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  • June 23, 2010
  • 07:10 AM

Interdisciplinary Approach Creates New Tools for Protein Scientists

by avi_wener in American Biotechnologist

One of my favorite pastimes is reading about situations where experts from different (and seemingly divergent) disciplines get together to discuss interdisciplinary cooperation and mutual progress. All too often scientists segregate themselves according to their area of expertise and only make use of the techniques that they are familiar with or have access to in [...]... Read more »

Finney, L., Chishti, Y., Khare, T., Giometti, C., Levina, A., Lay, P., & Vogt, S. (2010) Imaging Metals in Proteins by Combining Electrophoresis with Rapid X-ray Fluorescence Mapping. ACS Chemical Biology, 5(6), 577-587. DOI: 10.1021/cb1000263  

  • June 23, 2010
  • 05:00 AM

The vulnerability of species to roadkill

by Rob Goldstein in Conservation Maven

... Read more »

  • June 23, 2010
  • 02:13 AM

Sequence space and the ongoing expansion of the protein universe

by Victor Hanson-Smith in Evolution, Development, and Genomics

Posted by Victor Hanson-Smith Check-out this paper by Inna S. Povolotskaya and Fyodor A. Kondrashov.  (It’s a closed-access Nature article; I’m sorry if you do not have a subscription!) The premise of this paper begins with two claims.  First, protein-sequence space is finite.  Second, proteins have been evolving away from one other (“expanding in sequence [...]... Read more »

  • June 23, 2010
  • 12:55 AM

Here there be dragon drool!!!

by Evil Monkey in Neurotopia

Sci was going to save this one for a Friday Weird Science, but it's just so awesome that she couldn't bring herself to save it. She had to blog it NOW! It's not neuroscience, but it's awesome. Also, there's dragons.

Not this kind:

(Anyone else think Dragon Age Origins is really awesome?! Well, Sci spends a lot of her time wondering why the ladies are so dang naked. You're climbing a high mountain pass in the winter! Your cleavage will suffer frostbite!!!)

It's this kind:


I'm sure you all know that dragons have TERRIBLE breath, but what about that whole "poison" thing?

Bull et al."Deathly Drool: Evolutionary and Ecological Basis of Septic Bacteria in Komodo Dragon Mouths" PLoS ONE, 2010. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Bull JJ, Jessop TS, Whiteley M. (2010) Deathly Drool: Evolutionary and Ecological Basis of Septic Bacteria in Komodo Dragon Mouths. PLoS ONE, 5(6). info:/10.1371/journal.pone.0011097

  • June 23, 2010
  • 12:27 AM

Ravens and Empathy: The Role of Bystanders After Conflict

by Darcy Cowan in Skepticon

At the same time as we were learning that Vegetarians and Vegans might be more empathic than Omnivores we were also discovering the nature of empathy in Ravens. Published in PLoS One recently was a paper called “Do Ravens Show Consolation? Responses to Distressed Others” looking at the behaviour of Ravens and the implications for [...]... Read more »

  • June 23, 2010
  • 12:02 AM

Pouring Oil on ‘Troubled Waters’

by Kevin Zelnio in Deep Sea News

We love getting interesting emails from our readers. Some are complaints about our (mostly mine) colorful language, many are emails telling us how they appreciate what we do, several even come from our colleagues who would like us to know about some recent research or a new expedition, and we get many readers asking us specific . . . → Read More: Pouring Oil on ‘Troubled Waters’... Read more »

Franklin, B. (1774) Of the Stilling of Waves by means of Oil. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 445-460. DOI: 10.1098/rstl.1774.0044  

Wyckoff, Lieut. A.B. (1886) The use of oil in storms at sea. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 23(123), 383-388. info:/

  • June 22, 2010
  • 05:06 PM

Razor-sharp teeth and venom: The bacteria love it

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

A bite from a Komodo dragon would take you down. They have large teeth that are very sharp. And their salivary glands secrete venom.

For a long time, people sort of overlooked those two factors. The teeth were obvious, but the venom wasn’t. Instead, people suggested that one of the ways that the slow moving monitor lizards were able to take down large prey was because their mouths contained so many bacteria, that the bitten prey animal got infected, quite quickly, and went down from the bacteria.

The discovery of venom seemed to put the kibosh on that particular story – the prey die too fast for bacteria to be the cause of death. But it doesn’t change the fact that the mouths of Komodo dragons are loaded up with very nasty bacteria.

Bull and colleagues take a totally different approach to this question. Rather than asking what the bacteria do for the Komodo dragons, they ask what the Komodo dragons do for the bacteria.

They hypothesize that the way to view the relationship is using a disease model. Bacteria are spreading from dragon to dragon in an epidemic fashion. The bacteria spread from dragon to dragon by growing on the large kills that dragons make, which are often fed on by several different individuals. The dragons’ prey almost becomes an intermediate host; a means of spreading from dragon to dragon.

They are not suggesting that the bacteria are harming the Komodo dragons or causing them to become sick, which seems a bit of a strange bending of the word “disease,” but at least they warn us.

It’s an interesting way of looking at the problem. There’s no experimental evidence presented here that it allows you to make better predictions about the bacteria or the dragons, though.

Related post

The birth of dragons


Bull, J., Jessop, T., & Whiteley, M. (2010). Deathly Drool: Evolutionary and Ecological Basis of Septic Bacteria in Komodo Dragon Mouths PLoS ONE: 5(6): e11097. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011097... Read more »

  • June 22, 2010
  • 02:27 PM

Vampire bats care little for sweet blood

by Lucas in thoughtomics

This is the first blogpost in a continuing series on “sensible evolution‘: how our senses evolved and shape the way we see the world. We perceive everything that we can see and feel as ‘real’, but we know that our human senses only capture a tiny part of the natural world. There are [...]... Read more »

Zhao, H., Zhou, Y., Pinto, C., Charles-Dominique, P., Galindo-Gonzalez, J., Zhang, S., & Zhang, J. (2010) Evolution of the sweet taste receptor gene Tas1r2 in bats. Molecular Biology and Evolution. DOI: 10.1093/molbev/msq152  

  • June 22, 2010
  • 12:03 PM

Horns, Clubs, Plates and Spikes: How Did They Evolve?

by Brian Switek in Dinosaur Tracking

As a group, dinosaurs were certainly well-ornamented animals. Horns, spikes, crests, plates, sails, clubs and other strange structures marked the bodies of many dinosaurs, but figuring out why these dinosaurs had these structures in the first place has often been difficult to figure out. Numerous hypotheses for different structures have been proposed over the years. [...]... Read more »

  • June 22, 2010
  • 11:50 AM

Homo sapiens can bite hard, after all

by Laelaps in Laelaps

Three-dimensional models of hominoid skulls used in the study - (a) Hylobates lar; (b) Pongo pygmaeus; (c) Pan troglodytes; (d) Gorilla gorilla; (e) Australopithecus africanus; (f ) Paranthropus boisei; (g) Homo sapiens. They have been scaled to the same surface area, and the colors denote areas of stress (blue = minimal stress, pink = high stress). From Wroe et al, 2010.

It is all too easy to think of human evolution in linear terms. From our 21st century vantage point we can look back through Deep Time for the first glimmerings of the traits we see in ourselves, and despite what we have come to know about the undirected, branching pattern of evolution, the origin of our species is often portrayed as a slow rise from the ape in which brains eventually overtook brute strength. One of the most prominent examples of this was modifications made to our jaws. It has been widely assumed that, compared to apes and our extinct hominin relatives, we have relatively weak jaws - why should we need to exert heavy bite forces if our lineage developed tools to process food before it entered our mouths? It was our relatives among the robust australopithecines - namely Paranthropus - which obviously developed the strongest jaws, but a new study just published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B questions these long-held assumptions.

As outlined in the introduction of the paper by Stephen Wroe, Toni Ferrara, Colin McHenry, Darren Curnoe, and Uphar Chamoli, the hypothesis that our species has a diminished bite force has primarily been based upon the study of other, obviously heavier-jawed hominins. On the surface this would seem to make sense - our jaws are nowhere near as robust as those of those of the multiple species of Paranthropus - yet our teeth seem well-suited to withstanding heavy bite forces. Among living apes, for example, we have the thickest amount of enamel, one of several features we posses which are consistent with the ability of teeth to withstand strong bites. Some have argued that these features are holdovers from when our prehistoric ancestors required stronger bites to process tough foods, but the team behind the new paper decided to create a detailed test which compared the bite mechanics of our species to some of our close hominin and hominid relatives, both living and extinct. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Wroe, S., Ferrara, T., McHenry, C., Curnoe, D., & Chamoli, U. (2010) The craniomandibular mechanics of being human. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2010.0509  

  • June 22, 2010
  • 11:21 AM

Modeling the Body’s Micro Machines

by Rob Mitchum in ScienceLife

Inside the human body are millions of miniature machines, the gatekeepers of the electrical impulses that keep our hearts beating and our minds thinking. They’re called ion channels; portals that allow small ions such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and chloride, to pass in or out of cells. A simple responsibility, with a complex and crucial [...]... Read more »

Khalili-Araghi F, Jogini V, Yarov-Yarovoy V, Tajkhorshid E, Roux B, & Schulten K. (2010) Calculation of the gating charge for the Kv1.2 voltage-activated potassium channel. Biophysical journal, 98(10), 2189-98. PMID: 20483327  

  • June 22, 2010
  • 07:00 AM

Seeing Molecules

by Rheanna Sand in Science in Seconds

In this video, Science in Seconds looks at the world's first picture of a molecule, taken by IBM researchers in 2009 and published in Science Magazine.... Read more »

  • June 22, 2010
  • 06:14 AM

Dual-specificity T cells and autoimmunity

by iayork in Mystery Rays from Outer Space

TcR interacting with artificial membrane1

Why does autoimmune disease (sometimes) follow viral infection?2
It’s a pretty well-known phenomenon, but a definite answer isn’t yet known — and of course there may not be a single answer, there may be multiple causes. We know that many autoimmune diseases seem to be triggered by some sort of infection [...]... Read more »

  • June 22, 2010
  • 05:30 AM

Less is more

by Becky in It Takes 30

Jeremy Gunawardena pointed me to this terrific paper that results from a collaboration between Bruce Walker’s and Arup Chakraborty’s groups (Košmrlj et al. Effects of thymic selection of the T-cell repertoire on HLA class I-associated control of HIV infection. Nature 465 350-4. PMID: 20445539). On reading it, I realized that I had heard Arup present the work at the ICSB 2009 conference; for me, it was one of the highlights of the meeting.... Read more »

Kosmrlj A, Read EL, Qi Y, Allen TM, Altfeld M, Deeks SG, Pereyra F, Carrington M, Walker BD, & Chakraborty AK. (2010) Effects of thymic selection of the T-cell repertoire on HLA class I-associated control of HIV infection. Nature, 465(7296), 350-4. PMID: 20445539  

  • June 22, 2010
  • 02:39 AM

Impact Factor Boxing 2010

by Duncan Hull in O'Really?

Roll up, roll up, ladies and gentlemen, Impact Factor Boxing  is here again. As with last year (2009), these metrics are already a year out of date. But this doesn’t stop many people from writing about impact factors and it’s been an interesting year [1] for the metrics used by many to judge value of [...]... Read more »

Abbott, A., Cyranoski, D., Jones, N., Maher, B., Schiermeier, Q., & Van Noorden, R. (2010) Metrics: Do metrics matter?. Nature, 465(7300), 860-862. DOI: 10.1038/465860a  

Van Noorden, R. (2010) Metrics: A profusion of measures. Nature, 465(7300), 864-866. DOI: 10.1038/465864a  

Tibor Braun, Margit Osterloh, Jevin West, Jennifer Rohn, David Pendlebury, Carl Bergstrom, & Bruno Frey. (2010) How to improve the use of metrics. Nature, 465(7300), 870-872. DOI: 10.1038/465870a  

  • June 22, 2010
  • 12:20 AM

Pigs are reservoirs of Influenza

by Atila Iamarino in Influenza A (H1N1) Blog – English

Why were the older people less affected by the new flu?


The elderly, especially those older than 65 years, that is, born before 1944, constitute the part of the population less affected by H1N1. It was suggested and later confirmed by CDC that it is about the prior immunity to the virus. These people probably have [...]... Read more »

  • June 21, 2010
  • 07:48 PM

Tiny Trilobites Drifted in Cambrian Currents

by Laelaps in Laelaps

A restoration of the tiny trilobite Ctenopyge ceciliae. From Schoenemann et al, 2010.

The first time I can remember seeing a trilobite, it wasn't in a museum case or a book about prehistoric animals. It was on card 39 of the gratuitously gory Dinosaurs Attack! card series, a horrific vignette depicting four of the invertebrates crawling over the bloodied face of their hapless victim. (No indication was given as to how the "flesh-eating worms", as the card identified them, had subdued the man.) The card was entirely fiction, of course, but it still fit in with the image of trilobites as mud-grubbing bottom dwellers which fed on whatever detritus they might find. In almost every depiction of trilobites I can remember, the marine arthropods were shown in the same way - doggedly trundling over the sea-bottom on their tiny legs.

These simplified illustrations of prehistoric sea life did not do the trilobites justice. Time and again they were shown as relatively boring denizens of the Cambrian sea - I had no idea that they were a highly diverse group of marine arthropods which persisted for over 270 million years. They were not simply Cambrian bottom-crawlers, and a new discovery presented by Brigitte Schoenemann, Euan Clarkson, Per Ahlberg, and Maria Alvarez in the journal Palaeontology helps illustrate the disparity trilobites evolved during their heyday. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

SCHOENEMANN, B., CLARKSON, E., AHLBERG, P., & ÁLVAREZ, M. (2010) A tiny eye indicating a planktonic trilobite. Palaeontology. DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4983.2010.00966.x  

  • June 21, 2010
  • 04:51 PM

The Little Things That Count

by Journal Watch Online in Journal Watch Online

Fisheries don’t necessarily go after the species highest in the food web first, a new study says.
Fishermen are thought to initially target top predators and then move lower in the food web, perhaps because the higher-ranking species bring in more money. But after analyzing records dating back to the 1950s, researchers couldn’t find a […] Read More »... Read more »

Sethi, S.A., Branch, T.A., & R. Watson. (2010) Global fishery development patterns are driven by profit but not trophic level. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. info:/10.1073/pnas.1003236107

  • June 21, 2010
  • 04:38 PM

Continuing agricultural intensification is unlikely

by Aaron Berdanier in Biological Posteriors

Agriculture contributes a substantial amount (10-12%) of of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing this input is a major priority for mitigating climate change. However, we do not have very good information about what the best management strategies are to prevent emissions. Burney et al. (2010) add a unique piece to the puzzle by estimating the impact of agricultural intensification (i.e. increases in crop yield per area) on greenhouse gas emissions.... Read more »

Burney JA, Davis SJ, & Lobell DB. (2010) Greenhouse gas mitigation by agricultural intensification. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 20551223  

  • June 21, 2010
  • 04:07 PM

ResearchBlogCast #9: Genetics, fertility, and disease

by Dave Munger in News

Why would a deadly genetically-transmitted disease persist? Doesn’t “survival of the fittest” mean that any genetic mutation that causes premature death should quickly be extinguished? In the case of Cystic Fibrosis, the problem is even more dramatic, because CF causes infertility in men. How could this gene possibly survive? Yet it not only survives, it [...]... Read more »

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