I was recently invited to comment on an Anthropology Network discussion on LinkedIn, where someone asked, “I’m wondering what this community’s thoughts are about the theory that humans are a hybrid?” and linked to the blog post by Eugene McCarthy supposing that humans resulted from a hybridization event between chimpanzees and pigs. Because it is a private network, I’d like to repost, with some expansions, what I added to that discussion. But, let’s just start off by clearing the air:
Chimpanzees did not mate with pigs and produce humans.
|Adorable piggy, by A R, via Wikimedia Commons|
|I am not a little piggy!|
by Gert Korthof
Origin of life researcher and Nobel Prize winner Jack Szostak has made an important step towards creating a prebiotically plausible protocell (prebiotic implies that it did not originate from pre-existing forms of life, but its components could have self-assembled from raw materials available under physical and chemical conditions of the early earth). The protocell is a fatty acid vesicle, which is a simpler form of a cell membrane, in which RNA replication occurs autonomously without the help of enzymes. The results have been published in Science Nov 29 2013.
This is the first time that nonenzymatic RNA copying succeeded inside a fatty acid vesicle. The big obstacle has always been that magnesium ion Mg2+ was necessary for RNA copying, but two negative side-effects of high Mg2+ levels frustrated success. Firstly, high Mg2+ levels break down the simple, fatty acid membranes that probably surrounded the first living cells. Secondly, Mg2+ catalyses degradation of single-stranded RNA. After a long trial-and-error process, Szostak et al. discovered that citrate removes these two side-effects. Citrate efficiently protects fatty acid membranes from the disruptive effects of high Mg2+ ion concentrations, while both allowing RNA copying and protecting single-stranded RNA from Mg2+-catalyzed degradation.
An illustration of a protocell, composed of a fatty acid membrane encapsulating RNA ribozymes. © Exploring Life’s Origins.
Ice stalagmite. My furnace drowned during the recent floods in Boulder, and I replaced it with a high-efficiency furnace. The furnace discharges into a plastic pipe, which the technicians ran up the old flue. We are nearing the end of the first cold snap of the year, with nighttime temperatures running below 0 °F, and the condensation from the pipe evidently caused the ice stalagmite on the roof.
Gwen Pearson, an entomologist formerly known as Bug Girl, has performed sort of a retrospective analysis of the Ark Park‘s facilities for caring for its animals. You might have thought that the Ham-merheaded proprietors of the Ark Park would have performed a prospective analysis but evidently you would have been mistaken. Cheer up! Here is Dr. Pearson’s advice to the Ham-itic designers:
NCSE has just announced the second webinar in its ongoing series, to be held on December 18, 2013, at 1:00 p.m. PST. The webinar will focus on “[s]topping bad legislation and encouraging policymakers to support strong science education…,” according to NCSE.
The webinar will be led by Josh Rosenau, Programs and Policy Director for NCSE; Vic Hutchison, professor emeritus at the University of Oklahoma, and founder and past president of Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education; and Dena Sher, legislative counsel at the ACLU’s national office. You may register for the webinar here.
We reported on NCSE’s earlier webinar here.
The Mt. Vernon Board of Education’s attorneys have filed a memo in opposition to John Freshwater’s motion to the Ohio Supreme Court to reconsider his case. The memo essentially argues that Freshwater has nothing new in his motion for reconsideration, no new evidence or arguments, but is merely a rehash of his previous claims, and therefore it should be denied. It argues on the same grounds on which the Court made its decision, that the case for Freshwater’s insubordination is sufficient by itself to uphold Freshwater’s termination.
A couple months ago, Richard Hoppe and I blogged about the lawsuit brought by a creationist group against the state of Kansas, alleging that teaching real science to students violates the First Amendment by “indoctrinating” them with ideas that might make them question their religious training. State officials today filed a motion to dismiss that lawsuit, which you can read here. It’s a very strong motion–the most important parts are pages 28-43–so I don’t have much to add. Kansas is clearly in the right and deserves easily to win this motion. More at the NCSE’s site.
Here’s some reading material for you: A new article by Chris Mooney, posted at Mother Jones, argues that we have certain psychological dispositions that make it easier for us to accept religion than evolution. Larry Moran was not impressed with the article. Neither was Jerry Coyne. But I think the article was a bit better than they suggest, and I make my case in this post over at EvolutionBlog. Comments may be left there. Enjoy!
The Honors program at the University of Central Florida has a documentary film class whose previous projects have been well-received. Now, they are crowdsourcing funding for their latest project, “Filthy Dreamers”. This one is about antievolution efforts in Florida following the 1925 Scopes trial.
In the late 1920’s a controversy sparked about the teaching of evolution to women students at Florida State Women’s College. Nearly 100 years later, public figures and activists are still trying to control curriculum in public schools, colleges and universities. The students enrolled in this Honors class through the University of Central Florida aim to educate and inform our viewers about the long history of censorship in the classrooms, the libraries and around the campus.
Please check it out.
|By Gaylen Rathburn, via Wikimedia Commons|
I was excited to learn today that there is genome sequence for the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus)!! A friend wondered why I was so excited, asking, “Is it evolutionarily interesting?”
Well, first off, I’ve always been fascinated with manatees: they are so defenseless, and yet grow so large that they are rarely predated on. They are, however, especially susceptible to human-made water vessels. I am excited for their genome because I’ve always loved them. But, they are also pretty evolutionarily awesome.
I am a little bit late reporting this, but Josh Rosenau reported on November 26,
It’s a joy to be able to report on a sweeping victory for science education in Texas, and to be able to give an eyewitness report of the fight over the textbooks that will be used in that massive textbook market for years to come. The 2009 battle over Texas science standards made it quite possible that the textbooks adopted last week would be riddled with creationist claims, or would give creationist board members a toehold to demand that publishers rewrite their books or be left off of the state’s approved list. In the end, the books available to students will be solid, accurate, and honest about evolution and climate change.
Nice video here, along with a sky map telling you where to look in the early morning. Instructions for viewing it in daylight here – wear sunglasses and take their advice to use a stationary object, not your thumb, to block the sun. And latest images here. I am going out now with my trusty camera and looking for a lamp post, but it may be too close to the sun already.
Update: Here is a remarkable picture from the Nasa site above, taken on November 25.
The Rutherford Institute, acting on behalf of John Freshwater, has filed a motion for reconsideration with the Ohio Supreme Court. On a first fast scan, the main argument seems to be that the Court erred in giving weight to Freshwater’s insubordination as opposed to the constitutional issues alleged in his appeal, and that in doing so, the Court somehow made it easier to fire teachers in general. The motion even quotes a comment on my previous post, though with a bad link.
I may have more to say about the motion later.
25 years ago, according to a recent article in Science magazine, Richard Lenski put samples of E. coli bacteria into a dozen flasks filled with a solution of glucose and other nutrients, incubated them, stirred them, and every day removed 1 % and repeated the process, day after day, for 25 years (except for a brief interruption when he moved from one university to another). The author of the article, Elizabeth Pennisi, notes that Lenski’s bacteria
A number of people across the web have posted their memories of where they were the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Mine is short: I was at sea aboard the ship of the U.S. Navy that he visited less than a week before he was shot.
The National Center for Science Education has just announced a webinar on what to do when science comes under attack. Details below the fold.
By a narrow 4-3 vote, the Ohio Supreme Court today affirmed (pdf) the termination of John Freshwater as a science teacher in the Mt. Vernon, Ohio, city schools. That brings to an end more than 2,000 days of administrative hearings and court proceedings in the case. In her opinion for the majority, Chief Justice O’Connor concluded that
After detailed review of the voluminous record in this case, we hold that the court of appeals did not err in affirming the termination. The trial court properly found that the record supports, by clear and convincing evidence, Freshwater’s termination for insubordination in failing to comply with orders to remove religious materials from his classroom. Accordingly, based on our resolution of this threshold issue, we need not reach the constitutional issue of whether Freshwater impermissibly imposed his religious beliefs in his classroom. We affirm the judgment of the court of appeals because there was ample evidence of insubordination to justify the termination decision.
I have a few comments on the decision below the fold. There’s a comprehensive story on the decision at Court News Ohio.