Evolution

Madagascar represents only one percent of the earth's area but is home to about three percent of all animal and plant species on the planet - it has long been known as a hotspot of biodiversity.

New research in Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests the island's heyday of species development may be all but over. 


Sir Archibald Henry Bodkin, KCB (1862–1957) was our British Director of Public Prosecutions from 1920 to 1930.  He particularly took a stand against the publication of what he saw as ‘obscene’ literature.

As I was reading the comment section to “Our Anthropomorphic  Bias” I was struck by the persistence shown by Sascha Vongehr in referring to humans as robots in 4 of the 5 comments he made in a discussion with Gerhard Adam. A couple of days later the puzzle was answered – Sascha submitted Robots Finally Awake in which he elaborated on the proposition that organisms are robots. (I did check the calendar to see if it was April Fools Day.) He had used Gerhard as a sounding board, and with no adverse reaction, felt secure enough to proceed with an article.

The Red Queen hypothesis, a popular idea in evolution named after Lewis Carroll's character who in "Through the Looking Glass" described her country as a place where "it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place", recently got studied by a group of researchers who were thinking beyond the death of individual species -  they examined how the lack of new emerging species also contributes to extinction. 

Environmental brochures highlight fears about groups of animals, such as frogs or the "big cats," going extinct. But in science that is only part of the story.


In several posts the question of biological costs is invariably mentioned in discussing evolution.  These costs are normally of the metabolic or fitness type.  Metabolic costs are associated with the existence of a particular trait and the energy necessary for the trait's existence, while fitness costs are those that have an impact on the organism's ability to survive and reproduce (1).

In most instances, these concepts are taken from economic analogies, yet, like economics, the concept of cost is meaningless without a context.  The two defining elements that must be considered are value and affordability.

Since 1996, farmers across the world have planted more than a billion acres of genetically modified corn and cotton that produce insecticidal proteins from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, called Bt for short. 

Bt proteins, used for decades in sprays by organic farmers, kill some devastating pests but are environmentally friendly and harmless to people. Some scientists have feared that widespread use of these proteins in genetically modified crops would spur rapid evolution of resistance in pests, while opponents predicted Armageddon due to such a biological arms race.


In animals that reproduce by internal fertilization, as humans do, the penis is invaluable, from an evolutionary point of view. 

Yet birds have evolved to not need them. Developmentally speaking, birds' penises have gone. Land fowl, which have only rudimentary penises as adults, have normally developing penises as early embryos. Later in development, however, the birds turn on a genetic program that leads their budding penises to stop growing and then wither away.


In one sense, I am happy that there is enough interest in the concept of “junk DNA” (and by extension, my area of research in genome size evolution) that the subject gets regular media attention.

Stromatolites, "layered rocks", are structures made of calcium carbonate and shaped by the actions of photosynthetic cyanobacteria and other microbes that trapped and bound grains of coastal sediment into fine layers. They showed up in great abundance along shorelines all over the world about 3.5 billion years ago and remain the earliest visible manifestation of life on Earth.


As has been mentioned in other articles, evolution is one of the more misunderstood theories ‌in biology.  This isn't because it is complicated.  Its beauty derives from its simplicity, but often the nuances that are overlooked.  

We hear about "survival of the fittest" and many immediately think of strength.  We hear about natural selection and many immediately focus on speciation.  Yet, the first claim is simply wrong, while the second isn't the most important element of the theory.

So, if it's not about strength or how species originated, then what is important.