"The genes they inherited from their pirates"

« previous post | next post »

Laura Baisas, “We were very wrong about birds”, Popular Science 4/1/2024:

Birds combine genes from a father and a mother into the next generation, but they first mix the genes they inherited from their pirates when creating sperm and eggs. This process is called recombination and it is also something that occurs in humans. Recombination maximizes a species’ genetic diversity by ensuring that no two siblings are exactly the same.

It's too subtle to be an April Fool's joke.

So a slip of the fingers? Autocorrect? Interesting either way…

The obligatory screenshot:


  1. Rodger C said,

    April 2, 2024 @ 11:58 am

    ?? parents > parrots >> pirates.

  2. Ross Presser said,

    April 2, 2024 @ 12:42 pm

    When I checked just this minute it has been corrected to "from their parents".

  3. KeithB said,

    April 2, 2024 @ 1:10 pm

    What is so special about birds and humans? Don't all sexual creatures recombinate? Even Bees. 8^)

  4. Mark Liberman said,

    April 2, 2024 @ 2:49 pm


    Also plants, fungi, and yeast

  5. rpsms said,

    April 2, 2024 @ 4:29 pm

    "Pirates" is not even the worst part of whatever it is I just read. The second paragraph reads like an AI trained on 3rd-grade essays. Sentences individually "OK but not great" that are not that coherent when strung together, and the tone and quality varies among them.

  6. Lasius said,

    April 3, 2024 @ 3:35 am


    Funny that you bring up bees. One interesting paculiarity of hymenopterans is that males in this group do actually not result from recombination. They hatch from unfertilized eggs and thus do not have a father themselves and are haploid.

    This also results in sisters of the same parents being more closely related to each other (about 75%) than they are to their own daughters (50%). It is believed that this is one of the factors for eusociality evolving several times independently within hymenoptera.

  7. KeithB said,

    April 3, 2024 @ 8:17 am

    I would have figured that this group would realize I was referencing the song.

  8. David Marjanović said,

    April 3, 2024 @ 9:33 am

    Also plants, fungi, and yeast…

    Yeast are secondarily single-celled fungi. Ascomycetes even, like morels for example.

  9. Robert Coren said,

    April 3, 2024 @ 9:51 am

    If it's auto-correct or auto-complete, it must have been fairly badly typed. Somewhat relatedly, I read an obituary in today's Boston Globe that gave the cause of death of a 78-year-old as "congenital heart failure", and I was wondering what could have been typed so that what was presumably intended as congestive turned into congenital.

  10. Philip Taylor said,

    April 3, 2024 @ 11:07 am

    I would hazard a guess that what was typed was, in fact, "congenital heart failure" — agreed, "congestive heart failure" exists (it was the cause of death of my adoptive cat "Jaffa" [1]), but so does "congenital heart failure". See, for example, https://www.tgh.org/institutes-and-services/conditions/congenital-heart-failure.
    [1] "Adoptive" rather than "adopted" since it was Jaffa who adopted me rather than vice versa.

  11. David Morris said,

    April 3, 2024 @ 2:37 pm

    I had the sudden thought that this might be a dictation-to-text error rather than a typing error, but no poor pronunciation of 'parents' I can make sounds anything like 'pirates' – rather more like 'parrots'.

    I can see only four possibilities: deliberate typing of the wrong word, accidental typing of the wrong word, typing something wrong which has been autocorrected to the wrong word, or dictation-to text. Either way, the article was not proofread carefully or at all.

  12. Seth said,

    April 3, 2024 @ 4:56 pm

    It's possible this was a spelling correction from a typo where there was a list of options presented, and the writer's finger slip was to choose an option they didn't intend. Something like:

    "perants" – Did you mean 1) parents 2) pirates 3) apparent …

    Some of those list items can get pretty far afield.

  13. David Morris said,

    April 3, 2024 @ 7:02 pm

    Typing 'perants' in Microsoft Word, I was given a choice of parents, pedants and perrantes. Typing 'parets' I was given pirates, parents and pats.

  14. Robert Coren said,

    April 4, 2024 @ 9:14 am

    The Globe ran a correction this morning, saying that the correct cause was, in fact, "congestive" and ascribing the error to "incorrect information provided by a news service".

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Comment