August 28, 2014

4:16 PM | Hawk moths in action, and how biologists study them
As a follow-up to CJ’s post about hummingbird moths—more generally known as hawk moths—let me recommend this episode of Plants are Cool, Too, which features the work of Chicago Botanic Garden conservation scientist Krissa Skogen. At White Sands National Monument, Skogen tracks the nectar rewards that attract hawk moths, and how far the moths carry […]
11:37 AM | Twin studies stand up to the critique, again
The history of twin studies is littered with attempts to discredit them – such as this bit of rubbish. Yet every challenge has been met, with a couple of newish studies knocking off another. The basic idea of twin studies is that by comparing the similarity of fraternal twins to the similarity of identical twins, you can […]
7:01 AM | Dynasty of the Plastic Fishapods
[This is the original, unedited text of my shorter, tighter (and I think actually better) News & Views piece for Nature, on the paper described below) Ambitious experimental and morphological studies of a modern fish show how a flexible phenotype may have helped early “fishapods” to make the long transition from finned aquatic animals into […]
7:01 AM | Crustacean Group is Older Than Paleontologists Previously Thought
Paleontologists had thought thylacocephalans dated back to the Jurassic period - 200 million years ago - but a new discovery says otherwise.
6:07 AM | The Greatest Chess Tournament in the History of Chess Tournaments
The start of the school year, coupled with the looming deadline for the book I’m coediting, has left little time for blogging. I do, however, feel compelled to point out that six of the world’s top ten chess players have gathered in St. Louis for what is arguably the greatest chess tournament in the history…
4:03 AM | Postdoc positions at Duke University & MMTP
Postdoc positions in the Heitman lab and through the Molecular Mycology Training Program at Duke University, NC State, and University of North Carolina are available as of December 1, 2014. The Heitman lab at Duke University is seeking Postdoctoral Fellow applicants. The lab focuses on molecular determinants of development and virulence in the pathogenic basidiomycetes Cryptococcus neoformans and Cryptococcus […]
4:03 AM | Carnival of Evolution #74
Well, it’s a couple of weeks late, but Carnival of Evolution #74 is now out.  Our contribution was Craig Benkman’s fascinating post about “A small mammal with an outsized impact”.  With more than 500 views already, it’s one of our most popular posts ever, and deservedly so.  So if you haven’t read it, check it out!  There are lots of other goodies in the carnival; I was very interested in the discussion of ring species by Jerry Coyne, for […]
2:54 AM | THE Darwin Fish.
Looks like this guy: Is the cartoon version of this guy: It walks. It breathes air. And apparently it can adapt to terrestrial life relatively “easily”. The scientists raised groups of bichir on land for eight months to find out how they would differ from bichir raised in the water. They found that the land-raised fish […]
2:48 AM | Notes from a quantum mechanics boot camp: day 1
I have the good fortune of attending this year’s Nordita workshop for science writers, which is focused on quantum mechanics. …Continue reading →

August 27, 2014

9:51 PM | Toward an Isopach Map of the Cedar Creek Mastodon Bog
Wooster’s Climate Change class is starting the semester by  coring a bog adjacent to a recent Mastodon find in Morrow County, Ohio. The Mastodon work and related excavation is being led by Nigel Brush, University of Ashland.  Above is a photo (courtesy of Nigel Brush) of the original mastodon tooth find. After a fairly extensive […]
2:00 PM | Look there, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a moth! It’s a…. hummingbird moth?
Last week NPR posted an excellent article about what can only be the coolest pollinator. Ever. “like a flip-flop that doubles as a beer bottle opener; an optical illusion; a labradoodle; a frenemy, the hummingbird moth falls into that cryptic category of transformers in life that are more than one thing” – Linton Weeks ” […]
12:25 PM | Let’s Chew The Fat
Biology concepts – lipid, saturation, fruit, vegetable, drupe, berry, mesocarp, cotyledon, tuber, fatty acid, triglyceride To try and get blood from a stone dates back to the 1600’s, meaning to try and do the impossible. It was first used in a book by Giovanni Toriano called The Second Alphabet. As far as the turnip goes, it may relate to a story in the Bible of Cain and Abel making sacrifices – one a vegetable and one an animal. The vegetable sacrifice was not as appropriate […]

Carvajal-Zarrabal O, Nolasco-Hipolito C, Aguilar-Uscanga MG, Melo Santiesteban G, Hayward-Jones PM & Barradas-Dermitz DM (2014). Effect of dietary intake of avocado oil and olive oil on biochemical markers of liver function in sucrose-fed rats., BioMed research international, 2014 595479. PMID:

Musa SH, Basri M, Masoumi HR, Karjiban RA, Malek EA, Basri H & Shamsuddin AF (2013). Formulation optimization of palm kernel oil esters nanoemulsion-loaded with chloramphenicol suitable for meningitis treatment., Colloids and surfaces. B, Biointerfaces, 112 113-9. PMID:

Editor's Pick
9:42 AM | Eggcellent citizen science: evolution of camouflage in bird eggs | @GrrlScientist
How an online video game relies on citizen scientists to test the evolution of avian egg camouflage colours and patterns.Ive been enviously following the events at the recent International Ornithological Congress, held in Tokyo, Japan. One of the many interesting things that I ran across in my communications with the congress attendees was an online video game that challenges the viewer to spot a camouflaged bird egg in a short period of time. This video game, which is entertaining and rather […]
7:52 AM | Slay the syllabus!
Now that TPP’s academic alter ego has retired is it time for TPP to stop pointing out the absurdities of higher education?  Nah! Nada! Not a chance! So how nice is this that a columnist at Slate has taken a major swing at that evil monster – the syllabus. Yes, these days a syllabus is treated by many students and virtually all administrators, both being just about equally distant from any real vision of education, as a contract, and TPP totally agrees that this is a sign […]

August 26, 2014

4:00 PM | Overselling the Microbiome Award: The Microbiome Diet Book
Well, umm, I do not know what to say: The Microbiome Diet: The Scientifically Proven Way to Restore Your Gut Health and Achieve Permanent Weight Loss: Raphael Kellman MD: 9780738217659: Books.  I got pointed to this book by Dorothy Timmermans and she wondered if this was a case of "overselling the microbiome" or not.  I guess I don't know because I have not read the book.  Nor will I most likely.  But I think almost certainly it is a case of "Overselling the […]
2:40 PM | The #IcedBudgetChallenge: Tell Congress to thaw out funding for NSF and NIH!
So a friend nominated me in this viral scheme to raise funds for ALS research, about which you may have heard lately. I’m all in favor of finding a cure for ALS—my grandfather died of it—but I’m also pretty skeptical … Continue reading →
2:24 PM | The #IceBucketChallenge, with a twist
I was nominated in this viral fundraising scheme you may have heard about, and I did it my way.
2:00 PM | The #IceBucketChallenge, and iced-up budgets for scientific research
Well, it had to happen some time, I guess. A friend tagged me on Facebook in the “ice bucket challenge” to raise funds for the ALS Association. It’s gone massively viral: post a video of yourself getting soaked in ice water, donate to ALSA, and nominate more folks to do the same. So far, it’s […]
10:32 AM | Statistics workshop
A quick note here to say that I shall be helping my PhD supervisor, Luc Bussière, teach a week-long workshop entitled ‘Advancing in R’ at the SCENE field station (on the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond) in December. The course is aimed at biologists who have a basic to moderate knowledge of using R […]
10:14 AM | Botanical Geek Tour - Italian edition continues
Our Italian Botanical Geek Tour continues with a changing cast of characters, some not so garden oriented, so the Phactors soldiered on to visit the Giardino Boboli and Giardino Bardini, which are right next to each other, almost.  Both gardens are of the formal nature, and in places both provide panoramic views of Florence, especially Bardini.  Giardino Boboli is the formal gardens behind the Palazzo Pitti.  From the Palazzo entry, the Boboli is all up, and fairly steep; it has […]

August 25, 2014

10:54 PM | Nuthatch Empire
Today I’d like to focus on passerine birds again, and this time on a group that I don’t think I’ve ever blogged about before: the certhioids. Scrap that. This article ended up being devoted entirely... -- Read more on
10:51 PM | The Agricultural Bioscience International Conference #ABIC2014 run by @ABICFoundation: where you can hear lots of talks by men #YAMMM
Well, here is this week's YAMMM (yet another mostly male meeting) alert: The Agricultural Bioscience International Conference in Saskatchewan.Male Speakers: 40Female speakers 4Marc AlbertsenRobert CarberryDavid FischhoffMaurice MoloneyFrédéric SeppeyJuliana AlexandreTom CarratoMichael FrodymaCarlo MontemagnoTim SharbelSimon BarberDavid ChalackRichard GrayGiuseppe NataleRoman SzumskiRoger BeachyRaju DatlaWayne HunterMatthew O'MaraAlbert VandenbergSuzanne BertrandSwapan […]
1:55 PM | Requiescat: Richard Attenborough
Richard Attenborough died Sunday, aged 90. Most of my generation probably know him best for Jurassic Park, but I’ve always favored his role as the mastermind of the Great Escape:
1:32 PM | Birdbooker Report 334-5
SUMMARY: Books, books, beautiful books! This is a list of biology, ecology, environment, natural history and animal books that are (or will soon be) available to occupy your bookshelves and your thoughts. “Words in leather and wood”. Bookshelves in the “Long Room” at the old Trinity College Library in Dublin. Image: Nic McPhee from Morris, MN, USA. 2007. (Creative Commons.) Books to the ceiling, Books to the sky, My pile of books is a mile high. How I love them!... Read […]
12:34 PM | The Need for Speed Constrains Evolution in Mammals
Despite the seemingly limitless potential of mutation and selection, evolution i...
11:55 AM | Toyota, WSJ, and Computers: An Update
Back in 2010, I wrote about the sudden unintended acceleration problem (SUAP in the earlier article here, UA in the source I’m about to link) in various Toyota vehicles. Drivers would find their cars accelerating out of their control and braking was unresponsive. People died. Survivors spoke of their unsuccessful attempts to get their car […]
9:07 AM | Classic Italian botany
Here’s some historical Italian botany; an illustration by Jacopo Ligozzi on display in the Palazzo Pitti and photographed without flash in keeping with museum policy.  Always impressed by how well this camera does in low light conditions. The interesting thing is that this lovely illustration (ca. 1577-1567) of mandrake (Mandragora autumnalis – Nightshade family) is pretty accurate (flowers aren't quite right) while illustrations of an earlier era portrayed this famous toxic […]

August 24, 2014

5:00 PM | Extinction Level Events
I spent 5 days in Washington, D.C. last week with my family. We biked the mall to see the various monuments. We selectively toured some Smithsonia (or is it Smithsonians?); check the Facebook page for that album, including the Hall of Human Origins exhibit. We hadn’t really inherited anything recently, so we slept on the floor of one of my wife’s grad school buddies. Oh, and my son attended the World Pokemon Championships, not as a contestant, but as a fanboy […]
2:54 PM | Organisms before questions: a case for restructuring talks at academic conferences
I’m a relatively novice conference-goer, having been to a total of five conferences in my time in academia. Three were when I was an undergrad, and found everything interesting. Two have been as a third/fourth year grad student, where I’ve … Continue reading →

August 23, 2014

10:44 AM | True Facts About Marsupials | @GrrlScientist
A snarky caturday video by ZeFrank, who spoofs Morgan Freeman talking about Australias marsupials Just in time for Caturday! Fans of the talented Morgan Freeman, the witty ZeFrank and of course, all of the worlds amazing animals, can indulge all three passions at the same time in this delightful, and somewhat irreverent, video that shares (some) facts about (some) Australian marsupials. Continue reading...
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