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John DennehyRSS Feed of this column.

I'm an evolutionary biologist and assistant professor at Queens College, City University of New York, who studies bacteriophage life history stochasticity and the population dynamics of host/pathogen

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It is no exaggeration to call evolution “the central concept of biology.” So why is the fact of evolution denied by half of our population? A new article in PLoS Biology by Michael Berkman, Julianna Pacheco, and Eric Plutzer suggests it might be on account of their lack of education at the high school level. Since only ~25% of the US population obtains a college degree, it is the duty of high school teachers to provide a proper scientific education to our citizens. Model high school curriculum guidelines provided by the National Science Teachers Association, the National Research Council, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, strongly suggest that teachers “provide evidence that evolution has attained its status as a unifying theme in science.”
In the Northern hemisphere, winter is the time for the flu. Every year 5% to 20% of us catch "the bug". So predictable is the influenza virus that "flu season" has entered the vernacular. This year, flu cases peaked around the end of February (see chart). Perhaps you've wondered "Why?".

Hypotheses for flu season are numerous and include:
I don't often see bacteriophage ecology and evolution papers in the open source literature, but there is a nice one in next month's American Naturalist (occasionally Am Nat selects papers for open access).

Supposedly nanobacteria are cell-walled organisms much smaller than the generally accepted lower limits for cell size. The existence of nanobacteria has been a hot topic because of their putative roles in and heart disease and kidney stones.

In the US, most deaths are attributable to chronic afflictions, such as heart disease and cancer. Typically the medical community has attributed these diseases to accumulated damage, such as plaque formation in arteries or mutations in genes controlling cellular replication. This view is changing. Scientists are now beginning to recognize that many of these chronic illnesses are due to microbial infections.
A favorite book of mine is Evolution: A Scientific American Reader, a collection of articles on astronomy, cell biology, paleontology and anthropology from the print magazine. One of my favorite chapters, "Skin Deep" by Nina Jablonski and George Chaplin, covers the evolution of human skin color. Skin color results from the presence of the pigment melanin, an organic molecule that absorbs UV radiation and neutralizes free-radicals produced by UV radiation. Why do we need worry about UV radiation? UV radiation causes mutations in skin cells leading to skin cancer, and also destroys the essential B vitamin, folate, which is involved in DNA synthesis. The more melanin, the more protection against UV radiation and the darker the skin. Hmm, if that is the case, why do not all humans have dark skin? Better to protect against cancer then, isn't it?
Map of Human Skin Color Distribution
Figure from Barsh GS (2003) What Controls Variation in Human Skin Color? PLoS Biol 1(1): e27 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0000027. A traditional skin color map based on the data of Biasutti. Reproduced from with permission from Dennis O'Neil.