Asking for a Skeptic Friend

I sometimes get email from people asking, in one way or another, whether our long-term evolution experiment (LTEE) with E. coli provides evidence of evolution writ large – new species, new information, or something of that sort. I try to answer these questions by providing some examples of what we’ve seen change, and by putting …

More

Can Life emerge spontaneously?

It would be nice if we knew where we came from. Sure, Darwin’s insight that we are the product of an ongoing process that creates new and meaningful solutions to surviving in complex and unpredictable environments is great and all. But it requires three sine qua non ingredients: inheritance, variation, and differential selection. Three does …

More

A Birthday Sonnet

This past weekend, I celebrated my 60th birthday with friends and family from all over. One of the roasters was Ben “The Bard” Kerr, a professor at the University of Washington and colleague in the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action. Borrowing from another bard, Ben waxed poetic about one of the …

More

Another Birthday Haiku

As I said in my last post, I just celebrated my 60th birthday with lots of friends and family. Several folks produced new artistic works, including two lovely haikus that celebrate the E. coli long-term evolution experiment. Here’s one from Mike Wiser, who did his doctoral research on the long-term lines. A highlight of his …

More

What is a hero?

Does the hero die a hero, or does she survive?In our worship of the mortal champion for good, is it imperative that the hero dies in the at, or do we need her to live?What is this uniquely human construct of the hero? Why is it important for us to imagine the hero? Is the …

More

Homo Sapiens 2.0? (Jamie Metzl, TechCrunch)

Jamie Metzl writes in TechCrunch. Homo Sapiens 2.0? We need a species-wide conversation about the future of human genetic enhancement: After 4 billion years of evolution by one set of rules, our species is about to begin evolving by another. Overlapping and mutually reinforcing revolutions in genetics, information technology, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, and …

More

Nativity 2050

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. Mary was born in the twenties, when the tests were new and still primitive. Her mother had frozen a dozen eggs, from which came Mary and her sister Elizabeth. Mary had …

More

63,000 Strong

Ever wonder about those big numbers posted in a window in that tall building on the east side of Farm Lane, across from the entrance to the MSU Dairy Store? Right now, the digits read 63000. That’s the number of generations in an experiment that’s been running in my lab for over a quarter century. …

More

Thirty Years

No, the LTEE did not suddenly jump forward by almost 3 years. That milestone will be reached on February 24, 2018. Next Friday is the end of the semester at MSU and, for me, it will mark 30 years that I’ve been on the faculty: six at UC-Irvine, and 24 here at MSU. (I also taught …

More

Favorite Examples of Evolution

When the cold bites, When the review stings, When the news is sad, I simply remember these evolving things, And then I don’t feel so bad! — with apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein Over on Twitter, the biology students from George Jenkins High School in Lakeland, Florida, asked me and many others: “What’s your favorite example of evolution?” …

More

TEDxMSU: Hot or Not? Just Try.

Shouting “Sex!” in front of nearly 2,000 people can be scary, but it proved to be a pretty effective way to grab an audience’s attention. On March 4th, 2015, I delivered a TED talk on my evolution research at TEDxMSU, an independently organized TED event held at Michigan State University. The process to getting selected …

More

Garbage, Junk, and non-coding DNA

About 1% of the genome codes for actual proteins: these regions are the ~20k or so “genes” that receive most of the attention. (Usage of the term “gene” seems to be somewhat inconsistent, sometimes meaning “unit of heredity” or “coding region” or “functional region” …) There’s certainly much more biologically important information in the genome …

More

Funding the LTEE—past, present, and future: Questions from Jeremy Fox about the LTEE, part 4

This is the 4th installment in my responses to Jeremy Fox’s questions about the long-term evolution experiment (LTEE) with E. coli. This response addresses his 5th and 6th questions, which are copied below.  ~~~~~ How have you maintained funding for the LTEE over the years, and how hard has it been? The difficulty of sustaining funding for long term work …

More

A Brief History of Humankind

 I wonder whether Yuval Harari is related to the physicist Haim Harari. Yuval Noah Harari discusses his new book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, which explores the ways in which biology and history have defined us and enhanced our understanding of what it means to be human. One hundred thousand years ago, at least …

More

Putting GMOs on a Tight Leash

Two papers appeared in the latest issue of Nature—one from Farren Isaacs’ group and the other from George Church and colleagues—that presented, developed, and demonstrated a strategy for limiting the spread of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, in the event that they are accidentally released or deliberately applied to the environment. My Involvement with GMO Discussions in …

More

Infectiously Fun Science

Science is sometimes frustrating. The work is often repetitive and even tedious. It can be hard to explain to our friends and families—and sometimes even to peers—what we’re doing and why we think it’s important and interesting. The current state of the academic job market is terrible. But science is also often fun. There’s the joy …

More

Eppur Si Muove

Over the break, I watched a couple of episodes of The West Wing including one about political attacks on science called Eppur Si Muove. It reminded me – a lot – of an experience that I had 20 years ago, back in 1995. As in that episode, I received a phone call while at work that began …

More

Adaptive evolution and non-coding regions

This morning I attended an excellent talk: Adaptive Evolution of Gene Expression (see paper and video below), by Hunter Fraser of Stanford. His results support the hypothesis that non-coding regions of the genome play at least as large a role in evolution and heritable variation as protein coding genes. From an information-theoretic perspective, it seems …

More

Creationist Origin Summit at Michigan State University

ORiGiN SuMMiT Michigan State University November 1st, 2014 Business College Complex, Room N130 FREE ADMISSION website  Meet the Speakers Dr. Gerald Bergman Northwest State Community College Dr. Donald DeYoung Grace College and Theological Seminary Dr. Charles Jackson Points of Origin Ministries Dr. John Sanford Cornell University Workshops Hitler’s Worldview There’s no doubt Adolph Hitler believed in …

More

Evolution, sex, and mixability

Last Friday Christos Papadimitriou gave a seminar at UC Santa Barbara in the Computer Science department. The title of his talk was Computational Insights and the Theory of Evolution [announcement]. Abstract  Covertly computational ideas have influenced the Theory of Evolution from the very start. This talk is about recent work on Evolution that was inspired and …

More