Tag Archives | Evolution

Evolutionary Complexity: The Development of Elaborate Structures Without Darwinian Selection

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Derp.

Nice little piece at Scientific American about the evolution of odd-ball structures like the human eyeball:

Charles Darwin was not yet 30 when he got the basic idea for the theory of evolution. But it wasn’t until he turned 50 that he presented his argument to the world. He spent those two decades methodically compiling evidence for his theory and coming up with responses to every skeptical counterargument he could think of. And the counterargument he anticipated most of all was that the gradual evolutionary process he envisioned could not produce certain complex structures.

Consider the human eye. It is made up of many parts—a retina, a lens, muscles, jelly, and so on—all of which must interact for sight to occur. Damage one part—detach the retina, for instance—and blindness can follow. In fact, the eye functions only if the parts are of the right size and shape to work with one another.

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What’s the Next Step in Human Evolution?

imagesColor-changing skins? Giant, unwieldy craniums? Lobotomized smart-phone junkies?

There was also a Daily Mail piece about how humans will eventually evolve beaks. Because why not?

Evolution is obviously a complex process. But it’s also a slow process. This means you can make claims about it and by the time it progresses to the point where you’re proved right or wrong, you’ll be long dead so it won’t matter.

So, in order to not miss a potential bandwagon, what could humans end up being like if current cultural trends and features remain relatively constant over the next few million years? Here are some possibilities.

Keep reading.

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Fruits and Veggies Can Be “Trained” to Defend against Herbivores

attack_of_the_killer_tomatoesJane J. Lee writes at National Geographic:

A study published online today in the journal Current Biology found that store-bought cabbage, lettuce, spinach, zucchini, sweet potatoes, carrots, and blueberries respond to light-dark cycles up to about a week after harvest.

And when the produce was kept on the same light-dark cycle as a predator—cabbage looper moth caterpillars (Trichoplusia ni)—it was better able to resist attacks.

Circadian clocks tell plants when the seasons change due to variations in day length, saidJanet Braam, a plant biologist at Rice University in Houston, Texas. But the clock is also critical in plant defenses against insects.

“[Plants] know when the insects eat,” said Braam, who is a co-author on the recent study, “so they can prepare a defense in advance.”

Braam and colleagues knew that levels of protective compounds called glucosinolates were under the control of the circadian clock in a plant called Arabidopsis.

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What Will Humanity Look Like In 100,000 Years?

look like in 10,000 years

Obviously, this rendering is largely speculation, but I agree that humanity will likely spend the foreseeable future trying to turn ourselves into anime characters. Via the New York Daily News:

In 100,000 years, people might have larger heads and sideways-blinking oversized Disney eyes that glow green with cat-like night vision. At least, that is what two researchers say could happen in “one possible timeline.”

Artist Nickolay Lamm teamed up with computational geneticist Alan Kwan to envision a future where zygotic genome engineering technology develops to the point where humans will be able to control their own evolution.

This ability, the team says, could result in more facial features that humans find intrinsically attractive: strong lines, straight nose, intense eyes and perfect symmetry. Kwan thinks that the human head might expand to accommodate a larger brain.

But perhaps their most remarkable conjecture is that future humans could start to blink sideways like owls to “protect from cosmic ray effects,” they added.

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You’ve Got Chimp Feet. Maybe.

03Well, I’ll be a monkey’s podiatrist…

Via New Scientist:

YOU may be walking on chimp-like feet without knowing it. At least 1 in 13 of us have feet that are specially adapted for climbing trees.

Textbooks will tell you that the human foot is rigid, which allows more efficient walking. Other apes, in contrast, have flexible feet better suited to grasping branches as they move through the trees. But the textbooks are wrong, say Jeremy DeSilva and Simone Gill at Boston University.

The pair asked 400 adults to walk barefoot around the Boston Museum of Science while they filmed their feet. This revealed that 8 per cent of people have some mid-foot flexibility, rather like that seen in tree-dwelling apes (American Journal of Physical Anthropology, doi.org/mmh). In another, soon-to-be-published analysis, Robin Huw Crompton at the University of Liverpool, UK, found that a flexible mid-foot may be even more common than DeSilva and Gill suggest.

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Could Humanity Have Descended From Aquatic Apes?

aquatic apesAre we all on team aqua ape? The admittedly far-fetched theory posits that certain key traits hint that humanity’s ape ancestors spent significant time in the water. Complete Genomics writes:

A controversial theory that humans evolved from amphibious apes has won new support. The aquatic ape theory, whose supporters include David Attenborough, suggests that apes emerged from the water, lost their fur, started to walk upright and then developed big brains.

While it has been treated with scorn by some scientists since it first emerged 50 years ago, it is backed by a committed group of academics, including Sir David. The group will hold a major London conference next week.

One of the organizers, Peter Rhys Evans told the Observer that humans are very different from other apes, as we lack fur, walk upright, have big brains and subcutaneous fat and have a descended larynx – which is common among aquatic animals.

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We’re Becoming Dumber and Dumber

Be stupid @ AmsterdamSorry folks, but human intelligence is declining per leading Stanford University geneticist Dr. Gerald Crabtree, as reported by Natural Society:

Would you be surprised to hear that the human race is slowly becoming dumber, and dumber? Despite our advancements over the last tens or even hundreds of years, some ‘experts’ believe that humans are losing cognitive capabilities and becoming more emotionally unstable. One Stanford University researcher and geneticist, Dr. Gerald Crabtree, believes that our intellectual decline as a race has much to do with adverse genetic mutations. But there is more to it than that.

According to Crabtree, our cognitive and emotional capabilities are fueled and determined by the combined effort of thousands of genes. If a mutation occurred in any of of these genes, which is quite likely, then intelligence or emotional stability can be negatively impacted.

“I would wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our colleagues and companions, with a good memory, a broad range of ideas, and a clear-sighted view of important issues.

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Consciousness: The Urgent Importance of Our Willful Transformation

Gabriel D. Roberts delivers an essay on what consciousness is and why it is important to recognize and work  toward a heightened state of consciousness.

“For some readers, the word consciousness conjures up visions of bearded Hindu masters, to those from a traditional Christian view, consciousness is associated with the devil’s white light intended to fool the eager initiate into allowing a demonic possession. But what is consciousness, really? The standard definition is simply awareness. Doctors judge levels of consciousness while prepping a person for surgery, because the level of awareness of the patient is integral to judging when a surgery can get started. It is simply a term for the level of an individual’s ability to accurately percieve the environment in which they exist.”

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