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Seashell strength inspires stress tests

May 20, 2015 7:43 am | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

Mollusks got it right. They have soft innards, but their complex exteriors are engineered to protect them in harsh conditions. Engineers at the Indian Institute of Science and Rice Univ. are beginning to understand why. By modeling the average mollusk’s mobile habitat, they are learning how shells stand up to extraordinary pressures at the bottom of the sea.

In evolution, “house of cards” model wins

May 14, 2015 4:44 pm | by Bill Hathaway, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Using sophisticated modeling of genomic data from diverse species, Yale Univ. researchers have...

Federal Rules on Hydrofracking are Good Start

April 28, 2015 8:47 am | by Stanford | News | Comments

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management recently revamped 25-year-old rules for oil and gas drilling...

Study hints at spontaneous appearance of primordial DNA

April 7, 2015 10:51 am | by Jim Scott, CU-Boulder Media Relations | News | Comments

The self-organization properties of DNA-like molecular fragments four billion years ago may have...

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Researchers map switches that shaped the evolution of the human brain

March 6, 2015 1:10 pm | by Lindsay Borthwick, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Thousands of genetic “dimmer” switches, regions of DNA known as regulatory elements, were turned up high during human evolution in the developing cerebral cortex, according to new research from the Yale Univ. School of Medicine. Unlike in rhesus monkeys and mice, these switches show increased activity in humans, where they may drive the expression of genes in the cerebral cortex.

Fossil jaw sheds light on turning point in human evolution

March 4, 2015 3:09 pm | by Malcolm Ritter, AP Science Writer, Associated Press | News | Comments

A fragment of jawbone found in Ethiopia is the oldest known fossil from an evolutionary tree branch that eventually led to modern humans, scientist reported Wednesday. The fossil comes from very close to the time that our branch split away from more ape-like ancestors best known for the fossil skeleton Lucy. So it gives a rare glimpse of what very early members of our branch looked like.

Long-term nitrogen fertilizer use disrupts plant-microbe mutualisms

February 24, 2015 7:56 am | by Diana Yates, Life Sciences Editor, Univ. of Illinois | News | Comments

When exposed to nitrogen fertilizer over a period of years, nitrogen-fixing bacteria called rhizobia evolve to become less beneficial to legumes, researchers report in a new study. These findings, reported in Evolution, may be of little interest to farmers, who generally grow only one type of plant and can always add more fertilizer to boost plant growth.

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Does dark matter cause mass extinctions and geologic upheavals?

February 19, 2015 8:56 am | by NYU | News | Comments

Research concludes that Earth's infrequent but predictable path around and through our Galaxy's disc may have a direct and significant effect on geological and biological phenomena occurring on Earth.

Ancient rocks show life on Earth 3.2 billion years ago

February 17, 2015 9:13 am | by Hannah Hickey, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

A spark from a lightning bolt, interstellar dust or a subsea volcano could have triggered the very first life on Earth. But what happened next? Life can exist without oxygen; but without plentiful nitrogen to build genes, life on the early Earth would have been scarce. The ability to use atmospheric nitrogen to support more widespread life was thought to have appeared roughly 2 billion years ago.

15-million-year-old mollusk protein found

February 5, 2015 10:33 am | by Robert Hazen, Carnegie Institute | News | Comments

A team of Carnegie Institute scientists have found “beautifully preserved” 15-million-year-old thin protein sheets in fossil shells from southern Maryland. The team collected samples from Calvert Cliffs, along the shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay, a popular fossil collecting area. They found fossilized shells of a snail-like mollusk called Ecphora that lived in the mid-Miocene era.

Complex environments push “brain” evolution

February 2, 2015 7:31 am | by Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

Little animations trying to master a computer game are teaching neuroscience researchers how the brain evolves when faced with difficult tasks. Neuroscientists have programmed animated critters that they call "animats." The critters have a rudimentary neural system made of eight nodes: two sensors, two motors and four internal computers that coordinate sensation, movement and memory.

New mechanism unlocked for evolution of green fluorescent protein

January 28, 2015 10:51 am | by Jenny Green, Arizona State Univ. | News | Comments

A primary challenge in the biosciences is to understand the way major evolutionary changes in nature are accomplished. Sometimes the route turns out to be very simple. A group of scientists showed, for the first time, that a hinge migration mechanism, driven solely by long-range dynamic motions, can be the key for evolution of a green-to-red photoconvertible phenotype in a green fluorescent protein.

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In the face of stress, flies unite

December 26, 2014 4:10 pm | by École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne | News | Comments

Fruit flies respond more effectively to danger when in a group. A research team from EPFL and UNIL discovered this behavior as well as the neural circuits which relay this information, opening a new field of research. An article on the findings is being published today in Nature.

Scientists re-create what may be life's first spark

December 9, 2014 11:34 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Scientists in a lab used a powerful laser to re-create what might have been the original spark of life on Earth. The researchers zapped clay and a chemical soup with the laser to simulate the energy of a speeding asteroid smashing into the planet.

Environmental “tipping points” key to predicting extinctions

November 25, 2014 11:35 am | by Tracey Peake, North Carolina State Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers from North Carolina State Univ. have created a model that mimics how differently adapted populations may respond to rapid climate change. Their findings demonstrate that depending on a population’s adaptive strategy, even tiny changes in climate variability can create a “tipping point” that sends the population into extinction.

Deep-Earth carbon offers clues about origin of life

November 21, 2014 7:53 am | by Jill Rosen, Johns Hopkins Univ. | News | Comments

New findings by a Johns Hopkins Univ.-led team reveal long unknown details about carbon deep beneath the Earth’s surface and suggest ways this subterranean carbon might have influenced the history of life on the planet. The team also developed a new, related theory about how diamonds form in the Earth’s mantle.

Spiraling light, nanoparticles and insights into life’s structure

November 20, 2014 8:12 am | by Nicole Casal Moore, Univ. of Michigan | News | Comments

As hands come in left and right versions that are mirror images of each other, so do the amino acids and sugars within us. But unlike hands, only the left-oriented amino acids and the right-oriented sugars ever make into life as we know it. Scientists know the other varieties exist because when they synthesize these amino acids and sugars in a laboratory, roughly equal numbers of left- and right-facing arrangements form.

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Paramecia need Newton for navigation

November 19, 2014 7:36 am | by Kevin Stacey, Brown Univ. | Videos | Comments

For such humble creatures, single-celled paramecia have remarkable sensory systems. Give them a sharp jab on the nose, they back up and swim away. Jab them in the behind, they speed up their swimming to escape. But according to new research, when paramecia encounter flat surfaces, they’re at the mercy of the laws of physics.

Gravity may have saved the universe after the Big Bang

November 18, 2014 10:34 am | by Laura Gallagher, Imperial College London | News | Comments

New research by a team of European physicists could explain why the universe did not collapse immediately after the Big Bang. Studies of the Higgs particle have suggested that the production of Higgs particles during the accelerating expansion of the very early universe (inflation) should have led to instability and collapse.

Pulling together the early solar system

November 14, 2014 8:35 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

While astronomers have observed the protoplanetary disk evolution throughout our galaxy, the mechanism by which planetary disks evolve at such a rapid rate has eluded scientists for decades. Now researchers have provided the first experimental evidence that our solar system’s protoplanetary disk was shaped by an intense magnetic field that drove a massive amount of gas into the sun within just a few million years.

Evolution software looks beyond the branches

November 12, 2014 10:47 am | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

The tree has been an effective model of evolution for 150 years, but a Rice Univ. computer scientist believes it’s far too simple to illustrate the breadth of current knowledge. Rice researcher Luay Nakhleh and his group have developed PhyloNet, an open source software package that accounts for horizontal as well as vertical inheritance of genetic material among genomes.

Archaeologists discover remains of Ice-Age infants

November 11, 2014 11:32 am | by National Science Foundation | News | Comments

The bones and teeth of two—possibly related—Ice-Age infants, who were buried more than 11,000 years ago in central Alaska, constitute the youngest human remains ever found in the North American Arctic, according to a new paper published by National Science Foundation-funded researchers.

Unexpected findings change the picture of sulfur on early Earth

November 10, 2014 8:20 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

Scientists believe that until about 2.4 billion years ago there was little oxygen in the atmosphere. Evidence in support of this hypothesis comes from studies of sulfur isotopes preserved in the rock record. But the sulfur isotope story has been uncertain because of the lack of key information that has now been provided by a new analytical technique developed by a team of Caltech geologists and geochemists.

Life in Earth’s primordial sea was starved for sulfate

November 7, 2014 3:18 pm | by Univ. of British Columbia | News | Comments

The Earth’s ancient oceans held much lower concentrations of sulfate— a key biological nutrient— than previously recognized, according to new research.                             

DNA study dates Eurasian split from East Asians

November 7, 2014 3:08 pm | by The Associated Press | News | Comments

The human populations now predominant in Eurasia and East Asia probably split between 36,200 and 45,000 years ago, according to a study released Thursday.                            

The origins of multicellular life

November 6, 2014 10:14 am | by Massey Univ. | News | Comments

In groundbreaking research reported in this week’s edition of Nature, researchers from New Zealand, Germany and the United States report the real-time evolution of life forms that have all the hallmarks of multicellular organisms.       

Lack of oxygen delayed the appearance of animals on Earth

November 1, 2014 6:46 pm | by Jim Shelton, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Geologists are letting the air out of a nagging mystery about the development of animal life on Earth. Scientists have long speculated as to why animal species didn’t flourish sooner, once sufficient oxygen covered the Earth’s surface.

Lack of oxygen delayed the appearance of animals on Earth

October 31, 2014 8:44 am | by Jim Shelton, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Scientists have long speculated as to why animal species didn’t flourish sooner, once sufficient oxygen covered the Earth’s surface. Animals began to prosper at the end of the Proterozoic period, about 800 million years ago. But what about the billion-year stretch before that, when most researchers think there also was plenty of oxygen? Well, it seems the air wasn’t so great then, after all.

A look back in time at key events in plant evolution

October 28, 2014 8:27 am | by Jim Erickson, University of Michigan | News | Comments

Scientists from North America, Europe and China published a paper that reveals important details about key transitions in the evolution of plant life on our planet. From strange and exotic algae, trees and flowers growing deep in steamy rainforests to the grains and vegetables we eat and the ornamental plants adorning our homes, all plant life on Earth shares over a billion years of history.

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