Russia: A Saturation of Beauty

“…There is so much history in Russia, a cultural legacy for the world. Its splendor is overwhelming. The fantasy in the architecture of its cathedrals and palaces; the colors of joy on its paintings; the ballerinas dancing in the snow at the tempo of always original music; the transcendent prose and verse of its writers, above all –to me– the perfection of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. A nation of great contrasts like all mega homelands. Of imposed extreme inequality and oppression by its past ruling Tsars, shamelessly sheltered by the co-conspirator Orthodoxy, the Church and its wicked Patriarchs, enticers of the populous. Its 1917 Revolution was inevitable, as it later was the Cold War with the West, which sequels still mark the divide between the peoples of Russia and ‘the capitalists.’ But what impresses me most of Russia is its capacity to have rebuilt itself after the significant obliteration of its land during World War II. Only a collective mind that treasures culture could reconstruct it, despite its 27-million casualties while battling Nazism. — One day, in the distant future, just before the subversive cells of my skin take over the rest of the organs and inflict their final harm, I would like to see the Russian Cathedrals again. Not because an Atheist needs conversion before death; that will never happen, I will always reject Fraud. But because these ‘now museums’ represent the saturation of art-beauty that I have been looking for…” — GPC.

We just returned from Russia after attending the Moscow Forum Protists – 2016 held at Lomonosov Moscow State University, from June 6th to 10th. The program, sponsored by the International Society of Protistologists (ISOP), included five plenary sessions with keynote speakers, general oral presentations, two symposia (integrative co-evolution between mitochondria and their hosts, and protists of marine sediments), and poster presentations (two sessions with about 50 posters each) on diverse topics, including: evolution and phylogeny, taxonomy, systematics and DNA barcoding, genomics and molecular biology, cell biology, organismal biology, parasitology, diversity and biogeography, ecology of soil protists, ecology of aquatic protists, bioindicators and palaeoecology. The 200 participants had time to exchange ideas during informal, social gatherings.

Avelina Espinosa and I participated with a poster (something we have not done in years, perhaps since we were postdocs, although our students present posters often) titled “Aggregative Behavior, Cell Signaling and Morphometrics: Entamoeba Discrimination Studies.” It summarized our latest papers (2016) featured on the Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology (for details and links to articles see Symposium Kin-Discrimination in Protists just featured on JEUK). Here is the poster, you can click on the image to enlarge:

Aggregative Behav Cell Signaling Morphometrics Entamoeba Discrimination Studies 2016

The meeting included a pre-conference trip to Saint Petersburg and a post-conference tour to the Golden Ring of Russia; we joined both. Plus three excursions, two of which we did on our own (the Armoury Chamber and the Moscow Kremlin), and a visit to the State Tretyakov Gallery, which we missed due to a conflict on our schedule.

Below, I include some of the images of our trip, in no particular order. On purpose, I often use a phone-camera to document our traveling. Most images are in low definition and have little or no editing (click on them to enlarge). Please note that images are copyrighted, all rights reserved, enjoy watching them! — EvoLiteracy © 2016.

MTEC at downtown campus Lomonosov Moscow State University - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Our book, Measuring the Evolution Controversy (2016), at the downtown campus of Lomonosov Moscow State University. Quite a stop to start our official visit. The old campus is located nearby the Kremlin. The new campus is located South of the city’s center.

Opening ISOP 2016 - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Opening at Moscow Forum Protists – 2016. The Faculty of Biology Building, Lomonosov Moscow State University.

Main Building COLOR Lomonosov Moscow State University - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Main Building Lomonosov Moscow State University. There are seven identical buildings in Moscow, one of them belongs to the University.

VDNKH Metro Station in Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: VDNKH Metro Station in Moscow. Tiles covering an entire wall (18 x 6 feet). While we were admiring this “tile-mosaic,” a young couple, plus a boy with his mother, stopped by to take pictures, an indication that this was an appreciated spot.

Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin in Suzdal Russia - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin in Suzdal, Russia. My favorite; blue is the right color.

Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin INSIDE Suzdal Russia - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Inside the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin in Suzdal, Russia.

The Senate and The Secret Gardens Kremlin Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: The Senate and The Secret Gardens, Kremlin, Moscow.

Kremlin Wall with tower - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: The iconic Kremlin Wall with tower, Moscow. The Kremlin buildings (government and museums) are enclosed by the wall.

The Grand Kremlin Palace Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: The Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow.

MTEC exploring Moscow Map - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Our book, Measuring the Evolution Controversy, planning the next day’s activities in Moscow. The Metro system is quite efficient to explore the city’s historic buildings, monuments and museums.

Russian State Library Main Hall - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Russian State Library, Main Hall, Moscow. An old palace in current renovation.

Marble stairs at the Russian State Library - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Marble stairs at the Russian State Library; history polished on marble, perhaps by millions of people over the years, Moscow.

View of Kermlin from Russian State Library Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: View of the Kremlin from the Russian State Library in Moscow.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky Russian State Library - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Fyodor Dostoyevsky statue at the Russian State Library, frequented spot by pigeons and birdlife. Quiet, little explored by pedestrians now that the surroundings are in renovation.

Detail of Facade Russian State Library - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Detail of façade at the Russian State Library, Moscow.

Book Museum View - Russian State Library - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Book Museum at the Russian State Library. Its collection of old books is impressive, hundreds of volumes.

SURVEYING VOYAGES Book Museum Russian State Library - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Darwin’s SURVEYING VOYAGES (1839) at the Book Museum of the Russian State Library, Moscow.

HUMANI CORPORIS FABRICA Book Museum Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: The original HUMANI CORPORIS FABRICA by Andreas Vesalius (1543) at the Book Museum, Russian Sate Library, Moscow. I have seen this book twice, the first time at the Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, in the US.

DON QVIXOTE OF LA MANCHA Book Museum Russian State Library - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: DON QVIXOTE OF LA MANCHA (1616), Book Museum, Russian State Library, Moscow.

1867 Das Kapital - Book Museum - Russian State Library - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: 1867 edition of Das Kapital by Karl Marx, Book Museum, Russian State Library, Moscow.

MTEC at Library Lomonosov Moscow State University - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Our book, Measuring the Evolution Controversy, enjoying a lovely day outside the Library of Lomonosov Moscow State University. MTEC was not allowed in the Library due to lack of proper “pass,” which was required for visitors. In any event, the book took some time for selfies and promotion.

Modern Moscow at sunset - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Modern Moscow at sunset, a view from our hotel.

Moscow River and Kremlin - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Moskva River and Kremlin (on the right), Moscow.

Saint Basil's Cathedral Moscow NIGHT - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Saint Basil’s Cathedral (night), Moscow.

Saint Basil's Cathedral Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow, panoramic view.

Saint Basil's Cathedral Moscow closeup - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Saint Basil’s Cathedral, close up, Moscow.

Orthodox Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Orthodox Moscow, next to Saint Basil’s Cathedral.

The Historical Museum at Red Square Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: The Historical Museum at Red Square, Moscow. It has an excellent collection of artifacts related to Russian history, starting from Homo erectus (the first archeological discoveries in Russian landscapes) up to the 20th Century.

The GUM Building at Red Square Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: The GUM Building at Red Square, Moscow.

Annunciation Cathedral side-view Kremlin Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Annunciation Cathedral, side-view, Kremlin, Moscow.

Annunciation Cathedral B&W Kremlin Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Annunciation Cathedral in B&W, Kremlin, Moscow.

The Ivan The Great Bell Tower - Kremlin Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Ivan The Great Bell Tower, Kremlin Moscow.

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow.

Bolshoi Theatre Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow.

Bolshoi Theatre Stage Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Bolshoi Theatre’s stage, Moscow. We were fortunate to get tickets for the Opera Katerina Izmailova, an adaptation of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.

Bolshoi Theatre Central Balcony Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Bolshoi Theatre Central Balcony, Moscow.

Beautiful Moscow by night - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Beautiful Moscow by night.

Diptic MEMORIAL MUSEUM OF COSMONAUTICS Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: At the MEMORIAL MUSEUM OF COSMONAUTICS, Moscow.

MTEC at MEMORIAL MUSEUM OF COSMONAUTICS Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Our book, Measuring the Evolution Controversy, at the MEMORIAL MUSEUM OF COSMONAUTICS, Moscow.

Back View of Lenin's Mausoleum - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Back view of Lenin’s Mausoleum, Kremlin, Moscow.

Karl Marx Monument Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Karl Marx monument in Moscow.

Handcrafted Nature Boxes St Petersburg - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Handcrafted Nature Boxes, St. Petersburg.

Casual Moscow with Fast Food - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Casual Moscow… fast-food style.

Kazan Cathedral Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Kazan Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow.

MTEC posing before The Senate Kremlin Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Our book, Measuring the Evolution Controversy, posing before The Senate, Kremlin Moscow.

STONE FLOWER FOUNTAIN in Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: STONE FLOWER FOUNTAIN in Moscow.

The Friendship of People Fountain Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: The Friendship of People Fountain, Moscow.

ARCHITECTURAL DETAIL CENTRAL PAVELION Moscow - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Architectural detail, Central Pavilion, Moscow.

Kazan Cathedral St Petersburg - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood St Petersburg - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg.

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood St Petersburg CLOSE UP - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Close up of Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg.

B&W Church on The Spilled Blood St Petersburg - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Church on The Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg. The church is so colorful that even in B&W the viewer can imagine the colors.

Close up Hermitage Museum St Petersburg - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Close up of The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

The Royal Throne Hermitage Museum St Petersburg - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: The Royal Throne at The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

Wooden Floor Winter Palace Hermitage Museum St Petersburg - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Wooden Floor at The Winter Palace, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

RUSSIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES St Petersburg - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: The old building of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg.

Main Entrance Summer Palace St Petersburg - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Main Entrance to The Summer Palace, St. Petersburg.

Meet me at the bridge St Petersburg - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Meet me at the bridge, St. Petersburg.

The last red phone St Petersburg - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: The last red phone, St. Petersburg.

Dormition Cathedral Vladimir - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir, Russia.

Matryoshkas from the 1920s Trinity Church Vladimir - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Matryoshkas from the 1920s, Trinity Church, Vladimir, Russia. In the old(er) days, the dolls were of pale colors, which changed over the years to a more colorful design.

A Fowl Trinity Church Vladimir - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: A Fowl at the Trinity Church in Vladimir, Russia.

Lenin Stalin Trinity Church Vladimir Russia - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Lenin and Stalin on glass, Trinity Church, Vladimir, Russia.

Town of Suzdal Russia - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Town of Suzdal, Russia.

B&W House in Suzdal Russia - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Traditional old-house in the town of Suzdal, Russia.

Colorful Russia Suzdal - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Colorful Russia, the town of Suzdal.

Saint Euthymius Monastery Russia - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Saint Euthymius Monastery, Suzdal, Russia.

Detail of ceiling at Trinity Church Vladimir - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Detail of ceiling at Trinity Church in Vladimir, Russia.

The Former KGB - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: The Former KGB building in Moscow.

Water reflection Convent Bogolyubovo Vladimir region Russia - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Water reflection of Convent Bogolyubovo in the Vladimir region, Russia.

Old Village Suzdal Russia - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Old Village in the town of Suzdal, Russia.

More of the Saint Euthymius Monastery Russia - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Saint Euthymius Monastery, Suzdal, Russia.

Golden Gate Vladimir Russia - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Golden Gate, Vladimir, Russia.

Church of The Transfiguration Russia - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Church of The Transfiguration, Suzdal, Russia.

Church of The Transfiguration Russia Close Ups - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: The Church of The Transfiguration is completely built on wood, Suzdal, Russia.

Convent Bogolyubovo Vladimir region Russia - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Convent Bogolyubovo, Vladimir region, Russia.

Matryoshkas in color St Petersburg - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Matryoshkas in color, St. Petersburg.

MTEC inside the Russian State Library - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2016

Above: Our book, Measuring the Evolution Controversy, enjoying a visit to one of the reading rooms at the Russian State Library in Moscow.

You can contact Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C via email at guillermo.pazyminoc@gmail.com — Follow us on Twitter @gpazymino and Facebook.

Suggested Readings

Kin Recognition or Kin Discrimination in Single-Celled Organisms – Protists

Symposium Kin-Discrimination in Protists just featured on JEUK

Protisto-Biologists Flock to Seville for ECOP-ISOP Scientific Meeting

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy full text

*  *  *  *  *     *  *  *  *  *     *  *  *  *  *

D - Headline Book Measuring the Evolution Controversy 2016

Paz-y-Miño-C, G & Espinosa, A. 2016. Measuring the Evolution Controversy: A Numerical Analysis of Acceptance of Evolution at America’s Colleges and Universities. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle, United Kingdom. ISBN (10): 1-4438-9042-1, ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-9042-7.

BOOK small format - Measuring the Evolution Controversy 2016Measuring the Evolution Controversy can be ordered directly from Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Amazon US, or Amazon CA . The publisher has made available a “VIEW EXTRACT” (in PDF), which includes the first 30-pages of the book: Cover, Table of Contents, Acknowledgments, Preface, Chapter ONE and the beginning of Chapter TWO. For PDF of color illustrations go to Image Resources of Didactic Relevance.

“The great contribution of ‘Measuring the Evolution Controversy’ is the rich content of data and analysis that asks detailed questions about the social, economic and political backgrounds of those who tend to reject evolution vs. those who accept evolution as science. Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa deftly analyze their data drawn from institutions of higher learning in the United States and particularly New England —which stands as a microcosm of the rest of the country, and indeed elsewhere in the world. It is their scientific approach to these issues which makes this book stand out as a uniquely original contribution.” — Niles Eldredge, PhD, Curator Emeritus of Paleontology at The American Museum of Natural History, New York.

“Pro-science activists and educators constantly bemoan the resistance to the teaching of evolution in the United States. All of us have anecdotes about encounters with the public, parents and students who are misinformed by their churches, Religious-Right groups, and creationist organizations. Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa present hard data that support the anecdotal evidence. They also show that although anti-evolutionism typically begins with religion, it is a multi-faceted problem that intersects with political and cultural ideologies. Gathered through careful research over a period of years, their data will enable scientists and defenders of science education to comprehend the roots of the evolution controversy and counteract resistance to evolution more strategically and effectively.”Barbara Forrest, PhD, co-author with Paul R. Gross of Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (2007), and expert witness for plaintiffs, Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District (2005).

Visitors to EvoLiteracy during April 2016 – 50 countries and growing!

A short posting summarizing our followers’ visits to Evolution Literacy during April 2016. We continue to grow internationally… and fast.

EvoLiteracy continues to grow and, although many of our visitors are from the United States (65%), the international presence is nowadays notorious. We thank our followers for that. Colleagues and friends from 50 countries read (during April 2016) our news and opinion pieces about science, the evolution controversy and research reports from various sources. Our upcoming book Measuring the Evolution Controversy, by Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa, shall ignite additional attention (the book has been announced by Cambridge Scholars Publishing, it will be out June 1, 2016). I will provide info about the book in a separate post, probably during the coming week (the Publisher shall make available mini-reviews of the book by scholars and/or other authors). In any event, back to the purpose of this post, hope you all enjoy being part of the statistics in the pie diagram and country-by-country list below. – GPC

Here is a summary-depiction of visitors’ activity at EvoLiteracy during the past 30 days. The over-crowded and overlapping text (top right, just below the word “During“) is there on purpose, there is nothing wrong with your computer. It shows 32-superimposed names of countries and their corresponding percent values of visitors’ activity (yes, it is hard to read, which in this case is permissible); the complete list of countries is shown after the pie diagram. If you visited EvoLiteracy during April 2016, your country should be listed:

Visitors to EvoLiteracy during April 2016

And here is the list of countries from which our followers are from (50 during April 2016; the grand total of country visits, as per 2015, is 103). The list includes the European Union, Taiwan and Hong Kong as “countries” for reasons known to internet users (otherwise, click on European UnionTaiwan or Hong Kong to learn about it). I thank you all for sharing our posts and for re-posting them on twitter and Facebook. – GPC – Evolution Literacy.

List of Visitors to EvoLiteracy during April 2016

You can contact Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C via email at guillermo.pazyminoc@gmail.com — Follow us on Twitter @gpazymino and Facebook.

Suggested Reading

World Visitors to EvoLiteracy: Top 25 Most Read Posts of 2015

Kin Recognition or Kin Discrimination in Single-Celled Organisms – Protists

EvoLiteracy News 04 04 2016

Can single-celled organisms distinguish between same (self or clone) and different (diverse clones)? Can they tell apart kin from non-kin? Can they “learn” to discriminate or recognize members of their own versus others’ cellular lineages? Answers to these questions are provided in three articles (first, second, and third) just published (early view) in the Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology. The studies summarize outcomes of the symposium “Evidence of Taxa-, Clone-, and Kin-discrimination in Protists: Ecological and Evolutionary Implications,” which took place at the VII European Congress of Protistology, organized last summer in partnership with the International Society of Protistologists (ECOP-ISOP 2015), and hosted by the University of Seville, Spain. I participated at this Symposium and co-authored two of the trilogy papers. But my purpose here is to bring attention to the topic “kin discrimination” or “kin recognition” in unicellular organisms, an area of research that has made much progress in the past fifteen years. There are some technicalities in the text below, but I ask the readers to make an effort and try to understand the broad themes, while being patient with the details. Enjoy! – Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C.

Entamoeba invadens IP-1 Green-and-Red 3-hours - A Espinosa 2016

The unicellular eukaryote Entamoeba invadens (a protist) colored with Green or Red markers. When the Green and Red cells fully aggregate in mixed assemblages, they look yellow under the microscope, an indication that the amebas are able to distinguish members of the same clone, without being affected by the coloration. When grown in the laboratory with non-clone members, the amebas only aggregate with same-clone cells, an indication of preference to group with themselves. Photo courtesy of A. Espinosa 2016.

Readers unfamiliar with “protistan” biology might benefit from grasping some terminology (i.e. protist, prokaryote, eukaryote, clone, multicellularity, kin recognition/discrimination), which I explain next by answering simple questions. For those trained in biology, it might be fine to skip the first five subtitles, below, and move on directly to “From multicellular to unicellular: a round trip:”

What is a protist?

Remember that some organisms are made of single cells. Yes, the entire organism is a cell. For example, bacteria (like the E. coli that lives in the human gut) or amebas, which are also microscopic and can be found in a pond. However, one of the main differences between a bacteria and an ameba is that the former has no nucleus, in contrast to the latter that has it. For that reason, bacteria are called prokaryotes (pro = “before” or “prior to” or, in this case, no nucleus) and amebas are called eukaryotes (eu = “well” or “good” or, in this case, with nucleus). However, many other organisms have nucleated cells (and are, therefore, eukaryotes), like a frog, an orchid, a chimpanzee, a maple tree, or a Blue Whale. The term “protist” applies to unicellular eukaryotes, while the amphibian, the plant, or the aquatic mammal are called multicellular eukaryotes, since their bodies are made of billions of nucleated cells.

Now, the term “protist” is tricky because it includes extremely diverse organisms (which earliest ancestors likely emerged two billion years ago), and over the years scientists have realized that many exceptions exist of organisms that, although are not always unicellular in their life cycles, they are (or should be considered) protists. One of them is the social ameba (or amoeba), Dictyostelium, which forms multicellular assemblages (moving “slugs;” watch video) during its life stages, and also lives in nature as a single-celled, free ranging ameba. To learn more about the ambiguities intrinsic to the term “protist,” and for more examples, go here.

What is a clone?

Ameba cell division cartoon EvoLiteracyBecause unicellular organisms reproduce, in many cases, via simple cell divisions, the resulting progeny is often identical to the parental cell. A single ameba, for example, can give origin to 2 identical daughter cells, which, in turn, can generate 4 cells (i.e. 2, 4, 8… see cartoon on the right). The resulting thousands, or millions, of cells are “clones” (identical copies of each other). Now, during so many cell divisions, mutations that change the sequence of DNA can –and do– occur, making the descendant cells gradually different from the parental ones. Over time, maybe hundreds of years, a cell line could change enough to become a different clone. Moreover, after thousands or millions of years, different species of amebas can emerge, each distinctive from one another and from the species that gave them origin in the past, a phenomenon known as speciation.

What is multicellularity?

Volvox colonies

Volvox (a green-algae protist) forms large sphere-colonies made of hundreds, or thousands, of individual cells (see daughter colonies inside). Click on image for source.

Perhaps a more didactic question here is ‘where do multicellular organisms (i.e. frogs, orchids, chimps, maple trees, blue whales) come from’? A first, quick answer is that all multicellular organisms known today originated –at some point– in ancient assemblages of unicellular ancestors (traceable to billions of years ago). However, a more cautious answer is that we have a fragmentary understanding about how primitive single-celled eukaryotes took the path (here I mean driven by natural selection) toward permanent associations in immense cellular cooperatives, which we now call multicellular organisms (note that scientists consider the advent of multicellularity a “major evolutionary transition” in the history of Earth). And that is why studying modern protists, like gregarious amebas (in the genus Entamoeba), or facultative social amebas (i.e. not always social, but in response to environmental circumstances), like Dictyostelium, can give us hints about how multicellularity originated. This particular topic is discussed in the three articles published in JEUKMIC (first, second, and third), and to which I refer in this post. But before I get into that, take a look at the image of Volvox (inset). The organism Volvox is a green-algae protist, which forms large sphere-colonies made of hundreds, or thousands, of individual cells. Inside these spheres, daughter colonies develop and, when they mature, the parental spheres bursts and the descendant colonies are released into the aquatic environment, where they continue to grow and proliferate. Today’s multicellular aggregations of protists, like Entamoeba, Dictyostelium or Volvoxgive us clues about how multicellularity might have originated in ancient Earth. Moreover, they are good model-systems to study kin recognition or kin discrimination (which include an organism’s skills for grouping and cooperating with the right partners, and behaving altruistically toward them) in the context of the origin and evolution of multicellularity.

What is kin recognition or kin discrimination?

 “The ‘field of kin recognition’… has no consensus on definitions or proposed mechanisms, possibly due to the vast diversity of life histories across organisms and their phylogenetic complexities…”

NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Mark Kelly Photo Tony Cenicola

NASA’s twin astronauts Scott, left, and Mark Kelly. Photo: Tony Cenicola. In humans, identical twins are the only natural “clones;” their genetic relatedness is equal to 100% (represented by r = 1.0). However, the rest of us are related to our siblings only by 50%, or r = 0.5. Our relatedness with our parents is the same, r = 0.5. Can the reader tell why? If so, here is a question: what would be your genetic relatedness with an uncle/aunt, or with a grand parent, or with a second cousin?

This topic can be a bit confusing. However, in one of the articles (the first one listed below), the authors explain why: “…The ‘field of kin recognition’… has no consensus on definitions or proposed mechanisms, possibly due to the vast diversity of life histories across organisms and their phylogenetic complexities (here, phylogeny means ancestry, somewhat analogous to genealogy, not of your own family, but rather of distinctive species or kinds of organisms grouped in distinctive categories). [The authors] refer to “recognition” as an organism’s ability to identify kin [family members] versus non-kin [members of another family]; in addition, [the authors] use the term “discrimination” as the capacity to distinguish one clone from another. Because [the authors] discuss instances of taxa- [taxa = in this particular case means species], clone-, and kin-discrimination/recognition in single-celled organisms capable of both discriminating between same and different, and discriminating/recognizing among clones of distinctive [degree of genetic relatedness, like, for example, values of r less than 1.0], [the authors] use these terms together…”

Why is it relevant to study kin recognition or kin discrimination in single-celled organisms?

To answer this question, I will borrow, again, text from the first article: “…Multicellularity is a major evolutionary transition in which single-celled organisms switched from living individually to permanent assemblages. It is possible that multicellularity originated —more than once— in clonality, via a gradual aggregation of closely related cells, capable of recognizing one another by means of chemical cues, and which lived consistently in intimate proximity and benefited from specialized division of labor (i.e. distinctive tissues and organs with given functions). Such specialization included the full allocation of soma-reproduction [soma = the entire body of an organism] to a small population of cells within the soma, the gametes [i.e. ovules, sperm]Protists are central to the reevaluation of the theoretical framework and concepts in the field of kin recognition, and to research about the origins and evolution of multicellularity...

From multicellular to unicellular: a roundtrip

The first article (by Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa) is a concise review on “Kin Discrimination in Protists: From Many Cells to Single Cells and Backwards.” In it, the authors summarize the current understanding of the genetics of kin discrimination/recognition in unicellular Eukaryotes, and they do it historically by going back in time, to Darwin and his Origin of Species (1859; Darwin speculated* that selection may be applied to the family; kin discrimination/recognition rely on kin-selection theory), and the influential 1960s, when the modern field of kin recognition was, arguably, born. Here is a simplified version of the first article’s abstract:

During four decades (1960s to 1990s), the conceptualization and experimental design of studies in kin recognition relied on work with multicellular eukaryotes, particularly invertebrates and vertebrates, and some plants. This pioneering research had an animal behavior approach. During the 2000s, work on taxa-, clone- and kin-discrimination and recognition in protists produced genetic and molecular evidence that unicellular organisms could distinguish between same (self or clone) and different (diverse clones), as well as among conspecifics of close or distant genetic relatedness (Table 1, below). Here we discuss some of the research on the genetics of kin discrimination/recognition and highlight the scientific progress made by switching emphasis from investigating multicellular to unicellular systems (and backwards). We document how studies with protists are helping us to understand the microscopic, cellular origins and evolution of the mechanisms of kin discrimination/recognition and their significance for the advent of multicellularity...”

[Click on Table 1, below, to enlarge]

Table 1 Kin-discrimination in Protists Paz-y-Mino-C Espinosa JEUKMIC 2016

Readers might find the following excerpts from this article quite intriguing, e.g. “learning” in unicellular organisms (is that possible?):

“…In 1899, H. S. Jennings wrote: ‘Paramecium… an animal that learns nothing, that exercises no choice in any respect, that is attracted by nothing and repelled by nothing, that reacts entirely without reference to the position of external objects, that has but one reaction [movement –watch video below] for the most varied stimuli… can hardly be said to have made the first step in the evolution of mind, and we are not compelled to assume consciousness or intelligence in any form to explain its activities.”

Above: movement behavior in Paramecium. This video is 13-min long and shows various types of Paramecium. If you watch it for a couple of minutes, it shall give you an idea about how these ciliates look like and move.

Except for mind, consciousness and intelligence, which are not prerequisites for kin discrimination or recognition (both can also operate in a reflex manner: stimulus-response), Jennings was mistaken about his entire characterization of Paramecium. Since the early 1900s, sensitization, trial-and-error learning, and classical or operant conditioning (relevant attributes among some of the multicellular eukaryotes that learn to recognize kin) have been documented in Paramecium; [including] micro-tube-escape swimming behavior via discrimination learning (1910s), habituation to approach baited and un-baited targets using bacteria as food-reinforcer (1950s), and swim-approach behavior toward mild-electrically-charged fields in learning discrimination tasks using positive and punishment reinforcements (2000s).”

And the authors add: “…But, to our knowledge, there is no direct, experimental evidence that protists can rely specifically on sensitization (i.e. the enhancement of a response to an incremental exposure to a stimulus, for example, the differential frequency exposure to kin versus non-kin during a life cycle), trial-and-error learning (i.e. repeated attempts to solve a task until success, for example, attempts to behave altruistically toward kin, and the benefits it entails, versus the costs of maladaptive altruism toward non-kin), or classical or operant conditioning to discriminate between kin and non-kin (i.e. learning to associate a behavioral or chemical cue with the advantages/disadvantages of aggregating, cooperating or reproducing with conspecifics of [diverse degree of relatedness]). All these topics, remain open areas of investigation and experimentation with protists since, like Paramecium, they possess basic sensory perception capabilities, which could have been co-opted [= adapted] during evolution to function in kin discrimination/recognition…”

Social amebas (or facultative social)

The second article (by Strassmann) is a another review, in this case on “Kin Discrimination in Dictyostelium Social Amoebae.” In it, the author recounts her research program on various species of social amebas, including Polysphondylium violaceum, D. purpureum and D. giganteum. Here is a simplified version of the abstract:

Evolved cooperation is stable only when the benefactor is compensated, either directly or through its relatives. Social amoebae cooperate by forming a mobile multicellular body in which about 20% of participants ultimately dies to form a stalk [watch video below]. This benefits the remaining individuals that become hardy spores at the top of the stalk, together making up [a] fruiting body. In studied species [of social ameba] with stalked migration, P. violaceum, D. purpureum, and D. giganteum, sorting based on clone identity occurs in laboratory mixes, maintaining high relatedness within the fruiting bodies. D. discoideum has unstalked migration where cell fate is not fixed until the slug forms a fruiting body. Laboratory mixes show some degree of both spatial and genotype-based sorting, yet most laboratory fruiting bodies remain chimeric. However, wild fruiting bodies are made up mostly of clonemates. A genetic mechanism for sorting is likely to be cell adhesion genes tgrB1 and tgrC1, which bind to each other. [These genes] are highly variable, as expected for a kin discrimination gene. It is a puzzle that these genes do not cause stronger discrimination between mixed wild clones, but laboratory conditions or strong sorting early in the social stage diminished by later slug fusion could be explanations.”

Above: the amazing videos of social behavior in amebas, by John Bonner, Professor of Biology at Princeton University. He obtained the images as an undergraduate student. This is a 2-min video of historical value, watch it to the end (it turns spectacular).

Gregarious amebas

The third article (by Espinosa et al.) is a multi-clone characterization of Entamoeba species; it is titled “Entamoeba Clone-recognition Experiments: Morphometrics, Aggregative Behavior, and Cell-signaling Characterization.” The authors discuss their laboratory trials with seven ameba varieties; here is a simplified version of the abstract:

Phylogeny of Entamoeba clones Espinosa et al JEUKMIC 2016

Schematic phylogeny based on ssrRNA sequences of the Entamoeba clones discussed in the Espinosa et al. article. Free-living: E. moshkovskii Laredo; commensal E. terrapinae and E. dispar; and parasitic E. invadens IP-1, E. invadens VK-1:NS, E. moshkovskii Snake and E. histolytica HM-1:IMSS.

Studies on clone- and kin-discrimination in protists have proliferated during the past decade. We report clone-recognition experiments in seven Entamoeba [varieties] (E. invadens IP-1, E. invadens VK-1:NS, E. terrapinae, E. moshkovskii Laredo, E. moshkovskii Snake, E. histolytica and E. dispar). First, we characterized morphometrically each clone (length, width, and cell-surface area) and documented how they differed statistically from one another (as per single-variable or canonical-discriminant analyses). Second, we demonstrated that amebas themselves could discriminate self (clone) from different (themselves versus other clones). In mix-cell-line cultures between closely-related (E. invadens IP-1 versus E. invadens VK-1:NS) or distant-phylogenetic clones (E. terrapinae versus E. moshkovskii Laredo), amebas consistently aggregated with same-clone members. Third, we identified six putative cell-signals secreted by the amebas and which known functions in Entamoeba spp. included: cell proliferation, cell adhesion, cell movement, and stress-induced encystation. To our knowledge, this is the first multi-clone characterization of Entamoeba spp. morphometrics, aggregative behavior, and cell-signaling secretion in the context of clone-recognition. Protists allow us to study cell-cell recognition from ecological and evolutionary perspectives. Modern protistan lineages can be central to studies about the origins and evolution of multicellularity.”

Conclusion

Again, I would like to quote the first article: “…because protists are among the most ancient organisms on Earth, belong to multiple taxonomic groups and occupy all environments, they can be central to reexamining traditional hypotheses in the field of kin recognition, reformulating concepts, and generating new knowledge [to our current understanding of the origins and evolution of multicellularity].” – GPC – Evolution Literacy.

You can contact Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C via email at guillermo.pazyminoc@gmail.com

UniCellular Eukaryotes or Protists

Protists are among the most ancient organisms on Earth; they belong to multiple taxonomic groups and occupy all environments. Studies with protists can be central to generating new knowledge to our current understanding of the origins and evolution of multicellularity.

Suggested Readings and Note

JEUK-MICRO - COVER - May-June 2016Article I: Paz-y-Miño-C, G. & Espinosa A. 2016. Kin Discrimination in Protists: From Many Cells to Single Cells and Backwards. Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology 63: 367-377. DOI: 10.1111/jeu.12306.

Article II: Strassmann, J. E. 2016. Kin Discrimination in Dictyostelium Social Amoebae. Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology 63: 378-383. DOI: 10.1111/jeu.12307.

Article III: Espinosa, A., Paz-y-Miño-C, G., Hackeya, M. & Rutherford, S. 2016. Entamoeba Clone-recognition Experiments: Morphometrics, Aggregative Behavior, and Cell-signaling Characterization. Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology 63: 384-393. DOI: 10.1111/jeu.12313.

I also suggest to explore the paper that inspired the organization of the ECOP-ISOP 2015 symposium:

Espinosa, A. & Paz-y-Miño-C, G. 2014. Evidence of Taxa-, Clone-, and Kin-discrimination in Protists: Ecological and Evolutionary Implications. Evolutionary Ecology DOI 10.1007/s10682-014-9721-z.

* Darwin (1859) speculated about the “puzzle of the sterile social insects,” in which female workers at a nest dedicate their lives to the persistence of the colony (structured around a large progeny), via assisting a fertile queen to reproduce with the available males. Darwin suggested that, in such cases of apparent sacrifice —by the workers— for the good of all, “selection may be applied to the family.” But, in the late 1800s, he could not offer a detailed mechanistic explanation for the latter. Fisher (1930) and Haldane (1932, 1955) wrestled with the genetics and mathematics of altruism and the anecdotic expression “I would lay down my life for two brothers or eight cousins” became legacy of their work. Hamilton (1964) and Maynard-Smith (1964) further reasoned that the ability to discriminate between close and distant genetic relatives could be directly linked to survival and reproductive success, and, ultimately, to kin selection (Maynard-Smith 1964, 1977). — For references, go to source.

Are women generally more religious than men? Does it matter?

EvoLiteracy News 03 23 2016

AA - Woman praying

Yes, women worldwide are, overall, more religious than men. Yesterday, the Pew Research Center released another update to its frequent reports on religion (The Gender Gap in Religion Around the World), which I shared on Facebook. It includes useful maps and descriptive statistics, however, here I summarize only the numeric trends and leave the maps aside (they are didactic). Readers can find the complete report online, as well as the figures and web-links. But first, why do we care at EvoLiteracy News about this topic? One of the reasons (not the only one) is that acceptance of evolution is negatively associated with level of religiosity, as we (and other researchers) have demonstrated in numerous studies. Therefore, the Pew Research report would imply that women, worldwide, accept evolution less than men. But this is –of course– something not addressed by the Pew Research Center in this particular study (see such differences here). Instead the report focuses on speculating about why the gender gap in religious commitment exists, and it does demonstrate that, by just joining the workforce, women become less religious (voilà) –although the gender gap remains. The report, however, disregards the historical oppressive role of religion on all peoples, particularly women. – Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

Please, examine the figures below in detail. I will provide general statements to guide your understanding. The first image summarizes how women worldwide are more likely to be religiously affiliated (83.4%) than men (79.9%), and this is the case across religions (Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, folk religions, other religions and Jewish). In consequence, the religiously-unaffiliated women worldwide tend to be fewer (16.6%) than men (20.1%).

A - Women more likely than men to be affiliated Pew 2016

With this information in mind, the histograms below become fairly easy to grasp. They summarize the percentages of religiously affiliated men and women (ages 20+) in each of the major religious groups. Note how, in the majority of cases, women are more religious than men. And note also how among the unaffiliated people, only 45% of women, in contrast to 55% of men, consider themselves non-believers, agnostics, or non-practitioners of any organized religion.

B - Religiously affiliated more likely female Pew 2016

The next image shows how, among Christians, women tend to be more religious than men on specific categories, including: weekly attendance to religious services, daily prayer, considering religion to be important in their lives, believing in heaven or hell, and believing in angels. These W-M differences are not statistically evident among Muslims (except for attendance to religious services, which is heavily men oriented).

C - Among Christians women more religious on all measures Pew 2016

What about the atheists? Well, they tend to be mostly men across the sampled countries (i.e. Uruguay, US, Germany, Spain, UK, Australia, China and France), except for China and France where the difference M-W is minimal.

D - Atheists more likely men Pew 2016

What is the situation in the United States? The religiosity gender gap in the US (the most religious nation among the most developed) is quite accentuated: 47% of men versus 64% of women pray daily; 47% of men versus 60% of women consider religion to be important in their lives; and 32% of men versus 40% of women attend religious services weekly. In these three categories, the US surpasses all other developed nations, including Canada, UK, Germany, Australia and France.

E - United States wider gender gap in religiosity Pew 2016

Does employment (or being part of the labor force) have any effect on the gender gap of religious practices? The answer is yes. Women OUT OF the labor force (not working) are generally more religions than men. In fact, women out of the labor force double, or almost double, men in praying daily, attending religious services weekly, and considering religion to be important in their lives.

F - Gender gap smaller if women in labor force Pew 2016

The “pray daily” category is particularly informative. For example, in predominantly Christian nations, having more women in the labor force is associated with a reduction in the religiosity gender gap. In other words, women who work not only pray less than women who do not work, but also their difference in praying in comparison to men is less when women have a paying job.

G - In Christian countries labor force associated with women less prayer Pew 2016

The association described above, however, is not evident among predominantly NON-Christian nations; in them, having more women working is not associated with the size of the gender gap in daily prayer. Can the reader tell (or hypothesize) why? Hint, look at the dot distribution in the figure below, and also the percent point range above and below 0% (the y axis on the left); then, examine the dot distribution on the x axis (bottom).

H - In Non-Christian countries labor force NOT associated with women prayer Pew 2016

CONCLUSION: Why does the religiosity gender gap exist? The Pew Research Center report speculates that “biology, psychology, genetics, family environment, social status, workforce participation and a lack of ‘existential security’ (felt by many women because they generally are more afflicted than men by poverty, illness, old age and violence)” might help explain the difference in women’s versus men’s religiosity worldwide. In addition, the report lists a few crucial observations:

(1) Women who participate in the labor force show lower levels of religious commitment than women who do not work outside the home for pay. (2) When these two groups of women are compared with men (most of whom are in the labor force), the gender gaps [continue to] differ. (3) The gap between women who are in the labor force and men tends to be smaller than the gap between women who are not in the labor force and men. (4) This pattern holds even after accounting for education level, age and marital status. (5) Across predominantly Christian countries, the overall gender gaps in daily prayer and importance of religion are smaller in countries where more women are in the labor force.

“…But I want to make sure that the readers keep in mind that we ought to celebrate secularism worldwide, and pursue the vanishing of religion all together. We are not aiming at shrinking the religiosity gap between men and women who believe (alone or together) in a non-existing deity. That is not the point, not even the starting-point in this dialog. The secular perspective is about bringing reason and science to the debate over “belief,” and to free societies from the sequels of belief: disruption, distortion, delay or stop (3Ds + S) in the acceptance of any evidence, and particularly of scientific evidence.”

In essence, the Pew Research Center report is highlighting that “being part of the labor force,” in other words, “just having a job,” makes women less religious, and, therefore, the gender gap in religiosity shrinks (although it does continue to persist). But the Pew Research Center chooses to be politically correct and says nothing about the oppressive role of religion itself on women (more than on men) that contributes to the overall gender inequality in most societies (beyond religion). It does not address either the type of individual and socio-economic independence gained by women when joining the labor force in Christian nations (mostly in the West) versus elsewhere. But I want to make sure that the readers keep in mind that we ought to celebrate secularism worldwide, and pursue the vanishing of religion all together. We are not aiming at shrinking the religiosity gap between men and women who believe (alone or together) in a non-existing deity. That is not the point, not even the starting-point in this dialog. The secular perspective is about bringing reason and science to the debate over “belief,” and to free societies from the sequels of belief: disruption, distortion, delay or stop (3Ds + S) in the acceptance of any evidence, and particularly of scientific evidence. — EvoLiteracy News.

Related Stories

Darwin’s Skepticism about God

Evolution Wars Debunk II

Why the Notion that “The Theory of Evolution is Not an Explanation for the Origin of Life” is Wrong

Evolution Stands Faith Up – On Francis Collins’ and Karl Giberson’s “The Language of Science and Faith”

Another Blow Against Intelligent Design ID – Design Creationism

EvoLiteracy News 03 16 2016

The late Intelligent Design, or Design Creationism, continues to decompose. Indeed, pseudo-science has never been able to withstand the power of science. And the story below is quite compelling, not because scientists interested in studying the molecular sophistication of the bacterial flagellum had in mind to further debunk ID. In fact, the researchers (Beeby et al.) did not even mention Design Creationism in their work. But because their study, just published in PNAS, gives US, the people, the opportunity to extrapolate, once more, that there is not a hint of evidence in support to “irreducible complexity” in the anatomy or function of the bacterial flagellum. A reassurance that Design Creationism will forever be wrong. – Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

3D model bacterial propeller By Morgan Beeby Imperial College London

Three-dimensional models of bacterial propellers (rotors) in Vibrio (left) and Campylobacter (right). Images by Morgan Beeby Imperial College London (2016). Keep in mind that the rotors are made of proteins (read about it in Stepwise formation of the bacterial flagellar system, PNAS 2007).

Remember the bacterial flagellum? The pet-example of the late Intelligent Design movement? The alleged “case-study” of irreducible complexity? Well, there are more bad news for Design Creationism. A paper on the bacterial flagellum, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), explores even further the motor (in reality, the flagellum’s rotor) diversity in two species of bacteria (Campylobacter and Vibrio, plus the study makes comparisons to a third species, Salmonella). Unfortunately, the article is not friendly written, and it can be difficult to understand; the science, however, is exquisite.

Before I summarize the study, watch this 22-sec video about the general structure of the bacterial flagellum. It is simple and will help you understand everything else below:

Here, I try to explain the paper by paraphrasing it: Beeby et al. (a total of six coauthors) have found evidence that “bacteria have tuned their swimming abilities [to their surrounding environments] by evolving structural adaptations to their flagellar motors [which are made of proteins], and that [have resulted] in altered torque generation.” [Note that torque is the twisting force that causes rotation of the flagellum]. In essence, “different bacteria show different swimming [styles], [plus different flagellar-motor anatomies], strikingly illustrated by [their] abilities to bore through viscous fluids (for example, the gastrointestinal mucus) in which other bacteria are [unable to swim].”

Bacterial motors with different torque By Morgan Beeby Imperial College London

There is plenty of evidence of gradually evolved differential complexity among flagellar-motors. Bacterial motors with different torque (Salmonella, Vibrio and Campylobacter). Images by Morgan Beeby Imperial College London (see article in PNAS 2016).

Although the authors say nothing about Intelligent Design in their study, for obvious reasons, i.e. who bothers to allude to a non-scientific proposal (ID) in a serious scientific paper (PNAS). We, the readers, however, can extrapolate from the Beeby et al.’s elegant study that there is NOT a hint of evidence in support to “irreducible complexity” in the form or function of the bacterial flagellum, as proposed by Design Creationists. But rather, there is plenty of evidence of gradually evolved differential complexity among flagellar-motors. This complexity is rooted in ancestry, from absence of the rotor in ancient forms of bacteria, to presence and diversity of rotors in more recent forms of bacteria. That is, “gradual change with modification” (or classical Darwinian evolution), exactly the opposite to the irreducibly-complex flagellum designed by a “Designer of Nature,” the imaginary force of causality invoked by Intelligent Designers. In conclusion, the science story about the bacterial flagellum is, by far, more exciting than the pseudo-science, creationist tale of ID. – Evolution Literacy

Related Story

Intelligent Design and Design Creationism Make it to PLoS ONE

Intelligent Design and Design Creationism Make it to PLoS ONE

EvoLiteracy News 03 03 2016

Breaking – PLoS ONE Retracts Paper by Liu M-J et al.

PLoS ONE retraction of paper

Click on image to be redirected to PLoS ONE decision.

Nature Calls it “Social Selection”

Nature calls it Social Selection

Click on image to be redirected to article in Nature.

The INDEPENDENT “Scientific Paper Sparks Controversy”

The Independent on PLoS ONE human hand Creator Intelligent Design

Click on image to be redirected to the Independent article.

Pocket Watch Hand Media ImagesThe paper by Liu M-J et al. (Biomechanical Characteristics of Hand Coordination in Grasping Activities of Daily Living) must be retracted from PLoS ONE, and its editor, Renzhi Han (Ohio State University Medical Center), dismissed from the journal for carelessness in processing the manuscript, to say the least. Here is why: the authors (apparent sympathizers of Intelligent Design) invoke the “Creator” in the Abstract, Introduction, Discussion, and also in the Comments section of the online version of their article, in which they respond to criticisms by the readers and editors at PLoS. And this is not an error of translation, nor a struggle in the authors’ attempt to explain, in English, the contrast between the evolutionary origin of the mechanic dexterity of the human hand and its alternative, unsupported hypothesis, “DESIGN CREATIONISM” responsible for it. No, the authors, with the blessings of the journal’s editor, insist that a Creator, or Designer, made the hand almost perfect. This is bad science and terrible editing by PLoS ONE. Below, I summarize the case and provide links to the journal and PDF. But keep in mind that PLoS ONE might retract the article, terminate the editor, and the information from the journal website might be removed. In any event, the paper by Liu M-J et al. must go from PLoS ONE to ZERO. – Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

The paper by Liu M-J et al. was received by PLoS ONE on October 28, 2015; accepted on December 14, 2015; and published on January 5, 2016. I missed it, but became aware of it by allusions to it in the social media (Retraction Watch alerted it on March 2, 2016).

Citation: Liu M-J, Xiong C-H, Xiong L, Huang X-L (2016) Biomechanical Characteristics of Hand Coordination in Grasping Activities of Daily Living. PLoS ONE 11(1): e0146193. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0146193.

What is the paper about?

In the authors’ own words “…This study explores a method to identify the proper explanation for the hand architecture of muscular-articular connections from the analysis of behavioral result…”

Liu M-J et al. examine the biomechanics of the human hand; its dexterity and relationships between anatomy and function. The authors aim at conveying the message that any robotic attempt to mimic the ability of the human hand should pay close attention to its anatomy (and physiology), which, according to Liu M-J et al., would lead to best outcomes in robotic-engineering design. So far, so good. But what follows below is unacceptable, and for that reason the paper must be retracted and its editor, Renzhi Han (Ohio State University Medical Center), dismissed from PLoS ONE.

Tasks Performed by Human Hands Liu M-J et al PLoS ONE 2016

A hand wearing an instrumented glove demonstrates diverse types of dexterity (click on image to enlarge). Source Liu M-J et al. PLoS ONE 2016.

This is what the authors state in the ABSTRACT:

Hand coordination can allow humans to have dexterous control with many degrees of freedom to perform various tasks in daily living. An important contributing factor to this important ability is the complex biomechanical architecture of the human hand… It is not understood which biomechanical characteristics are responsible for hand coordination and what specific effect each biomechanical characteristic has. To explore this link, we first inspected the characteristics of hand coordination during daily tasks… from thirty right-handed subjects during a multitude of grasping tasks. Then, the functional link between biomechanical architecture and hand coordination was drawn by establishing the clear corresponding causality between the tendinous connective characteristics of the human hand and the coordinated characteristics during daily grasping activities. The explicit functional link indicates that the biomechanical characteristic of tendinous connective architecture between muscles and articulations is the proper design by the Creator to perform a multitude of daily tasks in a comfortable way. The clear link between the structure and the function of the human hand also suggests that the design of a multifunctional robotic hand should be able to better imitate such basic architecture.”

Thus, Liu M-J et al. invoked “design intervention” to account for complexity.

This is what the authors state in the INTRODUCTION:

The human hand is an amazing instrument that can perform a multitude of functions, such as the power grasp and precision grasp of a vast array of objects. The excellent behaviors of the human hand are enabled by a highly complex structure, with 19 articulations, 31 muscles and more than 25 degrees of freedom (DOF). While the abundant functions are favorable, this complex structure also raises a challenging problem of how the human body controls such a large number of mechanical DOFs with ease and an absence of effort…”

To help readers understand, we can simply call DOF “dexterity,” or the readiness and grace in physical activity, the skill and ease in using the hands.

Liu M-J et al. continue: “…Studies indicate that digits do not move alone in isolation of adjacent digits during functional activity, even when a specific movement requires an individual digit. On the contrary, the movements of multiple digits are correlated, and movement information of the human hand is redundant, so that only a small number of components account for most variances. The human hand adopts coordinated movements to reduce the number of independent DOFs and simplify the complexity of the control problem. Thus, hand coordination affords humans the ability to flexibly and comfortably control the complex structure to perform numerous tasks. Hand coordination should indicate the mystery of the Creator’s invention…”

Once again, Liu M-J et al. invoked a “Creator’s intervention” to account for complexity.

This is what the authors state in the DISCUSSION:

In closing the article, Liu M-J et al. reaffirm: “…the architecture is the biomechanical basis of the dexterous movement that provides the human hand with the amazing ability to perform a multitude of daily tasks in a comfortable way. In conclusion, our study can improve the understanding of the human hand and confirm that the mechanical architecture is the proper design by the Creator for dexterous performance of numerous functions following the evolutionary remodeling of the ancestral hand for millions of years. Moreover, functional explanations for the mechanical architecture of the muscular-articular connection of the human hand can also aid in developing multifunctional robotic hands by designing them with similar basic architecture.”

Now, this is what Liu M-J et al. and the Academic Editor, Renzhi Han, do not understand about alleged “design” in nature or “design creationism:”

The doctrine of Intelligent Design (ID), or Design Creationism, born in the 1980s, proposes that a Designer is responsible, ultimately, for the assemblage of complexity in biological systems; according to ID, evolution cannot explain holistically the origin of the natural world, nor the emergence of intricate molecular pathways essential to life, nor the immense phylogenetic differentiation of life, and instead ID proposes an intelligent agent as the ultimate cause of nature. In conceptually mistaken, type-I-error-based arguments to discredit evolution, ID has attributed randomness to molecular change, deleterious nature to single-gene mutations, insufficient geological time or population size for molecular improvements to occur, and invoked “design intervention” to account for complexity in molecular structures and biological processes. In 2005, ID was exposed in court (Dover, Pennsylvania, Kitzmiller et al. versus Dover School District et al. 2005) for violating the rules of science by “invoking and permitting supernatural causation” in matters of evolution, and for “failing to gain acceptance in the scientific community” (excerpt from Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2013, 2014).

And this is what Liu M-J et al. and the Academic Editor at PLoS have done: invoke and permit supernatural causation in matters of evolution.

Notification from PLOS Staff

Yesterday, March 2, 2016, the very journal PLoS ONE posted the following notification on its website (Comments section of article):

“… A number of readers have concerns about sentences in the article that make references to a ‘Creator’. The PLOS ONE editors apologize that this language was not addressed internally or by the Academic Editor during the evaluation of the manuscript. We are looking into the concerns raised about the article with priority and will take steps to correct the published record.”

But the reaction from PLOS just happened, after two months of the paper being on air. Look at this exchange between one of the readers of PLoS ONE and the first author of the paper, Mr. Liu M-J.

On February 15, 2016, Jason Friedman posted on the Comments section of PLoS ONE the following:

In the abstract (and similarly later in the paper) it is claimed: The explicit functional link indicates that the biomechanical characteristic of tendinous connective architecture between muscles and articulations is the proper design ‘by the Creator’ to perform a multitude of daily tasks in a comfortable way. I am interested to hear from the authors why one should come to this conclusion? I could not find any support for this claim in the article, and it seems out of place in this article…”

Mr. Liu M-J responded also on February 15, 2016:

Thanks for your comments. As we know, human hand is an amazing instrument that can perform a multitude of functions, such as the power grasp and precision grasp of a vast array of objects, with ease and an absence of effort. Although expended great attempts by scientists and engineers, there is no artificial hand matching the amazing capacity of human hand. The origins of human hand remain unclear. It is too miraculous to let us think that human hand is the masterwork of Creator and indicates the mystery of nature. The further discussion about the Creator is indeed out of place in our article…”

In addition, today, March 3, 2016, Mr. Liu M-J, posted this note at PLoS Comments:

We are sorry for drawing the debates about creationism. Our study has no relationship with creationism. English is not our native language. Our understanding of the word Creator was not actually as a native English speaker expected. Now we realized that we had misunderstood the word Creator. What we would like to express is that the biomechanical characteristic of tendious connective architecture between muscles and articulations is a proper design by the NATURE (result of evolution) to perform a multitude of daily grasping tasks. We will change the Creator to nature in the revised manuscript. We apologize for any troubles may have caused by this misunderstanding.”

A bit late, the analogy NATURE = Creator is not new among spiritualists (or even religions), the problem is that it was used in a scientific paper by professionals in a scientific field. And the Academic Editor at PLoS allowed it a complete ride up to publication. And that is the issue we are discussing. And the authors, and editor, must know that a “Creator” (unequivocally invoked three times in the paper and once in the Comments) has no place in Science.

What should PLOS and PLoS ONE do?

It is evident that neither the authors, nor the Academic Editor, understand how evolution via natural selection works. Worse, none is aware of the fallacies intrinsic to Intelligent Design, or Design Creationism. Here a common-knowledge principle applies “not knowing the law does not exempt anyone from having the law being applied to everyone.” What law? At least one and two bylaws: natural selection (which explains the origin and evolution of the human hand), plus the bylaws of publication of articles in scientific journals (i.e. substantiation by evidence, not by the whim of the authors or editors, and sound editorial process). [For accuracy, be aware that natural selection is not a “law,” I am using it here as an unavoidable mechanism that helps us explain much of the evolutionary processes; selection imposes restrictions on randomness and helps us dismiss, quite easily, the fallacy of “design creationism”]. What should be done now that we, the people, caught this “error” at PLoS, after two months since publication?

The allusions to the Creator or Designer by Liu M-J et al. are out of place, but they do invoke and permit supernatural causation in matters of evolution. Unfortunately, there is no evidence of a problem in translation, from the authors’ native language into English. In fact, the authors insist in the Abstract, Introduction, Discussion, and in the Comments section of their article that they do give credit, in a scientific publication, to the long-time debunked hypothesis of Intelligent Design, Design Creationism. The paper must be retracted from PLoS ONE, the Academic Editor, Renzhi Han (Ohio State University Medical Center), must be dismissed from PLOS, and the journal must assure the scientific community that the Public Library of Science (PLoS) will never, ever embrace design creationism in its publications. The paper by Liu M-J et al. must go from PLoS ONE to ZERO. — Evolution Literacy

On March 4, 2016, PLoS ONE officially retracted the paper:

Retraction by PLoS ONE 03 04 2016

Click on image to be redirected to PLoS ONE retraction announcement.

Suggested Reading

A Comprehensive Survey of Retracted Articles from the Scholarly Literature

Related Stories

Darwin’s Skepticism about God

Evolution Wars Debunk II

Why the Notion that “The Theory of Evolution is Not an Explanation for the Origin of Life” is Wrong

Evolution Stands Faith Up – On Francis Collins’ and Karl Giberson’s “The Language of Science and Faith”

The Friendship Paradox vs. the Happiness Paradox

EvoLiteracy News 02 22 2016

Cartoon BizarroComics - EvoLiteracy 2016If you are on Twitter (or Facebook), you have probably asked yourself two questions: Am I less popular than my social-media friends? Am I less happy than them? These phenomena (i.e. cyber popularity or cyber happiness) are both real and perceptual.

A paper, by Bollen et al. (total four coauthors), which is available as manuscript (The Happiness Paradox: Your Friends Are Happier Than You), caught my attention. The authors provide evidence of complex associations between the “friendship paradox” and the “happiness paradox.” Enjoy. – Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

What is the Friendship Paradox? The perception that YOU are less popular than your friends (on average).

What is the Happiness Paradox? The perception that YOU are less happy than your friends (on average).

What is the issue (so what)? The friendship paradox has been documented in the scientific literature (see Suggested Readings below), but the happiness paradox has remained untested, without quantitative demonstration that it actually happens. Or that, if it does, it occurs in association –somehow– with the friendship paradox. The paper by Bollen et al. makes such connection.

To make it easier for our readers, I will summarize the Bollen et al. study in a digestible manner, although the authors themselves do a fine job explaining the theory, the data and the implications of the research to a specialized audience (see PDF of manuscript). But, for the non-scientists, my summary below might help.

The observations in nature (the social environment):

Online social networking is associated with elevated levels of loneliness, anxiety, displeasure, and dissatisfaction. For example, many times you are on Twitter (or Facebook, or alike social media), you experience an overall sensation that your average contacts (i.e. friends, people you follow, or your followers) have more friends or followers than you do, or are happier than you are.

When measured in number of friends-connections, most people tend to have fewer friends than their own friends do on average. Why? Watch the short video posted below (1 minute 36 seconds of your time) for a friendly introduction to the Friendship Paradox.

Now, let us examine numerically how the Friendship Paradox emerges from a simple example. Imagine a social network of four people, as depicted in the image below: Ana has 1 friend (Bill). Bill has 3 friends (Ana, Carla and Dan). Carla and Dan have 2 friends each (Bill, and each other).

Cartoon The Friendship Paradox - EvoLiteracy 2016

There are 8 friends in the network (1 + 3 + 2 + 2). Thus, on average, each person has 2 friends (8/4 = 2).

However, how many friends does each person’s friends have (i.e. how many friends of friends)? Ana is connected to +3 friends of friends, via Bill (who has 3 friends), a subtotal of 3 friends of friends. Bill is connect to 1 + 2 + 2 friends of friends (Ana has 1, Carla has 2, and Dan has 2), a sub total of 5 friends of friends. Carla is connected to 3 + 2 friends of friends (Bill has 3 and Dan has 2), a sub total of 5 friends of friends. And Dan is connected to 3 + 2 friends of friends (Bill has 3 and Carla has 2), a sub total of 5 friends of friends. Therefore, the grand total of friends of friends in the network is 18.

What is the average number of friends of friends? We obtain this number by dividing the total number of friends of friends in the network (=18) by the total number of friends in the network (=8), which gives us a value of 2.25. The Friendship Paradox becomes evident for Ana, Carla and Dan since their average number of friends in the network (=2.0) is lower than the average number of friends of friends in the network (=2.25). The phenomenon is particularly acute for Ana since she has a single friend (Bill) and, therefore, her friendship relations are clearly below both the average number of friends in the network (2.0) and the average number of friends of friends in the network (2.25).

This overall sampling bias effect (= the Friendship Paradox) results –in part– from Bill’s presence in the network. Bill has the most friends and is more often counted in the friends of friends tabulation, thus rising the average value (to 2.25).

The hypothesis

At least in part, Bollen et al. tested the hypothesis that the friendship and happiness paradoxes are predictable byproducts (effects) of universal social network connectivity patterns. And that associations between friendship and happiness also derived from such connectivity (note that the Friendship Paradox has been demonstrated numerous times, but Bollen et al. demonstrated it again with their sample to be able to link it to the Happiness Paradox, the central aspect of their paper).

The phenomena “friendship paradox” or “happiness paradox” result from the inherent structural bias in social networks that favor popular individuals (like Bill, above), who are, by definition, more likely to belong to someone’s social circle. For example, when individuals like you and I equate popularity of our cyber-friends with their cyber-prestige, and compare our own popularity to theirs, we tend to increase our levels of dissatisfaction with ourselves (i.e. we tend to enhance, in our minds, the effects of the friendship-paradox- or the happiness-paradox).

The predictions

Bollen et al. predicted that the effects of the friendship paradox will extend beyond popularity. If popular individuals tend to be happier, then their elevated happiness will become more prevalent as well. Thus, friendship-levels and happiness-levels (as per both paradoxes) should correlate, and this relationship should be measurable.

The authors also predicted that unhappiness will contribute more directly to the negative psycho-social effects of social networking, since it will affect how individuals assess their own subjective wellbeing (i.e. general happiness/unhappiness or life satisfaction/dissatisfaction relative to that of others).

The friendship paradox or the happiness paradox will generate predictable distributions of data, as shown in Fig. 1, below:

Figure 1 Friendship vs Happiness Paradoxes - EvoLiteracy 2016

Figure 1. Predictable distributions of data expected if the Friendship or Happiness paradoxes are supported by the data (redrawn and adapted from Bollen et al.).

The study

Bollen et al. examined 40,000 Twitter users connected by reciprocal friendship (i.e. people that follow each other).

Two distinctive groups were characterized, the Unhappy group and the Happy group, by applying a subjective assessment of their wellbeing (derived from the Twitter-users’ interactions with their cyber-neighbors), which ranged in a scale from -1.0 (unhappy) to +1.0 (happy).

As shown in Fig. 2, below, both the Unhappy and Happy groups experienced evident friendship-paradox effects (i.e. members of both groups did have, or thought that their friends had, more friends, on average, than themselves). Interestingly, the intensity of the friendship paradox was weaker in the Unhappy group (left) than in the Happy group (right).

Figure 2 Friendship vs Happiness Paradoxes - EvoLiteracy 2016

Figure 2. Friendship-paradox effects on the Unhappy (left) and Happy (right) groups. Note how the intensity of the friendship paradox was weaker in the Unhappy group than in the Happy group. The “clouds” of data correspond to point distributions of each of the 40,000 Twitter users in the study (modified from Bollen et al.).

In addition, as Fig. 3, below, suggests, both the Happy (top) and Unhappy (bottom) groups experienced clear happy-paradox effects. However, the intensity of the happiness paradox was stronger in the Unhappy group (see the very steep slope in the data point distribution, plus the amount of data points over the main line) than in the Happy group (see the not-so-steep slope in the data point distribution, plus the amount of data points over the main line). In essence, the majority of the sampled Twitter users were less happy (or more unhappy) than their friends on average. These findings support the idea that the Happiness Paradox is real.

Figure 3 Friendship vs Happiness Paradoxes - EvoLiteracy 2016

Figure 3. Scatter point distributions of an individual’s (exemplified by YOU) sense of happiness as function of his/her (exemplified by YOUR) friends’ average sense of happiness (modified from Bollen et al.).

Individual Happiness and average friends’ Happiness were more strongly related within the Unhappy group than within the Happy group (Fig. 3). Bollen et al. refer to the clustering of unhappy users with themselves, and happy users also with themselves, as being homophilic or assortative in their social networking (both are common terms in behavioral sciences).

Figure 4, below, corroborates the finding that Unhappy Twitter users had fewer friends, on average, than the Happy Twitter users had, on average.

Figure 4 Friendship vs Happiness Paradoxes - EvoLiteracy 2016

Figure 4. Unhappy Twitter users had fewer friends, on average, than the Happy Twitter users had, on average (modified from Bollen et al.).

Figure 5, below, corroborates the finding that the Happiness Paradox affected more the Unhappy Twitter users, on average, than the Happy Twitter users, on average.

Figure 5 Friendship vs Happiness Paradoxes - EvoLiteracy 2016

Figure 5. The Happiness Paradox affected more the Unhappy Twitter users, on average, than the Happy Twitter users, on average (modified from Bollen et al.).

Paradoxically, however, as shown in Fig. 6, below, there was a weak correlation between individual happiness and individual popularity for the Unhappy group (Pearson’s R = -0.047; range -0.08 to -0.013). For the Happy group, the correlation was more pronounced (Pearson’s R = 0.126; range 0.081 to 0.171).

Figure 6 Friendship vs Happiness Paradoxes - EvoLiteracy 2016

Figure 6. There was a weak correlation between individual happiness and individual popularity for the Unhappy group. For the Happy group, the correlation was more pronounced (modified from Bollen et al.).

The overall results suggest that unhappy Twitter users were more strongly affected by the lower happiness of their friends, possibly explaining why this group exhibited a stronger Happiness Paradox (Figs. 3 and 5) in the absence of a strong correlation between Happiness and Popularity (Fig. 6).

Warnings

Bollen et al. warn us that:

Observations of decreased happiness among social media users may result directly from a widespread inflated perception of the happiness of one’s friends.

Given the large role that social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook) plays in the social lives of billions of individuals, the authors suggest that these environments may induce long-term changes in the public’s social behavior and may, over time, alter the very nature of social relations themselves. — EvoLiteracy.

Suggested Readings:

Why are your friends more popular than you?

Why your friends have more friends than you do?

Friends you can count on.

Your friends are more interesting than you.

Generalized friendship paradox in complex networks: The case of scientific collaboration.