Bjørn Østman

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  • March 25, 2011
  • 12:59 AM

The trouble over inclusive fitness theory and eusociality

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

On one side we have the majority of evolutionary biologists who think kin selection and inclusive fitness theory as described by Hamilton and Price explain a lot of phenomena in biology, notably eusociality. Some of the more famous people squarely in this group are Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, and Stuart West, but there are many more (at least 137*).... Read more »

Nowak, M., Tarnita, C., & Wilson, E. (2010) The evolution of eusociality. Nature, 466(7310), 1057-1062. DOI: 10.1038/nature09205  

Abbot, P., Abe, J., Alcock, J., Alizon, S., Alpedrinha, J., Andersson, M., Andre, J., van Baalen, M., Balloux, F., Balshine, S.... (2011) Inclusive fitness theory and eusociality. Nature, 471(7339). DOI: 10.1038/nature09831  

Nowak, M., Tarnita, C., & Wilson, E. (2011) Nowak et al. reply. Nature, 471(7339). DOI: 10.1038/nature09836  

  • February 9, 2011
  • 06:55 PM

Loss of anus?

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

It's nice when we are somewhat certain that evolutionary trees are accurate, so it is unsettling when researchers suggest that they aren't. This time it's Acoels, which are thought to be older than both Protostomes (mouth develops before the anus) and Deuterostomes (anus first). But now a team of evolutionary biologists is suggesting that Acoles belong within the group of Deuterostomes. This even though Acoles don't have a separate mouth and anus at all, but an opening that s........ Read more »

Philippe, H., Brinkmann, H., Copley, R., Moroz, L., Nakano, H., Poustka, A., Wallberg, A., Peterson, K., & Telford, M. (2011) Acoelomorph flatworms are deuterostomes related to Xenoturbella. Nature, 470(7333), 255-258. DOI: 10.1038/nature09676  

  • February 4, 2011
  • 01:18 PM

Culturomics does not exist

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

'Culturomics' does not exist. As far as I'm concerned, if it isn't on Wikipedia, it doesn't exist. However, it is listed on Wikipedia's Word of the year for 2010 under the designation 'Least likely to succeed'. As an amusing side note, it also says this: Most Unnecessary: refudiate (Blend of refute and repudiate used by Sarah Palin on Twitter. The laughs.... Read more »

Michel, J., Shen, Y., Aiden, A., Veres, A., Gray, M., , ., Pickett, J., Hoiberg, D., Clancy, D., Norvig, P.... (2010) Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books. Science, 331(6014), 176-182. DOI: 10.1126/science.1199644  

  • January 30, 2011
  • 06:30 PM

Selection is random

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

When is the effect of a mutation neutral?

A mutation (by this I mean any change to the genotype/genome of an organism) is neutral when it does not change the fitness of the organism. This can happen in different ways:

1) A mutation (SNP) that changes one nucleotide in the protein coding sequence, but does not change the amino acid. These are known as synonymous substitutions, and (mostly*) do not affect fitness.
2) When the mutation does not change fitness, just because the genomic chang........ Read more »

Watson, R., Weinreich, D., & Wakeley, J. (2011) GENOME STRUCTURE AND THE BENEFIT OF SEX. Evolution, 65(2), 523-536. DOI: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2010.01144.x  

  • December 29, 2010
  • 06:36 PM

Pleiotropy is 100 years old

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

This year, the term pleiotropy was defined 100 years ago, and Frank Stearns, graduate student at the University of Maryland biology graduate program has written a perspective in Genetics, which I highly recommend.... Read more »

  • December 20, 2010
  • 12:17 AM

Not possible to absorb alcohol through feet (of course)

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

Being from Denmark myself, this Danish study caught my eye. It examines what is apparently an urban legend (they call it urban myth, though) in Denmark, namely that one can get drunk by submersing one's feet in alcohol.... Read more »

  • October 26, 2010
  • 12:21 PM

Time Tree rocks

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

I've just learned of a new online application, Time Tree, with which you can search on two species/taxa and get the time since they diverged from each other.... Read more »

Hedges SB, Dudley J, & Kumar S. (2006) TimeTree: a public knowledge-base of divergence times among organisms. Bioinformatics (Oxford, England), 22(23), 2971-2. PMID: 17021158  

  • September 28, 2010
  • 11:09 AM

Pivar's pure fantasy published

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

Bogus paper published in serious journal... Read more »

Pivar, S. (2010) The origin of the vertebrate skeleton. International Journal of Astrobiology, 1-21. DOI: 10.1017/S147355041000025X  

  • August 21, 2010
  • 06:39 AM

Report from Alife XII: life's origin, and its evolution

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

When I say 'artificial life', what do you think of? I think of life-like systems in computers, mainly, but at the Alife 12 conference in Odense, Denmark that I am currently at, a large part of the presentation are really about chemistry. Many people might be surprise if they knew just how many people are working on the problem of getting chemicals to behave like life. That is, work on the origin of life is booming. ... Read more »

Costanzo, M., Baryshnikova, A., Bellay, J., Kim, Y., Spear, E., Sevier, C., Ding, H., Koh, J., Toufighi, K., Mostafavi, S.... (2010) The Genetic Landscape of a Cell. Science, 327(5964), 425-431. DOI: 10.1126/science.1180823  

  • August 3, 2010
  • 07:36 PM

The tragedy of the commons

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

While working on the last bits of my thesis, "Genetic and Ecological Models of Adaptive Evolution", I came upon Garrett Hardin's 1968 article [1], The Tragedy of the Commons (Wikipedia). It's really a great piece, which coined the term that is now an established and important notion in biology and elsewhere.... Read more »

Garrett Hardin. (1968) The Tragedy of the Commons. Science, 162(3859), 1243-1248. DOI: 10.1126/science.162.3859.1243  

West, S., Diggle, S., Buckling, A., Gardner, A., & Griffin, A. (2007) The Social Lives of Microbes. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 38(1), 53-77. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.38.091206.095740  

  • July 29, 2010
  • 10:36 PM

Phytoplankton are disappearing, so we're all going to suffocate

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

Phytoplankton is responsible for about half of the total amount of oxygen produced by all plant life. That would make a 1% yearly reduction of phytoplankton a really negative outcome of global warming, don't you think?... Read more »

Boyce, D., Lewis, M., & Worm, B. (2010) Global phytoplankton decline over the past century. Nature, 466(7306), 591-596. DOI: 10.1038/nature09268  

  • July 20, 2010
  • 03:55 AM

Requirements for becoming a professor in ecology and evolution

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

Oh boy! If you're thinking about landing a tenure track job or similar in ecology or evolutionary biology, here's a kicker for you.

A study of 181 recently hired faculty members shows that to be competitive in ecology and evolutionary biology, the requirements are stiff as hell.... Read more »

Marshall, J., Buttars, P., Callahan, T., Dennehy, J., Harris, D., Lunt, B., Mika, M., & Shupe, R. (2009) Letter to the Editors. Israel Journal of Ecology and Evolution, 55(4), 381-392. DOI: 10.1560/IJEE.55.4.381  

  • July 19, 2010
  • 04:00 AM

Some more junk DNA shown to have function

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

Drosophila junk DNA found to have a regulatory function.... Read more »

Kondo, T., Plaza, S., Zanet, J., Benrabah, E., Valenti, P., Hashimoto, Y., Kobayashi, S., Payre, F., & Kageyama, Y. (2010) Small Peptides Switch the Transcriptional Activity of Shavenbaby During Drosophila Embryogenesis. Science, 329(5989), 336-339. DOI: 10.1126/science.1188158  

  • July 15, 2010
  • 03:14 PM

Creation science validates evolution, too

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

A method used by creation scientists validates evolution... Read more »

  • July 1, 2010
  • 04:19 AM

Multicellular origin at 2.1 billion years ago

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

New fossils found in Gabon might push back the origin of multicellular life. By about 200 million years.... Read more »

Albani, A., Bengtson, S., Canfield, D., Bekker, A., Macchiarelli, R., Mazurier, A., Hammarlund, E., Boulvais, P., Dupuy, J., Fontaine, C.... (2010) Large colonial organisms with coordinated growth in oxygenated environments 2.1 Gyr ago. Nature, 466(7302), 100-104. DOI: 10.1038/nature09166  

  • May 9, 2010
  • 05:03 AM

Neanderthals and humans got fiddly

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

The big news this week in evolution is of course the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome, and the evidence that humans carry some DNA from our extinct cousins. The paper was published in Science yesterday, and has a total of 56 authors, including team leader Svante Pääbo.... Read more »

Green RE, Krause J, Briggs AW, Maricic T, Stenzel U, Kircher M, Patterson N, Li H, Zhai W, Fritz MH.... (2010) A draft sequence of the Neandertal genome. Science (New York, N.Y.), 328(5979), 710-22. PMID: 20448178  

  • April 14, 2010
  • 10:45 PM

Bad mutations are good for you

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

Bonus: homemade video included!

Years ago I was vexed by creationists claiming that because most mutations (that aren't neutral) are deleterious, and only few are beneficial, then evolution cannot happen, because for every beneficial mutation there are many deleterious, thus, goes the inference, making adaptation impossible. (See GLOSSARY OF EVOLUTION below.) This understanding totally ignores selection, and the fact that not all individuals would be hit by deleterious mutations. And eve........ Read more »

Weinreich DM, Delaney NF, Depristo MA, & Hartl DL. (2006) Darwinian evolution can follow only very few mutational paths to fitter proteins. Science (New York, N.Y.), 312(5770), 111-4. PMID: 16601193  

Ortlund EA, Bridgham JT, Redinbo MR, & Thornton JW. (2007) Crystal structure of an ancient protein: evolution by conformational epistasis. Science (New York, N.Y.), 317(5844), 1544-8. PMID: 17702911  

  • February 10, 2010
  • 04:21 PM

Ancient brains revealed by microRNA?

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

Detlev Arendt's lab at EMBL looks at the evolution of the central nervous system in Bilateria. A brand new letter in Nature, Ancient animal microRNAs and the evolution of tissue identity, explores the link between the birth of ancient microRNAs and body plan evolution.... Read more »

Christodoulou F, Raible F, Tomer R, Simakov O, Trachana K, Klaus S, Snyman H, Hannon GJ, Bork P, & Arendt D. (2010) Ancient animal microRNAs and the evolution of tissue identity. Nature. PMID: 20118916  

  • January 31, 2010
  • 09:15 PM

Both robust and evolvable

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

Mutational robustness does not imply low evolvability.... Read more »

Draghi JA, Parsons TL, Wagner GP, & Plotkin JB. (2010) Mutational robustness can facilitate adaptation. Nature, 463(7279), 353-5. PMID: 20090752  

  • December 31, 2009
  • 01:12 PM

Adaptation is fast and effective in a fungus

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

Watching adaptation - the process of organisms and populations increasing their fit to the environment - is not easily observed in nature, and when it is, it is often hard to tell what the details of the process are. Crucially, the mutations (and by "mutation" I mean any change to the genome) are mostly unknown, leaving us to guess what kind of genomic changes are responsible for shaping life through evolution.... Read more »

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