Life Sciences

The Saltsjöbaden Co-Ed celebrates 100 years with an open house. I've been here only once since graduation a quarter of a century ago. I just saw toilet roll draped over a tree for the first time since 1977 when I lived in Connecticut. Hallowe'en has recently been imported into Swedish culture. It's brought the tricks with it. Is somebody going to cover my dad's car in shaving foam again? Lack of sunlight is a cause of vitamin D deficiency. It is also a cause of seasonal depression. Now I'm seeing vitamin D touted as a folk remedy against seasonal depression. This is like trying to clear…
I'm a clinician, but I'm actually also a translational scientist. It's not uncommon for those of us in medicine involved in some combination of basic and clinical research to argue about exactly what that means. The idea is translational science is supposed to be the process of "translating" basic science discoveries into the laboratory into medicine, be it in the form of drugs, treatments, surgical procedures, laboratory tests, diagnostic tests, or anything else that physicians use to diagnose and treat human disease. Trying to straddle the two worlds, to turn discoveries in basic science…
“It says here that a bolt of lightning is going to strike the clock tower at precisely 10:04 p.m. next Saturday night! If... If we could somehow harness this lightning... channel it into the flux capacitor... it just might work. Next Saturday night, we're sending you back to the future! ” –Doc Brown, Back to the Future What a week it's been here at Starts With A Bang, and little do you know it, but I've got something special cooked up for the end of the month! In the meantime, here's what we've covered this past, fun-filled week: What did the sky look like when Earth first formed? (for Ask…
Stop me if you've heard this one before: yet another creationist has disproved evolution. This one has a site called creationdino.blogspot.com -- he thinks dinosaurs are evidence against evolution -- and calls himself "@BeholdBeast" on Twitter, and is actually named David Wilson. He thinks he has an undeniable proof that evolution did not occur. His claim is that there ought to be more fossils of failed mutations than successful ones. For evolution to be a viable hypothesis, it must have the element of mutation playing a vast and critical role. Mutation is a chaotic - random - process.…
Sensible people understand that there is little connection between belief in God and moral conduct. As has wisely been noted, with or without religion good people will do good, and evil people will do evil. On the other hand, we could survey the nations of the world and note a strong inverse correlation between the level of religiosity in a society and its level of morality and basic decency. The least religious nations in the world are among the most socially conscious and morally decent on earth. The most evil and despotic are also the most theocratic. Nor is it hard to fathom a…
The Intelligent Design Creationists are always getting annoyed at the third word in that label -- they're not creationists, they insist, but something completely different. They're scientists, they think. They're just scientists who favor a different explanation for the diversity of life on Earth than those horrible Darwinist notions. But of course, everything about them just affirms that they're simply jumped-up creationists with airs, from their founding by an evangelical Christian, Phillip Johnson, to their crop of fellows like Paul Nelson and William Dembski, who happily profess their…
I got up all bleary-eyed this morning, and before I got my first sip of coffee, the first thing I saw, blasted across Twitter and all the popular news sites, was the news that a new species of human, Homo naledi has been discovered in South Africa. They have the partial skeletons of 15 different individuals, over 1500 bones, all recovered from a single cave. They're calling it a new and unique species, and further, they're claiming that the site is a ritual burial chamber. Whoa. Brain is whirling. This thing is all over the net, over night. Better drink more coffee. OK, that's better. I'm a…
The Upside Down World I often get requests from students to answer questions about biology -- typically, they've been told to write to a scientist and get a response, and somehow they've picked me. I try to answer them, but due to the number of requests, I usually only give brief answers. Here's an example: Dear PZ Meyers, Yeah, I know. Somehow my name is impossible to spell correctly. I'm resigned to it and just let it slide nowadays. My name is XXXX and I'm a 19-year-old junior in college. Now this part was a little weird. They're a college junior…but the questions are more like what I…
Alaska is being called the poster child (state?) for climate change because things have been so strange there lately. One reason for this is the extreme warm conditions in the North Pacific and associated (probably) changes in the jet stream, as well as overall warming, which has caused coastal Alaska to become a warm place, glaciers to melt, and (in the farther north) sea ice to be less. And now, President Obama has made a trip there and given a big speech. President Obama's speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvIrlaXU28A More information on the President's trip here. Meanwhile,…
August 13th was Earth Overshoot Day. The correct date, if calculated precisely, would come earlier and earlier each year, the current choice is just an approximation. This year, the year 2015, by sometime around August 13th, humanity had consumed as much of what we require from the lands and seas as our planet can sustainabley provide in an entire year. That is another way of expressing the fact that at current consumption rates, humanity requires 1.6 planet earth's worth of fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, wood and other organic materials. It is a remarkable annual deficit, and if it is…
Another new study published in Nature Communications shows follows along with the prior post and shows that ancestral dogs were ambush hunters that evolved from forest dwelling animals similar to a mongoose (or a cat).  These early ancestors to dogs were ambush predators. The image shows Hesperocyon (left) and later Sunkahetanka (right). Image from Discovery News, by Mauricio Anton An international team of researchers studied archived samples of elbows and teeth of multiple species of dogs that lived between 40 - 2 million years ago. According to a quote from …
I'm a bit shell-shocked today -- man, that was a long drive yesterday -- and I stumbled into work today thinking this might be a really good day to bag it early and take a nap. And then I found something in my mailbox that perked me right up. As a little background, I'll summarize my talk in St Louis. I pointed out that there was more to evolution than natural selection. Natural selection answers the question of adaptedness -- how do organisms get so good at what they do -- but there's another important question, about diversity and variation -- why do organisms do so many things in so many…
As researchers continue to document the intelligence and emotional acuity of animals, beasts begin to look more like brethren, and food more like friend. On Pharyngula, PZ Myers shares a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that gives chimpanzees used in research the same endangered status as their wild cousins. According to Science, "organizations that want to continue working with chimpanzees will have to document that the work enhances the survival of the species and benefits chimps in the wild." PZ writes, "I want to see more studies done on our closest relatives — but it has to…
Dr. Stan Lindstedt, Northern Arizona University Recipient of the 2013 August Krogh lectureship, American Physiological Society, Comparative and Evolutionary Physiology section I am thrilled to see Dr. Stan Lindstedt's review article published in the April 2015 issue of American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology from his 2013 August Krogh lectureship at the annual Experimental Biology conference. My original blog from the lecture can be found here. Dr. Lindstedt and co-author Dr. Niisa Nishikawa (Northern Arizona University), describe the importance…
A new paper is just out in The Lancet that examines the mortality risk of high and low ambient temperatures. The basic idea is that if it is either to hot or too cold, mortality may increase, possibly with the weather being a factor to augment the effects of other health problems, or as a direct result. The paper is methodologically reasonably well done but leads to conclusions that I think will be misinterpreted and misused. The paper implies that a shift to a warmer world would have lower mortality effects than a shift to a colder world might. Or, more significantly, that a shift to a…
If there's one fallacy that grips the brains of proponents of "natural healing," "holistic medicine," or, as the vast majority of it is, quackery, it's an appeal to nature. Basically, the idea that underlies the appeal to nature is a profane worship of nature as being, in essence, perfect, with anything humans do that is perceived as somehow being "unnatural" being viewed as, at the very least, inferior and at the very worst pure evil. We see it in the pseudoscientific stylings of cranks like The Food Babe, whose epic appeals to nature are legendary in their stupidity, particularly her…
In my previous post about Paul Nelson's weirdly ignorant view of nematode evolution, Kevin Anthoney made a prescient comment: Remember that Nelson’s got this bizarre linear view of evolution which starts with a single cell creature, which evolves into a creature with a few cells, which evolves into one with a few more cells, and so on until you reach the 1031 cells in the nematode today. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Nelson thought that the creature at the 150 cell stage in this process had to be like a modern nematode at the 150 cell stage of development. The Discovery Institute has…
Dr. Frank van Breukelen, Comparative Physiologist, University of Nevada, Las Vegas Dr. Frank van Breukelen is an Associate Professor in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was invited to tell us about a new research project in this laboratory about some really cool mammals called tenrecs. Here is the post: In a recent post, Dr. Dolittle mentioned a talk that we gave at the Experimental Biology meetings in Boston. We discussed some of our recent data on tenrecs in a symposium about physiological plasticity- the ability of an animal to change its physiology…
The number one rule of the Taphonomy Club is don't talk about marks on bones ... without placing them in context. Many marks on bones could have multiple causes, such as putative cut marks caused by stone tools on animal bones found on early hominid sites. In that case, hard sharp stony objects in the ground can cause marks that are hard to tell apart from stone tool marks. But when you find almost all the possible stone tool marks in the exact locations they would be if a hominid was butchering or defleshing the animal, then you can assert that that butchery or defleshing with stone tools…
Much is being made of Brontosaurus. Brontosaurus is a genus name for a large dinosaur, known to watchers of “Land Before Time” as “Long-Necks.” That generic name dates to the 19th century, but in the early 20th century it was eliminated as a proper Linnaean term and replaced with Apatosaurus. This made us sad. Most people discover dinosaurs and learn all about a select handful of the iconic ones, including Brontosaurus, then later learn that Brontosaurs is a bogus name. And become sad. But perhaps this sadness is all for naught, because a very recent study seems to require the resurrection…