (2010) Patterns of coevolution in the adaptive radiation of crossbills. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1206(1), 1-16. DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2010.05702.x  

SNOWBERG, L., & BENKMAN, C. (2009) Mate choice based on a key ecological performance trait. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 22(4), 762-769. DOI: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2009.01699.x  

  • March 25, 2015
  • 08:00 AM
  • 135 views

This Nose Knows

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Evolution has given the sperm whale the most amazing head in the animal kingdom. They’ve got the biggest brain – all 18 lb.s of it. It has 1900 liters of sperm oil that almost caused in the extinction of the animal. It has one nostril that’s offset on its head, making the whale asymmetric. But most impressively, he can change the density of his head to help him dive or surface, and to do it he uses the same organ he uses for echolocation!... Read more »

  • March 18, 2015
  • 08:00 AM
  • 149 views

The Search For The Unicorn - Slightly Off Center

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

One of the most amazing animals is one of the least often seen. It has one tooth that grows into a tusk that’s off center. The tusk is basically inside out, with the inside of the tooth exposed to the world. This animal also has the world’s only spiraled tooth, for strength and because that’s what keeps it growing straight. Finally, this animal spends an amazing amount of time on its back. Why do we care about these animal…..because they are so awesome!... Read more »

Christen AG, & Christen JA. (2011) The unicorn and the narwhal: a tale of the tooth. Journal of the history of dentistry, 59(3), 135-42. PMID: 22372187  

Kingsley, M., & Ramsay, M. (1988) The Spiral in the Tusk of the Narwhal. ARCTIC, 41(3). DOI: 10.14430/arctic1723  

Nweeia, M., Eichmiller, F., Hauschka, P., Donahue, G., Orr, J., Ferguson, S., Watt, C., Mead, J., Potter, C., Dietz, R.... (2014) Sensory ability in the narwhal tooth organ system. The Anatomical Record, 297(4), 599-617. DOI: 10.1002/ar.22886  

Dietz, R., Shapiro, A., Bakhtiari, M., Orr, J., Tyack, P., Richard, P., Eskesen, I., & Marshall, G. (2007) Upside-down swimming behaviour of free-ranging narwhals. BMC Ecology, 7(1), 14. DOI: 10.1186/1472-6785-7-14  

  • March 11, 2015
  • 08:00 AM
  • 126 views

The Eyes Have It

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

The Cyclops had one eye in the middle of his forehead, but can you think of real animal with only one eye? Two eyes (or more) seem to be very important in evolution. This is so true that when flatfish lie down on the ocean floor they move one eye to the other side of their head! Research is showing that it’s more than just their eye that changes and the alterations are important for their survival. And by the way – there is one kind of animal that only has one eye, it’s the &he........ Read more »

  • March 4, 2015
  • 08:00 AM
  • 119 views

Looking Sideways In The Mirror

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Not every animal that’s bilaterally symmetric chooses to stay that way. Some parasitic worms must become asymmetric in order to attach to fish gills, and some fish have mouths that turn to the right or left for lepidophagy. What’s lepidophagy you ask? They rip off and eat the scales of other fish!... Read more »

  • February 25, 2015
  • 08:00 AM
  • 160 views

Mirroring Evolution

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Heads and symmetric bodies didn’t necessarily evolve at the same time, but we don’t know which was first. Some animals have heads and bilateral bodies, and some have radial bodies and no heads. Are there any in between? Yes, and no, but why would any group of animals lose heads after they had evolved them?... Read more »

  • February 18, 2015
  • 07:30 AM
  • 224 views

Space - It'll Mess You Up

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Extended spaceflight can wreak havoc on your body – your bones, muscles, brain and vestibular system all pay the price for exploration. And while your body might adapt to space, big problems can occur when you return to Earth gravity. You go into space as a virile astronaut, but return as fragile as a your great grandmother. ... Read more »

Finetti, F., Paccani, S., Rosenbaum, J., & Baldari, C. (2011) Intraflagellar transport: a new player at the immune synapse. Trends in Immunology, 32(4), 139-145. DOI: 10.1016/j.it.2011.02.001  

Troshichev, O., Gorshkov, E., Shapovalov, S., Sokolovskii, V., Ivanov, V., & Vorobeitchikov, V. (2004) Variations of the gravitational field as a motive power for rhythmics of biochemical processes. Advances in Space Research, 34(7), 1619-1624. DOI: 10.1016/j.asr.2004.02.013  

Fitts, R., Trappe, S., Costill, D., Gallagher, P., Creer, A., Colloton, P., Peters, J., Romatowski, J., Bain, J., & Riley, D. (2010) Prolonged space flight-induced alterations in the structure and function of human skeletal muscle fibres. The Journal of Physiology, 588(18), 3567-3592. DOI: 10.1113/jphysiol.2010.188508  

  • February 11, 2015
  • 08:00 AM
  • 218 views

Thinking Skinny Thoughts Won’t Help

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

As with so many other things, we learn biology best by studying what happens when things go wrong. You won’t believe the diseases that are being linked to this most innocuous of cell structures. Without any exaggeration, primary cilia make you smart, skinny, and happy. Let’s find out how.... Read more »

Tong, C., Han, Y., Shah, J., Obernier, K., Guinto, C., & Alvarez-Buylla, A. (2014) Primary cilia are required in a unique subpopulation of neural progenitors. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(34), 12438-12443. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1321425111  

Han, Y., Kang, G., Byun, K., Ko, H., Kim, J., Shin, M., Kim, H., Gil, S., Yu, J., Lee, B.... (2014) Leptin-promoted cilia assembly is critical for normal energy balance. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 124(5), 2193-2197. DOI: 10.1172/JCI69395  

Davenport JR, Watts AJ, Roper VC, Croyle MJ, van Groen T, Wyss JM, Nagy TR, Kesterson RA, & Yoder BK. (2007) Disruption of intraflagellar transport in adult mice leads to obesity and slow-onset cystic kidney disease. Current biology : CB, 17(18), 1586-94. PMID: 17825558  

Keryer, G., Pineda, J., Liot, G., Kim, J., Dietrich, P., Benstaali, C., Smith, K., Cordelières, F., Spassky, N., Ferrante, R.... (2011) Ciliogenesis is regulated by a huntingtin-HAP1-PCM1 pathway and is altered in Huntington disease. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 121(11), 4372-4382. DOI: 10.1172/JCI57552  

Miyoshi, K., Kasahara, K., Miyazaki, I., & Asanuma, M. (2009) Lithium treatment elongates primary cilia in the mouse brain and in cultured cells. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, 388(4), 757-762. DOI: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2009.08.099  

  • February 4, 2015
  • 08:00 AM
  • 203 views

An Immovable Moving Part- That’s Just Cilia!

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Nothing is simple, and we wouldn’t want it that way. The cilia on cells; they’re for propelling a cell forward or back, or for moving fluid past the cell. Unless they don’t move at all. Could a broken cilium be important to us? You bet, they control every part of our lives. And some aren’t even cilia; sterocilia are made completely differently, but the diseases of cilia affect sterocilia as well – they can make you blind, deaf and unbalanced.... Read more »

  • January 28, 2015
  • 08:00 AM
  • 230 views

Crawling To The Top

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Nematodes cause horrible diseases, but they way they reproduce is the most fascinating thing about them. Their sperm aren’t shaped like typical animal male gametes. They crawl instead of swimming, and they have a type of cytoskeleton not seen in any other cell type on Earth. Yet, the nematode is the most numerous type of animal on Earth.... Read more »

Smith HE. (2014) Nematode sperm motility. WormBook : the online review of C. elegans biology, 1-15. PMID: 24715710  

H. Ferris. (2009) The beer mat nematode, Panagrellus The beer mat nematode, Panagrellus redivivus: A study of the connectedness of scientific discovery . J. Nematode Morphol. Syst., 12(1), 19-25. info:/

McKnight, K., Hoang, H., Prasain, J., Brown, N., Vibbert, J., Hollister, K., Moore, R., Ragains, J., Reese, J., & Miller, M. (2014) Neurosensory Perception of Environmental Cues Modulates Sperm Motility Critical for Fertilization. Science, 344(6185), 754-757. DOI: 10.1126/science.1250598  

  • January 21, 2015
  • 07:45 AM
  • 207 views

Evolving A Second Job

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Centrioles are the most amazing structures in your cell. They don’t have DNA, yet they duplicate to form more of themselves or they can form spontaneously if lost. They control the beating direction of the cell’s cilia; change one’s direction and all of the cells for hundreds of generations will remain moving in the wrong direction.... Read more »

Henderson, B., & Martin, A. (2014) Protein moonlighting: a new factor in biology and medicine. Biochemical Society Transactions, 42(6), 1671-1678. DOI: 10.1042/BST20140273  

Kobayashi, T., & Dynlacht, B. (2011) Regulating the transition from centriole to basal body. The Journal of Cell Biology, 193(3), 435-444. DOI: 10.1083/jcb.201101005  

Debec, A., Sullivan, W., & Bettencourt-Dias, M. (2010) Centrioles: active players or passengers during mitosis?. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 67(13), 2173-2194. DOI: 10.1007/s00018-010-0323-9  

Boisvieux-Ulrich E, & Sandoz D. (1991) Determination of ciliary polarity precedes differentiation in the epithelial cells of quail oviduct. Biology of the cell / under the auspices of the European Cell Biology Organization, 72(1-2), 3-14. PMID: 1756309  

  • January 14, 2015
  • 08:00 AM
  • 248 views

Everybody In The Gene Pool - Plants That Swim

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Plants can be moved by wind and water. Their pollen and seeds can be moved by insects, wind, gravity, but plants themselves don't have motile cells. Well – that’s not always true. Some trees have swimming cells; they take the plunge in order to find a mate.... Read more »

  • January 7, 2015
  • 08:00 AM
  • 255 views

The Fungus And The Frog

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Amphibians are some of the most vulnerable animals on Earth. Their numbers have been crashing for years. The reasons for this are several, but one fungal infection is a big contributor. This fungus teaches us about evolution, common descent, and phylogenetics – but hopefully it’ll be eaten up by a newly discovered water flea!... Read more »

Martel, A., Spitzen-van der Sluijs, A., Blooi, M., Bert, W., Ducatelle, R., Fisher, M., Woeltjes, A., Bosman, W., Chiers, K., Bossuyt, F.... (2013) Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans sp. nov. causes lethal chytridiomycosis in amphibians. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(38), 15325-15329. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1307356110  

  • December 31, 2014
  • 08:00 AM
  • 253 views

It May Be A New Year, But It’s The Same Old Brain

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Habit formation is the key to keeping New Years resolutions. The brain has complex mechanisms for learning habits, but more importantly, the brain actually inhibits the changing of habits. Evolution says – if it hasn’t killed you yet, it’s a habit worth keeping – not so great for bad habits that kill you slowly.... Read more »

Wang, L., Li, F., Wang, D., Xie, K., Wang, D., Shen, X., & Tsien, J. (2011) NMDA Receptors in Dopaminergic Neurons Are Crucial for Habit Learning. Neuron, 72(6), 1055-1066. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2011.10.019  

Wang, W., Dever, D., Lowe, J., Storey, G., Bhansali, A., Eck, E., Nitulescu, I., Weimer, J., & Bamford, N. (2012) Regulation of prefrontal excitatory neurotransmission by dopamine in the nucleus accumbens core. The Journal of Physiology, 590(16), 3743-3769. DOI: 10.1113/jphysiol.2012.235200  

  • December 23, 2014
  • 08:00 AM
  • 280 views

One Myrrh-aculous Christmas Gift

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

The three wise men made a gift of myrrh, knowing it was an important incense, embalming agent, and anti-microbial. What they didn’t know is that 2000 years later we would find that constituents of myrrh would be important in curing cancer.... Read more »

  • December 17, 2014
  • 08:00 AM
  • 276 views

Christmas Greenery - Friend Or Foe?

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Your Christmas tree can kill you, but it can also save your life. The same holds true for mistletoe, ivy, and holly. Each is toxic, but each has uses in medicine. The least toxic Christmas plant is the most often thought of as poisonous – poinsettias really aren’t that bad, kids would have to eat 500 leaves to bring on the nastiest effects.... Read more »

  • December 10, 2014
  • 08:00 AM
  • 243 views

Christmas Trees Have Trouble Seeing The Light

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Evergreens maintain chlorophyll all year round so that they can carryout photosynthesis in the winter and be symbols of enduring life for Christmas. No… not really. Sunlight in the winter can actually kill evergreens. You won’t believe the lengths to which they must go in order to avoid photodamage caused by light harvesting by chlorophyll in the winter. So why do they stay green?... Read more »

Ottander C, Campbell D, Öquist G. (1995) Seasonal changes in photosystem II organization and pigment composition in Pinus sylvestris. . Planta , 176-183. info:/

  • December 3, 2014
  • 08:00 AM
  • 347 views

How Slime Molds Our World

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Fungus-like protists have amazing tales to tell. One phylum has been shown to ranch bacteria and hire cowhands to guard them. One phylum has slime mold that can find its way through a maze and is used to model mathematics for video games. Finally, one phylum is responsible for the glut of Irish priests and policeman in late 1800’s America.... Read more »

Goss, E., Tabima, J., Cooke, D., Restrepo, S., Fry, W., Forbes, G., Fieland, V., Cardenas, M., & Grunwald, N. (2014) The Irish potato famine pathogen Phytophthora infestans originated in central Mexico rather than the Andes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(24), 8791-8796. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1401884111  

Tero, A., Takagi, S., Saigusa, T., Ito, K., Bebber, D., Fricker, M., Yumiki, K., Kobayashi, R., & Nakagaki, T. (2010) Rules for Biologically Inspired Adaptive Network Design. Science, 327(5964), 439-442. DOI: 10.1126/science.1177894  

Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Hiroyasu Yamada . (2000) Intelligence: Maze-solving by an amoeboid organism. Nature, 407(470). info:/

Brock, D., Douglas, T., Queller, D., & Strassmann, J. (2011) Primitive agriculture in a social amoeba. Nature, 469(7330), 393-396. DOI: 10.1038/nature09668  

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