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Evolutionary and computational biology. Science and society, creationism, science in the news.
Wouldn't you love it if the Neanderthals hadn't gone extinct, but were still living with us today? I'd give my right arm to see that (but then again, I'd give my right arm to be ambidextrous). It is still hotly debated how they went extinct, but a paper in PLoS ONE  concludes that Homo neanderthalensis were outcompeted by humans.... Read more »
William E. Banks, Francesco d'Errico, A. Townsend Peterson, Masa Kageyama, Adriana Sima, & Maria-Fernanda Sánchez-Goñi. (2008) Neanderthal Extinction by Competitive Exclusion. PLoS ONE, 3(12). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003972
R GREEN, A MALASPINAS, J KRAUSE, A BRIGGS, P JOHNSON, C UHLER, M MEYER, J GOOD, T MARICIC, & U STENZEL. (2008) A Complete Neandertal Mitochondrial Genome Sequence Determined by High-Throughput Sequencing. Cell, 134(3), 416-426. DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2008.06.021
Head injury is not a causative factor of ADHD, but it may be a marker for subsequent diagnosis of ADHD.... Read more »
H. T Keenan, G. C Hall, & S. W Marshall. (2008) Early head injury and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: retrospective cohort study. BMJ, 337(nov06 2). DOI: 10.1136/bmj.a1984
Longer ring fingers predict how well stockbrokers do at trading in fast-paced high-risk markets.... Read more »
J. M. Coates, M. Gurnell, & A. Rustichini. (2009) Second-to-fourth digit ratio predicts success among high-frequency financial traders. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(2), 623-628. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0810907106
Santino is a thirty year old male chimpanzee at Furuvik Zoo in Sweden. For the last decade he has been collecting stones before the zoo opens, stashing them in around his enclosure, and then when the visitors arrive, has been throwing the rocks at them - though, thankfully, he apparently has a poor aim.... Read more »
Mathias Osvath. (2009) Spontaneous planning for future stone throwing by a male chimpanzee. Current Biology, 19(5). DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.01.010
Beetles, bisons, black swans, bonobos, dolphins, elephants, flamingos, fruit bats, fruit flies, giraffes, lions, lizards, macaques, orangutans, ostriches, penguins, sheep. What do these animals have in common?They are all homosexual. In fact, the list is much, much longer. Here is what Petter Bøckman has to say about it:No species has been found in which homosexual behaviour has not been shown to exist, with the exception of species that never have sex at allWe can thus safely conclude that the........ Read more »
K. E. LEVAN, T. Y. FEDINA, & S. M. LEWIS. (2008) Testing multiple hypotheses for the maintenance of male homosexual copulatory behaviour in flour beetles. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. DOI: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2008.01616.x
When a stretch of DNA is really important for an organism, natural selection will make sure that it is not changed much from generation to generation. This is termed purifying selection, and whenever it is observed, the conserved DNA is responsible for some function that the organism can't do without.Conversely, when a stretch of DNA is observed to code for an important function in the organism, it is a pretty solid guess that it is highly conserved by purifying selection. Survival and/or reprod........ Read more »
McLean, Bejerano. (2008) Dispensability of mammalian DNA. Genome Research.
Not that I was ever thinking about it, but should I marry my cousin? Should anyone? Is it such a bad idea that there should be laws against it? You may not know that there are laws prohibiting first cousins from marrying in most US states. In this picture the white colored states are the ones that do not.... Read more »
Diane B. Paul, & Hamish G. Spencer. (2008) “It's Ok, We're Not Cousins by Blood”: The Cousin Marriage Controversy in Historical Perspective. PLoS Biology, 6(12). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0060320
Cue the fitness landscape. A multi-dimensional function for organism fitness (ability to reproduce) as a function of the genotype*. A population moves "uphill" when it can to maximize fitness, akin to physical systems, which always moves to minimize its energy.... Read more »
Weissman DB, Desai MM, Fisher DS, & Feldman MW. (2009) The rate at which asexual populations cross fitness valleys. Theoretical population biology, 75(4), 286-300. PMID: 19285994
Via a Google advertisement entitled "Evo-Devo" needs "Onco" I found my way to the website of a James Graham. He wrote a book that he published himself in 1993: Cancer Selection: The New Theory of Evolution.Warning: verbose!On his website he writes of himself in the third person:He postulates that cancer killed uncountable numbers of immature animals and concludes that the resulting accumulation of defenses against the disease enabled the emergence of complexity. In all evolving animal lineages ........ Read more »
M OCONNELL, & J MCINERNEY. (2005) Adaptive evolution of the human fatty acid synthase gene: Support for the cancer selection and fat utilization hypotheses?. Gene, 360(2), 151-159. DOI: 10.1016/j.gene.2005.06.020
If your man is rich you'll have a higher frequency of orgasms. At least if you're Chinese (not including Tibet and Hong Kong). Why is this interesting at all, except that it's about sex, which human find interesting in a of itself? Well, because we have no idea why women have orgasms in the first place. It pretty clear why, and notably when, men have orgasms, but no one really knows why women have them.Male income and height are were included to measure male quality, because both parameters have........ Read more »
T POLLET, & D NETTLE. (2009) Partner wealth predicts self-reported orgasm frequency in a sample of Chinese women. Evolution and Human Behavior. DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2008.11.002
A society so strange it changes what it means to be human. A culture so foreign that the ways which we know ourselves are altered. I no longer need to invoke aliens coming to Earth to imagine how one culture might find another extraterrestrial. The Pirahã will do.... Read more »
Everett, D. (2005) Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Piraha Another Look at the Design Features of Human Language. Current Anthropology, 46(4), 621-646. DOI: 10.1086/431525
This fantastic paper finally proves that plants are boring and animals are exciting. At least in the eyes of men.... Read more »
Elisabeth E Schussler and Lynn A Olzak. (2008) It’s not easy being green: student recall of plant and animal images. Journal of Biological Education, 42(3), 112-118. DOI: http://www.iob.org/userfiles/File/JBE_archive/JBE_42_3_Schussler(1).pdf
Pleiotropy is the effect of one gene affecting multiple traits, as when Drosophila genes are expressed in more than one place during embryogenesis. For a bunch of examples of that, seeRepression and loss of gene expression outpaces activation and gain in recently duplicated fly genes, Oakley, Østman, and Wilson, 2006, PNAS, 103, 11637.In my own work on computer simulations of epistatic interactions, it is clear that pleiotropy has the effect of changing the phenotype more per mutation than with........ Read more »
Herrel, Huyghe, Vanhooydonck, Backeljau, Breugelmans, Grbac, Van Damme, and Irschick. (2008) Rapid large-scale evolutionary divergence in morphology and performance associated with exploitation of a different dietary resource. PNAS, 105(12). DOI: http://www.pnas.org/content/105/12/4792.abstract?sid
This year, the term pleiotropy was defined 100 years ago, and Frank Stearns, graduate student at the University of Maryland biology graduate program has written a perspective in Genetics, which I highly recommend.... Read more »
Wang, Z., Liao, B., & Zhang, J. (2010) From the Cover: Genomic patterns of pleiotropy and the evolution of complexity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(42), 18034-18039. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1004666107
Chlorella vulgaris is an asexual, unicellular green alga. It has been observed in the laboratory to maintain unicellularity for thousands of generations. Boraas and his collaborators (1998) kept Chlorella for two decades in this way. Then they decided to add a predator, Ochromonas vallescia, also a unicellular organism. It has a flagellum (a tail with which it can swim about), and it eats Chlorella. This is bad news for the Chlorella population, which thus experiences a shift in selective pressu........ Read more »
MARTIN E. BORAAS, DIANNE B. SEALE, & JOSEPH E. BOXHORN. (1998) Phagotrophy by a flagellate selects for colonial prey: A possible origin of multicellularity. Evolutionary Ecology, 12(2), 153-164. DOI: 10.1023/A:1006527528063
Z. D. Blount, C. Z. Borland, & R. E. Lenski. (2008) Historical contingency and the evolution of a key innovation in an experimental population of Escherichia coli. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(23), 7899-7906. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0803151105
In treating malaria it is crucial to understand evolutionary dynamics. The problem with insecticides such as DDT is that it kills mosquitos (Anopheles) almost immediately after contact, and thus imposes very strong selection for resistance against the insecticide. The mosquitos evolve resistance within a few years, rendering the whole population immune and the insecticide worthless.... Read more »
Read, A., Lynch, P., & Thomas, M. (2009) How to Make Evolution-Proof Insecticides for Malaria Control. PLoS Biology, 7(4). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1000058
The American Society of Human Genetics has a quick little quiz on evolution. Unfortunately they get one question wrong about 'evolution' implying 'better' and 'more complex'.... Read more »
Claus O. Wilke, Jia Lan Wang, Charles Ofria, Richard E. Lenski, & Christoph Adami. (2001) Evolution of digital organisms at high mutation rates leads to survival of the flattest. Nature, 412(6844), 331-333. DOI: 10.1038/35085569
Languages simplify only in contact with non-native speakers. Perhaps this happened when humans interacted with hobbits?... Read more »
John McWhorter. (2008) Why does a language undress? Strange cases in Indonesia. Miestamo, Matti, Kaius Sinnemäki and Fred Karlsson (eds.), Language Complexity: Typology, contact, change. 2008. xiv, 356 pp., 167-190.
Rich Lenski's group published this paper in PLoS Computational Biology less than two weeks ago:Clune J, Misevic D, Ofria C, Lenski RE, Elena SF, Sanjuán, R. (2008). Natural Selection Fails to Optimize Mutation Rates for Long-Term Adaptation on Rugged Fitness Landscapes. PLoS Comput Biol 4(9). PLoS Computational Biology, 4 (9).In the Ph.D. program I'm in we are required to give a journal club talk once per semester (the result of which is that that's exactly how many we give), and I chose to do ........ Read more »
Clune J, Misevic D, Ofria C, Lenski RE, Elena SF, Sanjuán, R. (2008) Natural Selection Fails to Optimize Mutation Rates for Long-Term Adaptation on Rugged Fitness Landscapes. PLoS Comput Biol 4(9). PLoS Computational Biology, 4(9). DOI: http://www.ploscompbiol.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000187
Tianyulong confuciusi is a heterodontosaurid dinosaur, which lived in the Early Cretaceous period (144–99 million years ago). The holotype was unearthed in Liaoning Province, China, and is about is about 70 cm long, with a cranium that is 6 cm long.... Read more »
Zheng, X., You, H., Xu, X., & Dong, Z. (2009) An Early Cretaceous heterodontosaurid dinosaur with filamentous integumentary structures. Nature, 458(7236), 333-336. DOI: 10.1038/nature07856
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