Creativity unleashed

22 11 2009

I mentioned in my last school post (the one about set ups), that I’d used a modified version of The Future Is Wild‘s animal design activity.

While TFiW is more focused on evolution and decent with modification, my class was currently focusing on a more ecological unit – what roles do different organisms have in an ecosystem, how do they interact and how do we classify them.

Previous lessons had gone through self-made classification schemes, traditional classification schemes (e.g. The Classical Greek), and scientific classification schemes. The two scientific classification schemes were taught in my classes. Read the rest of this entry »





Advice to Teachers of Science

5 06 2009

From the New South Wales Government.

Excellent!:

In developing the NSW Science curriculum, the Board of Studies undertook extensive consultation with experts in the field to ensure that content, including that relating to evolution, would be consistent with accepted scientific knowledge and understanding.

The Board wishes to remind teachers that Creationism and Intelligent Design are not part of the Board’s Science syllabuses. If taught as part of any school-based program, it must be clear to students that Creationism and Intelligent Design:

  1. are not scientific, nor evidence-based
  2. will not be included in any task that forms part of the assessment of student achievement for the award of the School Certificate or Higher School Certificate
  3. will not be tested in any School Certificate or Higher School Certificate examination and will not be relevant to any response to School Certificate or Higher School Certificate questions.

Effective: Immediately

[Colouring added]

Note: Intelligent Design has not been banned from schools. But teachers must make it clear that they are not scientific or evidence based – and that will be irrelevant to any assessment or examination.

Given the ID crowd’s penchant for mandatory disclaimers, maybe they won’t be upset about this (and then I wake up).

Any comments on this mandate?





Zombie genetics

22 04 2009

Last month there was an interesting genetics story about the discovery of the zombie gene (or “Jesus gene”*).

IRGM, which may or may not be involved in Crohn’s disease, appears to have reactivated in humans after becoming degraded in our ancestors around 25 million years ago.

It is really interesting – perhaps mostly because we can now actually show that this is the case, and guesstimate an era like 25MYA as the original inactivation.

I don’t think its quite as surprising as its being made out to be. It makes plenty of sense given what we know about how genetics evolve. It’s not too inconceivable that if genes can become inactive through random mutation, that so to can inactive genes become re-activated through a similar process.

Just because a gene is inactivated doesn’t exactly mean it’s going to go straight to gobbleygook. By not actually contributing anymore, that gene has effectively removed itself from any selective pressure – including negative. It won’t be selected to become more inactivated. There is no benefit for an organism to scramble the signal any further.

Actually this discovery might show that their is some benefit in not deliberately scrambling genes that aren’t currently expressed. But is that a benefit that selection can act upon?

—–

*everyone knows Jesus isn’t real though, right, kids?





Darwin day: Rational selection

14 02 2009

With the BlogForDarwin blogswarm coming to a close, here are a few selected stories.

While no head-mounted lascannon, Darwin had a magic hammer. Was he a mortal incarnation of the mighty Thor? You’ll find in this post at Life Science Tools of the Trade further evidence incriminating Darwin as a single minded rare-species killing machine (and that he did it in full knowledge that the fox was a rare inhabitant of the island). Luckily(?) the dodo was already extinct 100 years by the time Chuck D was roaming the seas “collecting specimens”.

Christie (I avoid the N-word where I can) elegantly posits why Darwin day is a good idea, but that good biologists are not “Darwinists”. Science works and *ahem* evolves beyond original concepts.

It’s not that Darwin was wrong, as some feeble-minded magazine cover designers have purported. It’s that he wasn’t complete.

Deep Thoughts and Silliness plays it a little less diplomatically, stating Darwin WAS Wrong.

John Wilkins uses a comprimise: Darwin was wrong…ish. And also points out that some of “Darwinism” that has been shown to be wrong wasn’t even Darwin’s work anyway.

Faith In Honest doubt had an interesting post last year, but has decided this year to point out someone else shares Darwin’s exact birthdate.





Kangaroo sequences, cocaininated bees and stupid robots

30 12 2008

Here’s a rapid fire dump of some stories that remain in my “to post” box.

Yes, one’s that are trying to get away.





i am a fish

16 12 2008

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Sorry.

I just finished this fantastic book.

Go. Find it. And learn.

Jellyfish have eyes. Your nipples are teeth. Tadpoles hiccup to survive.

Oh … and just how evolution means you are undeniably linked to every single other living thing that is, was, and ever will exist.

Stars a certain transitional fossil. I just lost the game.

Nathan has a review of Your Inner Fish in this month’s Critical Mass (Sydney Atheists’ newsletter)

Further apologies would also go to Arnold J Rimmer, if he wasn’t such a smeghead.





Russian moths “vant to suck your blood”

4 11 2008

… because it helps them get laid.

Human blood is apparently some sort of horny-goat-weed for Lepidoptera apparently.

The story has been everywhere. Everywhere! Nothing could be more halloweeny than a vampire blood-sucking moth. Hattip is going to Zooillogix, cos I saw it there first.

The blood sucking moth does not digest the blood. Repeat: It does not feed on the blood. No actual haemophagy.

So it is very “transitional form” about it. The exact function for sucking blood is not yet understood. The “it’s to feed the babies” answer does sound a bit pulled-out-of-my-ass, but I’m not an entymologist.

Only male moths exhibit blood-feeding, she noted, raising the possibility that as in some species of butterflies and other moths, the Russian moths do it to pass on salt to females during copulation.

See it is all sex’s fault that nature does weird things.

Whatever the ecological motivation for the adaption is, it is very cool to be able to “see” an evolutionary stepping stone from a flower-feeding apparatus to one that can also suck blood (I’m assuming they are still eating nectar, right?).

Morphological adaptions do not start out being used the way they end up being used. Organs are co-opted, un-opted and re-opted to new and exciting purposes throughout the ages. Our ear bones were once jaw bones. Spider silk was originally developed as bedding insulation. And for all we know, we may actually be the a larval form of some unbeknownst higher being that lives far too long to ever reach metamorphosis. Oh yes. I just blew your freaking mind.