Friday, 29 July 2022

Evolution News - Evolution of Biting in Fish Led to an Explosion of New Species

Reef Fish Evolution Driven by Biting | UC Davis

Rainbow parrotfish on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia.
Reef fish evolved the ability to feed by biting prey from surfaces relatively recently, a UC Davis study shows. The innovation has driven an explosion of evolution in reef fish.
Getty Images
One of the many fascinating aspects of evolution is the way that, when a new capability evolves, it can lead to a rapid radiation of new species as that capability opens access to new niches. For example, the evolution of flight in mammals and birds led to rapid radiation and speciation into all the bats and flying birds, respectively.

In the case of fish, the ability to bite rather than suck is a relatively recently evolved ability that led to a radiation of new species of fish that graze on surfaces such as the feeding method seen in very many different species of fish living on coral reefs, within the last 60 million years.

There may have been some biting done by teleosts before the end-Cretaceous, but our reconstructions suggest that it was very uncommon.

Katherine Corn, lead author
Graduate student
Department of Evolution and Ecology and Center for Population Biology
University of California Davis Davis, CA, USA.
In a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) recently, a research team led by Katherine Corn, of the Department of Evolution and Ecology and Center for Population Biology at the University of California at Davis, CA, USA, with colleagues from the Department of Biological Sciences, Clemson University, Clemson, SC, USA, report finding that, feeding by grazing, nibbling or gnawing food off rocks and corals didn’t appear among the teleosts (the group that includes most bony fish) until after the dinosaur-killing mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period, about 60 million years ago.

As the article by in UCDavis News by Andy Fell explains:

Saturday, 23 July 2022

Covidiot News - More Good Reasons to Have Your Children Vaccinated Against COVID-19

International study identifies risks for long COVID in children | News | University of Calgary

While to most children, COVID-19 is a relatively mild illness, a significant number become ill enough to be admitted to hospital. According to an international study led by Dr Anna Funk, PhD, an epidemiologist and University of Calgary postdoctoral fellow, of those who were hospitalised for 48 hours or more, had 4 or more symptoms at the initial Emergency Department (ED) assessment and were aged 14 years or older, 60% went on to develop 'Long Covid' and show symptoms 90 days later.

The results of the study were published yesterday in the open access Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Network Open).

According to UCalgary News:

We found that in some children, illness with COVID-19 is associated with reporting persistent symptoms after three months.

Our results suggest that appropriate guidance and followup are needed, especially for children at high risk for long COVID.

Dr. Stephen Freedman, MD, principal investigator
Paediatric emergency medicine physician
Alberta Health Services
And associate professor of medicine
Cumming School of Medicine (CSM).
The study included 1,884 children with COVID-19 who had 90-day followup. Long COVID was found in nearly 10 per cent of hospitalized children and five per cent in children discharged from the ED.

Reported rates of long COVID in adults are substantially higher than what we found in children.

Our findings can inform public health policy decision regarding COVID-19 mitigation strategies for children and screening approaches for long COVID among those with severe outcomes.

Dr. Nathan Kuppermann, MD, MPH, co-principal investigator
University of California
Davis School of Medicine, Sacramento.

Our finding that children who had multiple COVID-19 symptoms initially were at higher risk for long COVID is consistent with studies in adults.

Unfortunately, there are no known therapies for long COVID in children and more research is needed in this area. However, if symptoms are significant, treatment targeting the symptoms is most important. Multidisciplinary care is warranted if symptoms are impacting quality of life.

Dr. Todd Florin, MD, MSCE, co-principal investigator
Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital
Chicago and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
The most-reported persistent symptoms in children were fatigue or weakness, cough, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
Copyright: © 2022 The authors.
Published by American Medical Association. Open access. (CC BY 4.0)
More technical detail is given in the study report in JAMA Network Open:
Key Points

Question What proportion of children infected with SARS-CoV-2 who were tested in emergency departments (EDs) reported post–COVID-19 conditions (PCCs) 90 days after their ED visits?

Findings In this cohort study of 1884 SARS-CoV-2–positive children with 90-day follow-up, 5.8% of patients, including 9.8% of hospitalized children and 4.6% of discharged children, reported PCCs. Characteristics associated with PCCs included being hospitalized 48 hours or more, having 4 or more symptoms reported at the index ED visit, and being 14 years of age or older.

Meaning This study suggests that, given the prevalence of PCCs, appropriate guidance and follow-up are required for children testing positive for SARS-CoV-2.


Importance Little is known about the risk factors for, and the risk of, developing post–COVID-19 conditions (PCCs) among children.

Objectives To estimate the proportion of SARS-CoV-2–positive children with PCCs 90 days after a positive test result, to compare this proportion with SARS-CoV-2–negative children, and to assess factors associated with PCCs.

Design, Setting, and Participants This prospective cohort study, conducted in 36 emergency departments (EDs) in 8 countries between March 7, 2020, and January 20, 2021, included 1884 SARS-CoV-2–positive children who completed 90-day follow-up; 1686 of these children were frequency matched by hospitalization status, country, and recruitment date with 1701 SARS-CoV-2–negative controls.

Exposure SARS-CoV-2 detected via nucleic acid testing.

Main Outcomes and Measures Post–COVID-19 conditions, defined as any persistent, new, or recurrent health problems reported in the 90-day follow-up survey.

Results Of 8642 enrolled children, 2368 (27.4%) were SARS-CoV-2 positive, among whom 2365 (99.9%) had index ED visit disposition data available; among the 1884 children (79.7%) who completed follow-up, the median age was 3 years (IQR, 0-10 years) and 994 (52.8%) were boys. A total of 110 SARS-CoV-2–positive children (5.8%; 95% CI, 4.8%-7.0%) reported PCCs, including 44 of 447 children (9.8%; 95% CI, 7.4%-13.0%) hospitalized during the acute illness and 66 of 1437 children (4.6%; 95% CI, 3.6%-5.8%) not hospitalized during the acute illness (difference, 5.3%; 95% CI, 2.5%-8.5%). Among SARS-CoV-2–positive children, the most common symptom was fatigue or weakness (21 [1.1%]). Characteristics associated with reporting at least 1 PCC at 90 days included being hospitalized 48 hours or more compared with no hospitalization (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 2.67 [95% CI, 1.63-4.38]); having 4 or more symptoms reported at the index ED visit compared with 1 to 3 symptoms (4-6 symptoms: aOR, 2.35 [95% CI, 1.28-4.31]; ≥7 symptoms: aOR, 4.59 [95% CI, 2.50-8.44]); and being 14 years of age or older compared with younger than 1 year (aOR, 2.67 [95% CI, 1.43-4.99]). SARS-CoV-2–positive children were more likely to report PCCs at 90 days compared with those who tested negative, both among those who were not hospitalized (55 of 1295 [4.2%; 95% CI, 3.2%-5.5%] vs 35 of 1321 [2.7%; 95% CI, 1.9%-3.7%]; difference, 1.6% [95% CI, 0.2%-3.0%]) and those who were hospitalized (40 of 391 [10.2%; 95% CI, 7.4%-13.7%] vs 19 of 380 [5.0%; 95% CI, 3.0%-7.7%]; difference, 5.2% [95% CI, 1.5%-9.1%]). In addition, SARS-CoV-2 positivity was associated with reporting PCCs 90 days after the index ED visit (aOR, 1.63 [95% CI, 1.14-2.35]), specifically systemic health problems (eg, fatigue, weakness, fever; aOR, 2.44 [95% CI, 1.19-5.00]).

Conclusions and Relevance In this cohort study, SARS-CoV-2 infection was associated with reporting PCCs at 90 days in children. Guidance and follow-up are particularly necessary for hospitalized children who have numerous acute symptoms and are older.

Funk AL, Kuppermann N, Florin TA, et al.
Post–COVID-19 Conditions Among Children 90 Days After SARS-CoV-2 Infection.
JAMA Netw Open. 2022; 5(7): e2223253. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.23253

Copyright: © 2022 The authors.
Published by American Medical Association. Open access
Reprinted under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (CC BY 4.0)
The irony is it is more or less the same antivaxxer covidiots who were jubilant when SCOTUS effectively took away the right of American women to plan their parenthood on the grounds that they were 'pro-life', who are campaigning to persuade people to risk their children's lives and welfare by not getting vaccinated against COVID-19. Clearly, these people don't really believe in the sanctity of life; what they believe in is imposing their will on other people. Religion merely provides them with the excuse they need.

Although the figures above are statistically interesting, I would suggest the only one that should interest responsible, loving parents is the one that shows your children run a significant risk of contracting 'Long COVID' if they become infected. Other studies have shown that all the vaccines are effective at reducing the risk of a serious breakthrough infection, so there really is no valid argument:
Don't be a Covidiot!
Get vaccinated and get your children vaccinated, now!

Unintelligent Design - More on Moths vs Bats Arms Races

Moths enlist additional troops in an evolutionary arms race – Florida Museum Science

Evolutionary arms races are the inevitable and predictable result of evolution by natural selection, but make absolutely no sense at all as the product of intelligent design by a single designer, so they are one of the strongest arguments against Creationism of the sort preached by the Discovery Institute and its hirelings.

Where is the intelligence in designing solutions to solutions you designed earlier and which you now regard as problems to be solved?

One of these many arms races to be found in nature is that between bats and moths. Now a new research paper by scientists from Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA with colleagues from Boise State University, Boise, ID, USA, and Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, Patagonia Norte, Ingeniero White, Argentina, has shown that arms race is even more extensive that was previously known.

Fortunately, most of this occurs at night at sound frequencies above our hearing range, or summer nights would be a deafening cacophony of sound as bats use pulses of sonar to detect their staple diet, moths, and moths use screens of sound to deter and confuse bats, rather like a warplane uses chaff to confuse radar, or warn them that they have a bitter taste or other noxious defences, in a way analogous to warning colouration used by many diurnal prey species. To complicate things further, there are examples of the auditory equivalent of Batesian mimicry, where a harmless species mimics the signals of a harmful or distasteful one.

The news release from the Florida Museum explains the research findings:

Unintelligent Design - Moth vs Bat Evolutionary Arms Races

Prompted by a recent research paper which announced the discovery that many more moths use ultrasound to deter attack by bats than was previously recognised, I reproduce here an article from The Conversation by Professor David Jacobs of Cape Town University, South Africa, which I drew on for the section on arms races in my popular book, The Unintelligent Designer: Refuting the Intelligent Design Hoax.

These sorts of evolutionary arms races are the predictable and inevitable result of predator-prey and parasite-host relationships and are one of the strongest arguments against intelligent design.

The article is republished under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Explainer: the evolutionary arms race between bats and moths

Bats have adapted new hunting techniques in their pursuit of moths who in turn have developed defensive strategies.

Sarun T/Shutterstock
David Jacobs, University of Cape Town

In the struggle for survival, predators need to capture and consume prey, and prey have to avoid being eaten. Over evolutionary time this has evolved into a kind of arms race between the two, in which predators have evolved specialised weapons of attack and prey have evolved specialised defences. One particular example of this is the arms race between bats and moths.

The interaction between bats and their insect prey, in particular moths, is one of the most cited examples of such an evolutionary arms race. It comes with a twist – the weaponry used by each is largely based on sound and hearing.

UK Politics - Good Bye and Good Riddance, Boo Boo Johnson!

In a bit of a departure for this blog, here is how departing U.K. Prime Minister, Boris (Boo Boo) Johnson is seen by Australians. It's probably no secret that I have no time for the UK Conservative Party and lean distinctly to the left in politics, so it's rewarding to see that someone who looks at UK politics from afar, sees it pretty much the way I do.

For me, Boris Johnson represents all that is nasty in the Tory Party - a party of entitled spivs, con artists and shysters, united only by the single slogan, "What's in it for me?". Hopefully, his behaviour has tarnished the reputation of the Tory Party for another generation much as the sleave and greed scandals under John Major did. The sad thing is that he has also tarnished the reputation of all politicians and damaged confidence in our parliamentary democracy in the process.

The comedian Russell Brand once described Boris Johnson as, "our very own Pound-Shop Donald Trump". The Tory Party is our very own Pound-Shop Repugnican Party.

The following article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Boris Johnson says his time as UK PM was ‘mission largely accomplished’. How does that actually stack up?

Ben Wellings, Monash University

Boris Johnson has declared his time as United Kingdom prime minister was “mission largely accomplished”. How does that self-diagnosed legacy stack up?

Thursday, 21 July 2022

Evolution News - Every Fossil Tells a Story.

Every fossil tells a story but some have more to say than other. This one, from the period when some lobe-finned fish like Tiktaalik were transitioning into terrestrial tetrapods, shows that evolution is not a straightforward progress towards a desired goal but can go off at a tangent and even into a reverse of sorts. It is a close relative of Tiktaalik, from the same region, but it stayed in the water and probably adapted to living in open water.

The story of how Qikiqtania wakei. was discovered and analysed is told in this article from The Conversation. (Read the original article). Reprinted here under a Creative Commons license, reformatted for stylistic consistency:

Meet Qikiqtania, a fossil fish with the good sense to stay in the water while others ventured onto land

An artist’s vision of Qikiqtania enjoying its fully aquatic, free-swimming lifestyle.

Alex Boersma, CC BY-ND
Thomas Stewart, Penn State

Approximately 365 million years ago, one group of fishes left the water to live on land. These animals were early tetrapods, a lineage that would radiate to include many thousands of species including amphibians, birds, lizards and mammals. Human beings are descendants of those early tetrapods, and we share the legacy of their water-to-land transition.

But what if, instead of venturing onto the shores, they had turned back? What if these animals, just at the cusp of leaving the water, had receded to live again in more open waters?

Wednesday, 20 July 2022

COVID-19 News - Why You Should Get a Booster Vaccination as Soon as Possible.

Vaccine-Induced Immune Response to Omicron Wanes Substantially Over Time | NIH: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Be under no illusions, the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over.

We are currently seeing yet another wave of infections as the Omicron variant diverges into new and even more infections variants, and investigators at the US National Insitute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have shown that the antibody levels following vaccination wane significantly in about 3 months.

From the NIH news release:

Malevolent Designer News - Why Creationism's Divine Malevolence Gave Us Junk DNA

‘Junk’ DNA could lead to cancer by stopping copying of DNA - The Institute of Cancer Research, London

Creationists hate junk DNA because no intelligent designer would have included lots of DNA that does nothing apart from being replicated endlessly in every cell and passed on to each new generation. They also hate it because it contains 'fossil' relics from our remote ancestors and we share much of it with our close relatives, so it is very compelling evidence for evolution and common descent. The third reason they hate it is because it is available to mutate and occasionally give rise to new genetic 'information' when Creationist dogma says that no new genetic information can arise because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics' [sic].

So, creationist frauds put a great deal of effort into trying to debunk the idea that junk DNA really does do nothing. For that reason they should welcome this piece of research that shows that, far from doing nothing, junk DNA may actually cause cancer.

Yep! You read that right. Creationists such as Michael J. Behe will often use examples that, if they were intelligently designed, would portray the designer as a malevolent sadist who invents way to make his creation suffer.

For example, Behe has used both the flagellum of the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) which better equips it for causing food poisoning, and the resistance of the Plasmodium parasites that cause malaria to the drugs used to prevent it, as examples of 'irreducible complexity' which he claims must have been designed, so Creationists are used to portraying their putative creator as an evil sadist. The fact that, if we subscribe to their superstition and apply their logic we have here an example of their god deliberately causing cancers, should come as no surprise.

Tuesday, 19 July 2022

Evolution News - How Gonorrhoea Probably Gave Us Grandparents

Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria may have driven the evolution of human gene variants that protect against dementia.

Photo credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,
National Institutes of Health
Did Gonorrhea Give Us Grandparents?

In an earlier study, researchers at the University of California - San Diego (UCSG), showed that a set of mutant genes help protect older adults against cognitive decline and dementia. Now the same team has shown that we may have evolved with these mutation as an evolutionary adaptation to the sexually-transmitted disease organism, Neisseria gonorrhoeae that causes gonorrhoea.

These mutations are only found in Homo sapiens and not in our close extinct relatives, Neanderthals and Denisovans, who share the same genes with our common ancestors, the chimpanzees, suggesting that these mutations only became widespread in the H. sapiens genome after we split from our common ancestor with Neanderthals and Denisovans (possibly H. erectus) a few hundred thousand years ago.

The implication of that is that having adults that survived longer and who could be actively involved in child-care of their grandchildren, may have been what gave us an advantage over the archaic hominins we came into contact with, both in Africa and in Eurasia.

The finding is an example of how a mutation which became fixed in the species genome in response to environmental pressure can then be adapted further for an entirely different purpose. The research also shows how the scientists were in no doubt at all about the power of the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection to explain what we observe in biology. There is no sign of even a shadow of doubt about the TOE or any sign that the TOE is a theory in crisis, as Creationist frauds are continually telling their credulous dupes. The TOE is fundamental to any understanding of biology for anyone who knows anything about it.

Here is how the research is explained in the UCSG news release:

Evolution News - How the Environment Drives Evolution

Plant study hints evolution may be predictable | YaleNews

Similar leaf types evolved independently in three species of plants found in cloud forests of Oaxaca, Mexico and three species of plants in similar environment in Chiapas, Mexico. This example of parallel evolution is one of several found by Yale-led scientists and suggests that evolution may be predictable.
On of the enduring debates in biology is to what extent evolution is predictable. If we could somehow rewind the tape and play it again, would we end up with the same species as we have today, or would the result be a very different planet with different taxons and different dominant species? Would it in fact produce an intelligent species capable of going to the moon and building computers?

The problem is that the environment, which is the underlying driver of evolution, is itself subject to unpredictable changes and the operation of chaos, where a small change here or there can have a large effect some way down the line - the proverbial butterfly effect where a butterfly flapping its wings on a Pacific island can result in a hurricane in the Himalayas. Small, randon fluctuations in weather patterns or ocean currents can have widespread effects on the distribution of different species in food chains, for example.

This piece of research, although interesting in that it shows the effect of the environment as a driver of evolution, doesn't really answer that question because it shows what can happen when the environment is a constant. This is, of course, the prerequisite for convergent evolution, where, not surprisingly, from a similar starting point, in a given environment, evolutions tends to home in on the same phenotypic solutions, albeit by different genetic routes.

As explained in a Yale News article by Bill Hathaway:

Monday, 18 July 2022

Transitional Fossil News - Now it's Lots of Transitional Forms, All In One Place!

Ecological reconstruction of the Liexi fauna

Drawn by J. Sun
A new Early Ordovician Lagerstätte reveals the early stage of the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event----Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology Chinese Academy of Sciences

Creationist mode:

The Problem is probably that the Chinese don't have the Bible, like American fundamentalist Christians do, so how were they to know that they should be ignoring the evidence they find in the natural world and dismissing it as a Satanic plot, because the Bible says all living organisms were magicked up all at the same time, by a supernatural magician using magic? Nor did they know that while the physical world created by the same supernatural magician contains masses of misleading evidence and lies designed to trick us, all the truth was put in a book by the same magician, which is guaranteed to be the truth because the magician who lied in all the physical evidence said so.

These Chinese! They just can't do the logic!

Fossils from the Liexi fauna
(a) NIGP179794, an undescribed complete sponge. (b) NIGP179795, a well-preserved machaeridian polychaete and an undescribed trilobite. (c) NIGP179796, a possible Ottoia and a palaeoscolecidan worm. (d ) NIGP179797, a trilobite Niobella sp. with digestive tracts. (e) NIGP179798, a complete rhombiferan theca with partial arms and stem preserved. (f ) NIGP179799, three individuals of cyclocystoid-like echinoderms, showing the central disc, the marginal ring and tentacle-like structures of the dorsal surface. (g) NIGP179800, the central part of a cyclocystoid-like echinoderm, showing the pattern of ray branching of ventral surface. (h) NIGP179801, three individuals of conical demosponges. (i) NIGP179802, a well-preserved benthic graptolite Dictyonema delicatulum. Scale bars of (a), (c), (e), ( f ), (h) and (i) represent 10 mm, others represent 5 mm.
Palaeoscolecidan worms from the Liexi fauna
Palaeoscolecidan worms from the Liexi fauna. (a) NIGP179803, a mass assemblage of palaeoscolecidan worms. (b) NIGP179804, a mass assemblage of palaeoscolecidan worms. (c) Close-up of the palaeoscolecidan worm in the box from (b). (d ) NIGP179805, close-up of the palaeoscolecidan worm showing the details of ornaments. (e) NIGP179806, SEM micrograph of the palaeoscolecidan worm showing the details of sclerites. Scale bars: (a,b) represent 10 mm, (c) represents 5 mm, (d ) represents 1 mm; (e) represents 50 µm.
So, not being aware they are being tricked, the Chinese paleobiologists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing, China, have only gone and told the world about a massive collection of transitional forms in what scientists call a Lagerstätte in the Madaoyu Formation of Lower Ordovician near the Liexi village, Yongshun county, Hunan Province, China. If only they have been Creationists, they could have tried to mislead us about what they found, and, like American Creationist, they could have made sure that whatever they publish always fully accords with a literal interpretation of the Christian Bible.

Creationist mode:

As it was, being scientists, they were free to tell the truth and try to inform and enlighten us, rather than mislead and endarken us. They say it contains a snapshot of the transitional biota during what is known to science as the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event (GOBE) when there was a rapid radiation of marine life on a par with the earlier Cambrian radiation. The fossils show transition from the Cambrian to the Ordovician biota and of course are just what the Theory of Evolution predicts.

And this is how they announced their discovery to the news media:

Sunday, 17 July 2022

Malevolent Designer News - How a Fungus Fools a Fly

Zombie fly fungus lures healthy male flies to mate with female corpses – University of Copenhagen

A male fly trying to mate with a female corpse held in place by a dab of Vaseline. The fungus has grown out of the rear body segment and is visible as large white patches from which spores are ejected
Credit: Filippo Castelucci
I describe several examples of these parasitic fungi taking control of their hosts and turning them into zombies in my popular, illustrated book, The Malevolent Designer: Why Nature's God is Not Good. While this example might not be the most horrific, it is certainly up there amongst the top few.

It is the fungus known to science as Entomophthora muscae which not only takes control of the female fly it parasitizes, but then uses her dead body to release powerful pheromones that take control of males, forcing them to try to mate with the dead female, so it can spread the fungal spores to a living female.

Friday, 15 July 2022

How The SCOTUS Now Represents an Extremist Minority of Americans

Political and Religious Activation and Polarization in the Wake of the Roe v. Wade Overturn | PRRI

A survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) into attitudes to abortion and the overturning of Roe vs Wade shows the extent to which the ruling represents the viewpoint of a small, extremist religious minority of Americans - white evangelical Christians. But there are signs that this extremist minority may have shot themselves in the foot in this case.

The following charts tell their own story.

Malevolent Designer News - Incompetence, Malevolence or a Mindless, Natural Process. Creationists Won't Say.

In the central nuclei (blue) of immune cells called macrophages, removing the WASP gene (as in the right panel) leads to fewer clusters of RNA splicing proteins (red).
Credit: Xuan Zhou of KAUST

Salk researchers discover how RNA processing goes awry in rare immune disease - Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome is just one of a whole host of childhood diseases that have a genetic basis and which any decent scientific theory should be capable of explaining, if not yet devising a cure for them. For creationists however, they present a special problem if they are to stick to their dogma that nothing happens at the level of the genome that isn't the specific will and intent of their putative designer god.

This is especially relevant now that scientists working at the Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA, USA and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia have discovered the underlying cause of this rare and distressing childhood disorder. As the Salk Institute press release describes it:

This study not only suggests new targets for treating Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome with small molecule drugs, but also sheds new light on the basic biology of RNA splicing, an important and not fully understood process.

These RNA splicing factors could both be a biomarker for monitoring Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, and a potential target for treatment.

Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, corresponding author
Gene Expression Laboratory
Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA, USA
Babies with Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome begin to develop symptoms quickly after birth: itchy, scaly rashes, frequent bruises and nose bleeds are some of the first signs. Over time, they become prone to infections and are more likely than other children to develop autoimmune diseases and cancers. The only potential cure is a bone marrow transplant, which carries a host of complications and only works in some children.
The underlying mechanism concerns how cells normally cut and paste strands of RNA in a process called RNA splicing. RNA splicing is often needed because a 'gene' may be composed of non-contiguous segments of DNA separated by various lengths of non-coding DNA. The entire section gets translated into RNA which then needs these 'introns' removed and the RNA spliced together to form a template for the protein, before it can be transcribed. In Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, a genetic mutation disrupts this process which in turn means that numerous immune and anti-inflammatory proteins are not made properly.

The SALK Institute press release continues:

Wednesday, 13 July 2022

Why People Are Anti-Science - And What We Can Do About It.

The growth of the anti-vaccine movement is one prominent example of how politics has helped lead to more people rejecting science.

Photo: Ivan Radic, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
The 4 bases of anti-science beliefs – and what to do about them.

Under the influence of his scientific illiteracy and political incompetence during the COVID-19 pandemic, former President Donald Trump's lasting legacy is likely to be a large and growing number of Americans who now distrust science and so represent a danger to the rest of us.

The result is a growing resistance to measures to combat climate change and vaccination campaigns to eradicate or control pandemic such as the current coronavirus pandemic or life-threatening epidemics such as measles, mumps and rubella.

This level of anti-science attitude in a major country is a clear danger to the world as a whole, since climate change and viruses are not limited by national borders.

Now three researchers at Ohio State University who study attitudes and persuasion, have published a paper in Proceeding of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) which explain the rise in anti-science beliefs today and outlines what can be done about it. Sadly, the paper itself is behind an expensive paywall, but the abstract is available, open access, under a Creative Commons licence.

Tuesday, 12 July 2022

Malevolent Designer News - Another Piece of Malevolent Design, or a Stupid Mindless Blunder?

UT Southwestern researchers capture first images of antibody attacking neuron receptor: Newsroom - UT Southwestern, Dallas, Texas

Using cryo-electron microscopy, scientists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center have, for the first time, photographed an antibody attacking a neuron.

Auto-immune diseases, where the body's immune system attacks the body itself, present intelligent [sic] deign creationists with some very special problems, none of which they can never be induced to discuss or explain in ID terms.

For example, a system supposedly designed by an omniscient, omnipotent designer simply should not go rogue and turn on the person it is designed to defend, unless of course, that was the intention all along and is a feature of the design! But then again, why doesn't this always work so everyone has these auto-immune diseases, and why are those who suffer from them usually children, apparently randomly selected for this piece of nastiness?

Binding of patient-derived autoimmune antibodies to the GABAA receptor illuminated by cryo-electron microscopy.

From the UTWestern News release:

Stunning Success for Science as First Webb Telescope Images Released.

President Biden Reveals First Image from NASA’s Webb Telescope | NASA
Webb’s first deep field is galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, and it is teeming with thousands of galaxies – including the faintest objects ever observed in the infrared.
Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI
While fundamentalist religions based on Bronze Age superstitious ignorance still struggle to reconcile their beliefs with scientific realities, science has progressed to the point where we now can take photographs of deep space, revealing details of which the superstitious founders of religions would never have even dreamed.

The first images from NASA's newly commissioned Webb telescope were released yesterday by President Joe Biden. They show the teeming thousands of galaxies in the galaxy cluster, SMACS 0723. Each of these thousands of galaxies in this one cluster, like the Milky Way galaxy, will contain trillions of suns, many of which will have orbital planets similar to those in the Solar System. This image is even more astounding when you realise that the area of the sky it shows, as seen from Earth, would be covered by a single grain of sand, held at arm’s length!

Monday, 11 July 2022

Hard Sums For Creationists: How Mathematics is Used in Biology and is Failing to Prove Creationist Claims

A Dahlia bloom with petals arranged in a Fibonacci spiral.
Creationists love mathematics because they don't understand it. This makes them vulnerable to Creation Industry frauds who misuse statistics and probability theory to fool them into thinking mathematics can prove that life could not have arisen without the aid of magic, or that evolution either doesn't happen, or, even if it does, it can't produce new taxons so doesn't account for biodiversity or show how humans are an evolved ape.

So, it's refreshing to see how mathematics is being used by biologists, none of whom have shown any of the Creationist claims to be true. This is the result of mathematics being a description of reality, showing that biology is the result of the operation of natural forces without the need for magic or magic designers anywhere in the process. In so showing, of course, it refutes the entire basis of Creationism.

The following article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license, reformatted for stylistic consistency. Read the original article:

Cult News - Religious Lies, Conmen and Coercive Control

With fundamentalist religions operating as cults, especially, but not exclusively, in the USA and parts of Africa, they represent a danger to democratic society by handing control over to the cult leaders. Cults are invariably highly autocratic and usually male-dominated, with female members often having an inferior, subordinate and submissive role.

A single leader, such as a charismatic head of a megachurch or shadowy leaders of cults such as QAnon, can manipulate and control their followers to behave in wildly antisocial ways and advocate extreme fringe policies, such as we are seeing in the USA today with white supremacism and Christian Nationalism emerging from under the rocks to influence mainstream politicians, the judiciary and the Republican Party.

Cults are parasitic on democratic society where it is difficult to strike a balance between freedom of religion and measures to protect the young and vulnerable from the predation of extremist cults. Ironically, they thrive in liberal democracies which, if they ever had the power they crave, they would immediately abolish. It is a basic law of religion that fundamentalists support freedom of religion until they acquire the power to abolish it.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Reformatted for stylistic consistency. Read the original article. It was written from an Australian perspective but has wider applications.

Saturday, 9 July 2022

Evolution News - A Universal Flu Vaccine Made Possible Because the Scientists Understand How Evolution Works

Influenza B virus, cut-away illustration. Influenza (flu) is a respiratory disease caused by infection with a flu virus. Influenza spreads around the world every year causing seasonal outbreaks, resulting in about three to five million cases of severe illness and about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths. Influenza B is a type of flu that is similar to influenza A and contributes to the annual seasonal flu outbreak. Influenza B viruses only pass from human to human, unlike type A where there are strains of virus in animals such as bird flu or swine flu.

Credit: Roger Harris / Science Photo Library
Universal Influenza B Vaccine Induces Broad, Sustained Protection, Biomedical Sciences Researchers Find - Georgia State University News - Faculty, Institute for Biomedical Sciences, Press Releases, Research, University Research -

Scientists at the Institute for Biomedical Sciences at Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, USA believe they have produced a vaccine that is effective against different strains of the influenza B virus and think they may be able to extend this to include the Influenza A strains. They were able to do this because they understand how the influenza viruses evolve to escape our immune systems.

Influenza B viruses are often the dominant strains in seasonal flue epidemics accounting for about a quarter of clinical infections. As the Georgia State University news release explains:
Influenza epidemics pose a major threat to public health, and type B influenza has coincided with several severe flu outbreaks. About one-fourth of clinical infection cases are caused by influenza B viruses each year. Influenza B viruses are sometimes the dominant circulating strains during influenza seasons, such as the 2019-20 U.S. flu season when influenza B caused more than 50 percent of the infections.

Friday, 8 July 2022

Covidiot News - Antivaxxer Covidiots Losing the Argument

a COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and acceptance. b COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and acceptance if recommended by employer or one’s doctor. a, b COVID-19 acceptance in June 2020 was defined as willingness to take vaccine if proven safe and effective. COVID-19 vaccine acceptance in June 2021 was defined as having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and if not, willingness to take the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to them. Vaccine hesitancy was defined as having reported “no” to the question on whether they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and also either unsure/no opinion, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree to the question on whether they would take a COVID-19 vaccine when available to them. Four countries (Ghana, Kenya, Peru, and Turkey) were not included in the 2020 global survey. c Potential COVID-19 vaccine acceptance if recommended by employer or one’s doctor among those willing to take vaccine when available and those hesitant to vaccinate. c Potential COVID-19 vaccination was defined as willingness to take the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available if recommended by employer or by doctor.
Study shows increase in COVID-19 vaccine acceptance around the world - CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy

A new study by scientists from the City University of New York School of Public Health (CUNY SPH), USA, the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), Hospital Clínic, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain, the University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada and the School of Health Administration, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, has show a growing acceptance of the anti-Covid vaccines on a global scale between 2020 and 2021.

The team conducted a survey of 23,000 individuals from 23 countries in June 2021 and found that 75.2% reported acceptance of the vaccine, compared to 71.5% in 2020. The results of the survey were published open access in Nature Communications.
According to the CUNY SPH press release:
The study … was carried out within the context of a year of substantial but very unequal global COVID-19 vaccine availability and acceptance, which necessitated new assessments of the drivers of vaccine hesitancy and the characteristics of people not vaccinated.

Concerns about vaccine safety and efficacy and mistrust in the science behind vaccine development were the most consistent correlates of hesitancy. Other factors associated with vaccine hesitancy varied by country and included personal experience with COVID-19 (e.g., sickness or loss of a family member) and demographic characteristics (e.g., gender, education, and income).

The authors found that vaccine hesitancy did not significantly correlate with a country’s current COVID-19 case burden and mortality. In June 2021, vaccine hesitancy was reported most frequently in Russia (48.4%), Nigeria (43%), and Poland (40.7%), and least often in China (2.4%), the United Kingdom (UK) (18.8%), and Canada (20.8%).

In order to improve global vaccination rates, some countries may at present require people to present proof of vaccination to attend work, school, or indoor activities and events. Our results found strong support among participants for requirements targeting international travellers, while support was weakest among participants for requirements for schoolchildren.

Jeffrey Lazarus, lead author.
Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal)
Hospital Clínic
University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
And the Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy
City University of New York (CUNY), New York, NY, US
Support for vaccine mandates was substantially lower among those who were hesitant to get vaccinated themselves.

Importantly, however, recommendations by a doctor, or to a lesser extent by an employer, might have an impact on a respondent’s views on vaccination in some countries.

Dean Ayman El-Mohandes, co-author Graduate School of Public Health ∓ Health Policy
City University of New York (CUNY), New York, NY, USA
Although some countries are currently disengaging from evidence-based COVID-19 control measures, the disease has by no means been controlled or ended as a public health threat. The authors note that for ongoing COVID-19 vaccination campaigns to succeed in improving coverage going forward, substantial challenges remain. These include targeting those reporting lower vaccine confidence with evidence-based information campaigns and greatly expanding vaccine access in low- and middle-income countries.

Thursday, 7 July 2022

Evolution News - How DNA Analysis is Adding to Our Knowledge of Evolutionary Biology

Source: OIST

Hidden in genetics: The evolutionary relationships of two groups of ancient invertebrates revealed | Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University OIST

One of the things a study of modern biology teaches is an appreciation of just how much of an achievement was Darwin's and Wallace's Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection considering the relatively small amount of knowledge they had access to, compared to today. in fact, all they really had to go on was morphology - i.e., the outward appearance of organisms, albeit aided with a hand lens and low-powered light microscopes. They had no knowledge of genetics, nor any inkling of how information was modified in one generation and passed onto the next.

Not surprisingly, then, they got some things wrong, especially where convergent evolution gave some species the appearance of being related when in fact they were both the product of the same environmental selectors pushing their evolution towards similar solutions, but coming from different branches of the evolutionary tree. And some problems they left unresolved, because, although there reasons to suppose two very dissimilar taxons were related based on their positions in the geological column, there was no basis for placing them firmly in the tree of life as either sister groups, distant cousins, or only very distantly related as the descendants of much earlier forms that had diversified considerably over time so they were morphologically very dissimilar.

Just such a case was the relationship between two ancient groups, the Kamptozoa and Bryozoa, small marine invertebrates related to animal like snails, earthworms, leeches, and ribbon worms.

Wednesday, 6 July 2022

More Evidence of Declining Religion in USA

Fewer in U.S. Now See Bible as Literal Word of God

More evidence of the decline in religion in the USA was published today in the form of a Gallop survey into the view of American adults on the origins of the Bible, which shows that the belief that the Bible is the literal word of God has declined to the minority view. Nevertheless, this view is still held by 1 in 5 American adults!

Although this view has never been held by more than 50% of Americans, is has almost halved from 38 to 20 percentage points since August 1976. Over the same period, the view that the Bible is just a collection of myths and fables has more than doubled from 13 to 29 percentage points. The 'middle’ view, that the Bible is the inspired word of God but not all of it should be taken literally, has always hovered around 45%-50% and now stands at 49%, up just 4 percentage point from 45% in August 1976.

Saturday, 2 July 2022

Transitional Fossil News - Sorry Creationists, But It's Yet Another One of Those 'Non-Existent' Transitional Fossil Things!

An artist reconstruction of Ailurarctos from Shuitangba. The grasping function of its false thumb (shown in the right individual) has reached to the level of modern pandas, whereas the radial sesamoid may have protruded slightly more than its modern counterpart during walking (seen in the left individual).
Illustration by Mauricio Anton
Eating bamboo? It's all in the wrist. | Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

Technically, of course, all fossils are transitional since they represent a species at a given point in time and come precisely between its parent's generation and it's descendants, but creationists continue to demand examples of 'transitions' that illustrate their childish parody of evolution - one species, or order, changing into another with individuals midway between the two - a half fish - half monkey, or something equally ludicrous that no-one in their right mind would expect to see.

In other words, as often with creationists, they have been conditioned to demand proof of something that no scientists has ever claimed happened and something that is so different to what the TOE actually predicts, it would actually falsify the TOE if it were found.

But of course, real 'transitional' fossils abound because, like the example in this article, there are abundant examples of gradual changes in morphology over time. In this instance, the example is of the evolution of the pseudo-digit or 'thumb' in the panda, which is one of the anatomical differences between pandas and the other bears. Clearly, if, pandas, which are no known to be closely related to bears, share a common ancestor with them, we should expect an ancestor of the pandas to have a pseudo thumb, which is a development of the radial sesamoid bone of the wrist, somewhere between that of bears, which don't have one, and that of modern pandas.

And this is exactly what has been found in a fossil from the Shuitangba site in the City of Zhaotong, Yunnan Province, China dated to about 6-7 million years old. The only thing is that it is actually longer that that of modern pandas, although this doesn't necessarily mean it isn't intermediate, since a long pseudo thumb might not have been especially well adapted for both walking and gripping which involves a compromise.

The Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County news release explains:
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