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The Lead

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...

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...

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...

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Plant scientist discovers basis of evolution in violins

October 9, 2014 11:34 am | News | Comments

What could the natural diversity and beauty of plant leaves have in common with the violin? Much more than you might imagine. Dan Chitwood of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis is applying “morphometrics”, which statistically tests hypotheses about factors that affect shape, to changes in the shape of violins over time. His work revealed a strong degree of design transmission and imitation.

Making oxygen before life

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

Over the past 40 years, researchers have thought that there must have been a small amount of oxygen in the atmosphere of early Earth to help give rise to plant life. But oxygen reacts aggressively with other compounds and disappears without a continuous source, so where did this abiotic, or “non-life”, oxygen come from? Chemists in California have now shown how ultraviolet light can split carbon dioxide to form oxygen in one step.

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Research confirms controversial Darwin theory of “jump dispersal”

October 2, 2014 8:22 am | News | Comments

More than one hundred and fifty years ago, Charles Darwin hypothesized that species could cross oceans and other vast distances on vegetation rafts, icebergs, or in the case of plant seeds, in the plumage of birds. Though many were skeptical of Darwin's "jump dispersal" idea and instead supported the idea of the use of land bridges, a new computational method now suggests that Darwin might have been correct.

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.

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.

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.

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