Tag Archives: evolution

I Discuss Science Art in a Science Discussion

Panelists

Art has been a large part of science for hundreds of years; before imaging technologies, any scientific observations had to be drawn by hand in order to preserve the information for future research. This necessity spurned some of the most intricate and beautiful collections of naturalist art we have.

The tradition of Scientific Art (SciArt) persists today, however, with the advent of modern digital imaging techniques, it’s now more the work of artists interested in science than the other way around. This is interesting given the fact that it usually brings a level of interpretation with it, as most artists don’t have a PhD-level understanding of scientific principals and they are usually using science as part of a larger idea.

An exhibit called ‘Common Descent’, on display at Central Booking in NYC looks at the interpretation of science by artists; specifically evolution. In a recent panel discussion about the exhibit, I got the chance to sit down with another evolutionary biologist, Giacomo Mancini, as well as two artists featured in the exhibit, C Bangs and Lynn Sures. We discussed our work and the intersection of science and art and took questions from the audience concerning evolution in the modern age.

The panel moderator, Yasmin Tayag and myself wrote an article chronicling the event for the Scientific American guest blog. By all means, head over and check it out, and check out the exhibit if you get a chance; it’s on until June 8th.

Star Wars: Science Fiction meets Science Fact

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Image Credit: Stefan, Flickr

In celebration of the recently minted Star Wars holiday, May the 4th (be with you), the blogging team at the Scizzle Blog put together some themed science lessons. Being part of that team, I have penned two posts that will surely catapult your brain into space. The first, co-written with Chris Spencer, looks at possible evolutionary histories for some of the most notable characters of the franchise. Entitled The Evolution of the Cutest Creatures in Star Wars, you can check that out here.

My second postClones in Space, I Have Placed (can’t you just hear Yoda saying that?), features my debut infographic effort. Displaying the history of cloning technology using Star Wars characters, ships and worlds as a backdrop, it is the perfect visual springboard for titillating conversation on your next date. I’ve even included cloning basics 101 and given you a peak into the future when scientists plan to resurrect extinct species.

Click on through already – I’ve made science fun…

Neanderthals had great view of their own stupid extinction

steeleA recent study suggests that Neanderthals may have become extinct because their eyes were too big. According to researchers at Oxford University, Neanderthal eye sockets measured 6mm larger than those of modern humans, on average. Eiluned Pearce, one of three scientists that made the discovery, claims that larger eyes were necessary in Neanderthals that migrated out of sunny Africa up into dismally overcast Europe. Actually, it’s not the eyes that got them in the end, it’s the secondary consequence of brain organization; larger eyes require more brain dedication to visual processing leaving less for higher intelligence. Pearce suggests that the sacrificed intelligence prevented Neanderthals from living and working in communities, which confers a huge advantage to survival. Coupled with an ice age that occurred about 28,000 years ago, Neanderthals’ thinking problem may have led to their elimination.

Considering Neanderthals survived just fine for about 225,000 years preceding the ice age, my guess is that they would have lasted much longer if it hadn’t been for that really bad winter. If history allows me to predict anything though, it’s that if that winter hadn’t gotten them, the winter of man’s discontent with them would have. Adding huge eyes, cuboidal heads and matted body hair a la George the Animal Steele to slightly different skin color? I’m sure they would have been widely accepted as our equals.

Pearce stresses that Neanderthals, while intelligently inferior were not stupid, but I’m guessing that bit was added to the manuscript so as not to completely come off as that bitchy popular kid in school.

‘Big eyes and stupid? Like, why don’t you just kill yourself now? Or just wait for all of that snow that’s on its way, I’m sure you won’t have any problems, like, seeing it coming, will you? Do they even make glasses big enough for you? Your contact lenses must be, like, the size of quarters. I like your body hair though.’

Since we have been on the subject of evolution a bit lately, I thought I would expand on this study and predict where evolution may be taking us humans in the future…backwards! Darkness made Neanderthals dumb and prevented life-saving social activity. Now we choose to sit in dark rooms by ourselves ‘socializing’ with computers, engorging our eyes with coffee and Red Bull. Who will save us during the next ice age? McDonalds and Old Navy, no doubt, but Christ, I’m writing this article in an ill-lit room by myself right now…and it’s snowing outside! We’re doomed!

Speaking of the migration out of Africa, this guy is repeating it, all the way to the tip of South America. 21,000 miles. On foot. It might get a little tricky around the Bering Straits considering that land bridge went the way of the Neanderthals quite some time ago. But kudos. I wish I had the resources and time for that.

Why is Disease Evolving Faster than Humans?

diseaseThere’s a recent letter to the journal Nature, which explores the age of single point mutations in the human genome. This data comes as part of a large DNA sequencing project, funded by the National Institutes of Health Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which focuses on exons within the human genome.

Exons are kind of like the business end of the genome, meaning they make up the genetic code for proteins that play a major role in the development and everyday control of your body. That is not to say, however, that these are the only necessary or even the most important parts of the genome. As research progresses, biologists are learning that more and more of the DNA between these exons dictate where, when and how much of a protein will be made – regulation critical to life. But I digress.

The study, headed by the Akey group at the University of Washington, Seattle, examined the exomes (the part of the genome formed by exons) of 6,515 individuals from European and African decent. What’s the reason for looking at all of these exons? To compare the occurrence and position of small mutations across the genome. In doing so, the researchers were able to build a tree for the age, and therefore evolution, of mutations in our genome – specifically deleterious ones. And since deleterious mutations are sometimes correlated with disease, they were able to track, in a sense, the evolution of certain diseases.

In a nutshell, the study finds that most deleterious mutations are younger than 5,000 years old and that this can most likely be attributed to an explosion in the human population around that time. After all, the more genomes you make, the more you increase the chances for new mutations. The study also found that the surge of new mutations included among others, those responsible for premature ovarian failure, Alzheimer’s disease, coronary artery atherosclerosis and hereditary spastic paraplegia.

Read On to Find Out What This Means