Category Archives: Evolution

Neanderthals carb loaded, helping grow their big brains

Science reports: Here’s another blow to the popular image of Neanderthals as brutish meat eaters: A new study of bacteria collected from Neanderthal teeth shows that our close cousins ate so many roots, nuts, or other starchy foods that they dramatically altered the type of bacteria in their mouths. The finding suggests our ancestors had… Read More »

Is music what makes us human?

Kevin Berger writes: In the past two years, the debate over whether music is universal, or even whether that debate has merit, has raged like a battle of the bands among scientists. The stage has expanded from musicology to evolutionary biology to cultural anthropology. This summer, in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, more than… Read More »

How bipedalism led humans down a strange evolutionary path

Riley Black writes: No other animal moves the way we do. That’s awfully strange. Even among other two-legged species, none amble about with a straight back and a gait that, technically, is just a form of controlled falling. Our bipedalism doesn’t just set us apart, paleoanthropologist Jeremy DeSilva posits; it’s what makes us human. There’s… Read More »

I have come to bury Ayn Rand

David Sloan Wilson writes: My father, Sloan Wilson, wrote novels that would help define 1950s America. I loved and admired him, but the prospect of following in the footsteps of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and A Summer Place was like being expected to climb Mount Everest. My love of nature provided an… Read More »

Nature knows how to avoid network collapse

Ruth DeFries writes: Sometime in the first billion years of the planet’s 4.5-billion-year history, a cell emerged in a primordial stew of chemicals brewing in liquid water. At that moment, the predictable chemistry and physics of the early Earth gave way to seething, roiling complexity. Primitive life thrived in the deep sea, where underwater volcanoes… Read More »

Plant cells of different species can swap organelles

Viviane Callier writes: More than a decade ago, plant geneticists noticed something peculiar when they looked at grafted plants. Where two plants grew together, the cells of each plant showed signs of having picked up substantial amounts of DNA from the other one. In itself, that wasn’t unprecedented, because horizontal transfers of genes are not… Read More »

How ‘neutral theory’ altered ideas about biodiversity

Christie Wilcox writes: If you had braved the jungles of China’s Fujian province in the early 20th century, various accounts say you could have witnessed a stunningly unexpected animal: a blue tiger. These tigers were described as “marvelously beautiful” with bodies “a deep shade of Maltese, changing into almost deep blue on the under parts.”… Read More »

Is the Earth an evolving organism?

W Ford Doolittle writes: Many of us, scientists included, harbour contradictory intuitions about Mother Nature. We can see that ecosystems often have an inherent ability to self-stabilise, and we know we wouldn’t be here if the planet hadn’t maintained conditions suitable for life for almost 4 billion years. One reaction is to claim that some… Read More »

Did viruses create the nucleus? The answer may be near

Christie Wilcox writes: Different as the cells from animals, plants, fungi and protozoa can be, they all share one prominent feature: a nucleus. They have other organelles, too, like the energy-producing mitochondria, but the presence of a nucleus — a well-defined porous pouch full of genetic material — is what inspired the biologist Édouard Chatton… Read More »