Darwin published “The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex” in 1871, 150 years ago. In his first edition, he presented many different hypotheses about human evolution: some of these hypotheses have withstood centuries of science, while others have not. The book “A Most Interesting Problem: What Darwin’s Descent of Man Got Right and Wrong about Human Evolution” consists of 10 chapters, evaluating Darwin’s ideas and hypotheses and presents new evidence as to which of these ideas Darwin had right, and which ones he had wrong.
So here are eight reasons why I think you should read this book:
The book humanizes Darwin. The book presents many examples of Darwin, a famous scientist, being human and making errors. Though he presented many scientific findings, some of which uprooted other science at the time, he too was human and made mistakes. The book begins with an anecdote about how Darwin held an ancient fossilized skull in his hands, but did not recognize it as important (i.e. the skull of an extinct human female Neanderthal) because he was ill. This has become one of the most important human remains today…. I wonder what Darwin would think now if he saw it!?
It’s easy to read! The book breaks down many of the chapters of Darwin’s “The Descent of Man”, into more digestible pieces. Each chapter contains the evidence to disprove his hypotheses or provide recent data suggesting that his ideas from the 1800s are still true. You don’t have to read it in order, so if you find one chapter more interesting, you can skip ahead!
Being friendly and cooperative is one of the biggest evolutionary successes. After decades of research, Darwin correctly predicted that many cognitive components that allow for our moral behavior are shared through common descent with our close ape cousins. One example that is described in the book is from bonobos. When given the opportunity to fulfill their own selfish desire to eat all of the food they are given, or share the food with another bonobo, bonobos will choose to eat together instead of eating alone!
You find out that dogs and humans share a physiological bond. This involves regulation of the neurohormone, oxytocin. This hormone is present in all vertebrates and drives social bonding in animals, controlling a parent’s willingness to protect their young. Dogs and humans are the first species known to have a between-species oxytocin connection. This happens when you stare into your dog’s eyes….so love can evolve between human and non-human species! I know that when I look into my dog Silas’s eyes, I can feel our bond. I hope he feels it too.
The biological background of race is discussed. Darwin believed there was evidence for monogenic common origins for human races, meaning there was a shared common ancestor as opposed to different ancestors (polygenic). By examining a number of superficial differences (like skin color and eye color) between the “races”, Darwin concluded the majority of these differences were based on the fact that diverse groups of humans live in geographically distant places suggesting that nothing about the external variation in humans is explained by natural selection. For the past 35,000 years, there has only been one kind of humans on the planet – Homo sapiens sapiens.
It’s full of interesting anecdotes. Like how Darwin used a piece of human hair from his wife’s head to try and trigger a Venus flytrap to snap shut!
The book shows scientific progress in action! With new tools and techniques, like DNA and genetics, scientists can ask different questions and answer old ones with new data. The chapters in this book demonstrate how this has happened over just 150 years.
It’s historical science. Darwin set the framework for which we examine human evolution. The book shows how ideas emerge, evolve and how they are corrected!
Overall, the book is a very unique presentation of the many scientific ideas and hypotheses of Darwin’s “Descent of Man”. It is a very interesting book about how sometimes scientific beliefs that have existed for decades can easily be debunked using modern technology.
Though ICB has many papers surrounding evolution, we are sharing this free to read
paper by Sih et al
Behavior as a Key Component of Integrative Biology in a Human-altered World
by Molly Gabler-Smith, Postdoc, functional morphologist
With summer ending, many beaches are now allowing dogs during peak times of the day. This is particularly exciting because my husband and I love walking along the beach in the late morning, and now we can finally bring our dog Silas who loves digging in the sand and splashing in the ocean. I may be a bit biased, but I like to think that I have a special bond with Silas. One different than my husband. Perhaps that is because I consider myself the more doting and “let things slide” one, whereas my husband is more of a trainer and rewarder: though he definitely has a soft side for Silas too! I’ve always wondered about the bond humans have with their companion animals, whether they be a cat, a dog or even a snake!
Silas enjoying the views at the beach. He was so happy, he dug himself a hole to lay in.
We take Silas to the dog park pretty frequently, since he is a mix of high energy breeds (e.g. lab, German Shepard, border collie and Brittany spaniel). I always find myself watching all of the other owners and the varying relationships between them and their dogs. These relationships vary from the owner who brings their dog and sits at a picnic table, scrolling through their phone while their dog happily plays with other canines; to the owner who is constantly aware of their dog’s every move and calls them back frequently when they interact with the other dogs at the park. What’s fascinating is that all of these relationships are totally unique to each owner and dog!
Though I am not the only dog-owner/scientist interested in these interactions. Dr. Monique Udell, at Oregon State University, has spent her academic career studying these very interactions and social bonds! She was recently featured as a guest scientist on The Science Pawdcast,(see link to it below) in which high school chemistry teacher, Jason Zackowski, interviews scientists along with providing fascinating dog facts. It’s a unique format and just plain heartwarming.
If you don’t already listen to the podcast, I suggest you subscribe to it and follow his two adorable dogs (Bunsen and Beaker) on Twitter (@bunsenbernerbmd). You won’t regret it!
As she described in the interview with Zackowski, Dr. Udell uses her combined background in zoology and psychology to study the bond between animals and people, particularly focused on the social development of dogs and wolves. In some of her recent work, she studied why dogs have been so successful around humans and how dogs are really good at picking up social cues from their owners. For example, most of her studies focus on how dogs pay attention to and how well they use information that humans provide to them. This is often times tested by filling different containers with food, pointing at the one with the food, and seeing how the dog use the pointing to find the correct container. They found that dogs raised with humans (who often have many opportunities to experience pointing and other cues) do very well in these tests.
Additionally, Dr. Udell and her colleagues have been interested in determining the types of attachment theory (which historically have been used to identify human-human relationships), from the animal’s perspective. They have found that attachment models similar to the ones seen in adult and children or newborns is very similar to the bond observed between dogs and their owners. This is not surprising as owners provide caretaking and protection to our dogs their entire lives. What is interesting, is that Udell has identified that some dogs have secure attachments: these are bonds where the animal utilizes the human as a secure base, like the dog at the dog park who can run around independently, but frequently checks in with their owner.
In other cases, dogs may form insecure attachments. Dogs with insecure attachments are still bonded with their human, but the caregiver’s presence doesn’t fully alleviate the dog’s stress (i.e. a dog at the veterinarian’s office seeking comfort from their owner by hiding behind their legs). What is interesting about these attachments, is that they can be changed! The behavior of the caregiver matters a lot!
Animals are likely to form a secure attachment with owners that provide consistent/reliable feedback and who also have a more positive and warm demeanor. For more information about her most recent work, check out her recently published paper in the Integrative and Comparative Biology Journal’s newest issue, investigating the relationship between dog-human and dog-dog relationships.
If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Monique Udell’s research, head on over to her lab’s website here. She also studies human-cat relationships too!
Blog written by Molly Gabler-Smith (@MarBioMoll)
& Visit our SICB Fine Art America site(profits going towards SICB student funds) for canine sci gear
This week for the blog, ICB wants to highlight people who are continuing to create in the midst of these trying times. The artists/scientists below are associated with our founding society SICB society members (TheSociety of Integrative and Comparative Biology) or follow our journal online. We appreciate their sharing their art and thoughts on how art and science intersect to help us to celebrate the beauty that persists.
conservationist with the Living with Big Cats Initiative
“I feel art and science are two perfectly matched disciplines. Science works to explain the wonders of the world, while art works to capture the beauty of these wonders. Art can capture the emotional elements of the natural world that science often misses, painting a much more complete picture of humans’ relationship with this planet, and increasing the feeling of interconnectedness that science often demonstrates. Science and art are perfectly complementary.”
grad student with Piyumika Suriyampola, at Arizona State University
“Artistic representations of scientific ideas allow for science to reach a larger audience and become more accessible. It’s another medium for ideas to be expressed, making art very valuable to many fields of science. Both art and science require a great deal of creativity, and expression in one can help ideas flow in the other.“
grad student with Piyumika Suriyampola, at Arizona State University
@smudged_lines on Instagram
“Diagrams and scientific models wouldn’t be able to work without the artistic touch. Realistic art wouldn’t work without the science of anatomy and physics.”
University of California, Davis, Class of 2017 Scientific Aid – California Department of Fish and Wildlife
“I will speak of art and illustration as it relates to both my passion in Wushu(武術 Martial Arts in Chinese) and Biology. All three of these involve putting in Kung Fu(功夫), painstaking effort, to refine our skills, to serve a larger purpose and to self improve. I seek to increase my learning in all three to keep me happily grounded in the mundane tediousness of routine and repetitiveness found in scientific work and living in general. “
Visit SICB’s Fine Art America site
also for other great art by our journal followers and SICB members. The profit from any products you purchase goes back to SICB student funds.
by Laura Romanovich, adjunct biology teaching professor
Thursday August 26th marks Women’s Equality Day, a holiday that commemorates the passage of the 19th Constitutional amendment, which gave US women the right to vote, as well as draw attention to the ongoing efforts to create an equal place for women in the workplace and society.
In honor of today’s holiday, I would like to bring recognition to three women scientists who inspire me both through their research and their dedication to equality.
Dr. Ruth Gates
(photo: Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology)
Dr. Ruth Gates was a pioneer in the field of coral biology and the idea of using assisted evolution to build coral reefs that would be resistant against heat-induced coral bleaching in the continually warming oceans. Her earliest research linked the loss of endosymbiotic algae in corals to local thermal stress, and throughout her career she worked on uncovering the mechanisms of bleaching and the physiology of endosymbiosis. Most recently she had been working on projects to design the most resilient corals through selective breeding of corals and artificial selection of hearty symbiont types.
Dr. Gates’s outspokenness and call for action against climate change NOW is a huge reason I looked up to her as an academic idol. Her feature in Netflix’s 2017 Documentary Chasing Coral solidified my choice to study coral symbioses myself as the right one. She became one of the first big-name women in the coral biology world, and became the first woman to serve as the president of the International Society for Reef Studies (ISRS) and took initiatives to diversify the ISRS staff. Until her passing in 2018, Dr. Gates served as the Director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. She is also remembered by students as an advocate for breaking gender and sexuality biases in academia. Her enthusiasm for research and passion and optimism for saving corals has been described as infectious, and is her legacy carried on by students, collaborators, and others inspired by her.
Dr. Sarah Davies
(photo: Boston University)
Dr. Sarah Davies is currently an Assistant Professor of Biology at Boston University. Her research involves understanding the acclimation and adaptation of corals and their algal symbionts to anthropogenic climate change from a population genomics perspective.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Davies became an outspoken leader for breaking the gender bias pervasive in STEM academia. In November 2020, Nature Communications published an article assessing mentorship in science, which claimed that male mentorship increased the success of women in STEM (10.1038/s41467-020-19723-8). Dr. Davies was part of the call to retract this paper, citing the metrics they use to assess success are already biased against women and other minority groups. With her social media presence, she organized a Google Sheet form on which people in academia could acknowledge the importance and impact that women mentors had on their education and career. When the paper in Nature Communications was ultimately retracted a month later, her form had received over 1500 signatories.
In 2021, Dr. Davies has been author on published two separate essays in PLOS Biology: the first on ways to “rebuild the academy” in light of the COVID-19 pandemic to create a more equitable environment for mothers in academia and the second on using a wider, less-biased set of metrics to determine academic success. The first essay outlines concrete suggestions for mentors, administrators, scientific societies, publishers, and funding agencies for how to support academic mothers who have “fallen behind” in academia during COVID-related shutdowns due to extended childcare duties (10.1371/journal.pbio.3001282).
The second essay points out the sexist and racial biases in using citations and impact factors as the main metrics for success in academia; she and her co-authors argue that this focus ignores the meaningful impacts that many scientists make through inclusion, mentorship, and outreach activities. In systematically broadening “academic success” to include these multifaceted metrics, we can build an inclusive scientific community and promote more equity and diversity for marginalized groups (10.1371/journal.pbio.3001100).
Dr. Davies continues to be vocal everyday about changing academia norms to promote gender equity on her Twitter page (@DaviesswPhD).
Dr. Janice Voltzow
(photo: The University of Scranton)
Dr. Janice Voltzow is currently Professor and Department Chair of Biology at the University of Scranton. She was the first woman to be appointed full professor and first woman chair of the biology department at her current institution. Her research is in biomechanics, gastropod morphology, and more recently, effects of climate change on marine invertebrates.
During her tenure, Dr. Voltzow has advocated for greater representation for women and minorities in STEM fields. In 2011, she was Co-Principal Investigator on an NSF grant to build a network of women STEM faculty at predominantly undergraduate institutions across the USA (1107034). This network was formed to help combat gender-bias in the STEM fields, especially at PUIs, and created a mentoring system for women STEM faculty at various career levels. Small Alliances of women in the same field at the same career stage at different institutions met monthly to network and provide mutual support. The larger network hosted regular virtual and in-person meetings where its 70 participants could share personal career path experiences and offer guidance to junior faculty on navigating systemic biases in academia.
In 2018, Voltzow was awarded another NSF grant (1741994) to provide scholarships to low-income students from the Scranton, PA area who wish to pursue degrees in STEM majors. The goal of this program is to help traditionally under-represented groups develop an identity in STEM fields.
Personally, Dr. Voltzow was my undergraduate research mentor. She encouraged and supported my project – which required setting up for work completely new to both her and the University! She treated me as both a student and a collaborator, which went a long way to build my confidence as a scientist and as a writer.
As an angler, I enjoy catching big, beautiful fish. After all, who doesn’t? However, when I go to a body of water and those fish are not around, I do not fret; I am happy catching any fish, big or small, to learn about the local biodiversity firsthand. In this endeavor, I have started cataloguing every species of fish I have caught – 442 thus far. I later realized that there are other anglers out there that do the same, called lifelist anglers, similar to birders that keep a lifelist of all the bird species they have seen.
In my pursuit of new species, I met fellow lifelister Matthew Miller, who is the director of science communications for The Nature Conservancy and is currently at 155 different species. We first met in North Carolina where we targeted the elusive Roanoke Bass (Ambloplites cavifrons) in the scenic Eno River State Park. Recently, we fished together in a city creek around some culverts and mystery pipes in search of invasive Northern Snakeheads (Channa argus) and Matt’s first fish from Maryland.
Matt is no stranger to fishing urban waterways that most would see as polluted, lifeless cesspools, so much so that he wrote a book about it. In Fishing Through the Apocalypse: An Angler’s Adventures in the 21st Century, Matt discusses fish conservation in the United States by sharing his experiences fishing trash-filled canals for invasive species but offers hope thanks to the efforts of dedicated anglers and conservationists. While we were fishing, I asked Matt about his book and his experiences:
Noah: What inspired you to write this book?
Matt: Despite being an outdoors-loving kid, I never fished my “home water” where I grew up in central Pennsylvania. I never fished it because there were no fish. It was biologically dead due to acid mine drainage. I never really questioned this. A stinking, polluted stream was my normal: a perfect example of shifting baseline syndrome. During a writing project, I looked into the history of this creek, and learned that, at one point, it would have supported runs of migratory shad, eels and other fish. It would have been a spectacular place.
I realized that we see the world through lenses that are often not accurate. I wanted to document North America’s freshwater fish and fishing that showed the good, the bad and the downright weird. I wanted to approach it by casting my preconceived notions aside and really explore what we still have – and what we have to lose.
Noah: Why fish trash-filled canals and drainage ditches when there are plenty of lakes and rivers to fish?
Matt: It’s a great question. I love wilderness streams filled with native fish. But as a nature writer, I don’t want to just portray nature as something “out there.” If we present nature as just pristine wilderness, that makes it out of reach for many people. Nature is all around us. I think it’s important to show that there is wildness in cities, in industrial farmland, and even in seemingly apocalyptic landscapes.
I also want anglers and conservationists to question their own sense of reality. Obviously fishing a trash-filled ditch is not pristine nature. But many anglers travel and spend lots of money to fish tailwaters below dams for brown trout. They consider this the height of outdoors experience. And yet, by my estimation, that scenario is no more “natural” or “pristine” than a trash-filled ditch filled with cichlids. The aesthetics of the tailwater are better, but the fish aren’t native, the water isn’t free flowing.
And finally, I am just drawn to the weird side of nature. I have been since I was a kid. Catching exotic fish out of hot springs makes me feel like a kid again.
Noah: Where is the favorite place you’ve fished?
Matt: Fishing the Kenai in Alaska with my dad was special. Alaska is special. You still have the migratory fish and the hordes of predatory fish snarfing eggs and hunks of salmon flesh. It is what much of the world once was. And it’s still here. Watching my dad catch his first fish on the fly at age 75 was fun. Having Dolly Varden and rainbow hammer egg patterns is pretty much as good as it gets.
I love diversity. It may sound like an easy out, but I have a lot of favorite places. I’m happiest in a little stream with native trout that smack dry flies. But I also love the Everglades and the crazy native and exotic diversity. Hooking alligator gar on lures with gar expert Solomon David was a blast. My son recently caught 100 bluegills in a weekend at a local pond. That pond may not look like much, but it is one of those places I’ll always cherish now.
Noah: Where is your least favorite place you’ve fished? Is there a place you would never go back to, even if there’s an incredible diversity of fish there yet to have been caught?
Matt: You know, as someone who loves travel, I can honestly say just about any place has some redeeming qualities. I think as a writer and naturalist, it’s my job to be curious about the world. And curiosity leads you to find what is interesting and special about the places you are. Sometimes it’s tough, but that’s how I approach my work and life.
That being said, there is one particular Florida canal where I stepped in a pile of human feces. That ruins your day. I love fishing in Florida, but I won’t be pulling off at that canal again.Noah: How has “fishing through the apocalypse” influenced your ideas on biodiversity, ecology, and the environment?
Noah: How has “fishing through the apocalypse” influenced your ideas on biodiversity, ecology, and the environment?
Matt: I think it showed just how important it is to question my own version of reality. I carry filters that may get in the way, so it’s always important to question your assumptions. I have always valued biodiversity, but as a trout angler, I didn’t even know many of the fish in my local streams. Fish are not tiny. But I never really appreciated the chiselmouths, largescale suckers and sculpins until I started on this new adventure.
And, as I mentioned, I love public lands and wilderness. I do think of public lands as one of the United States’ best ideas. But I also have really come to see that nature isn’t just what you see on a National Geographic documentary. It’s all around us. We have to recognize that experiencing nature takes many forms. It can’t just be a white guy standing on a mountain. That symbolizes a concept that has to change.
Noah: How did you get into lifelist fishing?
Matt: It seemed a confluence of my interests. I had kept a life list of mammals I’ve seen in the wild for years. I enjoy travel. I enjoy fishing. I’m a curious naturalist. This seemed a way to combine a lot of things that I enjoy.
For much of my fishing life, I focused on fly fishing for trout and smallmouth bass. Pursuing different species, using different species, has actually made fishing so much more interesting.
I’d also say that, when it comes to listing mammals, to get the really cool species you pretty much have to do long, involved trips. I loved that, but with a young son and other obligations, it can be difficult. With fishing, you can pick up new species, well, just about anywhere. An urban fishing pier will also get up close to amazing diversity.
Noah: If somebody wants to get into lifelist fishing, how do you suggest they get started?
Matt: Approach it with curiosity and a sense of adventure and don’t worry about numbers. With any form of listing – whether birding or mammal watching or fishing – I see people so focused on numbers that they lose sight of the experience. I have met some listers who almost seem miserable about it.
You’re fishing. Have fun. In the end, the only thing that really “counts” are the memories you’ve made. The listing is just an excuse to pursue cool species in cool places.
Noah: What fish has been the bane of your existence that you’ve yet been able to catch but is at the top of your list?
Locally, bridgelip sucker would qualify. It is not an uncommon fish. But I never seem to find them in a biting mood. Just last week, I drove a couple hours to a stream where they apparently are fairly easy to catch, and there had just been a flash flood. A flash flood during a summer of tremendous drought here in Idaho. That is how it goes.
Noah: Is there anything else you would like readers to know about you/your book?
My book has a conservation theme, but it’s not gloomy. I have fun. The world is still a really cool place. So get out and enjoy it. That’s what inspires you to protect and defend wild things and wild places.
Dr. Noah Bressman is an Assistant Professor of Physiology at Salisbury University studying fish biology, biomechanics, biomaterials, and behaviorYou can find more at NoahBressman.wixsite.com/Noah or @NoahwithFish.
In his book A History of Biology, Michel Morange traces the development of the study of life through the course of human history, from its roots in antiquity to the current trends of the twenty-first century. In doing so, he takes a global approach, weaving together the history of diverse fields and disciplines from botany and zoology to genetics and ecology.
As daunting as that description may sound, Morange has not written a multivolume set of tomes to fill your bookshelves, but rather a sleek, 300-page book, most of which I read on a flight. I found myself engrossed by the book’s brisk pace. Morange covers huge chunks of time without wasting words by sticking to an economical structure.
Each chapter covers a different era and consists of three sections: Facts, which narrates the events of the era; Historical Overview, which connects the dots to reveal important developments; and Contemporary Relevance, which offers insights on issues faced by modern readers. The Facts sections last only as long as it takes for Morange to share what interesting anecdotes he’s found, and the subsequent sections mold those anecdotes into compelling and at times, provocative historical arguments.
I would recommend A History of Biology to anyone who’s at all curious about the subject.
Morange covers all the familiar names that appear in introductory biology courses, like Darwin and Mendel, but he also digs deeper and grapples with the complications that standard narratives leave out. In some sections, he questions the foundational role of ideas and individuals often hailed as pioneers. In other sections, he asserts the influence of failed theories and antiquated practices. Morange simultaneously manages to present the facts with authority and to challenge the reader to think more deeply about what he writes.
I think the book makes the case for itself, but still, I wanted to ask Morange why he wrote it and why he thinks people, but especially scientists, should read it. Shortly after I finished reading his book, I reached out to Morange, who lives in France, and managed to schedule a Zoom interview with him. After navigating a few technical difficulties brought on by institutional security credentials, we ended up having a long, interesting conversation. Below I’ve shared some of what he said, edited for length and clarity.
What is A History of Biology, and why did you want to write it?
The origin of this book was in the different lectures I gave on the history of biology… At the end, many people came in and asked me where they could read more about the subject. When I looked at the books existing, I found that there were not so many books on the history of biology… Most of them were focused on one short period in the history of biology, and very few tried to cover the whole history of biology. I think there is one good reason, and that’s probably one weakness of my book: it’s difficult to know the history of all periods of biology. Many historians do not want to write a history knowing they are experts on one period but not on the others. But I think it was so necessary for many people to have a kind of book giving information – maybe not the best, but they will find the best in precise books.
So, you see this book as kind of a jumping off point? As an introduction so that people can find more information about specific things they want to read about?
Exactly! That’s the reason why I try to put many bibliographic references in the book, and even to very recent works… It’s like a gate to eventually more specific books – specific in the sense that they’re focused on one episode or one period or one sub-discipline of biology. That was my book and just my first intent writing this book.
The second reason was really to focus on students in biology and biologists, trying to show that issues that are discussed today in biology many times have roots which are in the past, even the distant past. Looking at these roots is a way to better understand (many times) the present knowledge in biology. Where does it come from? Was it accepted immediately? Were there other models? The idea is that, probably, it’s a way to fight against some fashions in science. I mean new results which are considered a revolution, and which are not revolutions… You see, one century ago people were doing things that were very similar, so keep quiet and wait for the future of these revolutionary discoveries.
Why is it important for biologists to get this perspective of our discipline, a historical perspective, rather than maybe just going back and reading literature published by previous biologists?
Well, I think it’s possible if you are interested in the history of twentieth century biology, in particular, but I think when you go to past centuries, it’s probably quite difficult for somebody to really read the original text; at least to guess the context and ideas that were dominant at the time. I think in this case you need an introduction, even probably for the twentieth century… If you look directly, you will see some things, but a small part of the global context in which the models that were proposed find justification.
How do scientists use this information? What should we take away from history?
Okay, I will take two examples if you like. The first is about epigenetics. I have been interested in the history of epigenetics, and when you look at the history of epigenetics, you discover that the word itself was used with very different meanings at different periods of time. Today, when people speak about epigenetics, there is very often a confusion between these different meanings. Realizing that you have, behind epigenetics, different meanings, I think it’s important to somehow be cautious and not, for instance, say that epigenetics as a way to control the activity of the gene is the same as epigenetics as a way to transmit information to the descendant by another way than genetic information.
It’s very important to have clear ideas on this field… but many people say, “Epigenetics – it’s the future of biology!” I think they say that without knowing absolutely what epigenetics is, but it looks fashionable. I think fashions can be useful, but they can be also very destructive for science.
Well, that was one example, and I will take another one – even more recent – about COVID-19 and the RNA vaccines and the rediscovery of the importance of messenger RNA. It’s fantastic. One has the feeling that people are discovering messenger RNA that was discovered 60 years ago by biologists. But… if you say messenger RNA was discovered 60 years ago, and you see that RNA vaccines were developed 10 years ago, one has the feeling that scientists are stupid people. They did not imagine that it was possible to use messenger RNA for vaccines.
In fact, the story is much more complex, but interesting. First, there were obstacles to messenger RNA vaccines, and the stability of RNA was a huge problem. There was also a fear of introducing new genetic information into the genome, so there were huge obstacles. The way these obstacles were progressively overcome is very interesting also because there are episodes that were intermediary and that played a major role – like small interfering RNAs.
Small interfering RNAs were discovered at the end of the 1990s, and they were seen as a very promising tool to therapy. Introduce small interfering RNA to inhibit some genes in tumors or some diseases, but the problem was the same for a small interfering RNA. So, there were a lot of efforts to find sure ways to introduce these small RNAs into the organisms for therapeutic uses, and the efforts that were made at that time were so powerful and brought so many results on lipid nanoparticles that finally people said, “OK, it’s so efficient that now we can maybe come back and try to introduce big RNA, messenger RNA.” And it works as well now with the Pfizer vaccine and other vaccines.
So, I think it’s interesting to see that you have ideas, but you also have obstacles. The way to overcome the obstacles, it’s not a straight line many times. It’s a tortuous line. You go in one direction: obstacle. You can’t do anything. But there is another field where, somehow, it’s possible to overcome one obstacle, and the solution can come back to the first domain.
You also talk about the importance of syntheses in scientific thought. We tend to think about the breakthroughs, but you point out that often what’s so much more important is the ability for people to take different threads and weave them together.
Yes, absolutely. I think the modern synthesis in the middle of the twentieth century is a wonderful example of a synthesis… It was really trying to put together the models of population genetics, the results of paleontology, the results obtained by zoologists in nature, the results of geneticists in the lab. I think this kind of synthesis is very important. In some sense also molecular biology was a kind of synthesis: putting together progress in the knowledge of proteins, in the knowledge of nucleic acids, in the knowledge of cell structure, and so on.
These kinds of syntheses are very, very important. It’s also a way to fight against the false image of science. People have the feeling that science is like bricks. You have one scientific result, it’s a brick, and you put another brick on top of the first brick. Whereas science is much more a way to put together many bricks, to articulate them to do something, which was really a construction of scientific knowledge. It’s something more than an accumulation of individual results and individual discoveries and these breakthroughs as you mentioned them.
This has been a really fun talk! Was there anything that you wanted to include in the interview that wasn’t already said?
I’m writing a book on Louis Pasteur now… There were some histories of Pasteur, but you have those which were hagiographic, and after you had people like Gerald Geison, who were very hard towards Pasteur. I think probably it’s time to have a more quiet vision of Pasteur… to find a way between two pictures of Pasteur. “Pasteur: he was a genius, a saint,” and “Pasteur: he did not mention the other workers, he was a very bad man, and he wanted to work on people condemned to death.” Who was Pasteur between these two figures? It’s not an addition to my book, but to show you how I displace my interest in history… When you have done something general, you want to come back to specific history, specific questions.
There’s no question that 2020 was the year of unraveled plans. This is particularly the case for, many avid birders that had anticipated having a ‘Big Year’. A big year is where a birder tries to see (or hear!) as many birds as possible in the U.S. and Canada within one year. The American Birding Association typically advertises the winners online and in their magazine. Undertaking such a feat involves immense planning, but if you are looking to see as many birds as possible in your own attempt, you should definitely check out “The Big Year”.
This movie, which was adapted from the book of the same name, tells the true story of three birders who embarking on their own big year. For those of you who don’t want to experience Jack Black looking at an animatronic owl, you don’t need to go far to hear about real-world birding experiences. I sat down with the Manakin Research Coordination Network’s Dr. Morgan Wirthlin, a speaker in s12 of SICB’s virtual 2021 symposia, to ask her about manakins and birding. Whether you’re planning to check all the birds off your life list or a first-time birder, Dr. Wirthlin’s responses are definitely relatable!
Do you have a life list? If so, what are the top 3 birds?
Morgan: I keep a life list and enjoy traveling to birdwatch when I’m able. My top 3 favorite sightings are a Crimson Fruitcrow (Pará state, Brazil), Bearded Bellbird (Trinidad), and King Eider (Iceland). Not necessarily the rarest spots but the ones that were the most special to me for various reasons.
I know you’ve been to Panama for the Manakin RCN (which I’m sure has amazing birds). What were the most memorable birds you saw there?
Morgan: Well it would have to be the manakins! I was incredibly fortunate to be able to view displaying leks of both Golden-collared Manakins at Gamboa as well as Lance-tailed Manakins on Isla Boca Brava.
One of the biggest critiques of the movie was that there were too many scenes of Jack Black (who plays Brad Harris) falling out of trees. I for one have never climbed a tree to see a bird.Have you done anything particularly “extreme” in an attempt to see a bird?
Morgan: Yes actually! Once, in Trinidad, I hiked for hours up a muddy mountain to get to a cave where I waded through thick guano to be able to see a colony of oilbirds. It was an absolutely wild experience. They’re much larger than I imagined and made the most horrific screeches at our intrusion. They also possess a sort of primitive echolocation audible to the human ear, making the cave an absolute cacophony of mythic proportions. Really incredible experience, well worth the loss of that particular pair of soiled boots!
I’ve had people ask me why I go back to the same local parks to “look at the same birds”. Has anyone ever said something similar to you? What did you say? If not, what would your reply be?
Morgan: I think when you’re younger, or new to birding and naturalism in general, there is perhaps a stronger urge to race out to see as many novel things as possible. I’ve not had anyone say anything like that to me but I’ve of course birded with people who use awful terms like “trash bird” for common species. But with time and maturity I think one swings in the other direction towards prioritizing having more meaningful encounters with wildlife, even if it means seeing fewer species, and even if it’s a species with which one is deeply familiar. It’s only through deep familiarity, for instance, that one starts to gain an appreciation for subtler things like body language, or to know what kinds of calls or plumage variations are rare. Sometimes when I go out I will just sit with one animal or group of animals for as long as possible.
For me, there is nothing closer to encountering the divine than being mindfully present with wildlife for an hour or more.
Although it’s more immediately Romantic when one is in an exotic travel destination or three days deep into a backpacking trip, I think once you learn to have this mindset you can apply it to any bird or other animal you see. You can learn a great deal by just sitting with the mallards at the park. Even just spending meaningful time with my cat over the course of her life inspired some ideas in my thesis that later made into the paper that I am currently most proud of, on the diversity of learned vocal behaviors in nature.
In the movie, each of the 3 main birders has a different set of binoculars. Do you have a brand of binoculars you swear by? I’m an Eagle Optics person myself (although they closed down so I have to take excellent care of the pair I have).
Morgan: I don’t really. I was lucky to be imparted the lesson early on that your naked eyes are often better in many ways than any binoculars, especially when it comes to tracking movement, which your peripheral vision is specialized for in a way that your fovea (the part in the center that looks through the binoculars) isn’t. I tend to just look and listen most of the time, taking a peek through whatever binocs are handy if the feathery person I’m watching decides to sit still long enough for me to get a closer look.
connect with Morgan Wirthlin
@morganneuro via Twitter and listen to this podcast
“If you had a dream collaborator to work with to help make your work more accessible to the public, who would that be—a mapmaker, a filmmaker, producer, photographer, illustrator, or journalist?”
During the symposium, Science in the Public Eye: Leveraging Partnerships, conveners from the iSWOOP project (iswoopparks.com), asked their colleague, iSWOOP Film Team member Ryan Lebar, to interview symposium participants. Lebar conducted nine semi-structured interviews at the Society for Comparative and Integrative Biology Conference in San Francisco, CA. This convenience sample of academic researchers, undergraduates, grad students, post docs and an informal educator were recruited from the audience members who attended one or more talk
None of the interviewees questioned the idea that a collaborator could be useful in making their research more accessible to the public. Figures with charisma, name recognition, and good explaining skills leapt to mind. Lebar also heard an endorsement for working with animators and artists. As one scientist noted:
“Working with artists is a good thing to do. The public can relate to art better than the science.”
Integrative and Comparative Biology journal editors seem to agree. From the photos and images submitted for consideration for the cover, they chose paintings by contributing author Jennifer (Juniper) Harrower
Of course, working with artists is not a new idea. In spite of the pressure on scientists to avoid advocacy and emotion, there is a rich history of scientists who make art, as well as art-science collaborations resulting in provocative work that engages public interest. Harrower, Parker, and Merson write about several science-inspired art projects designed by Harrower to increase public understanding of the biodiversity crisis.
Adopting principles from visual and landscape design opens opportunities for learning. Hristov, Strohecker, Allen, and Merson introduce a set of design principles that lead to thoughtful visualizations. In Designing for Broad Understanding of Science they advocate for simple and elegant expressions of information and outline ways of thinking about science through visual narrative. The principles and examples may be especially helpful for those who do not have a background in design. Simplifying slides is not about dumbing down the content, but it is about scaffolding and leaving room for the audience to observe, predict, and speculate.
Participants were quite hopeful about the outcome of partnerships to build greater understanding. Artist collaborators would offer new ways of thinking, of viewing reality, new ways of getting to know the world and the environment. One interviewee spun out the possibilities:
When we talk in our crazy science language, that’s a major turn off. …. [Once] you put it in a way that people can have a dialogue with you, then they become more interactive. Then they’ll probably go searching for the science, searching for the research, and they’ll probably be up with everything that’s going on.
Funding Acknowledgement: The symposium and its proceedings were made possible with support from the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, in particular, the Divisions of Animal Behavior, Comparative Biomechanics, Comparative Endocrinology, Eco immunology and Disease Ecology, Neurobiology, and Vertebrate Morphology and the National Science Foundation [DRL-123030 and DRL-1514776 and DRL-1514667]. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the National Science Foundation.
by Amanda Puitiza , Macaulay CUNY the University of New York
In her debut book, Erin Brockovich focuses on guiding people from all walks of life on how to become their own champions. Her background in clean water activism shines throughout her work as she draws on the many stories of people she has met and interacted with. In addition, she spends time explain certain concepts for newcomers to the water scene, such as the different methods of water treatments in use around the country.
Ultimately, Brockovich aims to expose threats to our water in this country which are not being fixed and deliver the tools and skills for all to take action against these threats.
The book is written in three parts: first, with some background on how Brockovich became a clean water advocate and information about the top toxins found in our water; second, with some inspirational stories from around the country of local citizens observing issues with their water and taking action to solve this problems; and third, with a look at the foreseeable future where water, a limited resource, could be gone sooner than we ever imagined if we don’t take action ourselves.
There are easy-to-follow guides on how you can begin your journey towards taking a stand at the end of each chapter. This helps keep the reader in the mindset that they can do this themselves. The guides range from advice on trusting your senses to detailed information on understanding your water report.
Brockovich makes sure to periodically encourage the readers to understand they do not need a PhD or a scientific background to educate themselves on the issue. We can ask questions, reach out to the community leaders, and create our own community groups. One story that stands out occurred in Hannibal, Missouri. Two local mothers rallied their community and filed an ordinance that aimed to prohibit the use of ammonia to clean their drinking water. Together, the two women created Hannibal to Oppose Chloramines Facebook group and started attending city council meetings, despite being unwelcomed. One woman went on to be elected as a city council member by the community along with bringing awareness to the council and other city officials.
The citizens Brockovich writes about, whether or not they were able to get the change they wanted, are inspirational because of what they suffered through in their efforts to fight for what we all deserve.
It is true that we often wait until we are personally affected to become advocates.
Yet Brockovich’s book gives us the permission and tools to take that step towards advocating for what we are all entitled to: clean water.
Tie in article from ICB on pollution:
Interactions between Oil-Spill Pollutants and Natural Stressors Can Compound Ecotoxicological Effects
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if dogs were able to roam the streets freely without restrictions or a designated owner? To many of us, this idea seems pretty absurd, but for many other countries, this is the norm.
One particular example of this is shown in the documentary Stray by producer Elizabeth Lo. In the film, she follows three stray dogs throughout the streets of Turkey, documenting their day-to-day lives. The more than 100,000 strays, or street dogs as they are sometimes referred to, have a very special relationship with the human residents of Istanbul. Turkey is the only country that allows dogs to roam the city streets freely because it is illegal to euthanize or hold captive any stray animal.
Throughout the film, Lo documents these dogs politely waiting to cross at street lights, sun-bathing in the middle of the busy city streets, marching with protesters and sometimes having some fun chasing stray cats. I found the documentary particularly interesting because I never really considered what the life of a truly stray dog living in a highly developed city might entail. This is mostly because most cities I have visited do not allow dogs to freely roam the streets, as they are usually picked up by animal control and taken to a shelter or rescue.
Stray provides the dog’s-eye view of what city life is like. The three canine stars of the film, Zeytin, Nazar and Kartal, show the viewer an entirely different city experience. Zeytin (shown above) shows us his daily “routine” of making his rounds around the city, playing with other stray dogs and lingering patiently outside of restaurants for scraps of food. People in the city clearly see these dogs as fellow citizens who belong on the streets and in the communities. They appear to see these dogs as dignified individuals rather than a nuisance.
Istanbul isn’t the only place where dogs are allowed to roam freely. Scientist Jeremy Koster (who presented at SICB’s 2021 virtual conference in the Symposium s11 “Biology’s best friend: Bridging disciplinary gaps to advance canine science”) is an anthropologist who studies dogs in the Mayangna community of Nicaragua. Unlike Istanbul’s street dogs, Mayangna dogs typically have owners, who give them names, provide food and water and allow them to sleep in their homes. Koster (2021) provides ample evidence to suggest that Mayangna dogs present a unique opportunity to study the evolution of dogs in environments that have similar characteristics in which dogs have evolved.
Most pet dogs in the United States and Great Britain are what Koster coins NATIVE, that is they are neutered, alimented, trained, isolated, vaccinated and engineered. Consequently, these are usually the dogs that are used in most canine science studies. But the lives of NATIVE dogs are unusual, especially when considering the evolutionary history of canines. Recent molecular evidence suggests that dogs descended from the gray wolf, which was domesticated about 130,000 years ago. However, years of artificial selection have produced many different types or breeds of dogs that have many different purposes. In contrast to these modern domesticated canine breeds, the Mayangna, and arguably the dogs of Istanbul, provide populations that could be used for holistic perspectives on the evolution of domestic dogs.
For example, it is rare for Mayangna dogs to be neutered or vaccinated. In Istanbul, however, street dogs are currently being neutered by the government. Dogs in both communities lack access to commercial dog food. It is common for Mayangna owners to provide food from their household, such as bananas and rice to their dogs: dogs in Istanbul are also fed whatever scraps are leftover from restaurants and will sometimes be tossed bones with meat from trash collectors.
Koster (2021) further suggests that it is likely that domestic dogs relied heavily on table scraps and scavenging, similar to these dog populations, for much of their time. Additionally, training in the sense of formal obedience school is very uncommon among Mayangna dogs and the dogs of Istanbul. However, both populations form bonds with human counterparts. In Stray, Zeytin was continually observed following around and often sleeping with a small group of men living on the streets. Though the bond observed is considerably different than that of a pet dog who has a designated owner with whom they are trained to listen to, it is clear the street dogs of Istanbul form companionships with some of the people of the community.
Both the film Stray and Koster’s review paper provide evidence of current populations of dogs that are substantially different from NATIVE dogs.
“Koster suggests that it is important for canine scientists to consider studying and sampling diverse populations of dogs, as their varied environments may result in morphologically and behaviorally different phenotypes than those of NATIVE populations.”
Regardless of whether or not you live with a NATIVE or nonNATIVE dog, it is clear from the Symposium’s title that dogs truly are “biology’s best friends”. Even my dog Silas was interested in learning about the lives of the dogs from Stray, as you can see below, he was very captivated by the film! I’ll end with a provocative quote that was presented in the film and I think really sums up the research from the Symposium,
“Human beings live artificially and hypocritically and would do well to study the dog”,
Diogenes of Sinope, 360 B.C.
You can rent or purchase Stray on Amazon Prime Video.
Additionally, you can read about the diversity of canine science happening all over the United States and beyond by accessing the Symposium’s publications here.
Most Dogs Are Not NATIVE Dogs
access the full scientific paper (in advanced) “Most dogs are not NATIVE dogs” here.
Studies of dogs have proliferated among canine scientists, aided in part by the logistical convenience of working with owned animals whose care is handled by others. These pet dogs are unlike most dogs that have lived in contemporary or prehistoric settings. In particular, many of the dogs studied by canine scientists are NATIVE dogs: (1) neutered, (2) alimented, (3) trained, (4) isolated, (5) vaccinated, and (6) engineered. The distinct genotypes and unusual environments of NATIVE dogs stand in contrast to the characteristics of dogs who have adapted to lives in other human communities and settings. For a holistic perspective on the evolution of dogs, it is helpful to study dogs in environments that share features of the settings in which dogs evolved.