Biochemical Soul Musings on Nature, Science, Evolution, Biology, and Education


Carnival of Evolution #6 and #7



As some of you might have noticed, this site has been pretty inactive as of late.  Blame that on the combination of a full-time research post-doc and a college teaching gig on top of it.

Well, now the stack of final exams are graded and it's time once again for you to indulge your selective pressure pleasure in the next Carnival of Evolution. The current biweekly installment, CoE#7, is hosted by Peter Buckland over at Forms Most Beautiful (by far one of my favorite science blogs - partially because he has an amazingly witty way with words and partially because his blog is sprinkled with posts on Heavy Metal).

I was also derelict in posting a link to Carnival of Evolution #6, hosted by Christie Lynn over at Observations of a Nerd.  If you haven't read her blog yet, you must check it out.  She's both hilarious and talented, with keen insight on all things nerdy.

Odontochelys semitestacea

Odontochelys semitestacea

The next installment in two weeks will be hosted by me, Irradiatus, here at biochemicalsoul on January 1st. So get your brains and fingers writing about what you enjoy and let the joys and sorrows of another semester melt away. Submit your posts here.

Also, please consider hosting an upcoming edition. If you have already done so before, you can most certainly host again. Quite a few people have begun reading this Blog Carnival, and here's hoping that the exposure will only grow. Just email me at irradiatus [at] biochemicalsoul [dot] com if you'd like to host. We have had quite an impressive list of article contributors (see the side bar to the right), so perhaps it's time that you contributors hosted as well.


Carnival of Evolution #5 – The Other 95%

Tiktaalik the Fishapod

Tiktaalik the "Fishapod"

Kevin Zelnio over at The Other 95% (and the Discovery Channel's Deep Sea News) has put together another excellent edition of the Carnival of Evolution. This edition contains much deep delving into the science, both current and past, within the field of evolutionary biology, and it makes for a truly edifying read.

Next up for the Carnival of Evolution #6 in two weeks is Felicia Gilljam over at Life Before Death. Submit your posts using this form.


Biological Databases and the Logos I Designed

I recently designed a couple of logos for Dr. J. Christopher Ellis to adorn his biological database website. I thought I'd throw him a link as well as showcase the two logos I made.

The first is for the frontpage of his site I made this using the 3D animation software, Maya 7, and Flash. Note: if you click on the logo, there are three possible animations that will occur. I know next to nothing about flash animation, but I managed to get it so that it picks one of the three events at random. As such, you may have to click several times to see all three. Yes - they are completely pointless - but I wanted to learn at least a little ActionScript. The pixelation is due to resizing to fit into this blog.

I also designed the following logo for his snoRNP database. For those of you not in the know, snoRNP stands for "small nucleolar ribonucleoprotein", which bind to snoRNAs, or "small nucleolar ribonucleic acids". Together they are involved in modifying rRNAs, or "ribosomal ribonucleic acids", which are themselves part of the structure and function of the ribosome (your protein making machines).

So for those of you involved in snoRNA research, you may find his database useful. He also has a couple of applets for finding motifs within UTRs (untranslated regions). FYI: the sites are still in early construction.

The snoRNP Database


Another Black Widow Where She Shouldn’t Be

Southern Black Widow tending her nest above my porch

Southern Black Widow tending her nest above my porch

I just got home and happened to look up into the corner of my porch today, when what do I see but a Northern Black Widow (Latrodectus variolus) tending her egg case above my steps.

I have seen hundreds of black widows at my house (see some really cool closeups in my previous post on black widows). Normally they are down low, barely above the ground, peeking out from leaves or tree roots. Occasionally I'll see them hanging beneath my porch steps. But this is the first time I've seen one elevated so high. My guess is that she is only roosting so high for the sake of her eggs.

Hanging up high instead of down low

Hanging up high instead of down low

Below is a cool video I took of a black widow I caught this summer.  As mentioned before, the widows I've seen in North Carolina are the Northern Back Widow (Latrodectus variolus), and not the Southern Black Widow (Latrodectus mactans), though it is my understanding that their neurotoxin venoms are equally dangerous. That being said, bites are extremely rare and deaths rarer. They are very unaggressive in my own experience and will instantly hide when approached. I usually just note their locations and leave them alone. This girl, however, is not long for this earth. Too close to my door, and I don't want the babies working their way inside. Plus, my wife is terrified that we have so many widows around to begin with. If it's any consolation to you insect/arachnid lovers, I am usually much kinder and appreciative of our six- and eight-legged cousins than most.

You can tell the species apart by the fact that Southern Black Widow has a complete abdominal hourglass, while Northern Black Widows have a "broken" hourglass (see the movie below and this previous post).

Also, if you like cool spider videos, check out this Golden Garden Spider video I took.

Northern Black Widow videos:

For your own edification, here is a bit about their venom from wikipedia:

The venom spreads rapidly throughout the body and acts by causing the release of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine, norepinephrine, and GABA.

And symptoms:

During the first 24 hours after a bite:

In some rare and extreme cases, severe complications can arise:

Symptoms that may be present at or near the wound:


Giant Animal Smasher to Search for the Elusive “Darwin Particle”

High-energy squirrels about to release the "Darwin Particle"

Thanks to PZ Myers at Pharyngula for finding this one.  I post it here for the simple fact that this is side-splittingly hilarious! Go get your giggles on.


Malwin dismissed critics who claimed that smashing animals together at high speeds was cruel to the animals. He said, "The animals won't be feeling anything. The collision will vaporize the squirrels in a fraction of a second.  Their brains won't be able to transmit pain at those speeds, so it'll be painless for them."

Scientists currently rely on computer simulations to smash biological units, but simulations can only do so much, and without the visceral enjoyment of seeing two squirrels collide at thousands of miles an hour.