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

4Mar/09Off

Carnival of the Blue 22 – Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice & Sunsets

In an ambitious new day for Marine Science blogging and general marine information dissemination, Rick MacPherson (of Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice & Sunsets) and Jason Robertshaw (of Cephalopodcast) have announced not only of the publication of Carnival of the Blue #22, but also the shiny new Podcast of the Blue, which will from hence forth go hand-in-hand.

I'm quite excited to hear the lovely voices of the people behind the best marine science writing.

In addition, the Current edition of the carnival, hosted by Rick is replete with wonderful oceanic goodness. So go check it out, and be sure to stay tuned for the upcoming podcast.

In fact, he kindly included my own post on Flatfish Eyes & Recapitulation Theory. His description:

More Weird Fish Eyes
If you still need some additional fish weirdness, Carnival of the Blue first-timer (hopefully long-timer) Daniel Brown of Biochemical Soul dredges-up memories of 9AM Developmental Biology class as he explores the evolution of flatfish eyes. This post has it all... some ontogeny, some phylogeny, some eyeball migration. Perhaps with the right encouragement we can get Daniel to focus exclusively on the ocean and change his blog title to Biochemical Sole?

I considered the name change. In fact I considered changing scientific fields completely and moving into studying flatfish development - just to fit this blog into his punny joke. I decided against it...

And if you have yet to make check them out, be sure to check out Carnival of Evolution #9 at Moneduloides, and Circus of the Spineless #36 at Invertebrate Diaries.

1Mar/09Off

Carnival of Evolution #9 – Moneduloides

The next edition of the Carnival of Evolution is now live over at Moneduloides!

It's clear that moneduloides put alot of work into this edition, which contains a great amount of commentary on each submission.

So waste no more time here - go check it out now!

3Feb/09Off

Carnival of Evolution #8 (Part Two)

Welcome back to the Carnival of Evolution - the place where the sideshow freaks of nature, the genetic mutants of the Tree of Life, run the show. Yes - we are all mutants, each of us with our own mutant powers, whether that be gripping plastic electronic mice with opposable thumbs or using specialized spiny penises to scrape the competing life juice of our competitors from the orifice of our beloved (sorry - I've been reading Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice for All Creation - about the evolution of sex in the animal kingdom).

To what do we owe our gratitude for such wondrous gifts? Why, nothing more than the variable nature of inheritance and a competition for survival and reproduction.

As mentioned in the previous edition of the carnival, posted here just a few short days ago, a whole new slew of evolutionary links appeared in our BlogCarnival.com submission basket upon submission of edition #8.  Thus, in a special unprecedented issue, I now bring you PART TWO of this month's Carnival of Evolution #8.  We have some new faces appearing in this issue, intermingled with familiar acclaimed contributors of editions past.

A quick administrative note to future contributors: don't even think of submitting a post entitled "Teaching Intelligent Design." You will be summarily rejected.

An example of the type of detritus not likely to make it into a blog carnival devoted to the wonders of natural selection includes articles attempting to claim that the amazing complexity of some biological phenomenon is too great to have happened naturally.

via Wikipedia

A sperm's journey through, as Peter Buckland of Forms Most Beautiful puts it,  "potentially hostile vaginal territory" is indeed an utterly astonishing and deadly adventure. But what about wasted sperm, unimplanted blastocysts, and the developmental disorders that plague human reproduction? Ahh, that’s okay…Apparently God still did it.

"Oh yeah? How do you know?" I hear my opponent whine. Well, I don't know. Anyone who has studied or considered the philosophy of science understands that nothing is absolutely knowable. Thankfully, Kuhn and Popper showed us that that's okay - pragmatism works just fine.

The thing about evolution - it has an almost unfathomable mountains of evidence backing it. One simple yet always entertaining type of evidence that can be used to ease folks into an evolutionary understanding is that of human vestigial traits. The List Universe gives us one of the better rundowns of the top ten vestigial evidences of human evolution that I've seen.

But the arguments will continue to spew forth. Luckily The Evolving Mind is there as the Clever Criticisms of Evolution arise – criticisms that aren’t so clever that he can’t refute them - in this fourth part of a series.

The Splendid (Ranongga) White-eye (GrrlScientist)

The Splendid (Ranongga) White-eye (GrrlScientist)

So what else can we do to spread the knowledge? The Mississippi Atheists give us a great post on "how to defend science education in your state" – Stand strong my fellow southern and proud while also intelligent and scientific brethren (and sistren?). The South will rise again (or eventually for the first time)! Author's note: I'm a native Arkansan and Texan.

What if you are someone that is fascinated by evolution, but does not necessarily understand the science behind it or how to read all those weird pictures with the branches? One start would be to take a stroll over to Life Before Death to get a layperson's crash course in how to interpret evolutionary trees.

Of course, once you understand evolution, you can use that thinking to do all sorts of other wacky things - such as compare the language of motorists and their vehicles with chimps and the evolution of language, as The Physics of Chi and the Evolution of Man has done in a very entertaining post. (e.g. In car language, a horn means "Watch out" or "Aahh" or "Hello" or "MOVE!", while yelling out the window generally means "I'm angry for some reason, but I can't tell you why because I'm driving." Chimps have all this and more - minus the driving)

Orius

Or you can muse on how the “second brain” in our belly is actually the first one we evolved, as expounded upon at Doomsday Labs.

Or as Seeds Aside tells us - you can go out and discover new pieces of the evolutionary puzzle, such as the curious tale (and first report) of an insect pollination relationship between a TRUE bug (hemipteran) and a plant.

Or perhaps you may find that the “Great Speciators,” the white-eyes (a bird), apparently do evolve faster than any other avian group on earth - a tale brought to us by the prolific GrrlScientist of Living the Scientific Life.

Alternatively, you could host a debate on "Who was more important: Darwin or Lincoln?" as the Smithsonian's Surprising Science has done ( I was certainly surprised at that one - a better question: "Who would win in a deathmatch: Darwin or Lincoln?").

And finally, if one is feeling particularly ambitious you could attempt to plan an entire year in which you only did things related to Darwin - The Year of Charles Darwin Ultimate Tour (Part 1) - also at Surprising Science.

There are just oh so many things to do with evolutionary knowledge...

With that, the two-part Carnival of Evolution #8 concludes. Join us again in one month as the Carnival of Evolution #9 makes its appearance at Moneduloides. Use this handy form for submissions. We are seeking new hosts, so please volunteer if you have

the will.  Let's make this carnival last!!

For other great reading, check out the Carnival of the Blue #21 (dedicated to the Ocean) at The Oyster's Garter and the Circus of the Spineless #35 (dedicated to invertebrates) at The Other 95%.

30Jan/09Off

Carnival of Evolution #8 (Part One)

Shiny New Button!

Shiny New Button!

UPDATE* if you do not see your post mentioned, see note at the bottom of the post.

IT...HAS...ARRIVED!

The long awaited, much delayed eighth edition of the Carnival of Evolution is here.

I won't go into the excuses, other than to say that one of them was the death of my grandfather - a man whose love of nature inspired my own long journey into biology.

However, what better timing to resurrect a blog carnival devoted to evolution than now, a mere 12 days from Charles Darwin's 200th birthday in the year of the 150th anniversary of the publishing of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

The Beagle Project

The Beagle Project

And on this fitting occasion, the first question you should be asking yourself, as first posed by Karen James of The Beagle Project, is "what am I doing on Darwin Day?"

The second question you should ask is "am I signed up for the Blog for Darwin campaign on February 12th-15th, and if not, why not?"

Before we get into the wonderful evolutionary linkage, you should all first refresh your memories on the origins of the theory of natural selection by doing what I am doing: re-reading "Origin." Go ahead...I'll wait.

While we're waiting for those who just left to dig up their old tattered copies or purchase new ones, the rest of you might do just as well by visiting "Blogging the Origin" by John Whitfield, in which he gives an incredibly entertaining rundown of each chapter in the seminal book.

We all on the same page now? Good.

What? We're NOT all on the same page? Oh that's right, as the fellows at Astroguyz.com reminds us in a new review of that atrocious diatribe against evolutionary theory, Expelled, some people are still on the wrong book. My favorite caption from said post: "Are you there, Darwin? (Its me, Ben.)"

In fact, as Andrew at The Evolving Mind points out, there's a whole AOL network full of these folks. Keep trying people, you'll find the true nature of reality eventually, right? Right??

Or perhaps they will find a truth that is not ours. A real truth in which a giant cuttlefish lies behind the mysteries of life, surrounding them with slimy tentacular truthpendages. Though I doubt anyone but the Digital Cuttlefish could ever find such truth.

No Intelligence Allowed

No Intelligence Allowed

Ah well, at least we still have groups such as the folks over at Portland State affirming the last 150 years of truth for us, via the ALWAYS entertaining Peter Buckland over at Forms Most Beautiful. As an aside, I love Peter's blog name, for it comes from one of the most wonderful quotes from our illustrious 19th century hero. In fact, it is the concluding sentence of the entire Origin of Species:

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”

So why should we care that some have not found that unifying theme of all life on the planet, present and past? Why does evolution even matter?

Well, for one, as an excellent biology teacher over at FYI: Science! reminds us (in the first of a multi-part series on why evolution matters), evolution is the reason you should all stop buying all those antibacterial soaps and stop taking antibiotics for a viral infection. She also lets us not forget that without the wonders of evolution, we would never have survived the nineties without our favorite paleontologist, Ross, from Friends.

Observations of a Nerds Sci-Fi Parasites

Observations of a Nerd's "Sci-Fi Parasites"

Without evolution, could we really expect to have things such as a parasite that causes the loss of a fish's tongue, promptly replacing said tongue with itself? This wondrous science-fiction parasite (only one example in a series of such beautiful monstrosities at Observations of a Nerd) makes Douglas Adams' Babel Fish seem downright plausible.

Without a thorough understanding of evolution, one might be tempted to rationalize gender inequalities in human society using only partially understood naturalistic worldviews. Luckily, evolution has produced a perfect antidote to this way of thinking in the form of the masterful writer, Greg Laden of Greg Laden's Blog.

There is also personal power to be gained in understanding nature and its evolutionary history. To quote Asmoday of The Asmoday Experiment in an hilarious and entertaining post on our primate nature

You can become incredibly powerful by watching monkies.

Yes, I am dead serious here.

Austroraptor cabazai

Austroraptor cabazai

Ahh, but lest I give our non-biologist readers the wrong impression, I must note that not a day passes in which some new startling, fascinating, bewildering, strange, or subtle new piece of our planet's evolutionary history does not reveal itself to empirical eyes. And in this month's edition we have a plethora of newly published studies unraveled for us by none other than GrrlScientist at Living the Scientific Life. From the convergent evolution of the Hawai'ian Honeyeaters, the evolution of yawning as a thermoregulatory mechanism, and the discovery of a new Argentinian carnivorous dinosaur to the origins of modern birds, GrrlScientist lays the glory of the data out for us all to see, and most importantly, understand.

Taking a deeper view and delving into the molecular origins of the origins themselves, Hoxful Monsters brings us an excellent review of the importance of the ParaHox genes, paralogous to the familiar Hox cluster. In a related post, he brings us details of a recent study that places the Hox-lacking ctenophores, the beautiful creatures of the sea, as the most primitive of animal groups.

Yet these findings are all mere glimpses into the wonders of the fruits of natural selection.

What will we uncover next?

Find out in one month as the Carnival of Evolution #9 makes its appearance at Moneduloides. Use this handy form for submissions. We are seeking new hosts, so please volunteer if you have the will.

Please note, after discussion with several other bloggers at ScienceOnline09, including the Deep Sea News writer and hilarious musician Kevin Zelnio, the Carnival of Evolution will now be published on a monthly basis instead of biweekly. This is to both increase the quality of the carnival and to increase the number of entries in each edition. The conference was reinvigorating to say the least and I am committed to making sure this Carnival remains successful.

*UPDATE* 1/30/09 - After I published this, I found that blogcarnival.com had backlogged a whole other set of submissions (quite alot actually) for edition #9 (the one after this). If your post is one of these I am SO sorry. They were not included because I did not know they existed! I will set up another edition devoted to this full set of links ASAP. This is actually pretty exciting because it means we have ALOT more submissions than I thought!  Woo hoo!

*UPDATE* 2/3/09 - PART TWO of this edition is now posted here: Carnival of Evolution #8 (Part Two).

1Jan/09Off

Carnival of Evolution #8 – Update

One thing natural selection is powerless against is selecting for or against anything in an organism post-reproduction. Hence, our bodies are fairly impotent when it comes to fighting cancer (with many exceptions, of course). The mechanisms of evolution are simply blind to most cancers.

It is for this reason that I must delay today's edition of the Carnival of Evolution. My grandfather "Papaw" finally and thankfully ended a long fight with lung cancer thirty minutes before midnight on New Year's Eve. He had just received word that day that the cancer had spread pretty much all over and the prospects for '09 were not looking particularly pleasant.

So, in perfect characteristic fashion, Papaw proceeded to thumb his nose at the potential of an agonizing death by having a heart attack that very day.

He will be missed by many.

The next edition, which was due to be published today, will be published as soon as I return from the funeral next week. Much apologies to all contributors. Rest assured - you will all be included.