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Scientists reveal why life got big in the Earth’s early oceans

January 24, 2014 9:57 am | News | Comments

An international team of scientists have examined the earliest communities of large multicellular organisms in the fossil record to help answer this question of why life forms began to get larger about 580 million years ago. The research reveals that an increase in size provided access to nutrient-carrying ocean flow, giving an advantage to multicellular eukaryotes that existed prior to the Cambrian explosion of animal life.

New genes spring from non-coding DNA

January 24, 2014 8:58 am | News | Comments

"Where do new genes come from?" is a long-standing question in genetics and evolutionary biology. A new study from researchers at the Univ. of California, Davis, published in Science Express, shows that new genes are created from non-coding DNA more rapidly than expected.

Microbes swap for tiny goods in minuscule markets, researchers find

January 14, 2014 2:32 pm | News | Comments

A closer look at microbes reveals there is big business going on in their very small world, and sometimes we are part of the transaction. In a published report, an international team of researchers argue that microbes, like many animals, can evolve into savvy traders, selling high and buying low.

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“Ardi” skull reveals links to human lineage

January 8, 2014 8:19 am | News | Comments

One of the most hotly debated issues in current human origins research focuses on how the 4.4-million-year-old African species Ardipithecus ramidus is related to the human lineage. “Ardi” was an unusual primate. Though it possessed a tiny brain and a grasping big toe used for clambering in the trees, it had small, humanlike canine teeth and an upper pelvis modified for bipedal walking on the ground.

Neanderthal genome project reaches its goal

December 19, 2013 7:49 pm | News | Comments

An international research team has produced a high-quality genome sequence of a Neanderthal woman from a toe bone found in 2010 by Russian archaeologists. The genome will allow detailed insights into the relationships and population history of the Neanderthals and other extinct hominin groups.

Environment drives genetic changes in Evolution Canyon

December 12, 2013 10:27 am | News | Comments

Interplay between genes and the environment has been pondered at least since the mid-1800s. But until the arrival of modern genomic sequencing tools, it was hard to measure the extent that the environment had on a species’ genetic makeup. Now, researchers studying fruit flies that live on opposite slopes of a unique natural environment known as “Evolution Canyon” show the driving force in the gene pool is largely the environment.

A possible cause of the end-Permian mass extinction: Lemon juice?

November 25, 2013 11:05 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Rain as acidic as undiluted lemon juice may have played a part in killing off plants and organisms around the world during the most severe mass extinction in Earth’s history. About 252 million years ago, the end of the Permian period brought about a worldwide collapse known as the Great Dying, during which a vast majority of species went extinct. The cause of such a massive extinction is a matter of scientific debate.

Scientists peek into hidden sea worm’s light

November 14, 2013 7:27 am | News | Comments

Scripps Institution of Oceanography researchers are unraveling the mechanisms behind a little-known marine worm that produces a dazzling bioluminescent display in the form of puffs of blue light released into seawater. This effect, produced by mucus, hasn’t been studied in more than 50 years. But two recent studies have helped reignite the quest to decode the inner workings of the worm’s bioluminescence.

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Evidence of 3.5 billion-year-old bacterial ecosystems found in Australia

November 12, 2013 3:08 pm | News | Comments

Earth’s oldest sedimentary rocks are not only rare, but also almost always altered by hydrothermal and tectonic activity. The Pilbara district in Australia is a rare exception. A new study has revealed the well-preserved remnants of a complex ecosystem in a nearly 3.5 billion-year-old sedimentary rock sequence.

Scientists solve major piece in the origin of biological complexity

November 6, 2013 11:25 am | News | Comments

Scientists have puzzled for centuries over how and why multicellular organisms evolved the almost universal trait of using single cells, such as eggs and sperm, to reproduce. Now, researchers have set a big piece of that puzzle into place by applying experimental evolution to transform a single-celled algae into a multicellular one that reproduces by dispersing single cells.

Scientists dig for fossils in L.A. a century later

October 28, 2013 3:28 pm | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Digs over the years at the La Brea Tar Pits in the heart of Los Angeles have unearthed bones of mammoths, mastodons, saber-toothed cats and dire wolves that became trapped in ponds of sticky asphalt. But it's the smaller discoveries, like plants, insects and rodents, that in recent years are shaping scientists' views of life in the region 11,000 to 50,000 years ago.

DNA links mysterious Yeti to ancient polar bear

October 18, 2013 9:24 am | by Jill Lawless, Associated Press | News | Comments

A British scientist says he may have solved the mystery of the Abominable Snowman, the elusive ape-like creature of the Himalayas. DNA analysis conducted by Oxford Univ. genetics professor Bryan Sykes suggests the creature, also known as the Yeti, is the descendant of an ancient polar bear.

1.8 million-year-old skull gives glimpse of our evolution

October 18, 2013 9:20 am | by Seth Borenstein and Sophiko Megrelidze, Associated Press | News | Comments

The discovery of a 1.8-million-year-old skull of a human ancestor buried under a medieval Georgian village provides a vivid picture of early evolution and indicates our family tree may have fewer branches than some believe, scientists say. The fossil is the most complete pre-human skull uncovered.

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How important are plants on Earth?

October 17, 2013 8:43 am | News | Comments

Enhanced growth of Earth's leafy greens during the 20th century has significantly slowed the planet's transition to being red-hot, according to the first study to specify the extent to which plants have prevented climate change since pre-industrial times. Researchers based at Princeton Univ. found that land ecosystems have kept the planet cooler by absorbing billions of tons of carbon, especially during the past 60 years.

Long-held assumption about emergence of new species questioned

September 3, 2013 8:51 am | News | Comments

Darwin referred to the origin of species as "that mystery of mysteries," and even today, more than 150 years later, evolutionary biologists cannot fully explain how new animals and plants arise. For decades, nearly all research in the field has been based on the assumption that the main cause of the emergence of new species, a process called speciation, is the formation of barriers to reproduction between populations. Until now.

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.

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.

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.

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