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Selecting Corn Oil Genes Produces More Corn Oil, but What Else?

Breeders have been trying to squeeze more corn oil out of corn for over a century, one of the longest-running scientific experiments ever.  They have made pretty dramatic gains in yield, from 5% to 20%, in 100 generations, says William G. Hill in Science.1  Now also, geneticists have the tools to look for which genes […]

“Bird Brain” No Longer an Insult

“Birds can perform amazing tasks beyond the reach of cats and dogs,” begins an article in the BBC News.  So pay a little respect.  You can still call your boss a bird brain, but had better quickly explain why that is a compliment.  See also the longer article on MSNBC News.     In a […]

Bat Theory Strikes Out

An international team of biologists set out to write the family history of bats, a story that is “largely unknown,” they admitted in Science.1  They didn’t have much to go on.  “The fossil record is impoverished,” their research confirmed, so they tried to piece together a phylogenetic story by combining all that is known about […]

Hippo to Whale: Missing Chain

Despite claims to the contrary,2 whale and hippo evolution are poorly understood.  That’s the gist of a paper in PNAS this week1 that tries to connect the dots between hippopotami (artiodactyls) and whales (cetaceans) and other groups of mammals.  There’s lots of missing dots:  The origin of late Neogene Hippopotamidae (Artiodactyla) involves one of the […]

Lowly Plant Inspires Waterproof Glass

By adopting the lotus position, the glass in your windshield may become so water-repellant you won’t need windshield wipers.  That’s what an Ohio State press release says: “Ohio State University engineers are designing super-slick, water-repellent surfaces that mimic the texture of lotus leaves.”  The leaves of the lotus, or water lily, are covered with microscopic […]

This Badger Ate Dinosaurs for Breakfast

BBC News claims a new fossil discovery published in Nature,1 a large badger-like carnivorous mammal, ate dinosaurs for lunch.  But then again, who knows what time of day the Cretaceous restaurants were open?     The fossil, another in a series of spectacular finds from the Liaoning Province in China, is creating a sensation, because […]

Bird Studies Overthrow Evolutionary Assumptions About Population Genetics

The assumption was that gene flow homogenized a population, and selection diversified it.  But now, two studies in Nature1,2 of an English songbird called the great tit, Parus major, carried on for decades, has shown that differences between closely-associated populations can persist in spite of homogenizing gene flow.  Garant et al. explain the significance of […]

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 […]

Now We Know How Birds Fly

Elementary physical science students know how airplane wings generate lift, but bird flight poses special challenges.  The aptly-named swifts, for instance, can practically turn on a dime, dive steeply, and halt in mid-air to catch insects in ways that make a stunt pilot stall.  It’s not just flapping, and it’s not just leading-edge feather shape, […]

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 […]

Haeckel Vindicated?  Parathyroid Glands from Gills?

“Human gland evolved from gills” trumpeted a BBC News science article without apology.*  It gives uncontested press to a team from King’s College that is claiming the human parathyroid glands evolved from gills.  This is claimed on the basis that they have similar functions (calcium regulation) and are located in the neck region.  Fish have […]

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 […]

“Evolution Stories Are Subtle and Complex” – Truth or Euphemism?

A worm brain has photoreceptors similar to those in humans.  What does it mean?  Elizabeth Pennisi in Science1 sets the stage, commenting on work by Arendt et al. in the same issue,2 “Ciliary Photoreceptors with a Vertebrate-Type Opsin in an Invertebrate Brain.”  One might think this demonstrates common ancestry, but Pennisi explains that it’s not […]

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.  […]
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