Devolution isn’t a thing


Yesterday I volunteered as a Meeting Mentor at the AbSciCon meeting. It’s not a big commitment; essentially all you have to do is hang out with a high school student for half a day, going to talks and enjoying the meeting as you normally would.

During a break, I was chatting with my mentee about Betül Kaçar’s research, and he surprised me by pointing out that (as he put it), “Devolution isn’t a thing.” The student I was paired with is interested in physics and space exploration, but his comment showed an insight that not even all professional biologists really own. From what I’ve seen, it’s an insight that very few creationists own.

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AbSciCon 2017 day 1

AbSciCon logo

Yesterday was the first day of AbSciCon 2017 in Mesa, Arizona.

Phoenix is not my favorite town; it’s got all the brutal heat (and then some) that Tucson gets, without a tenth of Tucson’s charm. That said, it’s been fairly pleasant so far, only getting into the 80’s yesterday. The hotel restaurant is pretty lame, but there is decent food about a ten-minute walk away.

Yesterday started with a bizarre plenary talk about planetary protection. This is a big deal in the astrobiology community, the concern that sending probes to potentially habitable worlds such as Europa and Enceladus could contaminate them with Earth life. It’s also a harder problem to solve than it sounds like, partly because advanced electronics of the sort that are likely to run a probe don’t get along well with the things we typically use to sterilize equipment: bleach, extreme heat, radiation, and the like. The talk used a real-time interactive system, allowing the speaker to ask a question and display the results on the screen in real time. Multiple choice questions displayed as bar graphs, fill-in-the-blanks as word clouds, both changing from second to second as new answers came in.

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The Volvox 2017 website is live


The website for the Volvox 2017 conference is up at Registration isn’t open yet, but there’s some information about the venue, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis. The meeting is set for August 16-19, 2017.

The goal of the International Volvox Conference is to bring together international scientists working with Volvox and its relatives (aka Volvocales or volvocine algae). We cordially invite experimentalists and theorists interested in these fascinating organisms.

I’ll keep you posted!

The long-term evolution experiment

I’m attending the 2nd ASM Conference on Experimental Microbial Evolution (#ASMEME) in Washington, DC. The meeting opened last night with a keynote address by Rich Lenski on the long-term evolution experiment (LTEE). If you’re not familiar with it, the LTEE involves twelve populations of E. coli bacteria that have been transferred every damn day for the last 28 years. That’s right, twelve transfers every day since Ronald Reagan was President.

Since E. coli undergoes about 6.6 doublings per day under the experimental conditions, that means that the bacteria in this experiment have been evolving for over 65,000 generations. In that time, it has produced a wealth of information about evolutionary processes and spun out countless related experiments. The LTEE is so iconic that you usually don’t have to explain, at least to evolutionary biologists, which long-term evolution experiment you’re talking about. It has also played a role in some controversies, not least the “Lenski affair.”

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I’m going to Cyprus!


I’m heading to Limassol, Cyprus at the end of September to talk about Volvox morphology and evolution. Phycomorph is a European group studying seaweed development and reproduction, with a large focus on cultivation. I have an extra day after the meeting, so hopefully I’ll get to explore a bit.

The organizers were initially worried about the high cost of transportation from Missoula, but I had good news for them: I won’t be flying from Missoula but from Atlanta, which is (seriously) half as expensive. The timing of the flights is a bit unfortunate, though, so I’ll have a couple of very long layovers in Heathrow (17 and 20 hours).


The preliminary list of confirmed speakers is:

Phycomorph speakers