Old Misconceptions Die Hard: Scientific knowledge suppresses but does not supplant earlier intuitions

ResearchBlogging.orgTeachers operate on the assumption that students are “empty vessels” they can fill with new information.  But many students begin classes with assumptions about the world that, although intuitive, are actually incorrect.  For example, many students incorrectly believe that individuals can evolve or that all members of a species evolve together.  Teachers assume that instruction and testing will make students understand that both of these assumptions are wrong and that only populations evolve.  However, recent research suggests that simply providing students with factual information doesn’t make them drop their faulty assumptions.  As it turns out, old misconceptions die hard.
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Everything is Illuminated: Restoration of vision after transplantation of photoreceptors

ResearchBlogging.orgThe retina is a paper-thin layer of tissue found at the back of the eye that allows us to see light.  Without a retina (or the cells that make it up), we’re blind.  Because mutations that cause the retina to break-down affect nearly 1 in 4,000 people world-wide, researchers eagerly study new ways to treat this condition.  So far, they have identified over 50 genes that, when mutated, cause retinal degeneration and blindness.  In fact, some of the earliest successes in gene therapy involved cases of retinal degeneration and blindness. Now researchers are trying something new: retinal transplants, or physically moving cells from healthy eyes to those that are unhealthy.  In a recent study published by Pearson et al. (2012) in Nature (not open-access, sorry), researchers moved rod photoreceptor cells from healthy mice to those that suffered from night-blindness and — boom! — restored vision to the mice. They even have a cool video. Continue reading

Fish Vision – Part I: The Evolving View of a “Gene”

This week I finally return to science writing!  To start off, I thought I would write a series of posts to describe and critique my recent paper in BMC Evolutionary Biology, “Divergence in cis-regulatory sequences surrounding the opsin gene arrays of African cichlid fishes.”  (This article is freely available to anyone.  You can view a provisional [e.g., not fancy] version of the paper by clicking here.  Or you can just take my word for it and read this post.)  In this paper, we ask what regions of the cichlid fish genome control the function of genes responsible for vision, and whether any of these regions differ between cichlids that see differently.  Today I’ll talk about the background to this study. Continue reading