Some days…

I had to finish grading an exam for one class, and compose an exam for another class, which will soon bounce back demanding that I grade it. Also, this week is dedicated to advising, so I’ve had a stream of students coming to my office for assistance in getting ready for spring term. That’s been a real roller coaster: some students are sailing through, excelling at their courses, so we have to talk about what gets them excited, while other students are struggling, so we have to talk about what to do to get back on track and just plain survive. I’m starting to feel drained.

I mentioned that I’m not getting a sabbatical next year (but definitely will in 2025), so I’ve been working with the discipline to revise my schedule. There’s some happy news there: this spring I’ll be teaching ecological developmental biology, and then, in the fall, Developmental Biology! I am floored! For the first time in way too many years, I’ll be teaching courses in my specialty, and I’ll be doing it over two consecutive semesters! It almost makes up for not getting a sabbatical. Almost.

Now I have to get back to the student train — I have another scheduled appointment in 5 minutes, and then my cell bio class.


  1. hemidactylus says

    Also your thread on Denyse O’Leary is probably passé by now, but stumbling in late I had added:

    [bq]“As usual I’m a bit late to the party, but your quoting of Denyse O’Leary has me a bit confused. The “…common octopus has 2.8 billion base pairs of genes” thing and transition to humans seems to conflate genomes and the subset of base pairs actually associated with what could be reasonably construed as GENES. Am I missing something here or you let her off the hook for that?”[eq]


    [bq]“And I don’t know if this comparison still holds: “The researchers found that the genome of the common California two-spot octopus was almost as large as a human’s genome (2.7 billion base pairs compared to 3 billion base pairs, respectively). But they estimated that it contains over 33,000 protein-coding genes—considerably more than the approximately 20,500 found in humans.”

    “So octopus may indeed beat us in number of genes, which isn’t exactly humbling as I don’t pride myself in how many tens of thousands of genes I carry, yet how does that number of genes actually map within the several billion base pairs? I would assume a majority of the octopus genome is not dedicated to coding or noncoding genes. Dare we call it…mostly junk?”[eq]

  2. birgerjohansson says

    Speaking of developmental biology, with all the things happening and the genetic information passed on through several steps, it is almost miraculous that there are not more people with extra fingers, or a vestigal tail (amphibians produce far more such non-standard offspring than mammals, BTW, implying we have stricter ‘control protocols’).
    Things like gender dysphoria or minority sexual preferences are really nothing compared to the potential developmental “hiccups” that could happen.

    I suppose genuinely life-threating anomalies account for a big part of the “spontaneous abortions” that happen so early that the women are not aware of them ( the fate of a surprisingly large fraction of all fertilised eggs).

  3. birgerjohansson says

    A few years back I read that malnourished children have far less diverse gut biota than healthy children the first few years, and that may be related to many of the problems* -including intellectual disabilities- found among those who were malnourished the first crucial years.

    Maybe the long co-evolution of host and commensal bacteria have made human early development dependent on some molecules produced by bacteria that cross the membranes of the gut into the bloodstream.

    *as hinted to by animal tests. Proving the connection in humans without ethically problematic tests is another matter.

  4. hemidactylus says

    @5 PZ
    Point taken.

    BTW, Larry Moran on Sandwalk has linked this amusing post by Raphaël Champeimont inspired by his book:

    A few apt excerpts:
    “Pufferfish: Come on. Your genome is just full of junk, 90% of it is completely useless! It’s full of dead viruses that infected your ancestors long ago and you never cleaned it up. Look at my genome, I have just as many genes as you, but I don’t need to waste 3 billion base pairs of DNA for that, just 400 million is well enough. Yes, I pack as many genes as you in a genome 10 times smaller! That’s what I call optimization!”


    “Pufferfish: Seriously? You think the biggest genome the best? I feel like I’m hearing this stupid lungfish. It has a gigantic amount of DNA, 130 billion base pairs. That’s 300 times my genome size, but do you think it is more complex and advanced than I am? The lungfish looks dumb compared to me. I can even make beautiful sculptures in the sand.”

    Then back on Sandwalk, Larry laments: “I’ve lost count of how many people have read my book. I think this makes six or maybe seven!”

  5. hemidactylus says

    @7- birgerjohansson
    Just as I’m not super fond of attributing consciousness to trees in a forest collectively because their “root brains” and mycorrhizal forest floor wood wide web internetworking, I’m kinda skeptical about the “gut brain” in humans.

    But the mycorrhizal networking of trees is still quite impressive and our gut flora may have some degree of influence on brain function. Some of this stuff has a tendency to be overhyped by the woo crowd.

  6. birgerjohansson says

    Silentbob @ 10
    Between the Weinersmiths SMBC and the wossname’s XKCD nerds have plenty of cerebral humor.