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Caveman’s Best Friend, Evolution’s Newest Upset

The evolutionary story of the dog-human relationship has had to be drastically revised in light of recent findings. The old story was that wolves tamed themselves into doggish behavior some 15,000 years ago in Asia by frequenting human garbage dumps. Evidence from caves, fossil prints, and the dog genome, though, has required a near complete overhaul of how our animal companions and their relationships to humans evolved, calling into question whether evolution was involved at all.

Amazing Bird Tricks

“Angry Birds” are perhaps the best known species among electronic bird-watchers these days, but we should never forget that real birds are amazing creatures. Incredibly diverse (think ostrich to hummingbird to penguin), they continue to fascinate scientists and laymen. Here are some recent science stories about our feathered friends.

Wave the Stripes on the Zebra

One of Kipling’s Just-So Stories is “How the Leopard Got His Spots.” In the fanciful tale for children, the sandy-colored leopard and the Ethiopian make an arrangement to share features so that they can camouflage themselves in the forest. Spots and stripes are widespread in the living world, but how do they come about? Surely science can come up with a better explanation than Kipling’s. Just so, a recent scientific paper suggests that understanding the process is still a long way off.

New Fossils and Upsets

One important fossil and two stories about fossils were announced this week. They demonstrate that the fossils themselves mean nothing apart from an interpretive context.

Can Biomimetics Shed Light on Evolution?

Biomimetics is part science and part engineering. The scientific part is to observe and understand the structure and function of a living thing. The engineering part is to apply that science into useful products. Science news articles today are claiming that a biomimetic flying machine modeled on insects is shedding light on evolution. Such a claim deserves some scrutiny.

What Is It About Africa?

What’s wrong with Africa? The answer is, of course, nothing – at least not with the continent itself. Africa is a bountiful land of incredible diversity and productive potential, boasting the largest mammals, the great apes, geological diversity, vast panoramas of beauty, and numerous spectacular plants and animals. What comes to mind to many westerners, though, is starvation, drought, disease, war, genocide, and a long history of slavery, exploitation and corruption. For decades the charities have assaulted our emotions with heart-wrenching images of starving children with distended stomachs and flimsy arms, covered in flies and mosquitoes. Is Africa to blame? No; these are mostly human-caused problems, offering hope of solutions. A diverse continent with vastly different political systems, Africa offers striking contrasts of riches and horrors.

Amazing Fossils: What Do They Mean?

Almost every week, on continents around the world, remains of once-living creatures come to light. Here are just a few of the fascinating fossils that have been reported this month. What do they suggest about life in their day?

Biomimetics to the Rescue of Science

The booming field of biomimetics (imitating nature’s designs) is fascinating not only for the amazing products it promises, but for the fresh new opportunities it provides for science and engineering. From viruses to mammals, everything in the living world is now being seen in a new light: agents of innovation that humans can learn from. Here are just a few examples in recent news, arranged in order from large to small inspirational creatures.

Mighty Mitochondria Conduct Energy Exquisitely

None of us could live without mitochondria. These are the power centers ubiquitous in eukaryotic cells. They contain molecular machines in factories whose jobs are to generate and conduct electrical currents. The currents run turbines that packetize the energy in molecules of ATP, which are then used by most processes in the cell. New discoveries continue to fascinate scientists with how mitochondria work. Some scientists use their energy to find ways Darwinian evolution could build the machinery of life.

Enjoy Your Body Gifts

When you eat right and exercise to do your body good, you may have little idea how much your body is giving back all the time. From recent scientific discoveries, here’s a look at a few mechanisms under our skin that not only keep us alive, but provide us with a shopping mall of good things.

Amazing Adaptations

All biologists agree – creationists and evolutionists alike – that organisms show remarkable adaptations to their environment. They differ only in their explanations for how they got that way. Here are some remarkable examples of adaptation that will challenge any theory of origins.

Evolution Fits Any Data

At first blush, it might seem a wonderful thing when many different kinds of evidence can be explained by one simple, elegant theory. Actually, though, too much confirmation can be a theory’s downfall. When a theory explains too much – even opposite things – it really explains nothing. For instance, everything in the universe can be explained by the phrase, “Stuff happens.” Such a theory is useless, even if true. That’s why any theory that explains too much should be looked at askance. Here are some recent observations offered in support of the theory of evolution:

Stretching Credibility in Evolutionary Stories

Improbable events happening numerous times; selective extinctions; voodoo phylogenetics – at what point do evolutionary explanations exceed the threshold of credibility a trusting public grants to the gurus of the culture, scientists?

Grebe Left Imaginary Dinosaur Feathers in Amber

“Dinosaur feathers” are all over the news again, thanks to a paper in Science revealing feathers in amber found in Canada. But whose feathers are they? Inferences from other sources, not from the amber, were brought into the interpretation, even though the discoverers admitted, “There is currently no way to refer the feathers in amber with certainty to either birds or the rare small theropods from the area.” And modern-looking feathers of diving birds like grebes were also found in the same amber, leading to numerous questions about what can rightly be inferred from the fossils themselves. No matter; most of the media loved the evolutionary implications and trotted out their headlines that feather evolution from dinosaur to bird has been proven.

Venus Flytrap De-Darwinized

Darwin had a fascination for the Venus flytrap, but is it appropriate to conjure up his ghost when talking about it? The carnivorous plant still defies evolutionary explanations, especially now, when a recent paper drew attention to more amazing design features from macro to micro. For some reason, writers still feel a compulsion to mention Darwin’s name when talking about a plant that defies his evolutionary ideas.
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