The newly sequenced genomes of two marine worms shed light on the 570 million-year evolution of gills into the human ability to bite, chew, swallow and speak.

The draft genome sequences (doi:10.1038/nature16150) of two species of acorn worm, which live in U-shaped burrows in shallow, brackish water, are the first genomes of hemichordates, which retain similarities to the first animals to evolve pharyngeal or "gill" slits. Those ancestors eventually gave rise to chordates: animals with backbones and hollow nerve cords, like humans and other vertebrates.

Evolution had a few more drinks once again, according to a new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which wants to prompts a rethink of what it means to be an animal.

Jellyfish, those commonplace sea pests with stinging tentacles, have actually evolved over time into "really weird" microscopic organisms, made of only a few cells, that live inside other animals.

Genome sequencing confirms that myxozoans, a diverse group of microscopic parasites that infect invertebrate and vertebrate hosts, are actually are "highly reduced" cnidarians -- the phylum that includes jellyfish, corals and sea anemones.

Human brains exhibit more plasticity, the tendency to be modeled by the environment, than chimpanzee brains, which may account for part of human evolution, according to a study which may provide insight into why humans are capable of adapting to various environments and cultures. The stud examined the inherited genetic factors of brain organization in humans compared to their closest living relatives.

The research team studied 218 human brains and 206 chimpanzee brains to compare two things: brain size and organization as related to genetic similarity. The study found that human and chimpanzee brain size were both greatly influenced by genetics.

Living hominoids are a group of primates that includes the small-bodied apes (the lesser apes, or gibbons and siamangs, which constitute the family Hylobatidae) and the larger-bodied great apes (orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees), which, along with humans, belong to the family Hominidae.

All extant hominoids share several features, such as the lack of external tail, an orthograde body plan that enables an upright trunk position, and several cranial characteristics. All these features might have been present in the common ancestor of hominids and hylobatids that, according to molecular data, would have lived about 15-20 million years ago.

A team of paleontologists find in a new fossil study that the extraordinary regenerative capacities of modern salamanders are likely an ancient feature of four-legged vertebrates that was subsequently lost in the course of evolution.

An evolutionary puzzle in the genome of several different snake species is why their genetic code has DNA that, in most animals, controls the development and growth of limbs. Since snakes have long, legless bodies that such genetic code was likely to have disappeared during evolution but a new study .

Now, they've found an explanation. In a paper  the scientists show that the same genetic tools responsible for limb development also control the formation of external genitalia, and that may help explain why snakes have held on to this limb circuitry through the ages.

In a new study, Nikola-Michael Prpic et al. have identified the driving force behind the evolution of a leg novelty first found in spiders: knees.  

With eight hairy legs and seven joints on each---that's a lot of joints for a spider to coordinate in order to take even a single step. To find some answers, Prpic's research team honed in on a gene called dachshund (dac). The gene was first discovered in fruit flies, and the discoverers named the missing leg segments and shortened legs that result from dac mutant flies after the short-legged dog breed of the same name. 

This spring, the world learned of a newly discovered missing link between microbes and humans called Lokiarchaeota. The actual story is that the microbe Lokiarchaeota, discovered on the deep sea floor by a hydrothermal vent called Loki’s Castle, shares features with both bacteria and us. The spin is that this makes it a missing link between the two.

Researchers ave shown that well-developed eyes come at a surprising cost to other organ systems. 

Researchers have long associated the presence of a well-developed brain with major energy consumption. This means that animals that develop advanced nervous systems require environments where this is possible. There has to be good access to nutrients, and every investment in an organ comes at a cost to some other organ system that is less essential in that particular environment. Up to now, there have been few concrete measurements of how high the cost of a nervous system actually is.

The study involving Mexican cavefish shows that the visual system can require between 5% and 15% of an animal's total energy budget.

Working in a cave complex deep beneath South Africa's Malmani dolomites, an international team of scientists has brought to light an unprecedented trove of hominin fossils -- more than 1,500 well-preserved bones and teeth -- representing the largest, most complete set of such remains found to date in Africa.

The discovery of the fossils, cached in a barely accessible chamber in a subterranean labyrinth not far from Johannesburg, adds a new branch to the human family tree, a creature dubbed Homo naledi.

The remains, scientists believe, could only have been deliberately placed in the cave.