Happy Birthday, Origin!

i-37e9a7ef499187063d96ca72d2409312-originbuzz.jpgCharles Darwin’s Origin of Species was published 150 years ago today, and it continues to inform, illuminate, and stir up controversy. Of course, some tortoises live longer than that, but Darwin’s lasting legacy seems assured. On Gene Expression, Razib Khan tackles a study on the Fore, a cannibalistic people who ate their dead up until 1960. This diet left an imprint on their genes: a deadly prion-caused illness called Kuru led to selection against homozygosity in key alleles. Elsewhere, ERV explores invasive species and their fitness versus native species when both are infected with the same pathogen. In the case of Northern California grasses, although the native perennials are more fit than the invasive annuals, the pathogen hits the natives harder, and so the invaders become more successful. Finally, James Hrynyshyn on The Island of Doubt reviews a new coffee-table book on Darwin that “tells us at least as much about Darwin the man as it does his revolutionary idea.” Get one now, as Hrynyshyn suggests oversize books may be a dying species.

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The Great Debate

i-4daf3576fe3d9c6441642c5541cb6f8a-idbuzz.jpgThe pitched battle between evolutionary theory and Intelligent Design has become one of the signature conflicts of the decade. On Pharyngula, PZ Myers picks up the pieces after his debate with Jerry Bergman on whether ID should be taught in schools. Unambiguously he writes, “creationists are not the heralds of a coming paradigm shift; they are the rotting detritus of the old regime of unreason.” Elsewhere, on Gene Expression, Razib Khan crunches some numbers which show that 10-20% of people in certain Muslim countries believe in evolution, versus 80% in certain European countries. The support for evolution in the U.S.? 40%. Finally, on The Primate Diaries, Eric Michael Johnson parses centuries of anthropocentric thought which placed man atop the “great chain of being,” with other forms of life transitioning smoothly into the inanimate. As Johnson writes, “this vision of divinely ordered perfection was dramatically ripped apart, link-by-link, on November 24, 1859,” a date we will observe next week on the sesquicentennial of Darwin’s Origin of Species.

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New Twists on the Double Helix

i-f8154d0a659650961de81dff61d67948-helixbuzz.jpgForget fashion; when it comes to expressing yourself, it’s your genes that wear you! On Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong discusses the explosive evolution of AEM genes in humans and elephants—two long-lived, social animals with “very, very large brains.” Big brains need more juice to function, and AEM genes, which govern how mitochondria metabolize food energy, may be a key to evolving intelligence. On Gene Expression, Razib Khan explores the links between gene transmission and language transmission, writing that “linguistic affinity” could modulate gene flow, and vice versa. On Mike the Mad Biologist, Mike flays proponents of “genetic conservatism,” who believe that IQ is highly heritable and educating everyone is a waste of money. This attitude leads Mike to wonder, “What is the genetic heritability of being an ***hole?” Finally, Daniel MacArthur on Genetic Future reports the bankruptcy of deCODE Genetics and the revamped product lineup at 23andMe, suggesting that personal genomics may need a new business model.

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