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Carnival of Evolution #42: Answers to life, the universe and everything

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Don’t panic — welcome to the forty-second Carnival of Evolution! Please bear with me and pretend it’s still Dec 1st — I had just recently emerged from a wormhole in time, caused by being in a protistologist’s heaven: Dalhousie University in Halifax, with about 30-40 dedicated protist geeks milling about. It was distracting and a pleasant contrast to being the only one in an entire state…

But now I’m back in a very evolution-ey place, just in time for a collection of equally evolution-ey posts from all four corners of the internet! (tubes have corners, right? No? Oh…)

Apologies if I missed any; there are a lot of submissions this month… will correct noted omissions and errors!

Population Biology and Incertae Sedis

“Nothing in evolution makes sense except in light of population genetics” (Mike Lynch (2007) in PNAS )

A post from Larry Moran’s Sandwalk using English history, of all things, to explain the difference between population size (N) and effective population size (Ne), a key distinction in population biology. If you’ve happened to be following the discussion of non-adaptive evolution on my other blog at all, this may be particularly relevant, especially in light of populations being actually finite and not everything being due to selection. [/shameless scientific agenda-pushing]

* It totally looked like there was a crapload of stuff on population biology when I looked at the list of submissions, but apparently looks can deceive, and I now look like an idiot… but, again,  looks can deceive!

Sarah Hird at Nothing In Biology Makes Sense talks about a remarkable study where gut microbiota in flies have been shown to influence their mating behaviour!

Ken Weiss at The Mermaid’s Tale on the Darwinian Method, it’s contributions to biology as well as its drawbacks.

Suzanne Elvidge at Genome Engineering announces the completion of a clover genome and its publication in Nature.

Bradly Alicea at Synthetic Daisies discusses the principle of overproduction in biology as a way to enhance dispersal and dissipation. Bradly then reviews neutral networks and their interplay with robustness and selection.

Speciation and biogeography

*Don’t let this heading lead you into thinking I don’t believe in sympatric speciation! ;-)

Jerry Coyne at Why Evolution is True rightly rails against the hideous phrase “species with no relatives”, a big pet peeve of mine as well. Everything here is related, unless you can support a separate abiogenesis event! Jerry also talks about inbreeding and pleiotropy in the [artificial] evolution of the Cocker Spaniel, pointing out how quickly evolution can happen and showing once again that it’s not all just a theory.

Bjørn Østman at Pleiotropy explains the difference between Biological and Ecological Species Concepts (two of several, I must add), and why we should be explicit in which one we use. Bjørn also manages to tie in speciation with the happenings in the virtual social world: for example, the competition between Google+ and Facebook has seemingly led to a niche differentiation between the two. Amazing how fundamental evolutionary principles apply far beyond just biological evolution, apparently indifferent to the lack of nucleic acids.

The species concept conundrum does not end yet! Benjamin Haller at Evo-Eco Eco-Evo discusses speciation — and magic! — in Darwin’s finches.

Noah Mattoon at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense discusses the perplexing issue of greater taxonomic diversity at lower latitudes — the explanation for which, of course, must have roots in evolution.

Tom Houslay at Nothing In Biology Makes Sense talks about leks (mating displays) and exaggerated traits, and the ‘lek paradox’ of runaway selection rendering the displays practically useless in terms of picking out genetically fitter mates.

Kevin Zelnio at EcoEvoLab on the manifest destiny of rats, or more precisely — the multiple independent origins of the black rats’ cohabitation with humans.

Continuing on with the theme of creatures everyone adores and admires, Craig McClain at Deep Sea News enviously fantasises about hagfish sex life talks about the notorious hagfish defense mechanism: spewing out bucketloads (literally) of slime to clog the attacker’s gills. Or, as Craig calls it, “slimepocalypse”.

Lynn Margulis

While Margulis’ connections with symbiogenesis and crackpot theories has perhaps been beaten to death by now, she was also perhaps the closest thing protistologists had to a public figure, despite disagreeing with her on almost everything. Promoting and attracting serious attention to Mereschkowsky’s theory of the symbiotic origins of plastids (Bill Martin’s translation to English, PDF) was no small contribution in itself, but she also published books like Handbook of the Protoctista*, a valuable (if taxonomically flawed in places) resource on various protistan phyla. Full of ‘undilopodia’, of course. As much as we scoff at her terminology and rather outlandish theories, what other modern comprehensive source is out there on protistology, besides the Illustrated Guide to Protozoology (almost exclusively taxonomic) and Klaus Haussman and coauthors’ Protistology textbook?

* If only a second edition could still come out… and the first edition is not only out of print, but the unsold copies were *destroyed* by the publisher a while back!

But you’re not here to read my ramblings… (I should write a post at some point, on her connections with protistology and eukaryogenesis theories)

Suzanne Elvige at Genome Engineering is among those breaking the news that Lynn Margulis passed away at age 73 due to a stroke. And of course, such an outlier of a scientist attracts some exceptionally crappy journalism (although not outlier so much…). Greg Mayer at Why Evolution is True corrects the notion that Margulis’ symbiogensis theory somehow contradicts Darwinism and completely revolutionises evolutionary theory as we know it.

Braaaains…and homonids

Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science discusses the gut size vs. brain size trade-off in humans.

EE Georgi at Chimeras talks about transposon activity in brain cells and its resemblance to McClintock’s corn kernel variation.

Iddo Friedberg at Byte Size Biology talks about de novo (completely new) genes in humans, of which there is apparently an extant handful, if the bioinformatics data are to be trusted. These genes may contribute to explaining some of the differences between humans and our closest relatives.

Anne Buchanan at The Mermaid’s Tale entertains the idea that our African homonid ancestors ate insects, in contrast with the more glorious-sounding notion of “Man the Hunter”.

Scott Lee at Scott Free Thinking argues for paleolithic diets and avoidance of post-agricultural starchy foods.

Eric Johnson at The Primate Diaries talks about the impacts of social networks on relative brain size, and a surprising finding of a correlation between human brain structure the the extent of online social networking.

Greg Laden talks about the difference between Behavioural Biology and Evolutionary Psychology, and lists a few enticing books we should read.

Hannah Waters at Culturing Science has a captivating post about the biology of grief and mourning, touching on mass mourning of Steve Jobs as well as a personal example.

Crushing the Corpse of Creationism*

*We wish… sigh.

Jack Scanlan at Homologous Legs on rhetoricotrophism (awesome term!) of Intelligent Design creationism, and why we should be less dismissive and ridicule-obsessed when addressing their claims. (furthermore, I think ID/creationist movements unintentionally do a good job at pointing out the failings in our teaching of evolution…)

Michael Barton at The Dispersal of Darwin corrects three outrageous oft-cited creationist quotemines of The Origin. Michael also showcases a beautifully-illustrated book on our origins, Bang! How we came to be, for children. Lastly, there’s also a nice video featuring various scientists and educators talking about the importance of evolution.

BEACON Researchers at Work series

There’s a neat series of posts written by postdocs and graduate students about their research at the BEACON consortium:

Jenna Gallie talks about her research on the effects of varying rates of environmental change on adaptation in E.coli.

Justin Meyer talks about co-evolution of the lambda phage with its victim host E.coli.

Furthermore, Martina Ederer makes synthetic viruses to reconstruct ancestral viral genomes.

 

That’s it (I think) for this month’s Carnival of Evolution. The next edition will be at THE EBB & FLOW on 01 January. Please use this submission form to contribute entries about things pertaining to evolutionary biology.

And I am working on my post debts! Working full time in research appears to be having a deleterious effect on my blogging these days…

Psi Wavefunction About the Author: Psi Wavefunction is a graduate of the University of British Columbia working as a protist researcher (soon to be graduate student) at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and blogs about protists and evolution at The Ocelloid as well as at Skeptic Wonder. Follow on Twitter @Ocelloid.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. suzwriter 12:24 am 12/6/2011

    Great CoE! We’ve linked to it at Genome Engineering (www.genome-engineering.com/carnival-of-evolution-42-answers-to-life-the-universe-and-everything.html)

    Link to this
  2. 2. Cognosium 5:14 am 12/6/2011

    Re your remark:

    “Amazing how fundamental evolutionary principles apply far beyond just biological evolution, apparently indifferent to the lack of nucleic acids.”

    There is a good case to be made for a model that treats the “life” process as an evolutionary continuum that extends (at least) from stellar nucleosynthesis right through to the currently most active phase, the evolution of technology.

    Also that this latest phase is essentially autonomous.

    To quickly put this counter-intuitive view into focus, would we not agree that the following statement has a sound basis?:

    We would have geometry without Euclid, calculus without Newton or Liebnitz, the camera without Johann Zahn, the cathode ray tube without JJ Thomson, relativity (and quantum mechanics) without Einstein, the digital computer without Turin, the Internet without Vinton Cerf?

    The list can, of course, be extended indefinitely

    This is all expanded upon, very informally, in my latest book:

    “The Goldilocks Effect: What Has Serendipity Ever Done For Us?” (free download in e-book formats from the “Unusual Perspectives” website)

    Link to this

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