Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Evolution news for Darwin Day

It's time to celebrate Darwin Day, just as I did last year and the year before.  This year, I'm on time (no Paczki Day to blame) and have something special planned--all the evolution news I've posted on Daily Kos since Archeology and paleoanthropology from campuses on the campaign trail, the last entry with the evolution label.

I begin with UA Museum Celebrates Darwin Day from the University of Alabama, dated Feb 7, 2014.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Charles Darwin is turning 205, and The University of Alabama is having a party.

The community is invited to Darwin Day from noon to 5 p.m. Feb. 12, at UA’s Alabama Museum of Natural History in Smith Hall. The free event is a collaborative effort between the University’s Evolutionary Studies Club, biology graduate assistants, the Evolutionary Studies Working Group and the museum.

“Darwin Day is an international event,” said Dr. Dana Ehret, the museum’s curator of paleontology. “It’s an opportunity for campuses and museums worldwide to celebrate his contributions to science.”
Follow over the jump for the rest of the evolution news.

General Evolution

Ars Technica: A visual tour of the Creation Museum
Ars takes in the sights and sounds of Ken Ham's magnum opus.
by Eric Bangeman
Feb 8 2014, 11:47am CST
This past week, Deputy Editor Nate Anderson and I traveled down to Petersburg, Kentucky to cover the debate between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham, the president and CEO of both Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum. The morning after the debate, we headed back over to the Creation Museum to take in the sights and to further investigate some of the things that caught our eye in our brief walkabout before the debate.

If you don't hold to a literalist account of the creation narrative in Genesis 1-2, walking through the Creation Museum can be unsettling. There are fossils, incredibly detailed dioramas, and really slick-looking exhibits—all alongside explanations that I never saw in any science classroom.
Daily Kos: Tweet Of God has the last word on the evolution/creationism 'debate'
by Laurence Lewis


Aeon: Die, selfish gene, die
The selfish gene is one of the most successful science metaphors ever invented. Unfortunately, it’s wrong
by David Dobbs
For a century, the primary account of evolution has emphasised the gene’s role as architect: a gene creates a trait that either proves advantageous or not, and is thus selected for, changing a species for the better, or not. Thus, a genetic blueprint creates traits and drives evolution.

This gene-centric view, as it is known, is the one you learnt in high school. It’s the one you hear or read of in almost every popular account of how genes create traits and drive evolution. It comes from Gregor Mendel and the work he did with peas in the 1860s. Since then, and especially over the past 50 years, this notion has assumed the weight, solidity, and rootedness of an immovable object.

But a number of biologists argue that we need to replace this gene-centric view with one that more heavily emphasises the role of gene expression — that we need to see the gene less as an architect and more as a member of a collaborative remodelling and maintenance crew.
Humans and other Hominids

LiveScience: Europe's Oldest Human Footprints Found
By Megan Gannon, News Editor
February 07, 2014 08:49am ET
Footprints pressed into the mud of modern-day England more than 800,000 years ago might represent the oldest-known human tracks ever found in Europe, archaeologists say.

A storm exposed the footprints at the archaeologically rich coastal site of Happisburgh in Norfolk in May 2013. Scientists rushed to examine and document the fragile prints before they were washed away by waves within just two weeks. Images and 3D models, along with sediment cores from the site, suggest the impressions, left by a group of at least 12 people, are among the earliest ever found.
Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology via PhysOrg: Dating is refined for the Atapuerca site where Homo antecessor appeared
Feb 07, 2014
One of the issues of the Atapuerca sites that generates the most scientific debate is the dating of the strata where the fossils are found. Therefore, researchers at the Spanish National Research Centre for Human Evolution, among others, strive to settle the dates. A study published by the 'Journal of Archaeological Science' has clarified that the sediment of Gran Dolina, where the first remains of Homo antecessor were discovered in 1994, is 900,000 years old.

The findings at the Lower Palaeolithic cave site of Gran Dolina, in the Sierra de Atapuerca mountain range (Burgos), have led to major advancements in our knowledge of human evolution and occupation of Eurasia.
Nature (UK): Modern human genomes reveal our inner Neanderthal
Cross-breeding boosted Homo sapiens' ability to cope with cool climates, but the hybrids may have had trouble breeding.
Ewen Callaway
Sex with Neanderthals had its ups and its downs. Cross-breeding may have given modern humans genes useful for coping with climates colder than Africa's, but the hybrid offspring probably suffered from significant fertility problems.

Those conclusions come from two papers published today in Science and  Nature, which identify the slices of the genome that contemporary humans inherited from Neanderthals, the stocky hunter-gatherers that went extinct around 30,000 years ago.
Science: How Farming Reshaped Our Genomes
26 January 2014 1:00
Before farming began to spread across Europe some 8500 years ago, the continent’s occupants were hunter-gatherers. They were unable to digest starch and milk, according to a new ancient DNA study of a nearly 8000-year-old human skeleton from Spain. But these original occupants did already possess immune defenses against some of the diseases that would later become the scourge of civilization, and they apparently had dark skin. The findings are helping researchers understand what genetic and biological changes humans went through as they made the transition from hunting and gathering to farming.
Arizona State University via PhysOrg: 'Ardi' skull reveals links to human lineage
Jan 06, 2014
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.

Scientists disagree about where this mixture of features positions Ardipithecus ramidus on the tree of human and ape relationships. Was Ardi an ape with a few humanlike features retained from an ancestor near in time (6 and 8 million years ago, according to DNA evidence) to the split between the chimpanzee and human lines? Or was it a true relative of the human line that had yet to shed many signs of its remote tree-dwelling ancestry?

New research led by ASU paleoanthropologist William Kimbel confirms Ardi's close evolutionary relationship to humans. Kimbel and his collaborators turned to the underside (or base) of a beautifully preserved partial cranium of Ardi. Their study revealed a pattern of similarity that links Ardi to Australopithecus and modern humans and but not to apes.
The Daily Mail (UK): Light skin in Europeans stems from ONE 10,000-year-old ancestor who lived between India and the Middle East, claims study
  • Study focused on DNA differences across globe with the A111T mutation
  • Those who had mutation also shared traces of an ancestral genetic code
  • This indicates that all instances of mutation originate from same person
  • The mutated segment of DNA was itself created from a combination of two other mutations commonly found in East Asians

By Ellie Zolfagharifard
Light skin in Europeans stems from a gene mutation from a single person who lived 10,000 years ago.

This is according to a new U.S. study that claims the colour is due to an ancient ancestor who lived somewhere between the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.

Scientists made the discovery after identifying a key gene that contributes to lighter skin colour in Europeans.
LiveScience: What We Learned About Human Origins in 2013
Charles Q. Choi, LiveScience Contributor
December 28, 2013 12:16pm ET
The existence of a mysterious ancient human lineage and the possibility that the earliest humans were actually all one species were among the human-evolution-related discoveries of 2013. Other breakthroughs include the sequencing of the oldest human DNA yet.

Here's a look at what scientists learned about humanity and human origins this year:
BBC: Ancient hand bone dates origins of human dexterity
By Michelle Roberts Health editor, BBC News online
The discovery of an ancient bone at a burial site in Kenya puts the origin of human hand dexterity more than half a million years earlier than previously thought.

In all ways, the bone - a well-preserved metacarpal that connects to the middle finger - resembles that of modern man, PNAS journal reports.

It is the earliest fossilised evidence of when humans developed a strong enough grip to start using tools.

Apes lack the same anatomical features.

The 1.42 million-year-old metacarpal from an ancient hominin displays a styloid process, a distinctively human morphological feature associated with enhanced hand function.
The Scientist: The Mating Habits of Early Hominins
A newly sequenced Neanderthal genome provides insight into the sex lives of human ancestors.
By Ruth Williams
A high-quality genome sequence obtained from a female Neanderthal toe bone reveals that the individual’s parents were close relatives and that such inbreeding was prevalent among her recent ancestors, according to a paper published today (December 18) in Nature. But the sequence also reveals that interbreeding occurred between Neanderthals and other hominin groups, including early modern humans.

“Did humans evolve like a constantly branching tree? A lot of people think so,” said Milford Wolpoff, a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the study. “But there’s also been this thread of thought, by some people like me, that humans evolved more like a network, where there are different populations and they split and sometimes they come back together and they mate.” The new toe bone sequence data, he said, is “really important because it’s giving us good evidence that there’s been constant interbreeding between different human groups all through prehistory.”
Science World Report: Ancient Skeleton Reveals Ruggedly Built, Tree-Climbing Human Ancestor
Catherine Griffin
First Posted: Dec 06, 2013 08:32 AM EST
Archaeologists have uncovered some old bones that may tell us a bit more about our own ancient ancestors. They've unearthed a partial skeleton that reveals our ancestors were muscular creatures with a gorilla-like upper body that were adaptive to their environment.

The skeleton includes arm, hand, leg and foot fragments that belong to Paranthropus boisei. Dating to about 1.34 million years ago, these remains were discovered in Tanzania.

"This is the first time we've found bones that suggest that this creature was more ruggedly built--combining terrestrial bipedal locomotion and some arboreal behaviors--than we previously thought," said Charles Musiba, one of the researchers, in a news release. "It seems to have more well-formed forearm muscles that were used for climbing, fine-manipulation and all sorts of behavior."
Popular Archaeology: Scientists Push Back the Clock on Early Human Finds
Sun, Dec 01, 2013
New dating indicates early human fossils found in Turkana Basin, East Africa, are older than previously thought.

An international multi-disciplinary team of scientists have determined that a well-known group of early Homo (early human) fossils discovered in previous investigations at Koobi Fora in the Turkana Basin of East Africa have an age range that is older than previously estimated.

Led by archaeologist Josephine C.A. Joordens of the Netherlands' Leiden University, the researchers combined magnetostratigraphy and strontium (Sr) isotope stratigraphy techniques to develop a new age constraint range for 15 selected hominin fossils found in deposits on the Karari Ridge of the Koobi Fora region in the eastern Turkana Basin (Kenya). Magnetostratigraphy measures the polarity of Earth's changing magnetic field at the time a stratum (layer) was deposited. Strontium isotope stratigraphy involves measuring the ratios of Strontium isotopes in sediments to determine relative ages between successively deposited sediments. The fossils included key specimens such as cranium KNM-ER 1470, partial face KNM-ER 62000 and mandibles KNM-ER 1482, KNM-ER 1801, and KNM-ER 1802, all well-known among scientists and scholars involved in human evolution research. The fossil KNM-ER 1470, for example, has been classified as belonging to the early human species Homo rudolfensis, discovered by Bernard Ngeneo in 1972 and considered a possible theoretical contender for being ancestral to the human line. It has been dated to about 1.9 million years BPE.
University of Texas: Study Examines Potential Evolutionary Role of "Sexual Regret" in Human Survival and Reproduction
Nov. 25, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas — In the largest, most in-depth study to date on regret surrounding sexual activity, a team of psychology researchers found a stark contrast in remorse between men and women, potentially shedding light on the evolutionary history of human nature.

Researchers for the peer-reviewed study included University of Texas at Austin evolutionary psychologist David Buss. The study was led by Andrew Galperin, a former social psychology doctoral student at the University of California-Los Angeles; and Martie Haselton, a UCLA social psychology professor. It is published in the current issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior.

The findings show how human emotions such as regret can play an important role in survival and reproduction. They suggest that men are more likely to regret not taking action on a potential liaison, and women are more remorseful for engaging in one-time liaisons.

“Prior sex researchers have focused primarily on the emotion of sexual attraction in sexual decisions,” Buss says. “These studies point to the importance of a neglected mating emotion —sexual regret — which feels experientially negative but in fact can be highly functional in guiding adaptive sexual decisions.”
N.Y. Times: 24,000-Year-Old Body Shows Kinship to Europeans and American Indians
The genome of a young boy buried at Mal’ta near Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia some 24,000 years ago has turned out to hold two surprises for anthropologists.

The first is that the boy’s DNA matches that of Western Europeans, showing that during the last Ice Age people from Europe had reached farther east across Eurasia than previously supposed. Though none of the Mal’ta boy’s skin or hair survives, his genes suggest he would have had brown hair, brown eyes and freckled skin.
University of Iowa: The big male nose
New study explains why men's noses are bigger than women's
By: Richard C. Lewis
2013.11.18 | 11:26 AM
Human noses come in all shapes and sizes. But one feature seems to hold true: Men’s noses are bigger than women’s.

A new study from the University of Iowa concludes that men’s noses are about 10 percent larger than female noses, on average, in populations of European descent. The size difference, the researchers believe, comes from the sexes’ different builds and energy demands: Males in general have more lean muscle mass, which requires more oxygen for muscle tissue growth and maintenance. Larger noses mean more oxygen can be breathed in and transported in the blood to supply the muscle.

The researchers also note that males and females begin to show differences in nose size at around age 11, generally, when puberty starts. Physiologically speaking, males begin to grow more lean muscle mass from that time, while females grow more fat mass. Prior research has shown that, during puberty, approximately 95 percent of body weight gain in males comes from fat-free mass, compared to 85 percent in females.
University of Iowa: History below ground
A UI grad student is part of an exclusive caving team unearthing ancient human remains
By: Amy Mattson
2013.11.18 | 11:32 AM
UI graduate student Lindsay Eaves joined an international team of researchers this month to excavate early human fossil remains in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site (COHWHS), just north of Johannesburg, South Africa.

The remains were discovered in Rising Star Cave, nestled in a chamber located almost 100 feet below ground. According to Eaves, the group intends to retrieve the fossils for further study and analysis before the find can be jeopardized by the rainy season or other unnamed factors.

Currently completing her doctoral dissertation in the UI Department of Anthropology, Eaves was selected for the expedition based upon her highly technical skills and small stature. At 118 pounds and 5’5 she is the second largest member of the six-person excavation team.

She and her all-female cohort are part of a rare group of paleoanthropologists arouheand the globe possessing the critical combination of expertise and low body mass that expedition director, National Geographic Explorer in Residence and University of the Witwatersrand professor Lee Berger needed.
National Geographic: Multiple Ancient Hominids Found on Day 2 of Rising Star Expedition
Posted by Andrew Howley of NG Staff in Rising Star Expedition
on November 12, 2013
On the first day in the fossil chamber at the Rising Star Expedition outside of Johannesburg, Lee Berger’s team recovered a hominid mandible. Seeing other bones lying about, they went to bed (or sleeping bag, rather) with the thrill of knowing they were working on one of paleoanthropology’s most treasured finds: a partial hominid skeleton.

By lunchtime the next day, the experts cataloging, photographing, and examining the fossils in the tent clearly marked “SCIENCE,” were shaking their heads in disbelief and excitement as they realized that the bones clearly came from more than one individual. Whatever species is represented, this is among the rarest of finds.
The Jakarta Post (Indonesia): Researchers trace genes of ancient humans in Flores
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Researchers from the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology in Jakarta are collaborating with their US counterparts to trace the presence of the genes of the prehistoric Denisovan and Homo floresiencis humans in modern-day residents of Flores, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT).

"It has never been thought before whether there is Denisovan and Homo floresiensis genes both in our genes and theirs [Flores residents]. We will carry out research into the issue," said Eijkman Institute deputy director, Herawati Sudoyo, in Jakarta on Tuesday, as quoted by Antara news agency.
N.Y. Times: Christening the Earliest Members of Our Genus
Published: October 24, 2013
Around 1.8 million years ago, human evolution passed a milestone. Our ancestors before then were little more than bipedal apes. Those so-called hominids had chimpanzee-size bodies and brains, and they still had adaptations in their limbs for climbing trees. But the fossils of hominids from 1.8 to 1.5 million years ago are different. They had bigger brains, flatter faces and upright bodies better suited to walking.

 Their geography changed, too. While earlier hominid fossils have only been found in Africa, the newer ones also turn up at sites stretching across Asia, from the Republic of Georgia all the way to Indonesia. These cosmopolitan hominids are so much like modern humans that paleoanthropologists consider them the earliest members of our own genus, Homo.

But they didn’t belong to our species, Homo sapiens. After all, their brains were still no more than two-thirds the size of our own, and they could only make simple hand axes and other crude stone tools. But if not Homo sapiens, then Homo what? What species did these fossils belong to?

That turns out to be a remarkably hard question to answer — in part because it is difficult to settle on what it means to be a species.
National Geographic News: Much Earlier Split for Neanderthals, Humans?
Study challenges thinking on last common ancestor of Neanderthals, humans.
Brian Switek
National Geographic
Published October 21, 2013
In the ranks of prehistoric humans, Neanderthals were our closest relatives.

We were so close, in fact, that our species interbred with theirs. Tracing back our lineages, there must have been a last common ancestor of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals sometime in prehistory.

But who was this mystery human?
University of Zurich (Switzerland) via Science Daily: Unique Skull Find Rebuts Theories On Species Diversity in Early HumansOct. 17, 2013 —
Paleoanthropologists from the University of Zurich have uncovered the intact skull of an early Homo individual in Dmanisi, Georgia. This find is forcing a change in perspective in the field of paleoanthropology: human species diversity two million years ago was much smaller than presumed thus far. However, diversity within the "Homo erectus," the first global species of human, was as great as in humans today.

This is the best-preserved fossil find yet from the early era of our genus. The particularly interesting aspect is that it displays a combination of features that were unknown to us before the find. The skull, found in Dmanisi by anthropologists from the University of Zurich as part of a collaboration with colleagues in Georgia funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, has the largest face, the most massively built jaw and teeth and the smallest brain within the Dmanisi group.

It is the fifth skull to be discovered in Dmanisi. Previously, four equally well-preserved hominid skulls as well as some skeletal parts had been found there. Taken as a whole, the finds show that the first representatives of the genus Homo began to expand from Africa through Eurasia as far back as 1.85 million years ago.
Non-hominid mammals

University of Chicago Medical Center via Science Daily: Genomes of Modern Dogs and Wolves Provide New Insights On Domestication
Jan. 16, 2014
Dogs and wolves evolved from a common ancestor between 9,000 and 34,000 years ago, before humans transitioned to agricultural societies, according to an analysis of modern dog and wolf genomes from areas of the world thought to be centers of dog domestication.

The study, published in PLoS Genetics on January 16, 2014, also shows that dogs are more closely related to each other than wolves, regardless of geographic origin. This suggests that part of the genetic overlap observed between some modern dogs and wolves is the result of interbreeding after dog domestication, not a direct line of descent from one group of wolves.
This week in science: canis un-familiaris
by DarkSyde

Science Magazine: Ancient DNA: Old Dogs Teach a New Lesson About Canine Origins
Elizabeth Pennisi
15 November 2013
The story of dogs began thousands of years ago, when gray wolves began sidling out of the shadows and into the company of humans. There's little argument about that scenario—but plenty about when and where it took place, with the leading theories suggesting dogs were domesticated either in the Middle East or in East Asia. A study on page 871 draws on a new source of evidence, DNA from the fossils of ancient dogs and wolves, and comes to a third conclusion: Dogs originated in Europe, from a now-extinct branch of gray wolves.
UCLA has a press release about the research that led to the Science article.

Dogs likely originated in Europe more than 18,000 years ago, UCLA biologists report
By Stuart Wolpert
November 14, 2013
Wolves likely were domesticated by European hunter–gatherers more than 18,000 years ago and gradually evolved into dogs that became household pets, UCLA life scientists report.

"We found that instead of recent wolves being closest to domestic dogs, ancient European wolves were directly related to them," said Robert Wayne, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology in UCLA's College of Letters and Science and senior author of the research. "This brings the genetic record into agreement with the archaeological record. Europe is where the oldest dogs are found."

The UCLA researchers' genetic analysis is published Nov. 15 in the journal Science and featured on the journal's cover.
Society of Vertebrate Paleontology via PhysOrg: New fossils shed light on the origins of lions, and tigers, and bears
Jan 06, 2014
New fossils from Belgium have shed light on the origin of some of the most well-known, and well-loved, modern mammals. Cats and dogs, as well as other carnivorous mammals (like bears, seals, and weasels), taxonomically called 'carnivoraformes', trace their ancestry to primitive carnivorous mammals dating back to 55 million years ago (the beginning of the time period called the Eocene). A study, published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, discusses the origins of this group and describes new specimens of one of the earliest of these primitive taxa.

The species, dubbed Dormaalocyon latouri, had previously been found at the Belgian locality of Dormaal (thus the name of the genus). New specimens found by lead author Floréal Solé and his colleagues, allow for a better characterization of the animal, and its placement in the evolutionary history of carnivores. "Its description allows better understanding of the origination, variability and ecology of the earliest carnivoraforms", says Solé.
Popular Archaeology: Cat Domestication in China 5,300 Years Ago
Signs of a mutually dependent relationship in an ancient Chinese village.
Mon, Dec 16, 2013
A study conducted by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences has produced the first direct evidence for the processes of cat domestication.

Led by Yaowu Hu, he and his colleagues analyzed eight bones from at least two wild cats excavated from the site of the ancient Chinese village of Quanhucun, using radiocarbon dating and isotopic analyses of carbon and nitrogen traces in the bones of the cats. The analysis showed that the cats were preying on animals that lived on farmed millet -- probably rodents. Archaeological evidence indicated that the village farmers had problems with rodents in the grain stores. In essence, the cats and the villagers had developed a kind of symbiotic relationship.
New York Institute of Technology via PhysOrg: Tooth structure and wear provide clues to ecology and evolution of ancient marine creatures
Dec 13, 2013
A trio of published studies have highlighted the importance of examining dental structure and wear in ancient creatures to better understand their ecology and evolution.

New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine Assistant Professor Brian Beatty, Ph.D., contributed to all three of the studies with his expertise in analyzing patterns of tooth wear and structure.

"Tooth wear is a permanent record – it shows the interaction of the animal and the world," says Beatty, a paleontologist who teaches anatomy to more than 300 medical and health professions students. "By examining the adult structure of teeth, we can learn how different vertebrate groups have been able to modify aspects of their tooth development so they can achieve structures that serve functional purposes."
Other animals

GeoBeats TV: Water Ripples Aid Bats in Frog Hunting

Here's the press release from the University of Texas announcing the original research: Bats Use Water Ripples to Hunt Frogs
Jan. 23, 2014
AUSTIN, Texas — As the male túngara frog serenades female frogs from a pond, he creates watery ripples that make him easier to target by rivals and predators such as bats, according to researchers from The University of Texas at Austin, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), Leiden University and Salisbury University.

A túngara frog will stop calling if it sees a bat overhead, but ripples continue moving for several seconds after the call ceases. In the study, published this week in the journal Science, researchers found evidence that bats use echolocation — a natural form of sonar — to detect these ripples and home in on a frog. The discovery sheds light on an ongoing evolutionary arms race between frogs and bats.
University of Alabama: Secrets to Python’s ‘Extreme Adaptation’ Revealed in UA Co-Authored Paper
Dec 2, 2013
ARLINGTON, Texas. — The Burmese python’s ability to ramp up its metabolism and enlarge its organs to swallow and digest prey whole can be traced to unusually rapid evolution and specialized adaptations of its genes and the way they work, a team of international biologists, including one from The University of Alabama, said in a new research paper.

Dr. Stephen Secor, associate professor of biological sciences at The University of Alabama, and 38 co-authors from four countries sequenced and analyzed the genome of the Burmese python, or Python molurus bivittatus. Their work published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences along with a companion paper on the sequencing and analysis of the king cobra, or Ophiophagus hannah. The papers represent the first complete and annotated snake genomes.

Because snakes contain many of the same genes as other vertebrates, studying how these genes have evolved to produce such extreme and unique characteristics in snakes can eventually help explain how these genes function, including how they enable extreme feats of organ remodeling. Such knowledge may eventually be used to treat human diseases.
North Carolina State University: Mosquitofish Genital Shape Linked to Presence of Predators
Release Date: 10.10.13
When predators lurk nearby, male Bahamas mosquitofish (Gambusia hubbsi) change mating strategies, rejecting elaborate courting rituals for more frequent and sometimes forceful encounters with females.

But as a recent North Carolina State University study shows, mating strategies aren’t the only things changing for G. hubbsi when predators abound. The shape and size of the male fish’s genitalia are also linked to the presence or absence of predators.

NC State Ph.D. student Justa Heinen-Kay and assistant professor of biological sciences R. Brian Langerhans show, in a paper published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, that fish coexisting with predators have longer, bonier and more elongated gonopodium tips than fish living without threat of predation. The gonopodium is the sperm-transferring organ in these livebearing fish.
Simon Fraser University (Canada) via PhysOrg: Big-eyed fossil flies track major ecological revolution
Simon Fraser University's Bruce Archibald and Rolf Mathewes are part of a team of biologists, including Christian Kehlmaier from Germany's Senkenberg Natural History Collections, that has discovered three new, extinct fossil species of big-headed flies.

According to their research, published recently by The Canadian Entomologist, these fossils show their early evolution parallels an ecological revolution, one that formed the character of our modern natural communities.
Entomological Society of America via PhysOrg: After a 49-million-year hiatus, a cockroach reappears in North America
Jan 06, 2014
The cockroach in the genus Ectobius is a major textbook example of an invasive organism, and it is the most common cockroach inhabiting a large region from northernmost Europe to southernmost Africa.

Ectobius has a long fossil history in Europe, occurring in Baltic amber that is about 44 million years old, and its lineage was believed to have been exclusively from the Old World. However, a shocking new discovery has uprooted that view. In fact, it now appears that Ectobius may have originated in the New World.

Four ancient Ectobius species were recently discovered in the 49-million-year-old Green River Formation near Rifle, Colorado in deposits that are about five million years older than the Baltic amber. However, these cockroaches soon became extinct in North America. The cause for the extinction of Ectobius in North America in the dim past is unknown, but it evidently survived in the Old World, and western Europe in particular.
Auburn University: Auburn University researchers make deep sea creature discovery and set sail for Antarctica
November 20, 2013
AUBURN UNIVERSITY – Auburn University professor Kenneth Halanych and his colleagues have made a new scientific discovery: acorn worms found in deep waters surrounding Antarctica secrete a tube around their bodies. The discovery of an acorn worm with the ability to make tubes is significant as the only other worms of this type known to make tubes lived more than 500 million years ago near the dawn of animal life on earth.

The group’s discovery comes on the heels of the first of two Antarctic research cruises. Last January, a team of scientists from the College of Sciences and Mathematics’ William P. and Ruth W. Molette Environmental and Climate Change Studies Laboratory spent six weeks on a research cruise exploring the genetic diversity of marine organisms found in the waters surrounding Earth’s southernmost continent.

The team will set sail on a second cruise from Nov. 21 to Dec. 20, and once again will explore the biodiversity of the Antarctic seas, searching for evolutionary relationships between species.

University of Georgia: International team completes sequence of ancient plant, discovers origin of flowers
Writer: April Reese Sorrow
December 19, 2013
Athens, Ga. - The newly sequenced genome of the Amborella trichopoda plant addresses Darwin's "abominable mystery"-the question of why flowers suddenly proliferated on Earth millions of years ago. The genome sequence sheds new light on the origin of flowering plants.

A paper by the Amborella Genome Sequencing Project, published Dec. 20 in the journal Science, includes a full description of the analyses performed by the project as well as the implications for future research on flowering plants.

Jim Leebens-Mack, University of Georgia associate professor of plant biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, co-led a team of scientists at UGA, Penn State University, the University at Buffalo, the University of Florida and the University of California-Riverside to decipher the Amborella genome. The team is uncovering evidence for the evolutionary processes that paved the way for the diversity of the more than 300,000 flowering plant species on Earth today.
University of British Columbia via Science Daily: Adaptability to Local Climate Helps Invasive Species Thrive
Oct. 17, 2013
The ability of invasive plants to rapidly adapt to local climates -- and potentially to climate change -- may be a key factor in how quickly they spread.

According to new research published in Science by University of British Columbia evolutionary ecologist Rob Colautti, rapid evolution has helped purple loosestrife to invade, and thrive in, northern Ontario.

"Factors such as escape from natural enemies including herbivores, predators, pathogens or parasites were thought to explain how species become invasive," says Colautti, an NSERC Banting Postdoctoral Fellow with the UBC Department of Botany, who started the research in 2007 as a PhD student at the University of Toronto. "The ability of invasive species to rapidly adapt to local climate has not generally been considered to be an important factor affecting spread.
I used this one before in Rutgers on Sandy anniversary and other climate news, but it works as well here.  Besides, I'm an environmentalist; I recycle.

Bacteria and viruses

UCSD: UC San Diego Biophysicists Examine Development of Antibiotic Resistance
By Kim McDonald
December 05, 2013
A team of UC San Diego biophysicists used quantitative models of bacterial growth to discover the bizarre way by which antibiotic resistance allows bacteria to multiply in the presence of antibiotics, a growing health problem in hospitals and nursing homes across the United States.

Two months ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a sobering report estimating that antibiotic-resistant bacteria last year caused more than two million illnesses and approximately 23,000 deaths in the United States. Treating these infections, the report said, added $20 billion last year to our already overburdened health care system.

Many approaches are now being employed by public health officials to limit the spread of antibiotic resistance in bacteria—such as limiting the use of antibiotics in livestock, controlling prescriptions of antibiotics and developing new drugs against bacteria already resistant to conventional drug treatments. But understanding how bacteria grow and evolve drug resistance could also help stop its spread by allowing scientists to target the process of evolution itself.
UCSD: Quantitative Approaches Provide New Perspective on Development of Antibiotic Resistance
By Kim McDonald   
November 28, 2013
Using quantitative models of bacterial growth, a team of UC San Diego biophysicists has discovered the bizarre way by which antibiotic resistance allows bacteria to multiply in the presence of antibiotics, a growing health problem in hospitals and nursing homes across the United States.

Two months ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a sobering report estimating that antibiotic-resistant bacteria last year caused more than two million illnesses and approximately 23,000 deaths in the United States. Treating these infections, the report said, added $20 billion last year to our already overburdened health care system.

Many approaches are now being employed by public health officials to limit the spread of antibiotic resistance in bacteria—such as limiting the use of antibiotics in livestock, controlling prescriptions of antibiotics and developing new drugs against bacteria already resistant to conventional drug treatments. But understanding how bacteria grow and evolve drug resistance could also help stop its spread by allowing scientists to target the process of evolution itself.

“Understanding how bacteria harboring antibiotic resistance grow in the presence of antibiotics is critical for predicting the spread and evolution of drug resistance,” the UC San Diego scientists say in an article published in the November 29 issue of the journal Science.
Virginia Tech: Veterinary scientists track the origin of a deadly emerging pig virus in the United States
BLACKSBURG, Va., Oct. 22, 2013 – Veterinary researchers at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech have helped identify the origin and possible evolution of an emerging swine virus with high mortality rates that has already spread to at least 17 states.

A team of researchers led by Dr. X.J. Meng, University Distinguished Professor of Molecular Virology, has used virus strains isolated from the ongoing outbreaks in Minnesota and Iowa to trace the likely origin of the emergent porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) to a strain from the Anhui province in China. The virus, which causes a high mortality rate in piglets, was first recognized in the United States in May of this year.

“The virus typically only affects nursery pigs and has many similarities with transmissible gastroenteritis virus of swine,” said Meng, who is a faculty member in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology. “There is currently no vaccine against porcine epidemic diarrhea virus in the United States. Although some vaccines are in use in Asia, we do not know whether they would work against the U.S. strains of the virus.”
Just as I found out when I compiled Update on ACA and other health care policy stories for the new year and More energy and the State of the Union, I had a lot of these stories on tap.  In fact, I had so many that I had to steel myself into organizing them by topic.  Maybe I should post these compilations more often.

That written, Happy Darwin Day!

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