October 15, 2014

3:07 PM | Life, um, finds a way
The LA Review of Books has just posted my review of Unnatural Selection: How We Are Changing Life, Gene By Gene—a highly accessible book about how insect pests, weeds, disease organisms, wildlife, and even cancer cells evolve in response to … Continue reading →
2:00 PM | Ebola: Why you should and shouldn’t be concerned
Over at Wired, this article does an excellent job summarizing why you should be concerned with Ebola in Africa, and maybe not worry about it as much in the US. Especially worth reading this quote here: “Ebola isn’t anywhere near as contagious as the flu, for example. Or measles, which is much more of a threat in the United […]
12:00 PM | Frankenstein Meets Genetic Modification
Biology concepts – Frankenstein, asystole, ethics, genetically modified organisms, genetically modified foods, synthetic biology, decomposers, electroconvulsive therapyMary Shelly was wedded to Lord Byron, one of the great poets of the early 19th century. But she was fair writer on her own. Note the bolts on the monster’s neck. These were added by make-up artist Jack P. Pierce. He said they were electrodes, not bolts, even though Mary Shelly never actually wrote that the good doctor […]

Goldstein, D. (2014). Tempest in a Tea Pot: How did the Public Conversation on Genetically Modified Crops Drift so far from the Facts?, Journal of Medical Toxicology, 10 (2) 194-201. DOI: 10.1007/s13181-014-0402-7

Tufarelli V & Laudadio V (2013). Genetically Modified Feeds in Poultry Diet: Safety, Performance and Product Quality., Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, PMID:

Van Eenennaam AL & Young AE (2014). Prevalence and impacts of genetically engineered feedstuffs on livestock populations., Journal of animal science, 92 (10) 4255-78. PMID:

Snell C, Bernheim A, Bergé JB, Kuntz M, Pascal G, Paris A & Ricroch AE (2012). Assessment of the health impact of GM plant diets in long-term and multigenerational animal feeding trials: a literature review., Food and chemical toxicology : an international journal published for the British Industrial Biological Research Association, 50 (3-4) 1134-48. PMID:

McCall WV, Andrade C & Sienaert P (2014). Searching for the mechanism(s) of ECT's therapeutic effect., The journal of ECT, 30 (2) 87-9. PMID:

3:53 AM | Two new flies to die for. Or not.
Cyanide: poison of choice for jilted lovers, mystery writers, and entomologists alike. But we’re not the only ones to employ this potent potable in our chemical arsenal; polydesmid millipedes have been defending themselves with cyanogenic compounds for millions of years. Of course, when one organism figures out a new way to protect itself using something [...]

October 14, 2014

2:45 PM | Food delivery by solar tricycle
Amsterdam - is there anything they won't try first? Here in the great Midwest new ideas are the things people in Seattle now yawn about. Foodlogica is using solar-powered cargo tricycles are providing an off-the-grid, green solution to local produce distribution replacing diesel powered delivery trucks. Yes, it's flat in the Netherlands, but it's flat here too. HT to Treehugger. 
2:28 PM | Improving science education in grade school
Research has shown that many kids begin to think science is dull, or just for smart kids, which means those who can memorize lots of stuff, or just for boys, way back in grade school. TPP remembers that his own F1 had the worst science/biology teacher in junior high, one who had the audacity to tell TPP that "plants just aren't very interesting"! And of course the "plants aren't interesting" meme is another huge problem in science education too. For all of these reasons, TPP is flogging […]
8:17 AM | The invisible hand of Jupiter
I’m note sure how I hadn’t come across this before (one need only read the Wikipedia entry “invisible hand”), but Adam Smith used the phrase “invisible hand” three times. It is used once in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and The Wealth of Nations (1776) – both of those I knew. The third time […]

October 13, 2014

6:46 PM | Job: Asst Prof of Computational Systems Biology at UC Riverside
The Department of Botany and Plant Sciences at the University of California, Riverside seeks outstanding candidates for an open Computational Systems Biologist position at the rank of Assistant Professor.
5:16 PM | Imperfect generalism in Darwin’s finches
[ This post is by Luis Fernando De León; I am just putting it up. –B. ]How species coexist in nature is one of the long-standing questions in evolutionary ecology. This is particularly relevant for understanding the process of adaptive radiation, which is thought to explain a large portion of the Earth’s biodiversity.Adaptive radiation often results in a large number of coexisting, closely-related species that share (or compete for) similar resources, environments, or […]
3:07 PM | That's a lot of stars; That's a lot of galaxies
Unless you've had a chance to get away from civilization, way away from civilization, you don't really know what the night time sky looks like because of light pollution. Years ago TPP found himself in the outback of northern Queensland at a quaint place called the 40-mile Scrub. So no lights, no clouds, no humidity, and it was amazing what you could see of this unfamiliar night sky. The scope of our galaxy and the universe it occupies is quite mind-boggling, the more so that this is […]
2:33 PM | Talk for UC Davis Pre-Health Meeting (#UCDPHSA): Opening up to Diversity
Sunday I gave a talk at the "12th National UC Davis Pre-Health Student Alliance Pre-Medical and Pre-Health Professions Conference".  I normally try to not give talks on weekends (to spend time with my family) but I made an exception here since this meeting has a strong commitment to issues relating to diversity in health and STEM fields.  This mission statement for the meeting reads:The UC Davis Pre-Health Student Alliance’s objective is to introduce and support academic, […]
1:57 PM | Birdbooker Report 342
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 […]
1:10 PM | The Plants That Died with the Dinosaurs
When a meteor impacted with the Earth 65 million years ago, it did more than jus...
12:32 AM | POTW 6
If you’re in the mood, go have a look at the new Problem of the Week. It’s a Shakespeare-themed alphametic this week, with bonus sonnet! It’s a bit more challenging than last week’s problem (a solution to which has now been posted at the above link), but still doable if you look at it right.…
12:21 AM | Sunday Chess Problem
The Spetember 2014 issue of The Problemist showed up in my mailbox this week. That’s the official magazine of the British Chess Problem Society, as I’m sure you’re aware. It included the problem below. It’s one of those delightful compositions that makes you wish you had thought it of it yourself. It was composed by…

October 12, 2014

7:59 PM | Bickerton: Round Two
A few years back Derek Bickerton published a book called Adam's Tongue which I reviewed in three posts (here, here and here). That book was disappointingly breezy, a lively account that made bold assertions and brushed objections aside with the...
5:11 PM | Maternal Inflammation during Pregnancy, Autism, & Big Brains
A paper published this month in Stem Cell Reports by Le Belle et al. out of UCLA suggests that maternal inflammation during pregnancy, such as occurs during an acute illness […]
2:02 PM | Human-made climate change, or climate change made humans?
We hear a lot in the news about accelerated climate change due to human activity, and for very good reasons. Just have a glance at the first half Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2014 report (IPCC 2014 Summary) if you want to know how we’ll all be affected by climate change in our own lifetimes. […]

October 11, 2014

9:56 PM | The geological setting of Fort Necessity, Pennsylvania
On July 3, 1754, colonial lieutenant Colonel George Washington fought and lost a small battle on this site in southwestern Pennsylvania. He and his 400 men had built this makeshift fort about a month before in anticipation of an attack by several hundred French soldiers and their Indian allies. The French were incensed at Washington […]
6:00 AM | Lazy analysis – inequality edition
Over at WSJ Real Time Economics, Josh Zumbrun turns the following chart into a claim that “the SAT is just another area in American life where economic inequality results in much more than just disparate incomes.” But what does the chart actually tell us? In a perfect meritocracy, the smartest students will score the highest. […]

October 10, 2014

11:47 PM | Skinks skinks skinks (part I)
Skinks (properly Scincidae… though read on) are one of the most successful of squamate groups, accounting for approximately 1500 species – in other words, for about 25% of all lizards. Skinks... -- Read more on
9:14 PM | Getting to the Root of Fur
First thing in the morning, my mind is on autopilot. I’m mostly relying on muscle memory to get …
9:07 PM | Metamorphosing insects biggest contributors to insect evolution
Originally posted on Science Post:Two new datasets on insect evolution have compiled by biologists, revealing that metamorphosing insects diversify more quickly than other insects and are therefore the biggest contributors to the evolution of insect diversity. Silver Washed Fritillary butterfly.Credit: Dr Peter Mayhew Both funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the first…
8:34 PM | 39,000 Year Old Cave Art from Sulawesi, Indonesia
Originally posted on by Kinez Riza This hand stencil was discovered in one of the caves of the Maros region of the island, Sulawesi in the 1950s. A paper published in Nature now describes the dating of the sediment on top of the stencil, which makes it more than 39,000 years old…
8:31 PM | Greek Bronze Age ended 100 years earlier than thought, new evidence suggests
Originally posted on Science Post:Conventional estimates for the collapse of the Aegean civilization may be incorrect by up to a century, according to new radiocarbon analyses. While historical chronologies traditionally place the end of the Greek Bronze Age at around 1025 BCE, this latest research suggests a date 70 to 100 years earlier. Archaeologists…
8:30 PM | The discovery of new bones from a large land mammal that lived about 48 million years ago has led scientists to identify a new branch of mammals closely related to modern horses, rhinos, and tapirs.
Originally posted on Science Post:Pictured here are two jaws from anthracobunids recovered from 48 million year old sediments next to a horse skull. The study found that anthracobunids were an ancient relative of horses, rhinos, and tapirs.Credit: Copyright Cooper Lab, NEOMED The discovery of new bones from a large land mammal that lived about…
8:21 PM | ‘X’ marks the spot: 1st evidence of Neanderthal rock art?
39,000-Year-Old Neanderthal Engraving Found in Gorham’s Cave Sep 24, 2014 by Archaeologists working in Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar have found what they believe is the first known example of Neanderthal rock art. Full Article Here Filed under: neanderthal Tagged: neanderthal. rock engraving, rock art
4:07 PM | When is a pumpkin not a pumpkin?
TPP knows where the pumpkin capital of the USA is located.  Morton, a little town right here in Lincolnland. And very few pumpkins are grown there. The reason for this is that the jack-o-lantern pumpkin is not the pumpkin of pies, and it never has been. Usually the news media get this wrong, so what a surprise to read a correct and well-informed article about pumpkins, in the HuffPo!  Jack-o-lantern pumpkins are a very watery fruit, not as watery as a tomato, but watery none the […]
2:31 PM | What we’re reading: QTLs of pine growth, climate-niche evolution, and the shape of Twitter conversations
In the journals Li Z., H.R. Hällingback, S. Abrahamsson, A Fries, B.A. Gull, M.J. Sillanpää and M.R. García-Gil. 2014. Functional multi-locus QTL mapping of temporal trends in Scots pine wood traits. G3: Genes | Genomes | Genetics. doi: 10.1534/g3.114.014068. Two … Continue reading →
8:43 AM | A week of links
Links this week: Plenty of press and interesting articles sparked by Peter Thiel’s new book. First, he has a swipe at business schools. And some great one-liners. But is he wrong about the future? Another tech-billionaire – Elon Musk wants to put people of Mars. But he doesn’t need one million people to get enough […]
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