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New research supports theory that life started on Mars

August 29, 2013 2:09 pm | News | Comments

Steven Benner of Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology will tell geochemists gathering Thursday at the annual Goldschmidt conference that an oxidized mineral form of the element molybdenum, which may have been crucial to the origin of life, could only have been available on the surface of Mars and not on Earth.

Ecosystems change long before species are lost

August 13, 2013 7:44 am | News | Comments

Communities in nature are likely to be a lot more sensitive to change than previously thought, according to a new study at Rice Univ. The study shows that scientists concerned about human influence on the biosphere need to take a deeper look at how altering the dynamics of a population—for example, by removing large members of a species through overfishing—can have measurable consequences.

Genomics, computational tools provide window to distant past

August 9, 2013 9:38 am | News | Comments

Out of the estimated 23,000 or more genes in the human genome, about 100 of them will differ, they will be present or not, between any two individuals. Genes lost or gained over time result from evolution and adaptation, as species respond through the years to their environment and other influences.

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Geoscientists decipher nature's playbook, discover new mineral-making secrets

August 1, 2013 1:50 pm | News | Comments

Sugars are important sources of energy for all organisms. Virginia Tech researchers have discovered that certain types of sugars, known as polysaccharides, may also control the timing and placement of minerals that animals use to produce hard structures such as shells and exoskeletons of mollusks, lobsters, and shrimp.

Natural affinities may have set stage for life to ignite

July 31, 2013 8:53 am | News | Comments

The chemical components crucial to the start of life on Earth may have primed and protected each other in never-before-realized ways, according to new research led by Univ. of Washington scientists. It could mean a simpler scenario for how that first spark of life came about on the planet.

Evolution picks up hitchhikers

July 24, 2013 10:30 am | by Catherine Zandonella, Office of the Dean for Research | News | Comments

In a twist on "survival of the fittest," researchers have discovered that evolution is driven not by a single beneficial mutation but rather by a group of mutations, including ones called "genetic hitchhikers" that are simply along for the ride. These hitchhikers are mutations that do not appear to have a role in contributing to an organism's fitness and therefore its evolution, yet may play an important role down the road.

Mathematical theory says small organisms may not form species

July 24, 2013 8:58 am | News | Comments

A new mathematical theory from the Univ. of Bath is challenging one of the most basic ideas of biology—that the concept of a ‘species’ applies to all creatures. The new results suggest that classifying very small creatures from extremely large populations into species may actually be impossible. This is because for large populations, the gradual build-up over time of random genetic mutations leads to an overwhelming amount of diversity.

Scientists solve a 14,000-year-old ocean mystery

July 15, 2013 9:32 am | News | Comments

At the end of the last Ice Age, as the world began to warm, a brief pulse of biological productivity in the Pacific Ocean gave rise to large numbers of phytoplankton, foraminifera and other creatures. Researchers have hypothesized that iron sparked this surge of ocean life, but a new study determines instead that “perfect storm” of nutrients and light spurred the bloom.

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China discovers primitive, 5,000-year-old writing

July 11, 2013 6:21 pm | by Didi Tang, Associated Press | News | Comments

Archaeologists say they have discovered some of the world's oldest known primitive writing, dating back 5,000 years, in eastern China, and some of the markings etched on broken axes resemble a modern Chinese character. The inscriptions are about 1,400 years older than the oldest written Chinese language, although some scholars are divided over whether the markings are words or something simpler.

What’s the fastest articulated motion a human can execute?

July 3, 2013 10:38 am | News | Comments

Humans are amazing throwers. We are unique among all animals, including our closest living relative, the chimpanzee, in our ability to throw projectiles at high speeds and with incredible accuracy. This trait was critical to the survival and success of our ancestors, aiding their hunting and protective skills, according to National Science Foundation-funded research.

Was first curveball thrown 2 million years ago?

June 28, 2013 9:36 am | by Malcolm Ritter, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

It's a big year for throwing. The greatest closer in baseball history, Mariano Rivera of the Yankees, is retiring. Aroldis Chapman, the overpowering Cincinnati Reds reliever, continues to fire fastballs beyond 100 mph. And now some scientists say they've figured out when our human ancestors first started throwing with accuracy and firepower, as only people can: Nearly 2 million years ago.

Research paints new picture of “dinobird” feathers

June 14, 2013 10:49 am | News | Comments

Scientists at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California have performed the first complete chemical analysis of feathers from Archaeopteryx, a famous fossil linking dinosaurs and birds. The new study, which revises understanding of the evolution of plumage, reveals that the feathers were patterned—light in color, with a dark edge and tip—rather than all black, as previously thought.

Genetic switches play big role in human evolution

June 12, 2013 8:45 am | by Krishna Ramanujan, Cornell Univ. | News | Comments

A Cornell Univ. study offers further proof that the divergence of humans from chimpanzees some 4 to 6 million years ago was profoundly influenced by mutations to DNA sequences that play roles in turning genes on and off. The study provides evidence for a 40-year-old hypothesis that regulation of genes must play an important role in evolution since there is little difference between humans and chimps in the proteins produced by genes.

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Life on Earth comes from out of this world

June 5, 2013 10:33 am | News | Comments

Early Earth was not very hospitable when it came to jump starting life. In fact, new research shows that life on Earth may have come from out of this world. A team of scientists found that icy comets that crashed into Earth millions of years ago could have produced life building organic compounds, including the building blocks of proteins and nucleobases pairs of DNA and RNA.

Improving the safety of the nation's blood supply

June 3, 2013 12:23 pm | News | Comments

A six-year collaboration between industry and the University of Wisconsin-Madison RFID Lab has achieved a major milestone with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearing the first RFID-enabled solution to improve the safety and efficiency of the nation's blood supply.

Russians find mammoth carcass with liquid blood

May 31, 2013 10:19 am | by Vladimir Isachenkov, Associated Press | News | Comments

A perfectly preserved woolly mammoth carcass with liquid blood has been found on a remote Arctic island, fueling hopes of cloning the Ice Age animal, Russian scientists said Thursday. The carcass was in such good shape because its lower part was stuck in pure ice, said Semyon Grigoryev, the head of the Mammoth Museum, who led the expedition into the Lyakhovsky Islands off the Siberian coast.

Evolution in the blink of an eye

May 30, 2013 1:12 pm | News | Comments

A disease in songbirds has rapidly evolved to become more harmful to its host at least twice in two decades, scientists report. The research offers a model to help understand how diseases that threaten humans may change in virulence as they become more prevalent in a host population.

Scientists find possible solution to ancient enigma

May 29, 2013 1:09 pm | News | Comments

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. According to recent research, the widespread and mysterious disappearance of stromatolites may have been driven by single-celled organisms called foraminifera.

Scientists offer first definitive proof of bacteria-feeding behavior in green algae

May 23, 2013 11:21 pm | News | Comments

A team of researchers has captured images of green alga consuming bacteria, offering a glimpse at how early organisms dating back more than 1 billion years may have acquired free-living photosynthetic cells. This acquisition is thought to have been a critical first step in the evolution of photosynthetic algae and land plants.

Cockroaches quickly lose sweet tooth to survive

May 23, 2013 11:04 pm | by Malcolm Ritter, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

For decades, people have been getting rid of cockroaches by setting out bait mixed with poison. But in the late 1980s, in an apartment test kitchen in Florida, something went very wrong. A killer product stopped working. Cockroach populations there kept rising. Mystified researchers tested and discarded theory after theory until they finally hit on the explanation.

Scientists announce top 10 new species

May 23, 2013 2:18 pm | News | Comments

An amazing glow-in-the-dark cockroach, a harp-shaped carnivorous sponge and the smallest vertebrate on Earth are just three of the newly discovered species selected by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University to be recognized as the top 10 of 2012. The announcement comes with a call to discover, in the next 50 years, what are thought to be 10 million undiscovered species on Earth.

Bacterium from Arctic offers clues about life on Mars

May 23, 2013 2:04 pm | News | Comments

The temperature in the permafrost on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian high Arctic is nearly as cold as that of the surface of Mars. So the recent discovery by a McGill University led team of scientists of a bacterium that is able to thrive at -15 C, the coldest temperature ever reported for bacterial growth, is exciting.  The bacterium offers clues about some of the necessary preconditions for microbial life on Mars.

Computational study tracks E. coli cells’ regulatory mechanisms

May 22, 2013 8:58 am | News | Comments

Environment is not the only factor in shaping cell regulatory patterns—and it might not even be the primary factor, according to a new Rice University study that looks at how cells’ protein networks relate to a bacteria’s genome. When environmental factors are eliminated from an evolutionary model, the researchers say, mutations and genetic drift can give rise to the patterns that appear.

Revising Darwin's sinking-island theory

May 13, 2013 7:41 am | by Genevieve Wanucha, Oceans at MIT | News | Comments

The three different formations of South Pacific coral-reef islands, fringing, barrier, and atoll, have long fascinated geologists. The question of how reefs develop into these shapes over evolutionary time produced an enduring conflict between two hypotheses, one from Charles Darwin and the other from Reginald Daly. But in a recently published paper, researchers use modern measurements and computer modeling to resolve this old conundrum.

Cannibal tadpoles key to understanding digestive evolution

May 9, 2013 8:05 am | News | Comments

A carnivorous, cannibalistic tadpole may play a role in understanding the evolution and development of digestive organs, according to research from North Carolina State University. These findings may also shed light on universal rules of organ development that could lead to better diagnosis and prevention of intestinal birth defects.

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