What’s hiding in the museum?

by Patty Rohs figures by Anna Maurer New technology is allowing scientists to investigate natural history museum specimens in ways that we never thought were possible. To the public eye, these museums may seem like an unchanging archive of life on earth. But behind the scenes, the very same institutions are centers for cutting-edge research. Curators, who are highly experienced in research and are often … Continue reading What’s hiding in the museum?

Challenging Evolution: How GMOs Can Influence Genetic Diversity

by Heather Landry Summary: The vast diversity in gene sequences are what create the large variety of plants and animals we see today. Genetic diversity is crucial for adapting to new environments, as more variation in genes leads to more individuals of a population having favorable traits to withstand harsh conditions. Low genetic diversity, on the other hand, can be very problematic during changing environments, … Continue reading Challenging Evolution: How GMOs Can Influence Genetic Diversity

Navigating with an internal compass

  Many animals have been known to take advantage of the Earth’s magnetic field, often for migration (sometimes even for more rudimentary functions). Until recently, little was known about how animals are able to sense this magnetic field. Researchers at University of Texas at Austin have discovered an internal structure in the brain of a worm, C. elegans, which allows it to orient itself to … Continue reading Navigating with an internal compass

How does a single-celled organism evolve an eye?

Take a moment to consider the complexity of the human eye. Now, envision a single-celled organism that also contains this extremely complex and sophisticated organ. Far from imaginary, the warnowiid fits this exact description. Warnowiids are dinoflagellates, a type of single-celled organism known for their diversity and complexity. In a recent study, scientists utilized microscopy and several types of DNA analysis to understand the evolutionary … Continue reading How does a single-celled organism evolve an eye?

Lokiarchaeum: a link to the origin of complex cells

All eukaryotes, such as animals and plants, share the same complexity in their cells. Recently, scientists discovered a species of archaea called Lokiarchaeum that may provide a link to the origin of eukaryotic cells. The DNA of this particular microbe was discovered in sediment samples taken near a hydrothermal vent in the Arctic Ocean. After analyzing the DNA, researchers found that the microbe contains instructions for building cellular compartments and skeletons, all of which are associated with eukaryotic cells. Though the results are very exciting, they are also preliminary. The residual DNA of the Lokiarchaeum suggests that they have a cellular skeleton and special compartments, but there is no way to know for certain until the microbe is cultivated and observed in the lab. Continue reading Lokiarchaeum: a link to the origin of complex cells

Repurposing virus proteins for a positive role in the placenta

by Joseph Timpona We often think of viruses as foreign invaders– microscopic agents intent on making us sick before spreading to the next victim.  However, some viruses become enduring guests by hitchhiking a permanent ride in our genomes. In fact, scientists think that these special types of viruses, known as retroviruses, may have inadvertently allowed for the development of placental mammals including humans. Retroviruses Retroviruses … Continue reading Repurposing virus proteins for a positive role in the placenta

What large ants tell us about variation in complex human traits

Traits that exist along a continuum, such as height, size, and behavior, vary significantly from person to person. The genetic and environmental interactions that cause these characteristics have long stumped scientists. In a recent study by Alvarado et al., ant larvae were exposed to an environmental factor that regulated adult ant size. The scientists were able to generate large and small ants just by changing … Continue reading What large ants tell us about variation in complex human traits

Credit: Geralt (Pixabay).

Big Role for Bacteria in Human Population Dynamics?

The age distribution of human populations is unique among animal species. Children remain dependent on their parents for an extended time, and the elderly live long after the end of their reproductive period. Some scientists now speculate that microorganisms may be responsible for this unusual aspect of human nature. To test this idea, researchers created mathematical models of early hunter-gatherer societies and divided each population … Continue reading Big Role for Bacteria in Human Population Dynamics?

The Physics of Evolution: Equations shed new light on nature’s mysteries

Presented by Jeong-Mo Choi, Bryan Weinstein, and Amy Gilson Did you know that principles and equations from physics can be used to study evolution? We’ll describe how physics-based models can be used to predict evolution, on the level of individual molecules and whole populations. First, Jeong-Mo will describe how scientists began to use quantitative models to study evolution and explain some of the things we’ve … Continue reading The Physics of Evolution: Equations shed new light on nature’s mysteries

Pigments: Patterning the Living World

The natural world displays an incredible amount of innate beauty, from snow-covered mountain peaks to exotic tropical reefs. For scientists and non-scientists alike, one of its most mesmerizing features is the pigmentation and coloration of living organisms. Biological pigments, found in animals, plants, and even bacteria, are compounds that absorb certain wavelengths of light and reflect others. This combination of light absorption and reflection gives … Continue reading Pigments: Patterning the Living World