Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Tiger Snakes Won the Venom Wars

Australian Eastern tiger snake

Source: Wikipedia
Why tiger snakes are on a winner - UQ News - The University of Queensland, Australia.

Venomous snakes make interesting subjects for study in that they represent an example of a complex evolutionary arms race which can be traced in their venom. This is often a complex mixture of related but subtly different chemicals, often coded for by genes which are themselves subtly different versions of one another.

The arms race is due to snakes usually preying on a range of prey species, each of which has selection pressure to evolve resistance to the snakes venom. But, if the snake merely responded to one prey's resistance by changing it's venom, this might be less effective against another of its prey species, so there is evolutionary pressure on the snake to retain it's 'older' venom but supplement it with a newer version as well. This occurs by gene duplication, then mutation of the 'spare' copy.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Seriously Christians? Really?!

Joshua 'stopping the sun'.
There are actually adults who believe the sun can stand still and performs strange manoeuvres in the sky!

Not just that but they believe these could be visible only in a small village or town, and non-one else on Earth would see them!

Seriously! There are actual grown ups who believe the following:

Then spake Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day. And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the LORD hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the Lord fought for Israel. And Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, unto the camp to Gilgal. But these five kings fled, and hid themselves in a cave at Makkedah.

Joshua 10:12-17

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Retracing the First Americans' Footsteps

Postglacial viability and colonization in North America’s ice-free corridor | Nature

One of the enduring mysteries of the story of the human migration into North America is the exact route taken and the timing of the migration(s). There is now no real doubt that North America was populated first with a subsequent rapid spread into Central and South America, and that the people came from Siberia via the Beringia; the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska, the remnants of which are the Aleutian Islands.

Looking south through what was once the “ice-free corridor” in present-day Canada. A new study suggests that humans couldn’t have traversed through the corridor until about 12,600 years ago - too late to have been the route taken by the first inhabitants of North America.

Credit: Mikkel Winther Pedersen

Now the relatively new techniques for recovering and analysing environmental DNA (eDNA) is helping to fill in these gaps.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Dinosaur Extinction? It Was Them Gays Who Caused It!


Anthony Othman, paleontologist,
Curator at the Creation Museum, Petersburg, Kentucky
‘Homosexuality Led to Extinction of Dinosaurs’, Claims Top Scientist – World News Daily Report

[Update] This turned out to be a satirical item.

The fundamentalist Christian unhealthy obsession with homosexuality took a slightly unusual turn a few days ago.

Instead of blaming the latest earthquake, hurricane, tsunami, terrorist attack, influenza outbreak or forest fire on homosexuality, the curator of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, palaeontologist, Anthony Othman has a new theory; dinosaur extinction was caused by homosexuals!

No! Really! Read on.

Just Another (Not) Missing Link!

Chilesaurus diegosuarezi, from the Late Jurassic period.

Artist's impression. Photograph: Gabriel L O/AFP/Getty Images
Chilesaurus and Ornithischia | Biology Letters

One of the mysteries of dinosaur evolution has been explained. It's another of those 'missing' links! It's a transitional species between two major groups of dinosaur - the herbivorous species like stegosaurus and the carnivores like T. rex.

Publishing in Biology Letter Matthew G. Baron of the Department of Earth Science, Cambridge University, UK and Paul M. Barrett of the Natural History Museum, have shown that a dinosaur from the Late Jurassic, found in Chile, formerly believed to be a theropod dinosaur turned vegetarian, is actually the stem species that was the progenitor of two quite different groups - the saurischians and the ornithischians.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Creationism In Crisis. A Notion With No Practical Use

Scientists Map Sex Chromosome Evolution in Fungi | Duke Today

Chemical profile of ants adapts quickly to selection pressure

I won't call creationism a theory in crisis because that would be giving it a scientific standing far about what it deserves. It's a notion; a guess with no supporting evidence; an idea with no practical application other than making a few deeply ignorant people feel important enough.

A point I've made several time recently, but which I'll repeat again for those who may have missed it, science, especially biological, geological, archaeological and cosmological science, daily and routinely refutes creationism without the slightest effort or intent simply by reporting the facts.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Just Another of Those Mythical 'Missing Links'

Alesi, the skull of the new extinct ape species Nyanzapithecus alesi (KNM-NP 59050).

Photo © Fred Spoor
The Leakey Foundation | New 13 million-year-old infant skull sheds light on ape ancestry

It's another bad week for creationism. Is there ever a good week?

Close on the report of the earliest known primate fossil we now have the remarkably complete skull of an infant who lived 13 million years ago in what is now Kenya, and which is close to the common ancestor of the hominids and the other African apes. It gives us a fairly good idea of what the last common ancestor would have looked like.

The skull was found by fossil hunter John Ekusi in 13 million year-old rock layers in the Napudet area, west of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya; a formation that is easy to date reliably because of the activity of a nearby volcano. The skull, along with forest trees, was buried by volcanic ash, showing that they were buried during the same catastrophic event.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Evolution! Now a Theory With Teeth!

Chupkaornis keraorum.
Credit: Masato Hattori
Amateur collectors in Japan discover country's first and oldest fossil diving bird -- ScienceDaily

As a keen fossil hunter in my early days, I dreamed of finding something more than the usual marine shells - the muscles, oysters, bivalves and marine snails that are common in North Oxfordshire limestone deposits - so I can imagine how two Japanese fossil-hunting brothers, Masatoshi and Yasuji Kera, on the island of Hokkaido must have felt when they found nine skeletal elements of what turned out to be the oldest early Asian diving bird.

Fossils of these birds are relatively common in the Northern Hemisphere, but this is the first to be found in Asia and the first from the easterm margin of the Eurasian continent.

Another Intermediate Gap-Filling Fossil!

3-D images of Archicebus achilles.

Image credit: ESRF/P. Tafforeau. Source: ESRF News.
The oldest known primate skeleton and early haplorhine evolution : Nature : Nature Research

I'm thinking of starting another blog called Filling The Gaps. There are just too many examples of these 'missing' fossils to include in this one without it coming to resemble a blog devoted to nothing else.

These examples of things creationists insist are missing being found and described by science are almost a daily occurrence from the field of biology alone. If science was bothered about creationism and scientists felt they still needed to prove evolution and disprove creationism there would probably be several scientific journals called something like the Journal of Creation Falsification or Journal of Evolution, but of course it isn't needed because science has no such need.

There is a reason creationism is absolutely obsessed with falsifying and misrepresenting science and presenting science as some sort of vast conspiracy theory or based on false assumptions and therefore invalid - unless it can be made to appears to support creationism, then it's conclusive and irrefutable, of course.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Winning The Mammoth War.

On the Menu: Mammoth and Plenty of Raw Vegetables - Early modern humans consumed more plants than Neanderthals but ate very little fish

How fast science progresses!

Not long ago we weren't even sure how and where Neanderthals fitted in the human family tree. Were they ancestors of modern Europeans? Were they just a regional variant; a subspecies; a different species entirely? Did they or could they interbreed with modern humans?

Now most of those questions have been answered with some degree of confidence, and not a few surprises, thanks to DNA analysis, and we're just left with questions about how, why and exactly when anatomically modern humans replaced Neanderthals across western Eurasia.

Was it our superior technology? Hardly. We both used stone tools and hunted with spears. Was it our higher intelligence? Our brains are actually smaller but maybe organised differently, so maybe we could learn and adapt more quickly? Was it a better social organisation? Neanderthals seem to have lived in small, relatively isolated family groups in which incestuous breeding was common if not normal. Did this lead to genetic weaknesses accumulating? Did it mean hunting large game was more difficult with fewer numbers?

Saturday, 5 August 2017

100 Million Year-Old Flower

The ancestral flower was bisexual with multiple whorls (concentric cycles) of petal-like organs, in sets of threes.

Copyright: Hervé Sauquet/Jürg Schönenberger.
What flowers looked like 100 million years ago.

Flowering plants are by far the most diverse group of plants comprising so 300,000 different species. They were, however, late on the scene in evolutionary terms, only evolving some 140 million years ago.

This puts their evolution towards the end of the age of dinosaurs in the Cretaceous, when the ancestors of mammals were still mammaliform synapsids. The evolution of the first flowering plants is one of those enduring mysteries for evolution to explains, Darwin himself referring to it as "an abominable mystery".

Now an new study coordinated by Juerg Schoenenberger from the University of Vienna and Hervé Sauquet of the Université Paris-Sud has shed more than a little light on what the first flowers looked like. The same study has also reconstructed what flowers at the key divergence point looked like.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Just Another Example of the 'Impossible' Happening

An illustration shows nanocrystals assembling into an ordered ‘superlattice’ – a process that a SLAC/Stanford team was able to observe in real time with X-rays from the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL).

Illustration: Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
Scientists Watch ‘Artificial Atoms’ Assemble into Perfect Lattices with Many Uses.

One of the major problems that creationism suffers from is that so many of its claims are demonstrably untrue and can be seen to be untrue.

The leading frauds are acutely aware of that problem so have a work-around for it. They tell their followers that if the evidence tells them their beliefs are wrong, the evidence must be wrong because their beliefs can't be. Then they witter on about 'evidence' and try to mislead people about it as though it does matter after all. They must be the only people who call themselves scientists but argue you should ignore evidence unless you can persuade yourself it agrees with you.

Here, for example, is an example of scientists watching something happen that creationists insist doesn't happen. They watched order (and a high degree of order) emerge out of chaos.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Unintelligent Design - Silly Goose!

I took this photo today, in a park in Oxford. It shows why intelligent design is a stupid idea.

The white goose is almost certainly a hybrid between an Egyptian goose, Alopochen aegyptiaca, and a feral domestic goose. Domestic white gees in Britain are mostly a variety of greylag goose, Anser anser domesticus, so this strange looking goose is a probably a hybrid between the Egyptian and the greylag goose. The give-away is the strange-looking eyes that look spectacled from a distance, the pale brown wing feathers - not obvious in this photo (this one wasn't completely white) - and the long, pink legs.

It is highly unlikely that this was simply a leucistic Egyptian goose. It was also on it's own, not with the typical small group that Egyptian geese are normally seen in. Egyptian geese are believed to be related to the shelduck and so come somewhere between the ducks and geese. They were introduced as an ornamental bird into the UK and have become established in Norfolk, the only place I have seen them before. They have since spread to the Thames Valley (my son has seen them on the Thames).

Incidentally, the other geese in this photograph are Canada geese, an introduced species that has become widespread and which also interbreeds with 'local' geese.

But why does this show how intelligent design is a stupid idea?

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Tardigrades Give Up Their Secrets

Comparative genomics of the tardigrades Hypsibius dujardini and Ramazzottius varieornatus | PLOS Biology

There is something appealing about a tardigrade! There is a certain air of mystery about them - like, for instance, what on Earth are they?

They are justly famous for their ability to withstand just about any extreme environmental conditions other than extreme heat. They are just a few millimetres long and can withstand years of dehydration, being blown about in dust; they can withstand years of freezing. They can even go into space and withstand ionising radiation. They will live in your guttering through a long, hot dry summer, apparently lifeless, and within a few minutes of it raining, will be crawling about happily as though nothing has happened.

Until this study we weren't even sure where they fitted in with the rest of the animal kingdom. Were they primitive or degenerate arthropods; were they nematode worms with legs or some other distinct multicellular organism on a branch of their own? Well, actually, they are related to both nematodes and arthropods, distantly. The question was which are they closest to? The study doesn't settle the matter but it sheds a lot more light on the subject.

Friday, 28 July 2017

DNA Study Shows Bible is Fiction

Researchers sequenced whole genomes from five Canaanites skeletons found in Sidon, Lebanon.
Photo Credit: Ali Hashisho/Reuters/Newscom
Ancient DNA counters biblical account of the mysterious Canaanites | Science | AAAS

We've known for a long time that the supposed 'history' in the Old Testament is mostly, if not completely, fiction, and I'm not just talking about the frankly ludicrous creation myths in the opening chapters.

As Silberman and Finkelstein showed in The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts, not only did the events described in Exodus never happen but nor did the destruction of the cities and the Canaanite genocide. Indeed, the Bible contains evidence of its own inaccuracy, being clearly written by people who did not know the history of the times in which they set their tales. Briefly, and by no means exhaustively:

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Good Old Biblical Slavery - In The USA Today!

The Word of Faith Fellowship church in Sao Joaquim de Bicas, Brazil.
(AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
They kept us as slaves: AP reveals claims against church

The North Caroline megachurch, Word of Faith Fellowship, can't be accused of not being a traditional Christian fundamentalist church.

The sect, founded by Jane Whaley, a former math teacher, and her husband Sam, uses slaves taken from Brazil to work for the church and in the businesses owned by it's senior ministers. These slaves are trafficked from Brazil, as a Associated Press investigation has revealed. They are attracted to the USA by a branch of the World of Faith cult in Sao Joaquim de Bicas, Brazil and enter the USA on tourists and student visas.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Research Spits On Creationism!


In saliva, scientists have found hints that a “ghost” species of archaic human may have contributed genetic material to ancestors of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa today.

Image credit: Bob Wilder/University at Buffalo.
Archaic hominin introgression in Africa contributes to functional salivary MUC7 genetic variation | Molecular Biology and Evolution | Oxford Academic.

As an example of how divorced religion is from reality, these examples of archaic hominids interbreeding with other hominid species take some beating.

The Abrahamic superstitions require people to believe in a single founder couple from whom everyone alive is directly descended and from whom we have inherited some notional 'original sin' for which we need to constantly atone and beg for forgiveness.

The reality of course is that not only was there never such a single founder human couple but there was not even a single founder human species. The reality is that we are hybrids of three or more species who occasionally interchanged genes and that for a large part of our recent evolutionary history we behaved like an incompletely speciated 'ring species' as an example of evolution in progress.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

'Loving' Christians Trade Insults Over Reforms

General Synod of the CofE, York.
Photo credit: Reuters

Leading evangelical condemns CofE General Synod: 'God's word was mocked openly' | Christian News on Christian Today.

A failing group will normally turn inwards, degenerating further into mutually recriminating factions. This is no less true of the 'loving' Anglicans currently showing brotherly and sisterly love by trading insults over the latest attempt to reform their cult to try to halt the haemorrhage of members.

The vitriol also illustrates the problems faced by a dogma-driven cult as it tries to reform to attract back the former members to whom it has become increasingly irrelevant and who have left in disgust at its abuse of minorities. The decreasing number of moderates comes up against an increasingly large proportion of vocal extremists trying to retain their traditional dogmas.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Persecution and Martyrdom Special!




Is Christianity in crisis? Our survey reveals 9 out of 10 ordinary Christians feel marginalised

As Christianity continues to dwindle into a minority cult in the UK, and as more and more of its privileges are lost, so the whining about persecution, coupled with that old craving for martyrdom gets louder.

This collective whine was revealed in the results of a survey by Premier published last Sunday. The full survey is freely available as a pdf file here but be warned, you'll need to give your name and email address before you can access it.

The reality is of course that Christians in the UK enjoy precisely the same legal rights as anyone else regardless of their faith or lack of it. Rights and privileges are not granted on the basis of membership of a particular church or faith group in the UK anymore; they are granted on the basis of a shared humanity. There are not Christian rights, Atheist rights, Jewish rights or Muslim rights; there are only human rights.

But this survey shows that isn't enough for Christians. Christians feel persecuted if they're not granted the privileges to which they feel entitled. They are not granted the right to state mythology and prejudice as facts and not have them challenged. They're not granted the right to publicly condemn, abuse and persecute others for not sharing their chosen life-style. They're not granted the privilege to 'share' their superstition in the workplace and be quietly and respectfully listened to as they spout their bigotry and tell others that they're morally inferior and will be condemned to Hell.

Religions in the workplace do nothing but spread division, disharmony and isolation. The law requires employers to provide a healthy and safe working environment in which the Human Rights of all employees and visitors are safeguarded. No faith group is entitled to a special dispensation to pretend to occupy some notional moral high-ground with sanctimonious posturing and condemning others as morally inferior. Using what is in effect a captive audience to preach to is an abuse.

Typical of the judgemental sanctimony of the Christian church was the reaction of the Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford:

[B]elievers should not be surprised or downhearted when the sheer beauty of the Gospel is a shock and an affront to a fallen world. The world has never been in accord with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and we've always had the challenge that we need to live it and share it.

I have a book and it entitles me to tell other, lesser, mortals how to live! Ironically, this is exactly the sort of hypocritical judgmentalism that drives people away from a church that spouts this while covering up and facilitating clerical abuse of children, while wining about being treated the way it would like to treat others.

Christians are still vastly over-represented in positions of power in the UK in comparison to their dwindling numbers. No other religion has its titular head as head of state; no other religion has its leading clerics entitles to a seat in the upper chamber of our legislature and no other religion has its senior clerics appointed by the head of government on behalf of the head of state. Culturally we are still expected to defer to the moral authority of someone because he or she has an imaginary friend and dresses in robes and a silly hat.

If Christians feel marginalised then they only have themselves to blame. It's by and large their holier-than-thou judgemental sanctimony and hypocrisy that has driven so many people away from the church. The struggle to emancipate women into the priesthood and their continuing difficulty with accepting members of the LGBT community as entitled to the full range of Human Rights has rightly marginalised the Christian church in UK society. They have done this, not anyone else. The attitude of Christian bigots towards minorities has itself made them a minority now whining wrongly that they are being treated the way tho openly treated minorities themselves.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Oops! Another 'Non-existent' Beneficial Mutation!

The sex chromosome Z of male zebra finches comes in two variants. Males who possess a copy of these variant each have particular reproductive success.

© MPI f. Ornithology
Mutation speeds up sperm of zebra finches | Max Planck Society

For anyone who still imagines creationism is based on real-world facts and observable evidence, this little factoid should go some way to dispelling that myth.

It is yet another example of one of those beneficial mutations that creationists tell us don't and can't exist - usually followed by some garbled nonsense about information theory and thermodynamics that isn't recognisable as real science or even real information theory.
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