Well Thank God for THAT: Royal Wedding Air

So, have you been wondering what bottled privilege smells like?

Here’s your chance to buy some air bottled on the day of the upcoming royal wedding.

Yes, air.

The description from the website.

How would you like to have a part of the Royal wedding, get a sniff of what it was like to be there?

Royal wedding day air will soon be available to you as a souvenir of the biggest day in Royal history this century.

Our team of air collectors will be in the heart of London on the big day to collect air for you to enjoy and display in pride of place in your home.

I don’t know whether it’s too late to submit your application to join the “team of air collectors.”

I assume that this is primarily aimed at the gag-gift market, in both senses of the word “gag.”

WTF, 1942? Bugs Bunny dons blackface to sell war bonds.

So, one of the features of studying things like biological species or languages, is that they’re not really things. Or rather, they are things, but in a fuzzy, not-very-thingy kind of way.

What I mean is that it is often difficult to define the exact boundaries of a species or language. Fundamentally, this is a consequence of the fact that we are trying to apply discrete labels (such as “English” or “Moloch horridus“) to populations of things (speakers or individuals) that exhibit a degree of variation (e.g., dialects or subspecies), and that change over time.

For example, I can easily read a newspaper article written in the 1950s. I can read something from the 1700s and understand it, but it might sound weird. I can read Shakespeare and understand it, but I probably make use of a lot of the footnotes. By the time I’m reading Chaucer, some things might look familiar, but I probably require help to correctly understand most of the words. So, while those texts are all, in a sense, English, the gradual process of change means that the English of 800 or 1000 years ago is as foreign to me as contemporary French or German.

The same is true of biological species. In that context, people sometimes refer to “diachronic species,” which is a way of breaking up a single, continuous biological lineage into subsections that can be given different labels. Given enough knowledge of the biology, one could use not-completely-arbitrary criteria to decide whether two individuals in the same lineage (say, where one was a distant ancestor of the other) should be classified as members of the same species. However, defining break points along the lineage to define species is an inherently arbitrary exercise.

This change process is also true of other (non-linguistic) aspects of culture. There is clearly a continuum of American culture stretching back from the present into the past. And each additional year that we move back, the more the culture seems foreign to me. But how far back is far enough to where you would actually call it a different culture? Again, there is an inherent arbitrariness here that means there is no real answer to the question. I suspect that if you were to take a survey, people’s answers would depend a lot on how old they are.

However, I want to make a pitch for World War II being the natural break point in American culture, if for no other reason than that it would provide a psychological distance that would assuage my discomfort with this video from 1942.

Now, I don’t know what came up for you, but at the time of posting, the related videos that pop up at the end include classics such as “Nazi Duck” and “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips.”

Also, what’s up with the 1942-era shape of Elmer Fudd’s head?

As opposed to the light of what?

So, most biologists are familiar with the quotation by Theodosius Dobzhansky, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” In fact, in my experience, if you go to a biology conference, there’s about a 50% chance that at least one of the speakers will introduce their talk with this line. What is typically not made explicit in these talks is, as opposed to what other light?

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I have most often heard this quotation used when the speaker is talking to an audience of ecologists or molecular / cell biologists. While both of those fields are clearly tied into evolutionary ideas, explicit thought about evolution is often secondary to other considerations, such as accurately describing the behavior of these very complicated systems on much shorter timescales (months or years in ecology, perhaps down to milliseconds in molecular biology). My sense has always been that people pull out this quotation when they get excited about an evolutionary question in their work, but somehow they feel some anxiety about how their colleagues will react. In a practical sense, then, people seem to quote Dobzhansky when they want to ask a why question. The “as opposed to what” part would be the more descriptive what, where, when, and how questions that constitutes the bulk of the work in biology.

Since this is one of those quotations that just floats around the community, what people may not know is that this was actually the title of one of Dobzhansky’s papers. The paper, published in 1973, was written as a critique of anti-evolutionist arguments by creationists. The “as opposed to what” part, then, was originally divine intervention and intelligent design.

Theodosius Dobzhansky circa 1966. Photo via Wikipedia.

The interesting thing about this paper is that it is written from the perspective of a religious man, and the arguments are more theological than scientific or sociological in nature. Dobzhansky himself was a committed member of the Eastern Orthodox Church. He argues that life is God’s creation, but that natural selection is the mechanism that God has chosen.

It is wrong to hold creation and evolution as mutually exclusive alternatives. I am a creationist and an evolutionist. Evolution is God’s, or Nature’s, method of Creation. Creation is not an event that happened in 4004 B. C.; it is a process that began some 10 billion years ago and is still under way.

Dobzhansky then continues with many of the now-familiar arguments for the overwhelming empirical evidence supporting the fact of evolution – in the fossil record, in the patterns of diversity of life, and in the molecular similarities among all species. What strikes me as particularly interesting in the article is the argument that he invokes to defend against claims that God deliberately created patterns that resemble those that would result from an evolutionary process – for example, the claim that God created dinosaur fossils, when no dinosaurs ever existed, or that God made dinosaur fossils appear to be much older than they actually are.

He says that to claim that God arranged things in this way is blasphemous, as it accuses Him of “systematic deceitfulness.” This, in fact, seems to be the core of Dobzhansky’s argument. The evidence is so strong that it admits only two possible explanations: either evolution is true, or God is deceitful. He rejects the latter on the grounds that such a claim would be “as revolting as it is uncalled for.”

Finally, Dobzhansky winds up with a quotation from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin:

Is evolution a theory, a system, or a hypothesis? It is much more – it is a general postulate to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must henceforward bow and which they must satisfy in order to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light which illuminates all facts, a trajectory which all lines of thought must follow – this is what evolution is.

He notes that Teilhard (a Jesuit priest and paleontologist) was a deeply religious man, and that his faith was not at all in conflict with a belief in evolution and natural selection. I reproduce the quote here because it kicks ass.

Theodosius Dobzhansky (1973). Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution The American Biology Teacher, 35 (3), 125-129

Well Thank God for THAT: Blood (another new fragrance)

So, let’s say you’re a teenage girl. And, say, due to undisclosed psychological damage, you really want a weird, controlling, MUCH older, sparkly, smelly boyfriend. And, you want sex with said boyfriend to violently knock you unconscious. AND, you want the resulting pregnancy to nearly kill you, so that he has to perform an amateur c-section on you . . . with his teeth.

Why would you want this? I honestly have no idea. But, hey, we don’t judge here at Lost in Transcription.

Introducing BLOOD CONCEPT, a set of fragrances out of Italy. Dab a little of this behind your ears, and you’ll soon be fighting off swarms of vampires AND mosquitos.

I am AB negative, which means that I have a head of  “Aldehydes. Aluminium. Slate,” A middle of “Pebble. Aqua,” and a base of “Cedar Wood. Metallic Notes.” Or maybe it means I have the negative of that.

Direct from the website:

Filled with legends and meanings, blood is soaked with mystery‚ fascination and respect. it’s the most tested and studied part of human body and it guards a multitude of secrets that reveals our inner and unique way of being.

BLOOD CONCEPT is a private celebration of the vivid and fascinating liquid that flows in our veins. Because blood is actually the river of life.

A, B, AB and 0, retrace the evolution of manhood through time and its record of information, history and mutation, so well kept in the vital flushing of blood. 

BLOOD CONCEPT is a mystic ritual with no flowers to be found: deep as primeval Africa in 0‚ aromatic as the scent of familiar land in A, bold as unpredictable itineraries in B, bold and sharp as a metropolitan skyline in AB.

Ending each time with the same subtle and mysterious note: a metallic vague suspicion.

 Oddly enough, in that text (copied and pasted), that fourth flavor is not the letter “O”, but the number zero.

Mitochondria and Hypertension

So, here’s a new thing.

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This is based on a recent paper (citation below) where they identify a point mutation in the mitochondrial DNA that appears to result in hypertension.

So why is this interesting? Well, for me, as an evolutionary theorist who works on intragenomic conflict, it is interesting because the mitochondrial DNA is, in principle, subject to selection pressures different from the rest of the genome. For instance, mitochondrial genes present in a female would, in principle, benefit from skewing the sex ratio of the offspring of that female, since those genes can only be passed on to grandchildren through daughters. Furthermore, since mitochondria are maternally inherited, the intragenomic conflicts over inclusive fitness effects that underlie the phenomenon of genomic imprinting could potentially shape the evolution of mitochondrial genes as well.

Sadly (from the theory perspective), the scope of phenomena influenced by mitochondria is fairly limited, with a lot of the effects limited to core metabolism. That’s not to say that core metabolism is not important. Obviously, core metabolism is important to the survival of the individual. In fact the importance of these genes to survival is exactly what tends to make them evolutionarily less interesting. By and large, core metabolism is unlikely to be a significant locus of intragenomic conflict because all of the genes in an individual need that individual to be able to do things like, e.g., make ATP.

From this perspective, then, this mutation is interesting in that it represents an example of a phenotype that can be quantitatively affected by the mtDNA. This particular mutation is likely best interpreted as a mildly deleterious one that happens to exist within a particular family in China. However, it opens up the possibility of mutations with subtler phenotypic effects, which could potentially be subject to divergent selective pressures for different parts of the genome. For instance, if elevated blood pressure during pregnancy results in a greater transfer of resources from mother to offspring, we would expect autosomal and mitochondrial genes to favor different optimal blood pressures.

The other thing that is interesting is the type of mutation it is. It is actually a point mutation in the gene that produces the mitochondrial Isoleucine tRNA. This mutation messes up a site that is cleaved as a part of the normal post-transcriptional processing. The result is that the steady-state level of mitochondrial Isoleucine tRNA is reduced by 46%. This, in turn, impacts the translation of other mitochondrial gene products with protein translation reduced by an average of 32%. So, basically what it does is just muck up mitochondrial function a little bit.

Wang, S., Li, R., Fettermann, A., Li, Z., Qian, Y., Liu, Y., Wang, X., Zhou, A., Mo, J., Yang, L., Jiang, P., Taschner, A., Rossmanith, W., & Guan, M. (2011). Maternally Inherited Essential Hypertension Is Associated With the Novel 4263AG Mutation in the Mitochondrial tRNAIle Gene in a Large Han Chinese Family Circulation Research, 108 (7), 862-870 DOI: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.110.231811

Celebrity auto-tweets

So, are you someone who religiously follows celebrities on twitter? Do you find yourself getting frustrated and depressed because they don’t tweet often enough for you?

Fortunately, there’s this thing you may or may not have seen, where you can type in a twitter name, and it will look at the previous tweets in the feed and suggest your next tweet.

Here are suggested tweets for the nine people who made Time’s 140 Best Twitter Feeds in the “Celebrities” category:

@ActuallyNPH (Neil Patrick Harris): Harry Houdini was born on B’way. Intimate, lovely. Bernadette Peters is in his face, but nothing major.

@alyssa_milano: ☁ 8 Things To Sleep better ➛ ♡ 5 Foods That Will Save The Beatles ➵ !

@feliciaday: Don’t equal the depressing passage of Cheerios. Seems like Sloth’s young quirky cousin LOL!


@taylorswift13: Just soundchecked in a cloud today. So stoked. So stoked. So stoked. So stoked.

@theellenshow (Ellen DeGeneres): The VIP tickets and I think this was wrong.

@aplusk (Ashton Kutcher): I FANCY the +1 Button Thx new apple iCharger!

@justinbieber: Germany is on stage hahahah he’s okay.. just got here. amazing place…not a lot of dancing skillz?

@ladygaga: I promised unicorns would be released on the whiskey, lipstick, and queens of rainbow roads.

So, you can go there, type in the twitter name of that person you’re stalking, and just keep hitting return. It’s like they’re tweeting just to you!

If you’re considering whether or not you should be using this technology to stalk me (@jonfwilkins), I’d like to present this in the interest of full disclosure. I ran it on myself a bunch of times, and this seemed to be the high-water mark:

@jonfwilkins: Congrats! This was far from being reblogged. Especially by Katy Perry. The word is you’re killing 11 people.