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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Exploring the ethics of resurrecting extinct species

April 8, 2013 6:09 pm | by Thomas Sumner and Bjorn Carey, Stanford University | News | Comments

At some point, scientists may be able to bring back extinct animals, and perhaps early humans, raising questions of ethics and environmental disruption. Stanford University law professor Hank Greely has recently identified the ethical landmines of this new concept of de-extinction.

Power behind primordial soup discovered

April 4, 2013 12:06 pm | News | Comments

Researchers at the University of Leeds may have solved a key puzzle about how objects from space could have kindled life on Earth. While it is generally accepted that some important ingredients for life came from meteorites bombarding the early Earth, scientists have not been able to explain how that inanimate rock transformed into the building blocks of life, until now.

Study: Volcanic eruptions triggered the end-Triassic extinction

March 22, 2013 2:28 pm | News | Comments

It’s not entirely clear what caused the end-Triassic extinction, although most scientists agree on a likely scenario: Over a relatively short period of time, massive volcanic eruptions from a large region known as the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) spewed forth huge amounts of lava and gas, including carbon dioxide, sulfur and methane. Now, a research team has determined that these eruptions occurred precisely when the extinction began, providing strong evidence that volcanic activity did indeed trigger the end-Triassic extinction.

Study reveals how animal swarms respond to overcrowding

March 18, 2013 9:02 am | News | Comments

Swarming is the spontaneous organized motion of a large number of individuals. It is observed at all scales, from bacterial colonies to animal herds. Physicists in Ireland have uncovered new collective properties of swarm dynamics that could ultimately guide efforts to control swarms of animals, robots, or human crowds.

New research paper says we are still at risk of the plague

March 18, 2013 8:57 am | News | Comments

Archaeologists recently unearthed a “Black Death” grave in London, containing more than a dozen skeletons of people suspected to have died from the plague. The victims are thought to have died during the 14th century and archaeologists anticipate finding many more as they excavate the site. Results of their reveal a number of factors that show we are still at risk of plague today. 

Tiny piece of RNA keeps “clock” running in early life

March 11, 2013 4:12 pm | News | Comments

New research shows that a tiny piece of RNA has an essential role in ensuring that embryonic tissue segments form properly. The study, conducted in chicken embryos, determined that this piece of RNA regulates cyclical gene activity that defines the timing of the formation of tissue segments that later become muscle and vertebrae.

Researchers build new tools for finding new species

March 11, 2013 2:20 pm | News | Comments

For hundreds of years, naturalists and scientists have identified new species based on an organism’s visible differences. But different species can often show little or no visible differences. Evolutionary biologists have recently combined traditional morphological tests with genetic techniques to distinguish these genetically different but outwardly similar organisms, which are dubbed “cryptic” species.

Evidence found that comets could have seeded life on Earth

March 6, 2013 2:08 pm | by Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley | News | Comments

Chemists have recently shown that conditions in space are capable of creating complex dipeptides—linked pairs of amino acids—that are essential building blocks shared by all living things. The discovery opens the door to the possibility that these molecules were brought to Earth aboard a comet or possibly meteorites, catalyzing the formation of proteins (polypeptides), enzymes and even more complex molecules, such as sugars, that are necessary for life.

“True grit” erodes assumptions about evolution

March 5, 2013 1:13 pm | by Sandra Hines, University of Washington | News | Comments

New research led by the University of Washington challenges the 140-year-old assumption that finding fossilized remains of prehistoric animals with such teeth meant the animals were living in grasslands and savannas. Instead it appears certain South American mammals evolved the teeth in response to the gritty dust and volcanic ash they encountered while feeding in an ancient tropical forest.

Has evolution given humans unique brain structures?

February 22, 2013 11:16 am | News | Comments

Our ancestors evolutionarily split from those of rhesus monkeys about 25 million years ago. Since then, brain areas have been added, have disappeared, or have changed in function. This raises the question: Has evolution given humans unique brain structures? Previous research has been inconclusive, but by combining different research methods, researchers in The Netherlands now say they have the first piece of evidence that could prove that humans have unique cortical brain networks.

How human language could have evolved from birdsong

February 21, 2013 11:41 am | by Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office | News | Comments

"The sounds uttered by birds offer in several respects the nearest analogy to language," Charles Darwin wrote in "The Descent of Man" (1871), while contemplating how humans learned to speak. Language, he speculated, might have had its origins in singing, which "might have given rise to words expressive of various complex emotions." Now researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, along with a scholar from the University of Tokyo, say that Darwin was on the right path.

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