Category Archives: Curiosities of Nature

Home Sweet ‘Shroom

Giving the amount of fungal growth in my yard, I wish I was one of those people who could tell which mushrooms you can eat and enjoy*. In retrospect, perhaps I should have seen the pretty orange color of this one as a bad omen for my St. Louis Cardinals.10409291_10100825667492534_8784579148790602323_n

*No, I will not be trusting any of your opinions on the matter either. I know too many people who comment on blogs to trust any of you.

Science for the People: Troublesome Inheritance

sftpThis week, Science for the People is looking at the intersection of race, history and genetics in science writer Nicholas Wade’s 2014 book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History. DNA researcher Jennifer Raff and science journalist David Dobbs share their critiques of the claim that differences between genetically distinct “races” are responsible for global divergence in cultural and political structures. Blogger Scicurious walks us through the (delicious) basics of the scientific method with Cookie Science.

*Josh provides research help to Science for the People and is, therefore, completely biased.

All you need is a steady hand…

The lab course I am teaching at Coker College does not have access to the newest and fanciest equipment for microscopy imaging (nor should it*). If your drawing skills are not up to snuff, however, a smartphone camera, a steady hand, and a bit of patience can provide a useful substitute for standard light microscopy.

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Stained bacteria photographed with an iPhone 5

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Did NIH budget cuts delay an Ebola vaccine?

Mike Eisen makes an excellent point about NIH Director Francis Collins’ recent claims:

But what really bothers me the most about this is that, rather than trying to exploit the current hysteria about Ebola by offering a quid-pro-quo “Give me more money and I’ll deliver and Ebola vaccine”, Collins should be out there pointing out that the reason we’re even in a position to develop an Ebola vaccine is because of our long-standing investment in basic research, and that the real threat we face is not Ebola, but the fact that, by having slashed the NIH budget and made it increasingly difficult to have a stable career in science, we’re making it less and less likely that we’ll be equipped to handle all of the future challenges to public health that we’re going to be face in the future.

You can make a better case about the direct impact of funding cuts with the shrinking budget CDC Public Health Preparedness Funding, as Judy Stone notes over at Scientific American.

No, evolutionary biology doesn’t need a rethink

Suggestions that we need a new evolutionary synthesis because of phenomenon X pop up like weeds in biology. It’s nice to see some of my favorite evolutionary geneticists – Greg Wray, Hopi Hoekstra, Douglas Futuyma, Richard Lenski, Trudy Mackay, Dolph Schluter and Joan Strassman – make a strong case that the fundamentals of evolutionary theory can accommodate the hot new phenomenon of the day (e.g, epigenetics), and that genes are not passé:

The evolutionary phenomena championed by Laland and colleagues are already well integrated into evolutionary biology, where they have long provided useful insights. Indeed, all of these concepts date back to Darwin himself, as exemplified by his analysis of the feedback that occurred as earthworms became adapted to their life in soil…

Finally, diluting what Laland and colleagues deride as a ‘gene-centric’ view would de-emphasize the most powerfully predictive, broadly applicable and empirically validated component of evolutionary theory. Changes in the hereditary material are an essential part of adaptation and speciation. The precise genetic basis for countless adaptations has been documented in detail, ranging from antibiotic resistance in bacteria to camouflage coloration in deer mice, to lactose tolerance in humans…

All four phenomena that Laland and colleagues promote are ‘add-ons’ to the basic processes that produce evolutionary change: natural selection, drift, mutation, recombination and gene flow. None of these additions is essential for evolution, but they can alter the process under certain circumstances. For this reason they are eminently worthy of study.

h/t Ed Yong