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Evolution

135 articles
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    Humans Are One Mixed-Up Ape

    If you look at every ape protein, they have every bone we have, every muscle we have, the same type of hair, and on and on. They’re just better adapted to their tropical rainforest environment.Illustration by BRO.vector / Shutterstock Recent fossilized bone discoveries in China and Israel support the exciting possibility of new, previously unknown […]

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    The Human Family Tree, It Turns Out, Is Complicated

    How the story of human evolution continues to branch out.

  • Harnessing the Power of Evolution in the Battle against COVID-19

    Decades of basic science research have helped us to understand this evolutionary arms race and stay one step ahead of the pathogens in our midst.

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    Life Beyond Human Has to Play by the Rules

    A zoologist explains why complex life anywhere depends on natural selection.

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    How Intelligent Could Life Be Without Natural Selection?

    Don’t be surprised if alien life forms are a lot like us.

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    How Coronavirus Mutations Arise and New Variants Emerge

    This piece was produced in cooperation with the Nib. Maki Naro is an award-winning feral cartoonist and science communicator. You can reliably find him online, where he tweets from the handle @sciencecomic Diana Kwon is a freelance science journalist based in Berlin, Germany. She primarily covers the life sciences and health, and her work has appeared in Scientific American, The Scientist, Nature, Knowable […]

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    How Coronavirus Mutations Arise and New Variants Emerge

    This piece was produced in cooperation with the Nib. Maki Naro is an award-winning feral cartoonist and science communicator. You can reliably find him online, where he tweets from the handle @sciencecomic Diana Kwon is a freelance science journalist based in Berlin, Germany. She primarily covers the life sciences and health, and her work has appeared in Scientific American, The Scientist, Nature, Knowable […]

  • When Evolution Is Infectious

    How “probiotic epidemics” help wildlife—and us—survive.

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    Playing Go with Darwin

    New research elevates evolution from a tactical process to one of strategic possibility.

  • New Clues to Chemical Origins of Metabolism at Dawn of Life

    The ingredients for reactions ancestral to metabolism could have formed very easily in the primordial soup, October 2020 work suggests.

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    The Human Error Darwin Inspired

    How the demotion of Homo sapiens led to environmental destruction.

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    Just Because It’s Natural Doesn’t Mean It’s Good

    We are well advised to not lose track of evolution’s dark side.

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    Why Do We Have to Die?

    The question of mortality can be answered by these calculations.

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    The Price of Life Is Death, but Sex Improves the Exchange Rate

    Calculating the evolutionary success of Homo sapiens.

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    Why Birds Can Fly Over Mount Everest

    A story for my grandchildren about oxygen, evolution, and our planet’s fate.

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    Why Birds Can Fly Over Mount Everest

    A story for my grandchildren about oxygen, evolution, and our planet’s fate.

  • Egg Laying or Live Birth: How Evolution Chooses

    A lizard that both lays eggs and gives birth to live young is helping scientists understand how and why these forms of reproduction evolved.

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    Biodiversity Alters Strategies of Bacterial Evolution

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. In the closing paragraph of On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin urged readers to “contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth.” Those plants, birds, […]

  • Biodiversity Alters Strategies of Bacterial Evolution

    Bacteria with neighbors evolve to rebuff viruses in a different way.

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    Do Butterflies Challenge the Meaning of Species?

    Hybridization, it turns out, plays a pivotal role in how life forms evolve. The tree of life may never look the same.Photograph by sezer66 / Shutterstock What is a species? It’s a question that has agonized scientists since well before Darwin. With some exceptions, the thinking has landed on an evidently firm reproductive barrier: Members […]

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    Can New Species Evolve From Cancers? Maybe.

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. Aggressive cancers can spread so fiercely that they seem less like tissues gone wrong and more like invasive parasites looking to consume and then break free of their host. If a wild theory recently floated in Biology Direct is correct, something like that might indeed happen on […]

  • Can New Species Evolve From Cancers? Maybe. Here’s How.

    Researchers agree it’s a long shot, but transmissible cancers could theoretically evolve into independent species. Certain weird parasites might be living proof.

  • Rapid Oxygen Changes Fueled an Explosion in Ancient Animal Diversity

    Skyrocketing animal diversity a half-billion years ago was linked to spikes and dips in marine oxygen levels, according to a detailed geological study.

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    Why It Pays to Play Around

    Play is so important that nature invented it long before it invented us.

  • Wagner_HERO

    Why It Pays to Play Around

    Play is so important that nature invented it long before it invented us.

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    What an Extinct Bird Re-Evolving Says About “Species”

    How could the same species evolve more than once?Photograph by Janos Rautonen / Flickr You may have heard the news of what sounds like a resurrection story on the small island of Aldabra, off the coast of Madagascar. Around 136,000 years ago, the island was submerged in water and a layer of limestone captured the […]

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    Evolution Is Really Not That Into Sex

    Plants and animals have reproduced without sex for eons. So why did nature bother?

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    Why We Stink at Tackling Climate Change

    Global threats result from human culture outrunning human biology.

  • Why Evolution Reversed These Insects’ Sex Organs

    Among these cave insects, the females evolved to have penises—twice. The reasons challenge common assumptions about sex.

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    Evolution’s Gravity: A Paean to Natural Selection

    Physicists speak of four fundamental forces that govern the interactions among the bits of matter that make up our universe. The strongest of these four forces, aptly known as the Strong Force, is so powerful that it can keep an atom’s positively charged protons from ripping the atom’s nucleus apart as their mutually repellent positive […]

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    How Alan Turing Deciphered Shark Skin

    The universal math behind hair and feathers.

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    Why Social Science Needs Evolutionary Theory

    My high school biology teacher, Mr. Whittington, put a framed picture of a primate ancestor in the front of his classroom—a place of reverence. In a deeply religious and conservative community in rural America, this was a radical act. Evolution, among the most well-supported scientific theories in human history, was then, and still is, deliberately […]

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    What a Newfound Kingdom Means for the Tree of Life

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. The tree of life just got another major branch. Researchers recently found a certain rare and mysterious microbe called a hemimastigote in a clump of Nova Scotian soil. Their subsequent analysis of its DNA revealed that it was neither animal, plant, fungus, nor any recognized type of protozoan—that it in fact fell far […]

  • What a Newfound Kingdom Means for the Tree of Life

    Neither animal, plant, fungus, nor familiar protozoan, a strange microbe that sits in its own “supra-kingdom” of life foretells incredible biodiversity yet to be discovered by new sequencing technologies.

  • Three Biochemists Win Chemistry Nobel for Directing Evolution

    By using the power of evolution to solve practical problems, three researchers opened new avenues to chemical discovery.

  • Why Nature Prefers Couples, Even for Yeast

    Some species have the equivalent of many more than two sexes, but most do not. A new model suggests the reason depends on how often they mate.

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    Why Social Science Needs Evolutionary Theory

    The lack of willingness to view human cognition and behavior as within the purview of evolutionary processes has prevented evolution from being fully integrated into the social science curriculum.Photograph by David Carillet / Shutterstock My high school biology teacher, Mr. Whittington, put a framed picture of a primate ancestor in the front of his classroom—a […]

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    Larry David and the Game Theory of Anonymous Donations

    What’s intriguing about anonymous giving, and other behaviors apparently designed to obscure good traits and acts, like modesty, is that it’s “hard to reconcile with standard evolutionary accounts of pro-social behavior.”Photograph by David Hume Kennerly / Getty In a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode from 2007, Larry David and his wife Cheryl and their friends attend […]

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    Bombers and Pterosaurs Were Both Before Their Time

    The evolution of B-2s and lizards.

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    Heredity Beyond the Gene

    What you pass on to your kids isn’t always in your genetic code.

  • New Giant Viruses Further Blur the Definition of Life

    A newfound pair of giant viruses have massive genomes and the most complete resources for building proteins ever seen in the viral world. They have refreshed the debate about the origins of these parasites.

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    What Does David Attenborough Really Think of Darwin?

    The name “David Attenborough” has, to me, always been an enchanting but disembodied voice narrating the hidden struggles and splendors of the natural world. In the last few months I’ve seen several of his documentaries (out of the 23 I could count on Netflix) from start to finish—Life, Africa, and Planet Earth. They’re mesmerizing, and […]

  • Evolution Saves Species From “Kill the Winner” Disasters

    Modelers find evidence that a combination of competition, predation, and evolution will push ecosystems toward species diversity anywhere in the universe.

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    Why Anti-corruption Strategies May Backfire

    Transparency and exposure to institutional corruption may enforce the norm that most people are engaging in corrupt behaviours, and that such behaviour is permissible (or that one needs to also engage in such dealings to succeed).Photograph by George Marks / Getty Images One of the defining attributes of humans is that we are champion cooperators, surpassing […]

  • New Bird Species Arises From Hybrids, as Scientists Watch

    The rapid, unorthodox emergence of a new finch in the Galápagos hints that speciation isn’t rare. New hybrid species may quietly appear and disappear without anyone noticing.

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    Why Smelling the Opposite Sex Can Age You

    It’s possible that sensing the presence of a female may effectively activate processes involved in reproduction, which might facilitate a male’s reproductive success if those females were around, but could increase aging as a consequence.Classic Film / Flickr There’s the usual advice. If you want to live longer, exercise. Eat green vegetables. Avoid stress. Oh—and […]

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    Why Females Decide What’s Beautiful

    Uncovering the nature of sexual selection.

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    The Mate Selection Trapdoor

    Tracing the evolution of hidden sexual preferences.

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    Why Hasn’t Evolution Made Another Platypus?

    The debate over whether evolution is predictable or haphazard.

  • The Oldest Mini-Brains Have Lifelike Young Cells

    “Organoid” brain tissue models grown in a lab for two years can help scientists study a critical period of development just before and after birth.

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    The Problem with the Mutation-Centric View of Cancer

    Smoking is doing to the lung what the dinosaur-killing meteor did to Earth. It’s stimulating evolution—somatic cell evolution—that can lead to cancer.Photograph by NIH Image Gallery / Flickr To better understand and treat cancer, physicians need to stop oversimplifying its causes. Cancer results not solely from genetic mutations but by adapting to and thriving in […]

  • The Problem with the Mutation-Centric View of Cancer

    Researchers need to widen their focus on the micro-environments in which cancer thrives.

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    Is Tribalism a Natural Malfunction?

    What computers teach us about getting along.

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    How to Weed Creationism Out of Schools

    A 2008 nationally representative survey of U.S. high school biology teachers found that nearly half of the responders agreed or strongly agreed that creationism or intelligent design was “a valid, scientific alternative” to evolution.Image by José-Manuel Benitos / Wikicommons One of the latest victims of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian regime in Turkey isn’t a journalist, […]

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    How Discovering an Equation for Altruism Cost George Price Everything

    Price had set himself the “problem” of explaining why humans lived in families—particularly what fatherhood was for, scientifically speaking. This, in turn, led him to the question of how altruism had evolved, and it was while studying new theories around this topic that he derived what is now called the Price equation, almost by accident. […]

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    Is Violence Declining Because We’re Evolving More Patience?

    “Forms of impulsive behaviors involve discounting of future consequences, including both rewards and punishments. Violence is often impulsive.”Photograph by doble.d / Getty Something like 10,000 years ago, near Lake Turkana in Kenya, a group of hunter-gathers went on a raid, sparing a few young men and women to take as the spoils of victory. At […]

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    Survival of the Friendliest

    It’s time to give the violent metaphors of evolution a break.

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    Survival of the Friendliest

    It’s time to give the violent metaphors of evolution a break.

  • Why Evolution Is Ageist

    Genetic mutation changes from adaptive to dangerous after reproductive age.

  • What Good Is Grandma?

    The growing role of grandparents in raising children is right in line with human biology.

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    Civilization Is Built on Code

    How did we humans manage to build a global civilization on the cusp of colonizing other planets? It seems like such an unlikely outcome. After all, we were prone to cycles of war and famine for millennia, and have a meager capacity for society-wide planning and coordination—among other problems. Maybe it’s our unique capacity for complex […]

  • How Viruses May Have Led to Complex Life

    Without viruses, we might never have evolved.

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    How ET Will Force Darwin’s Theory to Adapt

    When H.G. Wells wrote about aliens, his wild imaginings were shaped by Darwin’s theory of evolution. In The War of the Worlds, giant Martian invaders with whip-like arms are threatened by extinction and so expand into a new ecological niche by colonizing other planets, notably Earth. In The Time Machine, a time traveler visiting the future stumbles […]

  • Why Darwin Needs ET

    Finding life on other worlds will help answer lingering questions about natural selection.

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    Darwin’s Finches Are At It Again

    Darwin’s finches are in trouble. Climate change and globalization have drastically affected their habitats on the Galapagos Islands. In the 1960s, we introduced, most likely through a banana import from Brazil, the fly parasite Philornis downsi. The fly’s larvae infest the finches’ nests, where they enter the nostril cavities of the chicks, first eating the […]

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    Is Poaching Causing Elephants to Evolve Without Tusks?

    Spotting evolution can be trickier than you might think. Take African elephants. Usually they boast massively overgrown (and ever-growing) teeth—their tusks. For male elephants, these are weapons in sexual competition, but all elephants also use their tusks to scrape bark off trees, uncover roots, and dig for water during dry spells. Humans have their own […]

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    City Living Makes Animals Dishonest

    Honesty is the basis of any good relationship. This is as true for animals as it is for humans. When a peahen is looking for a mate, she sees a peacock’s tail as an honest signal of his quality. “Look at me!” says her suitor, wiggling his ridiculous display from side to side, “I can […]

  • Natural Selection in an Outbreak

    Every time a disease spreads, it has another chance to mutate.

  • New Lizard Shows Evolution’s Predictability

    A new anole on the island of Hispaniola confirms that ecological communities can follow predictable patterns.

  • Faster Evolution on a Warmer Earth

    When life first emerged roughly 4 billion years ago, DNA may have been a much more malleable molecule.

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    Why Primates Kill Their Offspring

    There’s something morbidly fascinating about animals that seem to behave pathologically: The female praying mantis engaging in sexual cannibalism, the fish eating its own fry. It was this sort of twisted behavior that first drew anthropologist and evolutionary biologist Sarah Hrdy (pronounced Hur-dee) to study langurs in Mount Abu, in India. The males among these […]

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    Why Hasn’t Natural Selection Eliminated Heritable Disease?

    John Charles Martin “Johnny” Nash was a teen when he first started hearing a voice in his head. A born-again Christian, he interpreted this voice as God speaking to him. Once, he walked into the middle of a busy highway because the voice said he should. He was an accomplished chess player and math whiz, […]

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    The Neo-Platonic Argument for Evolution Couldn’t Be More Wrong

    Is evolutionary biology about to prove a two-millennia old metaphysical speculation? Or is metaphysics about to fundamentally change the way we look at biology? Andreas Wagner, a developmental biologist at the University of Zurich, argues for both theses. I’m not convinced. Just read the last two sentences of his 2014 book, Arrival of the Fittest: […]

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    The Martians Are Coming—and They’re Human

    How settling Mars could create a new human species.

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    Is Obesity Thrifty or Drifty?

    Over 72 million Americans are obese—a condition associated with a plethora of negative health outcomes including diabetes, cancer, and heart problems. But Americans’ eating habits aren’t obesity’s only cause, and we’ve suspected as much for a long time now. In 1932, the California Medical Association noted that “the inborn disposition to obesity may be very […]

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    Did Our Ancestors Become Bipedal So They Could Throw?

    When San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner stands on the mound, he looks as if he’s stalking the batter at the plate. The first part of his wind-up seems deliberate, almost prayer-like. From the stretch, he brings his glove, on his right hand, up slowly, so that it’s just under his chin as he eyes […]

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    Angry Apes “Flick” Each Other Off. Is That Where We Got Our Gesture?

    One evening last spring, I sat down at the American Museum of Natural History’s 85th annual James Arthur lecture, in New York, on the evolution of the brain. This year’s speaker was Richard Byrne, who studies the evolution of cognitive and social behavior, particularly gestural communication in the great apes, at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews. He […]

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    Here Are 5 Ways Lightning Shapes Life on Earth

    Lightning is the flash and rumble of an electron swarm leaping across the sky. With extravagant swiftness it moves through a cloud, from one cloud to another, or between a cloud and the ground, millions of times every day. The role of lightning in the world’s affairs is much more substantial than its ephemerality might […]

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    Did Preemies Make Humans Smart?

    Our big-brained noggins require us to be born early so we can squeeze through a tight birth canal.

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    Evolution Puts on the Best Freak Show Going

    Suicide-bombing ants. Bone-breaking frogs. Spit-flinging arachnids. Back-birthing toads. And bone-dissolving worms. What do all of the above have in common? Specialized adaptations. They’ve become so accustomed to their distinct habitats that they’d be more likely to perish, compared to their more generalist relatives, if moved to a slightly different locale. Each of them, as a […]

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    What Good Is Grandma?

    The growing role of grandparents in raising children is right in line with human biology.

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    Are Humans the Greatest Things Made by the Human Hand?

    What a waste are two thumbs on the space bar. There they sit, nearly flaccid, punctuating the end of each word, awaiting the call to crack stone or to use sharp flakes to incise wood. It is easy to think of other traits as making us human. We talk, use metaphors, empathize, follow fashions, laugh, play […]

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    Does Stress Speed Up Evolution?

    Getting control of the molecular mechanisms that drive rapid mutations.

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    Spark of Science: Sean B. Carroll

    One biologist’s love for science got kickstarted by snakes.

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    The Classic Metal Behind the Origins of Life

    A collection of metal atoms called the “metallome” helped drive evolution.

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    Can Life Ever Be Perfectly Adapted to Its Environment?

    Can an organism ever become perfectly evolved? In Richard Lenski’s lab at Michigan State University, scientists are trying to see if that’s possible. The idea grew out of the lab’s Long-Term Evolution Experiment, started in 1988, with Escherichia coli; in 2010, they celebrated 50,000 generations (500 occur every 75 days). The lab has 12 populations […]

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    The Secret of Our Evolutionary Success Is Faith

    The staunch atheist and essayist Christopher Hitchens once said that “the most overrated of the virtues is faith.” It’s a reasonable conclusion if you believe, as the astrophysicist Carl Sagan did, that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”1 To believe something without evidence—or have faith—is, in their view, something to avoid (and, when called for, to […]

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    What Darwin Overlooked About Fighting Female Animals

    Queen ants fight dirty. With their powerful jaws, they clamp down on ­each other, ripping through exoskeleton and vital flesh—a fight to the death. The spoils of victory include the deceased’s entire colony.  The queen with the broader head and stronger jaws is most likely to win. When we think of animal weapons—antlers, tusks, horns, […]

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    The Case for Making Humans Smaller

    When Arne Hendriks, a 6” 4’ Dutchman, faced audience members at TEDxBrainport in 2012, he smiled apologetically. “I have some bad news for you,” he said. “You’re not short enough.” Hendriks believes that the planet’s growing population—currently at 7 billion—is unsustainable. His solution? We should shrink ourselves to 50 cm, around the height of a […]

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    When Evolution Is Infectious

    How “probiotic epidemics” help wildlife—and us—survive.

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    When Evolution Is Infectious

    How “probiotic epidemics” help wildlife—and us—survive.

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    The Hidden Warning of Fall Colors

    Did autumn reds and yellows evolve to repel insects?

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    The Hidden Warning of Fall Colors

    Drifting above North America in the autumn of 2014, a NASA satellite named Terra partook in some high-altitude leaf peeping. In an aerial photograph snapped that September, swaths of orange and red saturate the green landscape, as if igniting the planet in a smokeless blaze. If an alien spacefarer were to happen upon this annual […]

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    Does Culture Really Evolve Like Organisms Do?

    It’s become common to think about cultural change the same way we think about biological evolution—so common that it may obscure whether the comparison really works. Though there remain many questions yet to answer about biological evolution, it’s a process that’s well-understood. We know, in great detail, how variations emerge, how they’re passed on hereditarily, […]

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    How Necking Shaped the Giraffe

    The private life of the African giant offers a remarkable view on evolution.

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    How Necking Shaped the Giraffe

    The private life of the African giant offers a remarkable view on evolution.

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    Top 10 Design Flaws in the Human Body

    From our knees to our eyeballs, our bodies are full of hack solutions.

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    Top 10 Design Flaws in the Human Body

    From our knees to our eyeballs, our bodies are full of hack solutions.

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    Why Are You So Smart? Thank Your Mom & Your Difficult Birth

    A reconstructed skeleton of Lucy, the famous human ancestor. By 3.2 million years ago, Australopithecines were walking upright, imposing strict limits on the size of the female pelvis.Cleveland Museum of Natural History Looking around our planet today, it’s hard not to be struck by humanity’s uniqueness. We are the only species around that writes books, […]

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    Before We Painted Like Picasso, We Had to Share Like Gandhi

    A comparison of the facial features of ancient modern humans (left) to more recent modern humans (right). Modern specimens have a less prominent brow ridge and a shorted upper face. Researchers suspect these changes were caused by a decrease of testosterone.Robert Cieri   In Earth’s not-so-distant fossil record of human ancestors, an important change appears […]

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    The Last Word with Jonathan Weiner

    The more science knows, the more rich and mysterious the world becomes.

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    A Holy Land for Religion and Science

    In Ethiopia, evolution is not a threat to people of faith.

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    The Strange Inevitability of Evolution

    Good solutions to biology’s problems are astonishingly plentiful.

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    The Strange Inevitability of Evolution

    Good solutions to biology’s problems are astonishingly plentiful.

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    The Rhythm of the Tide

    When I heard data from an island had proven humans are still evolving, I had to visit.

  • Solomon_HERO

    The Rhythm of the Tide

    When I heard data from an island had proven humans are still evolving, I had to visit.

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    Digging Through the World’s Oldest Graveyard

    In Ethiopia, paleontologists are pushing back the clock on humanity’s origins.

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    Turning Back the Clock on Human Evolution

    Digging through the world’s oldest graveyard with African paleontologists.

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    The Greatest Animal War

    Competition in Cambrian seas helped cause an explosion in diversity.

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    The Unique Merger That Made You (and Ewe, and Yew)

    All sophisticated life on the planet Earth may owe its existence to one freakish event.

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    Why Your Cat Doesn’t Have a Sweet Tooth

    Moles don’t see, whales can’t smell, and snakes can’t hear a thing.

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    Evolution’s Contrarian Capacity for Creativity

    The easily confused willow tit and black-capped chickadeef.c.franklin via Flickr / Brandon Keim One of my favorite pastimes while traveling is watching birds. Not rare birds, mind you, but common ones: local variations on universal themes of sparrow and chickadee, crow and mockingbird. I enjoy them in the way that other people appreciate new food […]

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    When We Were Fish

    Paleontologist Neil Shubin explains how he charts evolution in the human body.

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    If You Can’t Beat Diseases, Domesticate Them

    A tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) sucking blood from human skinMarco Uliana via Shutterstock For most of our history, wolves have been a menace to humanity. Sharp teeth, raw speed, and pack coordination put us at serious risk. Their howls still send chills down our spines for good reason. But some thousands of years ago, some […]

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    The Animals That Taste Only Saltiness

      Taste plays an important function for most animals far beyond enriching their culinary experiences. At its most basic level, it’s a last-ditch defense against poison, telling the eater whether to swallow or spit out a mouthful of potentially lethal material. Humans can detect five primary tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami (sometimes called “savory”). […]

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    If the World Began Again, Would Life as We Know It Exist?

    Experiments in evolution are exploring what would happen if we rewound the tape of life.

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    Evolution May Be Drunk, But It’s Serious About Making Brains

    A new study shows that the comb jelly Pleurobrachia bachei evolved its complex features, including neurons and muscles, separately from animals like us.Leonid Moroz and Mat Citarella Our brains, perched atop a network of nerve cells that ascend the length of our bodies, are thought to have arisen once in an animal hundreds of millions […]

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    James Doty’s Helper’s High

    He gave away his last $30 million and felt free—a case study in altruism.

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    Strange Eyeless Fish Creates Its Own Sonar Signals to “See”

    The blind cavefish alongside two of its sighted relativesImage Courtesy of NYU Deep in some pitch-black, underwater caves in Mexico, there lives a peculiar little pinkish-white fish. Only about four inches long, this albino has taste buds on the outside of its lower jaw, sleeps very little, and, most interestingly, has no eyes.  This blind […]

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    The Seeds That Sowed a Revolution

    Galapagos Finches are famous, yet Darwin learned more about evolution from the plants.

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    The Unique Merger That Made You (and Ewe, and Yew)

    All sophisticated life on the planet Earth may owe its existence to one freakish event.

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    Evolution, You’re Drunk

    DNA studies topple the ladder of complexity.

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    Love Your Dog? You Should Thank Garbage

    scion via Shutterstock Just south of the equator, thirty miles off the coast of Tanzania, sits a small island called Pemba. The small patch of dry land jutting out from the Indian Ocean is just 30 miles long and 10 miles wide. The quarter million or so people who inhabit Pemba live more or less […]

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    Ingenious: Sean Rice

    The evolutionary perspective.

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    Evolution in a Finite World

    Why is sexual reproduction so common in nature?

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    What Earth Tells Us About Life, Intelligence & the Universe

      Astrobiology, the study of life on other worlds,  is one of the coolest sciences ever.  From extremophile bacteria living miles underground and feeding off radioactivity to exoplanetary systems with bizarre head-spinning architectures, astrobiology includes some of the most amazing parts of the natural world.  But for some hardened naysayers, Astrobiology’s glamour is tainted by that […]

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    The Problematic, Newfangled Hack That Is the Human Leg

    If you were to design a leg for a bipedal animal from scratch, what would it look like? Don’t bother looking down at your own body for inspiration—you won’t find a good model there.  If you want to make a really good bipedal leg, you should make one a lot like an ostrich’s, and nothing like […]

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    Clever Apes, a Busted Telescope & the Adjacent Possible

    The Kepler spacecraft had a pretty good run. Launched in 2009, it soon settled into its intended orbit around the Sun, trained its image sensors up at a patch of sky about as big as your fist held at arm’s length, and began watching, which it’s been doing ever since. Kepler’s job is to find […]

  • FSR_061713

    The Tiny, Random Errors That Can Kill

    It’s easy to think of our cells’ inner workings as parts in a well-oiled machine—like tiny crankshafts and gears they chug along in their endless task of transcribing information from DNA, manufacturing proteins, and sending them off to transact the business of living. Much popular writing about cell biology emphasizes the exquisite precision of this […]

  • hand_evolution_052013

    Are Humans the Greatest Things Created by the Human Hand?

    What a waste are two thumbs on the space bar. There they sit, nearly flaccid, punctuating the end of each word, awaiting the call to crack stone or to use sharp flakes to incise wood. It is easy to think of other traits as making us human. We talk, use metaphors, empathize, follow fashions, laugh, play […]

  • Animal Eyes pt 2 HERO

    Jeepers, Creepers. Where the Heck Did You Get Those Peepers?

    Last week, we asked you to pick out human eyes from animal eyes that look similar. It was probably harder than you expected. This week’s eyeball challenge, again courtesy of some great photographs by Suren Manvelyan, might be even harder. Can you tell which very inhuman-looking eyes (bigger images below) belong to which animals?  Here’s […]

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    Handy Genetic Switch Helps You Grow Hands—or Paws, or Fins

    When an enormous four-finned fish surfaced in a South African fisherman’s catch in 1938, scientists were fascinated by its resemblance to fossilized creatures that had died out millions of years ago. The fish, called a coelacanth, turned out to be the first descendant of those organisms ever spotted by humans. The two living species identified […]

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    Dress for Evolutionary Success

    What makes us quintessentially human? Fashion!