The gastric brooding frog existed 30 years ago, but the extraordinary amphibian is now extinct.

In a world first, a team of Australian scientists has taken the first major step in bringing it back to life.

They have successfully reactivated its DNA and produced an embryo.

Full Story: ABC

I remember, years ago, reading an article lamenting the passing of species that could have benefited mankind, but which were now extinct. One of the prime examples it quoted was exactly the frog mentioned above - a frog that could turn off the gastric/digestive juices in its stomach to safely incubate its brood before turning them on again for normal life function. There had been some small hope that studying this process would allow scientists new ways of controlling and treating stomach-related issues such as ulcers or heartburn … but, of course, the frog was no more and couldn’t be studied anymore.

I never thought that, one day, I’d be reading about its potential return!


Planet Earth, narrated by kids

Earth Day is April 22nd. It’s a day where we take a moment from our human-centered lives to stop and smell the roses, and the wildebeests, and the whales, and even the bugs. Focus on the planet for one day a year, and maybe we can learn to respect it on the other 364 days.

BBC America let these cute-as-hell kids narrate scenes from Planet Earth. Celebrate Earth Day through the eyes of a child, which apparently are focused on liking cheeseburgers :)

They’re right, David Brabrendroroh is pretty good, too.

(via kottke, and dedicated to nature-loving kids, old and young)


Researchers use Lego to help build artificial bones! Don’t miss the video.


A great look into science and the scientific process - that is, the innovative, creative, and outside-the-box thinking that should be encouraged in order to carry out the scientific process.

(via emergentfutures)


Gamers outdo computers at matching up disease genes

The hope that swarms of gamers can help to solve difficult biological problems has been given another boost by a report in the journal PLoS One1, showing that data gleaned from the online game Phylo are helping to untangle a major problem in comparative genomics.

Full Story: Nature

It doesn’t have to be just fun and games! \o/

It doesn’t have to be just work and no play! \o/


Woolly mammoth cloning deal signed.

A joint research deal was signed yesterday between North-Eastern Federal University of the Sakha Republic in Russia and South Korea’s Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, marking the beginning of a project to clone cells from woolly mammoth remains recovered from Siberian permafrost.

As previously reported here, a mammoth could be born in five years if successful. The team will replace the nuclei of Indian elephant egg with the cloned mammoth DNA. The fertilised egg will then be placed in the womb of the Indian elephant for 600 day gestation period and birth.

While cloning extinct animals is controversial enough already, the team also includes Hwang Woo-Suk, who was found to have falsified data in a past stem cell research “breakthrough”.

Wooly mammoths … what further excuse do you need?

(Source: ibtimes.com, via emergentfutures)


Mark Pagel is Fellow of the Royal Society and Professor of Evolutionary Biology; Head of the Evolution Laboratory at the University of Reading; Author Oxford Encyclopaedia of Evolution; co-author of The Comparative Method in Evolutionary Biology. His forthcoming book is Wired for Culture: Origins of the Human Social Mind.

I want this book.

Mark Pagel via Edge

One of the first things to be aware of when talking about social learning is that it plays the same role within our societies, acting on ideas, as natural selection plays within populations of genes. Natural selection is a way of sorting among a range of genetic alternatives, and finding the best one. Social learning is a way of sifting among a range of alternative options or ideas, and choosing the best one of those. And so, we see a direct comparison between social learning driving idea evolution, by selecting the best ideas —we copy people that we think are successful, we copy good ideas, and we try to improve upon them — and natural selection, driving genetic evolution within societies, or within populations.

I think this analogy needs to be taken very seriously, because just as natural selection has acted on genetic populations, and sculpted them, we’ll see how social learning has acted on human populations and sculpted them.

What do I mean by “sculpted them”? Well, I mean that it’s changed the way we are. And here’s one reason why. If we think that humans have evolved as social learners, we might be surprised to find out that being social learners has made us less intelligent than we might like to think we are. And here’s the reason why.

If I’m living in a population of people, and I can observe those people, and see what they’re doing, seeing what innovations they’re coming up with, I can choose among the best of those ideas, without having to go through the process of innovation myself. So, for example, if I’m trying to make a better spear, I really have no idea how to make that better spear. But if I notice that somebody else in my society has made a very good spear, I can simply copy him without having to understand why.

What this means is that social learning may have set up a situation in humans where, over the last 200,000 years or so, we have been selected to be very, very good at copying other people, rather than innovating on our own. We like to think we’re a highly inventive, innovative species. But social learning means that most of us can make use of what other people do, and not have to invest the time and energy in innovation ourselves.

Now, why wouldn’t we want to do that? Why wouldn’t we want to innovate on our own? Well, innovation is difficult. It takes time. It takes energy. Most of the things we try to do, we get wrong. And so, if we can survey, if we can sift among a range of alternatives of people in our population, and choose the best one that’s going at any particular moment, we don’t have to pay the costs of innovation, the time and energy ourselves. And so, we may have had strong selection in our past to be followers, to be copiers, rather than innovators.

Followership is part of a vast meta-genetic pattern of human culture, where we need fewer innovators as our networks grow better at transmitting innovation. As social density increases, social learning increases, and the very best ideas can reach everywhere: or better, everyone.

I’ve had this bookmarked for a while because it’s a long-ish article and I haven’t had a chance to catch up, but I think it’s worth reading through on a top level as it has some interesting ideas which I’ve pondered myself in the past. However, I don’t think it pushes far enough on certain points:

  • I agree on the point that there doesn’t need to be “more innovaters” to help sustain an expanding, socially-connected group - just as there still only needs to be one seed to generate a whole crystal from a solution, no matter how much volume there is to the solution. I don’t necessarily see that this is any different from past models in the human population, however - I don’t think social learning has made us less intelligent. We are inherently lazy creatures - that’s how evolution designed us, because energy is a precious resource and difficult to harvest - and I can’t see how that would change over a few short centuries so that we become even more lazy (at least, on a genetic level). In the past, two geographically and socially remote groups may have independently come up with the design for a spear, but that does not make them any more or less intelligent than a group that is the equivalent of their combined numbers coming up with only one individual who creates the spear … perhaps there were several individuals in the large group who could have come up with the spear. However, there can only be one first place winner - the one who advertises his product before all the rest. This, by default, makes all the other “would-be geniuses” mere “social learners” after that. Science is full of examples of multiple people who developed similar theories, and who then may or may not need to compete for credit as the original innovator. 
  • Social learning itself has its own place in the evolution of ideas. On the micro-scale, say in a company that is trying to generate new IP and patents, there are often individuals who stand out as the “big thinkers” - the ones who come up with truly revolutionary ideas. However, there also needs to be a supporting group who not only polishes those ideas, but they frequently provide some of the incremental advancements which the big thinkers need and use to then make the next leap. (Not only that, there is sometimes a backlash - witness the king of copying, the Chinese. Yes, they copy blindly, and most often are associated with inferior products due to that, but this has often resulted in an eventual market rejection of such products, and companies have now learned to watch for signs of such rejection and poise themselves to take over with new products when it happens.) No true innovator lives in a vacuum - they are influenced as much by social learners as social learners “copy” from innovators. In fact, entrepreneurs often take their cue from general population trends - I don’t know how often I’ve heard an inventor or entrepreneur say that the reason they started a business or thought of an invention was because there was a clear need that wasn’t being addressed in the market, or because the usual modus operandi clearly wasn’t working after they were subjected to constant and identical frustrations.
  • As for the topic on the randomness of innovation - I not only whole-heartedly agree with this, but I have a name for it: guess and check. Musical instruments are a prime example of this - through centuries of painstaking guess and check, guitars have evolved into nearly the perfect shape for producing the acoustics that it needs to. These days, we can use fancy simulation software and engineering principles and equations to come to the same conclusions, but guess and check had worked well enough, if over a much longer timespan. There is also the epiphany - where a series of seemingly unrelated or random facts percolate in the subconscious, until one day, suddenly, it all seems to come together into a single, elegant solution. I think any innovator understands all too well how random such insights can be, and quite often optimize their environments to encourage such happenings. All the thought and development that comes after is usually spent on polishing it, making it, and/or proving it.

In conclusion, I think it’s not so much that we’re getting dumber due to larger groups of social learners, but that there is now competition arising between the innovators themselves. As we become more and more globally connected, it will be harder for anyone to claim the truly independent and genius idea, and on top of that, earlier than anyone else. Not only that, but our body of knowledge is so huge - witness our current problems with trying to filter out information overload, rather than struggling with information scarcity - that innovation time is potentially eaten away by the time it takes to process the necessary data to see where innovation can take place. Of course, a true innovator’s genius lies in this subconscious, knee-jerk ability to identify these very holes without going through the number-crunching … and that, I think, is something which will always be present in a population to varying degrees, and it’s only whether the current environment will support these people that will matter the most.

Make a culture hostile to entrepreneurs and start-ups? Yes, you will see a decline in innovation. Make it hospitable to such endeavors? You may very well see an explosion in revolutionary ideas.

(Source: underpaidgenius, via emergentfutures)



theanimalblog: juvenile Greater Anglehead Lizard (Gonocephalus grandis)

* aka Giant Forest Dragon, found in SE Asia. Diurnal. Occur in primary and secondary tropical forests.

(photo by Camera Trap)

This sure is a cute pokemon. 


Actually, funny enough, this lizard reminds me of when I was in fifth grade or something and had this swimsuit that was black and white, but the upper half was patterned with polka dots and the lower half was patterned with stripes. Well, who knew, but I actually TANNED in those patterns, so I pretty much looked just like this lizard whenever I showered.

(Source: theanimalblog, via oftaggrivated)



Psychedelic Bacteria: fluorescent Bacillus subtilis (No photoshop) by Fernan Federici on Flickr.

Pattern formation with fluorescent bacteria (TagBFP, mKate2 and sfGFP).

I can’t stress enough that you should go check out Fernan Federici’s full set on Flickr. Truly amazing stuff.

Federici isn’t just in it for the art, though. He’s a synthetic biologist using the “biofilm” building properties of bacteria to build defined forms in architecture, as well as using them as living biosensors. More at Synthetic Aesthetics

Reminds me of these “photographic” bacteria developed here at UT-Austin years back.


Do Dolphins Speak Whale in Their Sleep?

Captive dolphins have picked up some new vocabulary. Not from each other, but rather from a “sounds of the sea” tape played during their performances.

When their handlers noted strange sounds coming from the tanks at night, they compared them to known calls and discovered they were mimicking and practicing whale calls they had heard on tape.

When the researchers used a computer program to compare auditory recordings of the whale calls with the mysterious nighttime noises, it showed that the two sounds were very similar. And because the dolphins had been captive their entire lives, they couldn’t have picked them up from real whales.

To get a second opinion, the team asked 20 human volunteers to listen to humpback whale sounds and wild dolphin sounds. Then the researchers played the nighttime vocalizations and asked the volunteers whether the sounds came from a whale or a dolphin. About 76% of the time, the volunteers classified the imitations as sounds from real whales

The dolphins were last reported to be working on whale disguises, surely as part of their world domination plan.

(via ScienceNOW)

Amazing just on its own, but it also reminds me of the famous Lyre Bird, which has an extraordinary repertoire of chainsaws, car alarms, and camera shutter clicks (WITH motor drive)!

Now I wonder if the dolphins are simply mimicking the whale songs for fun (that is, with no new meaning ascribed to them), or if they’re actually incorporating the new sounds into their own “language”, just as the internet created its own lolspeak and language based off of onomatopoeia. (I can’t believe I spelled that correctly on the first try)


There are no scientific studies that I know of that say men and women differ in “mental abilities”, which is an awfully broad term on its own.

There are anatomical and developmental differences in male and female brains, but these differences have resulted in much myth and little truth. For instance, men have larger brains, on average, than women. But if having larger brains was a sign of greater mental faculties, then whales would have beaten us to fire and spaceships.

It’s important that we acknowledge that there are genuine genetic and biological differences in male and female development, but it’s equally important that we don’t extend these differences into myths of superiority. I’m a fan of what Stanford neuroscientist Josef Parvizi says about it:

“…if we are to entertain the idea that humans ‘experience’ life differently, and that different experiences mold the brain function differently, then we must also seriously consider that gender (along with class, ethnicity, age, and many other factors) would also contribute to this experience, and that they will contribute to molding of the brain…

So if women and men have systematically different life experiences and face dissimilar expectations from birth, then we would expect that their brains would become different (even if they are not innately dissimilar), through these different life experiences. Even if neuroscientists see differences in the brains of grown men and women, it does not follow that these differences are innate and unchangeable.

For instance, if girls are expected to be more adept at language, and are placed in more situations that require communication with others, it follows that the networks of the brain associated with language could become more efficient in women. Conversely, if boys receive more toy trucks and Lego’s, are given greater encouragement in math and engineering classes, and eventually take more STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses, it follows that the sections of the brain associated with mathematics could become more efficient in men…

The tricky part is that we do not make the mistake of taking account of these differences as evidence for biological determinism.”

Beyond the social implications of such a question (which has, is, and will be a topic of many a debate and paper), I am reblogging this for its acknowledgment of the underlying biological differences (differences, and not inequalities) and the elements of behavioral conditioning and environment, the latter of which is too often overlooked.


Drew Berry’s astonishing animations of biology’s invisible processes and structures

"That is the chemical signaling system, sending out the stop signal, and it has … walked away.” (Taken completely out of context, but it nevertheless made me snicker even when in context.)

I wish I could spend the rest of my afternoon watching TED talks instead of wurking. :( But here’s a talk focusing on molecular visualization systems with updated sims of the DNA winding/replication video I just reblogged.

(via jtotheizzoe)



The best visualization of DNA I have ever seen

Did you know you have 6 feet of DNA in every cell? You do. This is how it fits.

Short and sweet, and who doesn’t love visuals! \o/

DNA Wrapping: I’m sorry, but seeing the flailing histones suddenly plonk down upon the DNA strand made me lol. But it doesn’t detract from my wonder over the whole process!

DNA Replication: This, frankly, is just simply amazing. Just think - biology had pretty much perfected the basic tenets of the industrial revolution several million years beforehand! :P

(Source: jayparkinsonmd)


We were all undifferentiated, once.

(via Biocomicals)