Evolution

06/11/2014 - 21:35

On the island of Java, in Indonesia, the silvery gibbon, an endangered primate, lives in the rainforests. In a behavior that’s unusual for a primate, the silvery gibbon sings: It can vocalize long, complicated songs, using 14 different note types, that signal territory and send messages to potential mates and family.

06/08/2014 - 21:01

When a fruit fly detects an approaching predator, the fly can launch itself into the air and soar gracefully to safety in a fraction of a second. But there's not always time for that. Some threats demand a quicker getaway. New research from scientists at Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Research Campus reveals how a quick-escape circuit in the fly's brain overrides the fly's slower, more controlled behavior when a threat becomes urgent.

05/09/2014 - 09:20

Helicosporidium is a lethal parasite of insects including caterpillars, beetles and blackflies. The evolutionary origins of this parasite have remained shrouded in mystery but recent studies strongly suggested similarity to a green alga called Prototheca. Evolution of parasites from algae is not unheard of. One of the most famous examples is the transition of the malaria parasite Plasmodium from red algae, with loss of genes encoding biological functions that are no longer needed in the organism’s new life as a parasite.

05/08/2014 - 06:47

Polar bears adapted to life in cold Arctic climates in part by relying on a high-fat diet mainly consisting of seals and their blubber. In a study published by Cell Press May 8th in the journal Cell, researchers discovered that mutations in genes involved in cardiovascular function allowed polar bears to rapidly evolve the ability to consume a fatty diet without developing high rates of heart disease. Moreover, the study revealed that polar bears diverged from brown bears less than 500,000 years ago—much more recently than estimates based on previous genomic data.

 

05/07/2014 - 16:00

The Black Death was a devastating medieval epidemic, killing an estimated 30-50% of the European population between the years 1347-1351. Given the extremely high mortality associated with the Black Death, it might be assumed that the disease was indiscriminate in its targeting of individuals. However, a new study on skeletal remains from London cemeteries in the periods before and after the Black Death suggests otherwise.

 

05/06/2014 - 17:10

Non-avian dinosaurs became extinct following a catastrophic event that occurred 65 million years ago. However, one dinosaur lineage is still with us: birds. There are approximately 10,000 known species of ornithine birds and they are considered to be a major evolutionary success story. A new study from an international team of researchers suggests that their success may be due to rapid evolutionary rates in avian dinosaurs that continued over long time scales, after evolution of terrestrial dinosaurs had slowed. In particular small body size seems to have been key to their evolutionary potential. The study is published on May 6th in the journal PLoS Biology.