Prime Numbered Cicadas

2013 Brood II cicadaRight now, the northeastern US is experiencing a plague of cicadas. These are no ordinary cicadas, however – these are “Brood II” of the famous 17-year periodical cicadas (a collection of species under the genus Magicicada). There are 15 distinct living broods, which can also have 13-year periods as well as 17. Brood II is far from the most wide-spread: for 17-year broods that goes to X, while for the 13s it’s XIX.*

Noting this, Brian Thomas writes Cicadas Make Great Mathematicians. Really now? Continue reading

Optimisation is not Always Perfection (or Vice Versa)

The Great 2013 Catch-upIn Yeast Survive as They ‘Fail to Optimize’ (10 April 2013) Brian Thomas stumbles upon an important biological truth: what looks better on paper, when considering only a single part of a biological system, can still be bad for the survival of the organism as a whole.

He’s talking about a news article in Nature from February summarising two papers investigating how differing choices in codons that code for the same amino acid can affect the efficiency of the (here, circadian rhythm-related) proteins that they create, one studying a type of fungus and the other a bacterium. Continue reading