Category Archives: Evolution

Fossilized molecules reveal a lost world of ancient life

Yasemin Saplakoglu writes: A tree has something in common with the weeds and mushrooms growing around its roots, the squirrels scurrying up its trunk, the birds perched on its branches, and the photographer taking pictures of the scene. They all have genomes and cellular machinery neatly packed into membrane-bound compartments, an organizational system that places… Read More »

It’s reassuring to think humans are evolution’s ultimate destination – but research shows we may be an accident

The Cambrian explosion, about 530 million years ago, was when most of the major groups of animals first appear in the fossil record. canbedone/Shutterstock By Matthew Wills, University of Bath and Marcello Ruta, University of Lincoln Depending upon how you do the counting, there are around 9 million species on Earth, from the simplest single-celled… Read More »

Elephants never forget war

Charles Digges writes: If, as the saying goes, elephants never forget, then the elephants in the wildlife haven of Gorongosa National Park probably remember Mozambique’s civil war better than some humans do. So indelible are the memories of the country’s 15-year-long civil war, which raged from 1977 to 1992, that they are written in the… Read More »

Earth’s story is not about dynasties but communities

Riley Black writes: The worst day in the entire history of life on Earth happened in the northern springtime. On that day, the last of the Age of Dinosaurs, a roughly seven-mile-wide chunk of rock that had been hurtling towards our orbit for millions of years slammed into Earth’s midsection and immediately brought the Cretaceous… Read More »

Another path to intelligence

James Bridle writes: It turns out there are many ways of “doing” intelligence, and this is evident even in the apes and monkeys who perch close to us on the evolutionary tree. This awareness takes on a whole new character when we think about those non-human intelligences which are very different to us. Because there… Read More »

Selfish, virus-like DNA can carry genes between species

Saugat Bolakhe writes: Biologists have understood the broad contours of the rules of inheritance for more than a century: that genes are passed down from parent to child within species. But in more recent years, they have also become aware of genes that go rogue and hop laterally between species — be they frog genes… Read More »

Why did Darwin’s 20th-century followers get evolution so wrong?

James A Shapiro writes: Since 1859, when Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was first published, the theory of natural selection has dominated our conceptions of evolution. As Darwin understood it, natural selection is a slow and gradual process that takes place across multiple generations through successive random hereditary variations. In the short term,… Read More »

How could ancient viruses embedded in our DNA fight cancer?

Discover magazine reports: Millions of years ago, our ancestors, like us today, had to contend with viruses. No doubt the infections were unpleasant for them at the time, but their suffering wasn’t for naught — some of those viruses left traces in our DNA. And, according to scientists at the Francis Crick Institute, these remnants… Read More »

How did birds master flight?

Carl Zimmer writes: In 1993, “Jurassic Park” helped inspire 9-year-old Stephen Brusatte to become a paleontologist. So Dr. Brusatte was thrilled to advise the producers of last year’s “Jurassic World: Dominion” on what scientists had learned about dinosaurs since he was a child. He was especially happy to see one of the most important discoveries… Read More »

Time is not an illusion

Sara Walker and Lee Cronin write: A timeless universe is hard to imagine, but not because time is a technically complex or philosophically elusive concept. There is a more structural reason: imagining timelessness requires time to pass. Even when you try to imagine its absence, you sense it moving as your thoughts shift, your heart… Read More »

The sleeping beauties of biological evolution

Andreas Wagner writes: What are the most successful organisms on the planet? Some people might think of apex predators like lions and great white sharks. For others, insects or bacteria might come to mind. But few would mention a family of plants that we see around us every day: grasses. Grasses meet at least two… Read More »

Imagination makes us human – this unique ability to envision what doesn’t exist has a long evolutionary history

Your brain can imagine things that haven’t happened or that don’t even exist. agsandrew/iStock via Getty Images Plus By Andrey Vyshedskiy, Boston University You can easily picture yourself riding a bicycle across the sky even though that’s not something that can actually happen. You can envision yourself doing something you’ve never done before – like… Read More »

Primitive Asgard cells show life on the brink of complexity

Joshua Sokol writes: An oak tree. The symbiotic fungus intertwined with its roots. A cardinal chirping from one of its branches. Our best clue yet to their shared ancestor might have arrived in electron microscope images that were unveiled in December. “Look!” said the microbiologist Christa Schleper, beaming as she held a printed, high-resolution image… Read More »