Saturday, March 04, 2006
"OKLAHOMA CITY (AP): As it did 81 years ago in a small Tennessee town, Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is dividing educators, scholars and theologians as the Oklahoma Legislature debates whether alternative theories on the origin of life should be taught in public school science classes.
Legislation that would authorize teachers to discuss "the full range of scientific views on the biological or chemical origins of life'' and allow students to express their views in class has been approved by the state House and sent to the Senate. "
New York Times: "In this week's Book Review, philosopher Daniel Dennett writes to protest Leon Wieseltier's strongly critical review of his book 'Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon,' in which Dennett uses evolutionary theory to explain how religious belief took root in the human mind, how it evolved, whether it's really good for us, and if it isn't how we can get rid of it. But Wieseltier's review also prompted heated conversation in the blogosphere, with one blogger calling it 'a kind of political/theological Rorschach test' in a time of passionate debate over the proper relationship between science and religion..
.. Unsurprisingly, the review drew the interest of partisans in the ongoing battle over Intelligent Design."
"Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon" is currently appearing on the 'Featured Books' page of the Evolution Book Store: UK | US or go directly to Amazon: UK | US
"Our closest relative the chimpanzee is capable of sophisticated cooperative behaviour and even rudimentary altruism, two new studies reveal. The discovery suggests that some of the underpinnings of human sociality may have been present millions of years ago.
'At least some of [those behaviours] are already present in rudimentary forms in chimps - and maybe in the common ancestor of chimps and humans,' says Alicia Melis of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. 'Humans are biologically prepared to develop these kinds of skills.'"
"A new species of Polypterus has been found inside a lump of rock.
The fish, which is a member of the Cladistia's Polypteridae family, is the first complete fossil polypterid skeleton ever described.
The extinct species has been named Polypterus faraou in a paper in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society and was found in an area known as Toros-Menalla in western Djourab, Chad."
Friday, March 03, 2006
"CHICAGO - Dan Gebo believes that if we could go back millions of years and see hominids, the early, small-brained humans from which modern humans inherited the ability to move around on two legs, we would see some pretty peculiar styles of walking.
The hominid nicknamed 'Lucy,' a 3 1/2-foot-tall adult female who lived in what is now Ethiopia 3.2 million years ago, tired easily and would have had to run at a dead trot to keep up with a strolling modern human. And Australopithecus robustus, a toothy, dim, broad-faced early human that went extinct 1.4 million years ago, was hopelessly knock-kneed.
But these walks, however imperfect, were the most important steps ever taken for humankind, said Gebo, a Northern Illinois University anthropologist and co-author of a new study of the bio-mechanics of early human locomotion."
"AUSTIN, Texas - Having a set of extra genes gave fish on separate continents the ability to evolve electric organs, report researchers from The University of Texas at Austin.
Dr. Harold Zakon and colleagues, in a paper recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that African and South American groups of fish independently evolved electric organs by modifying sodium channel proteins typically used in muscle contraction.
Mutations in sodium channel proteins can cause serious muscular disorders, epilepsy and heart problems in humans and other vertebrates." [News, PNAS]
"Mexico City - A Mexican marine biologist has discovered a new shark species in the murky depths of Mexico's Sea of Cortez, the first new shark find in the wildlife-rich inlet in 34 years.
Postgraduate student Juan Carlos Perez was on a fishing boat in early 2003 studying sharks from the Mustelus family netted at depths of 200m when he noticed some of them had darker skin and white markings.
The sharks, slender, dark grey-brown and around 1.5m long, turned out to be a new species that Perez and his team have named 'Mustelus hacat', after the word for shark in a local Indian dialect."
In a surprise twist to the already bizarre case of a syndrome whose victims walk on all fours, claims of research misconduct have fueled a bitter dispute among the scientists studying it.
The clash stems in part merely from differing theories on the condition, which the researchers say might shed light on human origins, and which one terms a possible 'devolution.'
But intellectual skirmish has itself devolved into raw personal battle, pitting a relatively little-known Turkish researcher against three internationally known U.K. scientists.
Thursday, March 02, 2006
A new tree of life allows a closer look at the origin of species: "In 1870 the German scientist Ernst Haeckel mapped the evolutionary relationships of plants and animals in the first 'tree of life'. Since then scientists have continuously redrawn and expanded the tree adding microorganisms and using modern molecular data, yet, many parts of the tree have remained unclear. Now a group at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg has developed a computational method that resolves many of the open questions and produced what is likely the most accurate tree ever. The study, which appears in the current issue of the journal Science, gives some intriguing insights into the origins of bacteria and the last common universal ancestor of all life on earth today."
"The Age of Dinosaurs ended millions of years ago but paleontologists are still attempting to get a handle on the immense diversity and diverse immensity of these creatures.
Take the report last month that Spinosaurus is now officially the biggest carnivorous dinosaur known to science. This two-legged beast actually strode onto the fossil scene in 1915 when a specimen was described by German paleontologist Ernst Stromer. He figured this theropod (defined as a two-legged carnivore) was bigger than Tyrannosaurus rex, but the original Spinosaurus bones were destroyed by Allied bombs in 1944. So the T. rex reigned as the king size, carnivorous land beast for decades.
Then along came Giganotosaurus 11 years ago.
Now Cristiano Dal Sasso of the Civil Natural History Museum in Milan says Giganotosaurus has been dethroned based on estimates from a new Spinosaurus skull."
"What advantage did sex offer when it first appeared and why does sex persist in modern organisms, stopping them from becoming asexual again? One University of Houston professor thinks he may have uncovered some new clues in answering these questions.
By studying one of the great mysteries of biology - the evolution of sexual reproduction - Ricardo Azevedo, an assistant professor in the department of biology and biochemistry at UH, has found in a study using a computational model that a leading theory may be more plausible than previously thought, His findings are described in a paper titled 'Sexual Reproduction Selects for Robustness and Negative Epistasis in Artificial Gene Networks,' appearing in the current issue of Nature, the weekly scientific journal for biological and physical sciences research."
Chapel Hill, North Carolina:
"Intelligent design isn't dead yet despite a federal judge's ruling prohibiting it from being taught in a Pennsylvania school district's biology classes.
Some professors argued at a symposium last week in Chapel Hill that intelligent design should be taught in North Carolina's public schools. Although they didn't say they believed in intelligent design, which holds that life wasn't created by chance, they insisted it should be given a hearing.
'All ideas deserve to be in the marketplace of ideas, and only the fittest survive,' said Arnold Loewy, a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill's School of Law. 'Can you imagine the delicious irony of saying that applies to everything but Darwinism?'"
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
BBC News Giant squid grabs London audience:
"One of the biggest and most complete giant squids ever found is on display at London's Natural History Museum.
Measuring a monstrous 8.62m (28ft), the animal was caught off the coast of the Falkland Islands by a trawler.
Researchers at the museum undertook a painstaking process to preserve the giant creature, which is now ...in a glass tank, filled to the brim with preservative solution, and is one of 22 million specimens that can be seen as part of the behind-the-scenes Darwin Centre tour of the Natural History Museum.
"Scientists at The University of Manchester and the Manchester Metropolitan University have carried out the first comparative scientific study of ancient spiders trapped in amber more than 30 millions years ago.
The study of fossilised spiders from the Baltic (Poland) and the Dominican (Caribbean) regions has revealed new insights into the ecologies of spiders dating back to the Cenozoic period.
It is the first time ancient spiders from different parts of the world have been compared on such a large scale. 671 species of spiders were compared in the study which is published in the March issue of the Royal Society's Journal Biology Letters."
"CARSON CITY, Nevada - A proposed constitutional amendment would require Nevada teachers to instruct students that there are many questions about evolution — a method viewed by critics as an opening to teach intelligent design.
Las Vegas masonry contractor Steve Brown filed his initiative petition with the secretary of state's office, and must collect 83,184 signatures by June 20 to get the plan on the November ballot.
...'I just want them to start telling the truth about evolution," Brown said. "Evolution has occurred, but parts of it are flat-out unproven theories. They're not telling students that in school.'"
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
"ST. LOUIS - It was only a century ago that paleontologists, armed with a magnifying glass and hand pick, could find a toe bone and declare that it belonged to a 50-foot-long dinosaur with a sinuous tail and long neck needed for munching tall trees.
Now, a new breed of scientists is using test tubes, chemical analysis and microscopes to find unprecedented clues to how dinosaurs lived.
The technology, described at the recent American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, is allowing them to answer questions about disease, diet and family relationships — something unheard of even five years ago." [Evolution, AAAS]
[News] "SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Public schools won't have to change the way they teach evolution, after the House on Monday gutted, and then killed, a bill that would have required science courses to mention alternative theories.
Senate Bill 96 failed in the House on a 28-46 vote, after a lengthy debate that saw the bill changed twice.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, had said it was time to rein in teachers who were teaching that man had descended from apes, and rattling the faith of students. The Senate passed the measure 16-12.
House sponsor Rep. Jim Ferrin, R-Orem, started Monday's debate with a substitute bill, which removed the phrase about teaching the 'origins of life.' Ferrin said the phrase should come out because current state curricula only includes teaching the origins of species, not human evolution."
Following in Darwin's footprints: Hau unlocks secrets of tropical birds through field study on the Galapagos
Princeton University News: "The Galapagos Islands hold a unique place in the history of science. It was here, in the 1830s, that Charles Darwin gathered the clues that led to his theory of evolution.
It is here, today, that Princeton's Michaela Hau continues Darwin's intrepid scientific tradition. Her studies of tropical birds may shed light on the mysteries of human behavior and could lead to better models for ecosystem conservation.
Birds display a remarkable variety of behaviors, including reproductive behavior such as defending territories and mating, said Hau, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. 'I study the mechanisms that underlie the control of behavior and how they have evolved over time,' she said."
Monday, February 27, 2006
"If the history of life were to play out again from the beginning, it would have a similar plot and outcomes, although with a different cast and timing, argues UC Davis paleontologist Geerat Vermeij in a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
'Evolution at this level, like the rest of history, is predictable, perhaps more predictable than people want to imagine,' Vermeij said. 'Many traits are so advantageous under so many circumstances that you are likely to see the same things again and again.'
Vermeij's view contrasts with that put forward by the late Stephen Jay Gould and others, who argued that the history of life is so dependent on improbable events and includes so many possible paths that the chances of repetition are vanishingly small." [News]
Scientists' reactions have ranged from deep skepticism to interest in a report of a mutation that makes people walk on all fours, cited in a Turkish study as a possible instance of 'backward evolution.'
The bizarre case, reported last week in World Science, has also drawn attention from several scientists in Europe, some of whom are collaborating on a BBC documentary on it.
Three researchers with the University of Cambridge, U.K., and the London School of Economics wrote recently that the case could represent a 'rediscovery' of a walking style much like that of human ancestors.
This might help resolve a debate over how our forebears walked, they added. [News]
[Evolution News]: Science & Nature : "The Tokyo Institute of Technology and GE Yokogawa Medical Systems Ltd. have joined forces to successfully produce the world's first 3-D image of a coelacanth, a species of fish that has survived unchanged in the Earth's oceans for 400 million years.
The Hino, Tokyo-based company scanned a coelacanth that the university had received from Tanzania using a cutting edge computerized axial tomography imaging system. This system can simultaneously record 64 images per second, each image representing a 'slice' of the object being scanned. The gap between slices is 0.6 millimeter."
Sunday, February 26, 2006
[New York Times News]
"The question of what Neanderthals and Homo sapiens might have done on cold nights in their caves, if they happened to get together and the fire burned down to embers, has intrigued scientists since the 19th century, when the existence of Neanderthals was discovered.
A correction in the way prehistoric time is measured using radiocarbon dating, described last week in the journal Nature, doesn't answer the enduring question, but it might at least help explain why no DNA evidence of interbreeding has been found: the two species spent less time together than was previously believed."
"Palaeontologists in Brazil say they may have found the oldest known dinosaur fossil...
...The fossils - which include two skulls and other bones - date back to the high Triassic period...
...It is a period of evolution about which there is little evidence and which has generated sharp debate among palaeontologists...
...The new find appears to have some characteristics of the Thecodonts and some of the dinosaur, and so may offer vital clues as to the evolutionary chain." [BBC News]