Evolutionary tunes #2

November 30, 2009

A few months ago I posted about a group of researchers in Germany who developed a musical game to demonstrate the processes of evolution.  Now researchers at Imperial College London have initiated a similar experiment called DarwinTunes, where you can participate as a selective force to help the music evolve…

At Imperial College we are conducting an experiment to test the proposition that culture evolves in a Darwinian fashion. We have developed a web-based system called DarwinTunes in which a population of short computer-generated-tunes evolves by mutation, recombination and selection.

The selective force is the public. They listen to the songs, rate them, and so define their fitness. You can participate too! We started with a population of randomly generated loops and are currently at ~2000 generations.

To find out more go to


log on, and be a selective force!


New family tree for moa

November 23, 2009


A new take on the evolutionary history of the moa was published in PNAS this week.  Mike Bunce from Murdoch University in Perth and researchers from Alan Cooper’s lab at University of Adelaide have combined genetic data from over 260 moa bones with anatomical, geological and ecological information, to revise species relationships among moa and suggest a timeframe and origin for their evolution. 

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November 17, 2009

This week I learnt that November is the time for InaDWriMo – International Academic Writing Month (apparently the geek version of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month).  For me November was already turning into finish-the-damn-paper-thats-been-torturing-me-for-months month, so I was quite chuffed to find that there’s actually an official word and occasion for this.  

This year’s event is being hosted by Brazen Hussey, and you can find out some more background info here.  So if you need some extra motivation to write that thesis, paper, grant application or whatever, head over to her blog and sign up!

Mystery organism photo of the month – November

November 13, 2009

There are two organisms in this photo…  who can tell me what the small round scaly things are?

And for bonus points, whats the other organism in the photo?

Genomes galore on the horizon

November 10, 2009

When the first human genome sequenced was published in 2003, it represented the culmination of 13 years of work and cost nearly 3 billion dollars to complete.  In the six years since then an additional 55 vertebrate genome sequences have been produced, and the technology has moved on to the extent that sequencing genomes is bordering on routine.  Now an ambitous proposal to sequence 10,000 vertebrate genomes has been launched with an article in Journal of Heredity:

With the same unity of purpose shown for the Human Genome Project, we can now contemplate reading the genetic heritage of all species, beginning today with the vertebrates. The feasibility of a “Genome 10K” (G10K) project to catalog the genomic diversity of 10 000 vertebrate genomes, approximately one for each vertebrate genus, requires only one more order of magnitude reduction in the cost of DNA sequencing, after the 4 orders of magnitude reduction we have seen in the last 10 years . The approximate number of 10 000 is a compromise between reasonable expectations for the reach of new sequencing technology over the next few years and adequate coverage of vertebrate species diversity. It is time to prepare for this undertaking.

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Foot odour, anyone?

November 4, 2009

If you’re passing by Karangahape Road in Auckland over the next 3 weeks check out the Crossing Wires Lab, a science meets art installation.  Plant and Food olfactory scientist Richard Newcomb and sensory artist Raewyn Turner have joined forces to produce this exhibition-come-science lab where the general public have the opportunity to participate in an active science experiment.

During the exhibition Newcomb and his team will be extracting odours from worn socks, supplied by a scientists, artists and joggers, and then offering the public the opportunity to categorise these odours (presumably in an artistic way, rather than an ew-foot-odour kind of way).  The installation features a science laboratory set up in the shop-front window where the odour extraction will take place, as well as performance exhibition art with interactive video imaging and audio. 

This exhibition/experiment runs from Nov 2nd to 20th and is funded by the Smash Palace funding initiative set up by Creative New Zealand and MoRST to encourage collaborations between scientists and artists.  Check out their blog for regular updates, video and audio clips.