From Sarah: Why are honeycombs hexagonal, anyway?
From Devin: How many papers have you reviewed in the past year? And, more important, how many review requests have you turned down?
From Jeremy: Most U.S. states have pretty lousy state birds. (Everyone who picked Northern Cardinal, I’m looking at you.) Here are suggestions for much better ones.
From Sarah: Here are ten ways your house is like an ant’s. And here are ten cool recent dinosaur discoveries.
And, also from Sarah: a new international study shows that students need sleep.
I think we underestimate the impact of sleep. Our data show that across countries internationally, on average, children who have more sleep achieve higher in maths, science and reading. That is exactly what our data show,” says Chad Minnich, of the TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Center.
From Devin: A new preprint server, bioRxiv, is looking to be the ArXive for the life sciences. (But lots of biologists are starting to use ArXive already.)
… Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press is set to test the waters in preprint publishing before the end of the year. The service, called bioRxiv, will be largely modeled after arXiv, with a few additional features to entice life scientists. These include public commenting, room for supplementary information and links to established databases such as GenBank.
From Jeremy: A study tests the quality of plant trait data from public databases by comparing it to new samples.
… the correlation between sampling effort and payoff is still (as usual) high. It may be easier to get traits from a database, but it is not usually better.
Via Slate’s Brow Beat blog: Today, Google’s homepage logo honors the 93rd birthday of Saul Bass, who designed the credits sequences for some truly excellent classic films. And, since his work is a major inspiration for the look of this very site, how can we not include the tribute here?
So, I’ve already announced this in other venues, but, what the heck: I’m collaborating on a new survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* folks working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. If that describes you, my collaborator and I would really like you to answer some questions. It’s all anonymous (unless you volunteer for a followup interview), and it’ll help fill a real gap in our understanding.
I am reliably informed that the monthly round-up of online writing about evolution is available now at DNA Barcoding. Reserve a nice long block of time to peruse the links—this month’s carnival is bigger on the inside.
From Amy: The U.S. Department of Agriculture is looking into unleashing parasitoid wasps to control invasive Asian stinkbugs.
From Devin (@DevinDrown): A cure for the contagious cancer plaguing Tasmanian devil populations may rely on making the cancer cells “visible” to the devils’ own immune systems.
It turns out that [devil facial tumor disease] cells down-regulated genes that are required for antigen processing—ultimately leading to a lack of MHC expression on the outside of the tumor cells. Without that signal from the MHC molecules, the immune system is oblivious to this sinister presence, and the cancer proliferates until it has killed the animal—explaining why this disease has a 100% mortality rate.
From CJ (@cejjenkins): What scares sperm whales? Orcas. But, what, exactly is scared by a moth that looks like a spider?
From Sarah (@SarahMHird): What not to do in the early stages of your academic career. And, if you want to despair for the future of science in the U.S., here’s a depressing article about how Pennsylvania science teachers handle/avoid teaching evolution.
“My approach is to teach the textbook content of Darwinian evolution but modified to explain that data can be interpreted differently dependent upon one’s world view.”
From Jeremy (@JBYoder): Sixteen-year-old sets up a DIY chemistry experiment, gets charged with a felony. There’s a petition you should sign.
A system that values obedience over curiosity isn’t education and it definitely isn’t science. Her expulsion and arrest sends a very clear and striking message to students, especially urban students of color: Don’t try this at home, or school or anywhere. Science exploration is not for you!
John Corvino, the chair of the Philosophy Department at Wayne State University, has recently published a book, What’s Wrong With Homosexuality, which systematically knocks down objections to the equality of LGBTQ folks. He’s been discussing major points from the book in a series of clever and widely-circulated videos, and I just recently discovered that, in an episode about the biological basis of sexual orientation, he talks about that review article proposing a possible epigenetic basis for sexual orientation that I discussed here a few months ago.
Full disclosure: I found Corvino’s post, actually, because he linked to my piece about the epigenetics paper, and he did so while paying it what I consider the highest compliment it’s possible to pay a science blogger: “A nice explanation of the paper can be found here.” Which: look at me blushing.
But Corvino comes at the question from a somewhat different angle than a biologist: he says it really doesn’t matter whether there’s an inborn basis to sexual orientation.
I just finished my registration for Evolution 2013, the joint annual meeting of the American Society of Naturalists, Society of Systematic Biologists, and the Society for the Study of Evolution. This year it’ll be at the resort town of Snowbird, Utah—which will be a bit trickier as a travel destination, but promises to provide spectacular natural beauty as a backdrop to the science at the biggest conference of evolutionary biologists and ecologists in North America. For example, Cecret Lake:
Are you going to be there? Should we try to arrange some sort of meet-up for NiB readers and contributors? Let us know in the comments.
What kind of sequencing capacity do they have in Tomorrowland? Photo by Big DumpTruck.
The April 2013 edition of the Carnival of Evolution is online over at Synthetic Daisies. This issue of the monthly collection of online writing about all things evolution-y is organized around the theme of the future of evolution—which looks to be full of exciting possibilities. There’s experimental phylogenetics and speculation about radio-sensing animals and species coming back from the dead, so maybe you should go peruse the whole thing.
A Joshua tree flower, up close.
A huge diversity of flowering plants rely on animals to carry pollen from one flower to another, ensuring healthy, more genetically diverse offpsring. These animal-pollinated species are in a somewhat unique position, from an evolutionary perspective: they can become reproductively isolated, and to form new species, as a result of evolutionary or ecological change in an entirely different species.
Evolutionary biologists have had good reason to think that pollinators often play a role in the formation of new plant species since at least the middle of the 20th century, when Verne Grant observed that animal-pollinated plant species are more likely to differ in their floral characteristics than plants that move pollen around via wind. More recently, biologists have gone as far as to dissect the genetic basis of traits that determine which pollinator species are attracted to a flower—and thus, which flowers can trade pollen.
However, while it’s very well established that pollinators can maintain isolation between plant populations, we have much less evidence that interactions with pollinators help to create that isolation in the first place. One likely candidate for such pollinator-mediated speciation is Joshua tree, the iconic plant of the Mojave Desert.