Friday coffee break

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.

From Sarah: Many of the biggest names in field botany are getting close to retirement, and it’s not clear who will replace their expertise.

As the star collectors disappear, botanists are debating how to fill the gap. Some researchers, including Wood, are training botanists in tropical countries, the presumed home of most undiscovered plants. But others think that it might be more efficient to recruit a large group of less-skilled collectors, aided by technology and crowdsourcing techniques. “The real question is, can we exchange a few elite collectors for an army of enthusiastic less-experienced collectors?” asks Cam Webb, a Harvard University plant scientist based in Indonesian Borneo.

From Jeremy: A new study of flowering time variation in Arabidopsis makes clever use of ecological niche modeling.

While this period of early growth has tarnished some people’s view of ENMs, it would be a shame to disregard them altogether when there are people still using them in interesting and inventive ways. A great example is Banta et al. (2012), which combines a model organism, intraspecific phenotypic variation, and spatial structure of genetic variation with ecological niche modelling. Banta et al. focus on the problematic assumption of such models that intraspecific variation in climatic tolerances is minimal or unimportant. One approach to exploring this issue more is to develop intraspecific ENMs using genotypes, rather than species, as the unit of analysis.

From Jon: Is Chagas disease “the new HIV/AIDS”?

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are among the most common conditions afflicting the estimated 99 million people who live on less than US$2 per day in the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region [1]. Almost all of the “bottom 100 million” living in the Americas suffer from at least one NTD [1], and according to some estimates, the NTDs cause a burden of disease in the LAC region that closely approximates or even exceeds that resulting from HIV/AIDS [2]. Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis) is a vector-borne disease and a leading cause of the deaths and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) lost that result from NTDs in the LAC region [2]. With approximately 10 million people living with Chagas disease, this condition is one of the most common NTDs affecting the bottom 100 million in the region, a prevalence exceeded only by hookworm and other soil-transmitted helminth infections [1][2]. Moreover, among the NTDs in the Americas, Chagas disease ranks near the top in terms of annual deaths and DALYs lost [1][2]. [In-text citations sic.]

From Devin: Should be extending the Modern Synthesis? Dickins and Rahman (2012) write a very strong and clear argument against the Extened Evolutionary Synthesis as proposed by Pigliucci and colleagues.