Archive for the ‘evolution’ category

Jun 19, 2024

Significance of Wave Activity for Understanding Titan’s Climate

Posted by in categories: climatology, evolution, information science, mathematics, space

Lakes and seas of liquid methane exist on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, due to the moon’s bone-chilling cold temperatures at-290 degrees Fahrenheit (−179 degrees Celsius), whereas it can only exist as a gas on Earth. But do these lakes and seas of liquid methane strewn across Titan’s surface remain static, or do they exhibit wave activity like the lakes and seas of liquid water on Earth? This is what a recent study published in Science Advances hopes to address as a team of researchers have investigated coastal shoreline erosion on Titan’s surface resulting from wave activity. This study holds the potential to help researchers better understand the formation and evolution of planetary surfaces throughout the solar system and how well they relate to Earth.

For the study, the researchers used a combination of shoreline analogs on Earth, orbital images obtained by NASA’s now-retired Cassini spacecraft, coastal evolution models, and several mathematical equations to ascertain the processes responsible for shoreline morphology across Titan’s surface. Through this, the researchers were able to construct coastal erosion models depicting how wave activity could be responsible for changes in shoreline morphology at numerous locations across Titan’s surface.

“We can say, based on our results, that if the coastlines of Titan’s seas have eroded, waves are the most likely culprit,” said Dr. Taylor Perron, who is a Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a co-author on the study. “If we could stand at the edge of one of Titan’s seas, we might see waves of liquid methane and ethane lapping on the shore and crashing on the coasts during storms. And they would be capable of eroding the material that the coast is made of.”

Jun 15, 2024

A new evolutionary frontier

Posted by in categories: evolution, futurism

Scientists can’t address the origins of life without having a basic understanding of evolution.

You’d think that would make the origins of life a popular research topic for evolutionary biologists. But Maria Kalambokidis, Ph.D. candidate in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, and recent recipient of the NASA Future Investigators Fellowship, may be one of only a handful across the globe investigating the topic. She thinks it might be because the origins of life, also called abiogenesis, has mostly been studied by chemists.

“It’s difficult to come into the field when you have a completely different scientific background than someone else,” says Kalambokidis. “There are insights from evolution that you might miss by only taking the perspective of a chemist.”

Jun 15, 2024

CRISPR Gene Drives and the Future of Evolution

Posted by in categories: bioengineering, biotech/medical, evolution, genetics

Immunizing enormous numbers of wild mice, however, is prohibitively difficult. By using genetic engineering, researchers could create white-footed mice that produced these antibodies from birth and could pass this ability on to their offspring. But did the island residents want to live with genetically engineered mice?

The answer was perhaps, but with caveats. In consulting with communities on this technology development, researchers found that community members preferred a cisgenic approach: They wanted white-footed mice that were engineered with DNA only from other white-footed mice.18 This would make the project more difficult for the researchers, and meant that a CRISPR-based gene drive, even one with limited spread, could not be used, since no white-footed mouse naturally has this gene-editing system. However, said Esvelt, “It’s their environment, so it’s their call.”

“We’re potentially causing an irreversible change to the environment,” said Telford. “We need to think about informed consent of the community as a proxy for informed consent of the environment. That’s been a real advance and something [that Esvelt] has pioneered—involving the communities from the very start.”

Jun 15, 2024

A new theory linking evolution and physics has scientists baffled — but is it solving a problem that doesn’t exist?

Posted by in categories: biological, evolution, physics

‘Assembly theory’ aims to explain evolution without biology. Is it a dazzling breakthrough or an attempt to answer questions nobody asked?

Jun 13, 2024

A Billion-Year Evolutionary Tale — Biologists Trace Cell Division Back to Its Roots

Posted by in categories: evolution, genetics

Cell division is a crucial process for all life forms, from bacteria to blue whales, enabling growth, reproduction, and the continuation of species. Despite its universal nature, the methods of cell division vary significantly across organisms. A recent study by EMBL Heidelberg’s Dey group, along with their collaborators and published in Nature, investigates the evolution of cell division methods in organisms closely related to fungi and animals. For the first time, this research demonstrates the connection between an organism’s life cycle and its cell division techniques.

Despite last sharing a common ancestor over a billion years ago, animals and fungi are similar in many ways. Both belong to a broader group called ‘eukaryotes’ – organisms whose cells store their genetic material inside a closed compartment called the ‘nucleus’. The two differ, however, in how they carry out many physiological processes, including the most common type of cell division – mitosis.

Most animal cells undergo ‘open’ mitosis, in which the nuclear envelope – the two-layered membrane separating the nucleus from the rest of the cell – breaks down when cell division begins. However, most fungi use a different form of cell division – called ‘closed’ mitosis – in which the nuclear envelope remains intact throughout the division process. However, very little is known about why or how these two distinct modes of cell division evolved and what factors determine which mode would be predominantly followed by a particular species.

Jun 12, 2024

Development and Evolution of the Human Neocortex

Posted by in categories: evolution, neuroscience

The size and surface area of the mammalian brain are thought to be critical determinants of intellectual ability. Recent studies show that development of the gyrated human neocortex involves a lineage of neural stem and transit-amplifying cells that forms the outer subventricular zone (OSVZ), a proliferative region outside the ventricular epithelium. We discuss how proliferation of cells within the OSVZ expands the neocortex by increasing neuron number and modifying the trajectory of migrating neurons.

Jun 12, 2024

Think. Evolutionary. Transitions

Posted by in categories: biological, evolution, mapping, media & arts

In recent years, my lab — or perhaps it’s just me — has developed an obsession with evolutionary transitions. The view that every gene originates from an ancestral state and undergoes impactful changes through its evolutionary journey, whether it’s the gain or loss of an activity or function. The challenge lies in meticulously mapping out these key evolutionary innovations that have significantly influenced function. Addressing this challenge is not merely interesting but absolutely essential in biology. Our aim as biologists transcends understanding how biological systems operate; we seek to unravel how they came to be. And the two questions are more connected than many think.

This post stems from my observation that molecular biologists sometimes appear indifferent to evolution, questioning its relevance to mechanistic research. It baffles me why the centrality of evolution in biology isn’t apparent to some. Maybe they’ve never taken a course on the subject, or perhaps they’ve never fully appreciated the profound concept that every organism and every gene is connected through an unbroken chain of descent to countless ancestors. This perspective holds profound implications for mechanistic molecular biology.

If you already appreciate the link between evolutionary biology and molecular mechanisms, you might find this post to be music to your ears. However, if you’re among those who question the value of evolutionary biology, I encourage you to stay with me; you might discover its significance in ways you hadn’t considered before.

Jun 12, 2024

Molecules in Motion: Advanced Spectroscopy Captures Molecular Dynamics in Real-Time

Posted by in categories: biological, chemistry, evolution, particle physics

Researchers have developed a new method that uses attosecond core-level spectroscopy to capture molecular dynamics in real time.

The mechanisms behind chemical reactions are complex, involving many dynamic processes that affect both the electrons and the nuclei of the involved atoms. Frequently, the strongly coupled electron and nuclear dynamics trigger radiation-less relaxation processes known as conical intersections. These dynamics underpin many significant biological and chemical functions but are notoriously difficult to detect experimentally.

The challenge in studying these dynamics stems from the difficulty of tracing the nuclear and electronic motion simultaneously. Their dynamics are intertwined and occur on ultrafast timescales, which has made capturing the molecular dynamical evolution in real time a major challenge for both physicists and chemists in recent years.

Jun 10, 2024

Every Single Cell in Your Body Could Be Conscious, Scientists Say. That Could Rewrite Everything We Know About Human Evolution

Posted by in categories: evolution, neuroscience

If trillions of tiny bits of consciousness are floating around inside you, it could change how we think about life.

Jun 10, 2024

Ned Block — What’s the Meaning of Consciousness?

Posted by in categories: evolution, neuroscience

Listen to audio versions of your favorite interviews with the Closer To Truth podcast:

Only about consciousness can we be 100 percent sure. That consciousness exists almost everyone agrees. What consciousness means—that’s where arguments and disputations arise. Must consciousness have ‘meaning’? Or can consciousness be a random accident, selected by evolution, the ‘foam on the waves’ of brain activity. But consciousness seems so radically vital.

Continue reading “Ned Block — What’s the Meaning of Consciousness?” »

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