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Introducing the Stretch & Squish Theory of Evolution

Evolution is too slow if theorists rely on single point mutations, say two biologists from U. of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, who published their ideas in PNAS1 (see summary on EurekAlert).  Instead, evolution proceeds by rapidly distorting, stretching and squishing what is already there, they claim.     They claim that even Darwin knew that […]

Monkeys Have No Ear for Music

Consonance and dissonance have no meaning to monkeys, studies have shown.  Nature Science Update reported on experiments on cotton-top tamarins showing that, unlike humans, they do not find consonant tones more pleasing than dissonant ones. “If you want to look at the evolution of music it’s important to do these types of studies,” says Laurel […]

Crows and Apes Related by Convergent Evolution

Scientists have noticed that crows have some of the same tool-making skills as apes, and in fact, are even better tool makers.  How could such vastly different animals show such similar mental skills?  Science1 explains this as another example of convergent evolution: Discussions of the evolution of intelligence have focused on monkeys and apes because […]

Platypus Has 10 Sex Chromosomes

The duck-billed platypus has thrown another curveball at evolutionary theory.  Long puzzling to phylogenists for its mosaic of features that make it seem part mammal, bird and reptile, it has now revealed a genome with 10 sex chromosomes – 10 X in the female, and 5 X plus 5 Y in the male.  Moreover, the […]

Your Brain Hums While Idling

Your brain is 100% occupied when watching and concentrating on things, and still processing at 80% in the dark when idle, say researchers at University of Rochester.  Opening your eyes only adds 20% more brain activity to the 80% while in neutral.  The amount of neural processing going on in idle mode surprised the researchers.  […]

Your Eyes Have Automatic Light Meters

Every pupil knows that pupils constrict in bright light and dilate in dim light, but how?  Physiologists had assumed the retina signalled the iris muscles, but now it appears there is an independent mechanism in the iris itself, at least in birds, and probably in mammals, too.  A report in EurekAlert summarizes a finding from […]

Submarine Engineers Admire Penguins

An ocean engineer from MIT, Franz Hover, says “we never miss marveling at them,” speaking of penguins.  In the cover story of Science News,1 the submarine designer elaborates: Under the power and guidance of its versatile flippers, a penguin can move through the water faster than 10 miles per hour, turn almost instantaneously, and leap […]

Genes Fail to Reveal Evolutionary Pattern in European Mammals

One would think an examination of DNA from fossils would track the animal’s geographical distribution as they evolved.  However, a study reported in PNAS1 failed to find any correlation in European mammals after the last glaciation.  Hofreiter et al. report: Here, we analyze mtDNA sequences from cave bears, brown bears, cave hyenas, and Neandertals in […]

Humans Lose Some, Win Some in Animal Olympics

Imagine humans competing in Olympic events with animals.  Astrobiology Magazine predicts we would lose many events, but excel in others: “In most cases of physical competition, the animals beat us at our own games,” says the website’s staff writer, Dr. David Noever. 100 Meter Sprint:  Cheetah wins the gold at 3 seconds.  Silver goes to […]

Hire a Gopher to Rototill Your Land

We may holler at them when they dig up our lawns and gardens, but pocket gophers are an important part of the ecosystem, say Jim Reichman and Eric Seabloom in a UC Santa Barbara press release.  They change the nutrient availability for plants, among many things: They act like little rototillers, loosening and aerating the […]

How Cells Build Hard Parts

You have rocks in your head, and it’s a good thing, or you would die of starvation and imbalance.  Living things have need of inorganic structures for various functions.  Can you name the mineral structures in your body?  The answer is: bone, dentin, enamel and otoliths.  The last three are specific to your head.  Dentin […]

Zoo Monkey Walks Upright

For what it’s worth, there’s a story going around about a macaque in an Israeli zoo started walking on its hind legs after a near-death experience (see MSNBC News and picture).  One news source is calling it a missing link, another claiming the strange behavior is due to brain damage. This calls for a monkey […]

Talk to Your Dog: He’s Listening

Science Now and Nature Science Update both describe a border collie named Rico that can identify 200 objects by name.  The dog exhibits the same “fast-mapping” skill of a three-year-old child learning to associate sounds with objects.  The owner calls out “dinosaur” and the dog picks up the blue dinosaur toy.  He calls “doll” and […]

Hippos Sweat Their Own Sunscreen

You know that reddish fluid on hippo skin that turns brown?  It’s not just funny colored sweat.  Japanese scientists reported in Nature1 that it acts as a sunscreen and an antibiotic.  See also the BBC News report on this finding. 1Saikawa et al., “Pigment chemistry: The red sweat of the hippopotamus,” Nature 429, 363 (27 […]

Humans and Chimps Compared

In case you had an identity crisis last time at the zoo, Current Biology can provide psychoanalysis.  The May 25 issue posted two articles side by side: one, simply entitled “Humans,”1 and the other, “Chimps.”2  Various comparisons are contrasts are drawn, including a few surprising facts, such as this statement: “Based on relative amounts of […]
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