Saturday, September 16, 2006


Big find: 1630 million-yr-old fossil (discovery evidence of multicellular life in India)

India finally has evidence of multicellular life. Geo-scientists have discovered multicellular megascopic fossils on the Indian soil from the Palaeoproterozoic era. The fossil dates back to 1630 million years from now.

This exceptional evidence of megascopic eukaryote (multicellular) fossils, an indication of existence of life through sexual reproduction, comes from Chopan in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Located near river Sone in Mirzapur, the area falls in the Vindhayan Range of mountains.

The finding is first of its kind in India and third oldest evidence of megascopic multicellularity in the world after Grypania Spirals in USA (1870 million years) and Changcheng Metaphytes of China (1700 million years). [Paleoproterozoic, Evolution, Paleobiologist, Micro-paleontology]
The find was made by Dr Vibhuti Rai, a palaeobiologist and senior faculty in the Department of Geology, University of Lucknow: "... [which] is one of the pioneer departments of India and is known all over the world for its contribution to earth sciences, especially in the fields of Sedimentology, Micro-palaeontology and Himalayan Geology."

Breaking news reported by the Hindustan Times (Lucknow edition), New Delhi.

Books on Paleontology from the Science and Evolution Bookshop: UK | US

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Single molecular 'mark' seen as pivotal for genome compaction in spores and sperm

Evolutionarily conserved effect seen in yeast, flies and mice:

Philadelphia - In higher order animals, genetic information is passed from parents to offspring via sperm or eggs, also known as gametes. In some single-celled organisms, such as yeast, the genes can be passed to the next generation in spores. In both reproductive strategies, major physical changes occur in the genetic material after it has been duplicated and then halved on the way to the production of mature gametes or spores. Near the end of the process, the material - called chromatin, the substructure of chromosomes - becomes dramatically compacted, reduced in volume to as little as five percent of its original volume.

Researchers at The Wistar Institute, studying the mechanisms that control how the genetic material is managed during gamete production, have now identified a single molecule whose presence is required for genome compaction. Their experiments showed that the molecule 'marks' the chromatin just prior to compaction and that its presence is mandatory for successful compaction. [Evolution Research News, fruit-fly, Drosophila melanogaster]
Based on the journal Genes and Development paper "Phosphorylation of histone H4 Ser1 regulates sporulation in yeast and is conserved in fly and mouse spermatogenesis" (Abstract)

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Three Questions for America: 1) Should alternatives to evolution be taught in schools?

Dworkin professor law philosophy New York University Oxford (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)

The New York Review of Books: Three Questions for America by Ronald Dworkin is based on his book "Is Democracy Possible Here?: Principles for a New Political Debate" (Amazon UK | US)

1) Should alternatives to evolution be taught in schools?

Nothing frightens liberals and moderates more, I think, than the vision of religious organizations and movements dictating what may be taught to children in public schools, either through formal legislation or school board rulings or informal intimidation of teachers. Many Americans are horrified by the prospect of a new dark age imposed by militant superstition; they fear a black, know-nothing night of ignorance in which America becomes an intellectually backward and stagnant theocracy. But someone must decide what children are taught about history and science. If the elected school board or the majority of parents in a particular jurisdiction sincerely believes that Darwin's theory of evolution is radically wrong, why should they not have the power to prevent that error from being taught to their children, just as they have the power to prevent teachers from converting their classes to the Flat Earth Society? It is no answer that children must not be taught the biblical theory of creation because the Bible must be kept out of the classroom. The Bible also condemns murder but that does not mean that children cannot be taught that murder is wrong.

...In recent years a few religious scientists have claimed a refutation of the main tenets of Darwinian evolution that does not rely on biblical authority or the biblical young-Earth account of creation. This refutation purports only to show that an "intelligent design" rather than the unguided processes of random variation and natural selection that Darwin postulated must be responsible for creating life and human beings. The thesis has quickly gained enormous attention and notoriety. Several states have considered requiring teachers to describe the intelligent design theory as an available alternative to standard evolutionary theory in public high school biology classes. A Pennsylvania school board adopted that requirement a few years ago, and though a federal judge then struck the proposal down as an unconstitutional imposition of Christian doctrine in public schools,[1] other public bodies in other states are still pursuing similar programs... [Creationism]
The other two questions in the article are:

2) The Pledge of Allegiance

3) Gay Marraige

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Prehistoric puzzles: A sculptor pieces together ancient fossils (The Scientist)

The Scientist - Think you've seen all there is to see of the dinosaurs? Not so fast: a new statistical study by Drs. Steven C. Wang and Peter Dodson of Swarthmore College has revealed that 71% of dinosaur genera on earth still remain to be discovered. That's good news for paleontologists and amateur dinosaur enthusiasts. But it's also good news for Richard Webber, a New York sculptor who has carved out a professional niche reconstructing fossilized remains.

Webber worked on the renovation of the American Museum of Natural History's fossil hall in the mid-90s, where he built the Indricotherium, the world's largest land mammal, and helped to re-mount the museum's Tyrannosaurus rex. [T-Rex]

The "new statistical study" was posted on Tuesday, September 05, 2006:

Scientist Says Lots of Dinosaurs Remain

From The Washington Post: Good news for dinosaur fans: There are probably a lot more of them waiting to be discovered. At least, their fossils are.

Peter Dodson of the University of Pennsylvania and Steve Wang of Swarthmore College estimate that 71 percent of all dinosaur genera - groups of dinosaur species - have yet to be discovered.

"It's a safe bet that a child born today could expect a very fruitful career in dinosaur paleontology," Dodson said in a statement.

The estimate appears in Tuesday's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). [News, Palaeontology]

Also reported on the Washington Post's 'Findings' page.

The PNAS paper is "Estimating the diversity of dinosaurs" (Abstract)

Books on Dinosaurs from the Science and Evolution Bookshop: UK | US

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Gene secrets of the tree revealed (Populus trichocarpa)

Ethanol Lignin Forest Timber Paper (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)

BBC News UK: The first tree to have its full DNA code unravelled is a poplar.

The genome of the black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) was sequenced in a four-year international project led by US institutions.

The work, reported in Science journal, shows the poplar tree has far less DNA in its cells than humans or other mammals, but twice the number of genes. Researchers say the new information will be a boon to the understanding of plant biology and evolution.
Based on "The Genome of Black Cottonwood, Populus trichocarpa" (Abstract)

Similar reports range from the Washington Post's "Researchers Unlock Genetic Code of Tree" to The Times of India's "Genetic code of a tree gets unlocked"

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Friday, September 15, 2006


Cooperation among Micro-organisms (PLoS Biology)

Anabaena Heterocyst Differentiation Olaveson Toronto University Ontario Canada (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)

Adapted from the PLoS Biology paper "Cooperation among Microorganisms" by Ned S. Wingreen, Simon A. Levin:

Citation: Wingreen NS, Levin SA (2006) Cooperation among Microorganisms. PLoS Biol 4(9): e299 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0040299

One of the organizing principles of life on Earth is that cells cooperate. This is evident in the case of multicellular organisms, from nematodes to humans, but it also appears to apply widely among single-celled organisms such as bacteria, fungi, and amoeba. In many cases, the label "single-celled" applies to only part of the life cycle of these organisms. For example, the model amoeba Dictyostelium discoidium is single-celled under conditions of nutritional abundance, but upon starvation, it communicates to form aggregates that subsequently pass through multicellular stages of slug and fruiting body. Indeed, in light of recent discoveries of communication among bacteria and the importance and prevalence of bacterial biofilms, "single-celled" may turn out to be a misnomer even for these organisms. Here we highlight some of the better-studied examples of cooperation among microorganisms and attempt to identify some of the important questions in this emerging field. Understanding cooperation among microorganisms presents conceptual and mathematical challenges at the interface of evolutionary biology and the theory of emergent properties of independent agents, two of the most exciting areas in modern mathematical biology.

Most of the best-studied cases of cooperation among microorganisms concern intraspecies cooperation. An example of this is quorum sensing among bacteria, in which cells produce, secrete, and detect small molecules, called autoinducers. At high enough autoinducer concentrations (high cell densities), the bacteria enter a new mode of existence characterized by expression of genes associated with collective behaviors that are best carried out in concerted fashion by many cells [1]. These behaviors include the formation of protective biofilms, the expression of virulence factors to attack a host, the production of light, the establishment of competence to exchange DNA (a bacterial form of sexual recombination), and many others.

Another well-studied example of intraspecies cooperation concerns the cyanobacterium Anabaena, which grows in long chains, in which approximately one cell out of ten differentiates into a heterocyst that provides fixed nitrogen for the neighboring cells (Figure 2) [2]. Dictyostelium is probably the most-studied model for cooperation among eukaryotic microorganisms, but even in the nonmotile eukaryote Saccharomyces cerevisiae, hyphal growth (that is, filamentous growth) can be viewed as a cooperative mechanism for foraging.

Cooperation between different microorganism species is much less understood, or studied, partially for practical reasons, but also because the ubiquity of communication among microorganisms has only recently been appreciated. Nevertheless, it has been clear for many years that bacteria form biofilms on many surfaces (including human teeth, artificial joints, and organs, as well as on the surfaces and in the roots of plants, including crops) that consist of large consortia of different organisms. Moreover, it is clear that, far from being a case of pure Darwinian competition, interactions among these species and with eukaryotic hosts may be mutually beneficial. A recent case in point is the discovery of a mutualistic interaction of four bacterial species with the tomato plant (M. del Gallo, personal communication). Rather than competing, the four species coexist and strongly promote plant growth by fixing nitrogen, providing growth hormones, and preventing hostile bacterial species from growing. Tooth biofilms have been shown to consist of stable consortia of hundreds of distinct species, and bacterial mats are believed to consist of even larger numbers of species, in dynamic equilibrium among themselves, and with multiple bacterial viruses. Interest in bacterial cooperation has been spurred by the discovery that one of the autoinducers, named AI-2 (a furanone), is produced by a wide variety of bacteria, including most known human pathogens, and it may be one of a class of universal interspecies communication molecules [3,4].

These examples highlight the range of behaviors that could be termed "cooperation." Cooperative behaviors include complex social interactions such as division of labor and mutualism in providing shelter, foraging, reproduction, and dispersal [5]. The examples also highlight the importance of communication in adjusting group behavior to environmental circumstances and population density. Cooperation also has its discontents, and there is growing interest in the role and fate of "cheaters" among microorganisms. There is some evidence as well for "police," particularly in the context of bacterial-host interactions, in which host systems favor the growth of symbiotic bacteria but discourage growth of noncooperative, but otherwise identical, cells [6,7]. For a recent review of communication in bacteria that highlights these issues, see [8].

Understanding how cooperation arose and is maintained, particularly among large numbers of species, presents a challenge for practitioners of both molecular biology and evolutionary biology, as well as for theorists. Is cooperation best understood as the convergence of the immediate self-interest of multiple parties? Or can evolution lead to stable cases of short-term altruistic behavior, providing long-term benefit for all? These questions have been central in evolutionary biology since the time of Darwin, who regarded apparently altruistic behavior as a challenge for his theory. Especially puzzling was the extreme levels of cooperation and altruism, termed eusociality, in the haplodiploid insects and termites.

J. B. S. Haldane elucidated a fundamental principle underlying apparent altruistic behavior when he said that he would lay down his life to save two brothers or eight cousins, reflecting the one-half and one-eighth of his genes he shared with each, respectively. William D. Hamilton formalized these notions in his theory of kin selection, pointing out that the enhanced genetic relatedness of haplodiploid sisters, who share three-quarters of their genes, facilitates "altruism" in the haplodiploid species. Subsequent work has shown that kin selection can also work effectively under conditions of low relatedness and, furthermore, is not even necessary for cooperative behavior to arise. Cooperation can similarly be facilitated among unrelated individuals, for example, when the spatial range of interactions is restricted. Kin selection may play a role when limited spatial range is involved, but it is not essential [9]. On the other hand, a limited range of spatial interactions is no guarantee of cooperation; it can just as well lead to spite and selfish behavior, as in the production of allelopathic substances in microorganisms and plants [10]. For reviews of the selective mechanisms leading to cooperation and altruism, see [11–13].

The challenges in understanding cooperation and how it becomes reinforced over evolutionary time to produce stable mutualisms and even multicellularity is at the core of understanding biology. It is key to understanding how complexity arose evolutionarily, how organisms band together and profit from collective decision making, and how populations of diverse organisms interact to produce self-reinforcing networks of mutual benefit. It is also key to understanding the maintenance of ecological communities and patterns of nutrient cycling. The mathematical approaches of the past provide a foundation, but new mathematical techniques drawn from such diverse subjects as dynamical game theory and spatial stochastic processes will be needed to lay bare the essential truths. Considerable progress has been made in the past few years in developing the relevant mathematics, and we are at the threshold of dramatic advances in our understanding of cooperative behavior, one of the central and fundamental issues in biology.

References available via the citation link

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MSU, Mongolian paleontologists find 67 dinosaurs in one week

Parrot Lizard Plant Eater Psittacosaurus (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)

Bozeman - One recent week in the Gobi Desert produced 67 dinosaur skeletons for a team of paleontologists from Montana and Mongolia who want to flesh out the developmental biology of dinosaurs.

Montana State University paleontologist Jack Horner said Wednesday that the same area yielded 30 skeletons last year, so researchers at MSU and Mongolia's Science and Technology University now have about 100 Psittacosaurus skeletons. The skeletons ranged in length from one to five feet and stood about two feet tall.

'That's what I was there for - getting as many of those as we could possibly get,' Horner said as he waited for the rest of the MSU team to return to Bozeman. [Evolution News, Skeleton]
Jack Horner was also featured on Thursday, September 07, 2006:

Museum of the Rockies: Jack Horner knows his dinosaurs (Video)

Bozeman, Montana (CNN) -- From the time he was a kid digging holes in his backyard, paleontologist John 'Jack' Horner knew what he wanted to be when he grew up.

'I found my first dinosaur bone when I was 6, growing up in Montana. Ever since then I've been interested in dinosaurs,' Horner wrote in his 1993 book 'The Complete T-Rex.'*

As the curator of the Museum of the Rockies for the past 24 years, he has collected an array of dinosaur fossils from many digs in a desolate region known as the Hell Creek Formation in eastern Montana's Badlands. (Video link here: 'Watch as Horner explains Montana's dinosaur connection')

His research has made him a well-known paleontologist, and he's considered a model for the lead character in the blockbuster 'Jurassic Park' films, on which he also was a consultant.
*Jack Horner's most recent book is "Dinosaurs Under the Big Sky": Amazon UK | US

Museum of the Rockies homepage

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The 'Evolution' of Creationism (People for the American Way)

Timeline: how creationism has 'evolved'

Pardon the irony, but creationism is evolving. To be sure, the goal of the movement, to force public schools to teach certain religious beliefs as science, has never wavered. But the movement's strategies and methods have evolved over time in an effort to adapt to new conditions.

These strategies have changed for two reasons. First, the Supreme Court has made clear that it is unconstitutional for public schools to teach religious belief as science. Second, and just as important, Americans have come to understand the important role science education plays in our country's security and international competitiveness.

Creationists have adapted to these developments by changing not their agenda, but the language they use to talk about it. The original argument, that schools should teach nothing that contradicted a literal reading of the Bible, has given way to the argument that creationism - now called "Intelligent Design" - is science, a claim that the vast majority of scientists dismiss as preposterous. Some have even tried to claim that evolution is itself a religion. [id]

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Rodent's bizarre traits deepen mystery of genetics, evolution (Vole)

Triant Mitochondria Taxonomy Genera DNA Accelerated Mystery (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)

West Lafayette, Indiana - A shadowy rodent has potential to shed light on human genetics and the mysteries of evolution.

Purdue University research has shown that the vole, a mouse-like rodent, is not only the fastest evolving mammal, but also harbors a number of puzzling genetic traits that challenge current scientific understanding.

"Nobody has posters of voles on their wall," said J. Andrew DeWoody (homepage), associate professor of genetics in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, whose study appears this month in the journal Genetica. "But when it comes down to it, voles deserve more attention." [News]
Based on "Accelerated molecular evolution in Microtus (Rodentia) as assessed via complete mitochondrial genome sequences": Abstract yet not available but an uncorrected proof can be found via DeWoody's publications page

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Biologists Probe The Machinery Of Cellular Protein Factories (Ribosomes)

Proteins of all sizes and shapes do most of the work in living cells, and the DNA sequences in genes spell out the instructions for making those proteins. The crucial job of reading the genetic instructions and synthesizing the specified proteins is carried out by ribosomes, tiny protein factories humming away inside the cells of all living things.

Harry Noller (homepage), the Sinsheimer Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has been studying the ribosome for more than 30 years. His main goal is to understand how the ribosome works and how it evolved, but there are also practical reasons to pursue this research.

....The new picture shows details never seen before and suggests how certain parts of the ribosome move during protein synthesis. A paper describing the new findings will be published in the September 22 issue of the journal Cell and is currently available online. [Evolution News]
Based on "Crystal Structure of a 70S Ribosome-tRNA Complex Reveals Functional Interactions and Rearrangements" (Abstract) - at the time of writing the Full Text is also available but only via the link given, not via the Abstract link.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006


Astronomers Reveal First Alien I.D. Chart (Harvard-Smithsonian)

Carbon Dioxide Oxygen Nitrogen CFA Extraterrestrial Life ET SETI Alien (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)

Washington, DC - It is only a matter of time before astronomers find an Earth-sized planet orbiting a distant star. When they do, the first questions people will ask are: Is it habitable? And even more importantly, is there life present on it already? For clues to the answers, scientists are looking to their home planet, Earth.

Astronomers Lisa Kaltenegger (homepage) of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) and Wesley Traub of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and CfA, propose using Earth's atmospheric history to understand other planets.

'Good planets are hard to find,' said Kaltenegger. 'Our work provides the signposts astronomers will look for when examining truly Earth-like worlds.'

Geologic records show that Earth's atmosphere has changed dramatically during the past 4.5 billion years, in part because of life forms developing on our planet. Mapping what gases comprised Earth's atmosphere during its history, Kaltenegger and Traub propose that by looking for similar atmospheric compositions on other worlds, scientists will be able to determine if that planet has life on it, and if so, that life's evolutionary stage. [Evolution News, Alien I.D. Chart]
From the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and based on "Spectral Evolution of an Earth-Like Planet": Abstract | Full Text (pdf).

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Michigan State Board of Education Puts Politics Ahead of Science

Detroit Free Press Editorial: The Michigan State Board of Education has done a disservice to science and to high school science teachers by delaying adoption of the science portion of Michigan's new requirements for high school graduation. The board voted 6-2 Tuesday (September 12, 2006) in favor of a delay requested by state legislators who are pushing faith-based alternatives to the theory of evolution.

This is just another attempt to keep a door open to teaching creationism or intelligent design. The board should have closed it, as science teachers requested. Board members get elected to make decisions, not to defer to political pressure.

The delay was requested by the chairs of the House and Senate Education Committees to accommodate Republican state Representatives Jack Hoogendyk of Kalamazoo and John Moolenaar of Midland, who want a key wording change inserted into the policy. [News]

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World's oldest webbed bird footprint found in South Korea (Ignotornis yangi)

Changseon Island South Korea Webbed Bird Footprint Ignotornis yangi (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)

World's oldest webbed bird footprint found in South Korea: Kim Jeong-Yul, an earth science professor at the Korea National University of Education in Cheongju, said his team discovered 100 fossilized prints on Changseon Island, 270 kilometers (162 miles) south of Seoul.

'The prints were found in a geological stratum created 110 million years ago,' he said, adding each print was 4.5 centimeters (1.8 inches) wide and 5.1 centimeters long.
Breaking news - the only other (identical) report at the moment is from South Africa's News24

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Neanderthals and humans lived side by side: Gorham's Cave, Gibraltar (September 2006)

Neanderthals were thought to have died out as modern humans arrived in Europe. Now, artifacts found in Gorham's cave in Gibraltar reveal that the two groups coexisted for millenia before Neanderthals finally dwindled out of existence.

Homo sapiens moved into Europe about 32,000 years ago. But the newly unearthered artefacts shows that a remnant population of Homo neanderthalensis clung on until at least 28,000 years ago, a significant overlap.

Clive Finlayson at the Gibraltar Museum, and colleagues, recovered 240 stone tools and artefacts from sediments dated to the Upper Paleolithic period – between 10,000 and 30,000 years ago. Mass spectrometry dating puts them between 28,000 and 24,000 years old.

The exciting point is that the tools are all of a type known to palaeontologists as Mousterian: they are flints, cherts and quartzites exclusively associated with Neanderthal manufacture. [Neandertal, Neandertals]
The above New Scientist report has been used in preference to that of the journal Nature (which is here) because quite often Nature's open access content is subsequently moved to subsciption only. All reports (and Google currently list 170) are based on two Nature papers:

"A new radiocarbon revolution and the dispersal of modern humans in Eurasia" (Abstract)

"Late survival of Neanderthals at the southernmost extreme of Europe" (Abstract)

Other news reports include:

The Washington Post's "Study Finds Neanderthals Survived Longer" and BBC News UK's Neanderthals' 'last rock refuge'

Also see The Gibraltar Neanderthal Man: "The Gibraltar Neanderthal Skull was found 8 years before the one at Neander Valley, near Dusseldorf."

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Darwin or Design? Resolving the Conflict (Upcoming University of South Florida Event)

"Darwin or Design? Resolving the Conflict", featuring Drs. Michael Behe, Ralph Seelke, Jonathan Wells and Tom Woodward (emcee), will be held on September 29 2006 in the University of South Florida's Sun Dome.

The event is being sponsored by Physicians and Surgeons for Scientific Integrity whose webpage states:

As medical doctors we are skeptical of the claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the origination and complexity of life and we therefore dissent from Darwinian macroevolution as a viable theory. This does not imply the endorsement of any alternative theory.

Drs. Behe, Seelke, Wells and Woodward will also dialogue with faculty, physicians and students from 10AM to 12:30PM, Saturday, September 30th, at the Radisson Hotel, 12600 Roosevelt Blvd, St. Petersburg
Michael Behe is author of Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (Amazon UK | US).

Jonathan Wells is author of Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth? Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution is Wrong (Amazon UK | US).

Tom Woodward wrote Doubts About Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design (Amazon UK | US).

[ID News]

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Fundamental Questions in Biology (PLoS Biology Editorial)

September 2006 PLoS Biology Editorial: Not so long ago, virtually every major university had a department of biology, or perhaps bookend departments of zoology and botany, which complemented physics, chemistry, mathematics, and possibly geology to form its science foundation. Biology was, at least compared to the field today, an integrated discipline, from the molecular and cellular to the ecosystem, firmly resting on Darwinian principles. Weekly colloquia drew biologists from across the spectrum, whether the topic was the genetic code, the nature of the synapse, or the Cambrian Radiation.

But biology has seen its own radiation and is just starting to catch up with this explosion. The amazing pace of advance in our understanding of biology has, perhaps unavoidably, engendered increasing specialization. Much of that advancement has involved the development of new tools, both in the laboratory and in computer models, and this has been dependent on the migration into biology departments of tools and people from physics, mathematics, chemistry, and elsewhere. These new collaborators have catalyzed rapid progress on specific problems, but they often have little interest in the broader scope of biology. [US Evolution News]
Simon A. Levin (homepage) is Series Editor of the Challenges Series and Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, United States.

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The Collapse of Intelligent Design - Will the next Monkey Trial be in Ohio? (Kenneth Miller Video)

Case Western Reserve University hosted this talk on January 3, 2006, in Cleveland, Ohio. Kenneth R. Miller is professor of biology at Brown University and author of the high school biology textbook Biology: The Living Science* (Amazon UK | US). He was the lead witness in the recent court case over intelligent design in Dover, PA. ID was declared religion, not science, and is now prohibited.

Miller spoke on the scientific bankruptcy of intelligent design, and the implications of the recent Dover 'Panda Trial' in Pennsylvania for Ohio's biology standards. [News, US]
"The Collapse of Intelligent Design - Will the next Monkey Trial be in Ohio?" appears on the archive page of the Ohio Citizens for Science website - scroll down to find the entry for January 6 for the video links (Windows Media Player and Real Player).

The video is also available on Kenneth Miller's homepage.

NB: The video appeared online before this blog began (hence the appearance of an 'old news' item).

*He also wrote "Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution" (Amazon UK | US)

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New Study Of Solar System Speculates About Life On Other Planets

Solar System Update Life Planets Mars Mercury Ganymede Callisto Europa (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)

A comprehensive review by leading scientists about our solar system which speculates on the possibility of life on other planets has been published.

Solar System Update (Amazon UK | US) brings together the work of 19 physicists, astronomers, and climatologists from Europe and the USA in 12 chapters on the sun, the main planets and comets.

The book, co-authored by Dr Philippe Blondel (homepage), of the University of Bath, highlights the many recent discoveries and in particular the amount of water, one of the essentials for life, found in the solar system.

Recent studies have revealed ice in craters on Mercury, the closest planet to the sun, and that liquid water may once have existed on the surface of Mars, and may still be there underground.

In addition, liquid water may exist on moons around Jupiter, in particular Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, underneath a surface of ice. [Evolution News]
Full UK title: "Solar System Update: Topical and Timely Reviews in Solar System Sciences"

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Transposon Silencing Keeps Jumping Genes in Their Place

Nearly a century ago, two geneticists described 'rogue' pea plants with an unorthodox pattern of inheritance. William Bateson and Caroline Pellew found that crossing inferior rogues with normal plants always produced rogue offspring, suggesting that the rogue appearance was a dominant trait. The real surprise came when rogue progeny were crossed back to normal plants. Following the principles of Mendelian inheritance, these crosses should have produced a mix of normal and rogue plants, but they produced only rogue plants. The phenomenon, later dubbed 'paramutation', allowed the rogues to break the rules by acting 'epigenetically' - inducing heritable changes in gene expression without DNA mutations. In one-sided interactions between gene pairs, or alleles, only 'paramutagenic' alleles can attenuate, and eventually silence, the expression of 'paramutable' alleles.

Epigenetic silencing involves chemical modifications to DNA and the histone proteins that remodel the chromatin surrounding DNA, rendering genes inaccessible to transcription-related proteins. Epigenetic silencing also targets 'transposons', genetic elements that can jump around the genome. Both paramutagenic alleles and transposons contain tandem or inverted repetitive DNA sequences. Recent work in a variety of species suggests that such repeats can induce heritable silencing when they trigger the production of double-stranded RNAs, which are then processed into small interfering RNAs that can inactivate genes through DNA methylation and other mechanisms. [RxPG News RNA]
Based on the PLoS Biology open access paper "Initiation, Establishment, and Maintenance of Heritable MuDR Transposon Silencing in Maize Are Mediated by Distinct Factors".

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Abortion - A Product of Its Times (The Harvard Crimson: Opinion)

It seems that those who are most passionate about abortion have lost sight of the forces that drive women to such extremes, for all of their moral posturing and muddled rhetoric ignores a key aspect of human nature: Even the most well-intentioned ethical conviction will always be bested by human necessity. This is inevitable - it's hardwired into our genes.

In 1859 Charles Darwin published "On the Origin of Species," (Amazon UK | US) almost single-handedly creating the foundation of modern evolutionary theory. His key insight was that populations competing for limited resources change over successive generations through the mechanism of natural selection. Individuals have a vested interest in self-preservation and procreation; those with favorable traits are more likely to survive and reproduce than those with unfavorable ones. But Darwin's theory is no less applicable now than it was more than a century ago - specifically, we can use his ideas to gain insight into why women opt for abortion, and why the choice to abort can in fact sometimes, though not always, be the more ethical and humane decision.
Opinion from "The Harvard Crimson, the nation's oldest continuously published daily college newspaper, was founded in 1873 and incorporated in 1967." [Evolution News, Cambridge, Massachusetts, MA]

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Complete online text of Pope Benedict XVI's Homily given at Regensburg (Germany) September 2006

From Vatican Radio News: Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
at the Celebration of the Eucharist

(Tuesday, 12 September 2006, Islinger Feld, Regensburg)

"...We believe in God. This is a fundamental decision on our part. But is such a thing still possible today? Is it reasonable? From the Enlightenment on, science, at least in part, has applied itself to seeking an explanation of the world in which God would be unnecessary. And if this were so, he would also become unnecessary in our lives. But whenever the attempt seemed to be nearing success - inevitably it would become clear: something is missing from the equation! When God is subtracted, something doesn't add up for man, the world, the whole vast universe. So we end up with two alternatives. What came first? Creative Reason, the Spirit who makes all things and gives them growth, or Unreason, which, lacking any meaning, yet somehow brings forth a mathematically ordered cosmos, as well as man and his reason. The latter, however, would then be nothing more than a chance result of evolution and thus, in the end, equally meaningless. As Christians, we say: I believe in God the Father, the Creator of heaven and earth - I believe in the Creator Spirit. We believe that at the beginning of everything is the eternal Word, with Reason and not Unreason. With this faith we have no reason to hide, no fear of ending up in a dead end. We rejoice that we can know God! And we try to let others see the reasonableness of our faith, as Saint Peter bids us do in his First Letter (cf. 3:15)!..." [Complete online text, Regensberg, Field, Bavaria, Germany, Intelligent design (ID)]

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