Ancient fertility rite or early football? Bottle-kicking

Bottle-Kicking, originally uploaded by Documentally.

I found this story on flickr in the form of a photodocumentary of an old village custom.

The full story is at “Bottle-kicking in Hallaton.”

Baby pygmy marmoset on finger

Baby Marmoset on Finger, originally uploaded by balisane.

This is the cutest animal on the internets! A marmoset is a small monkey. But I had no idea they were so small!

Ah, these are pygmy marmosets, the smallest monkeys in the world. The photo of a monkey clinging to a finger is from the Everland Zoo and Theme Park in South Korea, which had a safari theme park in the 1970s.

The Lakes Aquarium, near Newby in the U.K., has baby twin marmosets. The babies spend most of their time riding on their father’s back. The father hands them over to their mother for nursing.

First transgenic primates

Four marmosets, whose parents were given a gene to create green fluorescence, have been born with the gene. That makes them the first artificially transgenic primates. `


The image shows These marmosets are the first transgenic primates. Here are the baby pictures of a: Hisui (Jade), b: Wakaba (Young Leaf), c: Banko, d: left, Kei; right, Kou. Insets show one of each baby’s paws (right) beside the paw of a nontransgenic marmoset under ultraviolet light. Except for Banko, the transgenic animals make green fluorescent protein in their skin.
(Image credit: E.Sasaki et al., 2009, in Nature)

Assumptions and illusions

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
If you think you know something and it’s not true, that can lead you to scary conclusions. You can think you’re seeing ghosts. Or that God is reading your mind. Or that a healthy attitude can cure cancer.

Commentary: God delusions cloud a world of wonders

Michael Coulter writes in The Age,

…What I see is a world slowly tearing itself apart for the sake of one faith or another. A world where an extreme faction of Islam wishes to put me and mine to the sword for my unbelief, and to shackle half the world for the crime of being born female. A world where an extreme faction of Christianity wants to throw away science for the sake of millenniums-old superstitions, and is prepared to kill in the name of life. A world where an extreme faction of Hinduism wishes to religiously purify India. A world where people are unashamedly trying to fulfil the biblical conditions for Armageddon.

Moderates say that these factions are perversions of faith…

Read more of “God delusions cloud a world of wonders.”

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U.S. watch: the summer of shove

Al Giordano comments on U.S. President Obama, who he says is just now starting to turn from a crisis agenda forced on him by the mismanagement by previous governments, to fulfilling his own campaign promises for the health of the U.S. people and of the world.

Obama 2008

U-Haul graphics

Nevada has an Area 51 stealth plane, Newfoundland has a giant squid, and Illinois has a Cambrian Explosion monster: uhaul-sg-illinois


“llinois once lay near the equator on the supercontinent of Pangea and was home to unique creatures. How did the strip mining of Illinois’ coal deposits reveal the secret of the Tully Monster?”

The Tully Monster, discovered in 1958 in the Mazon Creek Lagerstaaten and named Tullimonstrum gregarium in 1966, is the state fossil of Illinois. Many have been found, but so far the Tully Monster is unique to Illinois. It dates back about 300 million years. We do not know what phylum it fits into. Its shape recalls the Anomalocaris, but that disappeared 100 million years earlier. Of course, with fossilization of soft-bodied organisms being so rare, perhaps it is a descendant of Anomalocaris!

Origin of the Immune System

Science 1 May 2009:
Vol. 324. no. 5927, pp. 580 – 582
DOI: 10.1126/science.324_580

On the Origin of the Immune System
John Travis

“The elucidation of VDJ recombination gradually exposed immunology’s big bang, recalls David Schatz of the Yale School of Medicine. By 1990, he and other colleagues then working in David Baltimore’s lab at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge had identified two genes essential to VDJ recombination, RAG1 and RAG2 (for recombination-activating genes). Sharks and all the other jawed vertebrates with adaptive immunity have these genes, but all the evidence at the time indicated that hagfish, lampreys, and invertebrates didn’t. So, where did RAG1 and RAG2 come from?

Several clues, including that the two genes are located immediately next to each other, prompted Schatz and his colleagues to wonder whether the pair had once been part of a DNA recombination system in fungi or viruses that got incorporated into vertebrates. As immunologists teased out what the proteins encoded by the two did, they realized the molecules are the scissors and knitting needles that cut out all but one V, D, and J and stitch those remaining three gene segments together.

In 1995, Craig Thompson, then at the University of Chicago in Illinois, formally proposed that the DNA now encoding RAG1 and RAG2 was once a mobile genetic element called a transposon. Transposons can cut themselves out of one DNA sequence and stick themselves back in another, so immunologists could envision those skills being co-opted to recombine V, D, and J gene segments. In this “transposon hypothesis,” Thompson suggested that at some point after jawed and jawless vertebrates split into two branches, about 450 million years ago, a transposon invaded the former lineage, perhaps brought in by a virus that infected a germ cell. Boom—the enzymes that would ultimately provide adaptive immunity, by creating diverse antibodies and T cell receptors, were now in place and could mutate into that new role.

Many research teams began trying to verify the transposon hypothesis. In 1998, for example, Schatz’s team and one led by Martin Gellert of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, independently showed that the enzymes encoded by RAG1 and RAG2 could, in addition to cutting out DNA sequences, actually insert one stretch of DNA into another. In a commentary in Nature, immunologist Ronald Plasterk of the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam expressed the awe of many at this solid evidence of the transposon hypothesis. “We may owe our existence to one transposition event that occurred 450 million years ago,” he wrote.”

VDJ are different variable, diversity, and joining genes that generate incredible diversity in immunoglobulin (Cellular Immunology blog) and thus in our immune systems. RAG1 and RAG2 are recombination activating genes.

The VDJ recombination mechanism in jawed vertebrates is catalyzed by the RAG1 and RAG2 proteins, which are believed to have emerged approximately 500 million years ago from transposon-encoded proteins. Although no transposase sequence similar to RAG1 or RAG2 has been found, the approximately 600-amino acid “core” region of RAG1 required for its catalytic activity is significantly similar to the transposase encoded by DNA transposons that belong to the Transib superfamily. It has been demonstrated that recombination signal sequences (RSSs) were derived from terminal inverted repeats of an ancient Transib transposon. Furthermore, the critical DDE catalytic triad of RAG1 is shared with the Transib transposase as part of conserved motifs.[r] These findings refute one of [Michael] Behe’s claims for irreducible complexity of complex biochemical features.

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