You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Biology’ tag.

Clearing up some of the confusion about socialization and being ‘born that way’, Ruth Hubbard in this excerpt tackles the nature/nurture question head on.  Read the whole article here.

Hmmm.  This is a delicate topic, but one worth investigating.  For context, the people being referred to in the video are Bruce Jenner and Rachel Dolezal.

Reading Mate’s book called In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.  I’ve been unable to put this book down as his research and insight into addictions and associated behaviours dovetails snugly with the clientele I work with most days.   Here is a brief excerpt from the chapter titled Trauma, Stress and the Biology of Addiction.

    “Hardcore drug addicts, whose lives invariably began under conditions of severe stress, are all too readily triggered into a stress reaction.  Not only does the stress response easily overwhelm the addict’s already challenged capacity for rational thought when emotionally aroused, but also the hormones of stress “cross-sensitize” with addictive substances.  The more one is present, the more the other is craved.  Addiction is a deeply ingrained response to stress, an attempt to cope with it through self-soothing.  Maladaptive in the long term, it is highly effective in the short term.

    Predictably, stress is a major cause of continued drug dependence.  It increases opiate craving and use, enhances the reward efficacy of drugs and provokes relapse to drug-seeking and drug-taking.  “Exposure to stress is the most powerful and reliable experimental manipulation used to induce reinstatement of alcohol or drug use,” one team of researchers reports.  “Stressful experiences,” another research group points out, “increase the vulnerability of the individual to either develop drug self-administration or relapse”. 

    Stress also diminishes the activity of the dopamine receptors in the emotional circuits of the forebrain, particularly in the nucleus accumbens, where the cravings for drugs increases as the dopamine receptors function decreases.  The research literature has identified three factors that universally lead to stress for human beings: uncertainty, lack of information and lose of control.  To these we may add conflict that the organism is unable to handle and isolation from emotionally supportive relationships.  Animal studies have demonstrated that isolation leads to changes in brain receptors and increased propensity for drug use in infant animals, and in adults reduces the activity of dopamine-dependent nerve cells.  Unlike rats reared together in isolation, rats housed together in stable social groupings resisted cocaine self-administration – in the same way that Bruce Alexander’s tenants in Rat Park were impervious to the charms of heroin.” 

– Dr. Gabor Mate.  In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts p.198


I’m not finished reading the book yet, so I expect to have a few more quotes to share.  What initially drew me in was the stories of how Dr.Maté interacts with his clientele in Vancouver’s Lower East Side and how he can see his own addictions mirrored in the people he helps everyday.


One of the few times that adding beer to the equation will make things better – an analogy between competition and diversity in the forest, and the supermarket.


And no, you may not have a Dude Beer.  : )



Canadian researchers have discovered they can induce supersoldier ants — whose bodies react to stress by expanding in size with huge oblong heads and giant vicious jaws — in the Pheidole ant species.

The findings are significant because they show there is dormant genetic potential that can be invoked by changes in the environment and locked in place for a very long time, said lead author Ehab Abouheif, a McGill University biology professor, whose research was published Friday in the journal Science.”

The fascinating part of this discovery is the way that it highlights the interaction between the environment and genes in a species.

“The authors suggest that hanging on to ancestral developmental toolkits can be an important way for organisms to evolve new physical traits.

“Birds with teeth, snakes with fingers and humans with ape-like hair – these are ancestral traits that pop regularly in nature,” Abouheif said. “But for the longest time in evolutionary theory, these ancestral traits were thought to go nowhere … the Barnum and Bailey of evolution. So they’ve been an unappreciated source of evolutionary variation.”

Typically, supersoldier ants are biological anomalies that occur rarely in nature and only in limited geographical regions. But the McGill researchers found these supersoldiers in unexpected regions and also created them by manipulating hormones.

Pheidole (big-headed) ant colonies contain millions of ants, including minor workers and soldiers. Depending on the food ants are fed, certain hormones are triggered in the ant larvae and they either develop into soldiers or minor workers.”

The Nature vs. Nurture debate is mostly over in scientific circles, but it is nice to have such a clear example to illustrate the interaction between a species and its environment.

“So what we’re showing is that environmental stress is important for evolution because it can facilitate the development of novel phenotypes. Any time you have a mismatch between the normal environment of the organism and its genetic potential you can release them – and these things can be locked in place for 30 to 65 million years.”

Go go mysteries of the genetic code.

With many thanks from Mr.Bowditch for posting this to his website.

charles-darwin-the-origin-of-speciesWith Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday just past and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species coming up, this is a big year for Darwin fans. The magazine Nature is celebrating as hard as anyone, and one of their contributions is a pamphlet titled 15 Evolutionary Gems. They are encouraging everybody to distribute it and I am only too happy to comply, so you can see a copy here. Feel free to distribute it as widely as possible. The list of its contents appears below.

  • Gems from the fossil record
    1. Land-living ancestors of whales
    2. From water to land
    3. The origin of feathers
    4. The evolutionary history of teeth
    5. The origin of the vertebrate skeleton
  • Gems from habitats
    1. Natural selection in speciation
    2. Natural selection in lizards
    3. A case of co-evolution
    4. Differential dispersal in wild birds
    5. Selective survival in wild guppies
    6. Evolutionary history matters
  • Gems from molecular processes
    1. Darwin’s Galapagos finches
    2. Microevolution meets macroevolution
    3. Toxin resistance in snakes and clams
    4. Variation versus stability

Check out Richard Dawkins book on basic evolution here.

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