Materpiscis attenboroughi

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research

It’s not often that something as delicate as details of the reproductive tract get preserved, but here’s a phenomenal fossil of a Devonian placoderm containing the fragile bones of an embryo inside, along with the tracery of an umbilical cord and yolk sac.

This is cool: it says that true viviparity, something more than just retention of an egg internally, but also the formation of specialized maternal/embryonic structures, is at least 380 million years old. Hooray for motherhood!

Here’s a reconstruction of what the animal would have looked like in life, as it is giving birth to its young.

a, Diagram showing position of embryo and yolk sac within the mother. b, Artist’s reconstruction of Materpiscis gen. nov. giving birth.

Long JA, Trinajstic K, Young GC, Senden T (2008) Live birth in the Devonian period. Nature 453:650-652.

IEDG2008: Model systems are dead, long live model systems

I’ve discovered a couple of important things at this meeting.

One, late night sessions at west coast meetings are deadly for any of us coming from more eastern time zones. At least the morning sessions are low stress.

Two, I haven’t heard one Drosophila talk yet, and the message is clear: we’re now in the stage of evo-devo in which everyone is diversifying and chasing down a wide array of species. There was a bit of model-system bashing, but at the same time, everyone is acknowledging the crucial role of those traditional, but weird and derived, lab critters in providing a point of comparison and being the source of many of the tools being used to explore phylogeny now. I thought, though, that the smartest comment of the evening was that now everything is a model system.

I’ve got some dense piles of notes on the evening session, but I’m going to give you the short version of everything, with an emphasis on the novel twists.

Michael Akam talked about segmentation genes, which every developmental zoologist now knows inside and out — trust me, this is a familiar topic with over 25 years of detailed research … in Drosophila. Akam made the point that now it’s looking clear that three of the major segmented phyla, the arthropods, annelids, and chordates, may be using related genes to accomplish segmentation, but they seem to be using different mechanisms — so he considers the question of whether segmentation in these three is homologous is still an open question. He also discussed recent work on the centipede Strigamia (definitely not a lab animal: they can’t breed them in the lab yet, so all the work is done by collecting embryos in the field, in Scotland). They have a dynamic pattern of segment addition that is very different from what you find in flies, and more similar in some ways to chodate segmentation.

Chelsea Specht talked about floral evolution in the Zingiberales. I’m an animal guy, so even the most basic stuff in this talk was entirely new to me. I know the general rules of the spatial development of in the fruit fly of the plant world, Arabidopsis, and she gave us a bit of context there, reminding us of the concentric development of sepals, petals, stamens, and carpels. The Zingiberales are a large and diverse group of plants that includes bananas and ginger, and one characteristic is an extravagant modification of the canonical pattern, with extra stamens, a loss of select stamens, and a fusion of stamens to form a novel structure, the labellum, which in these plants functionally replaces the petals. So of course they’re looking into the genes involved in the patterns, which turn out to be the familiar Arabidopsis genes redeployed in new patterns.

Paul Sereno had a talk that took a very different tack, and was unfortunately giving it at the equivalent of 11:00pm Minnesota time, so I’m sorry to say I didn’t follow it carefully. He was discussing the analysis of morphology, and was advocating the development of tools and techniques to compare data sets in addition to the usual output, phylogenetic trees. He was making the case that a lot of morphological studies are actually very poor (a creationist in the audience would have loved it, largely because he wouldn’t have understood the context) because the input data sets of different studies are not comparable.

And now I have to get back to work and listen to the next set of talks.

Speaking of pulling ads…

Let’s not ever turn into Michelle Malkin, mmm-kay? She got Dunkin’ Donuts to pull an ad…because she didn’t like the scarf the model was wearing, and decided it was pro-Islamic.

It was paisley.

Typical dhimmi traitor in jihadist-appeasing garb

It’s not like the model was saying “Death to America” or “This iced coffee is perfect for cooling me down after a suicide bombing” or even, “Christians, shut up!” She’s not even in traditional Islamic dress — you can see her face, and a bit of her chest. But she is wearing a scarf, and as we all know, good Americans wear only traditional American clothes, which do not include scarves.

Scalzi and Plait have noted the lunacy. Of course, no one has yet noticed the truly insidious part of the story — this Palestinian kaffiyeh nonsense is a red herring. Paisley. Didn’t they live through the 60s? Have we already forgotten? Are we just going to overlook the significance until suddenly we find ourselves in bell bottoms and headbands with the scent of patchouli wafting through the air?

Play a game!

This game, Christian Versus Atheist, is one of those choose-your-own-adventure type text exercises. The good thing about it is that the atheist is particular fierce and monstrous and … hey, wait a minute…the picture they use resembles someone familiar…

Hmmm. Maybe it’s just the blood drooling out of one corner of his mouth. All the atheists I know look like that.

We happy hooligans

My brief summary of the position of apologists for religion, The Courtier’s Reply, continues to rankle the believers, and they continue to make responses that only make me laugh at their cluelessness. The standard rebuttal is to claim that I was making an argument in favor of ignorance in the face of theological scholarship, followed by a laundry list of esteemed theologians … but never, and I mean absolutely never, even the slightest attempt to address the core of my criticism — not once have they presented a solid, confirmable reason to believe in a deity.

Here’s the latest example, and it follows the formula perfectly. How dare Myers accuse Tillich and Buber and Bonhoeffer and Gandhi and Bishop Tutu and Piaget and a long set of dropped names of promoting false beliefs? Yet, as usual, he cannot bring himself to actually discuss the substance of the issue: where is the evidence for his god? Listing invisible flounces, transparent ruffles, and phantasmal frills is simply a confirmation of the validity of my parable.

And yes, I do accuse his honor roll of theological luminaries of perpetuating lies, of credulity, and often, of pettifogging rhetoric. When someone advances remarkable claims of remarkable phenomena, like N rays or cold fusion or polywater (or natural selection or chemiosmosis or endosymbiosis), we demand evidence and skeptical evaluation…but not for religion. God always gets a pass from the people who already believe. They claim the existence of the most powerful, all-pervasive force in the universe, yet will provide not a single shred of support. And worse, this bozo calls the demand for evidence “hooliganism”.

If that’s the case, I’m proud to be a hooligan.

Go ahead, send them your financial information

Are you worried about the Rapture? Of course you will be called up into heaven, but those hateful bastards among your family and friends will certainly be stuck here on earth for the tribulation. So yet another service has sprung up to help you help your stranded loved ones: You’ve Been Left Behind. Why do you need this service?


We all have family and friends who have failed to receive the Good News of the Gospel.

The unsaved will be ‘left behind’ on earth to go through the “tribulation period” after the “Rapture”. You remember how, for a short time, after (9/11/01) people were open to spiritual things and answers. (We are still singing “God Bless America” at baseballs’ seventh inning stretch.) Imagine how taken back they will be by the millions of missing Christians and devastation at the rapture. They will know it was true and that they have blown it. There will be a small window of time where they might be reached for the Kingdom of God. We have made it possible for you to send them a letter of love and a plea to receive Christ one last time. You will also be able to give them some help in living out their remaining time. In the encrypted portion of your account you can give them access to your banking, brokerage, hidden valuables, and powers of attorneys’ (you won’t be needing them any more, and the gift will drive home the message of love). There won’t be any bodies, so probate court will take 7 years to clear your assets to your next of Kin. 7 years of course is all the time that will be left. So, basically the Government of the AntiChrist gets your stuff, unless you make it available in another way. You can also send information based on scripture as to what will happen next. Each fulfilled prophecy will cause your letter and plea to be remembered and a decision to be made.

“WHY” is one last chance to bring them to Christ and snatch them from the flames!

They don’t mention the other reason why: so that the creators of this service can collect your $40/year for the indefinite future … for as long as you live, essentially, since the Rapture is nothing but a sick fantasy by apocalyptic wackos, and won’t ever happen.

I’m also suspicious. These guys may be cleverer than we think: “encrypted” access to your powers of attorney? Directions to hidden valuables? Bank account access? If I were duplicitous and evil, this is an opportunity for a really good scam.