Department of obviousness

Well. I don’t see the point of this study, but I suppose there are people who need to be clubbed about the head with the obvious who would be well-served by reading it. It’s a study to determine whether clones would have separate identities.

Umm, yeah?

They determined this by interviewing twins, who are clones of one another.

OK, yes?

From these findings the scientists said they could assume a clone would probably not feel their individuality was compromised by sharing genes with someone else; that their relationship with their co-clone was a blessing; and their uniqueness was not a negative thing.

That’s a relief. We can stop worrying about the clone armies full of self-loathing bodies with a single mind between them, I guess. I wonder if they also pursued the question of why, in any pair of twins, one individual gets all the good qualities, and the other is always pure evil?

Never mind. Try googling “soul” and “clone”—there are way too many people in the world who take that worry seriously. Maybe this was a necessary study after all.

David Prentice’s shoddy stem cell scholarship

A reader sent me copy of a letter that will be published in Science this week, criticizing the dishonest tactics of the anti-scientific adult stem cell “advocates” (in quotes because they aren’t really science advocates of any kind—they’re only using it as an issue to limit stem cell research.) Anyway, it raises the interesting question of who you’re going to believe: scientists with expertise in the issues under discussion, or a flunky for Sam Brownback and shill for the religious right?

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Hmmm…maybe we should form a vocal voting bloc…

From the insightful Digby comes this insightly insight:

Why do the vast majority secularists vote for the Democrats? Could it possibly be for the same reason that African Americans do? Could it be that the Republican Party is so implicitly or explicitly religiously intolerant that they have no place in it?

They don’t even need to be intolerant, though…just being implicitly and explicitly religious, period, full stop, is sufficiently off-putting. The intolerance is the creamy rich arsenic-laced frosting layered thickly on top of the putrefying fruitcake of superstitious dogma—excuse me if I’d rather not have a taste. I think our interests diverge from those of the religious African Americans because, if Obama is any example, they reject the intolerance but savor the religion.

By the way, take a look at this map of the state-by-state distribution of unbelievers, also from Digby’s post. Typically, “no religion” is the third most popular choice in most states, with a few exceptions (I’m very proud of my home state of Washington.) So why do politicians so studiously avoid courting that common demographic?*

*Rhetorical question…in a winner-take-all game, third place is no place, and it’s not as if the godless form a coherent bloc anyway.

Diploblasts and triploblasts


Carl Zimmer wrote on evolution in jellyfish, with the fascinating conclusion that they bear greater molecular complexity than was previously thought. He cited a recent challenging review by Seipel and Schmid that discusses the evolution of triploblasty in the metazoa—it made me rethink some of my assumptions about germ layer phylogeny, anyway, so I thought I’d try to summarize it here. The story is clear, but I realized as I started to put it together that jeez, but we developmental biologists use a lot of jargon. If this is going to make any sense to anyone else, I’m going to have to step way back and explain a collection of concepts that we’ve been using since Lankester in the 19th century.

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Stem cell bait-and-switch

I’m taking it easy here in the fabulous Van Dusen mansion, a bed and breakfast where I’m staying tonight, and I thought I’d browse through the stem cell legislation that’s being considered in the senate right now. It’s strange: one substantive bill has come up from the House, and all of a sudden two more bills have been proposed on the floor of the Senate.

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Link dump

I’ve made it to St Paul and am sucking down some caffeine before strolling over to the venue for my talk this afternoon, and I’ve got a few minutes for a quickie link dump from the mailbag. Digest these for a while…

The evolution of deuterostome gastrulation


Do vertebrate embryos exhibit significant variation in their early development? Yes, they do—in particular, the earliest stages show distinct differences that mainly reflect differences in maternal investment and that cause significant distortions of early morphology during gastrulation. However, these earliest patterns represent workarounds, strategies to accommodate one variable (the amount of yolk in the egg), and the animals subsequently reorganize to put tissues into a canonical arrangement. Observations of gene expression during gastrulation are revealing deeper similarities that are common in all deuterostomes—not just vertebrates, but also the invertebrate chordates (tunicates and cephalochordates) and echinoderms.

What does all that mean? If you think of development as a formal dance, the earliest stages are like the prelude; everyone is getting out of their chairs around the ballroom, looking for partners and working their way towards the floor. The dispositions of the dancers are variable and somewhat chaotic, and vary from dance to dance. Once they get to their positions, however, we’re finding that not only is there a general similarity in their arrangements, but they’re all dancing to the very same tune. In this case, one of the repeated motifs in that tune is a gene, Nodal, which is active in gastrulation and shows a similar pattern in animal after animal.

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