Really…not alien, not alien at all

alienocto

Almost a year ago, I briefly wrote up the results of the cephalopod genome sequence— a sequence, which thanks to a few off-the-cuff, silly remarks by one of the authors, had turned into an assertion by irresponsible journalists that science had proven that octopuses were aliens. They haven’t. Researchers actually found many commonalities — cephalopods are a branch of the animal family tree, and share genes with all other organisms on the planet.

But hey, what do you know, deja vu all over again. Inanity re-emerges, with a recent article titled SCIENTISTS CONCLUDE OCTUPUS DNA IS NOT FROM THIS WORLD.

Thanks to the first-ever full genome sequence, researchers have found that octopuses (NOT Octopi) are in fact entirely different from any other animals on our planet. Their genome shows a never-before-seen level of complexity with a staggering 33,000 protein-coding genes identified, more than in a human being.

US researcher Dr. Clifton Ragsdale, from the University of Chicago, said: The octopus appears to be utterly different from all other animals, even other molluscs, with its eight prehensile arms, its large brain, and its clever problem-solving abilities.

“The late British zoologist Martin Wells said the octopus is an alien. In this sense, then, our paper describes the first sequenced genome from an alien.”

What Wells said is what is known on planet Earth as a “joke”. An exaggeration for humorous effect.

Apparently, scientists have just proven that journalists are aliens, lacking normal human feeling and appearing incapable of comprehending the behavior of bipedal mammals.

They are also prone to lying.

Octopuses have an alien genetic baggage. The scientific report mainly concluded that Octopuses share ‘Alien’ genes.This has been a ground shaking claim in the scientific community which caused an upheaval among marine biologists who seemed to be shocked and intrigued at the same time.

None of this is true at all.

Casey Coates Danson, you are an incompetent, dishonest hack. Resign from your job. Never ever even attempt any science reporting ever again.

The Science Press Release Hype Machine claims a “second layer of information in DNA”

dnasecondlayer

I hate it. Mainly because I get swamped with people asking me to explain crap, and even more, because there’s a whole lot of people who enthusiastically embrace the crap. The crap in question is this press release from the University of Leiden, Second layer of information in DNA confirmed.

The press release is bullshit, OK? But for some reason, people really want to hear that there is some other magical kind of external information that, I don’t know, frees them from the tyranny of genetics, or something. See also epigenetics, which also appeals to the lay public for all the wrong reasons. The paper isn’t talking about a “second layer of information” — it’s talking about mechanical effects of the nucleotide sequence. That’s it. Everyone can calm down now.

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Friday Cephalopod: Force of arms

octopusarmimage

Who among you has taught or studied vertebrate anatomy? I have. It’s cool. Skeletal and muscular anatomy are weird, though, because we so take the principles for granted that we’re often not aware of it. We can move because we have a jointed framework, a collection of levers that are moved by the contractions of muscle fibers, which have distinctive attachments and insertions via tendons on those bones (or, in some cases, the muscles attach to sheets of connective tissue called fascia). The musculoskeletal part of anatomy classes consists of a lot of memorization of muscles, their origins and insertions, and the effect of the action of contracting the muscle. In some ways, vertebrate limbs are actually rather crude, made up of bony rods with joints that are prone to failure (I am very aware of that as I get older), with a collection of long muscles cobbled together to carry out specific movements.

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Parks have rules for a reason

Jebus, people. Lately it’s nothing but bad news about people doing stupid things in our national parks: ignoring signs and strolling out to fragile ponds, picking up abandoned bison calves, getting up close to adult bison and getting trampled for their trouble, and now the most horrible story of them all: a young man left the boardwalk and fell into a boiling hot spring.

The grisly death of a tourist who left a boardwalk and fell into a high-temperature, acidic spring in Yellowstone National Park offers a sobering reminder that visitors need to follow park rules, park officials and observers said.

Efforts to recover the body of Colin Nathaniel Scott, 23, of Portland, Oregon, were suspended on Wednesday after rangers determined there were no remains left in the hot spring.

There’s just a thin mineral crust over the seething water, which is highly acidic, so boiling a body in that for a day leaves nothing. Stay on the designated trails. Wild animals are wild and active volcanic springs are deadly dangerous.

Also to keep in mind, besides personal danger: it’s a good thing the body dissolved, because park rangers were risking their lives trying to recover the remains, until it became pointless.

What’s in these things?

gummibears

Haribo Gummi Bears sound fun. They’re sugar free and a harmless sweet snack, right? Until you read the reviews. It seems to have a dramatic effect on people, which I’ve filed away in my memory, next to my Enemies List.

But what’s in them to cause this effect? That’s where it gets interesting. It says on the bag that they’re “Sugar Free”, but it’s a lie. They’re free of glucose and lactose, two specific sugars, but read the list of ingredients, and you discover that they’re full of other sugars.

Corn Syrup, Sugar, Gelatin, Dextrose, Citric Acid, Corn Starch, Artificial and Natural Flavors, Fractionated Coconut Oil, Carnauba Wax, Beeswax Coating, Artificial Colors Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1

Corn syrup is nothing but oligosaccharides. Sugar: more oligosaccharides, specifically disaccharides like sucrose (and how can they advertise that they’re sugar free when the second ingredient is “sugar”?). Gelatin, at least, is not a sugar, but a protein, collagen. Dextrose is a simple sugar, a monosaccharide, but it’s true, it’s not glucose. Still, consuming dextrose is a great way to get a rapid blood sugar spike.

So what these things are are pure, concentrated sugar bombs that pass straight into your colon as a potent syrup that drive your gut flora into a frenzy. Watch out for them.

Also, never trust that “sugar free” label.

But if you do have enemies, you can buy them in five pound bags on Amazon. Makes me wonder if they also sell pocket nukes and bulk neurotoxins.

MRAs don’t understand evolution or development

Since form is a consequence of differential growth of tissues, and since different tissues grow at different rates, one of the ways evolution can shape morphology is through changes in growth rate, so changes in timing can produce very different forms. There are genes that affect specific tissues discretely; for instance, the gene ASPM regulates mitotic activity in regions of the brain, so mutations in it can produce smaller brains, or microcephaly. There are also global regulators of growth, and just changing the rate of maturation of the organism can produce changes in the proportion of different tissues, because of allometric variation in different regions.

So, for instance, if developmental maturation of the somatic tissues is slowed, while sexual maturation is maintained at the standard rate, individuals retain juvenile characters at reproductive age, a process called neoteny (similarly, you can get a similar effect by maintaining a standard rate of somatic growth, but accelerating the rate of sexual maturation, a process called progenesis.) Note that what’s key here is that different tissues are regulated differently; if you just slow the rate of development of both somatic and reproductive organs, you get individuals with the standard morphology, it just takes longer for them to get there. Everyone who knows anything about development and evolution understands that neoteny/progenesis requires independent regulation of different tissues.

One of the factors thought to play a role in human evolution is neoteny. Compared to other primates, adult humans retain a juvenile morphology: heads large in proportion to our bodies, larger eyes, smaller jaws, etc. This is not particularly controversial, although I’d really like to see more specific identification of the genes involved. Our shape could, after all, alternatively be explained by character by character changes in gene expression. The neoteny hypothesis implies that a large cranium and small jaw are correlated, that is, by changing one regulator of growth you get both effects. It would also be possible that they’re uncorrelated, that (as a simplified example) one gene that generates larger brains evolved, and that a second gene for reduced jaws evolved completely independently.

Neoteny can also be a mosaic process. Big head and small jaws are a retention of a juvenile character, but other features, like our bigger noses and ears as adults compared to babies (creepy visualization: imagine a baby with a nose as big in proportion to its head as an adult’s; all cuteness disappears). Even if the neoteny hypothesis is generally valid, it can’t explain all the features of an adult human, and does not imply that humans are all big babies in every respect. Donald Trump excepted.

That’s the background. Now for the pseudoscientific appropriation of a concept from development and evolution.

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