The Opposing Thumb

An opinionated digit leafs through the biological literature
Monday Morning Smörgåsbord

Monday Morning Smörgåsbord

Daniel Parker at The Mermaid’s Tale on the geography and genetics of malarial parasite drug resistance evolution. “Southeast Asia appears to be a “special” place with regard to the evolution of antimalarial resistance.  For whatever reason, parasites that are resistant to new antimalarials always seem to be first documented here and then sometimes appear to subsequently spread globally.”

While Portugal opened an express lane for visa-shopping shady visitors, next door Spain is trying to attract entrepreneurial talent, as Nick Leiber reports at The New York Times. There were, however, some glitches “The law went into effect as soon as it passed, but when Ms. Carr contacted Spanish consulates in the United States, she couldn’t find people who knew it existed, let alone how it worked.”

Nobel laureate turned open-access crusader Randy Schekman speaks with Zoe Corbyn at The Guardian. “From 1982, Schekman spent 20 years as a consultant to local company Chiron Corporation, now part of drug maker Novartis, helping them to engineer yeast cells to produce insulin and hepatitis B vaccine. Today, one-third of the insulin used worldwide by diabetics, and the entire world’s supply of the hepatitis B vaccine, is produced from yeast using systems developed by the company, with Schekman’s advice. It never occurred to Schekman to commercialise the discovery himself. “I was interested in understanding how a cell works.”

When I was a kid I asked an old family friend in the simultaneous translation business if I could sit in with him, in the translator’s booth at a conference. I spoke two languages fluently and had done some interpreting and written translations to make the occasional extra buck. Two hours later I was sure, absolutely certain, that a normal brain cannot process information like that. Like Usain Bolt’s fast-twitch muscle fibers or Tony Blair’s morality lobe, simultaneous translations required mutants- on top of a lot of hard work- people with some odd innate talent. Geoff Watts at Mosaic Science on how neuroscience agrees with me. “As the delegate spoke, Pinkney had to make sense of a message composed in one language while simultaneously constructing and articulating the same message in another tongue. The process required an extraordinary blend of sensory, motor and cognitive skills, all of which had to operate in unison. She did so continuously and in real time, without asking the speaker to slow down or clarify anything. She didn’t stammer or pause. Nothing in our evolutionary history can have programmed Pinkney’s brain for a task so peculiar and demanding.”

People just love this sh*t…. Yet another fecal transplant story, from Emily Eakin at The New Yorker. Includes this grim but accurate assessment “Crohn’s disease affects as many as seven hundred thousand Americans, but, like other autoimmune disorders, it remains poorly understood and is considered incurable.”

Think what you will of this piece, but that is one kick-ass owl. Carl Zimmer at The Loom on the origin of feathers. “Instead of looking at fossils, the scientists look at the genetic recipe for feathers written in the DNA of birds. It turns out that a lot of that recipe already existed hundreds of millions of years before anything vaguely resembling a feather existed on Earth. In fact, you, my fine unfeathered friend, have most of the genetic information required for making feathers, too.” 

Elizabeth Lopatto paints an End-of-Times picture at the Verge. Luckily for us, it is a starfish Apocalypse. “What really affected him were the arms that had ripped loose from the animals’ bodies. “There were individual arms just roaming around in a Walking Dead kind of way,” he says.”

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