What happened to those Cuban sonic weapons?

Now and again over the last three years, I’ve complained about credulous news sources taking seriously the absurd claims that the illnesses experienced by U.S. diplomats in Cuba were caused by mysterious attacks with a sonic weapon. Infuriatingly, some articles (this one from CNN, for example) quoted acoustic weapons experts saying that it couldn’t have been an acoustic weapon, then went on to assume that it was.

A new report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine considers the possible causes of the illnesses. Not surprisingly, their findings are being misreported.



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The enigmatic fungi

Last year, I argued that fungi are often excluded from conversations about the evolution of multicellularity (“Fungi are weird“):

Whenever we’re looking for commonalities among the various origins of complex multicellularity, commonalities that might suggest general principles for the transition to multicellular life, the fungi tend to either buck the pattern or provide an ambiguous fit. I have to admit that when fungi come up in these discussions, I have an unfortunate tendency to say “Who knows? Fungi are weird.” However, if László Nagy is right that complex multicellularity has arisen 8-11 times within the fungi, we might fairly say that the fungi include most origins of complex multicellularity. If so, maybe it’s not the fungi who are weird. If fungi truly include the majority of origins of complex multicellularity, fungi are the norm. Maybe it’s the rest of us that are weird.

I have finally gotten around to reading Maureen O’Malley’s Philosophy of Microbiology, which argues that any comprehensive theory of evolution needs to account for microbial life, life that often evolves in fundamentally different ways from the plants and animals on which most of the theory has been based. She makes a related, but broader, point:

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How old are the brown algae?

Don’t be fooled by brown algae. Kelps and their relatives could easily be mistaken for plants, with their stemlike stipes, leaflike blades, and rootlike holdfasts. Nothing could be further from the truth. You are more closely related to a shiitake than a kelp is to a kale.


Kelp, showing (from left to right) the blade, stipe, and holdfast. Jericho Beach, Vancouver, BC.

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Reduced blog output

I know I’ve been quiet lately, with posts coming irregularly and posts that require much thought even more rarely. This is largely due to the fact that I started a new job in January, and my schedule is not as flexible as it once was. I’m also an employee of the federal government now, and as such subject to restrictions on my political activities. Fierce Roller has always been pretty light on the political content, but I have occasionally written about politics. I want to retain the freedom to do so, so I think it’s prudent to keep my blogging activities entirely separate from my job.

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Phycological Society of America 2020 meeting cancelled

PSA logo

Well, my summer travel plans just got downsized. Hot on the heels of Chlamy 2020 deadlines extended, the PSA meeting in Providence, Rhode Island is cancelled:

Greetings fellow phycologists,

I think that we can all agree that the greatest strength of our society is the fantastic folk of which it is comprised. We have members from around the planet, at every stage of professional development, all unified by our love of all things algal. Thus, it is with a heavy heart that after consultation with, and on behalf of, the Executive Committee, we have decided to cancel the meeting in Rhode Island this year for several Covid-19 related reasons.

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Chlamy 2020 deadlines extended

Chlamy 2020

This is straight from the Chlamy 2020 mailing list:

Due to the COVID-19 epidemics, the organizers of Chlamy 2020, the 19th International Conference on the Cell and Molecular Biology of Chlamydomonas, have decided to push all deadlines by 24 days. The early bird registration rates will be available until April 24, i.e. one month before the start of the conference. We hope that this will give you enough time to make an informed decision about your participation to Chlamy 2020. Please visit our website https://chlamy2020.sciencesconf.org for all details on this top-notch meeting.

If you are tempted to participate, please do pre-register now, without paying. It will help us keep track of who would be interested to attend. This way you will receive all the information in due time, and be able to manage travel arrangements so as to benefit from the currently low air fares. Payment of registration fees is suspended for the moment, until we see clearer into our future. But you can deposit your abstract any time. The selection of talks from abstracts is scheduled to take place between April 7 and April 15.

Note that we have pledged to NOT cancel the meeting, whatever happens. At worst, we will postpone it, without changing the location.

Hope to see you at Chlamy 2020 !

The Chlamy 2020 organization committee.

Billion-year-old green algae

Proterocladus antiquus

Figure 2g from Tang et al. 2020. Proterocladus antiquus. Scale bar 200 μm.

Researchers from Virginia Tech and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have described some billion-year-old fossils that they interpret as green algae. What’s interesting about these fossils, aside from being older than previously known green algal fossils, is that they appear to be fully multicellular, with differentiated cells. This is a valuable find, because it shows that at least one of the many green algal lineages that have independently evolved multicellularity did so relatively early. Sadly, the article, in Nature Ecology & Evolution, is paywalled. The best I can do is link to the article’s page on ResearchGate, which has a read-only version. I requested a full-text through that page, and the lead author sent a pdf promptly.

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