Convergence part 7: convergence in Volvox

Last year I wrote a series of posts on convergent evolution and misrepresentations of the history of the concept by proponents of intelligent design including Günter Bechly, Lee M. Spetner, Granville Sewell, and others. I didn’t intend for there to be a two-month gap before the final installment (nor am I sure this is the final installment), but here we are.

To quickly recap, I showed in the first three installments that

The Discovery Institute is producing a revisionist history. To hear them tell it, convergence is something that evolutionary biologists have either barely heard of or that they “invented” or “made up” to hide problems with the tree of life. Convergence “destroys the tree of life,” it “contradict[s] the [modern synthesis],” and it is “quite unexpected” to evolutionary biologists. All of that is a big, stinking pile of wrong. In reality, biologists since Darwin, and including Darwin, have always appreciated the importance of convergence, have written thousands of papers about it, and have included it in every evolutionary biology textbook I’m aware of.

I explained why the argument that convergence is evidence against common descent is daft, and I gave a spectacular example of convergent (or parallel) recruitment of life cycle genes in plants and brown algae. I also promised that I would write about convergent evolution in Volvox, which I have so far failed to do.

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A new way to follow Fierce Roller

For those of you who don’t use a feed reader, I have set up a Facebook page for Fierce Roller: If this works the way I think it should, all you have to do is go there and hit the “Like” button, and you’ll get an alert each time I publish a blog post. If you do use a feed reader, you can follow the blog by adding

Postdoctoral fellowship in the evolution of multicellularity

Thompson lab

Image from

The Thompson lab at University College London is looking for a postdoctoral researcher to study the evolution of multicellularity:

The Thompson lab, based at University College London, is seeking a Research Fellow to work on understanding how gene network heterogeneity affects the evolution of multicellular development.

Recently, we found that cell-cell variation in cell cycle position facilitates symmetry breaking during development, as it primes cells to respond to different differentiation cues (Gruenheit et al, Developmental Cell, 2018).

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Forest bathing baloney on Living on Earth

Forney Creek, GSMNP

Forney Creek, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I listen to NPR nearly every morning, and on Saturdays that means Living on Earth, at least on my local station. This Saturday I tuned in partway through a segment on “forest bathing,” also known as Shinrin-Yoku. As the host, Steve Curwood, describes it, forest bathing is a practice popular in Japan and China “in which practitioners spend meditative time breathing in nature.” The interviewee, Moshe Sherman, throws out several red flags typical of the evidence-challenged alternative medicine crowd, but he also makes some pretty specific health claims that he says are backed up by empirical evidence.

I’m going to argue that a lot of this is baloney. I want to be clear up front, though, that I’m not saying that walking in the woods and meditating in nature aren’t good for you. What I am saying is that the evidence that there’s something special about Shinrin-Yoku, something that provides benefits beyond those of exercise and relaxation, is lousy.

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One-stop shopping

I have an Etsy store. I opened it around the time of the Volvox wall art giveaway, and I’ll be the first to admit that it has a limited selection. Exclusive, you might say.

But I can promise you this: it is the world’s foremost source for micrographs of Volvox aureus printed on canvas. It is truly one-stop shopping if the only thing you need is micrographs of Volvox aureus printed on canvas (what else could you need?). If you are in the market for micrographs of Volvox aureus printed on canvas, you need look no further. Unless you can convince Piotr or Katrin to give up theirs, it is probably the only source for micrographs of Volvox aureus printed on canvas.

Volvox aureus

Volvox aureus by me

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“Sort of like a mass of crickets”

Cuban embassy

Image credit: ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images.

As I have mentioned now and then over the last year and a half, the narrative that American embassy personnel in Cuba were subjected to “sonic attacks” is bullshit (Sonic stupidity“It may seem the stuff of sci-fi novels”; More acoustic credulity; Cuba’s “magical sci-fi sound gun”; No means, no motive, and no suspectMore Cuban science fictionSonic weapons on Skeptoid; FBI dismisses sonic weapons in Cuba “attacks”Asking the wrong questions: still no evidence of a sonic weapon):

There is no evidence that U.S. embassy officials in Cuba were subjected to any kind of attack. There are a bunch of reported symptoms that are not clearly related and mostly subjective. The symptoms are consistent with lots of other explanations; the only reason they’re being attributed to attacks is assertions by unnamed government officials. To my knowledge, none of these assertions are backed by evidence.

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone!

I’ve been doing this for about two and a half years now, and no one’s more surprised than me to find that I’m still at it. I feel a bit like the Dread Pirate Roberts about the whole thing:

Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely stop blogging in the morning.

Westley’s still ticking, but no promises.

I published 121 posts in 2018, not too far from my goal of three a week. The most read by far was also my all-time most read, “Research Features: seems sketchy to me.” The reason, I think, is that that post appears not far from the top when “Research Features” is searched on Google. I had a colleague try it for me once, and my post was the third hit. So when the “magazine” contacts researchers, and they Google it to see if it’s legit, they get some criticism along with the magazine’s own self promotion. Several commenters wrote that this saved them time.

Research Features comments

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Sola cube Micro Volvox

A soon to be former postdoc gave me one of these as a gift. It is gorgeous; the two-dimensional pictures really don’t do it justice.

Volvox carteri

Sola Cube Micro Volvox

The many strange yet intriguing forms of the microorganism, which we could not see through our daily lives, can now be put in front of our eyes with Sola cube Micro. Sola cube Micro, is a three-dimensional portrait of the microorganism, laser crystal engraved into a high transparency optical glass cube. We have worked with graphic designer to create the three-dimensional models of the portraits, by using accurate microscope photos. The two dimensional view through the microscope can now appear in three-dimensional form in front of your eyes. Enjoy the moment of gazing upon the mysterious beauty giving by the wonder of nature, with Sola cube Micro.

The spinning algae
Volvox carteri

A type of freshwater colonial green algae. The root of the name “Volvox” comes from the word volvo, meaning, “to roll” in Latin, as it spins around while it swims through the habitant. Photosynthesis can occur through the chloroplasts. The spheroid body contains two thousand somatic cells on the surface, and each cell is attached with two flagella, which pushes the body onward. Sixteen parts of gonidia grows within the main body as “the daughter Volvox” and break through the maternal colonial to form new lives. It is suggested that the unicellular organism that was relative to Chlamydomonas evolved into multicellular organism, that is, Volvox since about fifty million years ago.

High transparency optical glass

Size and weight
2.0” D × 2.0” W × 2.0” H / 300g

The Sola Cube Micro collection is an eclectic set, including a radiolarian, a heliozoan, a tardigrade egg, and a phage, but as yet no Chlamydomonas.