The Two Jakes

The organizers of the Volvox 2017 meeting put together a Volvox trivia quiz, and one of the questions had to do with a 1990 movie in which Volvox had had a cameo appearance. I was stumped. I knew Europa Report was much more recent. I probably didn’t know what Volvox was in 1990, and I don’t think I had seen the movie in question, which turned out to be The Two Jakesa sequel to 1974’s Chinatown

The Two Jakes

Because that’s how dedicated I am, I rented and watched both videos and screen captured the clip in question. Sorry there’s no sound. [somewhat important spoiler below the fold]

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Exxon still loves Volvox

I hope Exxon’s scientists know more more algal taxonomy than their ad team. We’ve seen before that they don’t know the difference between Chlorophyte green algae and cyanobacteria (Exxon loves Volvox). Some of the things they’ve lumped together in that video are more distantly related than humans are to mushrooms.

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Criticism ≠ bullying

I’ve never been the victim of bullying, either in science or social media. I have, in fact, been called a bully (and worse) for some of the things I’ve written on this blog (Responses from both Davids (I’m Goliath)). But I know I’m among the privileged (white, cisgender, middle-aged heterosexual male) few who are least likely to experience bullying. So when Ed Yong tweeted his approval of a Slate article by Simine Vazire, “Criticizing a Scientist’s Work Isn’t Bullying. It’s Science,” I checked it out.

The backlash Yong received on Twitter would lead one to believe that the actual article was much more extreme than it really was:

The story of Amy Cuddy, as told in a recent New York Times Magazine story, illustrates why self-correction is so rare in science. In painting a moving portrait of Cuddy’s life over the past few years, it conflates Cuddy’s experience as the target of scientific criticism with her experience as the target of something much more vicious and universal: actual bullying.

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More Cuban science fiction

Sound cannon

Image from wired.com.

It’s not even good science fiction. Good science fiction may require suspension of disbelief, but it should at least be internally self-consistent. Here’s part of the story from CNN:

Investigators continue to examine the circumstances surrounding as many as 50 attacks that may have involved the use of an acoustic device, a US official has told CNN.

The device was so sophisticated, it was outside the range of audible sound, the official said. And it was so damaging, the source said, that one US diplomat now needs to use a hearing aid.

Now multiple news sources report a cell phone recording of a mysterious high-pitched sound, for example The Independent:

The high-pitched frequencies are believed to have injured at least 22 diplomatic staff, who suffered problems with hearing, cognitive function, vision, balance and sleep.

Wait, I thought it was “so sophisticated, it was outside the range of audible sound.” Get your story straight, will you?

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Placozoan diversity and taxonomy

If I didn’t study Volvox, I would probably study placozoa. Placozoa are animals, but you wouldn’t know it to look at them. They look and behave very much like giant amoebae, big enough to be visible to the naked eye.

Trichoplax adhaerens

Trichoplax adhaerens. By Bernd Schierwater – Eitel M, Osigus H-J, DeSalle R, Schierwater B (2013) Global Diversity of the Placozoa. PLoS ONE 8(4): e57131. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057131, CC BY 4.0, Link

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Very, very unified

Last week, I asked, “What do all these quotes have in common?“, including things like “Fucking moron,” “Just pathetic,” and “completely unhinged.” Well, no one guessed, so here’s a hint:

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Life cycles in major transitions, and some clueless critique

Jordi van Gestel and Corina Tarnita have published a ‘Perspective’ in PNAS, “On the origin of biological construction, with a focus on multicellularity“:

…we propose an integrative bottom-up approach for studying the dynamics underlying hierarchical evolutionary transitions, which builds on and synthesizes existing knowledge. This approach highlights the crucial role of the ecology and development of the solitary ancestor in the emergence and subsequent evolution of groups, and it stresses the paramount importance of the life cycle: only by evaluating groups in the context of their life cycle can we unravel the evolutionary trajectory of hierarchical transitions.

van Gestel 2017 Fig. 2

Figure 2 from van Gestel and Tarnita, 2017. Relationship between life stages in hypothesized life cycles of solitary ancestors and group formation in derived group life cycles. (Upper) Simplified depiction of hypothesized ancestral solitary life cycles of the green alga Volvox carteri, the cellular slime mold Dictyostelium discoideum, and the wasp Polistes metricus. Life cycles here consist of a life stage expressed under good conditions (black) and a life stage expressed under adverse conditions (green). For the latter life stage, we show an environmental signal that might trigger it and some phenotypic consequences. (Lower) Simplified depiction of group life cycles of: V. carteri, D. discoideum, and P. metricus. Developmental program underlying life stages in solitary ancestor is co-opted for group formation (shown in green): differentiation of somatic cells (V. carteri), fruiting body formation (D. discoideum), and appearance of foundress phenotype (P. metricus).

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What do all these quotes have in common?

Trump may be setting the US on the path to World War III. —Sen. Bob Corker 2017-10-08

Congress must govern with a president who has no experience of public office, is often poorly informed and can be impulsive in his speech and conduct.” — Sen. John McCain 2017-08-31

Fucking moron. — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (alleged)

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MicroRNAs in Chlamydomonas

One of the biggest changes in evolutionary theory in the late 20th century was the growing appreciation for the central role of changes in gene expression in macroevolution. Developmental genes, especially Hox genes, turned out to be remarkably conserved across lineages that diverged over half a billion years ago. The subsequent huge changes in morphology were more often due to changes in when and where those genes were expressed than to changes in the coding sequences of the genes themselves.

Even more recently, an entire new class of regulatory mechanisms was discovered and found to be important in developmental processes. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short (21-24 nucleotides) sequences of RNA that reduce gene expression by promoting the breakdown of messenger RNAs (mRNAs) and by repressing translation of mRNAs into proteins. We have only known that microRNAs even existed since the early 1990’s, and their importance in gene regulation and development wasn’t appreciated until the 2000’s.

Although they are structurally similar, plant and animal microRNAs repress gene expression through very different mechanisms. A new paper by Betty Y-W. Chung and colleagues in Nature Plants shows that the regulatory mechanisms of Chlamydomonas microRNAs have both striking similarities and important differences with animal miRNAs:

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