05 February 2008

Tangled Bank #98

Hey! Welcome to Tangled Bank #98, and thanks for stopping by. If you've never been to Quintessence of Dust, the lobby is below and to the right. I hope you'll poke around a little.

PZ didn't give me a budget for refreshments, but if you come to the house I'll make sure we at least have plenty of guacamole. Chips are here, and beer is over there. Our city was once used by Anne Lamott as a metaphor for plainness, but it's much cooler than most people think. You can get to our house on a nice bus system, and after the carnival we can pick one of two Ethiopian restaurants. My day job is at Calvin College, but right now I'm on sabbatical in the lab of a friend and collaborator at the Van Andel Institute in downtown Grand Rapids.

I know a junior-high science and math teacher who displayed a poster on her classroom wall that read, "Free knowledge: bring your own container." The image, of course, was a human brain. That's how I feel about the blogosphere, and if there's a theme for this Tangled Bank, that's it, although "junk DNA," the plague, heat (you'll see), sex and food are some other keywords. The last two are personal favorites, so...let's eat!

Is that a shrew eating a cephalopod? A shrew gagging on a cephalopod? A grey-faced sengi gagging on a cephalopod? You probably know what it is; if you don't, head over to The Daily Mammal and check out today's special. Ambitious and beautiful. Maybe it'll be beetles next; that'd take, what, 50 years?

Uh, "grey-faced sengi?" Like Matheson knows what that is. But Brian does, despite being "educated" at Rutgers. See one, and read about it, at Laelaps.

"Indisputably cute" is how the pika is described at The Beagle Project. The article is a fascinating lesson on natural selection, and it features the cute pikas and their remarkable colonization of high, cold regions. It's Detecting natural selection: a pika's tale.

Lots of those cute daily mammals have provided hot meals to pit vipers, and especially rattlers. Curious? Of course you are. Rigor Vitae is worth a look just because of the name, but today the article to read is A Serpent's Tail, exploring the rattle and discussing a new member of this charming group of creatures.

If you prefer birds, have a look at the White-Cheeked Pintails at 10,000 Birds. Mike says they "seem perfectly suited to that relaxed West Indies environment." We're expecting 10" of snow in the next 12 hours. Harrumph, Mike. Gorgeous birds, though.

What do hummingbirds and rattlesnakes have in common? Well, some hummingbirds use their tails to make sounds. Cool sounds, too: one species (Anna's hummingbird) makes a "high-frequency chirp...during his display dive." Read more about this Novel mechanism for sound production in birds at Behavioral Ecology Blog.

It's a famous question: "What good is half a wing?" GrrlScientist recaps a very recent paper examining mechanisms of evolution of flight in her post Flying Lessons: Additional Insight into the Evolution of Flight in Birds at Living the Scientific Life. (Warning: Living the Scientific Life is a carnival unto itself, so be sure to read just one article and hurry back.) One of my first posts on Quintessence of Dust reviewed an article on bird evolution and genome size; check it out if you get the chance.

Want weird? How 'bout "cactus animals"? Technically, they're chancelloriids, and they're in the spotlight at Catalogue of Organisms in Scleritome Week: The Cactus Animals.

At Invasive Species Weblog read about how flame retardants are likely to provide assistance to invasive plants, one of which is known to make wildfires worse. We Didn't Start the Fire...or maybe we did will wipe that Tangled Bank smile right off your face.

This should help. Go to PodBlack Cat's Blog and feast on this celebration of science and poetry: Nothing In the 'Verse Can Stop Me. In The Bath should prepare you well for a segue into, um, reproductive biology – read it, then go straight to The Tree of Life and ask yourself, "Is that a sex organ on the cover of Nature?" Check out the comments.

Proceed immediately to Not Exactly Rocket Science and read Sex runs hot and cold. Well, okay, the full title is "Sex runs hot and cold – why does temperature control the gender of Jacky dragons?" but we were on a roll with the sex thing and I didn't want to lose our momentum. The post reviews a recent study that addresses a longstanding question in evolutionary biology regarding sex determination.

Have you "worked up a good sweat" at this point? At Swans on Tea you can learn about how "a good sweat" can be too much of a good thing. Read No Sweat, and bring a towel.

Lemme guess: you're hungry now. :-) Let's carb-load on biblical pasta. No really: our server at VWXYNot? reviews "Ezekiel 4:9 Penne" in Holy Penne, Batman. Best line: "I tend to be in favour of the separation of church and dinner, but this stuff was quite tasty." So you prefer potatoes? Greg Laden writes in The Great Potato Origins Debate May Be Settled that the history of the European potato may need to be rewritten, and along with it our understanding of potato blight. And at rENNISance woman, Cath Ennis reviews recent work on the role of diet in evolutionary divergence (with regard to gene expression). She asks "Are we really evolving, or just eating too many Big Macs?" I'd say both...

I think "negligible senescence" sounds like a great name for a band, but it's also an interesting topic in evolutionary biology. Some organisms just don't age. (Like Mick Jagger. Or not.) Explore recent work on this subject at Ouroboros, in a pair of posts: The evolution of negligible senescence and The evolution of negligible senescence, part II: Organisms that are remotely like us.

Recently, The Black Death was featured prominently on some of the finest science blogs around. But a Black Death Carnival just doesn't sound right, so the plague is here on our house. Aetiology included an entire series on the topic of "What caused the Black Plague?" Retrospectacle ran five posts on the Black Death. And Archaeozoology discusses Yersinia pestis, ancient DNA and the Black Death. It's a sub-carnival of death that's worth a chunk of your remaining time on earth.

After all that heavy Black Death stuff, read about The Galaxy that ate Detroit. Why Detroit? Maybe Phil at Bad Astronomy is a White Sox fan. And is this biology? Well, it involves eating, doesn't it?

Oh, speaking of eating (again), go back to Living the Scientific Life to see how certain parasites make sure that they get from one host to another. Berry butts! Yum!

From red butts on ants to... well, have you ever wondered whether red leaves can still perform photosynthesis? Get to Further Thoughts to find the answer.

Punctuated equilibria made headlines in the blogosphere last week. To learn more about the dustup, and about the issues involved, go to Sandwalk and read Larry Moran on Macromutations and Punctuated Equilibria. Then check out a very interesting follow-up at HENRY, illustrating principles of Punctuated equilibrium and the evolution of languages.

Assessing Diversity in the Past is a detailed examination of another recent discussion of evolutionary biology on the blogs. Mike at The Questionable Authority works through a recent paper on recovery of ecosystems after the end-Permian mass extinction. People pay serious money for education like this.

Creationists make mischief with the term "junk DNA," and I'm working on a series on the subject. But the real work has already been done by Ryan Gregory at Genomicron. On his new blog, DNA & Diversity, he reposts a review of the topic – Junk DNA: function and non-function.
On the same subject, at The Open Helix Blog, you'll find a review of a recent article on non-coding RNA: Non-coding, non-functional or junk ncRNA. Pseudogenes are one kind of "junk DNA," and Science and Reason provides a basic overview in Human gene count drops again.

All this genomic analysis required DNA sequencing, and that process is becoming far faster and cheaper. Michael White at Adaptive Complexity explains in What Next Generation DNA Sequencing Means For You. And what about the converse – building custom genomes? Jim at from Archaea to Zeaxanthol provides a Synthetic life followup, commenting on the recent announcement of the first human-made genome.

If there's anything left of your brain at this point, drag it over to SharpBrains and read Looking inside the Brain: Is my Brain Fit? to learn some basics about brain imaging and the concept of "cognitive reserve."

At Pure Pedantry, Jake describes How tool use is encoded in the brain, reviewing some very recent and intriguing neuroscience. Turns out the tool is treated by the brain as a part of the body! [joke deleted]

Down Syndrome (Trisomy 21) is well-known for (among other things) its effects on the nervous system. Less widely recognized is apparent resistance to solid tumor formation in Down sufferers. At Guadalupe Storm-Petrel, barn owl discusses a recent report on this topic in Down Syndrome Mouse Models: Trisomy Represses Formation of Intestinal Tumors.

How's this for an interesting question: "Would you vaccinate against drug abuse?" Would you vaccinate against, say, cocaine? This has been recently proposed, and DrugMonkey explains the ins and outs before posing the tough questions.

Vaccination makes me think of homeopathy. (Poo.) Evolved and Rational contributes A skeptical look at homeopathy.

At Effect Measure, Revere patiently explains the potentially alarming but surely complex situation leading to "an unexpectedly high rate of Tamiflu resistance" in European influenza this year. The article is Tamiflu resistance in seasonal flu: the devil is in the details.

Okay, we're almost at the end. But before we hit the bottom, get acquainted with ResearchBlogging.org by reading the introduction at BPR3. Most of the posts in this carnival were flying the ResearchBlogging icon, and the aggregator is a great resource in which to find quality science blogging. Free education!

Deep Sea News belongs at the bottom, I think, although the subject is about The Beginning. Check out Hydrothermal Vents, Life and Everything Else to learn about The Lost City and carbonate chimneys.

Here ends Tangled Bank #98. Thanks for coming by. The 99th Edition will be hosted by Greg Laden's Blog on Wednesday, February 20.
Image credits: star-nosed mole from this post at The Daily Mammal; others created at this sign generator site.


Jim Lemire said...

Holy crap, man, that's a lot of posts. Nicely done.

Mike Beidler said...

A grey-faced sengi gagging on a cephalopod?

Close, but no cigar. Here's the real answer:


Poor mole.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic! Great, great links and really good range of posts - thanks!

Anonymous said...

Great job!

Thanks for being so inclusive and thorough.

P.S. Is that really an MRI of your brain? Wish I had one of mine...though if I have a Wulst, I'm not sure I want to know about it.

Karen James said...

Most impressive! Apparently Peter Mc has nominated our very own Beagle Project Blog to host a Tangled Bank but I'm not sure I want to have to follow this! *Quaking in boots*

Jennifer K. said...

Wow, I have a lot to read now! And I'm so excited to read it. Great round-up here.

Anonymous said...

By my calculations, sticking to beetle species in the US and Canada only (over 26k), and assuming a beetle a day, you'd need about 72 years. All known beetle species (~350k) would take about a millennium. Using the minimum estimate for all species, including ones that haven't been discovered or described (5 million), would take about 13,700 years. Yay beetles!

Stephen Matheson said...

Hey all, thanks for the kind words. It was fun, and I learned a lot.

Mike: try not to scare the kids, okay?

barn owl: Yep, that's me brain. As a postdoc in Boston, I readily volunteered as a, um, experimental subject to get some cash so we could buy food. (Heh.) This is how I know what it's like to have bone marrow removed, for example. (Heh.) Well, at MGH East where I worked, they have one of the busiest fMRI labs around, and they were always trolling for chumps to be tortured in the tube. I got $125 (IIRC) and a free picture of me brain. And all I had to do was stay very still with a stick in my mouth and sledge hammers pounding in my ears while the sadistic experimenter burned the back of my hand with a solid-state heat probe. (60C, leaves a mark but it fades after a few hours.) Such a deal! I did wonder what they do when/if the image shows something...unexpected. In my case, I guess it did: a fully intact cerebral cortex in an evangelical. NO!

tfkw: Thanks! I never would have guessed that I was that far off. Good ol' Haldane.

Anonymous said...

That was a lot of really random information. Some of it was pretty funny though.