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Exploring Life’s Origins

The Museum of Science in Boston has a great new website up called Exploring Life’s Origins.  The site, which is visually stunning, showcases the work of Janet Iwasa, a 2006-2008 NSF Discovery Corps Postdoctoral Fellow and Jack Szostak and his laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital.

There are three main sections – A Timeline of Life’s Evolution, Understanding the RNA World and
Building a Protocell.  The Resources for Educators section allows you to download the movies (which are available under a Creative Commons (Non-Commercial, No Derivatives) license – basically they’re free to use for non-commercial purposes as long as you give proper attribution.

H/T Panda’s Thumb.


Yeah, I’ve been in hiding for the last week and a half.  Or busy.  Or something.  And there’s nothing like an enforced absence to get you out of the habit.  (Blogging is, more than anything else, a habit.)  But I’m back and well-rested.

(So many times you come across a defunct blog in which the last post is “I’m back, I’ve been gone for a while but…”  This will not be such a post.  At the very least there will be another, more recent post.)

Physics for Biologists?

The discovery of gravity from The Scientific Cartoonist.

H/T Las Penas del Agente Smith.

Is Expelled a ploy to promote interracial dating?

Most people see the intelligent design movie Expelled as a crude piece of propaganda meant to attack evolution.  Knights of the Ku Klux Klan leader Thomas Robb has a different take on it.

Like most mainstream reviewers, Robb points out that it’s wrong to blame Darwin for what the Nazis did.  Where he differs from most other critics of Expelled is in what he sees the real message behind the movie.  He sees associating racism with evolution as a slur on racism.

That’s a different take on things…

The importance of habitat area in conservation: a look at the species-area relationship

Species conservation has always been intimately linked with the idea of habitat conservation. While habitat quality determines the amount of habitat required to protect a viable population of a given species, it’s only a modifier – the determining factor is area. Habitat quality can determine whether you need more or less area, but area is still the critical factor. While protected areas can be set aside for specific species, more commonly protected areas seek to protect as many species as possible. More land is likely to protect more species, but there are other factors that influence conservation decisions like the cost of land acquisition and the competing interests such as agriculture, mining or housing development.

One way to maximise the number of species in a protected area is to include as many habitat types as possible. If you include a forest, a meadow, a marsh and a lake in your protected area, you are likely to get a lot more species than you would if you only had forest habitat. The heterogeneity of the area increases the number of species. (After all, you don’t find a lot of fish in a pine forest, or field mice in a lake.) But again, this overlays a simple factor of area. A larger tract of forest will probably have more species than a smaller tract of forest. A larger section of a marsh will probably have more species than a smaller section of marsh. This fact, known as the species-area relationship is fundamental in both ecology and conservation biology. The existence of a relationship between species richness and area is obvious to anyone who has taken the time to think about it, but it is still interesting enough that it has attracted the attention of generations of ecologists.

[Read the rest of the post at ScientificBlogging]

This is the first in a series of posts in which I plan to examine one of the fundamental concepts in ecology – the species-area relationship


The 16th edition of the ecology blog carnival Oekologie is up at ScientificBlogging.  Go, read – there’s lots of good stuff, as usual.

USAF plans to create zombies for use in warfare

Apparently, the US Air Forces wants to infect your computer with a trojan to use it if needed for cyberwarfare. You mean they haven’t done so already? Joshua Zelinksy looks at some of problems with their plans to create an army of zombie computers (yeah, sorry, zombie computers, not the other kind).

Update: OK, so I was wrong (see Joshua’s comment below), but it’s still a fun headline. 🙂