Malware needs to know if it's in the Matrix

Once a security researcher discovers a new strain of malicious software -- running a virtual machine on a test-bench -- and adds its signature to anti-virus and network monitor blacklists, it's game over. So today's malware devotes enormous energy to figuring out if it's running on a real computer, or inside one of its enemies' virtual worlds. Read the rest

Evolution in Lego

"Lego Evolution" (Thanks, Lux!) Read the rest

House Science Committee: a parliament of Creationists, Climate Deniers (and dunces)

Writing in Scientific American, Ashutosh Jogalekar bemoans the famously terrible state of the House Committee on Science, a farcical body stuffed with climate deniers and young Earth creationists. At a recent hearing, committee member Randy Weber (R–TX) implied that science couldn't really make claims about things that happened tens of thousands or millions of years ago, because it couldn't directly observe them. It's a terrifying position for a legislator who sits in a position of power over national science policy to hold.

Jogalekar claims the committee is turning into a national embarrassment, but as Chris Baker points out, any notion of the committee changing over time is an Evolutionist lie from Satan, because the committee are exactly as God created them at the beginning of time, 6,321 years ago. Read the rest

Kickstarting Lifeform: a fun, educational game about evolution

Michael writes, "I'm launching a Kickstarter campaign for a new game founded in the basics of genetics and physics. You're a cell in a 2d underwater universe, and you must reproduce to gain traits that dictate what you can do. Resources found around the map can be used to construct machines and tools to aide in your evolution. Not only is Lifeform the genetics game we've long been searching for, but it's going to be extremely powerful in classrooms all across the world. Science teachers can use it for genetics lessons, physics, studying the elements, and much more."

This looks really cool (and the prototype is great)! One caveat is that Michael's development projects are pretty thinly detailed, though it sounds like he's had some relevant experience, and the prototype bodes well for the project's future. As with all Kickstarters, you might get nothing for your money! A $15 minimum contribution gets you a copy of the game when and if.

Lifeform: A game of genetic and biomechanical evolution (Thanks, Michael!) Read the rest

John Gurche, the Smithsonian's "paleoartist"

John Gurche is a "paleoartist" who reveals the faces of our ancestors for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History's Hall of Human Origins. (National Geographic) Read the rest

Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham of the Creation Museum

On February 4, Bill Nye "The Science Guy" will debate Ken Ham, Creation Museum founder and Answers In Genesis president/CEO, at The Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky just across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio. The event is titled "Is creation a viable model of origins?" This is gonna be good. Tickets are $25 from the Creation Museum. I hope the museum makes a full video available but I bet that will depend on how it plays out. Hopefully an audience member will record and post the whole thing online. "Bill Nye to Visit Creation Museum for Debate" (ABC News, thanks, Bob Pescovitz!)

(image: CC-licensed photo of Creation Museum exhibit by Anthony5429) Read the rest

A biological mechanism for fire-breathing dragons

Say dragons did exist. In that alternate universe, how would they breathe fire? (Where the answer is not "magic".) Kyle Hill has a nice explanation for how real-life fire breath might work, and how it could have evolved over time. (Although, slight spoiler, Hill's idea won't be terribly surprising to those of us raised on Ken Hamm Creationism videos.) Read the rest

How the platypus lost its stomach

Ember the platypus has no stomach. But there's nothing wrong with her. No platypuses have stomachs. They're just one of a surprising number of vertebrate species that have evolutionarily jettisoned their stomachs, in favor of a straight-shot digestive tract that directly connects the throat to the intestines. Read the rest

Why 23andMe can't tell you everything about yourself (yet)

How can a mild-mannered grasshopper turn into a ferocious locust? Why are humans humans when we have share 80 percent of the same genetic material with a cow? In a fascinating long read at Aeon, David Dobbs delves into the differences between genetic change (evolution as you probably learned it in school) and genetic expression (the amazing powers of natural selection that scientists are only now starting to really understand). Read the rest

The creationists' last stand

In Texas, the same old fight: conservative Christians desperately trying to excise evolution, reproductive health and much science in general from school textbooks. [Dallas Observer via Metafilter] Read the rest

The ability to taste bitter flavors probably didn't evolve as a self-defense mechanism

From beer to coffee, bitter flavors are things that most of us have to learn to enjoy over multiple tastings. Scientists have long assumed that our ability to even taste those flavors is rooted in self-defense — a way to root out and avoid potentially poisonous plants in the diet of our hunting and gathering ancestors. But new research suggests that the ability to taste bitter flavors isn't strongly tied to hunting and gathering lifestyles, which leaves researchers at a loss for why the skill might have evolved. My hypothesis, based on experience with espresso and IPA lovers: Perhaps there's an evolutionary advantage to beverage pretentiousness. Read the rest

Where did land plants come from?

More than 90% of land plants have symbiotic relationships with fungus and those relationships seem to date back hundreds of millions of years. At Topologic Oceans, Charles Soeder explains how this fact has become a jumping off point for an interesting theory about the evolution of land plants — maybe all the plants we see in our daily land-locked lives are the result of symbiotic blending of algae and fungus, similar to the way our own cells now depend on the offspring of a bacterial invasion in order to function. Read the rest

Epic crab fight — Watch fiddler crabs duel, big claw-to-big claw

Male fiddler crabs are famous for their mismatched front claws — one great big and threatening, one eensy-weensy. (I used to use this as a metaphor for the split in my SAT scores.) But what's really interesting about this lopsided look is that it seems to serve multiple purposes. The big claw can be used to attract lady crabs — wave it around and it becomes the crabby equivalent of, "Yo! Adrian!" But the big claw can also be used as a practical weapon, where two male crabs go at each other like fancy fencers with one arm behind their backs.

And the extent to which the big claw is for looks or for violence seems to vary a lot depending on the species of fiddler crab, writes scientist John Christy. Some have a lightweight claw that's better for waving at the girls, but weaksauce in a fight. Others have a heavy, dangerous claw that's difficult to use for long-distance flirting. Christy and his team are in the process of trying to figure out what selection forces leave some crabs optimized for love and others for the battlefield. In the meantime, though, they made this awesome crab fight video, set to a stirring, John Williams-esque soundtrack.

Video Link Read the rest

Free human evolution course starts January 21

It's not too early to plan for next semester. John Hawks, a fantastic science blogger and professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is offering a Coursera class on Human Evolution: Past and Future. Seems like just the thing for curious Happy Mutants! Read the rest

What's the point of monogamy?

More than a quarter of primate species form male-female pair bonds that scientists describe as "monogamous". That's much higher than the overall mammal average of 9 percent. But those statistics don't mean that humans are somehow "meant" to be monogamous. In fact, scientists are still debating — and publishing conflicting theories — on why monogamy would have evolved at all. Carl Zimmer has an interesting column at The New York Times looking at two recent papers, and how they fit into an ongoing scientific fascination with our own sex lives. Read the rest

Why chimpanzees don't play baseball (at least, not as well as we do)

Good news for humanity's sense of shiny special uniqueness! Sure, other animals use tools. Chimpanzees and bonobos might even have behaviors that can be classified as cultural. But those damn dirty apes still can't throw a fastball to save their lives.

Becky Lang at Discover magazine has an interesting story on this research, which centers around the biology that allows fast pitches to happen, and how we developed it, while our closest relatives did not.

Video Link Read the rest

The oldest genome ever sequenced

Scientists at the University of Copenhagen sequenced the oldest genome yet — 700,000-year-old DNA from an ancient ancestor of the horse. The Nature Podcast explains why doing this is valuable (and, no, it's not about creating a cloned ancient horse park) and how you go about sequencing such elderly, and thus degraded, DNA. Read the rest

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