A tiny bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing

Good news! The gorilla genome sequence was published in Nature last week, and adds to our body of knowledge about primate evolution. Here’s the abstract:

Gorillas are humans’ closest living relatives after chimpanzees, and are of comparable importance for the study of human origins and evolution. Here we present the assembly and analysis of a genome sequence for the western lowland gorilla, and compare the whole genomes of all extant great ape genera. We propose a synthesis of genetic and fossil evidence consistent with placing the human–chimpanzee and human–chimpanzee–gorilla speciation events at approximately 6 and 10 million years ago. In 30% of the genome, gorilla is closer to human or chimpanzee than the latter are to each other; this is rarer around coding genes, indicating pervasive selection throughout great ape evolution, and has functional consequences in gene expression. A comparison of protein coding genes reveals approximately 500 genes showing accelerated evolution on each of the gorilla, human and chimpanzee lineages, and evidence for parallel acceleration, particularly of genes involved in hearing. We also compare the western and eastern gorilla species, estimating an average sequence divergence time 1.75 million years ago, but with evidence for more recent genetic exchange and a population bottleneck in the eastern species. The use of the genome sequence in these and future analyses will promote a deeper understanding of great ape biology and evolution.

I’ve highlighted one phrase in that abstract because, surprise surprise, creationists read the paper and that was the only thing they saw, and in either dumb incomprehension or malicious distortion, took an article titled “Insights into hominid evolution from the gorilla genome sequence” and twisted it into a bumbling mess of lies titled “Gorilla Genome Is Bad News for Evolution”. They treat a phenomenon called Incomplete Lineage Sorting (ILS) as an obstacle to evolution rather than an expected outcome.

[Read more…]

Female physiology shows subtle differences

As a man with a history of heart concerns, I know what to be aware of in me, and know what symptoms would send me off to the hospital (or to the phone — don’t exert yourself if experiencing heart attack symptoms!) But there are women I care about too, so it’s useful to know that women often experience different symptoms.

The study also found that women often fail to realize that they are having a heart attack – and so do doctors. This is because heart attack symptoms in women can be different than they are in men. The symptoms we most commonly associate with a heart attack, like pain in the left arm and tightness in the chest, don’t always occur in women. The study found that 42% of women who have heart attacks never experience the “classic heart attack symptom” of tightness or pain in the chest. Instead, they may develop pain in the back or jaw, light-headedness, nausea, vomiting and shortness of breath.

Heart attacks kill people of both sexes, but they affect female bodies differently than they affect male ones. The problem with having “male” as the default in medical research, and even in public health awareness campaigns, is that it fails to account for these differences, often with serious or even fatal consequences. The common heart attack symptoms for female bodies are ones we often associate with panic attacks or anxiety, especially when they appear in women.

Take care of yourselves!

(Also on Sb)

Victor Stenger and I are identical twins

In Orlando last week, I was on a panel to talk about what the objectives of secularism ought to be, and it was eerie: Vic Stenger and I talked about almost exactly the same things, except he came at it from a physicist’s perspective, talking about energy and nuclear power, while I came at it from a biologist’s perspective, talking about diversity and preservation of habitats…but we were both all science-driven and promoting the necessity of secular reasoning to recognize important problems and develop rational solutions.

Now Vic has put his talk on the FluffPo (unfortunate venue, but a good talk).

I’d put mine here, but I’m using it as the foundation for a talk I’ll be giving at the University of Utah on 7 April. So you’ll just have to wait.

Who are you going to believe? The geologist or the professional pageant contestant?

I’m from the Pacific Northwest, and I am horribly biased — it’s the most beautiful place on the planet. So I quite like Dana Hunter’s tour of the geology of a subduction zone. It’s a perspective with which I’m unfamiliar, focused as I usually am on complex shorelines and soothing rain showers and slugs and salmon.

And then I learn that the recently crowned Miss Seattle, a carpetbagger from Arizona, hates the place.

Ew, I’m seriously hating seattle right now Take me back to az! Ugh can’t stand cold rainy Seattle and the annoying people.

I say run her out of town on a rail and hand the tiara over to Dana.

Oh, no, not group selection again!

I am abrupt in my dismissal: I see no evidence nor plausible mechanism for group selection, and I don’t even understand why some scientists continue to insist it had to have happened, other than a fondness for some kind of vague deus ex machina to reach down and smooth over the indirect and inefficient mechanisms that can produce altruism and properties of populations. And discomfort with the fact that evolution is weirder and less straightforward than our brains can imagine is not an argument for endorsing wishful thinking.

Jerry Coyne rips into the latest eruption of group selectionism. Go there for the details.

(Also on Sb)

Carnival of Evolution #45

The latest Carnival of Evolution is buggy in more ways than one: I couldn’t get it to load in Mac Firefox with all my adblockers in place (but it worked fine on Google Chrome), and also every link is full of bugs. Literal bugs, not the software kind.

All I can say is that it needs more squid. Then not only would it be prettier, but it would be slick and smooth and supple.

(Also on Sb)

We are having a wedding anniversary in about two weeks…

…and when I looked up what the blood-sucking merchants of the world have declared to be traditional anniversary gifts, I notice that the 32nd anniversary is supposed to be commemorated with “molluscs”. At least, I think that’s what it said — what the hell do I care what the National Retail Jeweler Association thinks I’m supposed to get her? (And what’s with the 44th anniversary: I’m supposed to get her groceries?)

OK, anyway, as I was saying, molluscs for anniversary … I’m thinking this fabulous Valentina Ramos Octopus Bloom Duvet Cover is both romantic and titillating. What do you think?

(I now expect the phone to ring any moment and hear the words, “DON’T YOU DARE DECORATE MY HOUSE!” She knows that madness lies that way.)