The Loom goes micro

Carl Zimmer has a few excellent micro-focused posts that you shouldn’t miss. Yesterday the topic was new research demonstrating kin selection in amoebae, and earlier in the week, he wrote about Wolbachia, a fascinating bacteria that infects a large number of insects. (Those of you who’ve read Margulis’ “Acquiring Genomes” may remember that infection with this bacterium can decrease fertility between individual insects who are differential in the presence of Wolbachia, potentially leading to reproductive isolation. Josh has more on this).

Influenza viruses = evidence for design

So, you may or may not be aware of the latest “challenge” to evolutionary theory–DI Fellow Jonathan Wells’ new book, “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design.” Following in the footsteps of Tom Bethell’s “Politically Incorrect Guide to Science” (whose terrible chapter on AIDS I reviewed here), the book is just all shades of terrible. (As has been pointed out by many others who’ve read books in the “Politically Incorrect” series, they should just drop the pretense of “Politically”–simply “Incorrect” sums them up much better). I’ll have a more comprehensive review of one of Wells’ chapters (discussing, essentially, how evolution plays no role in medicine, antibiotic resistance, etc.) next week some time, and you’ll be seeing others pop up as well (see this post for the collected links), but for today I want to focus on a small part of the final chapter (titled “Scientific Revolution”. Yeah, go ahead and snicker).

You probably remember Forest Mims III. He was the other party in the “Eric Pianka advocates genocide” saga. (See also here and here to remind yourself of the absurdity of the whole situation). Mims is a creationist and another Discovery Institute Fellow, and an amateur scientist. According to Wells, he’s made a bizarre claim: that the fact that influenza viruses haven’t evolved resistance to UV light is evidence for design. I thought that Casey Luskin’s piece on intelligent design and flu was as bad as it gets, but I think this is a toss-up; you just can’t make this stuff up.
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Adding viruses to your food–on purpose

I blogged previously on the potential of bacteriophage, viruses that infect–and often kill–bacteria, in treating bacterial infections that are resistant to our current antibiotics. This is an area that’s really just opening up, and while there is a lot of promise, there are also a significant number of obstacles. One thing I didn’t mention, however, was the potential of bacteriophage for other public health measures–such as a bacteriocidal food additive.

(More below)
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NY Times on “infectobesity”

I’ve blogged several times on here about the connection between microbes and obesity (aka “infectobesity;” previous posts here, here, and here.). It’s an interesting area of study, with two general directions: investigating which of our gut flora (alone or in combination with others) affect our metabolism; and how other types of infections (such as adenovirus serotype 36) can play a role in this process as well.

A recent story in the New York Times Magazine by Robin Marantz Henig provides a nice introduction to this whole area, weaving in the threads I mentioned above (as far as the science goes), and adding the extra angle of how obese patients are treated and why obesity researchers feel that it’s critical to understand all of these interactions that lead to obesity: bringing in host genetics and microbial factors in addition to the common advice regarding diet and exercise. Some of the anecdotes are fascinating:
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