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Posts

April 18, 2014

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1:00 PM | Science online, beards and shields edition
This week, at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! The life-history evolution behind basketball players' styles.And at The Molecular Ecologist: A new way to look for genetic targets of natural selection.Endless forms and whatnot. Here's an insect species in which females have stick an organ inside the males. But don't call it a penis.The future looks hungry. Famine in the age of global warming."I have a hobby that can kill people." And that hobby is running.The first step towards Hulk-based power […]
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11:36 AM | Upright walking: a long-standing debate (pt. v)
This week it’s the turn of the shoulder to get the long-standing debate treatment. It may not be obvious how changes in the anatomy of the upper limb are related to bipedalism and in fact that’s not really the point here. The most important thing to remember is that evolutionary theory states that features that […]
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11:30 AM | The biotech industry with Rob Carlson
In this interview, I speak to Dr. Rob Carlson, a Principal at Biodesic, an engineering and strategic consulting firm in Seattle that provides services to governments and corporations around the globe. At the broadest level, Dr. Carlson is interested in the future role of biology as a human technology. He is the author of the book Biology is Technology: The Promise, Peril, and New Business of Engineering Life, published in 2010 by Harvard University Press; it received the […]
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2:35 AM | Are You Blogging Fargo Episode 1?
Yes, dear. Man-o-man, that Billy Bob Thornton gets him some some good monologues goin’ there.  Example: “Your problem is you spent your whole life thinking there are rules.  There aren’t.  We used to be gorillas.  All we had was what we could take and defend.  Truth is, you’re more of a man than you were yesterday. . . It’s a red tide, Lester, this life of ours.  The shit they mak [...]
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2:09 AM | Walt Disney at Dawson Lake
This poem was written by James McGowan and read at a memorial service in celebration of this life.  In a real coincidence, Mrs. Phactor called the poem to my attention today, the day that the second stanza was observed for real by my taxonomy class out in the field (finally).  Enjoy it. Jim did.He's grab his sketch book              go in April, […]

April 17, 2014

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7:37 PM | Tiny Tyrannosaur Becomes Big News
Long before the Napoleon Complex became a common way to refer to those of us who are small but strong, the Nanuqsaurus hoglundi sauntered Alaska’s North Slope, unaware history would identify her as the smallest of the great tyrannosaurids.
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5:11 PM | Trust, But Verify
This falls squarely in the skepticism field here and it’s actually a shame that I feel compelled to write about it. But another life lesson on the value of skepticism is worth sharing. This time last year, I was building a house.  Well, I was mostly watching while work crews built it. I annoyed the […]
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5:11 PM | Spot the human artifact - on Mars!
Human artifacts are just so easy to distinguish from natural objects.  But still this is kind of cool.  See if you can spot the human artifact in this image of Mars' surface before you enlargen the image. It's just a human thing to do; leave a mark.
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3:56 PM | Identifying and quantifying fitness effects across loci
The following guest post by Ethan Jewett is cross-posted from the is cross-posted from the CEHG blog at Stanford. Enjoy! The degree to which similarities and differences among species are the result of natural selection, rather than genetic drift, is … Continue reading →
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3:33 PM | Much ado about very little: office art
Our local newspaper sounded the outrage about a relatively minor government official who bought “over $1000 of art” for their office.  Now there are several things wrong here, so let’s look at them in no particular order.  “Over $1000 of art” is obviously meant to enrage the taxpayer that so much of their money was spent on art.  The amount was actually something like $1027, yes, over $1000, but $1000? That’s not a lot of […]
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2:37 PM | “I know a tree”
MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–I met this particular tree in 2003 when searching for a good place to have lunch. Yoav said, “I know a tree”, and then we drove a half-hour to get to it. As you can tell, trees are not particularly common in Makhtesh Gadol. Now this acacia has served as a resting place […]
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1:58 AM | Science Can’t Explain…
This is one of my favorite arguments from creationists and other anti-science people. Science can’t explain x, therefore all science is wrong. or Science can’t explain x, therefore god… I mean… the designer/supernatural/alien cell biologists/whatever I have seen these arguments for decades. Most notably, the denizens of the Discovery Institute, in their various works, have used some […]

April 16, 2014

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4:53 PM | April Showers Bring Winter Soldiers
Last night was rainy and cold for April, and I was alone.  So after watching part of the first episode of Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish until 6:15 or so, I popped over to Lucky 32 for supper — smoked salmon and breaded , deep-fried balls of mashed potatoes.  I’m always saying to my students that there’s no such thing as perfection in this world, but that meal was pretty damned close.  Given the weather and my recent illnesses, I was definitely in the mood […]
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4:01 PM | The Negev wildflower post
MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–Today I worked in the Jurassic of Makhtesh Gadol and the Triassic of Makhtesh Ramon. A highlight was that I was joined by Yael Leshno, an Israeli master’s student on her way to a paleontology career. She was very good at finding crinoid parts in the Matmor Formation. Otherwise it was a dusty, […]
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3:29 PM | Global Engage Plant Genomics Meeting - Bring Your Y Chromosome Because they Don't Take XX - Calling for a Boycott of this Group
Saw this tweet earlier todayNot one woman: http://t.co/zU0uhELuvI. WTF— Female Scientist (@female_science) April 16, 2014And something seemed hauntingly familiar about the organization referenced.  Turns out this is not the first time they have had issues with Gender Balance.  So I respondedWell @female_science Global Engage does it again - I posted about their previous meeting gender ratio issues here http://t.co/8fIr2KZjTK— Jonathan Eisen (@phylogenomics) April 16, […]
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2:45 PM | Wordless Wednesday: Pouched Rat having a treat
This is a video recording of me introducing a new snack to the African Giant Pouched Rats (Cricetomys ansorgei) – fresh pumpkin seeds. This fellow really seems to like it. I’m super... -- Read more on ScientificAmerican.com
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2:42 PM | Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle | book review | @GrrlScientist
The third installment in a children's book series that follows the adventures of twin amateur sleuths who build several science-y spy gadgets to aid them in their quest to solve a mystery. The summer holidays are only two weeks along but 11-year-old Nick Holt already misses his parents. In Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith [Quirk Books, 2014; Amazon UK; Amazon US/kindle US], we learn that Nick is convinced that someone is spying on his twin […]
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1:17 PM | Journal Club: What’s old is new again: newly discovered songbird family is ancient
SUMMARY: Scientists analysing songbird DNA discovered that the spotted wren-babbler is neither a wren nor a wren-babbler, nor even a babbler. Instead, it represents an old evolutionary family that has no close living relatives. Spotted wren-babbler, Elachura formosa (previously Spelaeornis formosus). Image: Per Alström/SLU [doi:10.1098/rsbl.2013.1067]. A newly published study has uncovered a previously unknown family of songbirds that is represented by just one species. After analyzing one […]

Alström P., Hooper D.M., Liu Y., Olsson U., Mohan D., Gelang M., Hung L.M., Zhao J., Lei F. & Price T.D. & (2014). Discovery of a relict lineage and monotypic family of passerine birds, Biology Letters, 10 (3) DOI:

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12:00 PM | Using Pain To Stop Pain
Biology concepts – desensitization, habituation, counter irritation, cautery, heat sensing, pain, chronic, acute, analgesiaGout usually attacks middle-aged men and the big toe joint is a favorite spot. But it can occur anywhere and in anyone. The accretions or urates build up and clog the joint, causng poor function and intense pain, painful enough that even the weight of a sheet on it at night is too much. Usually the acute attacks are far worse, and become less painful gouty arthritisas […]

Andreev YA, Kozlov SA, Korolkova YV, Dyachenko IA, Bondarenko DA, Skobtsov DI, Murashev AN, Kotova PD, Rogachevskaja OA, Kabanova NV & Kolesnikov SS (2013). Polypeptide modulators of TRPV1 produce analgesia without hyperthermia., Marine drugs, 11 (12) 5100-15. PMID:

Tobaldini G, de Siqueira BA, Lima MM, Tambeli CH & Fischer L (2014). Ascending nociceptive control contributes to the anti-nociceptive effect of acupuncture in a rat model of acute pain., The journal of pain : official journal of the American Pain Society, PMID:

Lee MG, Huh BK, Choi SS, Lee DK, Lim BG & Lee M (2012). The effect of epidural resiniferatoxin in the neuropathic pain rat model., Pain physician, 15 (4) 287-96. PMID:

Kelly S, Chapman RJ, Woodhams S, Sagar DR, Turner J, Burston JJ, Bullock C, Paton K, Huang J, Wong A & McWilliams DF (2013). Increased function of pronociceptive TRPV1 at the level of the joint in a rat model of osteoarthritis pain., Annals of the rheumatic diseases, PMID:

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11:17 AM | New agricultural trends to feed the world
The agriculture sector needs to double food production by 2050 to meet growing global populations – a tremendous feat considering the challenges posed by climate change, water shortage and how the increase in farming land is not catching up with demand. That’s why scientists are up to their ears looking for ways to sustainably increase production of crops capable of withstanding different environmental stresses.  Read more
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1:49 AM | Tiny Microbe Instigated Huge Permian Extinction
The Permian mass extinction coincided with the timing of a disruption in the Earth’s carbon cycle - but what, or who, played a part in the die-out?
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12:57 AM | Iowan proclaimation calls for prayer and humble repentance
Dear Pastor Grandstand (Branstad or something like that), Thank you for your invitation to join in thoughtful prayer and humble repentance, but for what exactly?  Yes, your proclamation was for Iowa, but surely it would still count just across the river, or is the God you mention a small one?  Is repentance necessary because Iowa has been wicked? But no, you say our nation has “fallen from her intended purpose”?  Hmm, TPP didn’t even know our […]

April 15, 2014

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8:41 PM | Highlights from the Keystone Symposium on Stem Cells & Reprogramming
I recently attended the joint Keystone Symposium “Stem Cells & Reprogramming” and “Engineering Cell Fate & Function” at the beautiful Resort at Squaw Creek. In addition to gorgeous weather, there was an amazing lineup of talks demonstrating the power and promise of stem cells and cell/tissue engineering. Here are just a few of the highlights from the meetings:  … Read more
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5:14 PM | NBA and WNBA players perform differently with age
Life-history traits are often shaped by a balance between somatic maintenance and reproductive investment. That is, an individual wants their own cells to be active, but also needs to invest in making offspring. This tension between natural and sexual selection can generate age-related physiological trajectories that differ between organisms, environments and populations. In simpler terms, […]

Lailvaux S.P., Wilson R. & Kasumovic M.M. (2014). Trait comparison and sex-specific aging of performance in male and female professional basketball players, Evolution, DOI:

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4:59 PM | Ferns have it made in the shade
Here's a great bit of research just reported by my colleague Emily over at the No seeds, no fruits, no flowers: no problem blog.  Everyone knows that ferns grow well in the deep forest shade, but this is no easy trick because that leaf canopy overhead captures most of the sunlight, especially at the blue end of the spectrum. Ferns have a neochrome pigment that allows them to use both red and blue light more efficiently.  This isn't news in and of itself, but the real news is […]
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3:27 PM | Return to the Jurassic Paradise of Makhtesh Gadol
MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–This week I’m back in Makhtesh Gadol, that great bowl of Jurassic delights. This is the most extensive exposure of marine Jurassic rocks in southern Israel, and it is highly fossiliferous. This is just a brief report. I’ll summarize the latest finds and ideas later. Today I spent most my time sitting on […]
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1:32 PM | PostDoc position for a forest modeller with stats knowledge in our lab
We are looking for candidates to fill a 3-yr postdoc position in our lab. The plan is to use Bayesian statistics to connected a process-based forest model to data, and use the fitted models to test the effect of functional diversity on ecosystem responses and community stability. Details here or via NatureJobs.
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11:38 AM | Pupfish on the adaptive landscape, or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the cable tie
[ This post is by Christopher Martin; I am just putting it up.  –B. ]Like most evolutionary biologists, when I think of evolution I imagine rugged mountain landscapes, as Carl Zimmer eloquently introduced the concept of the adaptive landscape. Try to imagine a vast landscape connecting the phenotypes of all organisms where spatial location indicates a particular phenotype and the terrain – the height at any particular location – corresponds to the fitness of each […]
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10:28 AM | OpenSciLogs – A Glimpse of the Future of Science Blogging
Guest blog post by Paige Brown, SciLogs.com blogging manager and Ph.D. student in the Manship School of Mass Communication, Louisiana State University.  Read more
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12:19 AM | Events
Grab your calendar, plan ahead — biotech events through June, including the annual BIO Convention.  Read more
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