Category Archives: biology

Matthew on the BBC

Matthew Cobb was too modest to tell me that he was on Radio 4’s episode of The Infinite Monkey Cage (a science/comedy show) yesterday, but reader Kevin called it to my attention. You can download the broadcast by clicking on the screenshot below, and here’s the BBC’s summary: Making the Invisible, Visible Brian Cox and Robin Ince […]

Why is life the way it is? A talk by Nick Lane

by Matthew Cobb Nick Lane of University College London has just been awarded the Royal Society’s 2016 Michael Faraday Prize and Lecture, which “is awarded annually to the scientist or engineer whose expertise in communicating scientific ideas in lay terms is exemplary”. Nick is a brilliant writer of several books, including Life Ascending and, most recently […]

How many species are there on Earth?

Okay, guess quickly: how many species do you think there are on Earth? (We’ll leave aside the problems with distinguishing species in largely asexual groups like bacteria.) A million? Ten million? A hundred million? Some estimates even go up to a trillion! This is one of those questions that’s nearly impossible to even approximate an […]

A new moth species named after Donald Trump

I suppose this is the appropriate day for a biology post relating to our new (ack!) President. In particular, reader Brigette Zacharczenko, a graduate student in Ecology and Evolution at the University of Connecticut who studies moths (and is also a powerlifter), called my attention to a new species of moth named after The Donald—as well as several […]

Merry Xmas from Oswald Avery – but what if he had died early?

by Matthew Cobb Here’s a picture of Oswald Avery (1877-1955), at an Xmas party in his Rockefeller Institute lab, in 1940. Avery – you may not have heard of him – was the man who discovered that genes are made of DNA, in a paper published in January 1944. Avery was proposed for the Nobel […]

Planet Earth II

Reader Tyler called my attention to the trailer (published yesterday) for BBC’s Planet Earth II, and it looks fantastic. Watch the 3-minutes trailer, as there are plenty of cool animals, with EXTRA FELID. It will be narrated by the legendary David Attenborough, and the Facebook page is here, though I’m not sure when the program […]

A new paper confidently claims that there are four giraffe species rather than one, but I’m not so sure

The giraffe, Giraffa cameleopardalis, was first described by Linnaeus, and gets its species name from its fancied resemblance to a hybrid beast (as Wikipedia notes, the name comes from the Greek καμηλοπάρδαλις” meaning “giraffe”, from “κάμηλος” (kamēlos), “camel” + “πάρδαλις” (pardalis), “leopard”, due to its having a long neck like a camel and spots like a leopard). It’s always […]

Classic story revised: lichens are fungus + algae + yeast (another fungus)

One of the classic stories of biology, taught to virtually every student, is the fact that what we call “lichens” are actually a combination of two very distantly related species: a species of alga and a species of fungus. (Sometimes the “alga” is really a species of cyanobacteria, formerly called “blue green algae” but not really […]

How paternal mitochondria are destroyed in an embryo

Molecular cytogenetics is hardly my field, so this paper was a bit hard for me, but the results were so interesting that I’ll do my best to present it. The paper is by Quingua Zhou et al. and was just published in the early, non-print edition of Science. (reference and free download below). It’s about […]

What greater love could a nerdy biologist have?

Reader William H. sent me a pdf of a Current Biology paper with this note: I’m a dinosaur enthusiast, a passion that I acquired in childhood and has never left me.  The attached paper is interesting, but I bring it to your attention  because of the one of a kind occurrence at the end of […]