Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Last paper by Steve Irwin!

Just published about an hour ago (if it was in hardcopy, it would still be hot off the presses). And it is a wonderful paper! Australian crocs can and will travel much longer distances than was previously thought and their homing instinct is strong and navigational capacity excellent, even in a case where a large obstacle (Cape York Peninsula) needed to be navigated around:

Satellite Tracking Reveals Long Distance Coastal Travel and Homing by Translocated Estuarine Crocodiles, Crocodylus porosus:

Crocodiles are widely distributed and can usually be found in remote areas, however very little is known about their movements on a larger scale. In this study, Read and colleagues (including the late Steve Irwin) use satellite tracking to report the movements of three large male crocodiles, which were relocated up to 411km from their capture sites in Northern Australia. The results show that each crocodile returned to its original capture site within days, indicating that homing abilities are present amongst crocodiles.


Can you imagine anyone doing this work without Steve Irwin? Who else would be able to grab a big croc, attach a satellite tracker, load it and unload it some hundreds of miles away, then follow their movements on the computer screen? Would you dare ask your grad students to do that?

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 1:34 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Rethinking FOXP2

Earlier studies have indicated that a gene called FOXP2, possibly involved in brain development, is extremely conserved in vertebrates, except for two notable mutations in humans. This finding suggested that this gene may in some way be involved in the evolution of language, and was thus dubbed by the popular press "the language gene". See, for instance, this and this for some recent research on the geographic variation of this gene (and related genes) and its relation to types of languages humans use (e.g., tonal vs. non-tonal). Furthermore, a mutation in this gene in humans results in inability to form grammatically correct sentences.

This week, a new study shows that this gene is highly diverse in one group of mammals - the bats:

A new study, undertaken by a joint of team of British and Chinese scientists, has found that this gene shows unparalleled variation in echolocating bats. The results, appearing in a study published in the online, open-access journal PLoS ONE on September 19, report that FOXP2 sequence differences among bat lineages correspond well to contrasting forms of echolocation.

As Anne-Marie notes, this puts a monkey-wrench in the idea that FOXP2 is exclusively involved in language, but may be involved in vocalizations in general:

Said gene might have a new function (sensorimotor) besides the one originally attributed to it (verbal language).

Jonah Lehrer notes that the same mutation that in humans eliminates ability to use or comprehend correct grammar is also found in songbirds and the gene is expressed at high levels during the periods of intense song-learning. The story is obviously getting very interesting - does this gene have something to do with vocalizations? Or with communication? Or something totally third?

Looking forward to further responses by other blogs, hopefully Afarensis, John Hawks and Language Log?

The article on FOXP2 in bats was published yesterday on PLoS ONE so you can access it for free, read, download, use, reuse, rate, annotate and comment on.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 8:58 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Help make NIH-funded research findings freely available to everyone!

Back in July, the House of Representatives passed a bill that requires all the NIH-funded research to be made freely available to the public within at most 12 months subsequent to publication.

The equivalent bill has passed the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier this summer and will be up for vote in the Senate very soon! In advance of this important vote, The Alliance for Taxpayer Access has issued a Call for action:

As the Senate considers Appropriations measures for the 2008 fiscal year this fall, please take a moment to remind your Senators of your strong support for public access to publicly funded research and - specifically - ensuring the success of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Public Access Policy by making deposit mandatory for researchers.

Earlier this summer, the House of Representatives passed legislation with language that directs the NIH to make this change ( The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a similar measure ( Now, as the Appropriations process moves forward, it is critically important that our Senators are reminded of the breadth and depth of support for enhanced public access to the results of NIH-funded research. Please take a moment to weigh in with your Senator now.

Read the rest for talking points and the contact information of your Senators, then do your part and contact them! And spread the word - by e-mail, posting on your blog or website, on forums and mailing lists. Let's get this bill passed this month and thus ensure that taxpayer-funded research is freely available to its funders - the taxpayers.

This needs to be done no later than Friday, September 28, 2007, when the bill is slated to appear in the Senate.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 8:40 AM | permalink | (1 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Science Blogging Conference - Registration is now open!

2008NCSBClogo200.pngLate last night we opened the registration for the 2nd Science Blogging Conference.

To register, go to the registration form and fill out the details.

To see who is already registered, go here.

If you will be here on Friday, January 18th and want to join us for dinner, add you name to this list.

If you are on Facebook, join the Conference Event and invite your friends. We will appreciate it if you could spread the word in whichever medium you are most comfortable - word of mouth, e-mail, online social networks, or your own blogs.

I know September 1st is a holiday, but opening the registration today will save our server as thousands of interested participants will spread themselves over a few days instead of all logging on at the same time ;-) This way, those of you who are perpetually online and get your information on blogs (and Facebook, etc.) will be able to get the first dibs, while the advertising for others will start on September 4th.

The wiki is ready for you to explore. The conference program is building up nicely - we secured some spectacular speakers and session leaders and are in negotiations with some others. Feel free to edit the bottom of that wiki page with your own ideas. Suggest a session and offer to lead it.

Of course, as the conference promises to be much bigger than last year (due to the media coverage after the first one - see this page for blog and media coverage) we need to cover the increased expenses (and provide food, swag, etc.), so if you and your organization are willing to be sponsors, please let us know.

And, we are planning to have the second Science Blogging Anthology released in time for the conference, so submit the best science posts written by you or by your favorite bloggers for our consideration.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 12:01 AM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink