Evolution

Oldest Antarctic Whale Found, Shows Fast Evolution

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: November 16, 2011   View Article

The oldest known whale to ply the Antarctic has been found, scientists say.

A 24-inch-long (60-centimeter-long) jawbone was recently discovered amid a rich deposit of fossils on the Antarctic Peninsula.

The creature, which may have reached lengths of up to 20 feet (6 meters), had a mouthful of teeth and likely feasted on giant penguins, sharks, and big bony fish, whose remains were also discovered with the jawbone.

Dino-era Mammal the “Jurassic Mother” of Us All?

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: August 24, 2011   View Article

A tiny, shrew-like creature of the dinosaur era might have been, in a sense, the mother of us all.

Named the “Jurassic mother from China” (Juramaia sinensis), the newfound fossil species is the earliest known ancestor of placental mammals—animals, such as humans, that give birth to relatively mature, live young—according to a new study.

The 160-million-year-old specimen pushes back fossil evidence for the evolutionary split between the placental and marsupial lineages by 35 million years. Although it’s unclear if the creature is a direct ancestor of modern placentals, it’s “either a great grand-aunt or a great grandmother,” the study authors say.

A step closer to explaining our existence

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: July 1, 2011   View Article

Why are we here? It remains one of the largest unexplained mysteries of the universe, but particle physicists are gaining more confidence in a result from an atom smashing experiment that could be a step toward providing an answer.

We exist because the universe is full of matter and not the opposite, so-called antimatter. When the Big Bang occurred, equal parts of both should have been created and immediately annihilated each other, leaving nothing leftover to build the stars, planets and us.

Thankfully, it didn’t happen that way.

Creationism on the rise in Texas?

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: April 27, 2011   View Article

Everything is bigger in Texas, the saying goes, which is why advocates for science education are concerned about proposed supplemental, web-based instructional materials for biology courses that appear to promote creationist arguments.

“This gets a foot in the door,” Joshua Rosenau, the programs and policy director of the National Center for Science Education, told me today. “In general, Texas is a concern with textbook issues because they buy so many textbooks. A publisher who was planning on being able to sell in Texas and then can’t is in real trouble.”

Spanish female faces getting bigger

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: April 4, 2011   View Article

Female faces have gotten larger in Spain over the past four centuries while those of men have stayed essentially the same, according to a new study that suggests differences in the craniofacial features of men and women have become less pronounced.

The finding is based on the comparison of more than 200 skulls dating to 20th- and 16th-century Spain, as well as approximately 50 skulls from 20th-century Portugal using a state-of-the art 3-D shape analysis system.

Will ‘hobbit’ tooth yield ancient DNA?

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: January 11, 2011   View Article

Scientists are gearing up to use a new drilling technique to extract ancient DNA from an 18,000-year-old tooth that belonged to a “hobbit,” the mysterious, diminutive creatures that once lived on the Indonesian island of Flores.

If successful, a comparison of the DNA with other species could help resolve disputes surrounding who the hobbits were and where they originated.

3-billion-year-old genetic fossil traced

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: December 20, 2010   View Article

The collective genome of all life on Earth today went through a rapid growth spurt between 3.3 billion and 2.8 billion years ago, according to scientists who used computer algorithms to reconstruct the evolutionary history of thousands of genes.

The growth spurt coincides with the advent of a biochemical pathway known as electron transport that is “integral for photosynthesis as well as for respiration,” Lawrence David, a computational biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told me.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach