Thursday, 15 August 2019

Animal Doppelgangers: Convergent Evolution

This is an example of retrograde evolution

In today’s post, I’ve decided to address another evolutionary topic: ‘Convergent Evolution’ (homoplasy). In principle, the concept is relatively simple. Organisms in similar ecological environments (niches) evolve independently to form similar body morphologies and/or analogous body parts, physiology or biochemistry. Or in other words, similar problems yield similar answers. A good example would be a comparison between sharks and dolphins. Sharks and dolphins are not closely related in reference to phylogeny. However, their body habitus is remarkably similar. Thus, both are streamlined and their respective skins have a particularly low coefficient of friction. Also, both species are endowed with a fin configuration that is essentially the same. A key difference relates to the tail fins. The shark has a tail fin with a vertical aspect while the dolphin’s fin is distinctly horizontal. These similarities exist in spite of the fact that dolphins are more closely related to humans than they are to sharks. Of course, a shark’s body shape can vary according to individual species and the various lifestyles pursued. However, this does not detract from the main thrust of the thesis especially when we compare classic pelagic sharks such as the great white (Carcharodon Carcharias), with the dolphin. Both species have evolved as fast-swimming predators. Evolution, over aeons, has honed the shark and dolphin body shape to suit the open sea environment and cement their role as top predators. From a behavioural perspective, there are marked differences between these species. The great white is essentially a solitary hunter while the dolphin hunts within a cooperative pack (pod).

Clearly, the torpedo body shape has evolved under evolutionary pressures and constraints to maximise the efficiency of these two very successful predatory species. Indeed, if we look to the remote evolutionary past we can observe the fossil remains of the long-extinct ichthyosaur (fish-lizard). Again this common and distinctive body shape is resplendent and replicated in the ichthyosaur, although this creature is designated a reptile.

I’ve added images of the great white shark, dolphin and ichthyosaur for comparison: note the similarity in musculature and body form.

As an aside and a point of clarity: the dolphin’s horizontal tail fin is a consequence of anatomical/economical constraints. Evolution often reworks existing structures and moulds them into different anatomical formulations conducive to their new functional role(s). It is to be remembered that dolphins originally evolved from land-dwelling mammals that ‘decided’ to return to the sea. The tail fin evolved from bipedal (is there any other sort?) legs and feet and therefore evolution had to fashion a tail from these existing structures, therefore, resulting in a horizontal fin.

Another good example concerns the convergent evolution of eutherian mammals (classic mammals) and marsupials. Marsupials evolved in wonderful geographical isolation from standard eutherian mammals and these fundamentally distinct 'mammal types' are not closely related. Even so, we observe, once again, that species occupying coinciding ecological niches are spectacularly similar in anatomical and morphological form. Consider the wolf and the recently extinct, marsupial, thylacine (Tasmanian wolf). Both species evolved as pack animals to take on large herbivorous prey and their physical resemblance is marked. As a digression: it is quite difficult to distinguish the skulls of wild dogs and thylacines from each other on gross anatomical inspection.

Convergent evolutionary pressure is yet another example of evolution in wondrous action. I have cited just two main examples and these solely relate to morphology or body form. Other important examples would include the independent evolution of flight in bats, birds and insects. Our vegetative cousins (twice removed) are not exempt from this fascinating aspect of evolutionary force. The independent and repeated evolution of C4 photosynthesis represents an important representation of convergent evolution in plants and algae.   

It is probably a good idea, at this stage in the proceedings, to address and dispel a major misconception concerning the evolutionary process. Detractors (more fool them) often view evolution as a 'purposeful' process. By this I mean that evolution is wrongly envisaged as being part of a master plan or template which is to be followed with intent. Let me be clear: there is no prospective plan to follow. Evolution is a blind force which shapes individual variation through selective environmental forces. From this 'perspective' evolution is not predictable in any grand sense. Environmental selective pressures can change rapidly and in some instances catastrophically. Nothing is certain: chance and circumstance determine all. One of the reasons for the misconception, I think, lies with the normal use of written language and our tendency to invoke metaphor to express complex ideas. Thus our written expression may wax (but not wain) lyrical and provide an erroneous impression/expression of the evolutionary concept.  

Friday, 9 August 2019

Evolutionary Evidence Easily Discerned by Those That Can See

Time for something sensible
Flaxen banging on about evolution, again......

Fundamentalist Christians would do well to acknowledge the theory of evolution, but they won't/can’t due to an adherence to anachronistic religious dogma. The evidence for evolutionary theory is overwhelming and evidence is present in a bewildering array of disciplines (nay, plethora).

For today’s post, I’d like to look at one aspect of the evidence. The cited example is one I’ve had the professional privilege to personally observe.

Over the course of many years as a cytogeneticist, I've examined human chromosomes athwart the light microscope. Humans are endowed with 46 chromosomes or 22 pairs of autosomes plus the two sex chromosomes: the presence of two X chromosomes determines the female sex while the presence of an X and Y chromosome denotes maleness. Each pair of chromosomes can be distinguished from other chromosome pairs on the basis of size, centromeric position and their unique banding pattern. A transverse chromosome banding pattern can be induced by a variety of techniques. A common technique utilises a proteolytic enzyme, trypsin, that extracts proteins from the chromosomes. After staining, a series of light and dark bands stretching across the chromosomes can be observed. The banding pattern aids chromosome analysis and enables the detection of rearrangements of the balanced and unbalanced variety.

The above represents a normal human female karyotype: note the two X chromosomes and differences in the banding pattern between chromosomes (x1,000 magnification). 

During analysis, we sometimes observe ‘fragile sites’. Fragile sites are regions within chromosomes which show a minor discontinuity. This discontinuity can be likened to a hinge and clearly reflects a structural change present at the DNA level. These fragile sites are not randomly distributed throughout the genome but appear in particular regions of particular chromosomes. Of interest is a fragile site present on the short arm of chromosome 2. Tis a fragile site which manifests in all us humans, albeit at a low level of about 2% of cells. So what, you say? A none staining gap type thingy sometimes observed does not appear particularly profound in a  discussion about evolution- but read on gentle readers and be amazed (more likely informed, a bit)!

Our close animal relatives, the Great Apes ( gorillas, chimpanzees) are replete with 48 chromosomes and therefore are blessed with two extra chromosomes in comparison to their human cousins. I’ve added the karyotypes of humans and chimpanzees for comparison. It is estimated that 4.5 million years ago a chromosome fusion event occurred in a common ancestor to humans and apes. This event reduced the genome to a modest 46 chromosomes. The fusion resulted in the formation of what came to be human chromosome 2. At the point of union, the  ‘join’ appears as a fragile site. Therefore, this structural anomaly stands as a stark and mute testament to our hereditary lineage and shared evolutionary pathway with our cousins, the Great Apes. Indeed, it has been speculated that this random evolutionary event may have caused the reproductive isolation of a small population of our ancestors thus preventing successful breeding with the original non-mutated population and therefore facilitating divergent evolution between ancestral humans and apes. 

              Chimp Female
The above chimp karyotype exhibits a great deal of similarity to the corresponding human genome. For instance, consider chimp chromosome 6 and human chromosome 7: their gross morphology is virtually identical. Again compare chimp chromosome 10 with its human counterpart, chromosome 12. 

A cursory glance at the respective chimpanzee and human karyotypes will reveal a great deal of similarity between their respective chromosomes with regard to morphology and banding patterns. Again, this points to a common evolutionary pathway for the two species.

These observations do not require a great deal of biological and evolutionary knowledge to understand. A simple demonstration can be set up in any standard genetics laboratory for all to see and appreciate the evolutionary implications. To ignore these salient points is to belong to a class of intellectual dissonance that only religious fervour can foster. Nuff said, for now.                                    

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Jesus of Tipton or Dudley Depending on Perspective

Tipton Jesus, perhaps?

Mind-boggling news from the sleepy hamlet of Tipton. Professor Teapot Mugumbo of the Tipton Institute of Hard Stuff and Difficult Sums announced that contrary to the Gospel writings, Jesus of Nazareth did not die nailed to a piece of wood in Jerusalem. Now, it can be revealed that when Jesus realised that Judas was about to dob him he thought it prudent to bugger off swiftly catching the 9.15am chariot to pastures new (stopping at the Decapolis, Bethsaida, Phillipi and terminating at the coastal city of Tyre). Thereafter, he caught a swift trireme to Dover, England. Hence, he travelled the byways and canals of England finally ending up in  9th century, Tipton (twas a long journey). At the time Tipton was ruled by the mad Saxon king, Adelbert the Anchorite. Furthermore, once Mary Magdeline caught wind of Jesus’ decamp she followed a similar route, stopping at Wolverhampton and Dudley South before alighting in Tipton. It is known that Mary and Jesus went on to have two children, Loshranda and Gary.  

Once in Tipton, Jesus preached a bit- as was his wont. However, as the Tiptonites did not understand Aramaic they treated the itinerant preacher with utter disdain. It was only after learning West Saxon that Jesus managed to reach the filthy heathen Tiptonites. Often Jesus would climb to the top of the midden heap and deliver his words of solace and wisdom to the lost, smelly and diseased.
Jesus: "Verily I say to you, that before the sun sets on Michaelmas Wednesday there will be a plague of ferrets and the knee caps of the just shall wobble a bit and the fluff in the belly buttons of the righteous shall burn bright with a light that shall not be extinguished. Also, I say to you that you must visit Mr Patel’s Emporium of Cheap Shit and Assorted Crap for all your sundry needs. Today’s special consists of a knocked up paper mache statuette of yours truly buggering off with alacrity moments before the Romans attend the scene accompanied with that twat, Judas. And if you are looking for a true bargain, check out Mr Patel’s rendition of the penultimate supper. In this interpretation in diamante, I appear in repose on a mauve settee resplendent in a robe of finest nylon. This masterpiece is yours for thirty groats or two for fifty groats. A free ferret with purchases over a hundred groats!. Hurry this item is a hot seller and sure to shift off the shelves faster than a gypo covered in goose grease slipping orwf a lead roof".

Not all are convinced by Professor Mugumbo’s revelations. Dr Ipod Mugumbo-Mugumbo (no relation) of the rival academic institute: Dudley University for the very Thick and Hard of Learning, believes this is just a cunning ruse concocted by the professor, of dubious provenance, and Mr Patel to offload a load of cheap tawdry tat that was accumulating a motley patina and a bewildering array of divers detritus in a shed in Netherton North. Mugumbo-Mugumbo cites contrary evidence thusly: “There is scant evidence that England of the 9th century had the necessary infrastructure to support an extensive canal system required for large-scale travel throughout the land. And anyway, I have evidence that Jesus was whisked off by time-travelling teleporting aliens from the first-century AD. After being extensively and exhaustively anally probed, Jesus was deposited in a garret in Dudley, circa 1922. To celebrate and commemorate this implausible event Mr Khan of Mr Khan’s Boutique of Undeniably Shoddy and Sordidly Crafted Crap has knocked up Sharon of Magdala. In addition, you can purchase a piece of the ‘True Dross’ cunningly fashioned in plywood for a meagre and mere, half a quid".   

Professor Ipod Mugumbo-Mugumbo’s research is funded by an endowment furnished by the ‘Khan Foundation’.  

Flaxen is off to collect his medication- it is well overdue..........         

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Nature vs Nature: Part II of a Trilogy in Four Parts.

I'm back to the old hoary chestnut, or sausage, depending on whether you are vegan. Although, most saussies contain little meat so the point is moot. Anyway, how much of our nature, psychology and physiology is determined, or predetermined, by our genetics and how much is due to environmental influences? This may seem like a stupid question as certain traits are undeniably wholly determined by genetics and others mainly determined by the environment. I say mainly because we can never be truly free from the shackles of our genes. No one would deny that eye colour is a wholly genetic trait. What about muscular strength? The more we lift heavy weights the stronger our muscles become. This would seem to be a human feature totally influenced by hard endeavour. But humble readers you would be mistaken. Genes can exert subtle and not so subtle influences on our resultant physique. We all vary with regard to our innate ability to gain muscle mass through exercise. Also, there are behavioural factors that come under genetic control and influence our motivation to 'work out'. At the extreme end of determinism, there is a mutation in a single gene which confers an almost superhuman ability to gain muscle mass. Mutations within the MSTN gene cause hypertrophy of the skeletal muscles resulting in phenomenal physical strength.

The original conception of Communism considered environmental influences to be paramount. The potential to achieve was inbuilt and just required the right (or left) environmental stewardship to make geniuses of us all. Clearly, this exalted expression of environmentalism is patently absurd. But when has Communism been a rational political system? To see the ultimate madness of 'environmental Communism' consider the debacle of Lysenkoism- a crazy theory based on the thoroughly debunked idea of Lamarckism. I'll not elaborate here. I have tackled the insane fruits of rampant Marxism elsewhere. Tis enough to state that Lysenkoism put back the furtherance of genetic research and knowledge in the USSR by nearly three decades.  

Should scientists be allowed to pursue wherever their muse shall lead-free from political interference? Those whose idealism is unflinching would say yea. However, those whose wisdom has been tempered by the goad of experience understand that science generally comes under the heal of our political masters, at least to some extent. Try getting a government-sponsored research grant if your work is deemed 'socially unacceptable' by the powers that take our gelt in taxes.

Certain areas of research, for political reasons, are judged beyond the pale. Consider research into the vexed area of intelligence and race. It has been known for a while that innate intelligence is highly influenced by genetic factors. Let us not be misled or distracted by the scope of current intelligence tests. Clearly, intelligence tests, although by no means perfect, do measure cognitive ability to a remarkable extent. Those who score high on the tests are those that tend to become societies' professionals, all other things being equal. An IQ of 80 (mean population IQ=100) is a fast track to prison and/or a marginal societal existence unless of course you are born into fabulous riches. Let us be clear: investigations into differences in mean IQ and race is considered highly controversial and elicit an almost hysterical response from the liberal left. Cogent research indicates that there are inherent genetic differences between races and relative cognition. I  recommend my readers to undertake their own investigation. Be warned: there is a lot obscurification and misdirection that has nothing to do with scientific integrity and is often promulgated by those with a vested interest to suppress this sort of thing. And before I'm judged as a white supremacist, it would do well to note that ethnic groups scoring highest are the highly exclusive Ashkenazi Jews and South-East Asians.

Are there practical consequences of IQ and race research? I'll leave my readers to ponder deep on this question in a world of globalisation and mass immigration. Nuff said.


Wednesday, 24 July 2019

The Queen is Dead, Long live the King

In a land far away from the kingdom of Tipton, there was a land (Birminghamland) ruled by an evil Queen Therresalinda the ‘Unready’. She caused consternation and vexation throughout the land and the thegns and bondsmen were very, verily discombobulated. The noblemen did conspire her usurpation and plotted her demise as they were unhappy with the scant and torturous dealings with the adjacent kingdom of Teutland. And it came to pass that Therresalinda while passing royal fluids upon the royal stool did accidentally smite her head/crown against a strategically placed Dane axe. Thereupon her head did roll clean orwf where it landed in the local midden pit, there to be feasted upon by stray dogs and wandering wastrels/minstrels.

The noblemen met in conclave in the Great Hall and feasted heartedly bemoaning the fate of their dead Queen with cackles of laughter and merriment. But who would take the crown and diadem of the mighty kingdom of Birminghamland in these turbulent times and provide a war band and gelt to steer the land to greatness? Who would amass the Carls and standards to stand firm against the hordes of Teutland? The Great Hall descended unto stillness as the nobles pondered these matters of grave import. Ulrick ‘The Incompetent/Incontinent’ (not mutually exclusive characteristics) put forth that mayhap the good noblemen should cast bones in support of their chosen candidate. The laughter of derision did stir the scene as democracy did not abide in Birminghamland. The Birminghamlanders only followed the strong. And anyway, no one could take counsel from a man with two-tone trousers; yellow at the front, brown at the back. No bones would be cast that day.

As the Nobles contemplated their future fate a loud incessant booming clamour did avail itself at the Great Hall’s door. The Nobles turned as one to gaze upon the Great Door in the Great Hall in vivid and lurid expectation. And suddenly the door did wrench from its hinges as if Thunnor had smighted (not a real word) the oak with his mighty hammer. A gasp did collectively emit from the collective mass, for there stood a man of sublime countenance. A man arrayed in golden armour wielding a flashing sword and holding a shield emblazoned with a kipper. His flaxen hair did shine with an unearthly ethereal gleam and upon his broad shoulders sat a ferret, called Shagger (sorry, couldn’t help myself). The nobles did mutter amongst themselves: “Could this be Woden come to provide succour to this troubled land in this troubled time?”. At that moment the man spoke (more god than man, mayhap?): “Fear not, for I’m Bojo of the Vale and I’m here to save the land and lead it from the travails which assail it. I will lead the war band against the Teuts and negotiate a good deal concerning Brexit". The Nobles did cheer as one although they knew not this Brexit thingy- this being 826 AD, an all. "Hail the king, Hail Bojo".

And so it came to pass that Bojo, he of many verbal gaffs/gifts, would lead this land into greatness and prosperity.

As for Ulrick ‘The Incompetent/Incontinent: he missed the whole proceedings as he had to leave the Great Hall to attend to matters scatological after ingesting a rather dodgy vindaloo/poo. Arrrrrrrrse!

To be continued.                


Monday, 22 July 2019

Musings from a man who can't sleep without seeing Daemons

Before reading Flaxen's bespoke writings you are strongly advised to follow and digest the material on the following link. Otherwise, you may be moved to think that the author is utterly and unrepentantly.........
stark raving bonkers.

Shock breaking news from the rain drenched, windswept, sun eschewing town of Tipton on the Tip. Whilst walking her enigmatic ferret, Shagger, Mrs Edna Mugumbo came across a troop of feral gypos foraging in the local midden pit. Amongst the mangy, filthy, unkempt and illiterate group she noticed a half-grown human child not yet past the age of majority. The child crawled on all fours and aped the animal's atavistic grunts. Edna noticed that the child appeared very comfortable with the wild animals and even engaged in troop activities such as stacking scrap metal into piles; fashioning pegs from the finest dried dog shit and all the while managing to avoid paying tax, of any description. Mrs Mugumbo alerted the relevant authorities and the intrepid 'Gypo Squad' under the auspices of inspector, Enoch Mugumbo (no relation) of the yard swung into concerted inaction. After reviewing the evidence in the local hostelry, 'The Feltching Ferret' and imbibing 15 pints of the local brew, 'Ole Throat Gobbler' the dauntless team descended onto/into the midden pit like men deranged.

After much swaying and staggering they managed to secure the gypo cum child but only after running a gauntlet of fortune-tellers and purveyors of smelly, crudely fashioned pegs. At one stage during the proceedings, they were offered an alabaster bust of Michelangelo's David endowed with a suspiciously large phallus. As one critic was stirred to note: "Michelangelo's David has little to do with the fluid genius of the high renaissance, as such, and indeed takes too much from Classical Greek sculpture without adding the subtle but majestic sweep of the genre. The effect is almost a caricature and bemoans a florid abandon of the classical roots it labours and seeks to emulate. Arse".

Finally, after being told that, collectively they had lucky faces and that they would all inherit great wealth from an unexpected source, they managed to escape with the child and a whippet called Bob.

The child was whisked to Tipton General Infirmary for the Infirm and there examined by the renowned Doctor, Josef Mengele. The good doctor noted that the savage infant displayed all the hallmarks of a gypo child and hence was deemed non-human. Consequently, the child was consigned to the experimental wing of the hospital where Mengele injected coloured dye into the gypo's iris in order to mimic Aryan humanity.

On a happier note, Bob the Whippet has been re-homed with a nice middle-class family in Solihull. To date, the whippet has managed to steal all the garments awf the neighbour's clotheslines, collected sundry copper wire from various industrial locations and all this without paying a lick or pant of tax.

We certainly live in wondrous times. Double arse.

Inspector Mugumbo. in repose

Saturday, 20 July 2019

The French Mutinies of 1917

The eyes say it all

By April 1917 the French army had suffered one million deaths. Indeed, by the end of 1914, in just five months of war, they had suffered one million casualties. At the beginning of the conflict, the war was just a glorious game, and the French army advanced onto German machine guns in red pantaloons with bands playing led by officers who thought it chic to die in white gloves.

The German Verdun offensive of 1916 (February - December) had ostensibly been a German defeat however, the French had played directly into the German’s hands who viewed the battle as one of attrition- simply a means to kill French soldiers. At the end of the battle, the French had suffered about 400,000 casualties while the Germans suffered nearly 350,000. The French could ill afford such horrendous losses at this stage of the war. After being mauled so thoroughly in 1916, the French army was in no state for major offensive action in 1917 and wise heads in the military and civilian government should have realised this harsh reality. The leader of the French army at the end of 1916 was General Robert Nivelle. Nivelle was a rather charming General and unlike most of his contemporaries was able to vocalise well-constructed sentences in both French and English. More importantly, Nivelle had formulated a plan. He stated that he would lead an offensive on the Aisne which would shatter the German lines and perhaps bring the war to a successful end. Nivelle announced that he had discovered the secret of victory. For reasons, not governed by logic or reality, the French government decided to put Nivelle’s plan into action. The Germans wanted no part of the plan and they made a strategic withdrawal, between 16th - 20th of March, in the Aisne region to new secure lines (the vaunted Hindenburg line). Sound heads now thought the offensive unnecessary, but Neville was a man spellbound and would not relent. To compound Nivelle’s problems, the Germans had captured a French soldier complete/replete with the battle plans- there would be no surprise in this battle.
On 16th April the French infantry went over the top. It was clear by the end of the first day that the offensive would not achieve its ambitious goals and the French suffered 90,000 casualties. By the end of three weeks, the butcher’s bill stood at 180,000. There were gains in territory and it was not as if this offensive was any worse than other Allied offensive. The problem lay with Nivelle’s conviction that this battle would put the German’s to flight. Sadly for Nivelle, and the French army, the German line held. Nivelle had promised much and the exhausted French army had fought/thought this battle on reserves of hope. Once it became clear that the offensive had stalled, and the hope unfulfilled, morale collapsed.  

Due to the battle’s failure, Nivelle disappeared into the pages of history and was replaced by Petain who favoured the doctrine of defence. Petain's slogan: “We must wait for the Americans and tanks” saved many French lives.

You must forgive this rather extensive preamble: it is difficult to follow what subsequently transpired without this lengthy introduction.

Widespread insurrection and frank mutiny followed the battle. Soldiers marched to the front bleating like sheep. Within a short period, 54 divisions were refusing to take orders from their officers and soon it was estimated that there were only two reliable French divisions on the Western Front. Tis strange but news of the mutiny did not reach the foe. If the Germans had attacked at this time they would have confronted scant resistance and, potentially at least, would have forged deep into France; mayhap, threatening the capital, Paris (sacre bleu). Even if the Germans had had wind of the mutiny it is unlikely that they could exploit the French’s loss of spirit with any strength. Offensives on the Western Front required immense organisation of troops and logistics in-depth- this cannot be extemporized or made manifest because of unusually favourable opportunities on the front. The fluid battle doctrine of the Second World War did not yet exist.

The mutineers, in some units, were organised along Soviet lines. The recent unrest in Russia provided a template for semi-organised rebellion. To be fair, many French soldiers feared election as leaders of their units. They rightly surmised that so-called ‘ring leaders’ would receive harsh treatment by the authorities in the near future. And after all, most of the soldiers did not want a social revolution, they wanted better food and leave and most of all they did not want their lives squandered on pointless and fruitless offensives. Indeed, it was a lack of organisation, motivation and coordination which doomed the formulation of revolution according to Lenin or even Marxist dictate. Regardless, the French, and by extension, their British allies, were mighty/mightly scared at the time and some doomsayers predicted the demise of the French army with a disastrous consequence for the future conduct of the war.             
The French authorities were in a dilemma: of course, they could not condone the mutiny but a heavy hand would have made the situation worse and so they acted according to prudence. On the positive side, food rations were improved together with the promise of leave. Petain assured the soldiers that there would be no further offensives for the rest of 1917. It is estimated that 50 French soldiers were executed although this may have been an underestimate as records of the period were understandably suppressed. The judicious use of the ‘carrot and the stick’ worked and the soldiers returned to their trenches. They would defend the trenches but the offensive spirit was, no more. The British would have to take up the offensive slack and thus suffer the grinding mill of mud and bullets at the battle of Passchendaele, later that year. As a postscript: the French were against this battle from the start. They did not want the British army to be ground down to a stub. Passchendaele did not lead the British army to mutiny, but it destroyed the idealism of the British soldiers. From then on it would be a pragmatic, professional assault on the German defences; the days of romantic heroism were long gone, but the slaughter remained.