Here is a beautifully illustrated book to look out for: Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, the Backbone of Life, by Susan Middleton.
While the ongoing Ebola outbreak continues to be of very great concern, there is some good news concerning cases outside Africa. In the chart below (updated from my past post), circles represent evacuated medical or other personnel, while squares represent other cases, including the three nurses infected by caring for patients (also, recovered patients are shown in green, and deaths in black):
Teresa Romero, the Spanish nurse, appears to be virus-free and recovering (hopefully the two US nurses will also recover quickly!). The chart also shows that (outside Africa):
- there appears to have been no transmission outside the hospital context (no family members or casual contacts have been identified as infected so far – in particular, Thomas Duncan’s fiancée was not infected); and
- transmission within the hospital context has occurred only when treating fatal cases of Ebola, and then only with two specific patients (and it seems that better protective clothing would have prevented transmission in those cases too).
While it is a terrible disease, Ebola does not seem to be as infectious as some people in the US fear.
In other good news, Nigeria is officially Ebola-free. However, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are still seeing a total of 100 or more new cases each day. Help is still urgently needed there, as this map by Mikael Häggström highlights:
The Gallica digital library in France has recently uploaded this beautifully illustrated natural history of frogs by August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof (1758). It is also online at the Université de Strasbourg, and some of the images are on Wikimedia Commons as well. The quote from Virgil in the image above (“Admiranda tibi levium spectacula rerum”) translates roughly as “Regard with wonder that which the smallest of creatures display.”
I recently read, somewhat belatedly, Endless Forms Most Beautiful by evolutionary developmental biology pioneer Sean B. Carroll (the title derives from a line in On the Origin of Species: “from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved”).
This well-written book provides an excellent explanation for how a toolkit of genes like the Hox genes (see image below) control embryonic development in animals. The discovery of these genes shows that fruit flies, starfish, and people are more closely related than was once believed.
These genes work by producing proteins which in turn control the expression of other genes, in what is effectively a kind of computer program that can be visualised (and Endless Forms Most Beautiful contains several lovely colour plates which confirm this).
Photo: Caitlin Sedwick (from this paper)
Carroll concludes with a plea for teaching more evolutionary biology in schools. Personally, I think a greater priority would be an increased emphasis on teaching ecology, given the serious consequences which human activities (even well-meaning ones) can have for the planet. However, that quibble does not stop me from recommending this book to anyone who has not read it yet.