Historia Naturalis Ranarum Nostratium

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.”

Rosetta gears up for comet landing

The Rosetta spacecraft, which has been giving us such lovely pictures of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, has picked a landing site for the Philae probe. The probe is due to land on November 12, and is likely to tell us some interesting things about comets. The video below is from NMANewsDirect.

Endless Forms Most Beautiful: a book review


Endless Forms Most Beautiful by Sean B. Carroll (2005)

I recently read, somewhat belatedly, Endless Forms Most Beautiful by evolutionary developmental biology pioneer Sean B. Carroll.

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)

The book includes chapters on the Cambrian explosion, melanic forms (such as black panthers), and the formation of spots on butterfly wings:

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.


Endless Forms Most Beautiful by Sean B. Carroll: 3½ stars

Ebola #6

The ongoing Ebola outbreak continues to be of great concern. Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea are of course where the real problem lies, but the chart below shows current cases outside Africa. Circles represent evacuated medical or other personnel, while squares represent other cases, including two nurses infected by caring for patients. Recovered patients are shown in green, and deaths in black.

The two infections of nurses demonstrate that even in Western countries, effective infection control within hospitals is a challenge. Hopefully there will be no more deaths among the many brave medical personnel treating this terrible disease.

Update 1: CNN is reporting some criticism of the CDC relating to US domestic Ebola policy. Protective clothing for nurses has also been discussed.

Update 2: A second American nurse has now been diagnosed with Ebola.

Drosophila melanogaster: the legendary “fruit fly”

Drosophila melanogaster, the vinegar fly or “fruit fly” (photo above by André Karwath), has been enormously important as a model organism in genetics and neuroscience, partly because it is so easy to raise in the laboratory (photo below by “Masur”).

Drosophila genes such as fruitless, rutabaga, and white have been enormously important within biology, and flybase.org provides a modern repository of information on such genes. The Hox genes, first found in Drosophila (see below), form part of the complex machinery of embryonic development, which allows protein synthesis to be controlled in both time and space.

Jonathan Weiner’s 1999 book Time, Love, Memory is one of a number of books which explain how valuable this little insect has been.

Ebola #5

Looking at the recent statistics on the Ebola outbreak, current UN initiatives seem to have resulted in a slight reduction in the rate of increase.

While recent cases in the USA and Spain have received a great deal of media coverage recently, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea are of course where the real problem lies.

Update: there is now also a possible case in Australia.