The Map of Biology: Animation Shows How All the Different Fields in Biology Fit Together

Of all the science classes required throughout primary and secondary school, most students seem to like biology the best. Maybe, dealing as it does with such familiar things as plants, animals, and human beings, the popularity of biology has to do with its clear relevance to their life — or more to the point, to life itself. But any biology-loving youngster who decides to go take their studies more deeply into their favorite subject must sooner or later make a difficult choice: what kind of biology will they focus on? Biophysics, cellular biology, ecology, environmental biology, biomechanics, molecular biology, biochemistry, evolutionary biology... the list seems endless.

So instead of looking at the world of biology as a list, why not look as it as a map? Domain of Science, the Youtube channel previously featured here on Open Culture for their map of mathematics, map of physics, map of chemistry, and map of computer science, have just recently put together one for biology, a video tour of which appears above.




It begins with "the most basic unit in the foundation of all life," the cell, continues on to molecular, chemical, and physical processes, then to genes, populations, anatomy, the immune system, genetic engineering, paleontology, and even the search for life in outer space, with many other stops along the way besides.

"If there's one word that describes biology, it's complexity," says series creator and narrator Dominic Walliman. "There's a huge amount we still don't understand about how life works, how it started, and how it ended up with intelligent apes like us who are able to look back and try and work out. I feel like we'll be making new biological discoveries for many, many years to come." Encouraging words for those students now considering going into one of the many biological sciences, although they'll still have to decide exactly which biological science to go into — bearing in mind how many of those subfields have yet to emerge. It doesn't take that intelligent an ape to understand that, before long, biology's going to need a bigger map.

You can purchase Domain of Science's maps as posters here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Meet Mandy Harvey, the Deaf Singer Songwriter Who Performs Barefoot & Feels the Music Through Vibrations in the Ground

Attractive young female singer-songwriters who shuck their shoes onstage sometimes find that this small attempt to pass themselves off as folksy and “real” has the opposite effect.

Mandy Harvey, however, is above reproach. The deaf singer-songwriter performs barefoot out of necessity, using her unclad soles to pick up on the vibrations of various instruments through the floorboards. It allows her to keep time and, in so doing, helps her to stay emotionally connected to the other musicians with whom she’s performing, as she told NPR earlier this year, when she was one of 10 finalists on America's Got Talent.

“I’ll feel and concentrate on the drums through the floor, through my feet and then the bass through your chest,” she said in an interview with Colorado Public Radio. “And then if a saxophone player is next to me then it will be on my arm. So you just designate different parts of your body so you can concentrate on who’s playing what and when.”




Born with near perfect pitch and a connective tissue disorder that impaired her hearing, she was able to pursue her love of music by relying on hearing aids and lip reading until 18, when she finally lost her hearing for good, as a freshman Vocal Music Education major at Colorado State University.

While she has never heard fellow songbirds Adele or Taylor Swift, she has gotten over the stage fright that plagued her when she still retained some hearing. Vocally, she turns to muscle memory and visual tuners to see her through.

Her talent is such that some listeners are convinced her deafness is a publicity stunt, a misperception that eats at Wayne Connell, founder of the Invisible Disabilities Association, a non-profit with whom Harvey is active:

We've created an idea [of] how people are supposed to look when they're broken and so when you don't fit that imaginary mold, then it's a trick, or you're a liar — or you're not really broken, so you shouldn't be doing certain things.

See Harvey performing barefoot at the Kennedy Center on the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, below.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Ernst Haeckel’s Sublime Drawings of Flora and Fauna: The Beautiful Scientific Drawings That Influenced Europe’s Art Nouveau Movement (1889)

If you follow the ongoing beef many popular scientists have with philosophy, you’d be forgiven for thinking the two disciplines have nothing to say to each other. That’s a sadly false impression, though they have become almost entirely separate professional institutions. But during the first, say, 200 years of modern science, scientists were “natural philosophers”—often as well versed in logic, metaphysics, or theology as they were in mathematics and taxonomies. And most of them were artists too of one kind or another. Scientists had to learn to draw in order to illustrate their findings before mass-produced photography and computer imaging could do it for them. Many scientists have been fine artists indeed, rivaling the greats, and they’ve made very fine musicians as well.

And then there’s Ernst Heinrich Haeckel, a German biologist and naturalist, philosopher and physician, and proponent of Darwinism who described and named thousands of species, mapped them on a genealogical tree, and “coined several scientific terms commonly known today,” This is Colossal writes, “such as ecology, phylum, and stem cell.” That’s an impressive resume, isn’t it? Oh, and check out his art—his brilliantly colored, elegantly rendered, highly stylized depictions of “far flung flora and fauna,” of microbes and natural patterns, in designs that inspired the Art Nouveau movement. “Each organism Haeckel drew has an almost abstract form,” notes Katherine Schwab at Fast Co. Design, “as if it’s a whimsical fantasy he dreamed up rather than a real creature he examined under a microscope. His drawings of sponges reveal their intensely geometric structure—they look architectural, like feats of engineering.”

Haeckel published 100 fabulous prints beginning in 1889 in a series of ten books called Kunstformen der Natur (“Art Forms in Nature”), collected in two volumes in 1904. The astonishing work was “not just a book of illustrations but also the summation of his view of the world,” one which embraced the new science of Darwinian evolution wholeheartedly, writes scholar Olaf Breidbach in his 2006 Visions of Nature.




Haeckel’s method was a holistic one, in which art, science, and philosophy were complementary approaches to the same subject. He “sought to secure the attention of those with an interest in the beauties of nature,” writes professor of zoology Rainer Willmann in a new book from Taschen called The Art and Science of Ernst Haeckel­, “and to emphasize, through this rare instance of the interplay of science and aesthetics, the proximity of these two realms.”

The gorgeous Taschen book includes 450 of Haeckel’s drawings, watercolors, and sketches, spread across 704 pages, and it’s expensive. But you can see all 100 of Haeckel’s originally published prints in zoomable high-resolution scans here. Or purchase a one-volume reprint of the original Art Forms in Nature, with its 100 glorious prints, through this Dover publication, which describes Haeckel’s art as “having caused the acceptance of Darwinism in Europe…. Today, although no one is greatly interested in Haeckel the biologist-philosopher, his work is increasingly prized for something he himself would probably have considered secondary.” It’s a shame his scientific legacy lies neglected, if that's so, but it surely lives on through his art, which may be just as needed now to illustrate the wonders of evolutionary biology and the natural world as it was in Haeckel’s time.

via This is Colossal

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Google Street View Lets You Walk in Jane Goodall’s Footsteps and Visit the Chimpanzees of Tanzania

As mentioned here last month, Dr. Jane Goodall is now teaching her first online course through Masterclass. In 29 video lessons, her course will teach you about the three pillars of her lifelong work: environmental conservation, animal intelligence, and activism. But that's not the only way you can digitally engage with Jane Goodall's world. Over on Google Maps, you can take a visual journey through Gombe National Park in Tanzania, where Goodall conducted her historic chimpanzee research, starting back in July, 1960. As Google writes: this visual initiative lets you experience "what it’s like to be Jane for a day." You can "peek into her house, take a dip in Lake Tanganyika, spot the chimp named Google and try to keep up with Glitter and Gossamer." Completed in partnership with Tanzania's National Parks and the Jane Goodall Institute, this project contributes to an effort to use satellite imagery and mapping to protect 85 percent of the remaining chimpanzees in Africa. To get the most out of Street View Gombe, visit the accompanying website Jane Goodall's Roots and Shoots.

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Two Million Wondrous Nature Illustrations Put Online by The Biodiversity Heritage Library

Are we truly in the midst of a human-caused sixth mass extinction, an era of “biological annihilation”? Many scientists and popular science writers say yes, using terms like “Holocene” or “Anthropocene” to describe what follows the Ordovician, Devonian, Permian, Triassic, and Cretaceous periods. Peter Brannen, author of extinction history The Ends of the Earth has found at least one scientist who thinks the concept is “junk.” But Brannen quotes some alarming statistics. Chilling, even. “Until very recently,” he writes, “all vertebrate life on the planet was wildlife. But astoundingly, today wildlife accounts for only 3 percent of earth’s land animals; human beings, our livestock, and our pets take up the remaining 97 percent of the biomass… almost half of the earth’s land has been converted into farmland.”

This state of affairs does not bode well for the millions of remaining species getting edged out of their environments by agribusiness and climate change. We learn from extinctions past that the planet rebounds after unimaginable catastrophe. Life really does go on, though it may take millions of years to recover. But the current forms of life may disappear before their time. If we want to understand what is at stake besides our own fragile fossil-fuel based civilizations, we need to connect to life emotionally as well as intellectually. Short of globe-hopping physical immersion in the earth’s biodiversity, we could hardly do better than immersing ourselves in the tradition of naturalist writing, art, and photography that brings the world to us.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), an “open access digital library for biodiversity literature and archives,” has for many years been making it easy for people to connect to nature through nature writing and illustration. In 2012, they announced the “success story” of their Flickr streams, both containing thousands of illustrations and photographs uploaded by the BHL staff and readers from their huge collections of books.

The first stream, currently at 122,281 images, has been carefully curated, and includes searchable galleries and albums divided by book title or subject, such as “Exotic botany illustrated,” “The Birds of Australia v.1,” and “Bats!” The second stream, consisting of over 2 million images, is a massive grab-bag of photos, illlustrations from nature, advertisements, and imaginative renderings.

Though far less useful for the scholar—or the very purposeful user—this second photostream offers more potential for chance discovery, through the aimless wandering that often leads to serendipitously sublime experiences. The formal BHL stream does not disappoint, though it may offer fewer surprises. Both of these image archives offer expansive views of humanity's encounter with the natural world, not only through statistics and academic jargon, but through the artistic recording of wonder, scientific curiosity, and deep appreciation.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

What Do Aliens Look Like? Oxford Astrobiologists Draw a Picture, Based on Darwinian Theories of Evolution


When Charles Darwin laid out his theory of natural selection in 1859, little could he have imagined that, a good 150 years later, this cornerstone of evolutionary theory might help us form a mental picture of what alien life looks like. But that's precisely how a group of researchers from Oxford University have done: In a research paper called "Darwin's Aliens," they've applied Darwin's theory to alien life, positing that aliens--like humans--adapt to their environment, undergo natural selection, and move from simple to complex life forms. And, by the end, they could plausibly look something like a "colony of Ewoks from Star Wars or the Octomite" pictured above.

You can read "Darwin's Aliens" in the International Journal of Astrobiology. It's published on the Cambridge Core website.

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via The Guardian

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The Art of Explaining Hard Ideas: Scientists Try to Explain Gene Editing & Brain Mapping to Young Kids & Students

If you’ve seen Bong Joon-ho’s film Okja, about an Agribusiness-engineered gargantuan mutant pig and her young Korean girl sidekick, you may have some very specific ideas about CRISPR, the science used to edit and manipulate genes. In fact, the madcap fictional adventure’s world may not be too far off, though the science seems to be moving in the other direction. Just recently, Chinese scientists have reported the creation of 12 pigs with 24 percent less body fat than the ordinary variety. It may not be front-page news yet, but the achievement is “a big issue for the pig industry,” says the lead researcher.

There’s much more to CRISPR than bioengineering lean bacon. But what is it and how does it work? I couldn’t begin to tell you. Let biologist Neville Sanjana explain. In the Wired video above, he undertakes the ultimate challenge for science communicators—explaining the most cutting-edge science to five different people: a 7-year-old, 14-year-old, college student, grad student, and—to really put him on the spot—a CRISPR expert. CRISPR is "a new area of biomedical science that enables gene editing,” Sanjana begins in his short intro for viewers, “and it’s helping us understand the basis of many genetic diseases like autism and cancer.”

That’s all well and good, but does he have anything to say about the pig business? Watch and find out, beginning with the adorable 7-year-old Teigen River, who may or may not have been primed with perfect responses. Play it for your own kids and let us know how well the explanation works. Sanjara runs quickly through his other students to arrive, halfway through the video, at Dr. Matthew Canver, CRISPR expert.




From there on out you may wish to refer to other quick references, such as the Harvard and MIT Broad Institute’s short guide and video intro above from molecular biologist Feng Zhang, who explains that CRISPR, or “Clustered Regularly Intersperced Short Palindromic Repeats,” is actually the name of DNA sequences in bacteria. The gene editing technology itself is called CRISPR-Cas9. Just so you know how the sausage is made.

Enough of pig puns. Let’s talk about brains, with neuroscientist Dr. Bobby Kasthuri of the Argonne National Laboratory. He faces a similar challenge above—this time explaining high concept science to a 5-year-old, 13-year-old, college student, grad student, and a “Connectome entrepreneur.” A what? Connectome is the product of the NIH's Human Connectome Project, which set out to “provide an unparalleled compilation of neural data” and “achieve never before realized conclusions about the living human brain.” This brain-mapping science has many objectives, one of which, in the 5-year-old version, is “to know where every cell in your brain is, and how it can talk to every other cell.”

To this astonishing explanation you may reply like Daniel Dodson, 5-year-old, with a stunned “Oh.” And then you may think of Philip K. Dick, or Black Mirror’s “San Junipero” episode. Especially after hearing from “Connectome Entrepreneur” Russell Hanson, founder and CEO of a company called Brain Backups, or after listening to Sebastian Seung—“leader in the field of connectomics”—give his TED talk, “I am my connectome.” Want another short, but grown-up focused, explanation of the totally science-fiction but also completely real Connectome? See Kasthuri’s 2-minute animated video above from Boston University.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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