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Corante Blogs examine, through the eyes of leading observers, analysts, thinkers, and doers, critical themes and memes in technology, business, law, science, and culture.

The Press Will Be Outsourced Before Stopped

Vin Crosbie, on the challenges, financial and otherwise, that newspaper publishers are facing: "The real problem, Mr. Newspaperman, isn't that your content isn't online or isn't online with multimedia. It's your content. Specifically, it's what you report, which stories you publish, and how you publish them to people, who, by the way, have very different individual interests. The problem is the content you're giving them, stupid; not the platform its on."
by Vin Crosbie in Rebuilding Media

Travels In Numerica Deserta

There's a problem in the drug industry that people have recognized for some years, but we're not that much closer to dealing with it than we were then. We keep coming up with these technologies and techniques which seem as if they might be able to help us with some of our nastiest problems - I'm talking about genomics in all its guises, and metabolic profiling, and naturally the various high-throughput screening platforms, and others. But whether these are helping or not (and opinions sure do vary), one thing that they all have in common is that they generate enormous heaps of data.
by Derek Lowe in In the Pipeline

Disrobing the Emperor: The online “user experience” isn't much of one

Now that the Web labor market is saturated and Web design a static profession, it's not surprising that 'user experience' designers and researchers who've spent their careers online are looking for new worlds to conquer. Some are returning to the “old media” as directors and producers. More are now doing offline consulting (service experience design, social policy design, exhibition design, and so on) under the 'user experience' aegis. They argue that the lessons they've learned on the Web can be applied to phenomena in the physical and social worlds. But there are enormous differences...
by Bob Jacobson in Total Experience

Second Life: What are the real numbers?

Clay Shirky, in deconstructing Second Life hype: "Second Life is heading towards two million users. Except it isn’t, really... I suspect Second Life is largely a 'Try Me' virus, where reports of a strange and wonderful new thing draw the masses to log in and try it, but whose ability to retain anything but a fraction of those users is limited. The pattern of a Try Me virus is a rapid spread of first time users, most of whom drop out quickly, with most of the dropouts becoming immune to later use."
by Clay Shirky in Many-to-Many

The democratisation of everything

Over the last few years we've seen old barriers to creativity coming down, one after the other. New technologies and services makes it trivial to publish text, whether by blog or by print-on-demand. Digital photography has democratised a previously expensive hobby. And we're seeing the barriers to movie-making crumble, with affordable high-quality cameras and video hosting provided by YouTube or Google Video and their ilk... Music making has long been easy for anyone to engage in, but technology has made high-quality recording possible without specialised equipment, and the internet has revolutionised distribution, drastically disintermediating the music industry... What's left? Software maybe? Or maybe not."
by Suw Charman in Strange Attractor

RNA Interference: Film at Eleven

Derek Lowe on the news that the Nobel Prize for medicine has gone to Craig Mello and Andrew Fire for their breakthrough work: "RNA interference is probably going to have a long climb before it starts curing many diseases, because many of those problems are even tougher than usual in its case. That doesn't take away from the discovery, though, any more than the complications of off-target effects take away from it when you talk about RNAi's research uses in cell culture. The fact that RNA interference is trickier than it first looked, in vivo or in vitro, is only to be expected. What breakthrough isn't?"
by Derek Lowe in In the Pipeline

PVP and the Honorable Enemy

Andrew Phelps: "Recently my WoW guild has been having a bit of a debate on the merits of Player-vs.-Player (PvP) within Azeroth. My personal opinion on this is that PvP has its merits, and can be incredible fun, but the system within WoW is horridly, horribly broken. It takes into account the concept of the battle, but battle without consequence, without emotive context, and most importantly, without honor..."

From later in the piece: "When I talk about this with people (thus far anyway) I typically get one of two responses, either 'yeah, right on!' or 'hey, it’s war, and war isn’t honorable – grow the hell up'. There is a lot to be said for that argument – but the problem is that war in the real historical world has very different constraints that are utterly absent from fantasized worlds..."
by Andrew Phelps in Got Game

Rats Rule, Right?

Derek Lowe: "So, you're developing a drug candidate. You've settled on what looks like a good compound - it has the activity you want in your mouse model of the disease, it's not too hard to make, and it's not toxic. Everything looks fine. Except. . .one slight problem. Although the compound has good blood levels in the mouse and in the dog, in rats it's terrible. For some reason, it just doesn't get up there. Probably some foul metabolic pathway peculiar to rats (whose innards are adapted, after all, for dealing with every kind of garbage that comes along). So, is this a problem?.."
by Derek Lowe in In the Pipeline

Really BAD customer experience at Albertsons Market

Bob Jacobson, on shopping at his local Albertsons supermarket where he had "one of the worst customer experiences" of his life: "Say what you will about the Safeway chain or the Birkenstock billionaires who charge through the roof for Whole Foods' organic fare, they know how to create shopping environments that create a more pleasurable experience, at its best (as at Whole Foods) quite enjoyable. Even the warehouses like Costco and its smaller counterpart, Smart & Final, do just fine: they have no pretentions, but neither do they dump virtual garbage on the consumer merely to create another trivial revenue stream, all for the sake of promotions in the marketing department..."
by Strange Attractor in Total Experience

The Guardian's "Comment is Free"

Kevin Anderson: "First off, I want to say that I really admire the ambition of the Guardian Unlimited’s Comment is Free. It is one of the boldest statements made by any media company that participation needs to be central to a radical revamp of traditional content strategies... It is, therfore, not hugely surprising to find that Comment is Free is having a few teething troubles..."
by Kevin Anderson in strange
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

The Loom

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April 04, 2005

Doctor Venom

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Posted by Carl Zimmer

venomdoc.gifI'm guessing it's only a matter of time before this guy gets a show on cable. Bryan Fry is a biologist at the University of Melbourne in Australia, and he spends a lot of his time doing this sort of thing--messing with animals you really really shouldn't mess with. In addition to being telegenic, he rattles off those delicious Australian phrases, like, "No drama, mate." (Translation: No problem.)

While Fry is comfortable milking a king cobra in a jungle, he also has a lab-jockey side, using genomic technology to dredge up vast numbers of new snake venom genes. In tomorrow's issue of the New York Times, I have an article about Fry's latest research. He has offered a rough draft of the history of venoms--a 60 million year tale of gene recruitment and gene duplications and high-speed evolution. Understanding this history is a crucial part of Fry's long-term goal of turning venoms into new drugs--a tradition that has already given rise to billions of dollars of sales each year and many lives saved. That may put him off-limits for IMAX movies, but television seems inevitable.

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Evolution


1. Charlie Wagner on April 6, 2005 11:23 AM writes...

You wrote:
(New York Times, April 5, 2005)

"The evidence indicates that the evolution of a typical venom gene may begin with the accidental duplication of a gene that is active in another organ. In a process known as gene recruitment, one of these copies then mutates IN SUCH A WAY that it begins producing proteins in the venom gland.

In some cases, these borrowed proteins turn out to be harmful when injected into a snake's prey. Natural selection then favors mutations that make these proteins more lethal."

What evidence would that be?
What do you offer more than a just-so story that this is how it might have occurred?
Can you elucidate any mechanism or believable hypotheses that explains how genes may be "recruited" to become venom-producing genes when that was not their original function?

When I read stuff like this it's really hard to keep from ROFLMAO.

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2. Carl Zimmer on April 6, 2005 11:49 AM writes...

You are confusing a news article with a scientific paper. If you'd like details on Dr. Fry's hypothesis, go to the original paper--which is available in full through the link I provided.

I've also written here,


and here about research on gene recruitment involved in other systems, such as eyes and immune systems. There are many papers in the scientific literature that explore gene recruitment in many other systems.

I may not have room in a 1500 word article to refer to all this other research, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Permalink to Comment

3. Charlie Wagner on April 6, 2005 03:06 PM writes...

Carl wrote:
"You are confusing a news article with a scientific paper."

And you are confusing relatedness with phlogeny.

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5. steve on April 7, 2005 08:47 PM writes...

Carl, Charlie Wagner is a troll. He believes he discovered a "Law" which disproves evolution. He's posted thousands of comments on places like Pharyngula and Panda's Thumb and will argue with you until you give up.

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6. Hungry Hyaena on April 13, 2005 12:45 AM writes...

Wagner isn't the only person who doesn't understand the difference between popular journalism and a scientific paper. When one of my co-workers reads a newspaper article discussing a scientific finding, she usually complains that no "proof" of the featured discovery or theory is included in the article and, this being the case, proceeds to bemoan science as "silly." I explain that she can usually find the abstract, and often the paper, online and several times I have actually printed the .pdf for her. When presented with the science, though, she finds it "unreadable" and "pretentious." Apparently her tastes dictate what is fact and what shall remain fiction.

I would also like to thank you for your excellent NY Times article on Fry. An amateur herpetologist, I have been eagerly following his venom work for several years. If you have time, you can read my enthusiast post on the subject at

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