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Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Steve ColeĀ¹s thoughts on science.

1. I often refer to myself as 1/2 English, 1/4 Dutch, and 1/4 German, based on the last names of my four grandparents. It's not that simple. First, there are virtually no pure-blood anything people in the world today (my father had a tiny bit of Native American ancestry). Second, when parents get frisky, their systems create the makings of a baby by scrambling and dividing existing cells. So if you assume for a moment that my grandparents were pure-bloods, then my father was 1/2 English and 1/2 German, while my mother was 1/2 Dutch and 1/2 English. When they created me, however, I might have inherited a 50-50 split of ethnic genes from each of them, or the portion from mom (or dad) might have been (for example) anything between 80-20 and 20-80. So I could be 10% German, 30% Dutch, and 60% English, or lots of other combinations. This gets important when considering animals. If you match a purebred wolf with a purebred German Shepherd dog, you get something that is 50% wolf. But match that grown-up hybrid pup with another 100% dog, and the result might be anywhere from 10% wolf to 40% wolf.

2. About two or three percent of elephants are born without tusks, and they will pass on the tuskless gene to their offspring (which might or might not have tusks). In the undisturbed wild, a herd of elephants might have a one without tusks and a few with tusks but carrying the recessive tuskless gene. When you add ivory poachers to the mix, however, things change. (The poachers don't shoot the ones without tusks.) Over the last 40 years, some wild elephant herds have become as much as 20% tuskless. This is not exactly selective breeding, but the same result.

3. I saw a TedTalks video the other day on YouTube. (This series is about out-of-the-box thinking covered by short talks by various experts and professionals.) This one was a lady doctor from UCLA who had been called in by the LA Zoo to consult on the case of the chimp who they feared had a stroke. Vets calling MDs for consultations is nothing new, and MDs like feeling that they did something nice for the planet. She consulted on more and more veterinary cases, then found out that lots of human diseases and conditions apply to lots of animal species, and that every now and then the veterinarians had discovered something about a disease that MDs did not know. MDs usually look down on veterinarians as some kind of lower species, but she started to respect them more and more. Turns out (for example) that veterinarians who work with race horses discovered a cure for postpartum depression when cranky mares started kicking their million-dollar foals to death. The cure works on human mothers. The veterinarians (who have to learn about 50 species in school) say that a veterinarian who can only treat one species is called an MD.