Nature’s Nontraditional Families

April 8, 2009

In nature most families start when a male and female mate and have offspring that combines genetic characteristics of the parents (sexual reproduction). But nature is full of exceptions even for this basic rule. Some animals employ asexual reproduction, also called parthenogenesis, in which only one parent, usually a mother, is needed. It occurs throughout nature in many forms among reptiles, birds, and insects. Remarkably, mammals (including people) are the only creatures in which this virgin birth cannot occur due to a special way that our genes work.

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Splenda and Marketing to the Gullible

December 27, 2008


Splenda (sucralose) has overtaken Equal (aspartame) in the artificial sweetener market thanks to a marketing campaign that claims Splenda is closely related to sugar and is by implication safer and less artificial. Splenda’s slogan “Made from Sugar. So it tastes like sugar.” can be found on every packet and appears in every ad. But that claim is misleading and was even the subject of a highly publicized lawsuit. Should advertisers be permitted to take advantage of gullible consumers by making misleading claims, even if those claims are based on truth?

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Possum or Opossum

February 1, 2007

I finally tired of not knowing whether a possum and an opossum were the same creature and if not, what was the difference. In the process, I found some really interesting things about these animals.

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Twins – sniwT

November 2, 2006

Twins are remarkably interesting but widely misunderstood. Twins result from an unusual pregnancy in which the mother gives birth to more than one child. The number of twins or multiples, their genetic similarities, and their similarity in appearance can all vary widely, as can the cause and mechanism for the twinning. Scientific and sociological interest in twins is intense because they help us learn about genetics, embryology, human development, and the effects of environment vs. heredity.

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November 1, 2006

The platypus is one of the most unusual creatures. It’s a mammal, but neither placental nor marsupial. Instead it’s a monotreme, an unusual line of mammals that diverged from other mammals very early on. It evolved on its own confined to the Australian continent.

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November 4, 2005

What is the likelihood that you survive falling overboard on a cruise ship?

overboard.jpgA number of my friends recently returned from cruises. During one, a woman jumped overboard from the balcony outside her stateroom following an argument with her husband and was never found. She was presumed dead of a suicide. Jumping or falling overboard on a cruise ship turns out to be surprisingly common. It happens at a rate of about a dozen each year. We began to wonder what these people might be thinking. Do they all intend to kill themselves, or do they think they will survive? What are the actual chances of survival? Would the fall kill you before you hit the water? Would the water impact necessarily kill you? And if not, what are the odds of being rescued before you drown or die of other causes?

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