14 May 2008

Tangled Bank #105

Welcome, readers, to this tag-teamed edition of the Tangled Bank blog carnival.

In the left-justified corner, all the way from the north Yorkshire coast, not far from where Darwin 'took the waters' in Ilkley, it's Peter McGrath.

And in the right-justified corner, coming to you from London, just a few miles away from Downe Bank, Darwin's inspiration for the tangled bank where "endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved", it's Karen James.

Well, you glorious swine. Speaking for myself, my blogreading life was full enough without discovering some of the new delights carnivalled here. The long evening reading all these posts has been a 'mental riot' (Darwin's description of the intellectual ferment when he was incubating The Origin), for which many thanks and the RSS has a slew of new entries. A tangled bank is not a monoculture, and I think we can offer something for all here.

I would never call our dear readers much less our prolific bank-tanglers 'swine', however glorious, but I certainly do share Peter's admiration for this fortnight's entries.

In the beginning was not the word, it was the soup. This is a biochemistry-heavy post from Prof. Larry Moran at Sandwalk. What's the problem with the primordial? None.

Speaking of biochemistry, Giovanna Di Sauro gives us Who's afraid of Bisphenol A?, the first in a two-part series on toxicology and cancer biology (and I will remind our readers that cancer biology is very appropriate here at Tangled Bank considering that cancer is itself an evolutionary process).

Who can resist a Friday Parasite especially at Science Made Cool? Not I, having studied parasites in all their (slightly icky) glory. The ways parasites evade their host immune systems and spend all their time, well, eating and reproducing is my idea of good fun and great evolution.

And now to take the phrase "great evolution" as my cue, I give you the posts you've no doubt all been waiting for (drum roll): let's hear it for the platypus genome, correctly interpreted! Yes, everybody and their eutherian companion animal has been blogging this week about the nipple-less wonder of the south. In Weird animal, weird genome, Jim Lemire of from Archaea to Zeaxanthol gives us a handy list of highlights to get us started, but then the real fun begins with a series of posts roasting (as they should) both the intentional and unintentional misinterpretations of the results. Tiny Frog gives us The Platypus is not a Chimera, an excellent synopsis of how the creationists are trying to drag the noble platypus' genome through the post-flood mud, and PZ Myers at Pharyngula (duh) exceeds himself with his excellent myth-busting post The Platypus Genome.

As you will all now know, the platypus has its venom. Well, so the pufferfish has its neurotoxin; in Risk-Free Fugu? Rick MacPherson at Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice and Sunsets explores the Japanese delicacy and asks, is it as tasty if it can't kill you?

Oh, Podblack Blog, you bad thing. By you we are wrenched away from hard science to a very worthwhile look at science fiction films: as science, as teaching aids, as objets in themselves, and yes the French is intentional. She saves the best for the last line, though and all I would say is (a) it's the language and (b) yes, a lot of English humour is 'Oooops, vicar there go my knickers!' in nature. And we love it. And I bet that's the first time that's ever been said in relation to a Tangled Bank. Next!

Ames Grauwert! A law student (with a bit of science) who blogs at A Candid World crashes Tangled Bank and very welcome he is too. We just hope How Ben Stein destroyed intelligent design becomes settled case law not opinion.

And just in case ID isn't completely destroyed by Ben Stein, we have three related posts from Monado of Science Notes to finish the job: "Dealing with Evidence", "The Dembski Dodge" and "The Behe Blunder".

Russel Seitz, if there is a hell it is stacked a dozen deep with your kind. And if they write (and illustrate) a gralloching of Expelled like this, I will be happy waist deep in the lake of fire with you.

If you're not raised from the dead like Darwin that is... yes, that famous bearded personage whose pen produced the title of this here carnival is not only revived from his long slumber at Westminster Abbey but is also blogging.

If you don't relish Digital Cuttlefish's scansion, rhyme, metre and incision (often deployed to good effect in Pharyngula comments) sell your brain for catfood. DC has two for your consideration: ode to a Platypus genome and a cautionary tale of science run amok.

Meanwhile, how plastic is Horizontal Gene Transfer (and indeed what the dickens is it)? Plastids have the answer, says Joe at cotch.net, which really needs to be typed carefully.

It's Denialism Blog and PalMD's being such a tease and begging us not to click away: "It's just that this is such an interesting story, and I can't help sharing it. It is a shining example of one of the great successes of modern medical science, and stands in such stark contrast to the unfulfilled promises of the cult medicine crowd, with their colon cleanses and magic pills. This is the story of a real magic pill." Mate, it's what we're here for. Tell the story. He does, and I'll leave it to him to sum it up: "This is an incredible story. It follows almost 50 years of hard and brilliant work by many researchers named and unnamed, as they discover the cause of a disease, and it's treatment."

If you have never considered the biogeopolitics of bananas you really should, and the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog is the place to do it.

Meanwhile, Phil Plait (PZ paid us to put him this late in the carnival) at Bad Astronomy commits a shocking gaffe, and should hang his head so his NASA cap falls off. No he doesn't pass the port the wrong way - he wouldn't be in this Carnival had he done THAT - he asks us to help NASA sift through all the dooberrybytes (and that's a lot) of pics of the Martian surface to find the Mars Polar Lander. Hey America! You're not the only country to have lost a lander on Mars. What about looking for the UK's Beagle 2? We built the Beagle 1 as well (we know where that one is, though), and are planning to build the Beagle 3.

Greg Laden is an anthropologist, here writing not about man, but about man's best friend. Stop that! He's writing about the genetics of dogs. And if he'd been my genetics lecturer 20 years ago, I wouldn't still be looking at peas wondering how they fit all those wrinkles on.

While the mechanism of inheritance eluded not only Peter but, famously, Darwin, it was not lost on a team of Canadian scientists who utilised the fact that mitochondrial DNA is maternally inherited to confirm that seventeen local residents of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations in northern British Columbia share a maternal ancestor with a man whose corpse was disgorged by a nearby glacier. Cath Ennis at rENNISance woman, host of the previous edition of Tangled Bank, tells us all about it in her cleverly titled post, Your Father was an Iceman.

So, thank you for wandering through this tangled bank. Remember why we're here: we're fundraising to build a replica of HMS Beagle, the ship that carried Charles Darwin round the world and ultimately led him to write the astonishing prose poem to biodiversity that inspired this carnival of science writing:
It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life and from use and disuse: a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms.
I can't quite let it end there. See, a bit of a Darwinian purist myself, I prefer the first edition, in all of its earth-shaking raw glory, undiluted by successive rounds of editing in response to politically motivated criticism. In the first edition, it is an "entangled" rather than a "tangled" bank. Don't worry, I'm not suggesting the carnival be renamed; I do wish, however, that from this day forward everyone hosting the Tangled Bank carnival would start using the full quote rather than just the first bit which, due to its premature truncation ends rather flatly on "...Extinction of less-improved forms". Ho hum, huh? Instead, why not try Darwin's ending on for size:
Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
Well, that's been fun. The awesome responsibility that is hosting a Tangled Bank next falls on Nobel Intent on 28th May. Send your submissions to jtimmer (at) arstechnica (dot) com.


CAE said...

Thanks for the link!

Where are you from, Peter? I grew up in York and spent many happy weekends on the N Yorkshire coast!

Jim Lemire said...

Excellent job! and thanks for including my post

gio said...

Thank you for including my post. Nice edition.

Russell said...

Peter, you give me to much credit, but should you want gralloching lessons, let me know if stags trouble you down in the Yorkshire subtropics -- the stalking has been grim above the Don