Thursday, October 2, 2014

Carnival of Evolution #76!

It’s the beginning of October, and although here in Canada it means that winter is very, very close, it also means that it’s time for the Carnival of Evolution! In this 76th edition we have some posts, which somehow managed to have very little in common (-.-), except that they are all awesome! I’ve organized the posts in no specific order, but under three broad topics. I hope you enjoy it!

Gene expression/ gene regulation

Marine Sticklebacks have colonized many rivers all over the world, and with each colonization they adapted to the new freshwater environment. These adaptations came in many shapes and colours, including the loss of body armour, and more and stronger teeth. Robert Sanders explains how differential regulation of the Bmp6 gene in freshwater sticklebacks allows them not only to have more teeth, but also teeth regeneration! You can read the full post here.

According to the WHO, in 2012, 8.2 million people died from cancer, and 90% of these were due to metastasis: the spread of cancerous cells to healthy organs. This devastating disease has taken away many friends and family, and is in the back of the head of anybody with a family-history with cancer. However, not all is lost! Justine Alford reports on a paper recently published in Nature Chemical Biology, where the authors engineered a protein that would interfere with the metastatic process in mice. The results are amazing! The protein reduced in 78% the metastases and stopped the progression of the disease! Definitely good news. You can read more here.

Vertebrate evolution

If you’ve ever been in the jungle in the middle of the night without a light you will know the uncomfortable feeling: noises from animals moving everywhere, smells that you’ve never smelled before, and just a very unpleasant time overall. Well, this is because we, humans, are not adapted for low light conditions, and because the jungle is full of nocturnal creatures. Contrary to us, most other mammals are nocturnal, which was the main argument for their amazing flourishing after the dinosaurs went extinct. Tom Giarla talks about how a little bone (the scleral ring) brought new light, quite literally, to this assumption: the night was scary even back then! You can read the post here.

It seems that mammals are actually older than what we thought! Charles Choi talks about three species of Haramiyids recently discovered in China that revealed previously unknown similarities with modern mammals. Their skull and middle ear are so similar to modern mammals that they might be included in this group. If this were true, the origin of mammals would be 50-60 million years earlier than previously thought! Awesome. You can read the blog post here.

Somehow related to Stephen Jay Gould

Once. Yes, only once has multicellularity evolved. Isn’t it amazing that thanks to this single event we have the astonishing diversity of eukaryotic life on Earth. Me, you, my dog, your cat, trees, whales, mushrooms, carrots, and everything else that exists on earth are distant relatives. In a beautifully written post, Ed Yong describes not only this lucky event, but also the evolution of the research around it. You can read Ed’s post here

I have been to many introductory courses in Evolution – not because I failed and had to take them again, but because I was either taking the course for the first time, or because I was helping the teacher – and in every single one of them they quoted Stephen Jay Gould and his “tape of life".  Emily Singer takes on a recently published paper in Science, by Michael Desai’s group, about the predictability of yeast adaptation. Yeast actually evolved to the same evolutionary endpoint, despite evolutionary contingencies (initial genotype)!  So, going back to Gould, if we replay the tape of life, would we end up with the same life forms as today? This was actually an exam question in one of those courses, and was intended to get a feeling of student’s understanding on the mechanisms by which evolution occurs. I guess most students should’ve had that question wrong… You can read more here, or the actual article here.

Like many sciences, evolutionary biology is full of concepts, models and theories that as the science matures become more and more complex. But sometimes it is easy to take one step back, take all these concepts, models and theories, and make them more palatable – at least for the general public or people who aren’t evolutionary biologists. Bradly Alicea talks about “toy models” in Macroevolution: a “simple and intuitive (but sometimes counterintuitive) way to summarize complex and subtle evolutionary dynamics”. This post really made me think about how we teach high school and lower levels of undergraduate biology courses. Should we switch to toy models? Think about it… You can read the post here.

Many people, like myself, are huge fans of sci-fi movies with aliens, battleships and mechs – a good plot also helps. But have you wondered why most aliens are represented in a humanoid form? If, and only if, there is intelligent life somewhere in the universe, would they look a little bit like us? Well, maybe they won’t be as good looking and charming, but they could actually have many similarities with us. Charly Jane Anders explores some of the “mechanisms” that could give rise to humanoid looking aliens! Now, I wonder if I have ever met one… You can find the blog post here.
* If you think this is not related to Stephan Jay Gould, you are wrong. There is a sci-fi writer called Steven Gould:

So this is the end of the 76th edition of the Carnival of Evolution, we hope that you’ve enjoyed it and will come back for more amazing blogging about anything related to Evolution. Remember to submit your posts for the next edition of Carnival of Evolution in their Facebook or via e-mail!

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