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

2Jul/09Off

Grandpa’s Pet Therapod

nope - not a fake at all...

nope - not a fake at all...

I hang out online sometimes with a bunch of like-minded fossil-enthusiasts (The Fossil Forum).

Tonight somebody posted this:

Just watched the new this evening and they were talking about a dig going on right now outside of Glen Rose, on the McFall ranch. The news showed the footprints of the therapod and the human prints together. It was interesting. For report go to cbs11tv.com

So I mosied over to the Dallas, TX CBS news site and found the article "Local City Known As Dinosaur Capital Of Texas, by Arezow Doost."

Sounds innocuous enough for a title, right?  Then I read the first three sentences:

"Did you ever think that there were dinosaurs in North Texas?

As it turns out, this is one of the most prolific areas for dinosaur tracks in the state. One group of scientists have even found tracks dating back millions of years."

Read that last sentence again:

"One group of scientists have even found tracks dating back millions of years."

Cause, you know, all those other groups found tracks that weren't millions of years old...
(for those of you who missed out on elementary school, dinosaurs went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous sixty-five million years ago.)

Absolutely hilarious...and mind-numbingly maddening.

After reading a bit more, then you learn what it is really about:

"Scientists believe that one of the most unique findings is human prints dating back to the same period as the dinosaur prints. "We are looking for the truth," said Baugh. "We don't want anything else but the truth.""

I rolled my eyes. Obviously, I had a feeling what I would find out with a little search, but I decided to check out the scientist quoted in the piece, because I thought it was a bit odd that he said "We are looking for the truth. We don't want anything else but the truth."

You see, that is a very non-scientist thing to say in a media piece, and it instantly threw up a red flag to me. I say this because when one is actually in the practice of being a good scientist, a statement like that is like a commercial fisherman saying "no really, we're just out here to catch fish." What else would a fisherman be fishing in the ocean for? If you're a scientist, a statement like that is less than unnecessary.

Yeah this guy, Carl Baugh, is a young earth creationist discredited in the scientific community and with a questionable education. He is obviously seeking to prove his own wrong beliefs - not actually do what good scientists do, which is let the data speak for themselves. Check this out for some rather hilarious reading on Baugh: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Baugh

Sigh...it is Texas after all (I was born and raised in east Texas, FYI)

As an added moronic bonus, if you look at the url of the story you'll see that it's filed under "pets."
(http://cbs11tv.com/pets/Texas.Dinosaur.Capital.2.1069336.html).

What kind of of idiots are running that station?

One thing about the fossil record - it's insanely consistent across both time and continental space, if fragmentary. And it has consistently shown us that human and therapod existence is quite a few tens of millions of years apart.

Hell, mammals were barely existent back then, compared to today. But primates? LOL - no.

***

Side note: I'm going fossil hunting in Aurora, NC tomorrow and at Greens Mill Run in Greenville, NC on Saturday!!  Shark teeth here I come. Please just let me find a megalodon.

26Jun/09Off

Echinodermata For The Win!!

I'm back!!!

Oh...you never realized I was gone?

Ah well, that's ok, because I AM back - back from a stressful few months of wondering where I would end up, how I would feed my babies (i.e. cats) and their baby-momma (my wife - yeah that does sound rather gross), and several dozen unknowns also thrown into the mix.

And after all the trials and tribulations, I can now state with certainty that I got the one job in my new future hometown (Pittsburgh) that I wanted more than anything: a post-doc in the lab of Dr. Veronica Hinman at Carnegie Mellon University.

What will I be doing you ask?

Well, I will be doing none other than studying the evolution of gene regulatory networks (GRNs). Specifically, I'll be looking at GRNs in the context of development using the wonderful sea critters in the phylum Echinodermata. For those of you not in the know, the "spiny-skinned" echinoderms are the asteroids (starfish/sea stars), ophiuroids (brittle stars), echinoids (sea urchins), holothuroids (sea cucumbers), and crinoids (feather stars, sea lillies and such).

Click for larger! Or Click HERE for super high resolution posters.

That's right folks - I am now at least an honorary marine biologist! ... kind of.  I don't know if the real marine biologists would ever deign to allow me such a title, but I can call myself whatever I want.

Many of you may know this already, but the process by which a single fertilized cell becomes a complex organism is an insanely intricate one. DNA is often called a "blueprint" for life, however in reality it's more like a cooking recipe informing each cell which ingredient to add and when, where, and how to add it - all codified into a multi-layered genetic computer program with kernels, plug-ins, sub-circuits, and all sorts of other technobabbly organic craziness.

This is where the "Gene Regulatory Network" comes in - the GRN is that central biological software controlling and allowing life itself. Not only will I be studying the structure of these networks in echinoderm development, I'll be looking at the evolutionary context of the echinoderm networks in relation to each other to suss out how they work and which parts of the networks are conserved (or not) between these amazing creatures that diverged from each other about 500 million years ago.

I'll initially be working on the "endomesoderm" network in the sea star, Asterina miniata. Down the line I'll also be contributing to the development of the sea cucumber as a new model for studying "evodevo".

In celebration, I spent a fair bit of time getting back to my art roots creating the above cladogram in the sand of the Echinoderm phylum (which you can get a poster of here if you're into echinoderms. I rendered it out in pretty high resolution, so you will definitely be getting a high quality poster. I'm pretty proud of it as it took quite a bit of work in the Blender program).

I spent a while trying to find time-lapses or animations of starfish development online, to no avail. Thus I spent a week of much needed downtime to create this computer animation: (note - you can also watch it in High Definition on youtube)

NOTE: The details of the actual metamorphosis of the rudiment into the juvenile are not accurate - it's quite hard to animate these types of changes - and to be honest I haven't actually seen these creatures in the flesh. But it's good enough to get a good idea of how the whole developmental process occurs in this type of sea star.

Anyway, I'm sure I will have much much more to say about the evolution and development of echinoderms in the future so I'll leave it at that for now.

Hopefully, I can at least be an honorary member of the cool kids club, the marine biologists: Kevin, Eric, Andrew, David, Miriam, Christie, Rick, Mark, Jason, Chris, and all the others I'm surely missing.

21Apr/09Off

Some Quick Link Love for Hoxful Monsters

Nagraj Sambrani of Hoxful Monsters

Nagraj Sambrani of Hoxful Monsters

If any of you have not read Hoxful Monsters, you should leave me and go there immediately.

I swear - everytime I read a post by Nagraj Sambrani, I find myself at least a tenth of an IQ point smarter (that's a joke - no IQ debates here...). That adds up!

Nagraj's latest post (New tree of animal suggests nervous system evolved only once in animal history) is on a recent huge study that analyzed a large number of genes throughout the "early" metazoan lineages, coming to the conclusion that the nervous system only evolved once (among other conclusions).

The amazing thing about Nagraj is that he has about as in-depth a grasp of the intricate data of metazoan taxonomy and phylogeny as possible (not to mention his expertise in developmental biology - a huge plus in my eyes).  And for someone for whom English is not a first language, he is an incredibly excellent writer, and getting better all the time.

I just wanted to give a quick shout out to Nagraj and point some more readers his direction, as he is most assuredly among the best writers to cover the detailed evolutionary and developmental science being published.

Scientifically speaking, Hoxful Monsters is most definitely my absolute favorite blog!

20Apr/09Off

Great Darwin Beard Challenge – An Extinction Event Has Occurred

As I have recently shown you all, Spring is here in full force in North Carolina.

I love it more than almost anything, but there are two weeks of Spring that are quite hellish for me.  You see, I am incredibly allergic to Oak pollen (most species but not all).

This fact has lead to a tragic event for me and my place in the Great Darwin Beard Challenge - a mishap involving pollen, drugs, sleep, and ravenous beasts.

I awoke with the tell-tale symptoms: swollen eyes, a Tommy-gun sneezing fit, and a foggy brain. Yes, the oaks were having sex and the fruits of their lust were ravaging my insides.

So I took some pretty hardcore antihistamines and sat in a chair in my front lawn to flaunt my chemical invulnerability to the trees' love weapons. Alas, the antihistamines knocked me out cold.

Now everyone who has lived in the rural deciduous forests of North Carolina knows that you should NEVER fall asleep outside in the daytime.

NEVER EVER!

But in my drug-laden mind I had thrown caution to the wind, leaving my beard as an irresistible free meal to those nasty predators of woolen faces: the native Keratinovorous Dwarf Bears (Hirsutophagous imaliari).

Much to my dismay, my wife had photographed the entire ensuing feast. Apparently she found it too funny to awaken me (in her defense, being an original city-girl she was unaware of the almost certain transmission of virus I was receiving - see below).

Keratinovorous Dwarf Bears making a snack of my beard

Keratinovorous Dwarf Bears making a snack of my beard as I lie unconscious from the antihistamines.

Look what they've done!!

Look what they did to my beard!

Damn you Dwarf Bears!!

Damn you Dwarf Bears!!

Furthermore, it is a well-known fact that the Keratinous Dwarf Bears carry a virus that renders humans infertile (see the 1997 Science article for more info). Thus it seems that I have left this competition in a truly Darwinian fashion: unfit to spread my genes to the population.

Thus, I am saddened to leave this greatest of beard contests disgraced and shamed.

Saddened and rendered impotent, I leave the Great Darwin Beard Contest behind...

Saddened, impotent, and infertile I leave the Great Darwin Beard Challenge behind...

I'd like to thank Kevin Zelnio (Deep Sea News, The Other 95%), Andrew "The Southern Fried Scientist" and David "whysharksmatter" (both of Southern Fried Science), and the also-shaven "David2" for the opportunity to compete with such woollenly adapted men. It has been great fun and I wish those stupid dwarf bears had not eliminated me from the running for "Most Darwinesque Beard."

May the three of you remain bearded and fertile for the remainder of the competition!

Great Darwin Beard Challenge History:

13Apr/09Off

Great Darwin Beard Challenge – Month 2

Oh yes, woolly we be. Check out the latest update on our celebratory Darwin beard contest over at Southern Fried Science.

Great Darwin Beard Challenge History: