Saturday, March 29, 2014

We're hiring


Seth Bordenstein ( is seeking a postdoctoral fellow in metagenomics, microbial ecology, or systems biology.  The ideal candidate will pursue innovative research that compliments ongoing work in the lab on evolution, genome-microbiome interactions, and phylosymbiosis. We particularly encourage applications in the following areas:

·      Host-associated microbiomes (including but not limited to 16S rRNA gene sequencing, metagenomics, metatranscriptomics, metabolomics, and bioinformatic analyses using animal, plant or microbial systems)
·      Systems Biology (including but not limited to novel approaches in the genesis and processing of multi-omic data and models to integrate these data)
·      Quantitative and Computational Biology (including but not limited to bioinformatics, comparative functional genomics, and population genetics of large data sets)

We welcome cross-disciplinary approaches to understand how animals develop, function, interact and evolve. All candidates must have demonstrated excellence and creativity in applying next-generation sequence data to quantitative community, evolutionary, or ecological themes.

To apply or ask questions, please send information to Seth Bordenstein ( Please submit a CV and 1-2 page research statement describing your research interests, background and your goals for your career and postdoc. Please also include the names and contact information for at least 3 references. Applications will be reviewed immediately until a suitable candidate is identified.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Is Natural Selection Not the Right Brand for Evolution?

Mutation, Not Natural Selection, Drives Evolution


I just read the above article in Discover (link: March 16, 2014) that captured my curiosity. Famed population geneticist Masatoshi Nei claims that evolutionary biology has overly relied on "natural selection" as the brand name for evolution, and he makes a fair argument. He suggests an alternative - mutation driven evolution - that can seem subtle in comparison to natural selection at first glance, but it is not subtle. Why would biologists revise their heavy use of natural selection in favor of evolution by mutation?
  • First, mutations come before natural selection. Without genetic variation, there can be no change in an organism that is directed by natural selection. Nei states:
Mutation means a change in DNA through, for example, substitution or insertion [of nucleotides]. First you have to have change, and then natural selection may operate or may not operate. I say mutation is the most important, driving force of evolution. Natural selection occurs sometimes, of course, because some types of variations are better than others, but mutation created the different types. Natural selection is secondary.
  • Second, evolution by natural selection ignores that some variation arises by neutral mutations (that have no effect on the organisms' function) and population size crashes can cause those mutations to spread. So why would biology want a universal brand name like Natural Selection that misses the "neutral" side of evolution?
  • Third, it is Nei's opinion that natural selection is a deterministic force that simply replaces the hand of God as that deterministic force. Herein lies something important to consider.
If you say evolution occurs by natural selection, it looks scientific compared with saying God created everything. Now they say natural selection created everything, but they don’t explain how. If it’s science, you have to explain every step. That’s why I was unhappy. Just a replacement of God with natural selection doesn’t change very much. You have to explain how.
Part of the crux of the theory of evolution is that random mutations arise in a manner that is inconsistent with a deterministic hand. Changes are not orchestrated by want of a higher power but by random genetic processes that cause errors in the DNA code. It's equivalent to the randomness of the universe. 

My favorite Nei quote is at the end. It is a message for all students of science:
But any time a scientific theory is treated like dogma, you have to question it. The dogma of natural selection has existed a long time. Most people have not questioned it. Most textbooks still state this is so. Most students are educated with these books. 
You have to question dogma. Use common sense. You have to think for yourself, without preconceptions. That is what’s important in science.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Al Gore on the Microbiome and Darwin

When former Vice President Al Gore preaches the MICROBIOME, it may be time to switch fields as the bubble of exponential growth has officially burst. Sorry folks, but tis true. He does give a shocking and swift shout out to Darwin though. In all seriousness, I applaud the former VP for preaching fairly accurate science. Every drop of science education counts in the U.S.A. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

President Obama to introduce Fox's 'Cosmos' series on March 9

"We are made of star (microbe) stuff. We are the way for the (micro)COSMOS to know itself." - Carl Sagan (modified)

Tomorrow night, Science comes back to mainstream TV to reclaim its rightful entertainment and knowledge value. Join the journey and share the excitement about the new COSMOS show hosted by Neil Degrasse Tyson - the heir apparent to  Carl Sagan - who is serving the public's appetite for science and wonder. The mission of this TV show and what we all do as scientists are aligned in advancing science education and the beauty of discovery. 

Here is Neil Degrasse Tyson speaking at his usual best on scientific literacy.