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February 27, 2013

More fake-scientific-conference spam from BIT Life Sciences

Would you pay to go to a fake "scientific conference" in China where speakers were invited at random? What if the scientists they list as speakers hadn't actually agreed to speak? That seems to be the business model of BIT Life Sciences. For example, "Knut Buttnase" got invited to chair a session based on an abstract and CV that were obviously fake.

They're getting more sophisticated, though. They're still inviting me to speak on topics I know nothing about -- "Fungal Bioenergy", most recently -- but their software now inserts the title of a recent paper into the email.

"Since we have learnt that you are making valuable contributions to INSERT TITLE HERE, your unique inspirational message will be the perfect way to kick off the congress."

I guess the idea is that, if 5% of the people they email have some connection to the conference topic, some of those people will be fooled into signing up. But that might not work, for people who have already received lots of spam from them. Also, anyone who Googles "BIT Life Sciences" would hesitate to send them money. So I predict that their next move will be to change their name.

They are listing some real scientists as speakers. Apparently they've done that in the past, without bothering to make sure the claimed speakers were in the right field. The speakers they're listing now look OK, but the one I checked with emails that:

"I didn't agree to speak, after they invited me I declined citing lack of funds to justify such a trip and they offered to waive the conference fee [maybe they get kickbacks from the hotel? -- Ford] only so I said no. I guess I should ask them to take my name of their list."
I'll update this post if they actually remove his name. If not, they're not only spammers, but guilty of fraud.

February 22, 2013

Mimic defectors to keep them from winning... and more

Stabilization of cooperative virulence by the expression of an avirulent phenotype "host manipulation by S. typhimurium is a cooperative trait that is vulnerable to the rise of avirulent defectors; the expression of a phenotypically avirulent [but genetically identical] subpopulation that grows as fast as defectors slows down this process, and thereby promotes the evolutionary stability of virulence"

Evolution of a genetic polymorphism with climate change in a Mediterranean landscape "significant increase in the proportion of morphs that are sensitive to winter freezing... associated with relaxed selection (less extreme freezing events)"

Behavioural and genetic analyses of Nasonia shed light on the evolution of sex pheromones "male Nasonia vitripennis evolved an additional pheromone compound differing only in its stereochemistry from a pre-existing one... females responded neutrally to the new pheromone... new pheromone compounds can persist in a sender's population, without being selected against by the receiver and without the receiver having a pre-existing preference for the new pheromone phenotype, by initially remaining unperceived."

Differential requirements for mRNA folding partially explain why highly expressed proteins evolve slowly "Counterintuitively, selection for mRNA folding also impacts the nonsynonymous-to-synonymous nucleotide substitution rate ratio, requiring a revision of the current interpretation of this ratio as a measure of protein-level selection."

February 19, 2013

No comment

I've disabled the comment feature for This Week in Evolution, because I'm getting almost exclusively spam comments these days. That may be partly because of the decrease in content here. I'm mostly just posting weekly lists of links to papers that look interesting, often with brief excerpts from their abstracts.

These days, most of my blogging effort is going to my Darwinian Agriculture Blog, where comments are still enabled. Or you could send me an email.

February 15, 2013

Speciation without separation, self-recognizing roots, understanding evolution key to controlling cancer

Possible incipient sympatric [no-geographic-barrier] ecological speciation in blind mole rats (Spalax) "Up to 40% of the mtDNA diversity was edaphically [soil-type] dependent, suggesting constrained gene flow. "

Genotypic recognition and spatial responses by rice roots "Root systems of the same genotype tended to grow toward each other"

Modelling vemurafenib resistance in melanoma reveals a strategy to forestall drug resistance" "a discontinuous dosing strategy, which exploits the fitness disadvantage displayed by drug-resistant cells in the absence of the drug, forestalls the onset of lethal drug-resistant disease"

February 8, 2013

This week's picks

Kin recognition within a seed and the effect of genetic relatedness of an endosperm to its compatriot embryo on maize seed

Variation and constraint in Hox gene evolution

Chimpanzees play the ultimatum game

Diversity loss with persistent human disturbance increases vulnerability to ecosystem collapse"

DNA analysis of an early modern human from Tianyuan Cave, China

Fungal biology: Multiple mating strategies

February 6, 2013

Considering grad school?

Read this first.

My students mostly study the evolution of cooperation, in systems ranging from legume cover crops to test-tubes full of evolving yeast. For example, why do symbionts like rhizobia invest resources in costly activities that help their host (and competing symbionts sharing that host) rather than using those resources for their own reproduction? PhD students Toby Kiers and Ryoko Oono found that, when a soybean or clover root nodule fails to fix nitrogen, the plant often imposes "sanctions" on the rhizobia inside, reducing their reproduction. But does that translate into lower fitness for rhizobial "cheaters?" Or do density-dependent effects equalize the number of rhizobia released into the soil? And how do the relative numbers of rhizobial cooperators and cheaters change during the months or years between hosts? Is the starvation-resistant "persister" form, discovered by PhD student Will Ratcliff, key to long-term survival in soil?

I am interested in a variety of topics, but prefer to have students work on something related to a current grant, so they can be supported more by a Research Assistantship, rather than having to work as a Teaching Assistant every semester. Getting some teaching experience is highly recommended, though. I have two grant proposals submitted on legume-rhizobia cooperation.

February 1, 2013

Carnival of Evolution

Planning some evolution tourism? Check this month's Carnival of Evolution.

Wrinkled fingers, spandrels, and an adaptationist approach to applied evolutionary biology

I was asked to talk to a local TV reporter about the winkled-finger study. Didn't happen, but it got me to read the paper and think about writing about it here. But Ryan Gregory has already done a much better job than I would have. He used this paper as an example of the widespread tendency to assume that, if some trait serves a useful function today, that must be why it evolved.

To test such hypotheses, he suggests that we (among other things):

"3) Explicitly address the necessary assumptions about ancestral traits, habitat, selective coefficients, and population size.

4) Use the comparative method within a phylogenetic context. Identify other species that have the trait and those that lack it. Has the trait evolved independently under similar conditions? Is it found in species that would not be expected to exhibit it if it evolves adaptively for a particular function?

5) Consider and rule out non-adaptive explanations (developmental constraints, pleiotropy, etc.) as much as possible."

This seems reasonable, if our goal is to figure out why some trait evolved. But, as an applied evolutionary biologist, I am less interested in why solar tracking evolved or how legumes first came to impose sanctions on rhizobial "cheaters" than in figuring out whether it would be possible and useful to enhance (or perhaps eliminate!) these traits in crops.

But many of Gregory's points still apply. Consider Ryoko Oono's recent work in my lab. We knew that some legume species make their symbiotic rhizobia swell up, as the rhizobia differentiate into nitrogen-fixing bacteroids. She found that a given strain of rhizobia fixes nitrogen more efficiently (more N, relative to its respiration cost) in a host where its bacteroids are swollen. She repeated this with another rhizobial species in another pair of hosts.

But can we generalize, from only one strain each of two rhizobial species? Is this enough evidence to justify trying to breed this trait into soybean? Probably not, but there's only one other reported example of a rhizobial species that swells in some hosts and not in others. Despite considerable effort, she couldn't get that strain to nodulate one of its reported hosts.

So Dr. Oono took a phylogenetic approach, analogous to that advocated by Gregory. Based on ancestral state reconstruction, she concluded that legume traits that make make bacteroids swell have evolved at least five times. These independent evolutionary transitions suggest that imposing bacteroid swelling (or doing something else that consistently has swelling as a side effect) might be broadly useful to legumes, at least under past conditions.