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Tag Archives: Biology

An orchestra of car horns blew as my brother slid across the bonnet of a Mercedes. He landed, cat like, on the other side and sprinted onto the side walk towards the Asia centre. I stumbled behind him followed closely by his good friend Kat, cars screeching to a halt as we failed to get out of the way of them. I saw my bro in the distance standing at the door of the Asia centre casually leaning against the wall. I felt obligated to get to the auditorium on time so I sucked in a large breath of air and bolted up to the building.

Took your time didn’t ya? We are going to miss the start of the talk.

Chuckled Josh.

We barrelled down the stairs and found a seat in the auditorium, luckily there were some fantastic seats right in front of the stage. We sunk into our seats gasping for breath.
Normally I don’t think we would have been this eager to get somewhere, but this was something special. It is National Science Week and we were off to see Michael Shermer and Lynne Kelly.

We were not disappointed. First was the Shermernator with his talk, Why Darwin Matters. Needless to say Shermer was fantastic. He lashed the key note with humourous asides and the core focus of the talk was highly persuasive. Well, persuasive to someone with an open mind. There was one old chap who stood up and disagreed with everything Shermer said. This on its own is fine, but when every argument he put forth was the same old creationist/religious apologist pre-debunked crap it kind of felt like he was trying to have a pissing contest. He brought out Shannon’s law (obviously completely misunderstanding how we measure information) and also reused the old Letters in a box analogy. It was a veritable shotgun blast of challenges that he most likely knew Shermer wouldn’t be able to address in full.

All in all it was a great talk and was very funny.

Next up was Lynne Kelly of the Victorian Skeptics. Her talk on Taromancy didn’t disappoint. She focused on cold reading and her personally made “Ancient Chinese” Tarot cardesque form of cold reading which used “masks”. She showed us how she works with a client and how even the most skeptical mind can be fooled if the cold reader is clever enough. The talk took a sombre note when she explained how psychics and pseudo-science can harm people with a truly sad story about a Melbourne couple who chose to forgo science based medicine at the advice of a psychic, ending in the death of a child.

This was definitely one of those talks that you wish you could take a non-skeptical friend or family member to. I hope in the future that we can have many more events like this and keep spreading scepticism and the scientific method. To continue the Science Week trend, later this week I’m going to the Melbourne museum to try and get into the fossil archives to take some photos for YAS.

Oh, I almost forgot, make sure you get your Young Australian Skeptic submissions in soon! The first articles are coming in now from people such as:- The Skepbitch, Podblack and Naotiotami! Your article can be about anything you want (as long as its science based or attempts critical thought) it can even be a video if you wish, or a sound bite. So hurry up!

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Cloning is cool

Most people in Australia would know of the Thylacinus cynocephalus, more commonly known as the Thylacine or the Tasmanian Tiger. For those of you that don’t know what the creature is let me give you a quick run down.tazzy tiger

The Tasmanian Tiger is not a tiger at all, and despite its looks it isn’t a canine either. It was a marsupial predator that roamed Australia, and more recently, the small state in Australia, Tasmania. It bears a striking resemblance to a common dog and is defined by its tiger like stripes on its back towards its hind legs that continue down its long tail.

The last Tazzy Tiger died in 1936 in captivity.

Well, the ol’ taz tiger may be set to walk the forests of Australia once again with new advancements in cloning technology. Dr Andrew Pask and Professor Marilyn Renfree from the University of Melbourne have managed to insert a Thylacine gene into a mouse embryo. The gene used was the proα1(II) collagen (Col2a1) gene which controls the growth of bone and cartilage. The embryo continued to grow with the gene in place so that is definately good news for extinct species.Embryo

However, this doesn’t mean that the whole creature can be resurrected and there is still a lot more work to be done before that can be achieved. Even though it may never happen, damn its fun to think about. Dinosaur cloning is probably out of the question but if the technology is developed then you can be sure it will be possible to see Mammoths and other extinct mammals in reserves and parks (à la Jurassic Park). That would kick ass!

Check out these links.

The Research Article http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0002240

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thylacine

http://www.dailytech.com/Jurassic+Park+in+The+Real+World+Scientists+Partially+Clone+Extinct+Mammal/article11839.htm

http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2008/05/20/2249769.htm?site=science&topic=latest

Welcome to the world of tomorrow! Blogs are old news, the age of the podcast has begun and in honor of the dawning of this new age I thought I would do a skeptical podcast run down of the casts that I currently (or have in the past) listen too!

Geologic Podcast
http://www.geologicpodcast.com/

Do you want to laugh? Well, if you do, then listen to George Hrab on his podcast. The show consists of sketches, his mother rapping, religious morons and many of his absolutely side splitting characters (all played by him). He even has cameos by famous pod caster Soccer Girl! (A podcast I have not yet listened to by the way.) I am not kidding when I say Mr Hrab is funny, all I can say is go check it out for yourself and then send me (or George, preferably me) money for finding it for you. It is recommended that you listen to episode 31.1 if you want to catch up and get in on the “in” jokes.

Skeptics Guide to the Universe
http://www.theskepticsguide.org/

No self respecting skeptic skips this weekly podcast. Hosted by Steven Novella, an academic neurologist and full time skeptic, and the skeptical rogues, Robert Novella, Jay Novella, Rebecca Watson (the Skepchick) and Evan Bernstein. The SGU is a must listen for any skeptic, or non-skeptic for that mater, in their weekly rounds of the podcast scene. In the show they discuss current topics in the news and skeptical community as well as devastating break downs of pseudo-science and woo. Their regular interviews are truly entertaining. The Amazing Guru of skepticism James Randi also has a regular section called Randi Speaks where he attacks certain issues head on. If you love knowledge, and who doesn’t, tune into the SGU and join its already huge (35,000 last time I heard?) listener base!

Skepticality
http://www.skepticality.com/index.php

Again, a must listen for any self respecting skeptic. Join Derek and Swoopy as they delve into a specific issue each week. Generally their show consists of an interview with a prominent personality in skepticism or science but their older shows were more like SGU in structure. My favourite recent episode was the No Intelligence Allowed! interview with Professor Richard Dawkins and Dr. Michael Shermer about the new ID movie Expelled.

Are we alone? – SETI Podcast
http://radio.seti.org/

Are we alone? Who knows! But damn it’s fun to speculate. That’s what the SETI podcast is all about… well, not really, they explore deep into different scientific issues as well as the astrobiology topics it is based on. Each podcast focus’ on one or two topics and consists of interviews and fantastic banter between the two hosts. Seth Shostak is the senior astronomer at the SETI institute.

Scientific American
http://www.sciam.com/podcast/

This is a podcast that I don’t listen to regularly, but when I do listen I enjoy it thoroughly. The podcasts are usually fairly short and consist of mainly scientific topics (duh). My recent favourite episode was their interview with Mark Mathis who they proceeded to basically rip apart. It was hilarious to listen to him back peddle when met with a difficult question.

Cj’s Skeptical World
http://tcradiolive.com/cjskeptical.php

Unfortunately CJ’s no longer makes his podcast, but what he has made so far are highly entertaining. Listen to CJ as he spews mind bending rants about Woo and science in the American and world media. He even gives this blog a fleeting mention.

I hope this quick run down has helped you to decide on what you want to listen to. With each packet of knowledge I receive I come closer to world domination, please help me in that goal by commenting and posting your favourite Podcasts.

Venter

Craig Venter is the scientific bad arse of our time. My cool’o’meter goes of the chart when I think about this topic.

Fairly recently (I’m slightly out of date with this one so I apologise), Venter and his team created the first synthetic gene in the lab. This is the next step on his quest to create the first synthetic life form or meat machine, as I like to say.

myogenti

Up until now the longest synthetic DNA chain consisted of 32,000 base pairs, this has changed with Venter’s DNA chain reaching 583,000 base pairs. This is still a long way short of a fully operating organism, which in the case of bacteria is about 10 million base pairs in their DNA, but it is definitely a step in the right direction and the numbers of base pairs will only increase as time goes on.

Venter has been asked what these organisms, if made, could be used for. He mentioned that they could be used for a multitude of things because they could be specifically coded for particular jobs just like a computer program! One notable function is the creation of a new bio-fuel but the applications are basically endless. I won’t go into the more nefarious uses for this technology, such as biological warfare.

As you can probably understand, these studies and achievements are fairly controversial. Taking fire from mainly religious voices accusing Venter of playing “god”. On the other hand it may (but probably won’t) silence a few of the more outspoken creation and ID proponents out there, such as Kent Hovind who went on record on an internet radio station saying that he would believe evolution if a synthetic life form was created in the lab. That being said, its more probable that creation/ID proponents will use this to support their claims, stating that it only proves that life can be created.

Even with these unavoidable obstacles this is going to be a good thing for our species. We will just have to wait and see what happens with this and hope that these fringe studies don’t get slammed anytime soon.

For further reading check out these links.

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23128478-27702,00.html
http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2007/10/craig_venter_claims_artificial.html
http://www.engadget.com/2007/10/07/artificial-life-created-as-scientist-makes-sythetic-chromosome/

Skelliot.

Do you think he saurus?

You stand on an expansive open prairie knee deep in strange fern like plants. Their rubbery branches brush against your legs as the warm breeze washes over you. You look out towards the towering mountains, covered in conifer trees. You hear a strange noise from there. Like a loud moan of a dying cow and you wonder what it could be. In fact, you wonder where you are also, this land seems different, like nothing you have ever seen.

You hear a faint rumbling coming from behind you and you turn to see what it is. There is nothing there. The rumbling gives way to a dull roar, and then the earth beneath you really starts to pulsate. From behind a copse of conifer trees comes a huge long necked quadrupedal creature, and as it extends from behind the trees you see that it is almost sixty meters in length. This creature is massive and it is not alone. A whole herd of these beasts lumbers around the bend. These creatures are called Amphicoelias. Close relatives of Diplodocus but almost twice the length.

As these massive creatures casually stroll past, you now manage to grasp the immense size of these monstrosities. It’s nearly the length of a Boeing 747!

Well in case you couldn’t guess you are now standing in the late Jurassic, 150 million years ago. These animals were the largest land animals to ever exist and maybe the largest animals to exist in the future. To get to this point try and imagine the amount of different animals that have been and gone with the final culmination being a creature of such colossal size that it is almost the size of a 747 Jumbo jet.

Lets also think about how many other dinosaurs and other animals there were even before this time slot of a 150 million years ago and lets think about how many have existed since then! I wanted to write this article because I want to try and convey how lucky we are that we even exist, how lucky we are that we have had such a rich and diverse Earth history.
The Ancestor's Tale, Richard Dawkins
We don’t need magical stories from old books to give us awe in the world and to make us excited of our existence. All we need to do is look back and be humbled by what we see. Our existence is such a small dot in the evolutionary time line of Earth and the universe and it is wonderful that we are alive today to look back on it. If you are interested in looking back at the worlds evolutionary history and getting a grasp of the vast amount of time it has taken to get to us, check out The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins. This book will truly enrich anyone’s understanding of the world we live in. It certainly opened my mind to how big the world is and how little we actually know about it.

Skelliot.

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On Friday I took a trip to my local cinema with a good friend to see a new film called The Bee Movie. I’m sure you have heard of it. Aside from it being highly amusing with the comedic genius of Jerry Seinfeld as Barry B. Benson the premise for the film was surprisingly relevant to the current bee situation that is currently in the media in the USA. I could get caught up in discussing this with you all but that’s not the reason I mentioned this film.

It was after the film that my friend and I walked into the foyer of the cinema that she said something quite interesting. Here is what she said to me.

“Hm, it’s pretty interesting actually, that film really made me see that everything is invented for a reason.”

Now I’m sure that you can see the issue with this statement. My friend isn’t a scientist and I’m fairly positive that she doesn’t take time to see things critically but this sentence worried me quite a bit and reinforced my views that the youth of Australia are not scientifically literate. I asked her what she ment.

“Invented? What do you mean? Bee’s evolved from a common ancestor of all insects 10’s of millions of years ago.”

She responded.

“Oh…Evolved? But WE were invented right?”

I stopped walking and stood their stunned for a moment. What part of high school science did she miss? Or did she erase it from her mind completely during the years after? I am assuming she is religious to some degree and believes in creation from her cultural background but I am not sure. Either way there is something wrong here.

The reason I bring this incident up is because over the past year as I have got more involved with the skeptical scene I have noticed more and more of these sort of statements, not just from people I don’t know, but my close friends. What did these people miss that I didn’t? Is it because they go to a “Christian values” school or is it something else?

This is scary. These people are our future. This is the immediate future. These people are 18 – 22 years of age. I don’t know about you guys but I’m hoping that the new government we recently voted in does something about this complete lack of scientific education (likely?).

Skelliot.