Saturday, May 03, 2008


Profollias downhoki

Dr. Tom Volk teaches biology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. He also writes an informative column called Fungus of the Month, which I like to read. The Fungus of the Month for April 2008 is Profollias downhoki---- the missing link between fungi and plants.

Perhaps because it is so obvious, no one seems to have pointed out the obvious, that this is an elaborate April Fools' Day joke. According to Volk, Dr. Gholan Faux discovered the missing link. French faux means false. "When they sequenced the fke region of the DNA of the chloroplasts from the hyphae, they found that it exactly matched the fke region of the DNA of the chloroplasts of mosses and green algae, indicating a common origin," wrote Volk. The fke region is clearly the fake region. The date on the web page is April 1, 2008. These are a few of the clues that lead me to conclude it is an April Fools' Day joke.

Sometimes hoaxes like this are more successful and fool even well-respected scientists. I'm in the middle of reading a fascinating book, Scott Weidensaul's The Ghost with Trembling Wings: Science, Wishful Thinking, and the Search for Lost Species (New York: North Point Press, 2002). On pp. 166-170 Weidensaul tells the story of a trick played by Harvard paleontologist Bryan Patterson on his friend Dr. Eugene S. Richardson, Jr., of Chicago's Field Museum. Patterson and his students sent a series of letters, postmarked from various locations in Kenya, from fictitious people (retired Lieutenant Colonel R.G.L. Cloudsley, merchant Purshottam S. Patel, teacher Joseph N. Ngomo, and schoolboy Akai s/o Ekechalon), to Richardson about sightings of a creature called the Dancing Worm of Turkana. Only when the Field Museum started to make plans for an expedition to Kenya to track down the beast did Patterson finally reveal that it was all a hoax.

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