Science online, black hole at the (other) end of the universe edition

Beer Trio Horizontal Dude, if you don’t brew it in your gut, you can’t really appreciate the bouquet. Photo by Lindsey Gira.
  • This week at The Molecular Ecologist: Take your coding to the next level with Software Carpentry.
  • And, at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! Taking a big-data approach to understand the role of reproductive isolation in species formation?
  • New update from Queer in STEM: Examining the outness of queer folks at STEM workplaces.
  • “This collection is among the first to reveal all major evolutionary stages of feather development in non-avian dinosaurs …” Dinosaur feathers found preserved in amber.
  • Best or worst infection ever? A brewer’s yeast infection of the gut can make the ultimate micro-brew.
  • Gee whiz. An editor at Nature goes right off the rails.
  • One jab to rule them all? The basis for a “universal” flu vaccine may finally have been found.
  • Optical illusion of the week. Here is a moth that looks like a leaf with curling edges.
  • With charts! Why infographics are bad for conveying, you know, info.
  • Sure, why the hell not? Did the universe begin in a five-dimensional black hole?
  • Whew. Turns out that distance running doesn’t increase your risk of arthritis.

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Nothing in Biology Makes Sense: Can we separate reproductive isolation and species formation?

fork in the road Photo by dkwonsh.

This week at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! Noah Reid takes a look at a study that attempts to disentangle the effects of reproductive isolation between species and the rate at which new species are formed. Why would you want to do that? So you can tell whether the former causes the latter!

RI [reproductive isolation] is often thought to be important in diversification because some theory predicts that even low levels of intermating between populations can prevent divergence from occurring and because hybridization between divergent populations can cause them to homogenize, or cause one population to become extinct. If these factors commonly prevent speciation or cause incipient species to go extinct, one might expect a positive correlation between the rate of evolution of RI and DR [species diversification]. This paper is the first test of this prediction.

But, of course, a lot of biologists would say that the evolution of reproductive isolation is the evolution of a new species … so things get a bit complicated. Go read the whole thing, and see what you think.◼

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Queer in STEM: Out of the lab closet?

Image via Queer in STEM.

The latest update about the results of the Queer in STEM survey looks at how open participants are in personal and professional contexts:

… for many of us, coming out is a daily task. Still, how out we are in a given situation or social group says a lot about how comfortable we are in that context.

We found that people tend to be less out to colleagues than to friends and family—but we also found some interesting patterns about what factors might determine how open participants can be when they come to work. To find out what those patterns are, go read the whole thing.◼

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Science online, butterflies lost, found, and drawn edition

2008.11.28 - Heliconius melpomene Wallace didn’t collect this one. Photo by jby.
  • This week, at The Molecular Ecologist: In some viruses, mutation rates may be shaped by simple population dynamics.
  • And, at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! Do African herbivores run for their dinner, or for their lives?
  • Bookmarked! A step-by-step guide for getting started with Github.
  • What is this, 1920? No, we humans haven’t freed ourselves from natural selection.
  • Because where else would it want them? Here is an insect with gears in its legs.
  • Good news: they’re nothing new. Bad news: they’re nothing new. A brief history of human fretting about pimples.
  • Found by a seventeen-year-old, too. Some butterflies collected by Alfred Russell Wallace, then apparently lost in a fire, have turned up in Oxford.
  • Yep, they have it. The latest approach for reconstructing past environmental condition involves whales’ earwax.
  • And how they link to animals’ physiology. A nice description of plant immune responses.
  • Eyeing the exits is never a good sign for the thing you’re exiting. No, PhDs looking at non-academic careers is not a sign that we should make more PhDs.
  • Vladimir Nabokov: He could write, he could catch butterflies, he could handle a colored pencil a little.
  • “She was a professor?” Yeah, but she was an adjunct.

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Nothing in Biology Makes Sense: Your dinner, or your life?

2010 076 Masai Mara b 24 Photo by ngari.norway.

Over at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense!, I’ve written about a new study that tries to disentangle conflicting sources of natural selection to determine whether big herbivores like antelope, zebras, and ostriches have evolved to run because they’re always running away from predators.

An antelope’s frame is under more demands than evading cheetahs—it also needs to travel long distances to follow food availability with the shifting rainy season. In fact, the North American fossil record suggests that big herbivores on that continent evolved long legs for distance running millions of years before there were predators able to chase after them. And then again, not all predators run their prey down; lions, for instance, prefer to pounce from ambush.

To find out whether gazelles are running for their lives, or running for dinner, go read the whole thing.◼

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The Molecular Ecologist: Mutation rates shaped by population dynamics

Polio virus (picornavirus) Photo by Sanofi Pasteur.

Over at The Molecular Ecologist, I have a new post up discussing an interesting new modeling paper. It suggests that, for some viruses, variation in the rate of evolutionary change may be driven not by selection imposed by their hosts, but by the dynamics of the viral population within, and spreading among, host individuals.

Viruses based on RNA, as opposed to DNA, generally have very high mutation rates—in part because the process of replicating RNA is more error-prone than DNA replication. But there’s also tremendous variation in the substitution rate between different RNA viruses, even between populations of closely related viruses.

To find out how simple population dynamics could shape this wide variation in substitution rates, go read the whole thing.◼

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Science online, home-brewed edition

Brewing Coffee with Light Photo by CoffeeGeek.
  • Queer in STEM update! A preliminary look at who participated in the online survey.
  • This week at the Molecular Ecologist: Auto-magically manage your analytic software with Homebrew.
  • And, at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! You’re a scientific society with a financial surplus. How do you spend it?
  • In-depth, that is. How to go about reading a scientific paper.
  • Individuals aren’t averages. But … don’t averages have predictive power? Why psychological studies can’t tell you how to live.
  • Get your head out of the sand and invest in solar. We might beat climate change by innovating, but we won’t beat it by denial.
  • Attention spermologers. The emerging scientific value of Google’s Ngram viewer.
  • More than grants, more than grad students, more even than the sweet respite of tenure. What faculty want is time.
  • Also, less than English. Eek. Out of all the STEM fields, undergrad biology degrees earn the lowest starting salary.

And here’s some lovely video: footage of honeybee mating—taken in flight!


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Queer in STEM’s first results! Who participated?

Queer in STEM participants, sorted by gender identity and sexual orienation. Image via Queer in STEM.

I’m happy to announce that the two of us at the Queer in STEM study have finally found some time to put together our first report of results from the online survey. It’s a look at who participated—their identities, where they’re living, what kind of scientific work they’re doing.

When we closed sampling at the end of July, we had responses from 1,443 people. Those folks have given us a first look at a kind of diversity that isn’t well understood in scientific workplaces. Go have a look for yourself, and keep an eye on the study website for future updates, which will come out as often as we can pull them together.◼

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Postdoc in genetics of complex traits

2012.10.22 - Medicago truncatula Your new favorite plant? Photo by jby.

Do you like evolution, genetics, and evolutionary genetics? Would you like to think of things to do with a whole lot of genetic data and a flagship model legume? Well, my boss, Peter Tiffin, is looking for another postdoc. Here’s the post description from EvolDir:

I have available a post-doctoral position to work on association and evolutionary genomics of the model legume Medicago truncatula. Collaborators and I have recently collected genome sequence for > 200 accessions and have used these data for GWAS and population genomic analyses. We are currently working to refine our understanding of genomic variation segregating within this species and are particularly interested in the evolutionary genetics of the symbiosis between Medicago and Sinorhizobia. The successful applicant will have considerable freedom to develop research in their area of interest.

The deadline for submissions is 15 September 2013, so get in touch with Peter pronto if you’re interested. (See the full ad for contact information and the application package requirements—it’s standard stuff.) Benefits of the position include working with population genomic data from the cutting edge of current technology in a collegial lab with some very smart people (and me) in the midst of a fantastic community of biologists at the University of Minnesota—as well as living in the Twin Cities, which are empirically awesome. Yes, even in winter.◼

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