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Developmental Plasticity and the “Hard-Wired” Problem

This is a great post by Patrick Clarkin that I am reblogging here on Science itches. One day I will find the time to really start blogging regularly but until that day comes, I hope you enjoy Patrick’s word sof wisdom

Patrick F. Clarkin, Ph.D.

“Development is the missing link between genotype and phenotype, a place too often occupied by metaphors in the past … But a strong emphasis on the genome means that environmental influence is systematically ignored. If you begin with DNA and view development as “hard-wired,” you overlook the flexible phenotype and the causes of its variation that are the mainsprings of adaptive evolution.” (Mary Jane West-Eberhard, 2003: 89-90)

“Genes, unlike gods, are conditional. They are exquisitely good at simple if-then logic: if in a certain environment, then develop in a certain way… So here is the first moral of the tale: Don’t be frightened of genes. They are not gods; they are cogs. (Matt Ridley, 2003: 250)

Plasticity: actor Christian Bale at two points in time. Same genes, different phenotypes.Plasticity: actor Christian Bale at two points in time. Same genes, different phenotypes.

In his book The Triple Helix, Richard Lewontin told the story of the molecular biologist and Nobel laureate Sydney…

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On Fatherhood: Proud Primate Papas

Some science about fatherhood on this Father’s Day…
Fatherhood is a topic that still needs a lot of scratching. Thanks Patrick!

Patrick F. Clarkin, Ph.D.

For Father’s Day, Scientific American compiled a series on the biology of fatherhood, including a list of 8 species where males are integral in raising offspring. Included were birds (rheas, emperor penguins), mammals (marmosets, red foxes, wolverines), fish (catfish, sea horses), and even insects (giant water bugs). For some of these species, male parental investment extends to carrying fertilized eggs until they hatch. In others, it entails postnatal protection and/or procurement of food for young offspring.

Two things stand out. First, although the list didn’t claim to be comprehensive, at just 8 examples, it seemed quite short (they couldn’t make it to ten?). In addition, there’s just something peculiar about highlighting species that exhibit good fathering skills to begin with. Consider how odd it would be to encounter a list of species where mothers care for offspring. In mammals, it seems almost tautological that parenting is associated with…

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