Interesting stuff

January 31, 2009

While my yard is recovering from the ice, and I from today’s UK game, I thought I would toss out a few interesting abstracts that touch on important and contentious issues.  Peek beneath the fold and, as always, enjoy.

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Pardon the brief interruption…

January 31, 2009

One of those weather things …


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Behe and the limits of evolution

January 24, 2009

Intelligent Design proponent Michael Behe has recently taken Ken Miller to task for the latters rough handling of another ID proponent’s handling of some concepts in evolution.  I don’t intend to add to the back and forth between the two (or three?) of them here.  Rather, I thought I would use one of Behe’s closing remarks as an excuse to repost a (slightly-modified) Panda’s Thumb essay that pertains to one of Behe’s newer calling cards – the so-called “Edge of Evolution”.

In the last paragraph of his response to Miller, Behe says:

“It’s pertinent to remember here the central point of The Edge of Evolution. We now have data in hand that show what Darwinian processes can accomplish, and it ain’t much.”

Actually, as the following essay clearly shows, Darwinian processes can do much more than Behe suggests.  Enjoy.

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Inauguration aftermath

January 24, 2009

Part 1.  A brief reflection.

The near coincidence of Martin Luther King Day and the inauguration was for me, as for most Americans, an occasion for reflection.  Many, many commentators have noted how the latter event was a culmination of the efforts of an earlier generation. It’s also plain that the recent election energized the newest generation of voters in a most remarkable way.  What strikes me in all of this is how connected these two generations are by the election.   This is a refreshing contrast with recent American history, which is among other things a matter of clashes of generations.  Given the sad state we’re in, I’ve gotta hope that two generations working together may be a part of the path out of this wilderness.

Part 2.  Not all fun and games.

Amy says it better than I can.

Part 3.  That hard work paid off.

Back in October, older daughter Heather was one of the volunteers at a Biden rally in Wooster, one of the newest generation of voters working to bring about a sea change.  This photo was taken with a candidate.


But today he’s the Vice President.  How cool is that.  Good job, kids!

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.

January 19, 2009

PZ Myers does the subject much better justice than I can.

An excerpt from the Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

“I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”

The James Merediths, the “old, oppressed, battered Negro women”, the”young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders”, these “disinherited children of God”,  the fruits of their labors are now ours.  I think we all owe them a great debt of gratitude.

HT to PZ.

The Human Torch

January 15, 2009

He’s not a comic book character, he plays for the University of Kentucky Wildcats.


Where does all that DNA go?

January 3, 2009

In this recent essay, I discussed studies that showed a surprisingly high rate of movement of DNA from organelles to the nuclear genome.  Curious and questioning readers should have wondered about this, as one implication is that nuclear genomes should become huge mosaics of organelle DNA in a relatively short evolutionary time.  Of course, this is not the case – organelle DNA may be found in nuclear genomes, but it makes up a tiny fraction of these genomes.

If you had read my essay and wondered along these lines, you may pat yourself on the back.  For this paradox is something that has puzzled others.  A recent paper in PLoS Genetics helps to resolve things.  Briefly, Anna Sheppard and Jeremy Timmis followed up on the earlier studies , asking what happens to the organelle genes after they wander into the nucleus.  These authors found a high frequency with which the organelle DNA (at least the marker gene that was followed in these studies) is altered or deleted.  As the authors discuss (the abstract follows beneath the fold), this suggests that the overall picture is a dynamic one – DNA can move into the nucleus at a high rate, but it is also removed relatively rapidly.  The result is a sort of steady state, one that affords the creation of new nuclear genes without the burden of vast amounts of organelle DNA.

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