Cells, colonies, and clones: individuality in the volvocine algae

Biological Individuality

As I mentioned previously, I have a chapter in the newly published book Biological Individuality, Integrating Scientific, Philosophical, and Historical Perspectives. The chapter was actually written nearly five years ago, but things move more slowly in the philosophy world than that of biology. Finally, though, both the print and electronic versions are now available; here is the electronic version of my chapter. The book currently has no reviews on Amazon, so if you want to give it a read, yours could be the first. If you’re interested in current and historical views on individuality, there is a lot of good stuff in here, including contributions by Scott Lidgard & Lynn Nyhart, Beckett Sterner, Andrew Reynolds, Snait Gissis, Olivier Rieppel, Michael Osborne, Hannah Landecker, Ingo Brigandt, James Elwick, Scott Gilbert, and Alan Love & Ingo Brigandt.

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Volvox 2017: David Kirk will be there

David Kirk

Dr. David Kirk, Professor Emeritus at Washington University in St. Louis.

I just found out from Jim Umen, who’s organizing the Fourth International Volvox Conference, that David Kirk is planning to attend. This is great news; we’ve been wanting Dr. Kirk to come since the first meeting in 2011, but it hasn’t previously worked out.

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Volvox 2017: early registration extended

Volvox 2017

Discounted registration for the Volvox 2017 meeting has been extended to June 16th. This is a pretty good deal as scientific meetings go: $550 for faculty includes registration, most meals, and a shared room. Registration for postdocs and students is $100 less, and there are travel grants available. If you’ve been debating whether or not to go, it’s decision time: prices will go up $100 after the 16th.

Look what came in the mail yesterday!

Biological Individuality

A project started five years ago has finally borne fruit. In May, 2012 I joined a group of philosophers, historians, and biologists in Philadelphia for the Cain ConferenceE pluribus unum: Bringing biological parts and wholes into historical and philosophical perspective.” The meeting was organized by Lynn Nyhart and Scott Lidgard, with the goal

…to pursue the question: How can historians, philosophers, and biologists help each other to understand part-whole relationships in biology, both today and in the past?

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Bangiomorpha

When I was putting together my post about Rafatazmia, the 1.6 billion-year-old fossil tentatively interpreted as a red alga, I searched Fierce Roller to see what I had written about Bangiomorpha, the previous record-holder for the oldest red algal fossil. I was surprised to find that I never have published anything about Bangiomorpha. This is a serious oversight!

Bangiomorpha was described by Nick Butterfield back in 1990, from a series of fossils collected on Somerset Island in Nunavut, the northernmost territory in Canada:

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Volvox 2017: one week left for early registration

Volvox 2017 LogoJust what the headline says: early registration for The Fourth International Volvox Conference ends May 19th. After that, prices go up $100 for everybody. The registration fees sound a bit steep (up to $650), but when you consider that they include meals, lodging, and transportation between the hotel and the conference, they’re not bad at all:

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New fossil proves plants are younger than previously thought

That’s not a headline you’re likely to see again. Hopefully it made you think something along the lines of “how does that work, exactly?” Because it doesn’t. If your estimate of the age of a taxon is based on its oldest known fossil, finding a newer fossil isn’t likely to change that estimate. If it’s an extinct group, a newer fossil might show that it stuck around later than you thought, but not that it originated later. Paleontologists recognize that fossil-based estimates of ages are almost always underestimates, since the fossil record is spotty (and generally spottier the further back you go).

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J. S. Huxley part 2: Volvox

Last time, I wrote about Julian Huxley’s 1912 book, The Individual in the Animal Kingdom, and his use of the volvocine algae as an example. I liked most of what he had to say, though I took issue with his assertion that

…all the other members of the family except Volvox…are colonies and nothing more—their members have united together because of certain benefits resulting from mere aggregation, but are not in any way interdependent, so that the wholes are scarcely more than the sum of their parts.

This is, of course, a matter of how we define a multicellular organism, but I think any definition that excludes, for example, Eudorina, is not a very useful one.

This time, I’ll look at the rest of what Huxley had to say about the volvocine algae, most of which is about Volvox:

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