Why Does Evolution Allow Some People to Hear Colors?

National Geographic has a piece on the evolution of synesthesia, which is broadly defined as “a neurologically based condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.” In the most extreme cases, this means that people can taste words or hear colors. This article caught my eye because I realized a number of years ago that I have a mild case of grapheme color synesthsia. I basically associate a color with every letter and number. The colors don’t change, and there doesn’t seem to be a logical reason as to why each letter or number has its color. For example, 7 is green. M is red. I don’t see colors

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The Sugar Myth

I was happy to read this via Marginal Revolution: Let’s cut to the chase: sugar doesn’t make kids hyper. There have been at least twelve trials of various diets investigating different levels of sugar in children’s diets. That’s more studies than are often done on drugs. None of them detected any differences in behavior between children who had eaten sugar and those who hadn’t. These studies included sugar from candy, chocolate, and natural sources. Some of them were short-term, and some of them were long term. Some of them focused on children with ADHD. Some of them even included only children who were considered “sensitive” to sugar. In all of them, children did not behave differently after eating something full of sugar or

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Building Space Ships

That was quick. SpaceX, a private space ship company, will begin sending shipments to the international space station this fall: A little less than six months after the final space shuttle launch, a private space company will launch a rocket carrying a cargo capsule bound for the International Space Station. SpaceX said this week that it plans a Nov. 30 launch date for its first rendezvous with the ISS — an encounter that will mark a major milestone in private space exploration. We heard last month that NASA agreed to speed up SpaceX’s flight demo schedule, as SpaceX, eager to start making deliveries under its $1.6 billion NASA contract, asked NASA for permission to combine two planned missions into one. That mission is now

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“There are ‘obvious benefits’ of straight-up sex”

Well that should give my daily traffic a bump. The quote is actually referring to the benefits of “straight-up sex” (as opposed to asexual reproduction) for a type of insect — the cottony cushion scale. Via National Geographic, this is fascinating and weird (as is the picture): Are males necessary? Maybe not for long, at least in an insect species whose females have begun to develop sperm-producing clones of their fathers—inside their bodies. In the cottony cushion scale—a common agricultural pest that grows to about a fifth of an inch (half a centimeter) long—a new phenomenon has arisen: When some females develop in fertilized eggs, excess sperm grows into tissue within the daughters. This parasitic tissue, genetically identical to the female’s

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Ladybug Zombies

This is twisted. I love it. From National Geographic: “The parasitic wasp…prepares to inject a spotted ladybug with a single egg…the ladybug has been paralyzed by the wasp’s venom…”: “In time the egg will hatch into a larva that will develop for a few days and then chew a small hole through the abdomen of the ladybug. The larva will then spin a cocoon between the legs of the ladybug, whose body will rest on top of the cocoon as the larva undergoes metamorphosis…”: “…sometimes the ladybugs survive the larva’s emergence, and in those cases, the…larva then “brainwashes” the bug into defending the vulnerable cocoon from predators, said study co-author Jacques Brodeur, a biologist at the University of Montreal…” There you have it. Ladybug

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Yeast, Unite!

Two of my favorite topics are evolutionary biology and brewing. It’s rare that they overlap in the same article. It looks like brewer’s yeast has been coaxed to evolve to do more than make beer: IN JUST a few weeks single-celled yeast have evolved into a multicellular organism, complete with division of labour between cells. This suggests that the evolutionary leap to multicellularity may be a surprisingly small hurdle. Multicellularity has evolved at least 20 times since life began, but the last time was about 200 million years ago, leaving few clues to the precise sequence of events. To understand the process better, William Ratcliff and colleagues at the University of Minnesota in St Paul set out to evolve multicellularity in a

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