The Loom

Archives for December, 2003

William Safire’s 2004 Predictions

Number seven

Why The Cousins Are Gone

They say that history is written by the winners, but if that’s true, then natural history is written by those who can write. Our ancestors split from the ancestors of chimpanzees some 6 or 7 million years ago, and since then they’ve given rise to perhaps twenty known species of hominids (and potentially many more…

Mad Cow Memories

I can already see the grim look many Americans will have as they chew on their Christmas roast tomorrow. They’ll be thinking about yesterday’s report that a cow in Washington state tested positive for mad cow disease. There’s some comfort in knowing that so far it’s just a single cow, and that American cattle are…

Your Loss is Your Gain

Evolution isn’t simply about the genes you gain. It’s also about the genes you lose. The word loss has a painful, grieving sound to human ears, and so it can be hard to see how it can have anything to do with the rise of diversity and complexity in life. And until recently, evolutionary biologists…

A Little Soul For The Holidays

I will never figure out the publishing world. My new book, Soul Made Flesh officially publishes on January 6, 2004. But Amazon and Powell’s both say they’ve got it now and can get it to customers in 1-2 days. I guess time isn’t what it used to be. I have put some early reviews on…

Hamilton’s Fall

Just before the winter solstice brings autumn to an end, here’s a chance to blog about the great evolutionary biologist–and student of fall foliage–William Hamilton. Hamilton, who died in 2000, has never reached the household-name status of other evolutionary biologists such as E.O. Wilson or Richard Dawkins or Stephen Jay Gould. But he deserves a…

The Genes Behind Big Brains

Here’s a new development in the search I described last week for the genes that make us uniquely human. Science’s Michael Balter reports on a new study about a gene that’s crucial for making big brains. Mutant versions of the gene produce people with tiny brains–about the size that Lucy had 3.5 million years ago.…

Reading the Body

Darwin’s spirit lives on in everything from the Human Genome Project to medicine to conservation biology–the three topics I covered in my post on Friday. It also lives on in brain scans. While Darwin is best known for The Origin of Species, he also wrote a lot of books in later years, most of which…

To those who are new to my web log, thanks for checking it out. To those who have come from my old site, thanks for clicking through. This week, while a sickly laptop robbed me of the opportunity to blog, a steady stream of interesting papers were published. Three struck me as particularly fascinating, because…

Eight Little Piggies Redux

In a post last month, I pointed out how aerospace engineers can learn a lot from looking at the fossils of ancient flying reptiles. Today’s issue of Nature contains a variation on that theme: ancient swimming reptiles can teach geneticists a lot as well. Almost all humans have five fingers. Genetic disorders can produce extra…