Life Sciences

You can read this book review, or you can just go HERE and listen to our interview with author Christie Wilcox. I promise you in advance that you will want to read her book! But, if you want to read the book review, here it is... Did you ever do anything that hurt, then you had to do it again and you knew it would still hurt, and you didn't like that? Like getting your teeth cleaned, or licking a nine volt battery. OK, maybe you didn't have to lick the nine volt battery, but you get my point. When I was working in the Ituri Forest, in the Congo, taking a walk in the forest was one of…
                      E. coli, from Wikipedia commons We've been expecting it, and now it's here. Yesterday, two article were released showing that MCR-1, the plasmid-associated gene that provides resistance to the antibiotic colistin, has been found in the United States. And not just in one place, but in two distinct cases: a woman with a urinary tract infection (UTI) in Pennsylvania, reported in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, and a positive sample taken from a pig's intestine as part of the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS), which tracks…
The Michigan Physiological Society, a chapter of the American Physiological Society, held their 3rd annual meeting last week. As mentioned in a prior post, the keynote address was given by Comparative Physiologist Dr. Hannah Carey (University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine). You can read about her research in the prior post. Here are other highlights from the meeting: Seminars: Photo of crayfish by "Krebse in Österreich", own work, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=858592 ...or as I prefer to view them: Image of crayfish dinner By Игоревич (Own work…
The trick to understanding evolution is less about finding good answer to questions, but rather, finding good questions to answer. Read that sentence twice, because it is very important. Years ago, Niko Tinbergen developed a method of formulating questions about biology. I'm pretty sure the Tinbergenian method has not been integrated into most science standards and teaching curriculum. It should be. There are four types of questions one could formulate about a biological system, trait, or observation. 1) Mechanistic. How does this thing work? What cellular processes are involved in a…
In January, Hillary Clinton still possessed the benefit of the doubt. Memories of her and Bill snarling at Barack Obama in 2008 had faded, and despite her long and dreadful record, it's always possible to turn over a new leaf. But Clinton's ongoing response to Bernie Sanders shows why she is unfit for the presidency. Even as the frontrunner, Hillary shows no leadership ability; she, too, follows Sanders, trailing him to the left as he takes meaningful positions on issues like income inequality and campaign finance reform. Her saccharine smile says "I can do that too!" but truly she should be…
There are three kinds of books that count as animal (usually bird) guides. 1) A pocket field guide of the critters of a reasonably circumscribed geographical area, like the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America. This is a small book that can fit in a big pocket, and a classic guide like this one is something you'll want to have with you while bird watching in the eastern or central US. 2) A big book, not suitable for pockets, of the critters of a reasonably circumscribed geographical area. A great example of this is The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds . It…
Robin Loznak This morning, I read a pile of bullshit about Tyson written by an anti-intellectual reverse-snob -- he thinks he should be proud of being so blatantly pro-mystery and anti-science. Neil deGrasse Tyson is, supposedly, an educator and a populariser of science; it’s his job to excite people about the mysteries of the universe, communicate information, and correct popular misconceptions. This is a noble, arduous, and thankless job, which might be why he doesn’t do it. What he actually does is make the universe boring, tell people things that they already know, and dispel…
Would it surprise you to learn that the top movie at the North American box office, a computer-animated family film made for children, is a nakedly racist allegory, a celebration of the urban police state, and an insult to the entire animal kingdom and the natural world at large? The premise of Zootopia is simple: a country bunny named Judy (yes, she's a rabbit) leaves her parents and her hundreds of siblings behind for a life in the big city. The difference between rural and urban living is the first ugly dichotomy the film establishes: farming carrots with your family is framed as a dead-…
The 1844 bridal chest that my great granddad donated to the Nordic Museum in 1940. I've decided that although immigration and refugees are important political issues, I've been reading too much about them lately. Redistribution of wealth and flattening the pyramid is even more important. Because wealth equals power. I don't give a damn about the US primaries. A brother of Queen Euphemia of Norway was Bishop of Cammin, whose cathedral is famous for a Danish casket from about AD 1000, decorated with Mammen style animal art. The surname Garfunkel means "carbuncle, garnet" and is thus…
If there's one thing I've learned over the last decade-plus of blogging about medicine and alternative medicine, it's that any time there is an outbreak or pandemic of infectious disease, there will inevitably follow major conspiracy theories about it. It happened during the H1N1 pandemic in the 2009-2010 influenza season, the Ebola outbreak in late 2014, and the Disneyland measles outbreak last year, when cranks of many stripes claimed that either the outbreaks themselves were due to conspiracies (usually, but not limited to, conspiracies to promote the "depopulation" vaccination agenda of—…
Manufacturers who market their products as “BPA-free” aren’t just sending consumers a message about chemical composition. The underlying message is about safety — as in, this product is safe or least more safe than products that do contain BPA. However earlier this month, another study found that a common BPA alternative — BPS — may not be safer at all. “BPS works very similarly to BPA,” said Nancy Wayne, a reproductive endocrinologist and professor of physiology at the University of California-Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine. “We’re not the first to show this, but what’s captured…
Larry Moran has heard the words of Michael Denton, and has come away with a creationist interpretation of structuralism. I have to explain to Larry that Denton, as you might expect of a creationist, is distorting the whole idea. Here's the Denton/Intelligent Design creationism version of structuralist theory. As Denton says, the basic idea is that the form (structure) of modern organisms is a property of the laws of physics and chemistry and not something that evolution discovered. He would argue that if you replay the tape of life you will always get species that look pretty much like the…
On The Pump Handle, Liz Borkowski reports another crack in one of the pillars of modern life—antibiotics. New research in China shows that a family of bacteria called Enterobacteriaceae (which includes E. coli and Salmonella) have acquired a gene that provides resistance to a last-resort antibiotic known as Colistin. These species of bacteria do not have to evolve resistance individually—in fact, they can trade antibiotic-resistant genes with one another using "transmissible pieces of DNA–plasmids, transposons, phage." As Tara Smith writes, "Since the development of penicillin, we have been…
Once upon a time, deep in the Precambrian, this was the planet of worms. Well, actually, this was, is, and always will be the planet of bacteria, but if you filter your perspective to just organisms above a particular size, and if you're an animal writing about it in the modern day with a chauvinistic attitude that allows you to ignore that it was also a planet of algae, that would become a planet of plants, on a world that also is built of soil formed by lichens and saturated with fungus…if you ignore all that, OK, it was a planet of worms. Late in the Precambrian, the oceans were full of…
It's my first completely free day of Christmas break! Grades are all submitted, nothing is hanging over my head, but I still got up at 5:30am and needed to do something, so I learned about spider gastrulation. This was a disgraceful gap in my knowledge -- I've worked on insects and on vertebrates, and am fairly familiar with gastrulation in those kinds of organisms, but one thing I did know is that there's a lot of variation in the details of gastrulation, so every new clade seems to exhibit some novel way of tucking cells in to the early embryo. Spiders do it in a cool way. There are…
A couple of years ago, I wrote a rebuttal to a crackpot claim for the origin of humans, which I called the MFAP Hypothesis. "MFAP" is short for "monkey fucked a pig", which actually pretty much summarizes the whole idea. Eugene McCarthy (no, not that Eugene McCarthy) assembled a list of superficial similarities between humans and pigs -- hairlessness, protruding noses, "snuggling", that sort of thing -- and concluded that a miscellany of appearances overwhelmed the actual genetic relationships and the absence of a feasible genetic mechanism to permit human-porcine hybridization to lead to the…
Davies is up to his same old nonsense again: he's in Australia, lecturing people about his theory of the causes of cancer. Seven years ago, the National Cancer Institute in the US asked Professor Davies to use his insight as a physicist to look at cancer. His conclusion is that most cancer biologists are thinking about the problem the wrong way. Rather than treat cancer as a disease of cell mutation, he and his colleague Dr Charley Lineweaver at the Australian National University have developed what they say is a new theory of cancer that traces its origins to the dawn of multicellular life…
This is a review of The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution. Don Prothero Fossils are cool. Why? Two very big and complex reasons. First, fossils allow us to reconstruct species that don’t exist any more. This is usually done by studying species that do exist, and using the information we glean from living things to interpret the details of the fossil species, giving it life. Second, fossils tell us about evolutionary change, both by showing us what evolutionary events happened that we would not be able to see in living species, and…
Here we look mainly at bird books, but I wanted to also mention a couple of other items on non-birds. I've mixed in some new books along with a few other books that have come out over the last couple of years, but that are still very current, very amazing books, and since they have been out for a while, may in some cases be picked up used or otherwise less expensively. Let's start with the least-bird like book, one that will be a must have for anyone traveling to or studying Africa. This is The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals: Second edition. This is a newly produced edition of this…
So, a funny story about this. I posted a snippet of a fantasy story back in August, and enough people said nice things about it that I actually got off my ass and did some playing around to format the full story as an epub. This was, of course, complicated by the fact that computers are awful, but I think I finally got a version that doesn't have gibberish characters all over. At least, as long as you're not using the worthless free epub reader I initially downloaded, which makes a hash of even actual purchased professional ebook files. I was all set to post that-- had the post all typed in,…