Tag Archive: genetics

A Question Of Faith

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  To say religion is a contentious issue may qualify as a serious contender for understatement of the millennium. The Western World in particular has experienced a greater number of religious scandals in recent years, along with a growing and more vocal secular movement. But religion is not a recent phenomenon and, from Aristotle to Aquinas, has always been at the forefront of attempts to explain our existence. It is only relatively recently, with the advent of modern scientific discovery, that these traditional modes of faith have been challenged by a new and empirical worldview. And yet, faith and religion continue to hold a prominent place in the hearts and minds of billions of people across the globe. So just what is it that makes them such attractive concepts, and why are they so prevalent throughout human culture? What’s immediately clear, is that the origins of our obsession with faith are mired deep in evolutionary history. Indeed, it all seems …

How Darwin predicted the genetic link

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Just over a century and a half ago, Charles Darwin finally published On the Origin of Species, explaining how all life had been shaped by natural selection. Before he explained this blind mechanism though, he softened up his readers by showing how we humans had shaped some species through artificial selection. His audience of educated Victorian gentlemen would have been more or less familiar with breeding cabbages, cows and dogs for various characteristics, but Darwin also explained the breeding of fancy pigeons. It seems fanciful to us, but scholars used to believe that different breeds of sheep or cattle had each been domesticated from a separate wild variety, instead of from just one. Darwin decided to study one species in detail to explore this notion, and hit upon fancy pigeons. According to John Ross [pictured] –  an historian of Darwin’s pigeons (www.darwinspigeons.com) and a pigeon fancier himself – it was all down to a chance sighting on a trip to London: …

Climate change making a mocha-ry of wild coffee populations

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If you’re planning on having a cup of coffee in 68 years time, then you might want to think again. Research published in Plos One suggests that by 2080, wild populations of the world’s most popular coffee species, Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica), could be extinct due to climate change. Wild populations of Arabica coffee are important to coffee producers because of their genetic diversity and could be used to develop new strains of coffee in the future. Wild Arabica populations show a range of disease, pest and drought tolerance, all of which have potential advantages in a changing climate. If the wild population of Arabica coffee were to go extinct, coffee producers would struggle to breed coffee that could survive in new conditions. Scientists from the UK and Ethiopia used current data on wild Arabica populations and the climate in those locations to model how the climate might affect the distribution of Arabica suitable sites in the future. Once the …

The biology of Harry Potter

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I recently wrote an article outlining how biological concepts are communicated through the Pokémon games and it got me thinking: what other popular franchises might do a similar thing? Now, they don’t come much more popular than JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series (there are probably lichens living under polar rocks that have heard of polyjuice potion and blast-ended skrewts) and I think it’s possible the books may just have transmitted the odd biological principle to a few unsuspecting readers. Perhaps because of the cover art, it’s likely the first images the words ‘biology’ and ‘Harry Potter’ conjure up are ones of magical creatures; hippogriffs, dragons or basilisks for example. Of course, whilst often based on genuine animals, it’s widely accepted such creatures don’t exist and anyone who does go off searching the real world for them is known politely as a cryptozoologist. Interestingly, Rowling includes a nod to the pseudoscience of cryptozoology in the form of the Lovegood family who, unlike …

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