Variations on a Theme

i-bfeabcfb82a4df387d3ce910123d764c-varibuzz.jpgOn Laelaps, Brian Switek considers the fate of Smilodon, a saber-toothed hypercarnivore that roamed through ancient Los Angeles. Although textbook descriptions of such animals are usually cut-and-dried, Brian writes that “genetic, anatomical, or behavioral variations are grist for natural selection’s mill,” and so individuals within a species can vary considerably over space and time. On Tetrapod Zoology, Darren Naish discusses the peculiar babirusa, a beast that looks like a pig, incorporates “deer-like slender legs and a multi-chambered stomach,” and has horn-like canine teeth growing from its snout. Babirusas display a wide range of morphology across their Indonesian habitat—and a male babirusa even begat hybridized offspring with a domestic pig in a zoo. Finally, on Gene Expression, Razib Khan reports new efforts to raise the Aurochs from the dead. Using preserved genes as a guide, breeders will “hunt for the variants in modern cattle strains” in an attempt to recreate the phenotype and genotype of this extinct piece of meat.

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By Any Other Name?

i-d14a880d31f2c73c71d7f9b2a494076f-anonbuzz.jpgOn Framing Science, Matthew C. Nisbet anticipates putting “an end to anonymous commenting” on his blog. Matt writes that people are “more willing and likely to be uncivil” when they don’t have to face “social sanctions from others.” Other ScienceBloggers disagree. On Adventures in Ethics and Science, Dr. Free-Ride appreciates the value of a pseudonym, noting that some opponents will leverage “our full names and true identities” as a way to “scuttle the dialogue before it has happened or scare us off from taking part in it.” DrugMonkey writes that excluding anonymous comments is like wearing rose-colored glasses, as “politeness is prioritized over acquainting someone with objective reality.” And On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess, Isis the Scientist offers a thread “to celebrate anonymity on the interwebz.” As Anonymous comments, “Last night my husband told that he’s afraid that I hate him. The truth is that I do.” In the pursuit of constructive dialogue, just how much should we know about each other?

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Texas Verdict Turns Tables

i-dd2b777d72b3ea7931ec60072c944ca6-robertsbuzz.jpgEmbattled Texas nurse Anne Mitchell was readily declared innocent by a jury yesterday, proving that she didn’t belong in a courtroom in the first place. After filing complaints about a doctor who sold herbal remedies in the ER and performed unorthodox surgical procedures, Anne Mitchell was charged with “misuse of official information” by a constabulary loyal to the doctor. As PalMD writes on The White Coat Underground, “reading about the actions of these local officials is like watching Blazing Saddles—it’s a small town, with a few people in control of everything.” Orac has more coverage of the trial and video of the defendant on Respectful Insolence, as well as a foray into Dr. Arafiles’ quackery, colloidal silver, and delusional parasitosis. Orac commends the jury for reaching a verdict with “such alacrity,” sending “a strong message to the hapless Dr. Rolando Arafiles and his errand boy Sheriff Robert L. Roberts.” Mike Dunford on The Questionable Authority writes that “the civil suit against the doctor, hospital, sheriff, district attorney, and county” can now go forward, and real justice can be pursued. It just doesn’t help to be friends with the sheriff when he’s as incompetent as you are.

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Double Standards

i-abd7e1519c650778c8deef6a5321f3ea-doublebuzz.jpgOn Terra Sigillata, Abel Pharmboy reports on “sporadic, worldwide shortages of Arimidex,” a drug officially approved by the FDA for inhibiting hormonal transitions in breast cancer patients. But up to a thousand times more men use this drug than women, as a non-FDA-approved therapy for testosterone deficiency. Pharmboy wonders if men taking Arimidex has resulted in some women “facing shortages of a drug essential for their survival.” On Christina’s LIS Rant, Christina Pikas asks if men are at a professional disadvantage in women-dominated fields such as “Nursing, Librarianship, Elementary School Teaching, and Social Work.” According to a study, men may run into a “glass escalator” rather than a glass ceiling, as they “were pushed towards administration roles, even when they stated a preference for staying in the classroom or library.” And on Respectful Insolence, Orac explains a case in Texas where a registered nurse faces felony charges for reporting a doctor’s questionable ethics. “A dedicated nurse does what her professional code of ethics demands that she do,” writes Orac, “and the end result is that the good ol’ boy network in Texas tries to throw her in jail for years on trumped up charges.”

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Coming Back for More

i-f4e887b87e87aa1fc777d4a8da672872-morebuzz.jpgGood things are great, but too much of a good thing can be bad. Especially when you can’t get enough. On The Frontal Cortex, Jonah Lehrer introduces us to ChatRoulette, a website that allows you to get “rejected, propositioned and yelled at” by other live strangers with webcams. With a single click, users can dump whomever they’re looking for a new face, hopefully. Jonah says it “reminds me of Vegas, where people are willing to endure big losses for the occasional thrill of a surprising gain.” Of course, if chocolate is your choice compulsion, gain is to be expected. Jessica Palmer on Bioephemera describes an experiment where mice subjected themselves to electric shocks so they could eat some chocolate, but only if they had once been starved. Now healthy and well-fed, these mice were willing to suffer if they could just get some extra calories. Finally, read about a few other favored habit-formers on Neuron Culture and DrugMonkey. David Dobbs discusses the last things any civilized expedition would run out of, and DrugMonkey digs through case reports for a rare and unpleasant consequence of chronic cannabis consumption.

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Chromosomes, X and Y

i-c391e5995011d135267ae80c0253f87d-somebuzz.jpgOn Neurotopia, Scicurious offers a refresher course on mitosis. This vital process occurs every time a cell divides, as centrosomes pull apart replicated chromosomes with microtubules. Normal cell mechanics limit this “molecular tug of war” to about 50 iterations, meaning we can’t keep splitting chromosomes forever. But we can use meiosis make some babies. On Gene Expression, Razib Khan explains that the X chromosome is relatively scarce since males only carry one copy of it, while all other chromosomes travel in pairs. This makes the X chromosome “more susceptible to stochastic fluctuations in frequency such as random genetic drift,” causing it to exhibit “greater between population variance” than the genome as whole. And on Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong stands up for X’s puny boyfriend the Y, a chromosome that once jettisoned “around 97% of its original genes.” These days, the human Y chromosome is definitely up to something, having racked up 310 million years worth of evolutionary change in the 6 million years since chimps and humans shared a common ancestor.

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Egg-laying and Circadian Clocks

i-733a3b45f341e2b8cd263059d7c5338a-eggbuzz.jpgOn A Blog Around The Clock, Bora Zivkovic shares a newly published paper which he co-authored with researchers inspired by his blog. Their team recorded the egg-laying cycle of birds in the wild, where clutch sizes must answer to nature and not the hungry stewardship of a poultry farmer. They discovered that Eastern Bluebirds lay eggs along the same S-shaped interval curve observed in domesticated birds, which is “not dependent on external factors like food and energy, but [on] a fine-honed system of interactions between two circadian clocks.” On Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong enumerates the successful qualities of toads, which over a relatively short time “diversified into around 500 species and spread to every continent except Antarctica.” Although these pioneering amphibians may taste like chicken, some can lay clutches of 45,000 eggs at a time. On Neurophilosophy, Mo provides another example of circadian regulation, in the case of electric fish who must meter their power wisely. The discharge of some species, which can reach up to 500 volts, was found to be “weakest during the day, but its strength increased by approximately 40% at nighttime.” Fish use this electricity for perception as well as defense, and piscine social encounters also led to brief surges of power.

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