plants are people, too!

ok, ok — so maybe they’re not really people, but they are pretty d*rn cool! no really!

bet ya didn’t know (or maybe you do) that they can tell if you’re wearing a red or a blue shirt. or that they know when the fruit of neighboring plants is ripe. or that they have short-term memory.

yes, short-term memory:

“As we saw back in chapter three, the Venus flytrap needs to know when an ideal meal is crawling across its leaves. Closing its trap requires a huge expense of energy, and reopening the trap can take several hours, so Dionaea only wants to spring closed when it’s sure that the dawdling insect visiting its surface is large enough to be worth its time. The large black hairs on their lobes allow the Venus flytraps to literally feel their prey, and they act as triggers that spring the trap closed when the proper prey makes its way across the trap. If the insect touches just one hair, the trap will not spring shut; but a large enough bug will likely touch two hairs within about twenty seconds, and that signal springs the Venus flytrap into action.

“We can look at this system as analogous to short-term memory. First, the flytrap encodes the information (forms the memory) that something (it doesn’t know what) has touched one of its hairs. Then it stores this information for a number of seconds (retains the memory) and finally retrieves this information (recalls the memory) once a second hair is touched. If a small ant takes a while to get from one hair to the next, the trap will have forgotten the first touch by the time the ant brushes up against the next hair. In other words, it loses the storage of the information, doesn’t close, and the ant happily meanders on. How does the plant encode and store the information from the unassuming bug’s encounter with the first hair? How does it remember the first touch in order to react upon the second…?

“In their [Dieter Hodick and Andreas Sievers] studies, they discovered that touching a trigger hair on the Venus flytrap causes an electric action potential that induces calcium channels to open in the trap (this coupling of action potentials and the opening of calcium channels is similar to the processes that occur during communication between human neurons), thus causing a rapid increase in the concentration of calcium ions.

“They proposed that the trap requires a relatively high concentration of calcium in order to close and that a single action potential from just one trigger hair being touched does not reach this level. Therefore, a second hair needs to be stimulated to push the calcium concentration over this threshold and spring the trap. The encoding of the information is in the initial rise in calcium levels. The retention of the information requires maintaining a high enough level of calcium so that a second increase (triggered by touching the second hair) pushes the total concentration of calcium over the threshold. As the calcium ion concentrations dissipate over time, if the second touch and potential don’t happen quickly, the final concentration after the second trigger won’t be high enough to close the trap, and the memory is lost….

“Here, then, lies the proposed mechanism of the short-term memory in the Venus flytrap. The first touch of a hair activates an electric potential that radiates from cell to cell. This electric charge is stored as an increase in ion concentrations for a short time until it dissipates within about twenty seconds. But if a second action potential reaches the midrib within this time, the cumulative charge and ion concentrations pass the threshold and the trap closes. If too much time elapses between action potentials, then the plant forgets the first one, and the trap stays open.

“This electric signal in the Venus flytrap (and the electric signals in other plants for that matter) are similar to the electric signals in neurons in humans and indeed all animals. The signal in both neurons and Dionaea leaves can be inhibited by drugs that block the ion channels which open in the membranes as the electric signal passes through the cell. When Volkov pretreated his plants with a chemical that inhibits potassium channels in human neurons, for example, the traps didn’t close when they were touched or when they received the electric charges.”

cool, huh?!

that’s from What a Plant Knows? A Field Guide to the Senses. if you’re looking for an easy but info-packed read to bring with you on your summer vacation, you could do a lot worse. i’m reading it right now (well, not right now) and it’s terrific! the book is by the author of The Daily Plant (heh) blog.

remember, too, that plants are altruistic as well (see here and here)! (^_^)

(note: comments do not require an email. my favorite plant!)

no you’re not

maybe they’re all some of them are americans in the sense of being from latin america, but they’re not americans in the sense of being u.s. citizens. that’s the WHOLE POINT!

(note: comments do not require an email. too much cute!)


so i saw prometheus and i just have to say that … i really want to like hollywood sci-fi movies (and tv shows) … i really, really do … but they are sooo irritating, and not (just) because of the pc stuff in ’em.

i can’t fully like hollywood sci-fi movies ’cause they’re ANTI-science/technology/curiosity about the universe! (maybe that’s all part of the pc package, too.) i don’t know how they manage to combine that with science-fiction, but they do — and it’s so annoying!

take one of my favorite sci-fi movies: alien. terrific movie, of course, even if the hero was a heroine. (that’s a whole ‘nother discussion — ripley’s great, of course, but there are way too many heroines nowadays.) but why was it that kane — the guy who was the most curious about the alien signal and volunteered to investigate and went first into the alien spacecraft — why was it that he had to be the one to get killed first by the alien? curiosity killed the cat? is that what we’re supposed to learn from that? that’s just irritating!

also the android, ash — probably the most advanced example of human technology in 2122 — and he’s baaaad, of course. ’cause technology is baaaad? bladerunner, too. what? are we not supposed to make robots? *facepalm* i’m ok with the all stuff about evil corporations in both movies, but the anti-science/technology/curiosity themes really turn me off.

even my favorite sci-fi flick — star wars. fanstatic tale of heroes and friendships! but then all that nonsense about “the force” and turning off the targeting computer?! han solo was the only sensible guy there.

and now in prometheus … SPOILER ALERT … i guess genetic engineering must be baaad. that’s the take away message i got anyway.


sadly television sci-fi is no better. they may as well call it all “syfy” ’cause it’s all so gay. (no offense to homosexual people.)

p.s. – i guessed right about the origin of the xenomorphs, though. (^_^) not precisely, but generally speaking.

p.p.s. – oh, and one other thing … SPOILER ALERT … there is no way — NO WAY — that the female protagonist in prometheus, dr. shaw , would’ve been able to run around like that after her *surgery* — NO WAY. those surgical staples would not have held up under all of that activity. couldn’t suspend my disbelief at those points in the movie.

(note: comments do not require an email. prometheus.)

linkfest – 06/17/12

More on Farming and Inheritance Systems – Part I: IQ – from jayman!

Spanish cave paintings shown as oldest in world“New tests show that crude Spanish cave paintings of a red sphere and handprints are the oldest in the world, so ancient they may not have been by modern man. Some scientists say they might have even been made by the much-maligned Neanderthals, but others disagree.”

Childhood obesity found linked to math performance“When compared with children who were never obese, boys and girls whose obesity persisted from the start of kindergarten through fifth grade performed worse on the math test, starting in first grade, and their lower performance continued through fifth grade. For boys whose obesity emerged later (in third or fifth grade), no such differences were found, and for girls who became obese later, poorer math performance was temporary.”

Why Smart People Are Stupid“[I]ntelligence seems to make things worse. The scientists gave the students four measures of ‘cognitive sophistication.’ As they report in the paper, all four of the measures showed positive correlations, ‘indicating that more cognitively sophisticated participants showed larger [cognitive] bias blind spots.'”

Another look at Muslim fertility – from the inductivist.

Spot the Correlation: Wealth vs. Immigration – from dennis.

Scientists Sequence Genome Of Human Relative That Prefers Love Over War“They found that more than 3 percent of the human genome is more closely related to either the bonobo or the chimpanzee than the two apes are to each other, which indicates that the three species share a complex evolutionary relationship.”

bonus: ‘Sexual depravity’ of penguins that Antarctic scientist dared not reveal“Landmark polar research about the Adélie penguin’s sex life by Captain Scott’s expedition, deemed too shocking for the public 100 years ago, is unearthed at the Natural History Museum”

bonus bonus: ‘Oldest galaxy’ discovered using Hawaii telescope“Japanese astronomers on Hawaii say they have found a galaxy 12.91bn light years away”

bonus bonus bonus: That Squid On Your Plate Could Inseminate Your Mouth – ewww!

(note: comments do not require an email. aaaaaaaah!)

genetic similarity and altruism

there’s some good evidence that, on average, people:

– feel more grief over the death of a child who was most like themselves;

– care more for their grandchildren with whom they share the most genes (at least grandmas do anyway);

– are sexually attracted to individuals with whom they share genes if they don’t experience westermarck imprinting (or is it reverse imprinting?), and are more sexually attracted to those individuals with whom they share more genes.

all of this makes sense from an inclusive fitness point-of-view. on average, people really seem to behave according to the “two brothers or eight cousins” rule.

so i’ve been thinking, if you took two human populations with exactly the same evolutionary histories so that they had all of the same sorts and frequencies of genes — including those for altruism (and other social behaviors) — and then had one of the groups inbreed for a generation or two, the inbred group ought to start being more altruistic/whatever to their family members, on average, simply because they would share more genes with — be more genetically similar to — their family members than the non-inbred group members would be to their family members.

i’m guessing, then, that there are two things going on with inbreeding/outbreeding and altruism/other innate social behaviors:

– genetic similarity within a population directly and immediately affecting how people behave towards one another,
– and the evolution of genes for altruism over the longer term.

greying wanderer is ahead of me on this one (^_^):

“I think altruistic behaviour is the *product* of two separate things: relatedness and altruistic genes multiplied together, so the more related people are the less strong their altruistic genes need to be. If the human default is inbreeding then i think this makes more sense as an inbred group would then only have needed to develop very small amounts of altruism genes to create an altruistic effect. If so then it’s only when people outbreed that they need to develop *more* altruism genes to compensate for the drop in relatedness and it’s this that explains how those people can then come to display altruistic type behaviour towards non-kin.”

i thought before that maybe oubred groups evolved different altruism genes (i.e. ones for reciprocal altruism vs. familial altruism) rather than more altruism genes, but i like g.w.’s idea, too. definitely food for thought!

of course, genetic similarity+inbreeding+altruism is pretty much what steve sailer talked about in “Cousin Marriage Conundrum.” (^_^)

see also j.p. rushton’s genetic similarity theory.

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not so many luddites after all

over the weekend, one of my younger first cousins once removed declared that he absolutely, definitely will be a fireman when he grows up (he’s three). his father, one of my in-laws, (half-)jokingly said that, no, you’ll be a lawyer or a doctor or a professor. i chimed in with: “get into genetics, kid. that’s where all the money will be.” (heh! as if i would know.)

my cousin-in-law responded: “genetics? but that’s unethical.” this from a man with a marketing degree. (~_^)

i have to admit i was pretty flummoxed and didn’t really know how to respond or even where to start. our follow up discussion was brief so i didn’t get a satisfactory explanation as to what’s “unethical” about “genetics,” but i got to wondering what the rest of america thinks. thankfully, they’re not so skeptical:

Survey finds wide public support for nationwide study of genes, environment and lifestyle
Nov 12, 2008

Four in five Americans support the idea of a nationwide study to investigate the interactions of genes, environment and lifestyle, and three in five say they would be willing to take part in such a study, according to a survey released today. The research was conducted by the Genetics & Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University with funding from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)….

“Our survey found that widespread support exists in the general public for a large, genetic cohort study. What’s more, we found little variation in that support among different demographic groups,” said David Kaufman, Ph.D., lead author of the paper and project director at the Genetics & Public Policy Center, which is located in Washington….

The online survey of 4,659 U.S. adults was conducted between December 2007 and January 2008. When asked about their support for and willingness to participate in a large genetic cohort study, 84 percent of respondents supported the study and 60 percent indicated they would definitely or probably participate in such a study if asked.

Survey respondents were carefully selected to reflect the demographic makeup of the United States. No significant differences in support or willingness to participate were observed between whites, Hispanics, African Americans and Asians. American Indian and Alaska Native respondents expressed less support for the study (65 percent), but were just as likely to be willing to participate (63 percent) as other respondents….

the pew folks also conducted a “town hall meeting” about genetics in 2008 — a set of five focus group sessions held around the country. from the report [pg. 11]:

“Participants were asked to consider what types of research should and should not be done with the information collected by the proposed study. Research aimed at curing disease was commonly cited as acceptable, and some participants named conditions such as cancer, birth defects, and diabetes….

“Human cloning was cited in every town hall as an unacceptable use of the proposed biobank, although in one case participants differentiated between reproductive cloning (unacceptable) and cloning aimed at regenerating organs or otherwise curing disease (acceptable). Participants frequently named research aimed at altering humans or creating ‘designer babies’ as unacceptable. Another area of concern was ‘things that point out differences between gender, or race, or anything like that that people use to discriminate.’ Other areas mentioned included weapons development, intelligence, alcoholism, and sexual orientation….”

so a lot of americans don’t like the idea of cloning. personally, i’m looking forward to being able to clone myself. i mean, how great a world would it be with more MEs in it? (~_^) and why should bacteria and some lizards have all the fun anyways?

and a lot of americans don’t like “designer babies” either. the funny thing is, of course, that they don’t realize that that’s what they’re aiming for when they look for that perfect someone to marry, i.e. kids to match their heart’s desire. in fact, a lot of americans don’t like anything that smacks of eugenics. i guess that’s not too surprising at this point in time.

at least the majority haven’t written off the whole discipline of genetics as “unethical” though.

(note: comments do not require an email. clone.)