Life Sciences

Monday was a great day for comparative physiology at EB! I saw several highly notable posters and seminars that I would like to share with you: Image of a deer mouse from www.calphotos.berkeley.edu Catherine Ivy, graduate student at McMaster University compared deer mice that were raised at high altitudes versus those raised at lower altitudes and found that the ancestry of the animals was actually important in regulation of breathing and gas exchange in the lungs. Perhaps not surprisingly, acclimation to hypoxia also influenced both variables as well. Image of a guinea pig from…
Congratulations to Mallory Ballinger, a graduate student from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, who is the 2015 recipient of the Dr. Dolittle Travel Award! The purpose of this award is to recognize an outstanding graduate student or postdoctoral fellow involved in comparative and evolutionary research and to provide assistance for them to attend the annual American Physiological Society Experimental Biology meeting. The application process includes the submission of a blog entry based on their research. She will be presenting her research at the upcoming Experimental Biology meeting in…
Greg Laden reports on a hominid fossil "recovered from the seabed near Taiwan" which reveals new levels of dental diversity among proto-humans and may qualify as a new species. Greg says the specimen known as Penghu "is yet another indicator that multiple different hominids lived on the Earth at the same time after the rise of Homo erectus." But why was it located underwater? In another example of what lies beneath, Dr. Dolittle marvels at "an unexpected find and very exciting moment for researchers;" the discovery of small fish and invertebrates thriving below 740 meters of ice near the…
A fish found swimming under 740 meters of ice. Credit: Reed Scherer (NIU) An unexpected find and very exciting moment for researchers exploring what lies beneath 740 meters of ice in Antarctica...fish! An amazing find given the perpetual darkness and cold. In an expedition sponsored by the National Science Foundation, scientists and ice drillers bored a hole through the Ross Ice Shelf near the coast of Antarctica, 850 kilometers from the closest place where there is sunlight. The area is known as the grounding zone, which is in essence a subglacial beach. According to a quote from glacial…
Let's continue with the discussion I started in yesterday's post. We are considering whether it is reasonable to persist in believing in the reality of Adam and Eve given the findings of modern science. The problem is that the Bible seems clear that at the time of their creation, Adam and Eve were the only human beings on the planet. But genetic analyses contradict this, pointing instead to the conclusion that the human population has never dipped below two thousand, at an absolute minimum. There are two broad strategies for avoiding this conflict: Deny the genetic evidence or deny that…
A common theme at this blog is that I don't like blanket statements to the effect that science and religion are incompatible. The main problem I have is that “religion” means so many different things to different people that it is pointless to paint with such a broad brush. A secondary point is that science is vast, and most of it does not address anything of interest to the world's major religions. However, we can certainly make the more modest claim that specific findings of science are at odds with some commonly held religious views. In particular, evolution at least appears to conflict…
For some reason, pop news became enamored with this paper last month (unfortunately while I was away at a conference): HIV infection en route to endogenization: two cases Inexplicable media frenzy-- Scientists find mechanism for spontaneous HIV cure French scientists find genetic mechanism by which two men were spontaneously cured of HIV. HIV discovery offers new lead in finding cure I have a lot of problems with this paper. Starting with the first sentence. The long-term spontaneous evolution between humans and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is not well characterized. "Spontaneous…
Left to right, Granny Beck, my Grandma June, and Great-Great Grandma Bertha, circa 1961. Who knows what was on the menu that day. My Great-Grandpa and Granny Beck were, in some ways, ahead of their time. My Grandpa’s mom and step-dad, they both went through scandalous divorces and then switched partners with another couple, Granny Orpha marrying Wade and my Grandpa’s dad Lee marrying Wade’s ex-wife, Edna. Orpha and Wade raised 5 of Orpha’s boys together, and had a daughter after the divorce/remarriage. By the time I was born, my Granny Beck was in her 80s, and I have only vague…
The title of this article by Answers In Genesis is a good question: Where Did Ebola Come From? *shrug* Look, I love making fun of Creationists, but this is a great question! Ebola is not 'supposed' to be a human pathogen. Like many emerging infectious diseases, the natural reservoir for ebola is bats. Specifically, fruit bats. By studying the genomes of many small mammals, we have determined that ebola-like viruses have existed on Earth, infecting small mammals, for 12 to 24 million years. YAY! Straight forward answer to an interesting, valid question. ...... But with Creationists, things are…
The Hot Zone was first released in 1994, the year I graduated high school. Like many readers, that book and Laurie Garrett's The Coming Plague* really sparked my interest in infectious diseases. In some sense, I have those books to thank (or blame?) for my career. But I'm still going to criticize The Hot Zone, because as a mature infectious disease epidemiologist and a science communicator in the midst of the biggest Ebola outbreak in history, The Hot Zone is now one of the banes of my existence. A recent article noted that the book is back on the bestseller list, going as high as #7 on the…
The Relentless Babblings of the Darkmire Soothsayer: "And then there shall come a day when things will be lost and people won't know where things really are and brothers will run away for absolutely no reason at all and fathers won't know where other fathers are or where they once were. And friends will walk about with strange things wrapped around themselves and things will happen on distant hills and parents will look for things and won't find them because of what their children had done the night before. And the sky will do strange and wonderful things that no one knows of and people will…
Image from the American Physiological Society's website.http://www.the-aps.org/mm/Conferences/APS-Conferences/2014-Conferences/… Tuesday was no less exciting than Monday! Here are some highlights: I thoroughly enjoyed a session called "Overcoming a Major Physiological Barrier: Adaptation from Saline to Freshwater Habitats" which highlighted the need for several species to shift how they regulate ion balance when they migrate between fresh water (ion absorption from the water) and salt water (ion secretion to the water). Clements K, Bojarski L, Johnson K, McMillan S, White L, Angert E (Univ…
Image from the American Physiological Society's website.http://www.the-aps.org/mm/Conferences/APS-Conferences/2014-Conferences/… As anticipated, the meeting today was excellent! Here are some highlights from today: Dr. Michael Joyner (Mayo Clinic) spoke about how we should reconsider animal models that are used in research as laboratory rodents can be manipulated to match their genotype to their phenotype. In other words, researchers modify the animal's genome to produce a specific disease or attribute they are interested in studying. The problem with this approach is that genes can be…
University of Washington biology professor David Barash published this op-ed in The New York Times recently. The title: “God, Darwin and My College Biology Class.” Intriguing! Let's have a look. EVERY year around this time, with the college year starting, I give my students The Talk. It isn't, as you might expect, about sex, but about evolution and religion, and how they get along. More to the point, how they don't. I'm a biologist, in fact an evolutionary biologist, although no biologist, and no biology course, can help being “evolutionary.” My animal behavior class, with 200…
This discussion has been going on for some time, and a handful of recent events have prompted me to jump into it (beyond a simple comment or two). First, I saw a bunch of yammering among various biology teachers about this topic. Then Michael Osterholm wrote a well intentioned but seemingly deeply flawed opinion at the New York Times, then Dina Fine Maron wrote an excellent piece at Scientific American deconstructing Osterholm's piece, then the latter two (and more) were summarized and expanded on in a post by Ann Reid at the NCSE. Here, I will expand on this by applying first principles…
Image from the American Physiological Society's website.http://www.the-aps.org/mm/Conferences/APS-Conferences/2014-Conferences/… I am really excited about the comparative physiology conference that starts this weekend in San Diego! Here is a press release about the meeting (author Stacy Brooks from the American Physiological Society): Bethesda, Md. (September 25, 2014) — More than 400 comparative and evolutionary physiologists will gather to present new research and discoveries in animal physiology at the American Physiological Society’s 2014 intersociety meeting “Comparative Approaches to…
Depiction of a retrovirus integrating its DNA into the DNA of the host cell. Image from: http://bit.ly/1phzpbR I read an interesting article in Scientific American that discussed the so-called Peto's Paradox. Dr. Richard Peto (University of Oxford) came up with the idea that if every cell has an equal probability of becoming cancerous, then larger animals would be predicted to develop cancer at higher rates than smaller animals. As it turns out, it is not that simple. All mammals exhibit similar cancer rates, with some exceptions. This is what came to be known as Peto's Paradox. Some…
Conservationists are trying hard to save the Devils Hole pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis) from extinction. With less than 100 animals remaining, a captive breeding program was started at the University of California, Berkeley. As you can imagine from the image below, the geographic range of this fish is smaller than other wild vertebrates. They are only found in the limestone caverns of the geothermal Devils Hole pool in Death Valley, Nevada. The pool is 3m wide, 20m long, 426 feet deep, and a very warm 92-93 degrees Fahrenheit. It is thought to have formed more than 500,000 years ago with the…
I made the mistake of reading some of the comments on those last youtube videos. There were some good ones, but they were also laced with the usual grunting assholes complaining about gays and "trannies" and quoting the Bible and making racist remarks about Africans. Let us pass over those contemptible arguments; there's no dealing with them rationally. Spit and move on. But there's another flavor of argument that annoys me to no end: people who cite science and evolution to support their ignorant misconceptions about human nature. I want to address two, one anti-gay and the other pro-gay,…
Image of a naked mole rat from www.animals.sandiegozoo.org The naked mole rat is the longest lived rodent species (>31 years). Unlike most mammals, they seem resistant to many age-associated ailments until much later in life, making them an exciting model of healthy aging. They are also resistant to the development of cancer as mentioned in this prior post. According to the CDC, cardiovascular disease is currently the leading cause of death in the United States, claiming the lives of roughly 600,000 people annually (or 1 out of every 4 deaths). In a new study published in the American…