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Showing posts from June, 2010

Evolution 2010: Tuesday

I had a good day wrapping up my time at Evolution 2010. I started out in the Speciation and Hybridization session, where I heard a couple of interesting talks. Amanda Brothers explained her work demonstrating Haldane's rule in Silene species with heteromorphic sex chromosomes [ABSTRACT]. Then Chris Nice presented his discovery of multiple hybrid populations of the same two butterflies. He suggested that they might be independent origins of the same hybrid species.

In the next session on hybridization, I got all nostalgic listening to David Marsh describe his work with the recently described salamander Plethodon sherando. P. sherando is related to the red-backed salamander P. cinereus, but while cinereus is widespread, sherando is found on a single mountain peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. This is kind of a pattern in the area, where certain Plethodon species have very restricted ranges (endangered Shenandoah salamander and the Peaks of Otter salamander are the ot…

Evolution 2010: Monday

Well, today was better than yesterday, mostly because I had some interesting ideas for my own work. These conferences really get my brain juices flowing.

I started out in the bioinformatics session, where I learned all about new goodies coming in various software packages. The new MEGA 5 sounds especially fun.

Next I attended a session on sexual selection where we watched movies of "sexual cannibalism" in crickets and watched scientists demonstrate bird mating displays. That was somewhat disturbing (the mating dance, not the movies).

After lunch, I went to Doug Theobald's talk. I said hello to him before his talk, but he was suffering from a cold, and I was severely jetlagged, so conversation was sparse. But pleasant enough. Otherwise, if you read his Nature paper, then you know what he talked about. Hey, I just discovered that if you google "theobald test common ancestry," my blog is the first thing that pops up. I guess that's cool. Or sad, depending…

Don't forget to register for BSG/CGS 2010

I just remembered that early registration for BSG/CGS closes at the end of the day on June 30! If you want to come and you want to get a good rate, you should register ASAP.

Click here to register

Remember that BSG membership is open to all (there are requirements for voting members only), so anyone can get the discount member rate. Registration cost includes all meals and housing for the conference. There are special spouse rates and rates for those who want to stay off campus. Email secretary at creationbiology dot org for more info on those rates.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Evolution 2010: Sunday

Hmmmm.... today was kind of a slow day. I guess I picked some boring sessions. Just a few talks stood out.

I started off in a talk by Craig McClain on body size evolution in marine inverts. He made some interesting points about the relationship of insular body size changes and deep sea body size changes. They're parallel, and he it was due to food limitations. Very interesting.

The next talk that really stood out was Matthew Carrigan's presentation on ethanol metabolism in primates (subtitled "Did Ardi party hearty?"). He's reconstructing ancestral Adh4 sequences and assaying the enzymes to see when the human enzyme acquired its biochemical attributes. [ABSTRACT]

Then Chris Organ gave a very interesting talk on food processing and cooking in humans. He basically argued that the adaptation for eating cooked foods first appeared in H. erectus.

I also went to Luke Harmon's talk, which was packed. He told us that when he practiced this talk with two colleag…

Evolution 2010: Saturday

Today was a good start to Evolution 2010. This year as I describe talks I liked, I'm going to link to the abstract so you can check it out for yourself. Ironically, most talks I liked today don't have abstracts. Oh well, I tried.

I started the morning in a session on phylogeography then moved to phylogenetics & diversification before lunch. One highlight of the morning was Ben Warren's talk on the biogeography of Madagascar. He mentioned the recognized idea that the biota of Madagascar (and associated islands) is remarkably Asian in character. The most obvious explanation - that these Asian species must be leftover from the time before India split from Madagascar to crash into Asia - only works for some species (notably amphibians). Divergences of plants and birds are evidently too recent to explain this way. He's working on testing island hopping back across the Indian ocean. [ABSTRACT] See also his Cladistics paper just published.

The next interesting talk…

Evolution2010: Arrival

I have arrived safely in Portland. Nothing too exciting so far. Travel was relatively easy. I checked in already, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow's presentations.

Biggest laugh: Today the Oregon Christian Home Educators were also meeting at the same conference center as Evolution 2010. Oh, the irony...

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Evolution still not in crisis

I'm getting ready to head out to Evolution 2010 this weekend, and I found this little tidbit on the conference webpage:
Evolution 2010 will be the largest Evolution conference ever with over 1,800 registrants, more than 1,100 talks, and nearly 400 posters!That is truly impressive. The average BSG conference does well to attract about 50. The CRS conference last year drew 70-80. The biggest creationist conference is the ICC. It draws between 250 and 400. I've never been to a regular ID conference (do they even have such things? RAPID?), so I have no idea how many they draw. I'm guessing it's nowhere near 1800.

Remember:
Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing …

Speciation in eels and bats!

There is a couple of interesting new papers just published on the subject of speciation. In BMC Evolutionary Biology, Brown et al. report a molecular phylogeny of mastacembelid eels focusing expecially on eels from Lake Tanganyika. They found that the Tanganyika species are indeed monophyletic, supporting the inference of yet another species radiation in the lake. The most famous of these radiations is the Cichlidae, which are at least as common in the textbooks as Darwin's finches. Lake Tanganyika is also home to an unusual number of species radiations, including Platythelphusa crabs, Synodontis catfish, and Cyprideis ostracods, among others. Must be something in the water...

On a completely different note, PNAS has a new paper from Larsen et al. on a fascinating Caribbean bat, Artibeus schwartzi. It seems that the nuclear genome of Artibeus schwartzi came from two other species (A. jamaicensis and A. planirostris), and its mitochondrial genome is derived from a third, unknow…

Talks for 2010 BSG/CGS conference

Here is the final list of talks for the 2010 BSG/CGS conference. This is not a schedule (it's just alphabetical).

Creation Geology Society 2010 presentations

Austin - Submarine Liquefied Sediment Gravity Currents: Understanding the Mechanics of the Major Sediment Transportation and Deposition Agent during the Global Flood

Cheung, Strom, Whitmore - Persistence of Dolomite in the Coconino Sandstone, Northern and Central Arizona

Garner - Permian Cross-bedded Sandstones and Their Significance for Global Flood Models

Gollmer - Deep Ocean Interaction in a Post-Flood Warm Ocean Scenario

Hutchison - Potential Mechanisms for the Deposition of Halite and Anhydrite in a Near-critical or Supercritical Submarine Environment

Oard - Dinosaur Tracks, Eggs, and Bonebeds Explained Early in the Flood

Ross - YEC Geology in the Classroom: Educational Materials, Challenges and Needs

Snelling - Radiohalos in Multiple, Sequentially-Intruded Phases of the Bathurst Batholith, NSW, Australia: Evidence for Rapid Gra…

Reckless and farcical

Wow, Peter Line had a pretty scathing rebuttal to my hominid baraminology paper on the CMI website last week. Here's the last paragraph of his article:
Used in the hands of someone who acknowledges the limitations, these studies may have applications. However, when used recklessly as some kind of a ‘be all and end all’ human-australopith ‘truth detector’ the outcome is worse than useless—it is downright misleading. In some ways the result of Wood’s analysis is so wrong it can be refuted by simple observation. Consider the similarities of the Australopithecus sediba cranium to that of the Australopithecus africanus cranium Sts 71 from Sterkfontein. Then ask yourself, is a technique to be trusted that finds more similarities between the Australopithecus sediba skull and a modern human skull, than between the Australopithecus sediba skull and the Australopithecus africanus skull, to the point where Australopithecus sediba is clas…

Baraminology in Journal of Evolutionary Biology

What do you know? There's a really nifty new paper in Journal of Evolutionary Biology by Phil Senter:
Using creation science to demonstrate evolution: application of a creationist method for visualizing gaps in the fossil record to a phylogenetic study of coelurosaurian dinosaurs

It is important to demonstrate evolutionary principles in such a way that they cannot be countered by creation science. One such way is to use creation science itself to demonstrate evolutionary principles. Some creation scientists use classic multidimensional scaling (CMDS) to quantify and visualize morphological gaps or continuity between taxa, accepting gaps as evidence of independent creation and accepting continuity as evidence of genetic relatedness. Here, I apply CMDS to a phylogenetic analysis of coelurosaurian dinosaurs and show that it reveals morphological continuity between Archaeopteryx, other early birds, and a wide range of nonavian coelurosaurs. Creation scientists who use CMDS must therefo…

From the Library: Evolution and the Bible

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For those just joining us, "From the Library" spotlights interesting items in the library of the Center for Origins Research at Bryan College.

During the heyday of Bryan's antievolution movement, there were plenty of opponents of Bryan's crusade. It's easy to think of non-religious or even anti-religious individuals (like Mencken or Darrow), but there were plenty of religious folk upset with him too. One such opponent was Edwin G. Conklin.

Conklin was a developmental biologist and professor at Princeton. He was president of the American Society of Naturalists and eventually of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1922, he wrote a little leaflet for the American Institute of Sacred Literature called "Evolution and the Bible." It is an archetypal anticreationist tract. All the major arguments I hear again and again are already there. Here's a few quotes you'll find familiar:
It is a dangerous thing for defenders of the f…

Update on not Noah's Ark

Remember that Hong Kong team that claimed to find Noah's Ark? And LU prof Randall Price claiming that they were victims of a hoax? Well, CMI is still following the story, and we might get some resolution very soon. Maybe.

Apparently Carl Wieland is going to Hong Kong to meet with the Chinese team. According to this page at the CMI site, he sounds guardedly skeptical, which is good.

I still say it isn't Noah's Ark, but it is good to get a definitive answer on what is going on. Good for CMI for following up like this.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Stickman explains homology

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I recently got an email telling me that "degeneration" was the reason humans have the same transposable elements as chimpanzees. Since my previousexplanations have failed to communicate the issue, I decided to call in some outside help. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you stickman:

So here we have two stickmen that I just drew with my nifty drawing tablet. Note how similar they are. They both have red pants and blue shirts and green hats and purple shoes. Why are they so similar? Because I designed them that way. How can you know that? Because I drew them. They don't reproduce, and the similarity is too striking to be random. The only way they can possibly be that similar is if they were designed to be similar. So far, so good?

OK, now here's a swatch from human and primate genomes that I grabbed from Ensembl. It's the breast cancer BRCA2 gene.

Now click on it so you can see the details. This diagram represents a linear segment of DNA. The species are lab…

Identifying taxonomic categories

There's a new and very interesting paper from BMC Evolutionary Biology. Here's the abstract:
Algorithmic approaches to aid species' delimitation in multidimensional morphospace
Ezard et al.

Background
The species is a fundamental unit of biological pattern and process, but its delimitation has proven a ready source of argument and disagreement. Here, we discuss four key steps that utilize statistical thresholds to describe the morphological variability within a sample and hence assess whether there is evidence for one or multiple species. Once the initial set of biologically relevant traits on comparable individuals has been identified, there is no need for the investigator to hypothesise how specimens might be divided among groups, nor the traits on which groups might be separated.
Results
Principal components are obtained using robust covariance estimates and retained only if they exceed threshold amounts of explanatory power, before model-based clustering is performed on the…

Owen's Archetype

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Biological similarity is an obsession with me, ever since my graduate studies. Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows about my obsession. I talk about it again and again (my favorite was "Transitional Forms").

While recently browsing reactions to my blog, I noticed that some creationists out there were ... let's say they were scoffing at my obsession. To them, there is no problem. Common form implies a common designer. QED. I thought I'd fire back with yet another explanation of the issue, but then I realized that there's really little point. If I haven't yet convinced certain creationists that similarity is a real issue, I'm not likely to change there minds at this point. So I'll save my breath.

Instead, I thought I'd give some attention here to other nonevolutionary explanations of similarity. I'll start with Richard Owen. Owen isn't really very popular. T.H. Huxley hated him. Darwin didn't like him eith…

From the Library: Comparisons of Structure in Animals. The Hand and the Arm

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For those just joining us, "From the Library" spotlights interesting items in the library of the Center for Origins Research at Bryan College.

I was searching online the other day for nineteenth century comparative anatomy books, and I stumbled across this title. I'd never heard of it before, but I couldn't resist. An anonymously authored book on the comparative anatomy of vertebrate forelimbs published by the American Sunday-School Union? That's right up my alley. Fortunately, such an obscure work was not expensive.

According to WorldCat, the original book was published in England around 1848 by the Religious Tract Society. Its unnamed author was one William Charles Linnaeus Martin, onetime curator of the Zoological Society's museum and author of many nature books for general audiences.

When I saw the title, I wanted to know whether the book would follow the pattern of Richard Owen's roughly contemporaneous On the Nature of Limbs or Charles Bell's…

Sediba at BSG

It's official: I got word from my editor this week that my abstract on Australopithecus sediba has been accepted for this summer's BSG conference. This abstract describes a new analysis of postcranial characteristics that was not part of my ARJ paper but will become part of my response to any critics who happen to crop up in the next few weeks (yes, I know you're out there).

Register for the BSG conference here.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Mediated design in diphyletic nectarivorous phyllostomids?

One of the cool things about being a scientist is using big words. Am I right? Sure I am.

Bats of the family Phyllostomidae are the most diverse of all the bat families. Phyllostomid bats include your standard bug-eating species (insectivores), but other species eat fruit (frugivores), nectar (nectarivores), and even blood (sanguivores - the vampire bats). That's a lot of variety for a single family. The nectarivores are interesting because they have a very specialized anatomy that supports their food of choice. They have small teeth and elongated snouts and tongues. They can also hover as they feed. It's easy to imagine that these attributes arising in an ancestral bat and then being passed along to its descendants. That would make them monophyletic.

According to a new paper in BMC Evolutionary Biology, that easily imagined scenario is probably not correct. In their article "Evolution of nectarivory in phyllostomid bats (Phyllostomidae Gray, 1825, Chiroptera: Mam…

I'm going up on the space shuttle

Yeah, you read that right. There are two space shuttle missions left, one on Discovery and one on Endeavor. To celebrate, NASA is offering to fly a photo of you into space. Check it out at Face in Space. Yeah, it's totally cheesy, but I did it anyway.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

You can choose your enemies

A few years ago, I was invited to give a creationist presentation at Calvin College. I should qualify that, though. My presentation was part of a conference organized by an employee of Calvin College at the college's conference center. He personally sponsored and funded the conference. It was not sponsored, endorsed, or otherwise supported by Calvin College. The conference was intended to expose the Calvin College community to young-age creationism. Knowing what I know about Calvin (it's no friend of young-age creationism), I went to this conference with great fear and trembling, like Daniel into the lions' den.

When I got there, I met Steve Matheson, and it wasn't as bad as I expected. In fact, it was kind of fun. Granted, I rambled on and on for far too long on my presentation, but Steve seemed genuinely interested in what I was doing and asked legitimate questions. We definitely disagree about a lot of important issues (in theology and science), but I had a …

Preview of 2010 CGS presentations

Here's a list of the geology abstracts that will be presented at this year's BSG/CGS meeting. Biology abstracts are still being revised, but I will post them here when I get the final list from the editor.

Persistence of dolomite in the Coconino Sandstone, northern and central Arizona - Cheung, Strom, WhitmorePotential mechanisms for the deposition of halite and anhydrite in a near-critical or supercritical submarine environment - HutchisonDinosaur Tracks, Eggs, and Bonebeds Explained Early in the Flood - OardPermian cross-bedded sandstones and their significance for global Flood models - GarnerYEC Geology in the Classroom: Educational Materials Challenges and Needs - RossRadiohalos in Multiple, Sequentially-Intruded Phases of the Bathurst Batholith, NSW, Australia: Evidence for Rapid Granite Formation During the Flood - SnellingRadiocarbon in Permian Coal Beds of the Sydney Basin, Australia - SnellingClay content: A simple criterion for the identification of fossil desiccatio…

Re-tortoising Pinta

In case you missed it, here's the Today show report on the ongoing efforts to restore tortoises to Isla Pinta in the Galápagos Islands (I had to hit reload a couple times before it played). Learn more about their project at the Project Pinta website.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Coming up...

My summer's going to be busy, so here's a preview. At the end of this month I'll be in Portland for Evolution2010. As I did last year, I'll be posting my impressions of the conference.

In July, I'll be speaking at Bryan College's Summit. Although I'm not yet listed on the speaker page, I'll be speaking on July 8 and 27. I'll be giving two presentations that will be similar to what I presented at Messiah College back in April. At the end of July, I'll be at BSG giving two talks, one on mammal baramins and the other on Australopithecus sediba (I just submitted my abstract revisions today). If you've been looking for an occasion to grill me on sediba, there's still plenty of room at the BSG conference, July 28-31 at Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, GA (register here).

Somewhere in that schedule, I'm going to squeeze in my first real vacation in several years (vacations piggy-backed on conferences don't count). I'll be…

My creationist perspective

About a month ago, I posted a request for feedback on some ideas for new outreach for CORE. I got some responses that had some interesting observations about my blog. One in particular stood out, mostly because I sympathized with the writer. He said that sometimes when I post about genomes or scientific stuff, I don't give much context or background to appreciate it. Where's the creationist perspective on these news items?

Well, that's a good question. Every other creationist/ID and anticreationist blog out there rarely ever just posts a story on research without making it relevant to the point of their blogs. Why don't I do the same? Why leave my readers hanging?

I think it's pretty simple: I don't have the answers, and sometimes I'm just amazed by things. Often, that amazement doesn't really have an easy explanation. I guess it's like sorting through a jigsaw puzzle and getting excited over similar pieces that seem to come from the same par…

Free advice for ICR

I got the latest Acts & Facts from ICR over the weekend, and I read Jeanson's article "Common Ancestry and the Bible--Discerning Where to Draw the Line." I'm glad to see ICR turning to creation biology after decades of Flood geology research. Since I've worked on these problems for more than a decade now, I wanted to offer some free advice (and no, I'm not being sarcastic).

I'm particularly interested in responding to this paragraph:
Determining ancestry in the plant and animal realm hinges largely on one critical term, min, the Hebrew word that is usually translated "kind" in the English Bible. If you've followed creationist writings for a while, you have probably come across the phrase "reproduce after their kinds," a term used to describe the view that kinds are reproductively isolated from one another. However, some have questioned the connection between reproductive compatibility and the word "kind" and have sugge…