Facts, not Fantasy

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Andrew Wakefield Unethical so Age of Autism Stands By Him

All too often, I am shocked and dismayed, but not at all surprised, at how unethical some people will behave to promote their anti-reality agendas. So, it's of course no surprise that I see this information posted throughout the web. I am shocked and puzzled why anyone would bankrupt any shred of morality they may have to continue to perpetrate these lies and deceptions. I guess after a while, there is no moral ground to stand on, so throwing out any lie or accusation they can make up off the top of their heads should be easy enough...

Here are a couple stories on this latest fiasco that clearly demonstrates the level of dishonesty we are dealing with here:

Andrew Wakefield Unethical so Age of Autism Stands By Him

The British General Medical Council (GMC) has just announced its verdict in their investigation into Andrew Wakefield, ruling that he had acted dishonestly and irresponsibly:

The verdict, read out by panel chairman Dr Surendra Kumar, criticised Dr Wakefield for the invasive tests, such as spinal taps, that were carried out on children and which were found to be against their best clinical interests.

The panel said Dr Wakefield, who was working at London's Royal Free Hospital as a gastroenterologist at the time, did not have the ethical approval or relevant qualifications for such tests.


Dr Kumar said he had acted with "callous disregard for the distress and pain the children might suffer".

He also said Dr Wakefield should have disclosed the fact that he had been paid to advise solicitors acting for parents who believed their children had been harmed by the MMR.

[My bold.]

In 1998, Wakefield claimed to have found a link between the measles virus in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of children (following the MMR vaccine), and autism. Wakefield’s small study, popularized by idiotic news media, led to an MMR-autism scare, a significant drop in vaccine rates and a resurgence of measles in the UK. Wakefield may claim he didn’t say that MMR causes autism, but he certainly implied it strongly enough (and again, with the help of the press), that many people believed (and still believe) that the MMR vaccine causes GI problems which causes autism. The evidence though, from a panel of 28 experts, clearly showed that this was not true. The GMC have now, with this ruling, confirmed that in addition to Wakefield’s conclusions being false, he also acted unethically. We still have to wait to see what sanctions they hand down.

Various vaccines-cause-autism groups immediately revised their positions, based on the conclusions of this independent expert body, and stated that they were wrong previously to claim that the MMR vaccine causes autism.

Ha – just kidding. Of course they haven’t. Nothing would ever convince these people that their previously determined conclusion could ever be wrong. Just take a look at the flurry of activity from the Age of Autism blog in the last three days:

A Sad Day for the Future of Children – where they “unequivocally renounce the GMC’s findings” – no evidence, nothing they can say that is wrong with the GMC’s findings – they just renounce them because, well, because they do, so there.

Then from Mark Blaxill we have Naked Intimidation: The Wakefield Inquisition is Only the Tip of the Autism Censorship Iceberg - where he smears the witnesses in the case, oh and anecdotes, anecdotes I tell you (un-sourced) about anti-vaccination scientists being censored. And “the only thing for the autism community to do now is stand by Andy Wakefield” – because clearly “the only thing” you can do when a discredited doctor is also found guilty of ethical violations, is to “stand by” him. That’s “the only thing” you can do. No other options, obviously. Their hands are tied, you see.

And if that wasn’t clear enough, we have National Autism Association Supports Dr. Andrew Wakefield – the title says all you need to know.

Celebrity idiot Jenny McCarthy’s charity chimes in with Generation Rescue Supports Dr. Andrew Wakefield - (beginning to see a trend here).

Finally, we have fearless conversation advocate and fearless litigant to anyone who disagrees with her, Barbara Loe Fisher, who writes Vaccines: Doctor Judges & Juries Hanging Their Own – a touching story of the first time she met Wakefield. (Why? Who knows.)

And a couple more that I couldn’t be bothered to read.

Nothing could possibly ever convince these people that they might have been wrong. Nothing. Ever. If you want to read some good sources on the GMC’s verdict, see below.

Further Reading

Steven Novella writes Andrew Wakefield “Acted Unethically”.

Investigative reporter Brian Deer (writing a year ago) MMR doctor Andrew Wakefield fixed data on autism – on how Wakefield changed and misreported results in his research:

Although the research paper claimed that problems came on within days of the [MMR shot], in only one case did medical records suggest this was true, and in many of the cases medical concerns had been raised before the children were vaccinated. Hospital pathologists, looking for inflammatory bowel disease, reported in the majority of cases that the gut was normal. This was then reviewed and the Lancet paper showed them as abnormal.

Ben Goldacre The Wakefield MMR verdict.

And finally, there is the GMC’s actual report.

Antivaxxer movement leader found to have acted unethically

Continuing a month of skeptical victories, the UK’s General Medical Council has found that Andrew Wakefield — the founder of the modern antivaccination movement — acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly" when doing the research that led him to conclude that vaccinations were linked with autism. This is being reported everywhere, including the BBC, Sky News, the Yorkshire Evening Post, and more.

Syringe, from  http://www.flickr.com/photos/8499561@N02/2756332192/The GMC (the independent body of medical regulators in the UK, rather like the AMA in the US) didn’t investigate whether his claims were correct or not — and let’s be very clear, his claims have been shown beyond any doubt to be totally wrong — only whether he acted ethically in his research. What they found is that his research (involving spinal taps of children) was against the children’s clinical interest, that Wakefield was unqualified to perform the test, and that he had no ethical approval to do them.

Wow. Again, let’s be clear: that’s a whole lot of ethical damnation from the UK’s leading medical board.

Not to pile on here, but I was rather surprised that they didn’t mention the claims — supported by a lot of evidence — that on top of all that unethical behavior, he may have faked his results, too. There’s also no mention of his grave conflict of interest– at the time he published his paper slamming vaccines and which started the antivax craze, he was developing an alternative to vaccinations, so he had a very large monetary incentive to make the public distrust vaccines.

The GMC has not announced whether he (and two of his cohorts) will be sanctioned or not. I’ll be very curious to see what they do.

Will this deter Wakefield and the antivax movement? Ha! Of course not. Note that supporters of Wakefield heckled the GMC members as they read their announcements.

Also, the evidence was already overwhelming that Wakefield was wrong, just as it’s overwhelming that vaccines are totally and completely unrelated to autism. But the antivaxxers’ world is not based on evidence. It’s more like a dogmatic religion, since many of its believers will twist and distort the truth to fit their views, even, tragically, if it means babies will die.

The antivax movement is resulting in the deaths of children from preventable diseases, many of which were all but gone in the United States. We’re seeing the return of measles, mumps, pertussis, even polio — polio, which was eradicated entirely in the US by 1994. Because vaccines are so effective, people don’t remember these diseases and how they would kill, and now the antivaxxers are paving the way for their return.

This ruling against Wakefield is a step in the right direction, but the path is long and the antivaxxers will be there at every one of these steps, trying desperately to trip up reality. It’s up to us to make sure that we keep walking.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Childhood Vaccine Schedule Updated

The co-director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases is a member of the committee that this week issued updated guidelines for childhood and teen immunizations to include formal recommendations that children older than 6 months get the H1N1 influenza vaccine to guard against swine flu, and that combination vaccines are generally preferred over separate injections.

The revised childhood vaccine schedule is published in the January issue of Pediatrics; the annual update is issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

UAB's David Kimberlin, M.D., is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases and a liaison to the Centers for Disease Control panel that helped author the recommendations.

"Most of these recommendations are for vaccines and boosters that almost every pediatrician and family physician knows about and already is using. It is good practice to issue a clear, concise vaccine schedule that anyone can refer to," says Kimberlin, a UAB professor and associate editor of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Red Book, a revered pediatric treatment manual.

"The bottom line here is vaccines save lives, improve the health of all children and benefit families and communities," he says.

The updated schedule reflects new vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that include the H1N1 vaccine and a human papillomavirus vaccine for girls, known as the HPV2 vaccine, designed to protect females from two strains of the virus associated with more than 70 percent of cervical cancer cases, says Kimberlin.

The new schedule states it is permissible for doctors to recommend the earlier HPV4 vaccine for boys ages 9 and older, offering protection from four strains of the virus and reducing the likelihood of male genital warts. The recommendations also say children considered at-risk for meningococcal disease, especially those with immune-system disorders and other conditions, should get a booster shot of meningococcal conjugate vaccine, known as MCV4, three years after their initial MCV4 dose at ages 2 through 6.

The update also says that after four scheduled doses of inactivated poliovirus vaccine, the fifth dose of the same vaccine should be given on or after age 4 and at least six months after the previous dose.

Kimberlin says vaccine considerations always should consider health-care provider assessment, patient preference and the potential for adverse events. Providers who need more details should refer to the comprehensive recommendations issued by the Centers for Disease Control Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, available by visiting www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/acip-list.htm. Clinically significant adverse events that follow immunization should be reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System at www.vaers.hhs.gov or 800-822-7967.

How Organisms Can Tolerate Mutations, Yet Adapt to Environmental Change

Biologists at the University of Pennsylvania studying the processes of evolution appear to have resolved a longstanding conundrum: How can organisms be robust against the effects of mutations yet simultaneously adaptable when the environment changes?

The short answer, according to University of Pennsylvania biologist Joshua B. Plotkin, is that these two requirements are often not contradictory and that an optimal level of robustness maintains the phenotype in one environment but also allows adaptation to environmental change.

Using an original mathematical model, researchers demonstrated that mutational robustness can either impede or facilitate adaptation depending on the population size, the mutation rate and a measure of the reproductive capabilities of a variety of genotypes, called the fitness landscape. The results provide a quantitative understanding of the relationship between robustness and evolvability, clarify a significant ambiguity in evolutionary theory and should help illuminate outstanding problems in molecular and experimental evolution, evolutionary development and protein engineering.

The key insight behind this counterintuitive finding is that neutral mutations can set the stage for future, beneficial adaptation. Specifically, researchers found that more robust populations are faster to adapt when the effects of neutral and beneficial mutations are intertwined. Neutral mutations do not impact the phenotype, but they may influence the effects of subsequent mutations in beneficial ways.

To quantify this idea, the study's authors created a general mathematical model of gene interactions and their effects on an organism's phenotype. When the researchers analyzed the model, they found that populations with intermediate levels of robustness were the fastest to adapt to novel environments. These adaptable populations balanced genetic diversity and the rate of phenotypically penetrant mutations to optimally explore the range of possible phenotypes.

The researchers also used computer simulations to check their result under many alternative versions of the basic model. Although there is not yet sufficient data to test these theoretical results in nature, the authors simulated the evolution of RNA molecules, confirming that their theoretical results could predict the rate of adaptation.

"Biologists have long wondered how can organisms be robust and also adaptable," said Plotkin, assistant professor in the Department of Biology in Penn's School of Arts and Sciences. "After all, robust things don't change, so how can an organism be robust against mutation but also be prepared to adapt when the environment changes? It has always seemed like an enigma."

Robustness is a measure of how genetic mutations affect an organism's phenotype, or the set of physical traits, behaviors and features shaped by evolution. It would seem to be the opposite of evolvability, preventing a population from adapting to environmental change. In a robust individual, mutations are mostly neutral, meaning they have little effect on the phenotype. Since adaptation requires mutations with beneficial phenotypic effects, robust populations seem to be at a disadvantage. The Penn-led research team has demonstrated that this intuition is sometimes wrong.

The study, appearing in the current issue of the journal Nature, was conducted by Jeremy A. Draghi, Todd L. Parsons and Plotkin from Penn's Department of Biology and G√ľnter P. Wagner of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University.

The study was funded by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the James S. McDonnell Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the John Templeton Foundation, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Perinatology Research Branch of the National Institutes of Health.

Skeptics – Getting Under Their Skin

A blog entry from Steven Novella that is encouraging. Granted, he and the folks he mentions are much more visible in the skeptic world, so they are obviously targets. And I am in a way glad that I have not received this sort of attention from the woos and IDiots out there. Just because I don't have the time to deal with them, and let's be honest, are such people even worth the time?

Skeptics – Getting Under Their Skin

Steven Novella, Jan 25 2010

As the activist skeptical movement grows and increasingly networks, thanks largely to social media, we seem to be irritating those who are the targets of our critical analysis. This is a good thing. It’s a sign that we are doing our job and having an impact.

Recently there has been an increase in those attacking skeptics and skepticism. One tactic is to attempt to intimidate critics and silence public debate through libel lawsuits or the threat of such suits. The blustering by Bonnie Vent and her minions following Mark Edwards’ latest post is a good example. Clearly, they are not familiar with libel laws in the US, or they hope that we are not, or they simply don’t care.

To be clear, we take very seriously our responsibility to be fair and factually accurate, and we will happily correct mistakes if they are pointed out to us. The original version of Mark’s article contained the word “apparently” to refer to second-hand information. This was probably enough of a qualification, but we strengthened it to “allegedly” just to be sure, and even added the caveat about the original source. (Read the post for details.)

Fortunately in the US we have rational libel laws. In order to prove libel the plaintiff will have to prove that the defendant wrote something that was wrong, they knew it was wrong, and they did it deliberately out of malice. In some states you also have to prove harm, but a few have what is called “libel per se” which means that certain accusations are considered automatically damaging to one’s reputation.

On the other hand, some states also have anti-SLAPP laws – strategic lawsuit against public participation. In essence, if you use a libel suit to silence a critic and remove their right to participate in free speech, you may be counter sued under anti-SLAPP laws. The courts, in short, have recognized the threat that SLAPP suits pose to first amendment rights.

The Canadian Supreme Court recently recognized this as well, ruling in one case:

The Supreme Court said it examined laws in other countries with similar legal systems, such as the United Kingdom and Australia. It found that Canadian law was strict by comparison and did not give enough weight to the value of free expression.

“This, in turn, may have a chilling effect on what is published,” said the text of one of the rulings. “Information that is reliable and in the public’s interest to know may never see the light of day.”

Unfortunately, English libel law is still in the dark ages, as some of our colleagues across the pond have discovered. Simon Singh is currently defending a libel suit in British court against the British Chiropractic Association (BCA). Apparently he stung them and made it hurt when he pointed out they promote treatments that are not supported by evidence. This resulted in a backlash against the BCA and a campaign to reform English libel laws.

Previously Ben Goldacre and The Guardian were the target of a libel suit from one Matthias Rath, for selling dubious treatments for serious illnesses, like AIDS, in Africa. Ben emerged victorious from this suit.

Back on this side, Robert Lancaster was threatened with suit by Sylvia Browne for his website, stopsylviabrowne.com. Robert refused to back down or be intimidated by Browne, who had not case against him. Unfortunately, Robert suffered a stroke and during his recovery period it appears that the registration for the domain name lapsed and the url was picked up by a psychic promoter.

Paul Offit and Amy Wallace from Wired Magazine have also recently been sued by anti-vaccinationist Barbara Loe Fisher, the head of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC). This one is over the claim by Offit printed in Wired Magazine that “she lies” – referring to Fisher. If it actually gets to court it is likely, in my opinion, that Offit will be able to demonstrate that Fisher has made comments that are less than truthful. But usually in such cases the point of the suit is not to defend it in court, but simply to force a settlement.

Threat of libel is not the only way that the cranks of the world are trying to fight back against skeptics. They are also trying to take us on in their own critical writing, which of course they have the right to do. But just like with the libel suits, this strategy has been backfiring more often than not. It seems that if we irritate them enough, we can goad them into embarrassing themselves by trying to do something they clearly are not good at – critical analysis.

Recently Deepak Chopra, Rustom Roy, and Larry Dossey attacked Science-Based Medicine in the Huffington Post. Invariably such attempts butcher the skeptical position (always a marker of intellectual sloppiness) and just provide more fodder for us to criticize, and this was no exception. In the world of alternative medicine defenders on nonsense, like the three above, have an especially hard time because they do need to seem scientific while attacking science and defending pseudoscience. So it is easy to trip them up in self-contradiction. As David Gorski writes:

Dr. Dossey just spent two articles whining that his beloved CAM is being treated so very, very unfairly by promoters of science-based medicine, but from my viewpoint it’s being treated more than fairly these days; it’s being given a free pass, by and large. Again, that’s why I’ll repeat it one more time. If Dr. Dossey really wants CAM to be evaluated on a truly equal scientific footing with science-based medicine, I have one thing to say to him one last time:

Bring it on!

Mike Adams, editor of NaturalNews.com, has also felt the sting of skeptics and decided to fight back with his own rhetoric. In it he raises an army of particularly flimsy strawmen against skeptics, easily dismantled. He was joined by fellow natural guru Joseph Mercola, who attacked one of our Australian colleagues, Rachel Dunlop. Mercola’s comments were in such poor taste that his own followers flinched.

Speaking of which, the winner of the most callous, distasteful, and strategically moronic attack on skeptics of 2009 goes to the Age of Autism for their photoshopped picture of various critics of the anti-vaccine movement (including yours truly) eating a baby at Thanksgiving dinner. Even some of their devoted followers were put off by this despicable (and mysogynistic) display, and they quickly decided to take it down.


As the skeptical movement grows we will increasingly become the targets of counter-attacks like those I discuss above. Like it or not, we are engaged in conflict with the promoters of pseudoscience and an anti-scientific world view, and they will fight back. But we have shown in recent years that we can stick together and we will not be intimidated. Try to silence one of us, and the criticism will only be magnified 100 fold.

Bonnie Vent could have just taken Mark’s criticism and moved on, but instead she chose to try to have the criticism taken down, resorting to empty libel threats as an intimidation tactic. But all she has accomplished is to focus our attention on her all the more.

The BCA was soundly embarrassed by the attention they received as a consequence of their lawsuit. It even led to skeptical activists reporting instances of chiropractors making false claims, which in turn led to one chiropractic group advising their members to take down all claims on their websites (which seems like a curious admission that their claims do not hold up to scrutiny).

I am particularly amused when the purveyors of pseudoscience try to engage skeptics in critical analysis. That is our arena, and we will be happy to trounce them all day long. In fact, we want a serious discussion of logic and evidence – that is what skepticism is all about. If we can get them engaging us in such discussion that can only serve our ends. Even if they can demonstrate that they are correct about a claim – that is all we want, to base claims on logic and evidence.

More likely, however, we will get what Mike Adams served up – a frothing rant that is so disconnected from reality it accomplishes our work for us.

So keep it up, fellow skeptics. We are having an impact, and the cranks of the world are feeling the pain.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Evolution Tab Has New Page

A previous blog post here has been turned into its own page. Creationists Read This is now a static page for people to reference in regards to the myriad of bad arguments that creationists will make (yes, I can gurantee that they will make numerous errors in their logic and reasoning, as well as understanding of evolution). There are still some minor edits that need to be made, and since it is from a forum post, there may further updates. I will try to keep up on it to the best of my ability.

And thank you to IVAN3MAN for fixing the formatting of the page. It has been live now for a couple of days, but it was his final touches that made it worthy of an announcement.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ongoing Human Evolution Could Explain Recent Rise in Certain Disorders

Ongoing Human Evolution Could Explain Recent Rise in Certain Disorders

ScienceDaily (Jan. 11, 2010) — The subtle but ongoing pressures of human evolution could explain the seeming rise of disorders such as autism, autoimmune diseases, and reproductive cancers, researchers write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Certain adaptations that once benefited humans may now be helping such ailments persist in spite of -- or perhaps because of -- advancements in modern culture and medicine.

"This work points out linkages within the plethora of new information in human genetics and the implications for human biology and public health, and also illustrates how one could teach these perspectives in medical and premedical curricula," says author Peter Ellison, John Cowles Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University.

Ellison's co-authors are Stephen Stearns of Yale University, Randolph Nesse of the University of Michigan, and Diddahally Govindaraju of the Boston University School of Medicine. The research was first presented at the Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium, co-sponsored by the National Academy of Science and the Institute of Medicine.

Colloquium presentations described in the current paper include research suggesting that:

  • Autism and schizophrenia may be associated with the over-expression of paternally or maternally derived genes and influences, a hypothesis advanced by Bernard Crespi of Simon Fraser University.
  • Maternal and paternal genes engage in a subtle tug-of-war well into childhood with consequences for childhood development, as posited by David Haig, George Putnam Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard.
  • Humans may be susceptible to allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases because of increased hygiene, according to Kathleen Barnes of Johns Hopkins University. Without being exposed to intestinal worms and parasites, as our ancestors were, our immune systems are hypersensitive.
  • Natural selection still influences our biology, despite advances in modern culture and medicine. Stearns found that natural selection favors heavier women and reduces the age at which a woman has her first child.
  • In the final presentation of the colloquium, researchers called for the integration of evolutionary perspectives into medical school curricula, to help future physicians consider health problems from an evolutionary perspective.

"We're trying to design ways to educate physicians who will have a broader perspective and not think of the human body as a perfectly designed machine," says Ellison. "Our biology is the result of many of evolutionary trade-offs, and understanding these histories and conflicts can really help the physician understand why we get sick and what we might do to stay healthy."

Previous work in evolutionary medicine helped explain why disease is so prevalent and difficult to prevent -- because natural selection favors reproduction over health, biology evolves more slowly than culture, and pathogens evolve more quickly than humans.

"I think that the main take-home point is that evolution and medicine really do have things to say to each other, and some of these insights actually reduce suffering and save lives," says Stearns.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Vaccines Page Updated

I have finally gotten around to updating the Vaccines Page. The lies told by the pro-disease anti-vax movement are numerous and despicable, and it's a tough job to keep up with them. Especially since they make stuff up off the top of their heads, and we actually behave responsibly and back up our statements with science and research. Please go check it out.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Good mutations: Stalking evolution through genetic mutation in plants

Good mutations: Stalking evolution through genetic mutation in plants

By Katherine Harmon

plant mutation genetic evolutionThale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) has one of the smallest genomes in the plant kingdom and is a laboratory darling around the world owing to its relatively short code. First sequenced in 2000, the humble weed has only 120 million base pairs in its genome (humans, by contrast have about 2.9 billion), but it still packs plenty of genetic mystique.

A new study has uncovered the rate of the plant's spontaneous mutations as they happen across generations—a finding that could help illuminate the evolutionary history of plants and selective breeding efforts in the future.

"While the long-term effects of genome mutations are quite well understood, we did not know how often new mutations arise in the first place," Detlef Weigel, director at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, and coauthor of the study which appeared online Thursday in Science, said in a prepared statement.

The group studied genetic changes of five different plant lines across 30 generations. After carefully comparing each full genome, they found that only about 20 base pairs had mutated in each line.

"The probability that any letter of the genome changes in a single generation is thus about one in 140 million," Michael Lynch of the Department of Biology at Indiana University in Bloomington and study collaborator, said in a statement.

Locating these small numbers required some high-powered sequencing. "To ferret out where the genome had changed was only possible because of new methods that allowed us to screen the entire genome with high precision and in very short time," Weigel said. Despite the new sequencing capabilities, the team still rechecked each letter's position 30 times to make sure suspected mutations were being accurately assessed. As high-throughput sequencing becomes more widely available, researchers should be able to conduct more mutation-rate studies. One ongoing study at Michigan State University that is tracking evolutionary change in E. coli, for example, has analyzed hundreds of mutations across 40,000 generations of the bacteria.

The new findings might prove to be more than a simple gee-whiz figure. This study revealed that mutations were occurring at about the same rate across the full genome—not just in specific parts. This might help explain why efforts to keep some plants at bay with single-gene-targeting herbicides are often only briefly successful. It should also hearten researchers who are searching for ways to improve crops—making them more drought-tolerant or better producers—to know that these mutations are likely already occurring. But to truly expedite strategic breeding for many crops, full genome sequencing, as was recently accomplished for corn, will be crucial to giving horticulturalists a genetic map to different traits.

The group has also been able to use the findings to peer back into Arabidopsis thaliana 's genetic past. Previously, researchers had speculated that it and its closest relative, Arabidopsis lyrata, had split about five million years ago. The new genetic data suggests a divergence at least 20 million years ago.

Although these results are from a lowly mustard relative, the data might also have implications for understanding human genetic change.

"If you apply our findings to humans, then each of us will have on the order of 60 new mutations that were not present in our parents," Weigel said. A study published in Current Biology in August estimated that each individual had something more along the lines of 100 to 200 new mutations. Whatever the exact number, the modest mutation rate can have a big impact when spread across some six billion individuals. And even though natural selection usually appears to work on a relatively slow timescale, with so many mutations, nature can be assaying new combinations all the time. "Everything that is genetically possible is being tested in a very short period," Lynch said.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Suisetz

Monday, January 04, 2010

Origin of Life: Optimism for the Future of Research

Just a quick article from Austin Cline about the writings from Carl Zimmer regarding abiogenesis. Interesting read. Sadly you must have membership to read the full article.

Although the origin of life is not, strictly speaking, a part of evolutionary theory it remains an important field of research not just for biologists generally, but evolutionary biologists in particular. This is because the physical and biological mechanisms behind evolution also must have been behind the natural processes which allowed life to develop. The more we understand how life originated, the more we'll understand about the nature of life itself -- as well as how life evolves.