Monday, 18 June 2012

Biology stuff from the week 11-17/6/12

First biological story for the week: granite.
Eh? You gone mad? No, really, stick with me - granite played a crucial role in the development of what we now know as 'life', 1.5 billion years ago.
It was the metals inside granite, once dolloped onto the surface by volcanic activity, that contributed to the development of the simple cells that were around at that time in prehistory.
“It was the introduction of the metals into these single-celled organisms that changed their chemistry and allowed them to evolve into the complex multi-celled organisms which were the first step towards more diverse life on Earth"
OK, so granite played a rather passive role - but do we besmirch women their contribution for 'merely' carrying the foetus for 40 weeks? I arrest my case.

'Human Microbiome Project: First detailed studies describe diversity, variety, and function of microbes in people'
"Human beings are ecosystems on two legs, each of us carrying enough microbes to outnumber our human cells by 10 to 1 and our genes by even more."
And that isn't counting the organelles that used to be independent species, such as mitochondria, which are now almost indistinguishable from our 'own' make-up.
"Just as the Human Genome Project was 10 years ago, the Human Microbiome Project is intended to be a baseline for future studies of human health and disease"
From the functinoing of the gut, to the functioning of the brain, microbes play a crucial part in our bodily functions. Without them, we simply could not live.

'Female butterflies learn when it comes to wings, flashier is better in a mate'
Hmm.. i think they've made a critical error here.
The researchers report that butterflies do not go for the same patterns every time, but will go for 'more highly ornamented' designs after exposure to them.
This is like saying that, because men prefer women who show more leg i.e. wear shorter skirts, then skirtlength worn will decrease ad infinitum.
But we know this isn't true - favoured skirt lengths fluctuate periodically. As well as being considered attractive by the complimentary sex, it pays to stand out from the crowd.
A continuation of this study could easily find that butterflies with more 'eyes' fell out of favour, as they became trite and 'samey'

'Where we split from sharks: Common ancestor comes into focus'
"The common ancestor of all jawed vertebrates on Earth resembled a shark, according to a new analysis of the braincase of a 290-million-year-old fossil fish that has long puzzled paleontologists."

'Inner ear may hold key to ancient primate behavior'
"The bony labyrinth of the inner ear is made up of the cochlea -- the major organ of hearing -- the vestibule and the three semicircular canals which sense head motion and provide input to synchronize movement with visual stimuli"
The construction of the inner ear is intrinsic to the sense of balance. What the research has found is that even slow-moving modern species such as gorillas are descended from species that were able to move with much greater agility.

I would love to see the reaction of a 'naturalismist' to this:
"Previous studies have shown that cells from both mother and fetus can cross the placenta during pregnancy, and survive for decades in the skin, liver, brain and spleen - a phenomenon called fetal microchimerism."
Far from being 'unnatural', chimeras are us, and our relatives, and always have been - not just hybrids of our parents' genomes, but containing whole cells from our relatives!

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