Evolution

One third of the Republican presidential candidates, when asked in their recent debate whether they believed evolution, admitted that they don't buy it. The blogosphere has already said much about this, and today the NY Times picks up the story.

The NY Times includes this appalling quote by Larry Arnhart, a poli sci professor at Northern Illinois University:

"The intellectual vitality of conservatism in the 21st century will depend on the success of conservatives in appealing to advances in the biology of human nature as confirming conservative thought."

How convenient when science can confirm one's preconceived notions!


A new museum in Petersburg, Kentucky greets visitors with a 20ft tall tumbling waterfall and at its base, mannequins of frolicking children play amongst dinosaurs. The Creation Museum, which cost $25 million to build, is home to many unusual sites: a diorama of ancient people overshadowed by a towering T. rex, Adam and Eve swimming in a river with giant reptiles, and even a scale model of Noah's Ark.

It seems Noah solved the problem of fitting dinosaurs into his vessel by only taking baby dinosaurs. Indeed, the ark has a detailed display of many animals happily boarding the boat: dinosaurs cavort with giraffes, penguins, hippos, and bears.

A team of biologists at Yale University and the University of Sheffield discovered anatomical details about the female reproductive tract in waterfowl that indicate that male and female anatomy have co-evolved in a "sexual arms race."

Researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, have found bonobos and chimpanzees use manual gestures of their hands, feet and limbs more flexibly than they do facial expressions and vocalizations, further supporting the evolution of human language began with gestures as the gestural origin hypothesis of language suggests.


Now we know where we got it from.

Working with two groups of bonobos (13 animals) and two groups of chimpanzees (34 animals), Yerkes researchers Amy Pollick, PhD, and Frans de Waal, PhD, distinguished 31 manual gestures and 18 facial/vocal signals.

Polar bears live a feast and famine lifestyle. They are large animals (an adult males weighs 300-600kg) that live in the freezing tundra so they have huge metabolic needs. They normally prey on ringed seals but will eat almost anything they can catch, including walruses, birds, eggs and occasionally they supplement their diet with a big, juicy, beluga whale!

Lizards gave rise to legless snakes. Cave fishes don’t have eyeballs. In evolution, complicated structures often get lost. Dollo’s Law states that complicated structures can't be re-evolved because the genes that code for them were lost or have mutated. A group of sea snails breaks Dollo’s law, Rachel Collin, Staff Scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and colleagues from two Chilean universities announce in the April, 2007, Biological Bulletin.


Smaller males on top of larger females. The eggs are brooded under the shell and so are not visible. Credit: Rachel Collin, STRI Staff Scientist

The rise of the central nervous system (CNS) in animal evolution has puzzled scientists for centuries. Vertebrates, insects and worms evolved from the same ancestor, but their CNSs are different and were thought to have evolved only after their lineages had split during evolution. Researchers from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg now reveal that the vertebrate nervous system is probably much older than expected. The study, which is published in the current issue of Cell, suggests that the last common ancestor of vertebrates, insects and worms already had a centralised nervous system resembling that of vertebrates today.

Put a human and a chimpanzee side by side, and it seems obvious which lineage has changed the most since the two diverged from a common ancestor millions of years ago. Such apparent physical differences, along with human speech, language and brainpower, have led many people to believe that natural selection has acted in a positive manner on more genes in humans than in chimps.

But new research at the University of Michigan challenges that human-centered view.

Ancient aquatic amphibians developed the ability to feed on land before completing the transition to terrestrial life, researchers from Harvard University report this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Their work is based on analysis of the skulls of the first amphibians, which arose 375 million years ago, and their fish ancestors. The shapes of the junctions between adjacent skull bones -- termed "sutures" -- in the tops of these fish and amphibian skulls reveal how these extinct animals captured prey, say authors Molly J. Markey and Charles R. Marshall.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have captured and sequenced tiny pieces of collagen protein from a 68 million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex. The protein fragments—seven in all—appear to most closely match amino acid sequences found in collagen of present day chickens.

Are birds and dinosaurs are evolutionarily related?

Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center captured and sequenced tiny pieces of collagen protein from a 68 million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex and a 160,000- to 600,000-year-old mastodon. The T. rex sequences are the oldest ever to be reported. Courtesy Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation)