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The Lead

With their mark on Earth, humans may name era, too

October 14, 2014 11:57 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Though most non-experts don't realize it, science calls the past 12,000 years the Holocene, Greek for "entirely recent." But the way humans and their industries are altering the planet, especially its climate, has caused an increasing number of scientists to use the word Anthropocene to better describe when and where we are.

Making oxygen before life

October 3, 2014 9:17 am | News | Comments

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Slimy fish and the origins of brain development

September 15, 2014 8:09 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

Lamprey—slimy, eel-like parasitic fish with tooth-riddled, jawless sucking mouths—are rather disgusting to look at, but thanks to their important position on the vertebrate family tree, they can offer important insights about the evolutionary history of our own brain development, a recent study suggests.

Evolutionary biology key to tackling diverse global problems

September 12, 2014 10:14 am | by Pat Bailey, UC Davis News Service | News | Comments

Evolutionary biology techniques can and must be used to help solve global challenges in agriculture, medicine and environmental sciences, advises a nine-member global team led by an evolutionary ecologist from Univ. of California, Davis.

Alien-like giant water-living dinosaur unveiled

September 12, 2014 8:57 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Picture the fearsome creatures of "Jurassic Park" crossed with the shark from "Jaws." Then super-size to the biggest predator ever to roam Earth. Now add a crocodile snout as big as a person and feet like a duck's. The result gives you some idea of a bizarre dinosaur scientists unveiled Thursday. This patchwork of critters, a 50-foot predator, is the only known dinosaur to live much of its life in the water.

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Cloud computing revolution applies to evolution

September 10, 2014 7:30 am | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

A $1.1 million National Science Foundation grant to two Rice Univ. computer science groups will allow them to build cloud computing tools to help analyze evolutionary patterns. With the three-year grant, Christopher Jermaine and Luay Nakhleh, both associate professors of computer science, will develop parallel processing tools that track the evolution of genes and genomes across species.

A single evolutionary road may lead to Rome

September 9, 2014 12:03 pm | News | Comments

A well-known biologist once theorized that many roads led to Rome when it comes to two distantly related organisms evolving a similar trait. A new paper suggests that when it comes to evolving some traits, especially simple ones, there may be a shared gene, or one road, that’s the source.

Sequencing of fish reveals diverse molecular mechanisms underlying evolution

September 5, 2014 9:49 am | by John Toon, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Researchers have sequenced the genomes and transcriptomes of five species of African cichlid fishes and uncovered a variety of features that enabled the fishes to thrive in new habitats and ecological niches within the Great Lakes of East Africa. The study helps explain the genetic basis for the incredible diversity among cichlid fishes and provides new information about vertebrate evolution.

Extinctions during human era worse than thought

September 3, 2014 8:29 am | by David Orenstein, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

It’s hard to comprehend how bad the current rate of species extinction around the world has become without knowing what it was before people came along. The newest estimate is that the pre-human rate was 10 times lower than scientists had thought, which means that the current level is 10 times worse.

Evolution used similar molecular toolkits to shape flies, worms, humans

August 28, 2014 1:35 pm | by Bill Hathaway, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Although separated by hundreds of millions of years of evolution, flies, worms and humans share ancient patterns of gene expression, according to a massive Yale Univ.-led analysis of genomic data. Two related studies led by scientists at Harvard and Stanford,tell a similar story: Even though humans, worms and flies bear little obvious similarity to each other, evolution used remarkably similar molecular toolkits to shape them.

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Nanodiamonds are forever

August 28, 2014 9:03 am | by Julie Cohen, UC Santa Barbara | News | Comments

An international group of scientists posit that a comet collision with Earth played a major role in the extinction of most of North America’s megafauna close to 13,000 years ago. In a new study, they have focused on the character and distribution of nanodiamonds, which are produced during such an extraterrestrial collision. The researchers found an abundance of these tiny diamonds distributed over 50 million km2 in the Northern Hemisphere.

From eons to seconds, proteins exploit the same forces

August 12, 2014 7:58 am | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

Nature’s artistic and engineering skills are evident in proteins. Scientists at Rice Univ. have now employed their unique theories to show how the interplay between evolution and physics developed these skills. The team used computer models to show that the energy landscapes that describe how nature selects viable protein sequences over evolutionary timescales employ the same forces as those that allow proteins to fold.

Rise of the dinosaurs

August 12, 2014 7:45 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The Jurassic and Cretaceous periods were the golden age of dinosaurs, during which the prehistoric giants roamed the Earth for nearly 135 million years. Paleontologists have unearthed numerous fossils from these periods, suggesting that dinosaurs were abundant throughout the world. But where and when dinosaurs first came into existence has been difficult to ascertain.

Butterflies are free to change colors

August 6, 2014 7:59 am | by Jim Shelton, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Yale Univ. scientists have chosen the most fleeting of mediums for their groundbreaking work on biomimicry: They’ve changed the color of butterfly wings. In so doing, they produced the first structural color change in an animal by influencing evolution. The discovery may have implications for physicists and engineers trying to use evolutionary principles in the design of new materials and devices.

Decades-old amber collection offers new views of an ancient world

July 31, 2014 7:52 am | by Diana Yates, Life Sciences Editor Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign | News | Comments

Scientists are searching through a massive collection of 20-million-year-old amber found in the Dominican Republic more than 50 years ago, and the effort is yielding fresh insights into ancient tropical insects and the world they inhabited. When the collection is fully curated, a task that will take many years, it will be the largest unbiased Dominican amber collection in the world, the researchers report.

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Classic Lewis Carroll character inspires new ecological model

July 30, 2014 4:55 pm | by Claire Sturgeon, Univ. of Illinois | News | Comments

Inspired by the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s "Through the Looking Glass", collaborators from Illinois and Singapore improved a 35-year-old ecology model to better understand how species evolve. The new model, called a mean field model for competition, incorporates the “Red Queen Effect,” which suggests that organisms must constantly increase fitness in order to compete with other ever-evolving organisms in an ever-changing environment.

Hummingbirds vs. helicopters: Stanford engineers compare flight dynamics

July 30, 2014 2:31 pm | by Bjorn Carey, Stanford News Service | Videos | Comments

More than 42 million years of natural selection have turned hummingbirds into some of the world's most energetically efficient flyers, particularly when it comes to hovering in place. Humans, however, are gaining ground quickly. A new study led by David Lentink, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford, reveals that the spinning blades of micro-helicopters are about as efficient at hovering as the average hummingbird.

Biologist warns of early stages of Earth’s sixth mass extinction event

July 25, 2014 6:54 am | by Bjorn Carey, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

Stanford Univ. biology Prof. Rodolfo Dirzo and his colleagues are warning that "defaunation" could have harmful downstream effects on human health. The planet's current biodiversity, the product of 3.5 billion years of evolutionary trial and error, is the highest in the history of life. But, Dirzo says, this may be reaching a tipping point.

Study: Friends share similarities in their DNA

July 15, 2014 9:20 am | by Malcolm Ritter, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

You may be more similar to your friends than you think. A new study suggests that the DNA code tends to be more alike between friends than between strangers, and the similarity goes beyond the effect of shared ethnicity. The difference is slight but detectable and consistent, and the finding could be important for theories about human evolution.

Did Neanderthals eat their vegetables?

June 27, 2014 7:37 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The popular conception of the Neanderthal as a club-wielding carnivore is, well, rather primitive, according to a new study conducted at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Instead, our prehistoric cousin may have had a more varied diet that, while heavy on meat, also included plant tissues, such as tubers and nuts.

Kiwi DNA link spurs rethink of flightless birds

May 27, 2014 9:23 am | by Nick Perry, Associated Press | News | Comments

Research linking New Zealand's diminutive kiwi with a giant extinct bird from Africa is prompting scientists to rethink how flightless birds evolved. Instead, it's more likely their chicken-size, flight-capable ancestors enjoyed a window of evolutionary ascendancy about 60 million years ago, after dinosaurs died out and before mammals grew big. The study contradicts earlier theories about the evolution of flightless birds.

Genetic study helps resolve speculation about first people in the Americas

May 19, 2014 7:45 am | by Diana Yates, Life Sciences Editor Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign | News | Comments

A new study could help resolve a longstanding debate about the origins of the first people to inhabit the Americas, researchers report in Science. The study relies on genetic information extracted from the tooth of an adolescent girl who fell into a sinkhole in the Yucatan 12,000 to 13,000 years ago.

Research reveals value of large animals in fighting disease

May 5, 2014 8:12 am | by Rob Jordan, Stanford Woods Institute for the Evironment | News | Comments

Don't let their cute names fool you: The Mearns' pouch mouse and the delicate mouse can be dangerous. These and other rodents commonly harbor pathogens that can be deadly to humans. According to new research by Stanford Univ. scientists, populations of pathogen-carrying rodents can explode when larger animals die off in an ecosystem, leading to a doubling in the risk of potentially fatal diseases spreading to humans.

Scientists want to breed fish to be better biters

April 25, 2014 12:45 pm | by Jeff Barnard, Associated Press | News | Comments

In a lifetime of fishing for winter steelhead, Oregon's Stan Steele has seen it get harder and harder to hook into hatchery-bred fish. A growing body of evidence is showing that his experience is not a fish story, but the result of natural selection. Wild fish retain the aggression that lands them on the end of a hook better than hatchery fish. Prodded by fishermen, scientists will now try to breed the bite back into hatchery steelhead.

Ocean microbes display remarkable genetic diversity

April 25, 2014 7:46 am | by Denise Brehm, Civil and Environmental Engineering MIT | News | Comments

The smallest, most abundant marine microbe, Prochlorococcus, is a photosynthetic bacteria species essential to the marine ecosystem. An estimated billion upon billion of the single-cell creatures live in the oceans, forming the base of the marine food chain and occupying a range of ecological niches based on temperature, light and chemical preferences, and interactions with other species.

Poll: Big Bang a big question for most Americans

April 21, 2014 4:21 am | by Jennifer Agiesta - Associated Press - Associated Press | News | Comments

Few Americans question that smoking causes cancer. But they express bigger doubts as concepts that scientists consider to be truths get further from our own experiences and the present time, an Associated Press-GfK poll found. Americans have more skepticism than confidence in global warming, the age of the Earth and evolution and have the most trouble believing a Big Bang created the universe 13.8 billion years ago.

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

April 18, 2014 10:22 am | by Mark Nickel, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists exploring large fields of impact glass in Argentina suggest that what happened on Earth might well have happened on Mars millions of years ago. Martian impact glass could hold traces of organic compounds.

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