Category Archives: genetics

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 […]

Another journalist falls for the modern-evolutionary-theory-is-woefully-incomplete scam: says human agriculture is an epigenetic “adaptation”

Yet another journalist seems to have fallen for the epigenetics mavens: those revisionists who think that a form of Lamarckian inheritance can be important in evolution. These people claim that the environment itself directly changes the DNA, not by altering the sequences of bases, but by somehow placing methyl groups on some of the DNA […]

Glass gem corn

Speaking of hybridization, my friend Nicole L’Or Reggia sent me some ears she grew of what’s called “glass gem corn,” which are gorgeous. I had no idea this stuff existed, though of course I’d seen less variegated “Indian corn” that appears around Halloween. Here are 12 ears: all of them are small: up to about […]

Hybrid speciation might be rare

Data show that the “normal” mode of speciation—the process in which one lineage divides into two or more species—involves the geographic isolation of populations of a single species. Over time, natural selection (and genetic drift) causes those populations to become more and more genetically different. When the genetic differentiation has gone to the extent that the separate populations […]

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 […]