Beer – Courtesy of Wikipedia. Fueling male-male aggression for thousands of years.
Remember your college days? On a typical college Saturday night, I would head to a local Champaign, IL watering hole and get to “observe” the mating rituals of college men. Chest puffing, feats of strength, and sometimes even fisticuffs were employed to gain the favor of a particular lady. Turns out this male-male aggression is a trait we share with the little fruit fly. Those little fruit flies have, in turn, shown us that male-male aggression can be a bit more complex than we might first expect. Continue reading
Just like a telenovela this little toad brings the drama for days. The Venezuelan pebble toad (Oreophyrnella nigra) hangs out in the tepuis of the Guiana highlands. These toads use their cryptic skin appearance among the rocks to avoid predators and if that doesn’t work they call roll up and make like a bouncy ball down the rocks. See you later predators.
Check out this video with herpetologist, Bruce Means talking about pebble toad DNA, sharing his discovery excitement (plus you can see some tepuis).
“Meet the…” is a collaboration between The Finch & Pea and Nature Afield to bring Nature’s amazing creatures into your home.
How is astronomy like biology? Every time we build better tools for observation (eg, space telescopes & next-generation sequencers), we learn about the incredible variety of things that we are missing and get to wildly speculate about what it all means (we also get to regularly confuse “wild speculation” for actual “knowledge”).
“Exoplanet Neighborhood” by Randall Munroe at xkcd (CC BY-NC 2.5)
This week in Pacific Standard I try to answer the question, why can’t we build life from scratch?
There are two primary ways biologists are trying to build life from scratch – evolution and intelligent design. People like Harvard’s Jack Szostak are trying to understand prebiotic evolution, by evolving autonomously replicating protocells in the lab. On the other hand, synthetic biologists, like those at the Venter Institute, want to be able to go to the whiteboard and intelligently design a genome from scratch. They already know how to synthesize and transplant a genome; designing it is another matter. As I wrote for Pacific Standard, we’re “like someone who knows how to work a 3-D printer but can’t design new digital templates for it.” Continue reading
I am, for some reason, very fond of Komodo dragons. I own a Komodo dragon beanie baby. Very fond. My fondness has even survived Ed Yong’s efforts to destroy one of the most cherished myths of my childhood – the septic bite of the Komodo dragon.
Komodo Dragon at the St. Louis Zoo (Photo by Poppet Maulding; CC BY 2.0)
My soft spot for Varanus komodoensis is almost entirely due to the Matthew Broderick classic film, The Freshman. It was reinforced by a moment I had with a Komodo dragon at the St. Louis Zoo. Granted, the dragon was clearly making a threat display because it felt I was trying to encroach on its heat lamp territory. While the dragon was not correctly interpreting my intentions, there was something very compelling about having the attention, one-on-one with such a creature.
My affection for the lizards has not been dampened by Ed Yong revealing that the bite of the Komodo dragon is truly venomous (they essentially inject you with blood thinners and anti-coagulants, the bastards), not toxic from septic bacteria as has been assumed for the past 50 years or so.
In 2009, Fry discovered the true culprit behind the dragon’s lethal bite, by putting one of them in a medical scanner. The dragon has venom glands, which are loaded with toxins that lower blood pressure, cause massive bleeding, prevent clotting and induce shock. Rather than using bacteria as venom, the dragons use, well, venom as venom.
-Ed Yong, “The Myth of the Komodo Dragon’s Dirty Mouth”, Not Exactly Rocket Science
Why do Komodo dragons still capture my imagination? Look, giant lizards with toxic bites are cool. Giant lizards with venomous bites are no less the stuff of really cool nightmares.