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Fossil Said to Enlighten Evolution of the Ear

Did mammal ear bones evolve?  If so, it was not a straightforward Darwinian progression.  Authors of a paper in Science who announced a new Cretaceous mammal fossil from China had to invoke convoluted explanations to keep the evolution story intact. Science Daily shows an artist’s conception of Maotherium, a chipmunk-sized mammal said to have lived […]

How to Name a Protoplanet

Pallas has long been classified as an asteroid, but all of a sudden in the news media, everyone is calling it a protoplanet.  How did it get promoted?     The picture being painted of asteroid 2 Pallas is that of a planetary building block that failed in its attempt to grow into another real […]

Cosmology: Truth or Style?

If you follow cosmology, you’re familiar with WMAP, Type-1a supernovae, gravitational lensing, inflation and a host of technical terms.  They seem authoritative because they rely on respectable laws like gravity and general relativity.  In an article in Nature today, however, Richard Massey pictured the whole enterprise as a matter of fashion, not fact.     […]

Crusty Salt Incubates Raw Ingredients for Life

Science Daily asked, “Could salt crusts be key ingredient in cooking up prebiotic molecules?”  What if the answer is “No”?  Just asking the question must be newsworthy.  It invokes the power of suggestion.     Stefan Fox told members of the European Planetary Science Congress last week that his team cooked up a new idea […]

New Recipe for Life: Zinc & Zap

Two scientists are overturning the Miller icon of the origin of life – you know, the illustration in almost every textbook showing sparks zapping gases and amino acids emerging from the goo.  That doesn’t wash any more, claim Armen Mulkidjanian (University of Osnabrueck) and Michael Galperin (U.S. National Institutes of Health).  Instead, Astrobiology Magazine reported, […]

Mutation: Not a Bug, a Feature

Evolutionary biologists are sometimes risque with the way they discuss mutations.  They treat them almost like magic wands, able to produce wondrous new organs and functions by accident. Health to them, death to you:  One article on Science Daily discussed a mutation that causes congenital heart disease in humans, but may have been a stepping […]

Milking the Martian Meteorite

One would think everything has been told about ALH 84001, the Martian meteorite that made a splash in 1996 with claims it contained fossils of living organisms.  That claim was essentially discarded in subsequent years.  Its major contribution was giving life to a new science called astrobiology and energizing NASA’s Mars program.  Now, a new […]

Emergence of Genetic Code Touted

Most origin-of-life researchers have acknowledged the extreme improbability of the genetic code arising by chance.  Their approaches to get around this problem have varied considerably since the Miller experiment succeeded in generating a few amino acids.  Despite the celebrations that 1953 experiment generated (05/02/2003), it did not even begin to approach the problem of solving […]

How the Girl Evolved Fear of Spiders

Today’s Evolutionary Just-So Story is brought to you by New Scientist: “Girls Are Primed to Fear Spiders.”  Once upon a time, while cavemen were out hunting and gathering, the women back home had to learn to avoid dangerous animals.  David Rakison of Carnegie Mellon University put this all into evolutionary terms for the rest of […]

Does Evolution Produce Winners?

Referees at UCLA are calling the shots in an unusual sport: the evolution game.  Mammals, birds and fish swept the medals.  The losers?  crocodiles, alligators, and a “living fossil” reptile called the tuatara.  According to the judges, the more the biodiversity, the more a group wins points; the more their species go extinct or remain […]

Evolution 2.0: What’s in the Upgrade?

Consider Evolution 1.0.  That was the old biological, Darwinian stuff.  Now, there’s Evolution 2.0 – the evolution of technology.  W. Brian Arthur explained the upgrade package for New Scientist: “On the origin of technologies.”     Arthur is not the first to try to define a law of nature for the origin of technology.  He […]

Twitter the ET Bandwidth Wagon

If you have nothing better to do, send a message to an alien.  Leonard David reported on Space.com that a website in Australia is collecting messages to beam up to a planet named Gliese 581d that is 20.3 light-years away.  Even a Senator who is Australia’s Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research got involved.  […]

Fire Technology Began Much Earlier Than Believed

A team publishing in Science1 claims they found evidence that humans were using fire treatment of stone tools much, much, much earlier than prior dates for cognitive abilities.  But they can’t seem to settle on just how early.  The dates vary by more than 100%.  One date, 72,000 years before the present, is about 50,000 […]

Evolution of the Knuckle Head

An evolutionary anthropologist looked at the knuckles of chimpanzees.  Then she looked at the knuckles of gorillas.  Then she looked at her own knuckles.  Conclusion: humans evolved from tree climbers, not knuckle walkers.  Her theory can be read in Live Science, based on a paper in PNAS.1     Tracy Kivell and Daniel Schmitt from […]

Did Evolution Create Genetic Proofreading?

Protein manufacture in the cell is such a critical operation, there are numerous error-checking mechanisms the cell uses to get it right.  One of the most amazing is the careful association of DNA codons with amino acids, and the “proofreading” or “spell checking” that ensures fidelity.  How could spell checking evolve?     Science Daily […]
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