Once again, I'm humbled to be allowed to collaborate with people much, much greater than myself, and I'm extremely happy to bring this project to Reddit, so I think this will be a lot of fun!

"Great Adaptations" is a children's book which aims to explain evolutionary adaptations in a fun and easy way. It will contain ten stories, each one written by author and evolutionary biologist Dr. Tiffany Taylor, who is working with each scientist to best relate their research and how it ties in to evolutionary concepts. Even better, each story is illustrated by a wonderful dream team of artists including James Monroe, Zach Wienersmith (from SMBC comics) and many more!

For parents or sharp kids who want to know more about the research talked about in the story, each scientist will also provide a short commentary on their work within the book, too!

Today we're joined by:

  • Dr. Tiffany Taylor (tiffanyevolves), Post-Doctoral Research Fellow and evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading. She has done her research in the field of genetics, and is the author of "Great Adaptations" who will be working with the scientists to relate their research to the kids!

  • Dr. David Sloan Wilson (davidswilson), Distinguished Professor at Binghamton University in the Departments of Biological Sciences and Anthropology who works on the evolution of altruism.

  • Dr. Anne Clark (AnneBClark), a behavioral ecologist and associate professor at Binghamton University who turned her work towards American crows after researching various social behaviors in various birds and mammals. Her section of the book will be on crow intelligence.

  • Kelly Weinersmith (sciencegal), from University of California Davis, who is researching host-parasite relationships

  • Ben Eisenkop (Unidan), from Binghamton University, an ecosystem ecologist working on his PhD concerning nitrogen biogeochemical cycling.


We will be appearing and disappearing throughout the day (due to needing to teach classes and attend meetings), but we will try to answer your questions as best as we can!

We hope to have another AMA in the future when the other collaborators are available (as you can imagine, it's difficult to find a time when everyone is free), so stay tuned! Dr. Clark and I will be answering now and the rest of our team will join us at 1 PM as scheduled.

EDIT: FIVE HOURS IN, WE'VE REACHED OUR $25,000 GOAL, WOW! We're still here answering questions, so keep 'em comin'!


NEW STRETCH GOALS: If we reach $27,500 there will be a free bookmark with every book! $30,000 will mean more illustrations in the book and more of them in full color! $35,000 will unlock an audiobook version that will be given to anyone who pledged $5.00 or more! $40,000 will let us do a special sign-up to give away 100 copies to public libraries!


  • Reach $25,000 The project will go forward as intended!

  • Reach $27,500 Hooray! Now everyone will get a free bookmark with their book!

  • Reach $30,000 Hooray! We'll have more illustrations and more in color!

  • Reach $35,000 Hooray! Now there will be audiobook version given to anyone who pleged $5.00 or more!

  • Reach $40,000

If you're interested in supporting "Great Adaptations," please check out our Kickstarter which many of you have already graciously donated to, so thank you again!

Comments: 2313 • Responses: 76  • Date: 

ospreytomcat825 karma

I'm here early for once and have no clue what to ask. god dammit brain

Unidan892 karma

It's okay, we'll wait.

ospreytomcat802 karma

don't put this pressure on me

Unidan1315 karma

Don't worry, I'll just keep refreshing the page on your question, no pressure at all, it's just me and a whole team of scientists and artists waiting to hear your question.

Fariswheel633 karma

When human gets to other stars, assuming no faster then light travel, do believe that we will diverge into different species, if so how long would it take?

Unidan859 karma

That very much depends!

First off, species is very much a human concept. In reality, life is a continuum. The Biological Species Concept (BSC) generally states that two animals that can reproduce and create fertile offspring are "a species" but this definition breaks down easily with certain organisms or conditions.

It's hard to state a rate of evolution in the future, especially not knowing the conditions of where we would hypothetically go! Would it be just like Earth? If not, what would it be like? Who would we send to the planet? Their initial set of genetics establishes a "founder's effect" that may make things quite different in the future than if we had selected a very different set of people, for instance.

MrWeiner498 karma

For Kelly:

On a scale of 1 to 10, is Zach Weinersmith's hair a 10, or is it too perfect to be considered on a scale using finite numbers?

sciencegal572 karma


Edit: Woohoo! I got gold! Thanks!

Unidan240 karma

I chuckled darkly.


How accurate are Zach's extra-panel renditions of you calling his jokes stupid?

sciencegal100 karma

I wouldn't want to ruin the magic.....

aptadnauseum82 karma

So... 10/10?

MrWeiner59 karma

I regret that I have but one upboat to boat.

Unidan102 karma

We had to explain /r/circlejerk and upboats to David a minute ago.

Please enjoy that thought for me.

RedsforMeds346 karma

How has using social media sites such as Reddit helped you in reaching your goals scientifically and/or professionally?

Would you recommend other scientists to follow in your footsteps and be active in social media websites?

Unidan456 karma

Yes, incredibly so, actually!

While I think there's a danger in doing it fruitlessly and just procrastinating too much (e.g. most of what I do), but if well directed, crowd-sourcing seems to be a very viable way of getting things done.

We actually have a crowd-sourced project going for my own research that is doing very well at the moment, and the thanks is mainly due to Reddit!

For other scientists, I think going that route for smaller projects or using it as a footstep to getting more "traditional" grants or building your repertoire isn't necessarily a bad idea. It can be such a hassle to jump through hoops to get some funding, especially when funding rates are abysmally low in certain fields, that these social media sources can be a really interesting way to go.

More than that, you get literally thousands of eyes on your work. While the signal to noise ratio is certainly lowered, you may actually find new angles on ideas that you thought were explored, which is certainly helpful.

ForgetMe123112 karma

Donate in Dogcoin by default? Seems you know your target demographic.

Unidan218 karma


very demographic

such 18-25 year olds

financial understanding

many college age


AnneBClark228 karma

Speaking for myself, I am just beginning to explore the potential of social media. Clearly such media need to be used very carefully, but they offer a great opportunity for scientists to reach smart people in a relaxed situation to answer (or rephrase!) the kinds of questions that occur to non-scientists. Benefits can flow in both directions. AND it is a great way to get undergrad and grad students involved in explaining what they do to everyone else--part of their training, so to speak.

saptsen260 karma


AnneBClark274 karma

As a stand-in for Dr. Wilson, who will be here right after he gets out of class (perhaps talking about altruism right now!), much has happened in the last 10 years. The understanding is very much that altruism can evolve between non-relatives, depending on the strength of selection between groups of individuals who are or are not effectively cooperating. Kinship can speed up or impede the progress of altruism, interestingly.
Will bring question to his attention in about 40 minutes!

doingthemost127 karma

It's been 41 minutes.

AnneBClark102 karma

Dr Wilson is trying to find this question on his interface...sometimes we scientists aren't that good at social media!

Unidan73 karma

Here's here now, next to me! We're planning revenge against your SNIDE REMARKS.

But seriously, sorry for the tardiness.

saptsen46 karma


AnneBClark193 karma

David Wilson here, typing on Anne's computer. The study of altruism has burgeoned, with examples from a great many species. Another development has been the realizing that rival theories, such as group selection vs. kin selection, turn out to be different ways of viewing the same process. For a cool recent example, try googling "multilevel selection in water striders".

cassus_fett47 karma

In my ecology class we talked about altruism in meerkats. One on overwatch will make a lot of noise in order to alert his clan of a predator but in the process makes himself the biggest target. It is currently believed that they know exactly what they are doing and the consequences of their actions. My professor told us that this may be due to them trying to protect their families and protect their progeny

GoonCommaThe44 karma

Killdeer are probably one of the best examples of (kin-selection) altruism, and are pretty common throughout most of North America. The parents will pretend to be injured (broken-wing act) in order to attract predators away from their nests, sometimes getting quite close to the predator, making a lot of noise, and flapping around on the ground. Once the predator takes the bait and follows the parent, they'll miraculously heal and fly away to safety.

I've personally had a killdeer perform a broken-wing act on me while working on a project in an area which serves as breeding ground for many shorebirds and wetland birds.

Here is a good video of it (not mine). You can see how the mother first attempts to simply distract the "predator", and then miraculously develops broken wings when that fails. When that also fails, she runs straight at the "predator" in the hopes that they'll chase her as an easy target.

Unidan14 karma

A friend of mine who did a crow AMA with us recently actually took a video of a killdeer literally doing this to us. It's pretty entertaining, actually, when you realize that it's trying to trick you! :)

Boss_Dude228 karma

Hello guys! Thanks for doing this AMA. My bio teacher alerted me to the existence of this, so I thought i could see if I could ask a few questions.

  1. What is, by far, the coolest thing you've ever seen?

  2. Why are, to my knowledge, nearly all the marsupials living in Australia? What happened with that?

  3. What would it take for humanity to evolve? What's the possibility of a beneficial mutation actually making its way around? Would that single mutation count enough to add another name to the hominid chart?

  4. Humans seem to be keeping everyone alive thanks to medicine, but that also means recessive conditions, such as color blindness and other genetic mutations. What will happen if we continue like that, since those that are meant to die off, don't?

  5. Assuming we could go back a couple millions years, where do the evolutionary lines of ducks and horses connect? What environment would have cause ducks to be the size of horses, and horses the size of ducks?

Thank you again!

AnneBClark179 karma

Lots of interesting questions--sorry to take so long to get to them. Starting with the bottom, the lineages of ducks and horses, as birds and mammals, would not converge until 300 million years ago or more. But SIZE is something that comes under selection through ecological conditions. Larger sizes can be advantageous if it gets you more food, fewer predators, or more and better space to live. Interestingly, if poor-quality food is plentiful, it may be advantageous to be larger because larger animals can collect more food and, with some help from microbes, get the protein they need from it. Smaller animals have higher metabolisms, need more energy quickly for a given weight, so they cannot afford to eat low quality food. Notice that our biggest animals are usually plant eaters that eat the most plentiful forms of vegetation.

As for human evolution, we are SO numerous and so spread out across the globe that I cannot imagine how any single beneficial mutation would naturally, through reproduction, make its way quickly through human populations. But your point on the maintenance of recessive conditions is well taken. Clearly they do increase in frequency if they don't result in death or lack of offspring. (I am not sure if color blindness is one of those with strong disadvantages, by the way.) On the other hand, some genetic conditions probably have both costs and benefits. The costs limited their spread, but now the medicine limits those costs, perhaps we will become more aware of the benefits.

Hope these thoughts give you something to ponder!

kalmarsh198 karma

The Helix fossil or the Dome fossil?

Unidan373 karma

Helix, of course.

NairForceOne181 karma

If I considered purchasing this children's book for myself, would that be cool...or SUPER cool?

Unidan249 karma

Super cool, of course.

AnneBClark162 karma

Since I plan to purchase it for MYSELF (as well as for lots of relatives and my own grown offspring), it would clearly be SUPER cool! Each story will include a page written for older kids, about the "real science" behind the story. So once you finish giggling over the pictures, you can read on!

sciencegal97 karma

Definitely SUPER cool.

Fakespeedbump169 karma

What's your opinion on extraterrestrial life? How would it affect us if we discovered life from beyond our solar system?

Unidan543 karma

Personally, I'd be very surprised if there wasn't extraterrestrial life. The universe is mind-bogglingly big, and I think it's a bit self-centered to think we're the only planet to have the right conditions for it.

That said, I tend to agree with Dr. Tyson in the matter that we likely wouldn't be able to communicate with it. We share so much DNA and history with animals on our own planet and can barely communicate with them, so I'd assume ones we have zero shared heritage with to be even more difficult to relate to.

Imagine trying to relate to a bee: an animal that sees in the UV, sees polarized light with half its eyes, sees smells and senses electrical fields. Their life experience is just wholly different.

So I think our idea of extraterrestrials, as set by the media, is probably a bit flawed.

Grillburg123 karma

Two things that might make the difference in communication with another extraterrestrial race: Ability and Desire.

Humans do our best to communicate with other species on our own planet, but many of them lack either the ability to effectively communicate, or the desire to do so. In rare cases (such as Koko the gorilla) both of those exist, and our communication is extremely successful.

Assuming that first contact with an alien race doesn't end with the typical Hollywood example of a severe accident and war, I think both humans and aliens would be excited enough to work hard at communication.

RamsesThePigeon65 karma


ElCaz43 karma

Which is why Kanzi the bonobo is so much more interesting than koko. He taught himself sign language and lexigrams without direct training while hanging around his mother, who was herself being trained.

He shows more advanced and abstract use of language than koko. He'll even vocalize specific sounds to match signs and lexigrams.

Unidan35 karma

Dr. Clark and I have met Sue, actually, she's a very interesting person!

I think some of her stuff is quite good, especially in terms of using syntax, though I think she is often a bit overexcited and may overestimate ability in some cases without much evidence. I believe her, but sometimes I'd like to see a little more concrete evidence.

atchadwi132 karma

Do you think that by utilizing the means of a children's book, evolutionary teaching will be more readily accessible and accepted in elementary schools? As it stands teaching evolution to children is very controversial, however, something marketed towards kids as opposed to something more scientific seems appealing.

tiffanyevolves197 karma

Hi there. The reason I got involved with this project (and wrote my other book on evolution for kids) is because firstly, I wanted to take the "fear factor" and "controversy" out of evolution, by just showing how simple the basic logic and concepts are. Secondly, I know I'm biased, but I believe evolution should be one of the first lessons in any biology class - not an after thought or an optional "tag on". It underlies all biology and equips anyone who understands to ask questions and make educated guesses about why the living world is the way it is. A famous scientist called Dobzhansky said "nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution" I couldn't agree more.

Unidan170 karma

That's my hope, at least. I don't think evolution is something that should be feared, it's no different than the multitude of other concepts out there already in children's books; however, this one just has links to other implications that I think make people feel uncomfortable and infringed on, which I don't think needs to be the case.

_Danegerous_102 karma

/u/Unidan is your reddit fame present anywhere on your résumé or CV?!

Unidan167 karma

Thankfully, no.

undreamt_odds69 karma


Unidan43 karma

Oh god, I didn't even see that. I am pre-embarrassed.

nutwrinkles101 karma

Which came first - chicken or the egg?

Unidan277 karma

Necessarily the egg, which would have derived from the first genetics which humans included in the designation of the "chicken" species and which could not produce viable, fertile offspring with its ancestors as per the Biological Species Concept.

As chimed in from a colleague: "The egg, amniotes evolved first in reptiles."

KaladinStormborn96 karma

1) Honestly, do you enjoy reddit, or see it as more of a marketing/advertisement springboard for your important work.

2) What is your opinion on the lack of evolution sicence taught in US schools?

I'm a great fan of the amazing work your doing with this project!

Unidan188 karma

  • 1.) Look through my post history and you'll see I certainly enjoy it! Now that it's given me a (often too large) voice, though, I think I'd like to start helping causes that I support. For this project, I'm making zero money off of it, so for me, this is genuinely about education and making a book that someone will enjoy and I'm thrilled that Tiffany has let me be a part of it.

  • 2.) Well, there's always room for more! I will admit, it's very disheartening when I read news articles about kids being able to opt-out of certain topics. For me, this is like kids being able to "opt-out" of learning about gravity.

AnneBClark66 karma

WRT 2) On the other hand, there are some heartening changes and strong indications that biology teachers in schools want to teach evolution and do so whenever possible. I have many fewer students in university that are not comfortable with evolution as a basis for biology compared to 20 years ago. And some of my high-school biology teaching friends are doing a wonderful job of finding ways to bring convincing evolutionary evidence to their classrooms.

erqq93 karma

If you could describe Evolution to a child, ELI5 format, how would you do it?

Thank you for everything u/Unidan!

Unidan220 karma

Imagine you have a bag of M&M's. They're all M&M's, but some are different, right? Red. Green. Blue. Brown. There's some frequency of each color in relation to another within that population of candy. Each color represents different genetic variation in the population of M&M's. Now, let's say you decide to eat only the red M&M's. At the end, you're left with a new population that has different frequencies of colors, right?

Holy_Jackal67 karma

Whenever I first started to learn about evolution it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Thank you for taking the time to try to get children interested in such a wonderful topic and I hope that the book is entirely successful in guiding many new open and intriguing minds into the world of science.

Unidan61 karma

Thank you for the very kind words!

AnneBClark55 karma

Thanks so much for the support! It is great fun for the scientists to see our work this way. Sometimes I reflect on alternate careers and teaching 3rd graders would be one...into the stream, under the rock, and tell me, kids, what do you think it means???

Fossafossa63 karma

What is your favorite adaptation/evolution? Personal favorite critter to research?

sciencegal129 karma

My personal favorite involves adaptations by parasites to manipulate their hosts. For example, zombie ants are totally awesome.

My personal favorite critter to research is a trematode parasite that infects the brains of California killifish. The parasite's name is Euhaplorchis californiensis, and I think it's super cute in addition to being super interesting. It causes the killifish to do these weird behaviors (including turning on their side and flashing their silvery bellies towards the sun) that draw the attention of predatory birds. The fish are more likely to be eaten by the birds, and this completes the life cycle for the parasite.

AnneBClark95 karma

Those are hard questions for people who get excited at every new piece of evolutionary news. How cool is it that we can now get genome sequences out of fossils and say things about which genes in Neanderthals lasted (were probably advantageous)??

My favorite critters to study have always been common ones that nevertheless lead socially complex lives, right under our noses. The greater bushbabies (nocturnal prosimian primates) that I first studied were thought to be solitary, but I spent time in the field watching such things as a mother and adult son meet after 8 mos and play, and adult males "babysitting", i.e., left to stay with a litter of youngsters, while their mother went out of sight. American crows are another such animal--everyone knows what they are, but social relationships are the root of their success and boggle the mind.

As to favorite adaptations, some of the ways in which parasites use their hosts have got to be among the most bizarre and wondrous to read about. For instance, there is one parasitic crustacean that essentially takes over for the tongue of a fish, having cut off the circulation and caused the real tongue to "die". The fish apparently do ok with this new, living, foraging "tongue".

mylefthandkilledme52 karma

Thoughts on de-extinction, is it a valid pursuit? Is it diverting away conservation efforts?

Unidan80 karma

Personally, I think a lot of it is wishful thinking in a real sense. Trying to reintroduce Passenger Pigeons, for example: where would we put them? We simply don't have habitat for million bird flocks to go. Nor would people put up with them destroying cropland, either!

Any that do get "recreated" would likely be relegated to zoos, I would guess.

bumble_beer49 karma

Intelligence is a great tool evolution has favoured over brute force and aggression.

We are able to have long and successful unions with partners that are reliable, privilege social collaboration and limit what people often call "animal instincts".

Yet we would throw our partners in a pool of acid at the sight of a beautiful, attractive, possibly slutty fellow human being. (Well, ok, at least we give it a quick thought...)

Nature suggests Stephen Hawking and Marie Curie, our guts will always go for Jennifer Lawrence and Keanu Reeves (I know they are intelligent, but you get the gist).

1) Is this a defense mechanism to avoid evolving into super-smart but super-weak creatures? Or would there be a moment in which intellectual abilities will be recognised as the key to our future also by our "animal instincts" and therefore scientists and engineers will be the real hotties?

2) Unidan, given the size of your karma, would you say you have already jumped on a new evolutionary level, homo karmiensis, where even a scientist is sexy and popular?

Unidan76 karma

1.) You seem to be touching on a concept that's seen in a lot of other animals. There seems to be an impetus that you want your children to have the genetics of super sexy, physically fit individuals, but you want them to be raised by caring, intelligent people. While these are not necessarily mutually exclusive, they can sometimes represent two strategies that often crop up in animals!

2.) Haha, fortunately, that genus has yet to be created, so I'll be content to remain with the other Homo sapiens sapiens for the time being.

Rick0r22 karma

So you're saying I need two wives; a supermodel breeder, and a brain surgeon caregiver.

Unidan44 karma

That is legitimately the strategy of some animals, some will actually cuckold a good caregiver to get the "sexy" genetics of the "supermodel." You've inadvertently stumbled upon some literal biology!

danarbok48 karma

What do you think is the next step in human evolution?

Unidan118 karma

Well, evolution isn't a directional process! We'll just have to wait and see.

In terms of things that are recent steps for human evolution, the ability to continue producing lactase into adulthood comes to mind, haha!

AnneBClark41 karma

I think we can identify some of the changes in selection pressures...we have changed how disadvantageous certain kinds of genetically based differences are, so we might expect more morphological and cognitive variation to persist. That is interesting to think about, because our technology also changes the ways in which people can succeed. People who do really well in "Cyber-verses" rather than in a barn-raising community atmosphere now have a route to success.

As Unidan says, interesting to see!

Smeeee44 karma

Do you share your piles of reddit gold with your co-workers?

Unidan130 karma

We like to Scrooge McDuck into it from time to time.

oogface43 karma

Also, one more question for you guys. My lifelong love of science has bloomed lately, and I've found myself considering getting out of my current career. Is it possible to go back to school and switch into a career in the sciences in my mid 30s? I'm thinking either botany or ecology.

sciencegal73 karma

Absolutely! I have a friend who went to law school, became a successful lawyer, then decided she wanted to study marine biology. I believe she was in her mid 30's when she decided to make the career change. She is now a successful marine biologist. It's never to late to switch gears and start doing what you love. :)

Funkedelike34 karma

How did you become first interested in biology and has reddit encouraged or discouraged your interest in biology?

Unidan58 karma

Someone my father worked with bought me a magazine about dinosaurs when I was four or five when I used to go in to work with him. I've been hooked ever since!

It's encouraged me, for sure, there's so many people out there with amazing things to say and interesting viewpoints on things I'd never considered.

AnneBClark40 karma

I am an "oldster" who got interested in biology long before computers of any sort were available, and because dogs, cats, horses, snakes, salamanders, etc, etc were there, touchable, catchable, etc. I don't personally give much time to social media, for lack of that time, but Reddit and other sites do seem to offer my students a place to share and get more excited about their interests. That is a good thing--some of us grew up thinking we were very weird indeed!

kulmbach32 karma

How do you respond to people who believe that creationism/intelligent design be taught alongside evolution in school science classes?

Unidan95 karma

I think it should be taught, actually, but I think when a hypothesis is shown to be rejected, it should be treated as any other rejected hypothesis.

Behe's intelligent design theory, specifically the idea of "irreducible complexity" has been shown to be wrong, having nearly all of his examples proven incorrect, even in the hypothetical models. Does that discourage people from repeating the idea? Apparently not, but that's not good science.

Feel free to teach about other ideas, but show people where the evidence lies and which is currently supported and why.

noossab30 karma

How do you approach the topic differently when catering to children? For example, do you ever come across situations where there is some interesting material that you would like to include but have to leave out because it could be too confusing for kids?

AnneBClark36 karma

The basic stories will be written for fairly young children, early readers or read-to group. So there will be some material that just doesn't make a good story for a 5-7 year old. My crows have a very interesting mating system, but I don't think we will make that into a story. And these will be stories. On the other hand, for each eye and ear-catching story, there will be a page written with the scientist explaining the "science behind the story" in greater detail, to appeal to older readers and parents and teachers. There we can put in details too complex or confusing or suggest other aspects that were not mentioned.

blanketswithsmallpox30 karma

  1. Why isn't the group commissioning /u/AWildSketchAppeared and /u/Shitty_Watercolour as guest artists for the book?

  2. Any idea on a publishing house yet?

  3. How long can we expect the book to be?

  4. What age group are you targeting this book toward?

Thanks for your time everyone!

AnneBClark6 karma

The book will have 10 separate stories, each stand alone. The age group is the young reader or read-to. It should be good for reading aloud as the stories are in verse. BUT not only should older readers (8-80 and beyond) enjoy them, each story will be followed by a piece written with the scientist behind the story, explaining the real science on which the story was based. That should help satisfy the precocious fact checkers in the 6-12 range also!

The publisher is BreadPig. Check them out...they try to do a lot of good, not just publish a book like this.

Grillburg27 karma

Hello, and thank you for this project! I am very excited to hear about a book to help children learn evolution.

Growing up, I was exposed to several religions that argued against evolution, many using the common misconceptions of "why are there gaps in the record" and "man didn't come from monkeys!". By high school I knew that much of that information was inaccurate, but didn't know how or why, as my own understanding of evolution was very poor.

It wasn't until my late 20s when I read Dawkins' The God Delusion, and his answers to many of the common criticisms of evolution, that I finally understood it well enough to explain it to others. (Including "winning" my first debate with my father on the subject in 15 years!)

Sorry for the digression. The earlier we can teach children the simple basics of evolution, the better prepared they will be when challenged on it. I'm glad to see that your Kickstarter is close to your goal already. I'm sending in my pledge now (sadly not as much as I'd like to give). Good luck to you all!

Unidan32 karma

Wonderful to hear, thanks for the kind words and donation!

_____Oo_____26 karma

What are your favorite science fiction or non-fiction books?

Unidan66 karma

The Road by Cormac McCarthy, for me, was a wonderfully abysmal science fiction book. As an ecologist, it actually interested me a lot in that he seems to really understand nature.

retoupin26 karma

So is your intention to make this available as a school text or as a library item? Who is your target market and what do you expect to have to do to reach them?

davidswilson15 karma

We would like Great Adaptations to succeed in multiple markets. I've been told that there is a large market for nonfiction science books for elementary school children. It would be awesome to tap that market. Now that we know that the book will become a reality, we'll start to think about reaching these markets. Contact us if you think you can help out.

davidswilson26 karma


But don't stop now! We have stretch goals and the more we can raise, the more awesome this project will become :)

Thanks so much to the 664 backers who have supported this project so far!

Dragonh4t24 karma

Unidan, I asked this in /r/circlejerk, but I guess you didn't see it. What type of camera do you use?

Unidan36 karma

Oops, sorry!

I use a Canon T2i and sometimes my iPhone 5.

WackyJtM24 karma

So we all evolved from single-celled organisms, right? Well how did the single-celled organisms that evolved over time here on earth GET to earth? Or if my understanding of this theory is completely wrong, please correct me.

Unidan47 karma

Likely, single-celled organisms evolved on Earth, so there was no "travel" of single-celled organisms.

kalmarsh21 karma

unidan, what interests besides biology do you have?

Unidan55 karma

I hike and do improv comedy in NYC from time to time!

TeknoProasheck21 karma

Have you ever met bill nye?

AnneBClark46 karma

I have not! But I am sure that we are separated by no more that 6 links!

evostudly20 karma

Does an appreciation and understanding of evolutionary science provide value to your daily life?

sciencegal27 karma

Absolutely. Understanding evolution gives you a real sense of awe when you realize how amazingly complicated organisms and their interactions can be. This often happens to me when I read about parasites, which have developed amazing adaptations to live in and manipulate harsh environments.

For example, there is a protozoan parasite that lives in rodents called Toxoplasma gondii, and the parasite needs the rodent to be eaten by a cat in order for the parasite to complete its life cycle. Rats typically freak out when they smell cat urine, but infected rats are actually attracted to the smell of cat urine. How crazy is that?! Human neuroscientists still don't know how the parasites manage to do this to the rats, which suggests that parasites can teach us a lot about how the brain works.

This parasite also infects people and is associated with personality changes, but we know a lot more about how the parasite influences rodents since rodents are obviously easier to study.


I've heard rumors that you died from /r/toosoon

Is this true?

Unidan44 karma

I had a good run.

tolA_eiL_I17 karma

Has your life changed at all since you kinda became reddit famous? A boost in your job or anything at all?

Any example of people recognizing you?

Thanks for the AMA

Unidan27 karma

Not particularly, most of the people in real life who know me are like me in that they just give me a hard time about it and laugh. It's what I love about my friends and family! :D

As for recognition, not so much, sometimes by the username, though now people at my university are beginning to ask in real life...

It's very undeserved. The people I work with are truly the biggest inspirations and support that I have, and many of them deserve the "excited biologist" much more than I do. Honestly.

ZR6X14 karma


sciencegal49 karma

It depends on what kind of a biologist you want to be, but here are some tips:

1) Pay attention in physics, chemistry, and calculus! It was hard for me to imagine how I would ever use these topics in biology research, and I frequently spend time going back to teach myself things I should have learned as an undergrad. Knowing calculus is especially useful. Lots of biologists are a bit weary of math and modeling, and being able to use calculus to explain the system you study can be extremely useful.

2) Volunteer your time in research labs at a university (you can even start doing this as a high school student in some labs!). Getting research experience makes you very attractive to grad school programs, and will help you figure out what kind of research you want to do. It will also give you a good idea about what kinds of skills are useful to scientists. For example, I spend a lot of time building stuff for experiments, and I wouldn't have imagined that knowing how to use power tools would end up being useful in grad school.

3) Start reading about biology now. This will help you figure out what biology topics interest you. Also, you'll spend your whole career in awe of how much there is to learn about the natural world, so give yourself a head start and being reading about it now.

4) If you're an undergrad, see if you can attend lab meetings for a professor whose work you think is interesting (the work done by professors should be described on the department's web page). Students and professors typically discuss papers or current research during these meetings, and these meetings are a good place to learn about how to think critically about science questions.

I also wrote a few blog posts about getting in to grad school on my blog.

oogface10 karma

What ages is the book aimed for? I have a 2 year old and a six year old.

Is the book going to include a rebuttal to creationist arguments? Or treat it as a non-issue and just present the science?

AnneBClark15 karma

Those are the ages that the main text and pictures will be aimed at, but there will also, for each story, be a page written in collaboration with the scientist about the "real science" behind the story. That is meant to appeal to older kids, or precocious readers of wikipedia (I almost said Encyclopedia Brittanica!), or to the parents.

Tiffany will be on line soon, I believe, and can comment, but basically, she develops the story from the fact, but the story is in verse or similarly set in eye and ear catching terms for the younger reader/read-to.

We are going to treat the wonderful world of science and not defend against creationism.

Hope your kids will enjoy it when it appears!

mz38 karma

I know there must be something cool I could ask about host-parasite relationships but can't think of anything. What are some mind-blowing facts about this subject?

sciencegal12 karma

It's easy to look out at an ecosystem and not think about the parasites since the parasites are tiny and hidden within their hosts. However, the biomass of parasites can be greater than the biomass of some other free-living organisms. For example, the biomass of parasites in salt marshes in southern California is greater than the biomass of birds!. Lots and lots of tiny parasites can really add up!

There are worms that live in snails that have a caste system similar to what you see in ants. There are worms whose only job is to reproduce, and there are soldier worms that patrol the snail host looking for invaders. When the soldier worms find an invader, they attempt to eat it and protect the parasite colony.

Then of course there are parasites that manipulate their hosts, including zombie ants and Toxoplasma gondii.

liquidassassin7 karma

1) What does your name mean?

2) How did you hear about reddit? Have you ever gotten tired at answering similar questions?

Thanks for your time!

Unidan9 karma

It's from "Uniden" brand phones and my buddy /u/hypno_beam got me into it!

And nope, not quite yet!

mrblahblahblacksheep6 karma

What do you believe is the biggest misconception their is regarding evolution.

Unidan13 karma

I think that there's a natural "progression" toward intelligence and that humans are somehow a "pinnacle" of evolution. We're just a possible route and it's impossible to compare individuals without environmental context.

strangermeursault2 karma

As a mother I find the whole evolution movement baffling. How can I ever tell my son he came from monkeys? It would ruin his self image.

Unidan1 karma

That's very disparaging to monkeys!

On a serious note, in case you were serious, we didn't come from monkeys, we simply share a common ancestor.