The Opposing Thumb

An opinionated digit leafs through the biological literature
Monday Morning Smörgåsbord

Monday Morning Smörgåsbord

Towards a web of life- Ferris Jabr at Aeon Magazine on jumping genes and evolution. “As far as anyone knew, the gene (…) existed in only two types of plants separated by hundreds of millions of years of evolution: ferns and algae. It was extremely unlikely that the gene had been passed down from a common ancestor, yet somehow skipped over every plant lineage between algae and ferns.”

“This is one of the most amazing things I’ve encountered in studying animals, and I’ve seen a lot of unusual things”. Electric eels remote-control their prey, by Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science.

As is traditional whenever Dr Watson makes public statements, The Spanking of the Jim is roaring along at full speed. So if a brave soul comes to his defense, let’s lend him our ears. Nathaniel Comfort at Genotopia does his best Mark Antony “Colleagues, writers, readers, hear me for my cause…I come not to bury Watson, but to historicize him.”

And while we’re airing unpopular views, J. Craig Venter, writing in Business Week, takes issue with the recent consensus that the sequencing of the human genome was overhyped. “Everybody wanted there to be this nice, linear path where you have a gene for each trait—you know, there’s a gene that codes for your nose. It’s so naive.”

Ebola in the wild and “three ways animal ecology can inform our understanding of Ebola virus dynamics, including studies of pathogen spread on great ape social networks, research regarding bats as reservoirs for Ebola and other deadly viruses, and new efforts for wildlife surveillance to predict Ebola outbreak risk in humans.” Sonia Altizer
and and Julie Rushmore at Animal Ecology in Focus.

Deevy Bishop at BishopBlog on the folly of evaluating scientists by the amount of money they raise. Basically, “(t)he problem is that it is stupid. It damages the wellbeing of staff, the reputation of the University, and the advancement of science“.

Genuine uncertainty versus error: Atul Gawande, in the Guardian, examines why doctors sometimes fail. “You go back a hundred years or more, and we lived in a world where our futures were governed largely by ignorance. But over this last century, we’ve come through an extraordinary explosion of discovery. The puzzle has, therefore, become not only how we close the gaps of ignorance open to us, but also how we ensure that the knowledge gets through, that the finger probe is on the correct finger.”

Parasites and microbes control your mind, says Moheb Costandi at Neurophilosophy. “Anyone who has ever lost control of their bowels when scared is well aware of the intimate connection between the brain and the body’s internal plumbing.”

Jerry Coyne re-published in his blog Why Evolution is True an old review of David Sloan Wilson’s “Darwin’s Cathedral”: “while genetic evolution depends on a single criterion of fitness—the number of offspring produced by the carrier of a gene—cultural traits spread by many different psychological and cultural mechanisms. The forces responsible for the spread of Marxism differ from those causing the success of Madonna.”

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