Evolution

All complex life, including plants, animals and fungi, consists if of eukaryotic cells, cells with a nucleus, transport mechanisms and often organelles like mitochondria that perform the functions an organism needs to stay alive and healthy. Humans have 220 different kinds of eukaryotic cells which control everything from thinking and locomotion to reproduction and immune defense.

Because of that commonality, the evolution of the eukaryotic cell is considered one of the most critical events in the history of life on Earth. Without it, earth populated entirely by prokaryotes, single-celled organisms such as bacteria and archaea, with no chance at all of filming "Guardians of the Galaxy" or celebrating Christmas.


Skin color varies according to latitude and therefore by the intensity of incident ultraviolet light; according to biologists, that is why individuals living at low latitudes developed darker skin, whereas those living at high latitudes ended up with paler pigmentation. 

Yet the mutations that lightened the skin, probably owing to the need to synthesize vitamin D at latitudes with less solar irradiation, also increase the probability of developing melanoma or skin cancer, which is a negative in natural selection. 

In the last 20,000 years, Europeans and Asians became numerous and their descendants now comprise the bulk of our 7 billion population. Prior to that, for 130,000 years, the Khoisan (they call themselves Bushmen), of Namibia reigned supreme.

Their lifestyles remain relatively primitive. And genetically, they have not changed all that much either. They number only about 100,000 and a study in Nature Communications compared nearly all the genes of these individuals -- their genomes -- with the genomes of people from around the world, and discovered that the inflow of new genes into the Bushmen has been quite restricted the past 150,000 years.


Usually blind sages revealing the secrets of the universe are Asian. Scotland doesn't get enough respect that way but a centipede is defying the stereotype.

Arthropods are one of Earth's real success stories, with more species than any other animal phylum. Genome sequencing has been skewed towards the more popular insects, and even an arachnid and a crustacean, and now finally the myriapods (centipedes and millipedes) are emerging from the dark.


Insects are the most diverse group of animals on earth. They inhabit nearly all terrestrial habitats. One of the factors underlying this success is the ability of insect eggs to survive in adverse conditions.

For a long time the ability to survive these adverse conditions has been attributed to maternal investment in the form of a protective eggshell. However, my research in the red flour beetle (Tribolium castaneum) shows that contrary to common belief, insect eggs are far from helpless.

We like to think of evolution as a fine-tuning process, one that whittles away genetic imperfections and redundancies and converges on a more efficient system because of 'survival of the fittest'.

But natural selection is just one mechanism of evolution and what is fittest at one point may not have been fittest at another, yet could still be inherited. Our bodies are full of parts that we inherited and either don't work anymore or are rather buggy and other parts have simply found a way to make work.


Most people think that biting is the way that aquatic creatures capture prey. Not so, instead suction is far more common.

That is why the diversity of skull shapes in biters is so much greater, according to a new study. Suction feeding limits skulls shapes because of the structural requirements for suction feeding. 

"When you look at the skulls of biters, the diversity is astounding compared to suction feeders," said Rita Mehta, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at U.C. Santa Cruz. 



The human Y chromosome has retained only 3% of its ancestral genes. So why is it a shadow of its former self? Rafael Anderson Gonzales Mendoza/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

By Jenny Graves, La Trobe University

The Y chromosome, that little chain of genes that determines the sex of humans, is not as tough as you might think. In fact, if we look at the Y chromosome over the course of our evolution we’ve seen it shrink at an alarming rate.


The bobtail squid and bioluminscent bacteria are just one of hundreds of examples of mutualism. Klaus Stiefel/Flickr, CC BY-NC

By Alex Jordan, University of Texas at Austin

The 1KITE project (1,000 Insect Transcriptome Evolution) seeks to understand the millions of living insect species that shape our terrestrial living space and both support and threaten our natural resources by analyzing more than 1,000 insect transcriptomes, a set of all RNA molecules.

Using a dataset consisting of 144 carefully chosen species, 1KITE scientists have just presented reliable estimates on the dates of origin and relationships of all major insect groups based on the enormous molecular dataset they collected. They show that insects originated at the same time as the earliest terrestrial plants about 480 million years ago.