Antibiotic Resistance For Everyone!

Everyone should know what antibiotic resistance is. According to the World Health Organization, “this serious threat is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country.” So, I hope this short “comic” helps make it clear why we should all be thinking about antibiotic use…

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Random Natural History: Ebola

through a glass, darkly

Currently there is a catastrophic outbreak of Ebola happening in West Africa. Over 1700 infections have been recorded with nearly 1000 deaths, making it the deadliest outbreak of ebola known. Infection results in a hemorrhagic fever, which starts out a bit like the influenza, but can result in bleeding from mucous membranes, organ failure, and ultimately death. But what is Ebola?

Ebola is a Filovirus. Filoviruses are a small group of viruses only known to infect mammals. They are so named because of their filamentous shape. They have tiny genomes, only ~19,000 base pairs in length, containing only seven protein coding genes and two regulatory regions. By contrast, the human genome is over 3 billion base pairs, contains around twenty thousand genes and has innumerable (by which I mean as yet unnumbered regulatory regions). Because of ebola’s simplicity, (as with all viruses), it cannot reproduce without commandeering the cellular machinery of its hosts. In the words of Cormac McCarthy, These anonymous creatures… may seem little or nothing in the world. Yet the smallest crumb can devour us.

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Population geneticists to Nicholas Wade: You know nothing of our work!

Okay, I’m paraphrasing in that headline, but only barely. From Science Insider:

A best-seller by former New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade about recent human evolution and its potential effects on human cultures has drawn critical reviews since its spring publication. Now, nearly 140 senior human population geneticists around the world, many of whose work was cited in the book, have signed a letter to The New York Times Book Review stating that Wade has misinterpreted their work.

The letter is online, and it doesn’t mince words:

Wade juxtaposes an incomplete and inaccurate account of our research on human genetic differences with speculation that recent natural selection has led to worldwide differences in I.Q. test results, political institutions and economic development. We reject Wade’s implication that our findings substantiate his guesswork. They do not.

We are in full agreement that there is no support from the field of population genetics for Wade’s conjectures.

To those of us who’ve been complaining about Wade’s misappropriation of basic population genetics in support of his ideas about what people of different races may or may not be “adapted” to do, this is the equivalent of that scene from Annie Hall, except with more than a hundred Marshall McLuhans. Updated to add: The full list of 139 folks who signed the letter is posted here.

Sometimes, life is kinda like that. Hat tip to Jennifer Ouellette for the Science Insider story.

Updated to add: See also coverage by Nature, with some choice quotes from signatories; and by Jennifer Raff, who writes, “A strong blow has been dealt to scientific racism today.” Also, from Ed Yong:

Selecting for a butterfly of a different color

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Bicyclus anyana in its low-key natural look. Photo by Gilles San Martin, via Wikimedia Commons

Via NPR: a paper published online this week ahead of print at PNAS reports the results of an artificial selection experiment that changed butterflies’ wings from brown to blue.

We used artificial selection on a laboratory model butterfly, [Bicyclus] anynana, to evolve violet scales from UV brown scales and compared the mechanism of violet color production with that of two other Bicyclus species, Bicyclus sambulos and Bicyclus medontias, which have evolved violet/blue scales independently via natural selection.

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the OTHER microbiotas

The Body’s Ecosystem is a comprehensive – yet short enough to finish in a single sitting – review on current NON-GUT microbiota research, focusing on the mouth, lungs, swimsuit area, maternal microbiome and skin. It’s pretty interesting and pretty pretty – I really liked the accompanying artwork (including two hand-drawn, possibly NSFW genitalia pictures). It also features research from a couple UIdaho labs (m’ alma mater). In other words, a darn good read, in my opinion.
Altogether, the members of the human body’s microbial ecosystem make up anywhere from two to six pounds of a 200-pound adult’s total body weight, according to estimates from the Human Microbiome Project, launched in 2007 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The gastrointestinal tract is home to an overwhelming majority of these microbes, and, correspondingly, has attracted the most interest from the research community. But scientists are learning ever more about the microbiomes that inhabit parts of the body outside the gut, and they’re finding that these communities are likely just as important. Strong patterns, along with high diversity and variation across and within individuals, are recurring themes in microbiome research. While surveys of the body’s microbial communities continue, the field is also entering a second stage of inquiry: a quest to understand how the human microbiome promotes health or permits disease.

Just one of the pretty pretties in the article…

“Science is Not Democratic”

“Science isn’t a belief system. It’s proven knowledge. It either knows the answer to a problem, or admits it doesn’t and keeps looking for it.” – James Conca “Science is Not Democratic”, Forbes Magazine

An excellent article detailing why basic and applied scientific research should be encouraged (and funded, please please please fund us) in the US. It especially details a scary rising trend of allowing personal and political beliefs to override the importance of understanding basic science.

Test tube rack in a laboratory

 

 

BAH! Fest – 2014

Here at Nothing in Biology, we are big fans of making stuff up (but, uh, not on the blog… or in our scientific publications… or on our tax returns… or, well, you get the point). So a few of us are thinking of entering some of our fantastical(ly bad) evolutionary theories to the Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses. This festival is dedicated to “well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect evolutionary theory”. To get an idea of what it’s about, see the video below. If you’re in or near the Bay Area or Cambridge, Mass this October, think about checking it out!