Summer Reading II: The Growth of Biological Thought

At 974 pages, the second entry in OT’s summer reading list is hardly a breezy beach read. Ernst Mayr’s The Growth of Biological Thought could consume a vacation all on its own. But it is a comprehensive, not bloated, book. Unlike Horace Judson in The Eighth Day of Creation, Mayr does not provide a nuts […]

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

“It is interesting to contemplate a tangled dune, clothed with many plants of many kinds, all produced by laws acting around us. There is grandeur in this view of life, where so unforgiving an environment has taken but one common ancestor, and, over the millennia, forged such marvellous forms most beautiful. That this should occur, […]

“Thank you, for the others”

HIV Photo Credit: Electron microscopy image by CDC/Dr. Edwin P. Ewing, Jr. In 1981, the Centers for Disease Control’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published an unassuming article describing 5 homosexual men hospitalized in Los Angeles. It could have been a statistical blip- the group of young men had succumbed to a normally harmless microbe, Pneumocystis […]

Short Reads

Carl Zimmer takes a fascinating stroll through the history of blood typing ‘“Renaissance doctors mused about what would happen if they put blood into the veins of their patients. Some thought that it could be a treatment for all manner of ailments, even insanity. Finally, in the 1600s, a few doctors tested out the idea, with disastrous […]

Floppy Friendliness

Stable domestication by artificial selection is a haphazard process, prone to producing unpredictable biological effects alongside desired traits like docility or fertility. Biologists Don Newgreen and Jeffrey Craig have written a post on one such recurring cluster of oddities- an example was noted by that avid student of animal breeding, Charles Darwin: “Not a single […]


We’ve discussed before the dilemma of smallpox: should we keep for research purposes viable stocks of a deadly pathogen that is extinct in the wild. In the not-too-distant past, we also looked at the separate, related issue of creating (or re-creating) lethal strains with epidemic potential via genetic engineering. The second instance was illuminated by a […]

Money on the Brain

(Image: Wiki Commons) When the European Commission decided to put a  lot of eggs in one scientific basket, many researchers were understandably unhappy. The €1.2 billion Human Brain Project (HBP), launched last year, and its billion-dollar American counterpart were never going to please the life-sciences community outside of neurobiology. Now, a large group of European […]