Ape Racing, Footprint Tracing, & Sorting Plastic Body Parts
What preadaptations enable us to run bipedally? Try running any other way & it becomes patently obvious. Presenters in the graduate Principles of Physical Anthropology course challenged us to engage in a relay race as chimp-like knuckle-walkers, then our own obligate biped selves (thank gawd!). The objective? Our termite fishing stick & a juicy "termite" (or beetle stand-in). There were two teams of five players each. We took turns knuckle-walking as best we could... ...to retrieve our digging sticks. [caption id="attachment_160"... read more ❯
E.O. Wilson's 3 Tips for a Career in Research and Other Easy Recipes
When E.O. Wilson came to speak at UA a number of weeks back, the Human Behavioral Ecology Research Group (HBERG) lab was fortunate enough to host him at a smaller venue for EvoS students. This was more personal and friendly than his talk the evening before to a packed auditorium at the Bryant Conference Center. There was plenty opportunity for Q&A, so I asked him: "You've been very successful in your line of work, and after decades of research and scholarship, you're writing now perhaps more than ever. What advice would you give students who are interested in a career in science? E.O. Wilson's Response: 'Fieldwork to a scientist is like an epic story because it's very personal. It's a story of experience and history, and it must be thought of as an epic anecdote in one's life. There are three archetypes I must suggest in order to be successful in this line of work. 1) "Discover the... read more ❯
Hormones, Stress, and (the Childhood) You
Evolutionary Biology of Hormonal Responses to Social Challenges in the Human Child by Mark V. Flinn "'The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.' -Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) And why was quiet desperation such a widespread malady back then, and especially among men? Yet again I trot onstage the only real villain in my story: the oversize human brain." - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Galápagos As anyone who has had a family, a relationship, or any human interaction whatsoever can tell you, other people are psychologically taxing things to deal with. So taxing, in fact, that early exposure to stressful events has lifelong (deleterious) effects. Our social environments and our health are inescapably linked, most likely thanks to the neuroendocrine system. So why, given the high and seemingly maladaptive costs that psychosocial stress puts on humans, would natural selection have favored links between psychological mechanisms, stress, and overall health? The article's author has this answer: "Hormonal... read more ❯
Out of Africa? Again?!? Y-not!
First thing's first: What exactly is a Y-Haplogroup, and why on earth does it matter? The Human Y-chromosome DNA haplogroup is a haplogroup (<---which is a group of similar haplotypes [<----which are a combination of alleles (or DNA sequences) at adjacent locations, or loci, on the chromosome and are transmitted together] )that is defined by differences in the non-recombining parts of the DNA from the Y chromosome (also dubbed Y-DNA). That's a fun definition, isn't it? To me, this definition is not particularly helpful. For a start, what are non-recombining parts!? Here's an easy way to think of it. Since every male (and only males!) have just one Y chromosome, he can only pass down that SINGLE chromosome, therefore, its not going to combine with anything else and change. So the Y-chomosome is passed down from father to son, nearly unchanged. Since this is true, the... read more ❯
Remember How I Said Blogging is Totally Rad?
Actually, I quote some other folks & said it's important & can have an immediate impact. I wrote a piece comparing smartphones to cigarettes back in May based on some brainstorming I'd been doing in the classroom while teaching & even drew an original piece of art work for it that I thought quite clever. Then, unlike the penis diversity post I later did inspired by someone else's blog post about weird turtle wangs & based on my primate sex lectures that use Allan Dixson's monkey penis drawings that rocketed to among the most viewed posts by hundreds on the EvoS site, the smartphone piece got a measly 20-something hits. Well, today I got a call from CNN.com's Doug Gross to interview me about that essay for a story he published today on the ubiquity of iPhones. They... read more ❯
E.O. Wilson and The Social Instinct
Article: Wilson, E. O. (1976). The Social Instinct. Bulletin of the Academy of the Arts and Sciences, 30(1), 11-25. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3822607 Sociobiology is the study of the biological basis of all forms of social behavior in all organisms, and is part of an effort to bring biology as a science to psychology, anthropology, and sociology. It deals with thousands of species and their social aspects in hopes that data from other species can provide a historical perspective and basis for general laws of genetic social evolution. And then, hopefully, those can be extended to study humans. Wilson begins with insects, describing their social behaviors. Even though termites don't recognize each other as individuals (in the manner vertebrates do), they still manage to accomplish great feats in social groups. The build intricate and specific underground systems that allow them their livelihood. Termites also have specific bodies of soldiers that rush to attack, while others continue... read more ❯
Primates upon primates upon primates...
Hey ladies and lads, I'm doing the second half of Part 1 of The Primate Anthology, also known as pages 44- 87. APOLOGIES IN ADVANCE FOR LENGTH, I KNOW IT IS VERY LONG. Chapter 6: Daughters or Sons In many cultures, boys are more "beneficial" than girls. They are stronger, carry the family name, and they do not require large dowries in order to wed, like some daughters. So why, after all these years of attempted selective birthing (selective abortions, infanticide, etc), haven't we as a species developed into one that can produce the desired sex at will? Other species in the world have already accomplished this feat. The Atlantic silverside from North America that are born in relatively cool water are mostly females, while those who are born later when the water has warmed up are mostly males. Fig wasps also produce an interesting case. Their fertilized eggs become daughters, and... read more ❯
Molecular Genetics is NOT Rocket Science--Just Roll Up Your Sleeves
I typically start talking to students about molecular genetics by pointing out that while we share 98% of our genome with chimps, we share around 60% with bananas. So what's the significance of either of those numbers? What I'm getting at, in part, is that all living things share DNA & that what makes us different, to a great extent, is not that 2% or that 40% but how those genes are regulated & put to work. When I teach undergrads, I lecture on this stuff & we set up lab activities to help reinforce these principles & connect the dots. But when I teach grad students, my purpose is more to help guide them in learning how to learn what they need or want to know. So by & large, they do the presentations of the material & we (the whole class) help clarify things that remain obscure & connect the dots... read more ❯
Writing Thank You Notes for Articles that Blow Your Mind
The main purpose of the UA Anthropology Blog Network is to engage in public anthropology, but it is also about networking. Of course, these are both related. Engaging in public anthropology is a great way to get yourself known as a scholar. But what's with the throwing things out into the virtual void & hoping the right quiet voyeur sees it? Yes, you could skip the modern day armchair anthropology & get yourself to a conference, or you could just be a more aggressive armchair anthropologist! How did Frazer & the other Victorians amass enough material to write volume upon volume of those hoary snoozefests (that you dutifully read, no doubt!)? They wrote letters & asked for people to send them stuff. I love this blog post from ProfHacker on the Chronicles of Higher Education blog site: "Expand Your Academic Network in 5 Minutes." How could that possibly be effective?... read more ❯
The Rise of Physical Anthropology
We start our graduate core course in Physical Anthropology with a few articles on the history of the discipline, why it's historically called "physical" anthropology, & why it's now often termed "biological" anthropology. In the coming weeks, the students themselves will be posting their summaries of articles & discussing how the material relates to their own research interests. As we are a 4-field department, many of the students' primary interests are in archaeology, cultural anthropology, & linguistics (well, not this year, but in theory), but they have been encouraged to relate what they read to their own work, thus integrating the material at what I hope will be a deeper level than merely what they need to know for comps, & not to simply reiterate what the articles say about Physical Anthropology as a subdiscipline. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-cEDubwxKE The first day, aside from listening to me monologue for 2 hours (I would make a good... read more ❯