Tag Archives: animals

Transgenics in the news: salmon and pigs

23 Aug

This conversation on PRI’s On Point discusses many issues surrounding transgenic salmon, including biological, conservation, and ethical ones. It presents two good case studies for transgenics.

Biochemistry of digesting transgenes & transgene products

Gene flow, fitness effects of transgene on wild populations

Gene flow, conservation issues and suggested solutions

Transgenics: AquaBounty Salmon and the Enviropig


Yangtze finless porpoise

26 Jul

Science Mag news article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.329.5990.378

Debates: a source of student motivation

26 Jul

Jonatham Schramm, an ecology PhD doing an education post-doc, floored me with his quiet ability to get students discussing GMOs, mass transit, and consequently, biology, with passion.

I also notice students pipe up to correct peers or instructors like at no other time. I’ve seen 40 minute debates cause astonishing 40 minute gaps in Facebook news feeds.

So, debates! A great activity, because it generates motivation and requires self-directed learning at many levels.

Here’s an example question: Should 40 smuggled tomato frogs be returned to Madagascar?


New category!

Bird backpacks demonstrate Darwin’s first postulate of Natural Selection

23 Apr

It takes a while to recognize differences among individual organisms of the same species. We all intuit them about humans, but our picture books teach us as kids that a fish is a fish is a fish. Add the fact that these differences fall into three classes, and it’s a lot to take in.

Once this appreciation sinks in, it becomes difficult to see even how twins can be truly identical. Among all those base pairs in the genome, some unruly A has to have swapped out to C. And the thing I love about Natural Selection is that it’s a beautiful syllogism: once you grasp three premises, the proposition is just there.

More than anything else in our paved paradises we encounter differences among automobiles, observing very small sample sizes of living organisms. It always jolts me out of my assumptions when I see students have ah-ha moments with the first postulate of individual variation. For a teacher struggling to grasp why students struggle to grasp selection, smacking into the gap between what students are assumed to know and what they don’t know is humbling but refreshing. I am increasingly finding that nature, not technology, is instrumental in biology classrooms. It is ridiculous to rely solely on students transferring their knowledge of mutation to individual variation. How easily do I transfer the abstract and microscopic to the warm and soft?

So, here’s a nice study of the individual differences in pigeon behavior, measured–essentially–with “critter cams”. I’ve linked below to a 3 minute news radio report summarizing the rationale and findings.

It’s not trivial that Darwin and Wallace arrived at their famous syllogism during years of sleeping under the stars, trying to avoid sleeping with the fishes. Naturalists (and profiteers) in England were great collectors, and inherent to collecting is individual variation. As James Audobon said, “When the bird and the book disagree, always believe the bird.”

NPR: Backpacked Birds Reveal Who’s The Boss