National Geographic

Catching Up: Resurrected Viruses, Sex-Driven Smarts, And Some Upcoming Talks

My late winter is revving up into a state of rolling semi-controlled chaos, and so I’ve let a few items slip here at the Loom. Consider this a catch-up post.

1. On Thursday, I wrote my “Matter” column for the New York Times about an intriguing experiment on the evolution of learning. As I’ve written before, animals pay a price to become better learners, and so scientists have been investigating what the benefits are for different species. It turns out that competition for sex can drive the evolution of better learning, at least in flies. Randomly pairing flies into monogamous couples for a hundred generations leads to worse learning.

2. This week my “Matter” column is appearing today, to coincide with the publication of an especially riveting paper: scientists have revived a virus from 30,000-year-old Siberian permafrost. Aside from the dark twist on de-extinction, this story is compelling for another reason: the virus in question is a so-called “giant virus”--the biggest virus ever found, in fact. (I dedicate a chapter of my book A Planet of Viruses to the discovery of giant viruses–one of the most remarkable hiding-in-plain-sight stories around.) And for more on today’s news, check out fellow Phenomena-ster, Ed Yong, reporting for Nature.

3. Talks talks talks! After a quiet few months, I’m on the road. I was in Washington a couple weeks ago to talk about my cover story for National Geographic (video will go online soon, and I will post it here). Then I headed to Auburn last week to talk about genetically modified foods. But I’m just getting started. My future travels include:

–March 20: Rochester NY. Rochester Arts & Lectures. I’ll be talking about the mapping of the brain.

–March 24: Harvard. This talk is entitled, “Darwin in the City: How Modern Civilization Drives Evolution.” 

–March 28: Charlotte NC. North Carolina Science Festival. I’ll be doing two talks in one day. One is a panel discussion about the genome. The other will be a public lecture about the microbiome.

–April 25: New York. American Society of Journalists and Authors. I’ll be talking about the craft of science writing.

–April 26: Washington. USA Science & Engineering Festival. I’ll be leading a panel discussion about personalized medicine. Panelists include Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health.

I also expect a couple more additions to my spring schedule–details to come.

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