New movie: The Flying Scotsman

The Flying Scotsman is an interesting book about the solitary achievement of a Scottish cyclist. Now, it has been made into a movie. Graeme Obree won on a home-made bicycle.

Here’s a movie database entry.

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Tangled Bank #81 at Behavioral Ecology Blog

Take a lunch hour to pop over and read the latest science and medicine news at Behavioral Ecology Blog: Tangled Bank 81.

The Festival of the Trees 12 at Arboreality

The Festival of the Trees 12 is a blog carnival (collection of blog articles) about trees, and focussing on meditation. That sounds perfect to me.

To accompany the festival, I’ll re-post an image from my garden, where the cats sleep under one outstretched branch of a MacIntosh apple tree.

Blaise Aguera y Arcas: Photosynth demo

Software architect Blaise Aguera y Arcas gives a demonstration of Microsoft Photosynth, which collects images from the Web or other sources and makes semantic and spatial connections. Seadragon is the display technology for large amounts of visual data. Photosynth is the analyzing software.

For more information, find Photosynth.

Photosynth is a collaboration between Microsoft and the University of Washington based on the groundbreaking research of Noah Snavely (UW), Steve Seitz (UW), and Richard Szeliski (Microsoft Research).

Here’s another link, from the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference.

Lysenko and Lysenkoism

I’ve been reading the reviews of Michael Behe’s The Discovery Institute’s new anti-evolution monograph, “Exploring Evolution.” Apparently it cites discredited 150-year-old drawings as evidence of current theory and controversy. It offers nothing but warmed-over creationist canards and sometimes distorted versions of evolutionary theory. There’s no mention of Designers. And not much to criticize except that it’s wrong from stem to stern.

Speaking of “theories” that don’t have much theory in them… My son was asking me about Lysenkoism yesterday. All I could remember was that it was similar to Lamarckism, in that acquired characters were supposed to be inherited. And I didn’t know much about Lysenko. He was prominent in Soviet agriculture and science for many years, he was the head of a Genetics Institute, and scientists who dared to oppose him were fired, exiled, and even killed. I didn’t even know his first name: Trofim. So I looked him up. Did you know that he reamained prominent from the 1930s to the early 1960s? Or that the physicist Andrei Sakharov spoke out against him in 1964?

(Lysenko speaking at the Kremlin in 1935. At the back (left to right) are Stanislav Kosior, Anastas Mikoyan, Andrei Andreev and the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin.)
Don’t Mikoyan and Adreev look inserted?

Another not-wholly-scientific agriculturalist was Luther Burbank. His major fault seems to have been mucking about in mad scientist mode rather than keeping records of what he was doing. I remember finding an adulatory biography of him in an old horticultural library. In it, he was credited with creating a hybrid Japanese plum… which I knew at the time would be a sterile cross. Obviously his samples got contaminated. The book also lauded Lamarck and denigrated Darwin.

Nervous system originated in sponges

The CBC has an article about “Origins of nervous system found in sponges.”

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, have discovered that while sponges remain the only multicellular animals without a nervous system, they do possess most of the genetic components of synapses, one of the essential building blocks of a nervous system.

The results are being published in PLoS ONE, a journal of the U.S. Public Library of Science.

Scientists compared the genes of a species of sponge to human genes for expressing a synapse (a connecting point between nerve cells). This suggests that the sponges developed many of the building blocks for constructing a true nervous system.

Ken Kosik, senior author and the co-director of the university’s Neuroscience Research Institute, said:

We look at the evolutionary period between sponges and cnidarians as the period when the nervous system came into existence, about 600 million years ago. It is clear that evolution was able to take this entire structure [in sponges], and, with small modifications, direct its use toward a new function.

NOTE: Fossil sponges go back to the Vendian era, about 680 million years ago. About 300 genera of fossil sponges are known. (I don’t know how many species.) See geological time line.


Going further back, the paramecium, a relatively large single-celled animal, uses the same ions as all other animals to generate coordinating signals to its thousands of cilia.

Addendum: P.Z. Myers had posted a detailed description of the discovery in terms of proteins and gene expression. He also has a nice diagram of a synapse.

Not all one kind

In 1577, William Harrison wrote “Descriptions of Britain and England” for Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles. In it he mentions

Cardan’s talk… who saith that after many generations dogs do become wolves, and contrariwise, which if it were true, then could not England be without many wolves: but nature hath set a difference between them, not only in outward form, but also inward disposition of their bones, whereof it is impossible that his assertion can be sound.

This is in the chapter, “Of our English Dogs and Their Qualities

So even in the days when Creation was the explanation, people knew that that dogs and wolves were not the same kind of animal because their skeletons differed.

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