Over-enthusiastic swallowing

December 18, 2009

With Christmas coming up, I thought it might be timely to post something about the perils of overeating.  Then I found that Tetrapod Zoology had beaten me to it, with a series of posts on “overenthusiastic swallowing”, where various animals try to bite off more than they can chew.  Literally.

Head over and see what happens when – a roadrunner tries to swallow a horned lizard, a goanna tries to swallow an echidna, a small snake tries to swallow a rather large centipede, and, well, you get the idea…


Personal perspectives in the life sciences for the Royal Society’s 350th anniversary

December 15, 2009

As part of the celebrations for their 350th anniversary, the Royal Society of London have just released a special, open-access issue of their Philosophical Transactions B journal, containing a series of perspectives from leading scientists on contemporary topics of high interest and importance. 

In this freely available issue the authors, selected on the basis of their knowledge and experience in a specific area of the life sciences, offer their individual perspective on their own area of research.  The 19 contributions present a snapshot of the current status of key areas of science, together with an analysis of the promising – and less promising – avenues currently being pursued, in some cases leading to some bold conclusions.

Here’s the contents:

  • Sir Partha Dasgupta: Nature’s Role in Sustainable Economic Development
  • Professor Simon Levin: Crossing scales, crossing disciplines: collective motion and collective action in the Global Commons
  • Professor Martin Nowak: Games, graphs and sets: dynamics and geometry of evolution
  • Professor Harold Mooney: The Ecosystem-Service Chain and the Biological Diversity Crisis
  • Lord Robert May: Ecological science and tomorrow’s world
  • Professor Michel Loreau: Linking biodiversity and ecosystems: toward a unifying ecological theory
  • Professor John Beddington: Food security – contributions from science to a new and greener revolution
  • Professor William Hill: Understanding and utilising quantitative genetic variation
  • Professor Graham Bell: Fluctuating selection: the perpetual renewal of adaptation in variable environments
  • Professor Spencer Barrett: Understanding Plant Reproductive Diversity
  • Professor Tom Cavalier-Smith: Deep phylogeny, ancestral groups, and the four ages of life
  • Professor Simon Conway-Morris: Evolution: Like any other science it is predictable
  • Professor Linda Partridge: The New Biology of Ageing
  • Professor Fiona Watt and Dr Ryan Driskell: The therapeutic potential of stem cells
  • Professor Uta Frith and Professor Chris Frith: The social brain: allowing humans to boldly go where no other species has been
  • Professor Geoffrey Hinton: Learning to Represent Visual Input
  • Professor Taras Oleksyk, Professor Michel Smith and Professor Stephen O’Brien: Genome wide scans for footprints of natural selection
  • Sir Sydney Brenner: Sequences and Consequences
  • And here’s the link.
    Read and enjoy!

    So what is a gene, exactly?

    December 13, 2009

    Ever wondered just what a “gene” is, exactly? Well turns out that even geneticists are wondering the same thing these days, as they learn more about the genome and find that the concept of what comprises a gene is becoming more and more vague.

    This months BioScience journal has an interesting (open-access) article on how the definition of a gene is changing. 

    With the discovery that nearly all of the genome is transcribed, the definition of a “gene” needs another revision.

    The article describes how the old definitions based around protein function (genes are units of DNA that code for proteins) have had to be expanded with the discovery that a large portion of the genome is transcribed into RNAs that don’t go on to make proteins, but have an important functional role themselves.

    Citation:  Hopkins, K (2009). The Evolving Definition of a Gene. BioScience 59(11):928-931. doi: 10.1525/bio.2009.59.11.3

    Leopard seals #2

    December 7, 2009

    While we’re on the subject of leopard seals…  I think you have to be a little crazy to be a National Geographic photographer.

    Molecular ecologists meet in the Catlins

    December 3, 2009
    Last weekend I attended the 12th Annual NZ Molecular Ecology meeting, held in the Catlins, in the deep south of New Zealand.  NZ’s molecular ecologists have a traditional of holding their annual meeting in beautiful, out-of-the-way places, and this year was no exception with the Tautuku Outdoor Education Centre in the heart of the Catlins being our base.  This year’s meeting brought together 50 researchers from Crown Research Institutes, DoC, and universities across New Zealand (plus a few from across the ditch).  

    Tautuku Bay and the coastal rainforest surrounding it provided a stunning backdrop to the meeting, and provided plenty of opportunity for wildlife spotting – the highlight (for me anyway) being a leopard seal which made itself at home on the beach on Saturday. 

    Leopard seal taking a break at Tautuku Bay

    But enough about the scenery, what of the science, I hear you ask? 

    Read the rest of this entry »