Archive for: February, 2008

Convergent evolution of a gene that blocks HIV in monkeys

Feb 29 2008 Published by under Evolution

Here we have yet another example of evolution cobbling together new proteins from existing structures. And what do you know, it kinda matters:

The TRIM5-CypA gene found in Asian macaques is a hybrid of two existing proteins, TRIM5 and CypA. This combination creates a single protein that blocks infections by lentiviruses.
This is the second time a TRIM5-CypA hybrid gene has been identified in monkeys. The other one -- TRIMCyp -- was found in South American owl monkeys in 2004. But it's not likely that these two gene combinations arose from a single common ancestor, the Harvard researchers said.

Didn't arise from a single common ancestor? But how can we know that? Only if the gene isn't present in other Old World monkeys or other New World monkeys.

TRIM5-CypA wasn't found in monkey closely related to the Asian macaques and TRIMCyp wasn't found in any other South American primate species. This suggests that the two combination genes evolved separately, once in the macaques and once in the owl monkeys.

That's pretty telling. These two populations of primate are separated by many millions of years of evolutionary processes. Likely this mutation is fixed in both species because it provides some sort of evolutionary advantage outside of HIV infections. It will be interesting to see what that might advantage might be.
I'd like to see the full paper, but PLoS Pathology is down for maintenance right now. Oh well. In the meantime, we'll all just reflect on how useless Intelligent Design is.

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Get those Evolution Essay contest submissions in!!!

Feb 28 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

Tomorrow is the last day to get your Alliance for Science Evolution Essay contest submissions done! You know you want a shot at some money for school books and some free, signed media materials. This year looks to be even better than last, so we look forward to reading what you have to say! Remember, the science teacher of the winning essay writer gets rewarded too, and deservedly so; our teachers work hard and deserve something back.

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Today I'm a UCLA fan

Feb 21 2008 Published by under Academia, Activism

Abel broke the news on Scienceblogs, where he's been following the events at UCLA for a while now, and Orac has the details on why it matters. UCLA has taken the initiative to protect its researchers and hopefully kicked off a nationwide-- or maybe even global-- campaign to protect scientists and the public from the idiocy of animal rights extremists. Consider this a legal "counter offensive" on behalf of academia, if you will.
Personally, I'm happy as a pig in it's own feces. It's time somebody stood up to these so-called animal rights activists who can't seem to comprehend that people are animals, and doing stupid shit like setting fire to houses and labs not only makes these activists a bunch of hypocrites, but also endangers everyday nonscience folks. So does threatening people with pipe bombs, dousing their labs in acid, sending them arsenic-tainted razor blades in the mail, or envelopes of suspicious powder. These are all things that have happened to my colleagues, over and above the nuisances like picketing at their homes and labs, overt threats, or flooding their basements.
It ain't rocket surgery. It's called collateral damage. If you're dumb enough to think that you'll change people's minds by accidentally poisoning their mailman, just remember where the term "going postal" came from. Then start watching your own back around bell towers, because sometimes irony just isn't subtle.

26 responses so far

Darwin Day redux and link to Massimo Pigliucci interview

Feb 21 2008 Published by under Activism, Evolution

They put on a fantastic Darwin Day celebration in Iowa City. Excellent camaraderie, good times good people good beer and whatnot, and the turnout for all the events was exceptional.
Massimo Pigliucci gave a nice interview for the local NPR station which you can find here.

Darwin Day with evolutionary biologist
Massimo Pigliucci
In an event co-sponsored the University of Iowa Department of Biological Sciences to celebrate Darwin Day in Iowa City featuring renowned evolutionary biologist, philosopher, and professor at SUNY Stonybrook, Dr Massimo Pigliucci. His book Denying Evolution has been praised for its clear and wise advocacy of the Darwinian view of life.

Just scroll down to the archives. The direct link is here. Massimo's a really great, good-natured guy, and if you get a chance you should check out his blog.

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SchadenFriday Early Edition: John McCain screws the pooch. Hard.

Feb 21 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

Looks like the Straight Talk Express took a detour through Dependswhatyoumeanby"is"ville.
From the NYT:
Mr. Black said Mr. McCain and Ms. Iseman were friends and nothing more. But in 1999 she began showing up so frequently in his offices and at campaign events that staff members took notice. One recalled asking, "Why is she always around?"
That February, Mr. McCain and Ms. Iseman attended a small fund-raising dinner with several clients at the Miami-area home of a cruise-line executive and then flew back to Washington along with a campaign aide on the corporate jet of one of her clients, Paxson Communications. By then, according to two former McCain associates, some of the senator's advisers had grown so concerned that the relationship had become romantic that they took steps to intervene.

Rumor has it that McCain refuses to deny the story.
And to top it off, he's broke.

6 responses so far

Nice Evolution Primer Site

Feb 14 2008 Published by under Evolution

If you're looking for a website that gives a nice intro to the nature of science and evolution, but doesn't use lots of jargon, you should check out This View of Life. From the About page:

The aim of this project is to present the topic of evolution in a scientifically accurate manner that avoids technical language, but that also avoids potentially misleading colloquial language. It strives to be accessible to the non-scientist and so it represents a general outline, merely scratching the surface of the large body of research in the many facets of this topic. For more detailed information, see the references.
As an instructor for a college freshman-level biology course, I became aware that the theory of evolution is widely misunderstood by the general public. As many have noted, this is not because the theory is a conceptually difficult one. Indeed, it would be difficult to find a simpler one with such broad explanatory power. However, researchers often use highly technical language that is lost on many readers. In addition, in attempting to explain how evolution works, scientists and journalists alike often use colloquial language that can be misread as asserting (for example) that evolution is under the conscious control of individuals, that individuals can evolve, that evolution is goal-oriented, or that it results in perfection. This, coupled with deliberate attempts at obfuscation by anti-evolution groups using popular media, has created much confusion and even disdain for this extremely well-supported explanation of biological diversity.

The site is organized into sections dealing with genes and heredity, the mechanisms of evo, the evidences for evo, and also a nice focus on ecology and energetics to explain niches and why no "ultimate species" evolves. The author does a really nice job of creating an accessible package. There's not a lot of tangential information to confuse the reader, the site is simply and pleasantly designed, lay examples are given, and the distraction of the creation/evolution "argument" is left for other sites to deal with. We're left with a tidy discussion of what science is and how it works, and where evolution fits within that framework. If you don't know where to start and are intimidated by larger information warehouses like TalkOrigins, start with This View of Life instead.

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SHOCKER: Gonzalez Denied Tenure!!!

Feb 07 2008 Published by under Academia

Actually this is completely anticlimactic. The Regents rarely take a differing view on tenure decisions from the tenure committee itself. So sorry Tara, you got it wrong... the decision is already out:

The Iowa Board of Regents has denied Guillermo Gonzales', associate professor of physics and astronomy, appeal for tenure. After a private deliberation, the Board voted down the appeal which has already been denied by Iowa State University and ISU President Gregory Geoffroy.

No details at this point. But look for the Discovery Institute Spin Room to start kvetching at any moment, if they haven't already. At least Casey Luskin will have something to whine about besides his inability to figure out internet image copyright stuff. Might I suggest that he begin by taking a cue from my post title and just pretend that Gonzalez was actually thrice denied tenure-- once by the tenure board, once by the Preznident, and once by the Board of Regents-- for maximum martyrhood?
It's practically Biblical.

3 responses so far