Blogs and teaching.

There are many beneficial aspects to reading and writing blogs about science. I have found that they are often much better than news feeds (which generally are uncritical repetitions of press releases) for learning about research in areas other than my own specialization. This also makes them very useful for teaching, as new examples that otherwise might be overlooked can be found and added to the course material. Case in point, Not Exactly Rocket Science (a blog you should be reading, btw) has a post about a new paper in today’s Cell in which yeast behave in a cooperative way if they possess a certain “green beard” gene (Smukalla et al. 2008; see also Brown and Buckling 2008). I introduced green beard genes to my upper year evolution course back when I discussed altruism, but it so happens that this afternoon I will be covering major transitions, including the evolution of multicellularity. This paper provides a great way to tie the earlier discussion about altruism to the concept of very basic cooperative cell behaviour, cell adhesion, etc. Plus, I enjoy telling the class “Here is a paper that came out this morning…”.