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(Bio) Evolution: A Global Evolutionary Map (Tree of Life)
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 21, 2007 7:26 am    Post subject: The mouflons of the Kerguelen archipelago Reply with quote

The mouflons of the Kerguelen archipelago


Université du Québec à Montréal

Surprising genetic diversity in the descendants of a single pair

June 20, 2007 — The team of Denis Réale, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Ecology and Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at UQAM, recently published some remarkable research findings. Reconstructing the genetic history of a population of mouflons descended from a single pair, the researchers demonstrated that the animals’ genetic diversity increased over time, contrary to what the usual models predict. These results contradict the belief that a population descended from a small number of individuals will exhibit numerous deficiencies and reduced genetic diversity.
www.video.uqam.ca/kerguelenmouflons

The mouflon population of the Kerguelen archipelago
The Kerguelen Islands in the Indian Ocean are one of four districts in the French Austral and Antarctic Territories. These islands, one of the most isolated places on Earth, house a military base and a science station. In 1957, the local authorities decided to offer residents the opportunity to hunt mouflons (a type of wild sheep). A pair of Corsican mouflons was imported from the Vincennes Zoo in Paris. Initially, the mouflon population grew exponentially, and then, from the early 1980s, it fluctuated between 300 and 700 individuals.

The history of a fascinating research project
Denis Réale discovered this mouflon population while doing his French civilian service in 1991. For 16 months, he participated in an ecological research program under the supervision of Jean-Louis Chapuis of the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle in Paris. He studied the ecology and behaviour of mammals (mouflons, sheep and reindeer) introduced into the Islands.

Ten years later, Renaud Kaeuffer, a doctoral student in biology at UQAM, supervised jointly by Denis Réale and Dominique Pontier of the Université Claude Bernard Lyon I in France, went to the Islands to study the impact of introduced cats on the bird populations. Noticing that the mouflon population appeared to be thriving, he suggested to Réale that this population could be studied from a genetic viewpoint. Dave Coltman, a professor at the University of Alberta and a specialist in ungulate genetics, agreed to perform the analyses of the genetic material.

Combining their efforts, the researchers used hair, horns and tissue to reconstitute the evolution of the genetic diversity of the mouflon population from 1958 to 2003. Through the contribution of Jean-Louis Chapuis, Denis Réale had access to samples from populations living on the Islands between 1988 and 1996. For the missing years, the researchers appealed to the hunters who wintered there. “We got the missing DNA samples from hunting trophies and managed to go all the way back to the son of the founders,” said Denis Réale with a smile. “We were even able to obtain genetic material from the population of origin from the Vincennes Zoo. “We took the DNA from these samples, and looked at specific genetic sites,“ explained Renaud Kaeuffer. “We expected that the genetic diversity of this population of mouflons would be very homogeneous, and that this genetic diversity would decline over time. Instead, we observed the opposite.”

The effect of natural selection The researchers attribute this increase in genetic variety to natural selection, as the timeframe was too short for this diversity to be attributable to genetic mutation, and the Islands are much too isolated to have undergone migrations. “This variety can be explained by elimination, over the generations, of individuals with low genetic diversity. In small isolated populations, related individuals are likely to reproduce amongst themselves, resulting in inbreeding and homozygotes. The genetic variety of the population becomes impoverished and its evolutionary potential decreases. Furthermore, consanguinity is known to produce genetic diseases. The most heterozygous individuals are better able to resist these diseases,” explains Renaud Kaeuffer. The researchers stress the point that the genetic variety of the mouflons on the Kerguelen Islands is still less than what could be observed in a larger population.

Very few researchers have carried out longitudinal studies on the evolution of genetic variety in a population. The environment of many animal and plant populations has been modified by human activity. In many cases, we are witnessing a loss of biodiversity. While scientists ask themselves about our impact on the genetic diversity of populations, this study by Denis Réale and his co-workers sheds new light on mechanisms that can regulate this genetic diversity.

This research project received financial support from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Article in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London
www.sciences.uqam.ca/pdf/kaeuffer_reale.pdf

Article in Sciences Express
http://sciences.uqam.ca/scexp/.....rech2.html

Source : Claire Bouchard
Press Relations Officer
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 12, 2007 1:55 pm    Post subject: Evolution Occurs in the Blink of an Eye Reply with quote

Evolution Occurs in the Blink of an Eye
By Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Staff Writer

posted: 12 July 2007 02:05 pm ET

A population of butterflies has evolved in a flash on a South Pacific island to fend off a deadly parasite.

The proportion of male Blue Moon butterflies dropped to a precarious 1 percent as the parasite targeted males. Then, within the span of a mere 10 generations, the males evolved an immunity that allowed their population share to soar to nearly 40 percent—all in less than a year.

“We usually think of natural selection as acting slowly, over hundreds or thousands of years," said study team member Gregory Hurst, an evolutionary geneticist at the University College London. "But the example in this study happened in a blink of the eye, in terms of evolutionary time."

The scientists think the males developed genes that hold a male-killing microbial parasite, called Wolbachia, at bay.

The results, detailed in the July 13 issue of the journal Science, illustrate the power of positive natural selection on “suppressor” genes that thwart the lethal bacteria, allowing the male butterflies to bounce back.

For the full article:

http://www.livescience.com/ani.....y_evo.html
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 03, 2007 10:36 am    Post subject: New Fossils Support Deep-Sea Origin of Life Reply with quote

New Fossils Support Deep-Sea Origin of Life
By Dave Mosher, LiveScience Staff Writer

posted: 03 August 2007 08:57 am ET

Geologists have discovered 1.43 billion-year-old fossils of deep-sea microbes, providing more evidence that life may have originated on the bottom of the ocean.

The ancient black smoker chimneys, which scientists unearthed in a Chinese mine, are 1 billion years older than similar fossils previously identified and are nearly identical to the archaea- and bacteria-harboring structures found today on sea beds.

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http://www.livescience.com/ani.....igins.html
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 06, 2007 11:40 am    Post subject: Greatest Mysteries: Does Alien Life Exist? Reply with quote

Greatest Mysteries: Does Alien Life Exist?
By Ker Than, LiveScience Staff Writer

posted: 06 August 2007 06:54 am ET

Life can be found in almost every nook and cranny of our planet Earth. Leaping, swimming, flying, sprinting, slithering, crawling or rooted firmly in place, organisms appear, die, and are replaced by new generations and new species.

Whether a similar bounty of life exists elsewhere in the universe is one of the oldest and most tantalizing questions of science. Considering the wide breadth of the universe and the countless stars it contains, the odds would seem in favor of the answer being "yes."

"We are here, made of stardust. Therefore, it is at least possible that there are others," said Jill Tarter, director of the Center for SETI Research in California.

For the full article;

http://www.livescience.com/str.....verse.html
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 07, 2007 9:43 am    Post subject: UQ researchers discover some of the oldest forms of life Reply with quote

Research Australia
6 August 2007

UQ researchers discover some of the oldest forms of life

University of Queensland researchers have identified microbial remains in some of the oldest preserved organic matter on Earth, confirmed to be 3.5 billion years-old.

The UQ team, led by School of Physical Sciences scientists Dr Miryam Glikson and Associate Professor Sue Golding as well as Associate Professor Lindsay Sly from the School of Molecular & Microbial Sciences, are the first to conclusively confirm the nature and source of the organic material.

Aspects of the research have been published in the prestigious scientific journal Precambrian Research.

“What we have found is the first visual confirmation of primitive microbial communities in what is considered to be the best preserved ancient organic matter on our planet,” Dr Glikson, the instigator of the research, said.

Dr Golding, Director UQ's Stable Isotope Laboratory in the Division of Earth Sciences, said previous studies used indirect analytical methods that were only able to suggest microbial involvement, not confirm it.

“We used difficult and time-consuming electron microscope techniques to conclusively confirm the microbial remains,” Dr Golding said.

“The integration of observational and micro-analytical techniques is unique to our approach.”

The core drilling samples from Western Australia's Pilbara region were collected by PhD student Lawrie Duck who said it was an amazing experience to “hold in your hands rocks that contain remains of some of the earliest forms of life on Earth.”

“The Pilbara region is such a good research site as it has ancient forms of the white smokers active at plate margins today and black sulfidic smokers found in sea floor vent systems in tectonically active sites,” he said.

“These are the places where scientists believe life on Earth might have had its origins.”

Dr Glikson said the UQ team had then taken the study further by comparing the fossil microbial structures to primitive microbes found today in seafloor environments similar to those existing 3.5 billion years ago.

“The microbiologists on the team, led by Dr Sly, cultured currently existing primitive microbes under simulated conditions to those of the ancient forms of life,” Dr Glikson said.

“A remarkable resemblance was found between the structures of the cultured microbial entities at their stage of disintegration and those of the ancient microbial remains.”

The other members of the UQ research team were Robyn Webb, from the Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis, a specialist in transmission electron microscopical techniques; Justice Baiano, from the School of Molecular & Microbial Sciences, who developed special facilities to culture primitive microbes derived from seafloor mineral-laden hot springs active at plate margins today; and Kim Baublys, from the Stable Isotope Laboratory, who undertook analysis of products from the culture experiments.

A comparison with organic matter from rocks of similar age in South Africa also yielded microbial remains identical to those from the Pilbara, further confirming the UQ work. This was achieved with the collaboration of Dr Axel Hofmann from the University of Kwazulu, South Africa and Dr Robert Bolhar formerly of the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.


###
The research was funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery grant awarded to Dr Glikson and Dr Sly.
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 14, 2007 9:40 am    Post subject: Greatest Mysteries: Why Are There Transitional Animals? Reply with quote

Greatest Mysteries: Why Are There Transitional Animals?
By Corey Binns, Special to LiveScience

posted: 14 August 2007 08:21 am ET


Evolution is a tale of gradual change, but some animal alternations appear to have advanced by leaps and bounds.

Ancient four-limbed fish crawled out of the sea. Dinosaurs, insects and mammals took to the air. Our closest relatives straightened their backs and began walking upright on two legs.

But what made them do it? Charles Darwin taught us that evolution has no direction. Instead, living creatures exploit resources already available to them. So the answer eludes us there.

For the full article:

http://www.livescience.com/str.....forms.html
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 16, 2007 9:21 pm    Post subject: Greatest Mysteries: What Drives Evolution? Reply with quote

Greatest Mysteries: What Drives Evolution?
By Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Staff Writer

posted: 16 August 2007 01:24 am ET

From bizarre butterfly spots to rainbow-colored lizards to adaptations that allow squirrels and even snakes to "fly," physical innovations in the natural world can be mind-boggling.

Natural selection is accepted by scientists as the main engine driving the array of organisms and their complex features. But is evolution via natural selection the only explanation for complex organisms?

For the full article:

http://www.livescience.com/str.....ution.html
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 02, 2007 6:20 am    Post subject: Human Family Tree Now a Tangled, Messy Bush Reply with quote

Human Family Tree Now a Tangled, Messy Bush
By Meredith F. Small, LiveScience's Human Nature Columnist

posted: 31 August 2007 09:28 am ET

For anthropology students 30 years ago, learning human evolution was a breeze. It went from Australopithecus to Homo habilis to Homo erectus to various Homo sapiens. It was a straight shot that one could learn in a few minutes late at night while cramming for an exam.

But in the late 1970s, we entered a golden age of human fossil discoveries that has repeatedly punched holes in the naive idea that our evolution would be that clear, clean, and straight.

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http://www.livescience.com/his....._tree.html
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 10, 2007 2:37 pm    Post subject: A gene divided reveals the details of natural selection Reply with quote

University of Wisconsin-Madison

A gene divided reveals the details of natural selection

MADISON -- In a molecular tour de force, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have provided an exquisitely detailed picture of natural selection as it occurs at the genetic level.

Writing today (Oct. 11, 2007) in the journal Nature, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Sean B. Carroll and former UW-Madison graduate student Chris Todd Hittinger document how, over many generations, a single yeast gene divides in two and parses its responsibilities to be a more efficient denizen of its environment. The work illustrates, at the most basic level, the driving force of evolution.

"This is how new capabilities arise and new functions evolve," says Carroll, one of the world's leading evolutionary biologists. "This is what goes on in butterflies and elephants and humans. It is evolution in action."

The work is important because it provides the most fundamental view of how organisms change to better adapt to their environments. It documents the workings of natural selection, the critical idea first posited by Charles Darwin where organisms accumulate random variations, and changes that enhance survival are "selected" by being genetically transmitted to future generations.

The new study replayed a set of genetic changes that occurred in a yeast 100 million or so years ago when a critical gene was duplicated and then divided its nutrient processing responsibilities to better utilize the sugars it depends on for food.

"One source of newness is gene duplication," says Carroll. "When you have two copies of a gene, useful mutations can arise that allow one or both genes to explore new functions while preserving the old function. This phenomenon is going on all the time in every living thing. Many of us are walking around with duplicate genes we're not aware of. They come and go."

In short, says Carroll, two genes can be better than one because redundancy promotes a division of labor. Genes may do more than one thing, and duplication adds a new genetic resource that can share the workload or add new functions. For example, in humans the ability to see color requires different molecular receptors to discriminate between red and green, but both arose from the same vision gene.

The difficulty, he says, in seeing the steps of evolution is that in nature genetic change typically occurs at a snail's pace, with very small increments of change among the chemical base pairs that make up genes accumulating over thousands to millions of years.

To measure such small change requires a model organism like simple brewer's yeast that produces a lot of offspring in a relatively short period of time. Yeast, Carroll argues, are perfect because their reproductive qualities enable study of genetic change at the deepest level and greatest resolution because researchers can produce and quickly count a large number of organisms. The same work in fruit flies, one of biology's most powerful models, would require "a football stadium full of flies" and years of additional work, Carroll explains.

"The process of becoming better occurs in very small steps. When compounded over time, these very small changes make one group of organisms successful and they out-compete others," according to Carroll.

The new study involved swapping out different regions of the yeast genome to assess their effects on the performance of the twin genes, as well as engineering in the gene from another species of yeast that had retained only a single copy.

"We retraced the steps of evolution," the Wisconsin biologist explains.

The work shows in great detail how the ancestral gene gained efficiency through duplication and division of labor.

"They became optimally connected in that job. They're working in cahoots, but together they are better at the job the ancestral gene held," Carroll says. "Natural selection has taken one gene with two functions and sculpted an assembly line with two specialized genes."
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 13, 2007 1:56 pm    Post subject: Changing environment organizes genetic structure Reply with quote

Rice University

Changing environment organizes genetic structure
Study finds biological complexity arises from self-organizing structure of genes

HOUSTON -- Nov. 13, 2007 -- What is the fundamental creative force behind life on Earth" It's a question that has vexed mankind for millennia, and thanks to theory and almost a year's worth of number-crunching on a supercomputer, Rice University physicist and bioengineer Michael Deem thinks he has the answer: A changing environment may organize the structure of genetic information itself.

Deem's research is available online and slated to appear next month in Physical Review Letters.

"Our results suggest that the beautiful, intricate and interrelated structures observed in nature may be the generic result of evolution in a changing environment," Deem said. "The existence of such structure need not necessarily rest on intelligent design or the anthropic principle."

The information that allows all living things to survive and reproduce is encoded in genes. Deem's theory probed the structure of this genetic information, looking for patterns that were created over time.

The study by Deem and postdoctoral fellow Jun Sun found the structure of genetic information becomes increasingly modular when two conditions are taken as givens: horizontal gene transfer (HGT) and a changing environment. Like modular furniture that can be rearranged in different functional patterns, modular genes are standardized components that lend themselves to flexible rearrangement, and this genetic modularity arises spontaneously because of the selective pressure of a changing environment and the existence of horizontal gene transfer.

Genes are typically transferred vertically. People, plants and animals pass genes vertically, from generation to generation, through sexual reproduction. Bacteria transfer genes vertically via conjugation. HGT allows genes, pieces of genes and collections of genes to move between species, even in cases where vertical transfer is physically impossible.

Though scientists have known about HGT for years, it was thought to be rare and infrequent until sophisticated tools opened the genetic history of many species in the 1990s. Today, HGT is widely accepted as the primary reason for antibiotic drug resistance, and Deem said HGT played a significant role in human development as well. "Our acquired immune system is a product of horizontal gene transfer and is organized in a modular fashion," he said.

Deem's study found that an organism's fitness -- the likelihood that it and its descendants will survive in a rapidly changing environment -- increases as the modularity of its genetic code increases. Another finding was that the faster the environment changes, the more modular genetic information becomes.

Because modularity begets complexity, the more modular genetic information becomes, the more complex the web of life becomes. For example, human beings are far more complex than singled-celled yeast, yet they have only about four times as many genes. The complex nature of multicellular plants and animals derives not only from the genes themselves, but also from the complex regulatory networks that control the production and interaction of the products of genes -- proteins -- to fulfill multiple roles. This regulatory network is another example of modular organization.

"Modularity and hierarchy are prevalent in biology, from the way atoms are arranged in molecules, molecules into amino acids and amino acids into secondary structures, domains and proteins," Deem said. "This hierarchy continues with multiprotein complexes, protein regulation pathways, cells, organs, individuals, species and ecosystems. Our research suggests that modularity and hierarchy are prevalent because genetic information self-organizes into increasingly more modular forms. A changing environment and the biochemistry of horizontal gene transfer appear to be part of the source for this fundamental creativity of life."


###
The research was supported by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency.
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 19, 2007 2:49 pm    Post subject: Despite Flash, Males are Simple Creatures Reply with quote

Despite Flash, Males are Simple Creatures
By Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Staff Writer

posted: 19 November 2007 08:32 am ET

The secret to why male organisms evolve faster than their female counterparts comes down to this: Males are simple creatures.

In nearly all species, males seem to ramp up glitzier garbs, more graceful dance moves and more melodic warbles in a never-ending vie to woo the best mates. Called sexual selection, the result is typically a showy male and a plain-Jane female. Evolution speeds along in the males compared to females.

The idea that males evolve more quickly than females has been around since 19th century biologist Charles Darwin observed the majesty of a peacock’s tail feather in comparison with those of the drab peahen.

For the full article:

http://www.livescience.com/hea.....volve.html
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 28, 2007 1:31 pm    Post subject: Group selection, a theory whose time has come...again Reply with quote

University of Chicago Press Journals
28 November 2007

Group selection, a theory whose time has come...again

In landmark article, David Sloan Wilson and Edward O. Wilson lead sociobiology out of the theoretical wilderness
“Although a high standard of morality gives but a slight or no advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same tribe...an advancement in the standard of morality will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another.”

With these words, Charles Darwin proposed an evolutionary explanation for morality and pro-social behaviors— individuals behaving for the good of their group, often at their own expense—that anticipated the future discipline of Sociobiology. A century after this famous passage was published in The Descent of Man (1871), however, Darwin’s explanation based on group selection had become taboo and has not recovered since. In a landmark article for The Quarterly Review of Biology, “Rethinking the Theoretical Foundation of Sociobiology,” eminent evolutionary scientists David Sloan Wilson and Edward O. Wilson—whose book Sociobiology:The New Synthesis brought widespread attention to the field in 1975—call for an end to forty years of confusion and divergent theories. They propose a new consensus and theoretical foundation that affirms Darwin’s original conjecture and is supported by the latest biological findings.

Wilson and Wilson trace much of the confusion in the field to the 1960’s, when most evolutionists rejected “for the good of the group” thinking and insisted that all adaptations must be explained in terms of individual self-interest. In an even more reductionistic move, genes were called “the fundamental unit of selection,” as if this was an argument against group selection. Scientific dogma became entrenched in popular culture with the publication of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene (1976). Although evidence in favor of group selection began accumulating almost immediately after its rejection, its taboo status prevented a systematic re-evaluation of the field until now.

Based on current theory and evidence, Wilson and Wilson show that natural selection is unequivocally a multilevel process, as Darwin originally envisioned, and that adaptations can evolve at all levels of the biological hierarchy, from genes to ecosystems. They conclude with a rallying cry that paraphrases Rabbi Hillel: “Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary,” Wilson and Wilson free sociobiology to once again pursue all lines of inquiry within its discipline.


###
David Sloan Wilson is Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University, State University of New York. His most recent book is Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives.

Edward O. Wilson is Pellegrino Research Professor in Entomology, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. His forthcoming book co-authored with Bert Hölldobler is entitled The Superorganism

Wilson, David Sloan and Edward O.Wilson. “Rethinking the Theoretical Foundation of Sociobiology,” The Quarterly Review of Biology: December 2007.

Since 1926, The Quarterly Review of Biology has been dedicated to providing insightful historical, philosophical, and technical treatments of important biological topics.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 12:28 pm    Post subject: Alliance Mission Statement Reply with quote

Alliance Mission Statement

The mission of the Alliance for Science is to heighten public understanding and support for science and to preserve the distinctions between science and religion in the public sphere. We bring together scientists, teachers and science-related companies with the many religious bodies that have found no conflict between religion and science. Together we work to reawaken America's love of science, and to restore our competitive edge in science and technology.


The Problem with Science in America

Today America faces a scientific crisis similar to the one following the Soviet Union's launch of the world's first artificial satellite in 1957.The news that we had lost the lead in the space race revitalized American science, produced the landing on the moon in 1969, and established the superiority of the U.S. in space. But now the rapid decline in our scientific research capability threatens to leave America behind again in a technologically competitive world.

This decline is a result of widespread ignorance about science in this country. Surveys have revealed that about 75% of the American population is scientifically illiterate and about 50% rejects evolution, a fundamental principle that underlies modern science. This rejection is encouraged by advocates of creationism who are now taking advantage of a favorable political climate to try to replace the teaching of evolution in our public school biology classes with so-called "intelligent design theory."

Since the teaching of creationism in public schools has been struck down repeatedly by the U.S. Supreme Court, it has been given this new name, with the argument that it is not creationism because it does not specify who the "intelligent designer" is. However the Discovery Institute, the main proponent of ID, makes it clear that their real purpose is: "to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions." If they succeed, our international leadership in scientific research and technological development will be lost, perhaps irrevocably.


Strategy of the Alliance for Science

Prominent scientists and other influential opponents of creationism mostly operate independently and therefore cannot effectively compete with creationists in the public arena. We will unite with them to educate the public about the different but complementary roles of science and religion; to improve the teaching of science in our public schools; and to restore the excitement about science and discovery that once characterized the U.S.

Alliance for Science Website:


http://www.allianceforscience.org/
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 19, 2007 6:43 pm    Post subject: Whales May Be Related to Deer-Like Beast Reply with quote

Whales May Be Related to Deer-Like Beast
By Seth Borenstein, The Associated Press

posted: 19 December 2007 05:28 pm ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — The gigantic ocean-dwelling whale may have evolved from a land animal the size of a small raccoon, new research suggests. What might be the missing evolutionary link between whales and land animals is an odd animal that looks like a long-tailed deer without antlers or an overgrown long-legged rat, fossils indicate.

For the full article:

http://www.livescience.com/ani.....ative.html
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 03, 2008 2:51 pm    Post subject: Advanced Life Created in Two Ancient Explosions Reply with quote

Advanced Life Created in Two Ancient Explosions
By Dave Mosher, LiveScience Staff Writer

posted: 03 January 2008 02:00 pm ET

Complex life on Earth may have blossomed during two "explosions," not one, a new study suggests.

Earth's biggest species diversification occurred 542 million years ago, during what's called the Cambrian explosion. But a similar and rapid burst in evolution occurred 33 million years prior, researchers now think. They've dubbed the event the Avalon explosion.

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http://www.livescience.com/his.....osion.html
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 29, 2008 8:30 am    Post subject: Lessons from evolution applied to national security and othe Reply with quote

Duke University
28 January 2008

Lessons from evolution applied to national security and other threats

DURHAM, N.C. – Could lessons learned from Mother Nature help airport security screening checkpoints better protect us from terror threats?

The authors of a new book, Natural Security: A Darwinian Approach to a Dangerous World, believe they can -- if governments are willing to think outside the box and pay heed to some of nature’s most successful evolutionary strategies for species adaptation and survival.

“Biological organisms have figured out millions of ways, over three and a half billion years of evolution, to keep themselves safe from a vast array of threats,” said Raphael Sagarin, a Duke University ecologist who co-edited the book with Terence Taylor, an international security expert.

“Arms races among invertebrates, intelligence gathering by the immune system and alarm calls by marmots are just a few of nature’s successful security strategies that have been tested and modified over time in response to changing threats and situations,” Sagarin said. “In our book, we look at these strategies and ask how we could apply them to our own safety.”

The book, published next month by the University of California Press, is the result of more than two years of investigation and debate by a multidisciplinary working group of scientists and security experts led by Sagarin and Taylor.

Sagarin is associate director for ocean and coastal policy at Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and assistant research professor at the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences.

Taylor is president and director of the International Council for the Life Sciences. He previously worked with the United Nations as a Commissioner and Chief Inspector for Iraq on weapons of mass destruction, and was a career officer in the British army.

The working group included paleobiologists, anthropologists, psychologists, ecologists and national security experts who examined a wide array of evolutionary models and ideas and evaluated which could be applied to security issues such as weapons development, screening procedures, and risk assessment of newly emerging terror threats.

For instance, a report last year by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that despite heightened awareness and tightened restrictions, security screening checkpoints at U.S. airport were still vulnerable. GAO agents were able to sneak readily available materials that are precursors to improvised explosive devices through checkpoints at different U.S. airports on several occasions.

“The GAO report confirmed what most Americans already suspected: That the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) cannot possibly control all potential threats to airport security,” Sagarin said. “Biological organisms inherently understand this. They realize they can’t eliminate all risk in their environment. They have to identify and respond to only the most serious threats, or they end up wasting their resources and, ultimately, failing the evolutionary game.

“These models suggests that the TSA would be more effective by being much more selective in whom it considers for screening, rather than trying to eliminate all risks posed by liquids,” he said.

A biological assessment of the TSA’s methods also found that the agency’s well advertised screening procedures may lead to a kind of natural adaption by terrorists.

“A study of animal behavior suggests that advertising your security procedures and continually conveying to others that there is a state of elevated threat only helps inform potential terrorists of loopholes in the procedures, while keeping the general population uncertain and nervous,” Sagarin said. Species such as marmots, which continually emit warning calls to each other even when no immediate threat is present, force the other animals in their group to waste time and energy trying to figure out if the implied threat is real, he noted.

Evolutionary models and ideas also can be applied to non-terrorism threats, such natural disasters and the spread of infectious diseases, he added.

“Whether you’re dealing with al Qaeda or an emerging pathogen, studying animal behavior teaches us basic principles of survival,” he said. “You can’t eliminate all risks, so you have to focus on the big ones, while adapting to minimize risk from the rest. You have to be aware of your environment, understanding that it’s constantly in flux. And when it comes to adapting and responding to threats, a centralized authority can get in the way. Individual units that sense the environment, with minimal central control, work best.”
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 20, 2008 2:05 pm    Post subject: Tuatara, the fastest evolving animal Reply with quote

Cell Press
20 March 2008

Tuatara, the fastest evolving animal

New DNA research has questioned previous notions about the evolution of the tuatara
In a study of New Zealand’s “living dinosaur” the tuatara, evolutionary biologist, and ancient DNA expert, Professor David Lambert and his team from the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution recovered DNA sequences from the bones of ancient tuatara, which are up to 8000 years old. They found that, although tuatara have remained largely physically unchanged over very long periods of evolution, they are evolving - at a DNA level - faster than any other animal yet examined. The research will be published in the March issue of Trends in Genetics.

“What we found is that the tuatara has the highest molecular evolutionary rate that anyone has measured,” Professor Lambert says.

The rate of evolution for Adélie penguins, which Professor Lambert and his team have studied in the Antarctic for many years, is slightly slower than that of the tuatara. The tuatara rate is significantly faster than for animals including the cave bear, lion, ox and horse.

“Of course we would have expected that the tuatara, which does everything slowly – they grow slowly, reproduce slowly and have a very slow metabolism – would have evolved slowly. In fact, at the DNA level, they evolve extremely quickly, which supports a hypothesis proposed by the evolutionary biologist Allan Wilson, who suggested that the rate of molecular evolution was uncoupled from the rate of morphological evolution.”

Allan Wilson was a pioneer of molecular evolution. His ideas were controversial when introduced 40 years ago, but this new research supports them.

Professor Lambert says the finding will be helpful in terms of future study and conservation of the tuatara, and the team now hopes to extend the work to look at the evolution of other animal species.

“We want to go on and measure the rate of molecular evolution for humans, as well as doing more work with moa and Antarctic fish to see if rates of DNA change are uncoupled in these species. There are human mummies in the Andes and some very good samples in Siberia where we have some collaborators, so we are hopeful we will be able to measure the rate of human evolution in these animals too.”

The tuatara, Sphendon punctatus, is found only in New Zealand and is the only surviving member of a distinct reptilian order Sphehodontia that lived alongside early dinosaurs and separated from other reptiles 200 million years ago in the Upper Triassic period.
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