Post List

  • January 18, 2011
  • 05:55 AM

Not so wild thing

by Wellcome Trust in Wellcome Trust Blog

Different branches of biological research often use different model organisms. You’ve probably heard of some of them: E. coli, the standard organism for much bacterial research, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster in genetics, Arabidopsis thaliana in plant research. Another model organism is the nematode C. elegans. These tiny worms that live in rotting fruit are [...]... Read more »

  • January 18, 2011
  • 05:30 AM

Duplicate to innovate?

by Becky in It Takes 30

The question of how new protein functions arise in evolution via duplication has a certain “chicken and egg” flavor to it.  It’s clear that genes with new functions do often arise after older genes undergo a duplication event, but which comes first, the new function or the duplication?  For a long time it seemed obvious [...]... Read more »

Deng C, Cheng CH, Ye H, He X, & Chen L. (2010) Evolution of an antifreeze protein by neofunctionalization under escape from adaptive conflict. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 21115821  

  • January 18, 2011
  • 04:43 AM

Putting it off

by David Winter in Careers - in Theory

Why have I left it so long  between the last posting and this one? Partly, of course, there was the Christmas break. Too many things to do (and besides, who is going to read this blog in preference to spending precious festive time with their loved ones?). Oh, and then there was that workshop on [...]... Read more »

  • January 18, 2011
  • 02:43 AM

10 Myths About Leadership

by Dr Shock in Dr Shock MD PhD

Last year I had the pleasure of temporarily leading our psychiatry department. It was a difficult but in the end rewarding job. That’s probably why a recent publication in Healthcare Executive drew my attention: The 10 most common myths about leadership.

Leadership and management are the same dynamic.Leadership is more about vision, culture and values within [...]

No related posts.... Read more »

Birk S. (2010) The 10 most common myths about leadership. Healthcare executive, 25(6), 30. PMID: 21229904  

  • January 18, 2011
  • 02:00 AM

How media obsession fuels public fascination with the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ yet leaves other serial killers to serve their time as almost unknowns

by SAGE Insight in SAGE Insight

When serial killers go unseen: The case of Trevor Joseph Hardy From Crime, Media and Culture UK headlines last week highlighted news regarding the denied plea of the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ and confirmation he will spend all his life behind bars. This serial killer always sparks huge public interest. The article examines the differences in the [...]... Read more »

Wilson, D., Tolputt, H., Howe, N., & Kemp, D. (2010) When serial killers go unseen: The case of Trevor Joseph Hardy. Crime, Media, Culture, 6(2), 153-167. DOI: 10.1177/1741659010369952  

  • January 17, 2011
  • 10:11 PM

Goblin Shark: Prehistoric monster from the deep

by beredim in Strange Animals

Mitsukurina owstoni is a weird and scary species of shark, commonly known as the goblin shark.

It is very distinct from other sharks and has many unique and unshark-like traits, like its pink color! .

The species is often described as a "living fossil", thanks to its prehistoric appearance and its ancient lineage.... Read more »

Masai H, Sato Y, & Aoki M. (1973) The brain of Mitsukurina owstoni. Journal fur Hirnforschung, 14(6), 493-500. PMID: 4792175  

  • January 17, 2011
  • 06:46 PM

The bumbebee tit

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

Today I watched a pair of Blue Tits paying a lot of attention to the inflorescences of Mahonia in the local park, coming back to them again and again. What were they doing? If you hear nectar feeding in birds you would most likely think on hummingbirds and the tropics. However, several bird groups feed on nectar in addition to hummingbirds, honeyeaters and sunbirds. In Australia, they are actually the main flower pollinators. Although nectar feeding behaviour is far less widespread, it does happen in Europe. Hugh Ford, in 1985 reviewed the handful of studies suggesting or indicating nectarivory in European birds (see table below). Most of the species were warblers, with the Chiffchaff and the Black-cap the most cited ones. Warblers winter in southern Europe or Africa, where there is a larger proportion of bird-pollinated flowers and where nectar feeding in birds, is more widespread. They are also known to exploit nectar while migrating, as a quick way to gain energy. The bird species that most commonly feeds on nectar in northern Europe, however, is - you guessed it - the versatile Blue Tit. Blue Tits seen on flowers are often thought to be foraging for insects, or feeding on parts of the plant, such as petals. However, Blue tits have been recorded feeding on a range of flowers, both introduced garden varieties and native ones: Gooseberries, Flowering currants, and the Fritillary Imperial Crown. What is more, Fitzpatrick, studying suburban blue tits, found that nectar can make a substantial part of Blue tit diet in early spring. Feeding on flowering currant inflorescences, Blue tits fed on the most productive flowers, those with a darker pink rim. They used two strategies to get at the nectar: pecking the corolla out to reach the nectaries, or perforating a hole on the side of the flower - bumblebee style - to reach the nectar directly, as the flowers are too narrow for them to insert their beaks. Coal Tits were also observed feeding on the Flowering Currants, but they inserted their more slender beak into the flower and thus did not destroy the flower in the process of feeding.   The Fritillary imperial crown is an impressive red or yellow flowered bulb in which a whorl of wide, flowers hang from a stout bare stem. It originates from Asia but is widely planted in the UK. Búrquez, showed that Blue tits do not only efficiently collect nectar from these flowers, but they also act as are efficient pollinators of the plant.  Blue tits in native habitats are often seen feeding on willow blossom, so nectar feeding seems to be another of the wide variety of opportunistic behaviours used by this tit to use resources.Ford, H. (1985). Nectarivory and Pollination by Birds in Southern Australia and Europe Oikos, 44 (1) DOI: 10.2307/3544053Búrquez, A. (1989). Blue Tits, Parus caeruleus, as Pollinators of the Crown Imperial, Fritillaria imperialis, in Britain Oikos, 55 (3) DOI: 10.2307/3565592Fitzpatrick, S. (1994). Nectar-feeding by suburban Blue Tits: contribution to the diet in spring Bird Study, 41 (2), 136-145 DOI: 10.1080/00063659409477210... Read more »

  • January 17, 2011
  • 02:51 PM

Does it hurt when I do this?

by Lorimer Moseley in BodyInMind

By Steve Kamper I’m a physiotherapist, as physios (and we’re not alone here) we love to poke and prod our patients with our fingers and ask if it hurts. Anatomical training and experience tells us exactly which part we are poking and the knowing nod of the head followed by a somber and considered ‘aah [...]... Read more »

  • January 17, 2011
  • 12:17 PM

Death Song of an Iceberg

by clark in Now Hear This

Last year, University of Washington oceanographer Seelye Martin and his colleagues reported the discovery of an iceberg graveyard: a previously unreported underwater shoal near the Antarctic coast on which large icebergs occasionally run aground and break apart. One notable victim was B-15A, a Rhode Island-size iceberg that was the largest remnant of a far larger, 1000-foot [...]... Read more »

Martin, S., Drucker, R., Aster, R., Davey, F., Okal, E., Scambos, T., & MacAyeal, D. (2010) Kinematic and seismic analysis of giant tabular iceberg breakup at Cape Adare, Antarctica. Journal of Geophysical Research, 115(B6). DOI: 10.1029/2009JB006700  

  • January 17, 2011
  • 11:35 AM

Salmon, scent and going home again

by GrrlScientist in Maniraptora

Did you know that salmon rely on their sense of smell (olfaction) for nearly every aspect of their lives, from locating food to avoiding predators? ... Read more »

W.J. Wisby, & A.D. Hasler. (1954) Effect of olfactory occlusion on migrating silver salmon (O. kisutch). Journal of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada, 472-478. info:/

Tierney, K., Sampson, J., Ross, P., Sekela, M., & Kennedy, C. (2008) Salmon Olfaction is Impaired by an Environmentally Realistic Pesticide Mixture. Environmental Science , 42(13), 4996-5001. DOI: 10.1021/es800240u  

  • January 17, 2011
  • 11:30 AM

What Do Antidepressants Do in Healthy Brains?

by William Yates, M.D. in Brain Posts

The easiest answer to the title question is “cause side effects”.  A more important theoretical and practical aspect of this question is: Do antidepressants have a general property experienced by everyone or are their effects only seen in the presence of depression?  Antidepressant drugs have research support for a variety of non-depression indications including: chronic pain, fibromyalgia, migraine prophylaxis, irritable bowel syndrome and pathological crying and laughing.  So there are quite a few non-depressed individuals taking antidepressants making the title question is important.Serretti and colleagues from Italy recently summarized published research on this issue.  Additionally, they performed some meta-analyses when appropriate to look for effects across studies.   They note the review suggests that antidepressant effects in the normal or healthy brain may be different under acute than under chronic treatment.   They authors conclude there is some evidence that antidepressants increase social behaviors and reduce negative effects in the healthy brain.  They structure their review based on antidepressant class and I will note the highlights of their paper by class. Studies of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) The selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (i.e fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), escitalopram (Lexapro)) are the most commonly prescribed class of antidepressants.   SSRIs do not reduce sub-threshold symptoms of anxiety or depression as measured by the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) and the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI).  They do tend to reduce negative affect as measured by the Positive and Negative Affect scale.  In addition, SSRIs do reduce the amount time spent in REM sleep in healthy individuals.  The clinical implication of this is unknown. Escitalopram appears to decrease activation in several fMRI tasks with some evidence for decreased activation of the amygdala compared to baseline activation.Studies of Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (NRIs)This class of drug is represented by reboxetine, an antidepressant not found in the United States.  The drug atomoxetine (Strattera) used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is sometimes assigned to this class of compound.  A single dose of reboxetine appears to influence social behavior by increasing cooperativeness in communication, reducing focus on self and reduced anxiety ratings.  It also appears to enhance recognition of positive environmental stimuli such as processing happy facial expressions and positive words.  Some of these effects persist over at least one or two weeks.  Brain imaging studies show reduced amygdala responses to fearful faces. Studies of Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SSNRIs)This class of agents includes the compounds venlafaxine (Effexor), desvenlafaxine (Pristiq) and duloxetine (Cymbalta).   There are many fewer studies involving these agents as researchers tend to often one to focus a single neurotransmitter.   A single dose study of duloxetine demonstrated showed enhanced recognition of both happy and sad faces.  Early responses to these compounds tend to reflect transient side effects rather than a specific brain response in healthy individuals.  Other agents: Noradrenergic and specific serotenergic antidepressants (NaSSAs), tricyclic antidepressants, monoamine oxidase inhibitorsThis miscellaneous class would include mirtazapine (Remeron), amitriptyline (Elavil), and phenelzine (Parnate).  Mirtazapine appears to have some sedative side effects in healthy individuals and along with amitriptyline (and other tricyclics) have the potential to impair psychomotor performance including driving performance.  Tricyclic antidepressants also (like SSRIs) share the ability to reduce REM sleep duration in healthy individuals.The authors conclude that this review tends to confirm that the human response to antidepressants is similar to the response in rats.  Early exposure to antidepressants tends to increase anxiety but over time anxiety behaviors tend to decrease to below baseline.  Early anti-depressant exposure reduces socializing behaviors in rats but increases them in the long term.   There are very few human studies that have been carried out for more than a week or two.  This means the long-term effect of exposure to antidepressants agents is unknown. The brain imaging data suggest that antidepressants influence emotional experience and processing in healthy individuals.  There is a variety of individual variation in emotional experience and processing, but the antidepressants appear to move healthy individuals along this domain.One interesting aspect of this issue is that we know very little about the comparison of side effect patterns in non-depressed individuals.  Do healthy controls experience the same type of side effects to the same degree as depressed individuals?  We have a wealth of data comparing side effects of antidepressants compared to control within depressed populations.  But the volume of data comparing side effects between depressed individuals and non-depressed is small.Molecular model of the antidepressant escitalopram (Lexapro) courtesy of Creative Commons author Ben Mills.... Read more »

Serretti A, Calati R, Goracci A, Di Simplicio M, Castrogiovanni P, & De Ronchi D. (2010) Antidepressants in healthy subjects: what are the psychotropic/psychological effects?. European neuropsychopharmacology : the journal of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 20(7), 433-53. PMID: 20079613  

  • January 17, 2011
  • 11:12 AM

Darwin meets Gibbs: thermodynamics of natural selection

by Vasili Hauryliuk in stringent response

In order to perform its function, protein should be properly folded. Therefore stability of this proteins’ native state is crucial for its function. Denatured protein can be toxic the cell and requires specialised machinery to degrade it, thus compromising cells fitness. Having a denatured protein is not equal to just not having a functional one, it is equal to not having a functional one and hiving some costly junk.Since stability is so crucial for proteins function, it must leave its trace in the patterns of amino acid conservation. Bioinformatic studies show that there is a strong correlation between the Surface Accessible Area (SAA) of the residue and its conservation, or, simply speaking, conserved residues are mostly buried inside the protein. That sounds logical – the core should be more important for protein stability than its outer shell. The outer residues, on the other hand, can be rearranged in order to change proteins binding selectivity after the duplication event, thus leading to divergence of the two copies. But lets get back to the core.Basic thermodynamics relationships link protein stability to parameters like Gibbs free energy (ΔG), enthalpy (ΔH), entropy (ΔS), heat capacity (C, or, to be specific heat capacity at constant pressure, Cp) and absolute temperature (T). And adaptation to extreme temperatures gives us a sticking example of thermodynamics shaping protein evolution. But first let us start with some basic theory - I know that sounds painful, but please stay with me for a moment!Gibbs free energy is divided into enthaplic and entropic components (ΔG = ΔH - TΔS). By the definition of Gibbs energy, in order for the protein to be stable, G of folding should be negative, and when it is positive, the protein unfolds. Both of components of ΔG are changing with temperature. Enthalpy is changing linearly, with the proportionality coefficient being heat capacity (ΔCp, ΔH(T) = ΔH(T0) + ΔCp(T-T0)). Heat capacity is the amount of heat needed to change the temperature of protein for one degree. Entropy also changes with temperature, though in a bit more complex way (ΔS = ΔS(T0) + ΔCpln(T/T0). When we combine the two, we get this:ΔG(T) = ΔG(T0) + ΔCp(T-T0) - ΔCpTln(T/T0)This is a very interesting relationship. It gives ΔG(T) its characteristic shape with a maximum corresponding to the T of maximums stability, and two denaturation temperatures (on the graph below I plot –ΔG, rather than ΔG just so that the plot looks nicer). We are all familiar with the protein denatureation at high temperatures (we all boiled eggs!), but at lower temperatures? Well, this one happens as well, but very, very slowly, as all the reactions tend to at low temperatures, so we do not notice it that much. However, indeed, some proteins are better off when stored at -20Co, than at -80Co. Heat capacity is intimately linked to the above-mentioned solvent accessible area (SAA). The reason for that is that it is water surrounding the protein what gives its heat capacity. Water molecules next to the protein are restricted in their freedom, they are essentially frozen, and ice, as we know, has tremendous heat capacity. When the protein denatures, its SAA increases, and so does the heat capacity. Heat capacity change upon denaturation in turn is determining the shape of folding ΔG dependence on temperature (see equation above). And now we are primed to discuss how the extermophylic proteins cope with the high temperatures. One can imagine two obvious solutions. First, they could increase their stability (ΔG) (curve a). However, this would result in a bit too stable proteins that will be very hard to degrade, and this is not good for metabolism. Also, they will be too rigid, and flexibility is necessary for protein function. Second, they could move their temperature of maximum stability (curve b). In reality they do something completely different! They decrease the ΔCp instead, flattening the G curve. So how do they decrease the ΔCp? Well this is all about the nature of the denatured state. Δp is proportional to ΔSAA of protein unfolding, but proportionality is different for hydrophobic residues (these freeze water well, thus proportionality coefficient is high) and hydrophilic ones (these are similar to water in their nature, and thus do not restrict its movement too much, and the proportionality coefficient is lower). Thermophilic proteins enrich normally hydrophobic protein core with polar residues, forming salt bridges and dipole-dipole pairs. This results in more rigid structure, thus you still pay in flexibility somewhat, therefore if there is no need for extreme temperatures, hydrophobic core is better. Modifying protein core is not an easy task since you need to compensate for one substitution with another (say, you have a positively charged residue, and now in order to compensate it you need a negatively charged one). Moving in the other direction (Thermophilic to mesophilic) would be equally tricky. Therefore keeping your temperature stable – just like we do! – allows avoiding all these complicated thermodynamic matters altogether.References: ... Read more »

Fu H, Grimsley G, Scholtz JM, & Pace CN. (2010) Increasing protein stability: importance of DeltaC(p) and the denatured state. Protein science : a publication of the Protein Society, 19(5), 1044-52. PMID: 20340133  

Geiler-Samerotte KA, Dion MF, Budnik BA, Wang SM, Hartl DL, & Drummond DA. (2011) Misfolded proteins impose a dosage-dependent fitness cost and trigger a cytosolic unfolded protein response in yeast. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(2), 680-5. PMID: 21187411  

Loladze VV, Ermolenko DN, & Makhatadze GI. (2001) Heat capacity changes upon burial of polar and nonpolar groups in proteins. Protein science : a publication of the Protein Society, 10(7), 1343-52. PMID: 11420436  

  • January 17, 2011
  • 11:00 AM

PI3K inhibition overcomes HGF-mediated resistance to EGFR-TKIs in EGFR mutant lung cancer

by Sally Church in Pharma Strategy Blog

PI3-kinase inhibition is becoming quite a hot topic in cancer research – for those of you interested in learning about the compounds in this area, you can find out more from previous posts here and here as background information before … Continue reading →... Read more »

Kobayashi, S., Boggon, T., Dayaram, T., Jänne, P., Kocher, O., Meyerson, M., Johnson, B., Eck, M., Tenen, D., & Halmos, B. (2005) Mutation and Resistance of Non–Small-Cell Lung Cancer to Gefitinib . New England Journal of Medicine, 352(8), 786-792. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa044238  

Engelman, J., Zejnullahu, K., Mitsudomi, T., Song, Y., Hyland, C., Park, J., Lindeman, N., Gale, C., Zhao, X., Christensen, J.... (2007) MET Amplification Leads to Gefitinib Resistance in Lung Cancer by Activating ERBB3 Signaling. Science, 316(5827), 1039-1043. DOI: 10.1126/science.1141478  

Turke, A., Zejnullahu, K., Wu, Y., Song, Y., Dias-Santagata, D., Lifshits, E., Toschi, L., Rogers, A., Mok, T., & Sequist, L. (2010) Preexistence and Clonal Selection of MET Amplification in EGFR Mutant NSCLC. Cancer Cell, 17(1), 77-88. DOI: 10.1016/j.ccr.2009.11.022  

  • January 17, 2011
  • 09:15 AM

Learning What Not to Say

by gameswithwords in Games with Words

A troubling fact about language is that words can be used in more than one way. For instance, I can throw a ball, I can throw a party, and I can throw a party that is also a ball.

These cats are having a ball.
The Causative Alternation

Sometimes the relationship between different uses of a word is completely arbitrary. If there's any relationship between the different meanings of ball, most people don't know it. But sometimes there are straightforward, predictable relationships. For instance, consider:

John broke the vase.
The vase broke.

Mary rolled the ball.
The ball rolled.

This is the famous causative alternation. Some verbs can be used with only a subject (The vase broke. The ball rolled) or with a subject and an object (John broke the vase. Mary rolled the ball). The relationship is highly systematic. When there is both a subject and an object, the subject has done something that changed the object. When there is only a subject, it is the subject that undergoes the change. Not all verbs work this way:

Sally ate some soup.
Some soup ate.

Notice that Some soup ate doesn't mean that some soup was eaten, but rather has to mean nonsensically that it was the soup doing the eating. Some verbs simply have no meaning at all without an object:

Bill threw the ball.
*The ball threw.

In this case, The ball threw doesn't appear to mean anything, nonsensical or otherwise (signified by the *). Try:

*John laughed Bill.
Bill laughed.

Here, laughed can only appear with a subject and no object.

The dative alternation

Another famous alternation is the dative alternation:

John gave a book to Mary.
John gave Mary a book.

Mary rolled the ball to John.
Mary rolled John the ball.

Once again, not all verbs allow this alternation:

John donated a book to the library.
*John donated the library a book.

(Some people actually think John donated the library a book sounds OK. That's all right. There is dialectical variation. But for everyone there are verbs that won't alternate.)

The developmental problem

These alternations present a problem for theory: how do children learn which verbs can be used in which forms? A kid who learns that all verbs that appear with both subjects and objects can appear with only subjects is going to sound funny. But so is the kid who thinks verbs can only take one form.
The trick is learning what not to say
One naive theory is that kids are very conservative. They only use verbs in constructions that they've heard. So until they hear "The vase broke," they don't think that break can appear in that construction. The problem with this theory is that lots of verbs are so rare that it's possible that (a) the verb can be used in both constructions, but (b) you'll never hear it used in both.

Another possibility is that kids are wildly optimistic about verb alternations and assume any verb can appear in any form unless told otherwise. There are two problems with this. The first is that kids are rarely corrected when they say something wrong. But perhaps you could just assume that, after a certain amount of time, if you haven't heard e.g. The ball threw then threw can't be used without an object. The problem with that is, again, that some verbs are so rare that you'll only hear them a few times in your life. By the time you've heard that verb enough to know for sure it doesn't appear in a particular construction, you'll be dead.

The verb class hypothesis

In the late 1980s, building on previous work, Steven Pinker suggested a solution to this problem. Essentially, there are certain types of verbs which, in theory, could participate in a given alternation. Verbs involving caused changes (break, eat, laugh) in theory can participate in the causative alternation, and verbs involving transfer of possession (roll, donate) in theory can participate in the dative alternation, and this knowledge is probably innate. What a child has to learn is which verbs do participate in the dative alternation.

For reasons described above, this can't be done one verb at a time. And this is where the exciting part of the theory comes in. Pinker (building very heavily on work by Ray Jackendoff and others) argues that verbs have core aspects of their meaning and some extra stuff. For instance, break, crack, crash, rend, shatter, smash, splinter and tear all describe something being caused to fall to pieces. What varies between the verbs is the exact manner in which this happens. Jackendoff and others argues that the shared meaning is what is important to grammar, whereas the manner of falling to pieces was extra information which, while important, is not grammatically central.

Pinker's hypothesis was that verb alternations make use of this core meaning, not the "extra" meaning. From the perspective of the alternation, then, break, crack, crash, rend, shatter, smash, splinter and tear are all the same verb. So children are not learning whether break alternates, they learn whether the whole class of verbs alternate. Since there are many fewer classes than than there are verbs (my favorite compendium VerbNet has only about 270), the fact that some verbs are very rare isn't that important. If you know what class it belongs to, as long as the class itself is common enough, you're golden.

Testing the theory

This particular theory has not been tested as much as one might expect, partly because it is hard to test. It is rather trivial to show that verbs do or don't participate in alternations as a class, partly because that's how verb classes are often defined (that's how VerbNet does it). Moreover, various folks (like Stefanowitsch, 2008) argue that although speakers might notice the verb classes, that doesn't prove that people actually do use those verb classes to learn which verbs alternate and which do not.

The best test, then, is it teach people -- particularly young children -- new verbs that either belong to a class that does alternate or to a class that does not and see if they think those new verbs should or should not alternate. Very few such studies have been done.

Around the same time Pinker's seminal Language and Cognition came out in 1989, which outlines the theory I described above, a research team led by his student Jess Gropen (Gropen, Pinker, Hollander, Golberg and Wilson, 1989) published a study of the dative alternation. They taught children new verbs of transfer (such as "moop," which meant to move an object to someone using a scoop), which in theory could undergo the dative alternation. The question they asked was whether kids would be more likely to use those verbs in the alternation if the verbs were monosyllabic (moop) or bisyllabic (orgulate). They were more likely to do so for the monosyllabic verbs, and in fact in English monosyllabic verbs are more likely to alternate. This issue of how many syllables the verb has did come up in Language and Cognition, but it wasn't -- at least to me -- the most compelling part of the story (which is why I left it out of the discussion so far!).

Ambridge, Pine and Rowland (2011)

Ben Ambridge, Julian Pine and Caroline Rowland of the University of Liverpool have a new study in press which is the only study to have directly tested whether verb meaning really does guide which constructions a child thinks a given verb can be used in, at least to the best of my knowledge -- and apparently to theirs, since they don't cite anyone else. (I've since learned that Brooks and Tomasello, 1999, might be relevant, but the details are sufficiently complicated and the paper sufficiently long that I'm not yet sure.)

They taught children two novel verbs, one of which should belong to a verb class that participates in the causative alternation (a manner of motion verb: bounce, move, twist, rotate, float) and one of which should not (an emotional expression: smile, laugh, giggle). Just to prove to you that these classes exist, compare:

John bounced/moved/twisted/rotated/floated the ball.

The ball bounced/moved/twisted/rotated/floated.

*John smiled/laughed/giggled Sally.
Sally sm... Read more »

Gropen, J., Pinker, S., Hollander, M., Goldberg, R., & Wilson, R. (1989) The Learnability and Acquisition of the Dative Alternation in English. Language, 65(2), 203. DOI: 10.2307/415332  

Ben Ambridge, Julian M. Pine, & Caroline F. Rowland. (2011) Children use verb semantics to retreat from overgeneralization errors. Cognitive Linguistics. info:/

  • January 17, 2011
  • 08:34 AM

Merger Success and Supply Chain Integration

by Daniel Dumke in SCRM Blog - Supply Chain Risk Management

What are the major obstacles to a successful merger? Today I'll have a look at the 2003 article by Langabeer and Seifert. The authors argue that supply chain integration plays a major role before, during and after the merger.

Why is the Supply Chain Key?
The authors start by making the case for the supply chain as one of the major drivers of financial performance in a company. After analyzing quantitative data from 400 mergers during a ten-year period, exploring relationships between mergers, finances, and supply chain performance, the authors conclude thatFinding 1: Supply chain effectiveness drives financial results. Continue reading "Merger Success and Supply Chain Integration"
... Read more »

Langabeer, J., & Seifert, D. (2003) Supply Chain Integration: The Key to Merger Success. Supply Chain Management Review. info:/

  • January 17, 2011
  • 08:25 AM

Seeing the big picture of RNA virus evolution

by Connor Bamford in The Rule of 6ix

From both a medical and a scientific viewpoint, the evolution of viruses is extremely important to us;  viral adaptation to their ever changing environment is responsible for major morbidity and mortality worldwide so maybe studying this  may allow us to predict virus evolution in the future and may help prevent pandemics occuring? We kind of [...]... Read more »

Kitchen A, Shackelton LA, & Holmes EC. (2011) Family level phylogenies reveal modes of macroevolution in RNA viruses. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(1), 238-43. PMID: 21173251  

  • January 17, 2011
  • 07:19 AM

Vital topics forum in AA: ‘Nature and the human’

by gregdowney in Neuroanthropology

The question of ‘human nature’ is a fraught one for many anthropologists, especially those of us who pay special attention to human variation, Darwinian theory, and dynamic approaches to diversity in developmental questions.
The very concept ‘human nature’ can be the theoretical equivalent of the double-bind question, ‘So can you confirm that you no longer are a Creationist?’  Even conceding to respond to the question places us in a position where we wind up between the Scylla of the essentialist fallacy and the Charybdus of the ‘blank slate,’ the Devil of ethnocentric universalism and the deep blue sea of ascribing innate and irreducible differences to human groups.
Nevertheless, former colleague Agustín Fuentes, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, has brought together a number of prominent anthropologists to ponder the question of ‘human nature’ in a ‘Vital Topics Forum’ in the American Anthropologist (AA): ‘On Nature and the Human’ (abstract here).  As Fuentes lays out the challenge for anthropologists:
Of late, psychologists, historians, political scientists, economists, and even philosophers have been in the public eye speaking about these issues of the human; anthropological voices have been muted in comparison. I propose we take this topic by the horns and advance a new public debate about it.  (Fuentes 2010: 512)
The Forum brings together Fuentes’s thoughts with short pieces by Jonathan Marks, Tim Ingold, Robert Sussman, Patrick V. Kirch, Elizabeth M. Brumfiel, Rayna Rapp and Faye Ginsburg, Laura Nader, and Conrad P. Kottak, some heavyweights from across our field.
Unfortunately, given the illiberal policies on publication access practiced by the American Anthropological Association, the forum is behind a subscription wall, so you cannot access it without going through an academic library (unless you’re an AAA member).  I’m still grousing about the complete absence of open-access journals in our field, as I think any discussion of ‘public outreach’ given the way we’ve locked up our publications is a bit hypocritical.  So, because you likely can’t get to it, I’m going to quote liberally from the original forum and reference each author’s contributions separately.

One of the first important points that gets made by biological anthropologists Prof. Jonathan Marks (UNC – Charlotte) is that, even though the comparative inter-species perspective on human evolution is important, too-simple equations between humans and other living great apes can be misleading.  Marks argues that we have ‘evolved into biocultural ex-apes’ (2010: 513).  His point is that, as Fuentes (2010: 519) clarifies, we are not simply ‘upgraded versions of out ancestors’ but something distinctive.
I don’t think, by any stretch, the Marks is advocating the polar opposite view, that humans are so exceptional that we can essentially disregard our relations to other animals.  Rather, attempting to roll back our species’ recent biological, cultural, cognitive, and social innovations in an attempt to get to what is really ‘human nature’ is misguided.  Or, as Marks puts it (and I’ve long admired his writing stylistically):
To imagine that we are nothing but apes, and to find human nature there (e.g., de Waal 2005; Wrangham and Peterson 1996), actually constitutes a denial of evolution. We evolved; get over it. In a classic midcentury synthesis, George Gaylord Simpson explained the problem with “nothing-butism”: “Such statements are not only untrue but also vicious for they deliberately lead astray enquiry as to what man really is and so distort our whole comprehension of ourselves” (1949:283). Evolution is the production of difference and novelty, and you are not your ancestors. (Marks 2010: 513)
I recently made a similar argument in filming a documentary on sexuality that will be broadcast here in Oz on SBS, supposedly in June: if you strip away everything that makes humans distinctive in reproduction, social relations, and expression as a species, you can’t then say you’ve discovered our ‘sexual nature.’  Likewise, you can’t try to imagine a human without language, culture, learning, sophisticated intelligence, tools and the like, and then say ‘that’s human nature.  We’re nothing but bald apes!’
The thought exercise of stripping human characteristics to discover (or more likely, invent) ‘human nature’ is certain to produce some other imagined non-human species of hominids, likely a hybrid of contemporary biases, comparative guesswork, and plain stabs into the paleoanthropological dark.  Interesting for science fiction, perhaps, but not as scientific theory.  Or, as Marks himself puts it much more acerbically, ‘the quest to imagine a human condition without culture is simply the tortured dream of a hack philosophe’ (2010: 513).
This argument follows from Marks’ critique of some of the most prolific and widely cited contemporary theorists of ‘human nature,’ ones who commit what I referred to above as the ‘essentialist fallacy.’  Marks describes the contemporary trend as a paradox: individuals who believe that they are upholding the theoretical legacy of Darwin are, in fact, operating with a pre-Darwinian concept that a species has an essential and irreducible ‘nature’:
One of the most extraordinary paradoxes of modern science is the way in which a pre-Darwinian concept (deriving the essential properties of the human beast) has been transformed into a Darwinian litmus test: if you don’t believe sufficiently in the idea of human nature, then you must be a creationist (Konner 2002; Pinker 2003). But in an intellectual arena where facts are notoriously difficult to come by, one fact is certain: human nature is a politically contested turf. Anyone who pronounces on it, while simultaneously arguing that their pronouncements are disconnected from society and politics, is not to be taken seriously. (2010: 513)
Marks is collapsing together what I think are two separate and equally important critiques: the first is that arguing any species has a ‘nature’ or essential being is not consistent with the most basic of Darwinian understandings of natural selection, which assume that variation is inherent in reproduction.  To argue that ‘human nature’ is any one thing — violent, cooperative, thoughtful, credulous or whatever — may be rhetorically important but it runs afoul of the most basic invariant of ‘descent with modification’: variation.
Marks’ second critique is that the invocation of ‘human nature’ is inevitably political, an argument that I don’t wholly agree with although I would concede that statements about human nature often have a political subtext, even if the person making them may not be aware of the subtext.  Marks (2010: 513) argues that ‘the most consistent scientific invocation of human nature has been to explore, or, rather, to construct, limits to human social progress,’ that arguments asserting human nature are often conservative ‘biopolitics,’ rearguard actions to defend hereditary aristocracy, racial inequality, sexual hierarchy or other social problem as inherently, biologically irreducible.
Professor Tim Ingold, Chair in the Department of Anthropology of Aberdeen University, parses the question of ‘human nature’ into what he argues are fundamentally two different questions: ‘What is a human being? What does it mean to be human?’  The first we typically answer biologically with a discussion  of our species, but the second of which we answer existentially because our self-awareness transcends our biological reality.  In other words, Ingold is pointing out that the question of ‘human nature’ is both biological and philosophical, and one question can’t be reduced to the other.
Ingold, for reasons slightly different from Marks, suggests that some current explorations of ‘human nature’ are profoundly inconsistent with evolutionary theory although they loudly profess to be ‘evolutionary.’  As Ingold writes, the problem is as obvious as the nose on your face (although you’re likely not to notice your own nose if you’re not looking for it), but some scholars:
persist in the search for a universal architecture underwriting the capacities of the human mind while attributing the evolution of these capacities to a theory—of variation under natural selection—that only works because the individuals of a species are endlessly variable. This is not a mistake that anatomists would make. Every human being, for example, has a protuberance in the centre of the face with two holes that allow the inhalation and exhalation of air. We call it the nose. No two noses are alike: they vary among individuals and among populations.  Yet no one conversant with modern biology would attribute these variations to developmentally induced inflections of a universal nasal architecture, identically keyed in to all humans. Did not Darwin finally refute the essentialist doctrine that for every species there exists a preestablished, formal template? Yet this is precisely the doctrine to which evolution... Read more »

Fuentes, A., Marks, J., Ingold, T., Sussman, R., Kirch, P., Brumfiel, E., Rapp, R., Ginsburg, F., Nader, L., & Kottak, C. (2010) On Nature and the Human. American Anthropologist, 112(4), 512-521. DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1433.2010.01271.x  

  • January 17, 2011
  • 07:13 AM

Coffee helps women cope with stressful meetings but has the opposite effect on men

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

For men working together, stress plus coffee could be toxic
If a meeting becomes stressful, does it help, or make things worse, if team members drink lots of coffee? A study by Lindsay St. Claire and colleagues that set out to answer this question has uncovered an unexpected sex difference. For two men collaborating or negotiating under stressful circumstances, caffeine consumption was bad news, undermining their performance and confidence. By contrast, for pairs of women, drinking caffeine often had a beneficial effect on these same factors. The researchers can't be sure, but they think the differential effect of caffeine on men and women may have to do with the fact that women tend to respond to stress in a collaborative, mutually protective style (known as 'tend and befriend') whereas men usually exhibit a fight or flight response.

The study involved 64 male and female participants (coffee drinkers at the University of Bristol with an average age of 22) completing various construction puzzles, negotiation and collaborative memory tasks in same-sex pairs. They did this after drinking decaffeinated coffee, which either had or hadn't been spiked covertly with caffeine (the equivalent of about three cups' worth of coffee). Stress was elevated for some of the pairs by telling them they would shortly have to give a public presentation, and by warning them that their participation fee would be performance dependent.

How large were the caffeine effects? The men's memory performance under stressful conditions with caffeine was described by the researchers as 'greatly impaired' whereas caffeine didn't affect women in the same situation. For the construction puzzles, caffeine under high stress conditions led men to take an average of twenty seconds longer (compared with no caffeine) whereas it led women to solve the puzzles 100 seconds faster.

A short-coming, acknowledged by the researchers, was that there were overall few effects of stress on the participants' performance, no doubt in part because they'd been told they could bail out any time they liked (although none of them did). Further research is clearly need to replicate the findings and explore the possible underlying mechanisms. Such work is urgent, the researchers concluded, 'because many ... meetings, including those at which military and other decisions of great import are made, are likely to be male-dominated. Our research suggests that men's effectiveness is particularly likely to be compromised. Because caffeine is the most widely consumed drug in the world, it follows that the global implications are potentially staggering.'

St. Claire, L., Hayward, R., and Rogers, P. (2010). Interactive Effects of Caffeine Consumption and Stressful Circumstances on Components of Stress: Caffeine Makes Men Less, But Women More Effective as Partners Under Stress. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40 (12), 3106-3129 DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2010.00693.x

... Read more »

  • January 17, 2011
  • 07:11 AM

Arcade Games Biotic Style

by avi_wener in American Biotechnologist

We found a great post this past weekend on which we thought we’d share with you. Author David Zax describes an interactive video game designed by researchers in the bioengineering department of Stanford University that uses living cells as part of the game mechanics. These “Biotic Games” are played much like any arcade classic [...]... Read more »

Riedel-Kruse IH, Chung AM, Dura B, Hamilton AL, & Lee BC. (2011) Design, engineering and utility of biotic games. Lab on a chip, 11(1), 14-22. PMID: 21085736  

  • January 17, 2011
  • 07:02 AM

Martin Luther King, Jr. & Eliot Spitzer: On letting people off the hook [Part I]

by Rita Handrich in The Jury Room

Martin Luther King, Jr. committed adultery. So did Eliot Spitzer. And although CNN’s David Gergen insists he did not compare Eliot Spitzer with Martin Luther King, Jr., we know of some researchers who did. Effron & Monin (2010) wondered what made the difference in how we decide to punish some people for bad behavior let others [...]

Related posts:Eliot Spitzer, Uncivil Behavior & Possibilities of Redemption
Apology redux: Doing it right (and doing it wrong)
Got morals?
... Read more »

Effron DA, & Monin B. (2010) Letting people off the hook: when do good deeds excuse transgressions?. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 36(12), 1618-34. PMID: 20978222  

join us!

Do you write about peer-reviewed research in your blog? Use to make it easy for your readers — and others from around the world — to find your serious posts about academic research.

If you don't have a blog, you can still use our site to learn about fascinating developments in cutting-edge research from around the world.

Register Now

Research Blogging is powered by SMG Technology.

To learn more, visit