Category Archives: genetics

Natural selection in our species during the last two millennia

A question I’m always asked in popular lectures on evolution is this: “Are humans still evolving?” The answer I give is “Yes, but we have good evidence for such evolution in only a handful of traits: evolution of earlier reproductive maturity in females, later menopause, and selection for reduced blood pressure and a few other […]

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 […]

Happy birthday, Max Delbrück!

by Matthew Cobb As Jerry pointed out earlier, the scientist Max Delbrück was born 110 years ago today. Because many readers will never have heard of him, Jerry asked me to sketch his life. Here you are: Max Delbrück (1906-1981) was a key figure in the history of post-war genetics, pioneering the molecular investigation of […]

What if Wilkins and Franklin had been able to work together?

by Matthew Cobb Today I was interviewed by the French radio station, France-Culture (colloquially known as France-Cul), for a programme about Rosalind Franklin, the King’s College, London, researcher whose data were used by Watson and Crick as the basis of their double helix model of the structure of DNA. Much of the discussion, inevitably, revolved […]

Mukherjee corrects his new book in light of epigenetics kerfuffle, still defends his mischaracterization of gene regulation

You may remember—but not want to remember—the Big Epigenetic Kerfuffle documented on this website (see list of pieces here). It involved Siddhartha Mukherjee, doctor and Pulitzer-Prize-winning author, who was taken to the woodshed by a passel of famous molecular biologists for distorting the state of epigenetics research in a popular article. Mukherjee’s piece, “Same but different,” was […]

Google honors geneticist Nettie Stevens

I first heard of Nettie Stevens (1861-1912) when I was studying Mendelian genetics in college. She is well known to those of us who studied that branch of genetics (what I call “real” genetics!), but has been largely forgotten despite her immense contribution to the field. What was it? Nothing less than discovering that sex, at least in the […]

TED gets epigenetics wrong, but the juggernaut rolls on

I was hoping that the Epigenetics Tsunami would have abated a bit by now, but it’s still washing over the public. And the new video below, produced by TED-Ed, doesn’t help, for it distorts what we know about epigenetics. The organization should be named “TED-anti-ED”: Just a few of the erroneous claims that you’ll hear in the video: […]

Google Doodle celebrates Karl Landsteiner’s 148th birthday

If you remember your first-year biology or genetics, you may also recall the name “Landsteiner,” for it was Karl Landsteiner (1868-1943) who discovered the famous A, B, and O blood groups. And, in much of the world today—but not in the U.S.—Google is celebrating his 148th birthday with this Doodle: These four blood groups represent […]

Happy 100th birthday, Francis Crick (1916-2004)

by Matthew Cobb Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA with Jim Watson, was born 100 years ago today, on 8 June 1916. He was one of the most remarkable scientists of the 20th century, and, in my opinion, had one of the greatest scientific minds ever. As Jerry put it here […]

Peppered moth mutation discovered at last

The story of the peppered moth, Biston betularia, is one of the most famous evolutionary tales known to the public, and is a staple of both popular literature and biology texts. It’s appealing because it’s an example of “evolution in action”: a case in which we could see evolution happening over only one or two human generations, and […]