Skeptical that PMS is an adaptive response designed to break up your relationship? Me too.

In a pleasantly surprising turn of events, this week a take-down of some dubious evolutionary psychology was published by the popular media!  The original article, a perspective piece published in Evolutionary Applications, claims that moodiness associated with PMS may have historically served an adaptive role by driving infertile couples apart. 

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) affects up to 80% of women, often leading to significant personal, social and economic costs. When apparently maladaptive states are widespread, they sometimes confer a hidden advantage, or did so in our evolutionary past. We suggest that PMS had a selective advantage because it increased the chance that infertile pair bonds would dissolve, thus improving the reproductive outcomes of women in such partnerships. We confirm predictions arising from the hypothesis: PMS has high heritability; gene variants associated with PMS can be identified; animosity exhibited during PMS is preferentially directed at current partners; and behaviours exhibited during PMS may increase the chance of finding a new partner. Under this view, the prevalence of PMS might result from genes and behaviours that are adaptive in some societies, but are potentially less appropriate in modern cultures. Understanding this evolutionary mismatch might help depathologize PMS, and suggests solutions, including the choice to use cycle-stopping contraception.

Check out the response, published by The Daily Beast, here:

Here’s the scapegoat unhappy spouses have been waiting for: According to a paper out last week by Michael R. Gillings, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can ruin a marriage. Gillings claims that PMSing women—in infertile couples in particular—may use feelings of “animosity” as well as risk-seeking and competitive behaviors to leave their husbands and find someone new. I’m sorry to say, but the evidence in favor of this hypothesis is thinner than Always Infinity menstrual pads.

Feeling the stress of an academic career? Think happy thoughts!

A recent study published in the journal Stress & Health surveyed the mental health and coping strategies of 200 postdocs at UT Austin and found that individuals who thought positively were better able to cope with the stress of an academic position.

“Thinking positively can do more than bring a transient smile to your face. Postdocs who experience high levels of positive emotions are less likely to suffer from stress-associated anxiety or depression than other postdocs are, according to a recent study of 200 University of Texas (UT), Austin, postdoctoral fellows, 79% of whom work in the sciences. One apparent link between positive thoughts and reduced anxiety and depression is resilience: More positive emotion was correlated with high resilience, which in turn was linked to fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression.”

A happy scientist.

A happy scientist.

Read more about the study here.

Q: What do your friends and your fourth cousins have in common?

you smell

A: Their genetic relatedness to you.

A new study out in PNAS this week suggests that you may have even more in common with your friends than you think.  In particular, you are more likely to share your sense of smell.

“People often talk about how their friends feel like family. Well, there’s some new research out that suggests there’s more to that than just a feeling. People appear to be more like their friends genetically than they are to strangers, the research found.  Some of the genes that friends were most likely to have in common involve smell. “We tend to smell things the same way that our friends do,” Fowler says. The study involved nearly 2,000 adults.”

Read (or listen) to the story at NPR (or check out the original article here for more data and less speculation).

Why we should all (evolutionary biologists) be excited about studying Cannabis.

 

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Figure 1. Cannabis plants at the Centennial Seeds facilities.

This is a guest post by Daniela Vergara, a postdoctoral researcher studying the genomic architecture of hybrid species of sunflowers and Cannabis in Nolan Kane’s Lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder.  Daniela also blogs about science at A Ciencia Abierta. Check out her blog for a spanish version of this post.

Cannabis is definitely a cool plant. It has fun names like matanuska thunderfuck, jesus OG or trainwreck and it has been trendy among humans for a very long time (humans have utilized it for thousands of years). Despite this long history, and the fact that Cannabis is the most widely used recreational drug in the world [1], the genomics and the general the biology of these plants have only been partially studied. At the Cannabis Genomic Research Initiative (CGRI) at the University of Colorado Boulder we want to study this genus of plants for several reasons, including: (i) its medical significance, (ii) its importance in the biofuel, fiber, oil, textile and food industries, (iii) its long co-evolutionary relationship with humans as an ancient crop, and (iv) in general, because it is an exciting emerging study system in evolutionary biology.

Why should evolutionary biologists be excited about studying Cannabis?

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When a bad bird goes good … and then bad again.

cuckoos

Brood parasites are definitely the bullies of the avian world.  They lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, sometimes destroying the host’s own eggs or just waiting for their nestlings to do the dirty work after they hatch.  They then outcompete any surviving host nestlings for food, while the poor host parents are worked to the bone to feed the monstrous nest invader.

In spite of the steep costs of nest parasitism, most avian host species do not have effective mechanisms for detecting and removing brood parasites from their nests.  So, why don’t mama birds notice they have a GIANT intruder in their nest and carry out some infanticide of their own?  One hypothesis is that the cost of a mother bird making a mistake and pushing the wrong baby out (i.e. her own) outweighs the benefit of developing such a behavior.

This week in Science, Canestrari et al. published evidence for another hypothesis – that sometimes, it might actually be good to have your nest parasitized.

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Should women in science have to choose between starting a career and starting a family?

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Last week Nature published a short correspondence – and people got really angry.  In case you missed it, here is a short summary of events. It started when Nature published an update on their efforts to reduce the gender bias in their publication.  This was inexplicably followed by Nature also publishing an ill-conceived short correspondence criticizing their efforts and blaming the inequality on women’s decisions to have children.  A number of people responded to the piece (including here, here, and here) and in response, Nature issued a strongly worded mea culpa.

I find that the most frustrating part of this whole fiasco is not that top tier journals sometimes publish things they shouldn’t (I think we already knew that), but that it sidetracks the discussion away from the types of conversations that we should really be having.  The underrepresentation of women in top tier journals (as well as math and science fields in general) is a real problem.  When half of our brightest minds aren’t being fully represented, we all lose out, regardless of the cause.  However, understanding the cause allows us to implement the appropriate solutions.

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Should scientists be more subjective?

Peer-Review-Nick-Kim-cartoon3-resizeThough the goal of scientific research is to objectively follow evidence to advance our knowledge of the world we live in, it has become increasing apparent that there are some substantial road blocks in our way.  For example, a number of recent articles have argued that (A) we get the wrong answer – a lot, (B) the hotter the area of research, the more likely we are to get it wrong, and (C) the higher the profile of the journal we published in, the more likely we are to have got it wrong (Ioannidis 2005, Pfeiffer & Hoffmann 2009, Brembs et al. 2013).  Ideally, science is self-correcting process, allowing us to reach the correct answer over time, in spite of such misleading results.  However, the authors of a recent Nature article argue that a phenomena they refer to as “herding” can prevent or severely delay the process of self-correction and their proposed solution is quite surprising: add more subjectivity to the peer review process (Park et al. 2013).

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Friday Coffee Break

halloween coffee two

Every Friday at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! our contributors pass around links to new scientific results, or science-y news, or videos of adorable wildlife, that they’re most likely to bring up while waiting in line for a latte.

This week is open access week! Celebrate by dispelling six myths about open access articles (From Sarah).

“Open access to academic research has never been a hotter topic. But it’s still held back by myths and misunderstandings repeated by people who should know better.”

How should the public perceive scientists? Geeks, Cool Nerds,…Regular People? (From Sarah).

“So might a more inclusive portrayal of science – one that includes a few well-dressed and socially astute women, for example – draw more people to science than a “coolified” depiction of stereotypical nerdiness?”

What is inside of an anglerfish? The Natural History Museum used a 3D CT scan to find out (From Sarah & Noah).

“Museum imaging experts discover that an anglerfish in the collections ate a fish twice its length, giving it an enormous expanded stomach.”

 John Hawk discusses the implications of the recent discovery of a unique Homo erectus skull that was published in Science this week (From Jeremy).

“When you look at the cranial base of D4500, you realize something truly special is there. The number of well-preserved basicrania from Homo erectus is very small, none as intact as this one.”

How many cells are in the human body?  Carl Zimmer discusses the latest answer (From Jeremy).

“A simple question deserves a simple answer. How many cells are in your body?  Unfortunately, your cells can’t fill out census forms, so they can’t tell you themselves.”

Friday Coffee Break

halloween

Every Friday at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! our contributors pass around links to new scientific results, or science-y news, or videos of adorable wildlife, that they’re most likely to bring up while waiting in line for a latte.

Get in the mood for Halloween with 13 horrifying ways to die … if you are an insect. (From Sarah)

“Scared of insects, spiders, or other leggy arthropods? It could be worse. You could be one of them.”

Feeling guilty about taking your coffee break? Don’t! Taking a break is good for your brain. (From Sarah)

“Research on naps, meditation, nature walks and the habits of exceptional artists and athletes reveals how mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity”

Instructors at the Catalina Island Marine Institute found one BIG fish! (From CJ)

“A snorkeler off the coast of California found more than she bargained for on the ocean floor Sunday, when she saw the large eyes of an 18-foot fish staring back at her.”

zombie apocalypse might not be so bad for the rest of the animal kingdom.  (From Jeremy)

“National Wildlife Federation naturalist David Mizejewski explains how nature would deal with a zombie outbreak: brutally, and without quarter.”

A recent study suggests that when you are in love, everything really does taste sweeter. (From Amy)

“Not only do we correlate the word love with sweetness, but thinking about romance might make us perceive the things we eat and drink as sweeter, too.”

Still hungry for more science?  Check out The Science Studio. (From Amy)

“Welcome to Science Studio – the best multimedia on the web. This year we’re focusing on audio and video pieces – all the best sciencey stuff that filled your ears and eyes this past year.”

Friday Coffee Break

birdscoffeeEvery Friday at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! our contributors pass around links to new scientific results, or science-y news, or videos of adorable wildlife, that they’re most likely to bring up while waiting in line for a latte.

Scientists have been tracking the flight patterns of alpine swifts – turns out, they are pretty badass! (From Noah).

“In September of 2011, three alpine swifts took to the air in southwest Africa, and stayed there for almost 200 days. They fed on the wing. They slept on the wing. By the time they firmly settled back on solid surfaces, it was April of 2012 and they had travelled across the Sahara to the Mediterranean.”

A recent study has identified heritable genetic variation that may contribute to eating disorders (From Jeremy).

“Eating disorders are a combination disease, a combination of genetic risks and environmental triggers, including things like stress. Unfortunately, it’s been difficult to identify specific genes that predispose people to eating disorders.”

Trying to determine which recent scientific findings are the most important? Don’t ask a scientist (From Amy).

“Maybe you shouldn’t put too much stock in what four out of five dentists say? Scientists, even experts in the same field, don’t agree on which research studies are the most important, a new study (of course) found.”

CJ points us to some awesome science comics at Beatrice the Biologist.

“Beatrice the Biologist is part science blog, part comic, and part incoherent rambling. I just hope you find my insanity amusing.”

Poop pills – This is supposed to reduce the ‘ick’ factor?  (From Sarah)

“If you’re one of those people that has trouble swallowing pills, try not to think what’s in these ones as they go down: A researcher has shown that encapsulated bacteria from human feces effectively treated 100 percent of patients with relapsing Clostridium difficile infections.”

While a longer life is good for us, it is likely very bad for our biotic environment.  Are you surprised? (From Sarah)

“As human life expectancy increases, so does the percentage of invasive and endangered birds and mammals, according to a new study by the University of California, Davis.”