By Daniel EngberPosted 07.24.2012 at 3:02 pm 53 Comments
Possibly. The trees-down (or “arboreal”) hypothesis has been around for many years, says evolutionary biologist Richard O. Prum of Yale University. Researchers guessed that the scales of tree-dwelling Triassic reptiles elongated into feathers, which helped them leap away from predators. Once the proto-birds could glide, they were en route to avian flight. “It was like one big, crazy hairball of ideas all stuck together,” Prum says.
Geneticists in Canada have finally succeeded in an experiment that lasted for 40 generations. Generations of fruit flies, I mean. The flies were kept in containers, and lights were repeatedly flashed on them. When the number of flashes was two or four, the container was given a shake.
At that point, if you're a creature that can count, you'd start hunkering down for a shake when you counted that the even-numbered flash was coming up. The flies didn't do this -- not until they had evolved to learn how, which took 40 generations.
We are still waiting with bated breath for the day scientists resurrect the woolly mammoth. Until then, we'll have to satisfy ourselves with resurrections of ancient plants and bacteria — which may be more amazing anyway, because they're even older.
A tiny microorganism found in Norwegian lake sludge may be related to the very oldest life forms on this planet, a possible modern cousin of our earliest common ancestor. It is not a fungus, alga, parasite, plant or animal, yet it has features associated with other kingdoms of life. It could be a founding member of the newest kingdom on the tree of life, scientists said.
It's long been known that birds have a sense for the Earth's magnetic field and can use it to aid in navigating their long migratory routes across the continents, but researchers at Oxford University and the National University of Singapore think their innate navigation tools are even cooler than once supposed. A new study shows that birds may actually see that magnetic field.
Back in the day of the first mammals, horses started out the size of house cats, weighing about 8 pounds and standing only a few inches tall. Then they got even littler, a direct result of the warm temperatures that characterized the Eocene era. Only when Earth cooled down a bit did the beasts get big, according to a new study — the first evidence that temperature directly affects body size. Interesting results when you think about rising global temperatures. Are Earth’s animals about to undergo a New Shrinkening?
Bacteria swap genetic information as readily as people can share digital data — there are no cultural, political or systemic boundaries, according to a new study. Researchers say they have identified a massive gene network that facilitates the transfer of 10,000 unique genes among 2,235 bacterial genomes, across international borders and across species.
When we look at how evolution has taken us from eyeless blobs to moderately capable bloggers, it can seem like a vast, unknowable force. But when we look at individual traits and how they appear and disappear in clever ways, the functioning of cause and effect is clear, and fascinating, to see. People keep poisoning your lake? Well, Mr. Fish, why don't you develop a resistance to that poison, and pass it down to your kids? Bats keep ignoring your flower and pollinating others? Well, tropical vine, how about evolving an echolocation-reflecting satellite-dish-shaped leaf? We gathered a list of ten evolutions and adaptations that are either new or newly discovered, ranging from plants to animals to, yes, people. We're not perfect, either.
Scientists at Glasgow University are on a mission to create a form of life from inorganic molecules. The team, led by Professor Lee Cronin, has demonstrated a way of creating an inorganic cell, in which internal membranes control the movement of energy and materials, just as in a living cell. These cells can also store electricity and could be used in medicine and chemistry as sensors or to contain chemical reactions.