Saturday, February 25, 2006
BERKELEY, CA - Evolutionary paths to new therapeutic drugs, as well as a wide assortment of other enzyme products, have been created through, of all things, intelligent design. A team of researchers with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California at Berkeley have developed a technique in which the evolution of an important class of proteins is steered towards a desired outcome.
"We've taken enzymes that are promiscuous, meaning they have the capacity to evolve along many different functional lines, and trained them to become specialists," said chemical engineer Jay Keasling, who led this study.
UCR News: UCR Researchers Unlock How Cells Determine Their Functions: "RIVERSIDE, California. - www.ucr.edu - Researchers at the University of California, Riverside have discovered a molecular mechanism that directs the fate and function of cells during animal development. The findings could hold promise for the advancement of cancer and stem-cell research...
...The paper explains how proteins, known as epigenetic activators (such as Ash1 from the fruit fly Drosophila), bind to their target DNA and activate genes that determine what function a cell will have in the body.
'The fact that these epigenetic activators, such as Ash1, turn on the expression of specific target genes has been known for some time. However, the mechanisms by which epigenetic activators recognize and bind these target genes was not yet known' Sauer pointed out." [Evolution]
Friday, February 24, 2006
News: "As the human genome gradually yields up its secrets, scientists are finding some genetic events, such as rearrangements in chromosomes, are less random than they had previously thought. Originating as structural weaknesses in unstable stretches of DNA, abnormal chromosomes may, rarely, result in a disabling genetic disease one or two generations later."
A report in the Feb. 17 issue of Science by genetics researchers at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania analyzes genetic predisposition to the translocation t(11;22), a swapping of genetic material between chromosomes 11 and 22. They found an unexpectedly high frequency of new translocations in the DNA of sperm samples from healthy individuals. (For technical reasons, egg cells cannot be tested for translocations.)
Fossil wood gives vital clues to ancient climates: "New research into a missing link in climatology shows that the Earth was not overcome by a greenhouse period when dinosaurs dominated, but experienced rapid fluctuations in temperature and sea level change that resulted in a balance of the global carbon cycle. The study is being published in the March issue of Geology.
'Most people think the mid-Cretaceous period was a super-greenhouse,' says Darren Gr�cke, assistant professor and Director of the Stable Isotope Biogeochemistry Laboratory at McMaster University. 'But in fact it was not to dissimilar to the climates over the past 5 million years.'"
Many Dino Fossils Could Have Soft Tissue Inside: "Soft-tissue dinosaur remains, first reported last year in a discovery that shocked the paleontological community, may not be all that rare, experts say.
A 2005 paper in the journal Science described what appeared to be flexible blood vessels, cells, and collagen-like bone matrix from fossils of a 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex."
Mary Schweitzer, the North Carolina State University paleontologist who announced the finding, said her team has now repeated that feat with more than a dozen other dinosaur specimens.
To make sense of the surprising discovery, scientists are beginning to rethink a long-standing model of how the fossilization process works. [News]
New Scientist Breaking News - 'Jurassic Beaver' find stuns experts: "The discovery of a new, remarkably preserved fossil of a beaver-like mammal that lived 164 million years ago is shaking palaeontologists' understanding of early mammals.
Looking as if it was put together from pieces of platypus, river otter, and beaver, the creature was nearly half a metre long and weighed about half a kilogram. This makes it the largest of its kind ever found in the Jurassic Period, from 200 million to 145 million years ago."
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Let 'intelligent design' and science rumble - Los Angeles Times: "Should 'Intelligent DESIGN' be taught in school alongside the theory of evolution?
That's the question being tried in a federal court in Pennsylvania, where 11 parents have sued to block the teaching of intelligent design in Dover's high school. But it's the wrong question. A national debate over how best to explain the complexity of living organisms would better serve our children, and adults too...
...Using complex statistics, intelligent-design theorists contend that natural selection fails to fully explain life's complexity, thus alternative explanations to evolution should be considered. As a rule, they don't speculate over who or what did the designing." [News]
Eavesdropping plants: "Insect-damaged sagebrush has a novel way of broadcasting to nearby plants that a predator is in the area: It releases a bouquet of airborne odors and perfumes.
If wild tobacco is growing nearby, it will 'eavesdrop' on these chemical signals, and in response, fortify its defenses against such plant-eaters as caterpillars.
In a study published in a recent issue of Oecologia, Cornell University researchers say they have found that the release of chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from a wounded sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) primes the defenses of wild tobacco (Nicotiana attenuata) to prepare for herbivore attacks of its own."
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
"University of Florida scientists have found that people have an ancient skeleton in their closets - a skeleton personified today by a jawless, eel-like fish.
It turns out lampreys, long thought to have taken a different evolutionary road than almost all other backboned animals, may not be so different after all, especially in terms of the genetics that govern their skeletal development, according to findings to be published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
UF scientists found the same essential protein that builds cartilage in this odd animal - it spends the first five years of its development in the larval stage before it finally morphs into a boneless fish - is none other than collagen. This vital structural molecule is found in all vertebrates with backbones and jaws, including humans.
'It was thought collagen was a relatively recent invention in vertebrate evolution that unites us with reptiles, amphibians, sharks and bony fishes, while the lamprey skeleton was based on quite different proteins...' " [Evolution News, PNAS]
[News] Xinhua - English: "NANJING, Feb. 22 (Xinhuanet) -- With its forelegs upright like a dog and hind legs stretching out like a lizard, experts say a newly discovered fossil may rewrite the history of mammalian evolution.
In their joint research on mammal fossils in the western part of Northeast China's Liaoning Province, two distinct bone characteristics in the fossil of a sharp-mouthed mammal were collected by Chen Piji, a Nanjing-based researcher of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
The British research journal, Nature, reported the unprecedented discovery, which is believed by some as holding the potential to change the traditional theory on the evolution of mammals."
An editor of a noted scientific journal says he has discovered a genetic defect that seems to set back the clock on human evolution by more than a million years.
Its victims walk on all fours and mouth a primitive language, the scientist reported. He added that the syndrome may literally undo eons of human evolution, and thus reflect with some accuracy what our ape-like ancestors were like.
The researcher, Uner Tan of Cukurova University Medical School in Adana, Turkey, has posted an online video clip of an affected woman walking on all fours, her face blurred.
The idea that evolution can run backward isn't new; some scientists say there have been confirmed cases of it in animals. But it's also a controversial subject, and considered hard to prove in any given case. [News]
Parched Ethiopian region is ground zero for fossils / Researchers focus on evolution of human ancestors
Parched Ethiopian region is ground zero for fossils / Researchers focus on evolution of human ancestors: "Afar, Ethiopia -- In the burning heat of Ethiopia's rock-strewn desert, where only herds of goats and camels pass along the horizon, a team of fossil-hunters searched the ground for more than a month this winter, continuing their long quest for evidence of our human ancestry's evolution.
The scientists were out to find fresh answers to questions that humans have posed since civilization began: Where did we come from and what were our origins? How did we become who we are today?" [News]
Birds that make teeth: "Gone does not necessarily mean forgotten, especially in biology. A recent finding by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and colleagues from the University of Manchester have found new evidence that the ability to form previously lost organs--in this case, teeth--can be maintained millions of years after the last known ancestor possessed them." [Evolution related news]
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Palm Trees and Lake Fish Dispel Doubts About a Theory of Evolution (New York Times): "..The idea that members of a species living side by side can split into two species is controversial. Some scientists have presented evidence that the process has produced several species of plants and animals, but their ideas have met with intense skepticism.
Two new studies in the journal Nature - one on the kentia palm and a second on fish in a Nicaraguan lake - are impressing some leading skeptics, however..."
More than 500 scientists have signed a statement publicly expressing skepticism about the theory of Darwinian evolution.
The statement reads: 'We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.'The Discovery Institute article can be found here
Monday, February 20, 2006
[News] "ST. LOUIS -- New methods of analyzing fossils have scientists arguing more than ever about whether (T. Rex) Tyrannosaurus rex was a lumbering scavenger or a swift and agile predator.
A CAT scan study of Tyrannosaurus rex skulls shows it had the inner ear of a much smaller, swifter predator. But a close look inside its thigh bone shows it had the ungainly body of a heavier creature.
'I think what we have to do now is re-model dinosaurs,' said Jack Horner of the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Mont."
[News] "ST. LOUIS, Missouri (Reuters) - American scientists fighting back against creationism, intelligent design and other theories that seek to deny or downgrade the importance of evolution have recruited unlikely allies -- the clergy.
And they have taken their battle to a new level, trying to educate high school and even elementary school teachers on how to hold their own against parents and school boards who want to mix religion with science.
While they feel they have won the latest round against efforts to bring God into the classroom, the scientists say they have little doubt their opponents are merely regrouping."
Sunday, February 19, 2006
[News] The environment encountered when the first people emigrated into the New World was variable and ever-changing, according to a Penn State geologist.
'The New World was not a nice quiet place when humans came,' says Dr. Russell Graham, associate professor of geology and director of the Earth & Mineral Sciences Museum."
Archaeologists agree that by 11,000 years ago, people were spread across North and South America, but evidence is building for an earlier entry into the New World, a date that would put human population of North and South America firmly in the Pleistocene.
"A handful of genes that control the body's defenses during hard times can also dramatically improve health and prolong life in diverse organisms. Understanding how they work may reveal the keys to extending human life span while banishing diseases of old age"
[Evolution News] "Every so often, a huge number of species on Earth are wiped out relatively quickly. The last time a large extinction event occurred, between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago, two-thirds of large mammals were swept into the dustbin of history. Why? UC Berkeley paleontologist Anthony Barnosky sifts through the fossil record to understand how environmental changes can cause mammals to move, evolve, and sometimes die off."
[News] Man the hunted theory discussed at AAAS Annual Meeting in St. Louis
You wouldn't know it by current world events, but humans actually evolved to be peaceful, cooperative and social animals, not the predators modern mythology would have us believe, says an anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis...
...Sussman goes against the prevailing view and argues that primates, including early humans, evolved not as hunters but as prey of many predators, including wild dogs and cats, hyenas, eagles and crocodiles.
Despite popular theories posed in research papers and popular literature, early man was not an aggressive killer, Sussman argues...
[Evolution News] "The bases of the human language faculty are now being investigated by means of highly specialised measurement techniques and with increasing success. Why can we understand complex sentences, while our nearest cousins - apes - only understand individual words?"