Lucy, the famed Australopithecus afarensis, may have died from falling out of a tree 3.18 million years ago, according to new forensic analysis. This video explains the reasoning behind the hypothesis. Read the rest
Trees of Life: A Visual History of Evolution
by Theodore W. Pietsch
Johns Hopkins University Press
2013, 376 pages, 8 x 10 x 1.1 inches (softcover)
Starting at $22 Buy a copy on Amazon
The primary metaphor for visualizing evolution is as a tree. The trunk is the oldest ancestor species which branch off newer species, which branch further leaves of the newest species. Ever since Darwin, biologists have been drawing trees to attempt to capture the complexity of evolution in various domains. These evolutionary trees are not only scientifically useful, but works of art. Over the years, many approaches to the trees have been tried – some minimal, some ornate, some abstract. This tome collects the finest, most unusual, most beautiful evolutionary tree maps produced in the last 200 years. They not only inform biology, they are fantastic examples of great design.
Language Evolution Simulation is exactly that, showing words changing little by little as time passes in a tiny world with three islands. It's agent-based, which is to say that it models little computer folk interacting with one another to simulate the little mutations that add up over time.
If an agent intersects with another, selects a word from the own vocabulary and tells that. The neighborhood receives and adds that word into its vocabulary as
- Mutation of a vowel sound with 0.1 probability
- Mutation of a const sound with 0.1 probability
- Compounding with another word with 0.1 probability
- Without any mutation
There's nothing to do but watch words change, but it feels like the underpinning of a very strange computer game about culture.
I love agent-based models; check out this simulation of political cliques I made. It randomly generates several personalities, who then go around and bicker or flatter one another. It's very bland and primitive, made in Flash, and the "next turn" text is rather fiddly to click. But I've always had plans on expanding it into a more fully featured game.
The origin of dogs is a hot topic among biologists, who've fought over whether there's a single point of origin from wolves and when and where it (or they) happened. A new study suggests the answer is twice, independently, from populations of wolves in western Europe and in east Asia. But they interbred, so most modern dogs are descended from both western and eastern groups.
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The geographic and temporal origins of dogs remain controversial. We generated genetic sequences from 59 ancient dogs and a complete (28x) genome of a late Neolithic dog (dated to ~4800 calendar years before the present) from Ireland. Our analyses revealed a deep split separating modern East Asian and Western Eurasian dogs. Surprisingly, the date of this divergence (~14,000 to 6400 years ago) occurs commensurate with, or several millennia after, the first appearance of dogs in Europe and East Asia. Additional analyses of ancient and modern mitochondrial DNA revealed a sharp discontinuity in haplotype frequencies in Europe. Combined, these results suggest that dogs may have been domesticated independently in Eastern and Western Eurasia from distinct wolf populations. East Eurasian dogs were then possibly transported to Europe with people, where they partially replaced European Paleolithic dogs.
“The avocado is highly regarded by many people as delicious and nutritious, but the most extraordinary thing about avocados may be their very existence.” Read the rest
Creatures Avoiding Planks is a web toy demonstrating natural selection. Wee blobby creatures wander around avoiding floating planks, which kill on touch. If one lives long enough, it reproduces, passing on slight variations of its own movement behavior to the offspring.
Matt Ridley, author of The Red Queen and a Conservative member of the House of Lords, reflects on Richard Dawkins' groundbreaking book about evolution, The Selfish Gene, which was published 30 years ago.
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The origin of The Selfish Gene is intriguing. Dawkins revealed in the first volume of his memoirs, An Appetite for Wonder, that the idea of selfish genes was born ten years before the book was published. In 1966, the Dutch biologist Niko Tinbergen asked Dawkins, then a research assistant with a new doctorate in animal behaviour, to give some lectures in his stead. Inspired by Hamilton, Dawkins wrote in his notes (reproduced in An Appetite for Wonder): “Genes are in a sense immortal. They pass through the generations, reshuffling themselves each time they pass from parent to offspring ... Natural selection will favour those genes which build themselves a body which is most likely to succeed in handing down safely to the next generation a large number of replicas of those genes ... our basic expectation on the basis of the orthodox, neo-Darwinian theory of evolution is that Genes will be 'selfish'.”
Dawkins began writing the book in 1973, and resumed it in 1975 while on sabbatical. At the suggestion of Desmond Morris, the zoologist and author of The Naked Ape (Jonathan Cape, 1967), Dawkins showed some draft chapters to Tom Maschler of Jonathan Cape, who strongly urged that the title be changed to "The Immortal Gene." Today, Dawkins regrets not taking the advice.
Every year, like clockwork, longstanding Oklahoma legislators in the state's house and senate introduce bills that try to find a way around the prohibition on teaching Biblical Creationism in American public schools. Read the rest
In Cary Huang's evolution simulator, one first generates 1000 random geometrical beasties. Then one watches them iterate until equilibrium prevails, commanding the most successful to reproduce and decimating the failures. The measure of the monster is how far they can flop and wobble along in a simple a 2D landscape: most fail rather fast and hard.
(The game window will start out too large for the website: scroll down and click the "full screen" icon at the bottom of the window.)
In a new paper in Science (paywalled), Nicholas J. Matzke from the National University of Australia demonstrates the evolutionary connection between anti-evolution bills introduced into US state legislatures in a series of iterated attempts to ban or weaken the teaching of evolution by natural selection and to promote Biblical creationism in various guises in its stead. Read the rest
"Why should we base the validity of all of our life's beliefs on a theory?" I'm not even sure what that question means, but the UC Berkeley student who asked it to Dr. White didn't look pleased by his fact-based answer.
From Wikipedia: Timothy Douglas White is an American paleoanthropologist and Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is most famous for his work on Lucy as Australopithecus afarensis with discoverer Donald Johanson. Read the rest
Experimental psychologists find that humans prefer explanations for events that have certainty and a sense of purpose over undirected randomness. Read the rest
Once a security researcher discovers a new strain of malicious software -- running a virtual machine on a test-bench -- and adds its signature to anti-virus and network monitor blacklists, it's game over. So today's malware devotes enormous energy to figuring out if it's running on a real computer, or inside one of its enemies' virtual worlds. Read the rest
"Lego Evolution" (Thanks, Lux!) Read the rest
Writing in Scientific American, Ashutosh Jogalekar bemoans the famously terrible state of the House Committee on Science, a farcical body stuffed with climate deniers and young Earth creationists. At a recent hearing, committee member Randy Weber (R–TX) implied that science couldn't really make claims about things that happened tens of thousands or millions of years ago, because it couldn't directly observe them. It's a terrifying position for a legislator who sits in a position of power over national science policy to hold.
Jogalekar claims the committee is turning into a national embarrassment, but as Chris Baker points out, any notion of the committee changing over time is an Evolutionist lie from Satan, because the committee are exactly as God created them at the beginning of time, 6,321 years ago. Read the rest
Michael writes, "I'm launching a Kickstarter campaign for a new game founded in the basics of genetics and physics.
You're a cell in a 2d underwater universe, and you must reproduce to gain traits that dictate what you can do. Resources found around the map can be used to construct machines and tools to aide in your evolution.
Not only is Lifeform the genetics game we've long been searching for, but it's going to be extremely powerful in classrooms all across the world. Science teachers can use it for genetics lessons, physics, studying the elements, and much more."
This looks really cool (and the prototype is great)! One caveat is that Michael's development projects are pretty thinly detailed, though it sounds like he's had some relevant experience, and the prototype bodes well for the project's future. As with all Kickstarters, you might get nothing for your money! A $15 minimum contribution gets you a copy of the game when and if.