Even Older Family Trees

Yesterday we looked at a graphic about an old family tree, revealed by ancient DNA. But at the end of the day it is a family tree of descent for a human male. But mankind itself fits within a kind of family tree, the circle family tree of life.

The tree of life continues to evolve as we discover new species and then reconfigure what we have to fit what we now know. When I was a wee lad in school, we learned about the three kingdoms of life: plants, animals, and fungi. Bacteria were a separate branch.

A few weeks ago, however, I was reading an article about how a recent DNA analysis identified a new “supergroup” within our larger group of complex cellular life, eukaryotes (plants, animal, and fungi fall within this). Luckily for our purposes the article contains a small graphic at which we can take a look.

Humans are way, way, way down on the tree.

The diagram uses a fairly simple design. Two panels split the largest groupings into its branches whilst the second panel breaks up eukaryotes. Colour links the eukaryotes together and shows how they fit into the broader tree to the left, which uses dark grey and light blue for bacteria and archaea, respectively.

A nice additional touch was the designer’s decision to include a small icon that represents the name of the supergroups within eukaryotes. Because, as the text points out, we don’t have commonly known names for these supergroups. Did I know that we belong to the opisthokonts? Absolutely not. Although dog people may be upset that the cat got the call to represent animals.

Regardless of the design, you can still see in the second panel how people are more closely related to amoeba than we are plants. But this new supergroup, hemimastigotes, branches off from the rest of us eukaryotes at a very early point. And the DNA proves it.

Overall this was a really nice graphic to see in a fascinating article. Science is cool.

Credit for the piece goes to Lucy Reading-Ikkanda.

Viral Mutations

With Covid-19, one of the big challenges we face is the rapid mutations in the viral genetic code that have produced several beneficial—from the virus’ standpoint—adaptations. Several days ago the New York Times published a nice, illustrated piece that showed just what these mutations look like.

Of course, these were not just nice illustrations of protein molecules, but the screenshot below is of the code itself and you can see how just a few alterations can produce subtle, but impactful, effects.

In a biological sense, these mutations are nothing new. In fact, humanity wouldn’t be humanity but for mutations. Rather we are seeing evolution play out in front of our eyes—albeit eyes locked in the same household for nearly a year now—as the virus evolves adaptations better suited to spreading and surviving in a host population.

The piece includes several illustrations, but begins with an overall, simplified diagram of the virus and where its genetic code lies. And then breaks that code down similar to a stacked bar chart.

Designers identify where in the code the different mutations occur and the type of mutation. Later on in the piece we see a map of where this particular variant can be found.

I might come back to that map later, so I won’t comment too much on it here.

But I think this piece does a great job of showcasing just what we mean when we talk about virus mutations. It’s really just a beneficial slip up in the genetic alphabet.

Credit for the piece goes to Jonathan Corum and Carl Zimmer.

The Science Behind the Thoroughbred

I do not know a thing about horses. I leave that knowledge to others in my family. However, this piece from the South China Morning Post explains quite a bit of why the thoroughbred is such a famous type of horse for racing.

The science behind thoroughbreds
The science behind thoroughbreds

Credit for the piece goes to Alberto Lucas López.

More Evidence on Why You (I) Need a Good Night’s Sleep

The Washington Post looks at sleep and how lack thereof may lead to various health problems, including Alzheimers, diabetes, and others. Maybe this means I have a reason to sleep in the mornings now…probably not.

Credit for the piece goes to Bonnie Berkowitz and Alberto Cuadra.

Your Central Visual Field

From XKCD comes an informative infographic about your central visual field. As always, it’s quite informative. It’s not quite light hearted for Friday, but you’ll probably get an odd look or a laugh when you move your face really close to your monitor…

Central Visual Field
Central Visual Field

Also as always, credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.


From the Sydney Morning Herald, we have a link to an interactive infographic published by the Cancer Council of Australia, a non-profit that seeks to reduce the impact of cancer upon Australia. It is not the most graphical by way of charts, but offers the user “playful” interactions with statistics to better inform him or her about the causes and impacts of cancer. The format is also interesting in that it mimics the fad in infographics of the long, vertical scroll page. But here it is done to much better and ostensibly more useful effect. Useful in the sense of trying to help people.

Bowel cancer
Bowel cancer


Where Your Bacteria Live

People are nothing more than dirty stinking apes. Especially when it comes to microbes. On Monday the New York Times published an infographic that visualised the data on the prevalence and abundance of different microbes across a sample of over 200 individuals. That is to say the visualisation looks at where microbes are most common and just how common they are in that location.