Archive for March, 2009

New open access journal in Evolutionary Biology

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009 | Publishing, Science | Comments Off on New open access journal in Evolutionary Biology

Trends in Evolutionary BiologyI received some word about an upcoming  open access journal called Trends in Evolutionary Biology.

I have to confess that by the journal’s name and cover design I initially thought, with excitement, that it was a new open access experiment by Cell Press, publisher of the high-end and successful family of “Trends” journals. I was particularly intrigued since Cell Press already publishes Trends in Ecology and Evolution or TREE as it is called inside the cool geek1 circle of evolutionary biologists.

It turns out to be a journal published by PAGEPress, located in Pavian, Italy. PAGEPress seem to be starting a whole series of titles in medicine and biology.

The journal description is a little odd though:

Trends in Evolutionary Biology is a new Open Access journal concerned with the origin of species from a common descent and descent of species, as well as their modifcation[sic], multiplication and diversity over time.

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  1. Please excuse the contradiction.


Homology Weekly: Arolium

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009 | Ants, Homology Weekly, Morphology | 3 Comments
Foot of a <em>Oecophylla smaragdina</em> worker. Pretarsal claws and manubrium in red; arolium in yellow; tarsi in green (Scanning Electron Micrograph, Roberto Keller/AMNH)

Foot of a Oecophylla smaragdina worker. Pretarsal claws and manubrium in red; arolium in yellow; tarsi in green (Scanning Electron Micrograph, Roberto Keller/AMNH)

This orchid-looking thing is really the foot of an ant. The large unfolded structure in between the powerful pair of claws is the adhesive organ of the foot called arolium (pl. arolia). It is basically a soft membranous bag folded into a suction cup that allows the ant to walk on vertical or upside down smooth surfaces.

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Ants vs Termites

Monday, March 23rd, 2009 | Ants, Art, Popular Culture, Science | 1 Comment

In this fantastically rendered futuristic landscape, from the mind of Ricky Parker, mechanical ants fight mechanical termites over the dominion of the forest.

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Sunday’s reflection

Sunday, March 15th, 2009 | Humor, Off topic | Comments Off on Sunday’s reflection

underconstruction_004When did people realize that the Internet will always be under construction and stop apologizing?

Marketing finally got me

Friday, March 13th, 2009 | Personalities | 4 Comments

Darwin's pencil 01

I resisted the black T-shirt with the bright red “Darwin’s Tree of Life” on sale at the AMNH Darwin exhibit. I resisted the elegant hardcover reissue of the Origin of Species with an introductory essay by E. O. Wilson. I resisted the little metal key-chain with the H.M.S. Beagle. But I couldn’t resist the pencils on sale at the Darwin’s Evolution exhibit presented by the Gulbenkian Foundation.

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Taxonomy’s rightful place in history

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009 | History of Science, Personalities | 5 Comments
A talk given last February 13 by paleontologist Niles Eldredge in Lisbon perfectly exemplified the general opinion regarding how little role Taxonomy played in the development of the modern Theory of Evolution. Already in a hurry after spending too much time talking about Darwin’s childhood, he reached a slide showing some barnacles and said “oh, by the way, Darwin spend some time on the taxonomy of barnacles, but this didn’t have any relevance to the development of his theory”, next slide. That was it. Taxonomy is but an unnecessary extra slide in the history of evolutionary biology. To be fair to Eldredge, his talk entitled “Darwin: Discovering the Tree of Life” was not an specialized talk but rather was meant for the general public of all ages wondering what was all the excitement about Darwin this year.

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Richard Owen’s archetype

Caricature of Richard Owen. "Old Bones" <em>Vanity Fair</em>, March 1st, 1873.

Caricature of Richard Owen. "Old Bones" Vanity Fair, March 1st, 1873.

I named this blog after the concept of the archetype as articulated by the Victorian naturalist Richard Owen (1804-1892). For Owen, the archetype was a representation that summed the most basic, most generalized structural arrangement common to all the members of a given group of organisms. Owen’s well-known and most important contribution to modern biological thought is, however, not his archetype concept but the clear distinction he provided between the concepts of analogy and homology. On his words:

Analogue.- A part or organ in one animal which has the same function as another part or organ in a different animal.
Homologue.- The same organ in different animals under every variety of form and function. (Owen, 1843: 374, 379)1

Homology is a concept that expresses the relationship between parts of organisms. It reflects the observation that we can identify a commonality of structure across the diversity of life. Homology thus forms the cornerstone of comparative biology.

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  1. Owen, R. 1843. Lectures on the comparative anatomy and physiology of the invertebrate animals. London: Longman Brown Green and Longmans

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Homology Weekly: Gaster

The five segmented gaster (yellow) in a <em>Cerapachys nitidulus</em> worker. Roman numerals refer to abdominal segments (Scanning Electron Micrograph, Roberto Keller/AMNH)

The five segmented gaster (in yellow, arabic numeral) in a Cerapachys nitidulus worker. Roman numerals refer to abdominal segments (Scanning Electron Micrograph, Roberto Keller/AMNH)

Gaster is a morphological term that is very useful and yet imprecise for the purpose of comparative anatomy as it is currently used in ants. It comes from the Greek for “belly” and it refers to the collection of segments in the metasoma that remain after the pedicel of ants and wasps. It is the bulbous part of the body that hosts the insect viscera.

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And as we discussed last semester, the Army Ants will leave nothing but your bones.
- Tom Waits