Category Archives: Curiosities of Nature

How & Why to Shuffle Cards Properly

HT: David Pescovitz at BoingBoing

Midden DNA

Some people don’t like the term “junk DNA”, because they assume all that extra DNA in the human genome must be doing something. Some of those people are tenured faculty, members of the ENCODE project, and have trouble penning reasonable definitions of biological function.

Other people have experimental data to show that random sequences of DNA can be biochemically active without physiological effect, understand that the genome’s complexity resists easy classification, and can, simultaneously, understand that these swathes of non-functional DNA are valuable because they contain the history of our evolution.

In that light, I am going to propose that we abandon the misleading phrase “junk DNA” and adopt a word from archaeology used to describe piles of informative waste: midden*.

A midden…is an old dump for domestic waste which may consist of animal bone, human excrement, botanical material, vermin, shells, sherds, lithics (especially debitage), and other artifacts and ecofacts associated with past human occupation. The word is of Scandinavian via Middle English derivation, but is used by archaeologists worldwide to describe any kind of feature containing waste products relating to day-to-day human life. – Wikipedia

Now, if you want to call it midden DNA or the DNA midden, that I am happy to leave up to personal taste and style.

*A potential confusion might arise when researchers sequence DNA from biological samples in an actual midden heap – a risk with which I am willing to live.

Science for the People: Superstorm

sftpThis week, Science for the People is exploring the evolving frontier of extreme weather, and how it’s influenced by our warming planet. Desiree Schell talks about the largest Atlantic storm system ever recorded with Kathryn Miles, author of Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy. She will also talk about the relationship between climate change and hurricane strength and frequency with Christopher Landsea, Ph.D, Science and Operations Officer at NOAA’s National Hurricane Center.

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

Woodpecker Tongues are Weird

In fact, I did know; but that is mostly because my children love to read The Unfeathered Bird* by Katrina van Grouw. I, however, greatly enjoy being reminded of this fact as often as possible (it is the kind of thing you know, but then forget you know – like that John Ratzenberger was in Empire Strikes Back), especially when accompanied by such wonderful illustration.

*Courtesy of Princeton University Press.

Biblical Support for Mechanisms of Evolution

Ecclesiastes 9:11 contains a very poetic description of genetic drift as a mechanism of evolution, though it leaves out any description of the importance of effective population size:

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
-King James Version