Category Archives: genetics

Guest post: Why the genetic code is not universal

JAC: In this post, Matthew—who has considerable expertise in this area—answers a student’s question about the genetic code that was sent to me yesterday. I immediately handed it off to Matthew, who was nice enough to turn the answer into a post.  He is, of course, writing a popular “trade” book abut the genetic code. In case […]

The wonders of genetics: a seedless melon

I haz a big melon: And it’s seedless!! There’s nothing better on a hot summer day than digging into the sweet, scarlet, crunchy meat of a chilled watermelon. And it’s even better when the watermelon is seedless: no spitting and less mess. We didn’t have seedless watermelons when I was a kid, so it’s still […]

Duke again offers free Coursera course: “Introduction to genetics and evolution”

I’m happy to see that my second Ph.D student, Dr. Mohamed Noor (now chair of biology at Duke) is again offering his immensely popular “Introduction to Genetics and Evolution” course online, as a MOOC (I hate that word!). The course will start on January 2 of next year and extend until March 23, and I’ve […]

A new “geep,” a sheep/goat hybrid

I had long thought, and even taught, that sheep and goats couldn’t form viable hybrids, as they are very distantly related. Timetree puts them at a divergence of about 7 million years, which is the equivalent of a human and a chimp producing a viable offspring. (It’s been tried, believe me, and it doesn’t work. […]

The “selfish gene” redux: Aeon magazine collects opinion on the metaphor

Last December, David Dobbs published a jeremiad in Aeon magazine called “Die, selfish gene, die”.  And I criticized it in two posts (here and here), while Richard Dawkins, who of course coined the term “selfish gene,” and Steven Pinker also took issue with it. I’ll summarize Dobb’s original thesis by quoting my initial post on it: At […]

Caturday felid trifecta: The mystery of “rocket cats,” Google’s nefarious cat policy, and a litter of mitten kittens

It’s a three-cat day, thanks to several readers who proffered links. The first item involves a mysterious 16th-century (c. 1530) German book by Franz Helm, an artillery expert (see articles in the Guardian and TDS).  The book contains drawings of cats and birds  with rocket-like jetpacks strapped to their back. The unsettling thing is that […]

Your Inner Fly: Fighting dipterans share genes with you and me

Introductory note by JAC: Matthew has produced a terrific post here, and I hope people will read it. The results of this scientific analysis are amazing and the genetic tools required to produce them are breathtaking—tools I couldn’t have imagined were possible when I was a graduate student. If I had one hope for 2014, […]

David Dobbs mucks up evolution, part I

Although I haven’t read much by David Dobbs, I’m told he’s a good science writer. But you couldn’t prove that from his latest effort in Aeon magazine: “Die, selfish gene, die” (the subtitle is “The selfish gene is one of the most successful science metaphors ever invented. Unfortunately, it’s wrong.”) I was going to write […]

A parti-colored squirrel

This squirrel, whose photo was sent in by reader Craig, looks as it if fell into some bleach.  It is probably a mosaic for leucism, though it could also be a true albino in its nether parts (I’m guessing the former). There are two possibilities here. One, perhaps less likely, is that the zygote of […]

Google doodle honors Rosalind Franklin

Had she lived, Rosalind Franklin would have been 93 today. Born in 1920, she died at only 37 of ovarian cancer. And, as we all know, she was an unsung—but now recognized—hero of modern genetics, for her work on X-ray crystallography was pivotal in elucidating the structure of DNA. She’s recognized today with the ultimate […]


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