Revealed – Truth Is, Zebras Don’t Have Stripes on Skin – is that Weird or Not? #nature #biology #animals #genetics

zebra_equus_quagga

Taken by Muhammad Mahdi Karim

This may not be the most important piece of news, but zebras are solid black under their striped coat.

 Skin color and hair color are controlled by different genes, hormones, and other factors, says Barsh, who studies the genetics of animal color patterns… citing domestic cats, domestic dogs, horses, zebras, and cheetahs as examples. nationalgeographic

I know that’s true with my llamas. Now, tell the truth. You’re about to go brush the hair backwards on your dog or cat to check, aren’t you? Go ahead! Be a citizen scientist.

America’s Coyote #nature #science #biology #environment

Coyote pups

Coyote pups

Coyote is our canid,
A true American,
For a million years
Remaining at his origin.

Coyote’s always waiting,
Coyote’s always hungry,
And so we have waged war on him
All across the country.

Kill half a million every year
On foot, in trucks, from planes,
But Coyote found a refuge
Where humans aren’t their bane.

He spread from coast to coast,
From plains to cities, towns,
To parks, and urban sprawl,
To built himself a home.

He thrives on rats and mice
That follow mankind’s rise,
Absorbing genes from wolf and dog,
That’s how Coyote thrives.

America’s own avatar,
Our native totem beast,
Howling out your anthem,
May your singing never cease.

By Kate Rauner

I’ve been intrigued by stories of coyotes’ success surviving rural attempts at extermination and now moving into cities – the stories keep coming. Thanks to nationalgeographic.com coyotes and urban animals.

That Which We Call a Wolf #nature #biology #words #wolves #language

Mexican gray wolf - a little guy as wolves go, perhaps because life in desert mountains is hard. Looks a lot like a coyote to me.

Mexican gray wolf – a little guy as wolves go, perhaps because life in desert mountains is hard. Looks more like a coyote than the big wolves of Yellowstone.

Can a word become more important than the thing it names? I’ve thought about this before. We humans stuff nature into neat little categories because it makes a complex world easier on our brains.

We divide living things into species.

But what is a species?

A species is often defined as a group of individuals that actually or potentially interbreed in nature. In this sense, a species is the biggest gene pool possible under natural conditions… That definition of a species might seem cut and dried, but it is not… many plants, and some animals, form hybrids in nature.” berkeley.edu

If you add deep time to your definition, you’ll find “species” come and go on Earth despite the fact that evolution is a continuum.

Like a lot of the labels humans create, a species is a handy way to mostly-categorize and sort-of talk about an important topic. The word is fuzzy, but that doesn’t usually matter.

Until it does.

In America, we have a law (much loved and hated) that requires we spend money and limit certain economic activities to save “threatened and endangered species.”

Most Americans live in urban/suburban areas and never see large predators, but want to protect them. Rural folk like myself actually live with them, lose cattle and pets to them, and sometimes fear for human lives. My urban/suburban friends may get a taste of living with predators because some wolves (and definitely coyotes) live in their parks and backyards.

Total disclosure – I own no cattle, lost two pets to bears, and am willing to protect predators but think the government often handles the projects badly.

That brings me to the American Wolf. If gray wolves, red wolves, eastern wolves, and Mexican grey wolves are four species, they must be protected in all their various ranges. Science tells us something about this question:

  • Eastern and red wolves are genetically coyote/wolf hybrids – Princeton-UCLA study published in Science Advances
  • Mexican grey wolves come from a tiny captive stock (true as far as I know) and have interbred with coyotes and domestic dogs (common assertion here in Mexican grey wolf country – I can’t say, but it seems plausible.)

Researchers analyzed the complete genomes of 12 pure gray wolves (from regions without any coyotes), three pure coyotes (from regions without any gray wolves), 6 eastern wolves, and 3 red wolves. The results showed that eastern wolves are about 75 percent gray wolf and 25 percent coyote, while red wolves are about 25 percent gray wolf and 75 percent coyote – with almost no unique genetic material of their own.”  csmonitor.com

(Too bad my local Mexican grey wolf was not included in the study.)

Pro-wolf and anti-wolf groups have entrenched mutual distrust in my area. Their conflict runs so deep that beating the other guy often seems more important than the wolves.

So choose your side and remember that, in government, a word means whatever the law or the courts say it means. Which will not be what science or common-usage says it means. Remember your opponents are probably nice people with reasonable goals – try to keep an open heart so you can keep an open mind.

Maybe haiku will help:

Coyotes mate wolves
But Danes and Chihuahuas can’t
So what’s a species?

Poetry of Science #poetry #geek #poems #nature #read #amwriting #amreading

Poems inspired by science https://books2read.com/u/bOrE99Hurray.

After working through several versions with problems like, the page numbers are missing, Rhyme and Reason Three is available now in a digital edition at Amazon and other major on-line book-sellers. The paperback edition is on Amazon and Create Space.

No matter how many notes I take, I learn something new with each book I publish – darn it. So I’ve also updated the formatting for Rhyme and Reason and Rhyme and Reason Two.

Now’s the time to collect all three.

My poetry is inspired by the real, objective world we all share and by Richard Feynman – one of the most important physicists of the 20th Century and certainly the most interesting. He wrote that

Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars – mere globs of gas atoms. I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination – stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern – of which I am a part… It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?”

Spheres of methane and ammonia make me rhyme, and so does earthbound science. Rhyme and Reason Three includes the popular Desert Watermelon. Here’s an excerpt:

Ruby slabs of watermelon
Decorate my table,
While in the wild deserts
Its ancestral stock is stable.

Civilization could collapse,
There could be Armageddon.
But in five thousand years,
Survivors could
-Again –
Have watermelon.

Be the first poetry lover, science lover, or geek to own R&R3.

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Physics & Biology Helped Us Evolve #science #cancer #NASA #Earth #Mars @MarsOneProject

Sixteen cells working together as a species of algae

Sixteen cells working together as a species of algae

For three billion years, life on Earth consisted of single celled organisms. That was so soon after the planet cooled, it leads some scientists to believe life may be common in the universe. Then 800 million years ago, multicellular life burst on the scene and rapidly evolved. Since it took so long to make the multicellular leap, some scientists believe this sort of advanced life may be rare.

Individual cells started grouping up. They collaborated, differentiated, grew in size and ability. Some sacrificed themselves for the good of the many. Compared to the long, dull years of single-celled living, the resulting diversification barely took any time at all. Before long the world was full of trilobites and anenomes, then fish, ferns, pterodactyls, tyrannosaurs, bees, whales, cacti, kangaroos, not to mention us.

Biology: why did life change? How?

A single gene, called RB, studied in a sixteen-cell species of green algae may explain cells banding together into more complex creatures – and may also explain why some cancers grow in us today. Thanks to mutations in the gene, RB can cause cells to clump together into altruistic colonies, or cells in us to selfishly run wild.

Ironically, cancer may be the price we pay for existing at all.

But complex life needed more than variations of RB to evolve.

Physics: life needed Earth to change
RB may have launched complex creatures more than once before our ancestors lasted long enough to evolve.

Scientists think that until 500 million years ago, life on Earth fell victim to high-energy blasts from the sun, [the early sun produced a lot more cell-killing gamma, ultraviolet and x-rays than it does today.] The atmosphere then was too thin to fully protect our single-celled ancestors, whose DNA would have been damaged by such powerful rays. That kept them from becoming more complex.

As the early Earth cooled, heavy metals sunk to the center. Still very hot but now under extreme pressure, the inner core solidified and spun inside the still-molten outer core.

Bingo! A strong magnetic field was generated, deflecting radiation and protecting the atmosphere from being stripped away. Combined with an aging, more-sedate sun, cells were no longer regularly smashed back to their simplest forms.

The details are hard to pin down and studies will continue. “The origin of life remains one of most challenging themes in science.” And, I might add, one of the most fascinating.

Poor dead Mars
The failure to form a proper dynamo of solid inner core and molten outer core may help explain why Mars lost its early atmosphere and has essentially no magnetic field. Perhaps the planet was just too small to manage the trick – Mars is only half the diameter of Earth. The combination makes Mars a hostile planet for life. Whether life ever started there is unknown, and the chance life persists if it did once gain a toehold is unlikely, but NASA and others are working to find out.

Colonize Mars with scifi
The combination also makes Mars a difficult place for us to consider GLORY Ebook 300 dpi (200x300)colonizing, but from NASA to Mars One, people are ready to go. For now, you can only travel to Mars in your imagination – or in mine! Check out my scifi On Mars series at Amazon or your favorite on-line retailer. Tragedy and despair follow the first colonists to Mars, but exploration, optimism, and love await them too. With a clue to survival from a cat! Read today. Or, as we say on Mars, tosol.

Thanks to Washington Post here and here for stories and quotations.

Natural GMO #GMO #poem #poetry #science #biology #evolution

What never livedRotavirus_Reconstruction
But yet evolved?
Retained itself
In species broad?
Shares DNA
But never sex?
Familiar beast
You don’t expect?

Rhyming riddles are hard to write – feel free to offer your own couplets in the comments. I bet you’ll do better than I did. Kate

Researchers from Boston College, US, are studying an ancient group of retroviruses that affected many modern mammal ancestors 30 million years ago. Viruses that colonized our ancestors and, “over the course of millions of years, however, viral genetic sequences accumulate in the DNA genomes of living organisms, including humans.”

Thanks to phys.org/news

Life Is… #surprisingthing in #science #poetry

Newcomers hog the spotlight

Newcomers hog the spotlight

Age of Fishes, Paleozoic,
Age of Reptiles, Mesozoic,
Age of Mammals, Cenozoic,
Age of Man, Anthropocene,
These all miss the major theme.
Outstanding feature of life’s scene
Is a constant domination,
Now, as ever since creation,
Reigning through life’s whole duration.

Count by biomass or cells,
Eon, epoch, era tells
In what period life dwells.

It’s the Age of Microbes!
It’s been the Age of Microbes.
Will always be,
On land and sea,
Earth in the Age of Microbes.

Poem by Kate Rauner

We humans are impressed by big, fierce creatures – but nature is not. “What you see is that the most outstanding feature of life’s history is a constant domination by bacteria.” Stephen Jay Gould