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Posted: Aug 24, 2014 - 12:24pm

Evolutionary history of honeybees revealed by genomics
The honeybee is of crucial importance for humanity. One third of our food is dependent on the pollination of fruits, nuts and vegetables by bees and other insects. Credit: Matthew Webster
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Posted: Aug 21, 2014 - 9:36pm

Canola genome sequence reveals evolutionary 'love triangle'

An international team of scientists including researchers from the University of Georgia recently published the genome of Brassica napus—commonly known as canola—in the journal Science. Their discovery paves the way for improved versions of the plant, which is used widely in farming and industry.

Canola is grown across much of Canada and its native Europe, but the winter crop is increasingly cultivated in Georgia. Canola oil used for cooking is prized for its naturally low levels of saturated fat and rich supply of omega-3 fatty acids, but the plant is also used to produce feed for farm animals and as an efficient source for biodiesel.

"This genome sequence opens new doors to accelerating the improvement of canola," said Andrew Paterson, Regents Professor, director of UGA's Plant Genome Mapping Laboratory and co-corresponding author for the study. "We can use this knowledge to tailor the plant's flowering time, make it more resistant to disease and improve a myriad of other traits that will make it more profitable for production in Georgia and across the country."

Canola has one of the most complex genomes among flowering plants, forming thousands of years ago during the Neolithic Era when two plant speciesBrassica rapa and Brassica oleracea—combined in the wild. Plants in the B. rapa family include turnips and cabbages, while B. oleracea encompasses cauliflower, cabbage, collards, broccoli, kale and other common vegetables.

The Plant Genome Mapping Laboratory played prominent roles in the sequencing both B. rapa and B. oleracea in 2011 and 2014, respectively.

"Understanding the genomes of B. rapa and B. oleracea was key to piecing together the canola genome," Paterson said. "It's like a genetic love triangle between the three species, with canola sometimes favoring genes from B. rapa or B. oleracea or sometimes both."

While much the world's canola is used to make cooking oil and protein-rich animal feed, it is also used in the production of lipstick, lip gloss, soap, lotion, printing ink and de-icing agents. (...)


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Posted: Aug 17, 2014 - 2:26pm

 marko86 wrote:
The mother of all, and her name was LUCA

A four billion-year-old mystery surrounding the one common ancestor of all life on Earth has been solved by scientists. 

All life evolved from a single celled organism known as life's Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA). However, few details are known about what it looked like, how it lived and how it evolved.



 
She lived upstairs from me on the second floor. 
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Posted: Aug 17, 2014 - 12:08pm

Worm-like creature with legs and spikes finds its place in the evolutionary tree of life

One of the most bizarre-looking fossils ever found - a worm-like creature with legs, spikes and a head difficult to distinguish from its tail – has found its place in the evolutionary Tree of Life, definitively linking it with a group of modern animals for the first time.

The animal, known as Hallucigenia due to its otherworldly appearance, had been considered an 'evolutionary misfit' as it was not clear how it related to modern animal groups. Researchers from the University of Cambridge have discovered an important link with modern velvet worms, also known as onychophorans, a relatively small group of worm-like animals that live in tropical forests. The results are published in the advance online edition of the journal Nature.

The affinity of Hallucigenia and other contemporary 'legged worms', collectively known as lobopodians, has been very controversial, as a lack of clear characteristics linking them to each other or to modern animals has made it difficult to determine their evolutionary home.

What is more, early interpretations of Hallucigenia, which was first identified in the 1970s, placed it both backwards and upside-down. The spines along the creature's back were originally thought to be legs, its legs were thought to be tentacles along its back, and its head was mistaken for its tail.

Hallucigenia lived approximately 505 million years ago during the Cambrian Explosion, a period of rapid evolution when most major animal groups first appear in the fossil record. These particular fossils come from the Burgess Shale in Canada's Rocky Mountains, one of the richest Cambrian fossil deposits in the world. (...)


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Posted: Aug 16, 2014 - 6:57am

The mother of all, and her name was LUCA

A four billion-year-old mystery surrounding the one common ancestor of all life on Earth has been solved by scientists. 

All life evolved from a single celled organism known as life's Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA). However, few details are known about what it looked like, how it lived and how it evolved.


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Posted: Jul 26, 2014 - 12:32am

Once thought to be too complex an emotion for nonhumans, jealousy in canines—and the “pay attention to me” behaviors that arise from it—probably evolved to protect important social bonds in the pack, according to a new paper.


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Posted: Jul 25, 2014 - 4:44pm

Researchers find first sign that tyrannosaurs hunted in packs
Discovery of three sets of dinosaur trackways in Canada reveals that predators were running together
Researchers in British Columbia have found a set of tracks made by three tyrannosaurs running alongside one another. Photograph: Louie Psihoyos/Corbis
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Posted: Jul 24, 2014 - 4:32pm

 haresfur wrote:
RichardPrins wrote:

So facile. It's obvious to you. There's no shortage of people who neither accept "intelligence" (let alone understand what that might actually mean or how it exactly works/should be defined) in other animals, nor this process called evolution. Also there's the long-standing discussion between various camps to which degree nature vs. nurture plays a role in such a thing as "intelligence".

And the source site mostly republishes press releases of studies that appear in journals (which tend to be behind pay-walls). The former are usually written by PR people.

But no doubt you already knew all of that too... {#Wink}


  
What's facile is saying that genes determine chimp intelligence. I mean, if they didn't then amoebae would be as intelligent (or intelligent in the same way) as primates. And since intelligence is largely the ability to learn, it certainly can't be just a learned ability (although the question of how much you can be trained in how to learn is an interesting sideline).

So yeah, the headline finding is trivial.  Probably the more important part of the research is that they have developed some methods to characterise the relationship between gene expression and intelligence in Chimpanzees that will likely lead to an improved understanding of those factors in primates, given future funding. Nothing wrong with that, but not exactly earth-shaking IMO.

And people who don't accept intelligence in other animals are of as little scientific merit as the people who don't accept the currency of climate change.  However, I do agree that the behaviorists need to get their act together to address the bias against the obviously fuzzy continuum between animal and human intelligence that seems to have persisted in their field for generations.

Yeah, I did know all of that, too. 

 
Following on...

Crows Understand Displacement Better Than Six Year Olds


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Posted: Jul 24, 2014 - 11:47am

Earliest dinosaurs may have sported feathers | Science/AAAS | News

Researchers agree that birds are dinosaurs, but when did dinosaurs start becoming birds? New excavations in Siberia reveal that one sure sign of birdiness, the presence of feathers, has very deep roots in the dino evolutionary tree; indeed, dinosaurs may have been sporting feathers from the very beginning of their existence about 240 million years ago.

The fossil record makes clear that birds were the only dinosaurs to survive a mass extinction about 66 million years ago, probably caused by a massive asteroid hitting Earth. But the past decade or two of research, which is marked by the discovery of thousands of specimens of early birds and flying dinosaurs, also shows that feathers were an early evolutionary innovation—even if they probably arose for reasons unrelated to powered flight, such as insulation or sexual display.

Just how early has been a matter of debate. Although the best evidence for feathers has been found in a group of meat-eating dinosaurs dating back to about 150 million years ago, and from which birds apparently evolved at about the same time, there have been sightings of bristly, filamentous structures in very distantly related plant-eating dinosaurs as well. Leading examples have been Psittacosaurus, a cousin of the horned dino Triceratops found in Asia and dated to perhaps 120 million years ago; and the 160-million-year-old Tianyulong, found in China and reported in 2009.

If these bristly structures represented early feathers, as researchers have increasingly come to think, it would mean that feathers evolved in dinosaurs that preceded the evolutionary split between so-called saurischians (which include the meat-eating species) and ornithischians (which comprise plant-eating species) more than 200 million years ago. (Despite their confusing name, the ornithischians are not related to birds, which are saurischians.)

“There is a near-consensus now that the simple bristlelike structures in Tianyulong and Psittacosaurus should correspond to the earliest developmental stage” of what researchers often call “protofeathers,” says Pascal Godefroit, a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels. But he and others point out that hard evidence for this hypothesis has been lacking, largely because the single filaments found on these plant eaters lack the complexity of the protofeathers found on early meat eaters. (...)


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Posted: Jul 22, 2014 - 6:38pm

 RichardPrins wrote:
Elephants Have 2,000 Genes for Smell—Most Ever Found

We’ve long known that African elephants have a great sense of smell—but a new study shows that the large mammals have truly superior schnozzes.

Compared with 13 other mammal species studied, African elephants have the most genes related to smell: 2,000.

...
A young African elephant in Amboseli, Kenya. Photograph by João Nuno Gonçalves, National Geographic Your Shot

That’s the most ever discovered in an animal—more than twice the number of olfactory genes in domestic dogs and five times more than in humans, who have about 400, according to research published July 22 in the journal Genome ResearchThe previous record-holder was rats, which have about 1,200 genes dedicated to smell.

Why so many? “We don’t know the real reason,” study leader Yoshihito Niimura, a molecular evolutionist at the University of Tokyo, said by email. But it’s likely related to the importance of smell to the poorly sighted African elephant in interpreting and navigating its environment.

For instance, smell is a crucial sense for the functioning of an elephant trunk, which acts like a hand as it grips food and other objects. (Related: “Elephants Use Their Trunks to Ace Intelligence Tests.”)

“They use olfaction to quest the outer world, which may drivesuperior sense of smell,” Niimura said.

“Imagine the situation (in which) we have a nose on our palm!”

Sniffing Out Genes 

...

“Want to know what is going through the mind of an elephant? I have always said: Watch the tip of its trunk.”



  I am waiting with anticipation, as the "junk" DNA in the human genome is better understood.


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Posted: Jul 22, 2014 - 6:03pm

Elephants Have 2,000 Genes for Smell—Most Ever Found

We’ve long known that African elephants have a great sense of smell—but a new study shows that the large mammals have truly superior schnozzes.

Compared with 13 other mammal species studied, African elephants have the most genes related to smell: 2,000.

A photo of an African Elephant in Rift Valley, Kenya
A young African elephant in Amboseli, Kenya. Photograph by João Nuno Gonçalves, National Geographic Your Shot

That’s the most ever discovered in an animal—more than twice the number of olfactory genes in domestic dogs and five times more than in humans, who have about 400, according to research published July 22 in the journal Genome ResearchThe previous record-holder was rats, which have about 1,200 genes dedicated to smell.

Why so many? “We don’t know the real reason,” study leader Yoshihito Niimura, a molecular evolutionist at the University of Tokyo, said by email. But it’s likely related to the importance of smell to the poorly sighted African elephant in interpreting and navigating its environment.

For instance, smell is a crucial sense for the functioning of an elephant trunk, which acts like a hand as it grips food and other objects. (Related: “Elephants Use Their Trunks to Ace Intelligence Tests.”)

“They use olfaction to quest the outer world, which may drivesuperior sense of smell,” Niimura said.

“Imagine the situation (in which) we have a nose on our palm!”

Sniffing Out Genes 

The team wanted to discern smell-related genes for as many species as possible, but very accurate genome information is available for only 13 mammal species, he said.

The team ran a special computer program that identified the elephant’s 2,000 olfactory genes. In doing so, they also wanted to get a better understanding of the function of these genes.

Their analysis revealed that over the course of evolution, one ancient gene dedicated to smell has created as many as 84 additional genes that the animals likely use to detect odors specific to their environment—for instance, the smell of certain foods on the savanna. (Get a genetics overview.)

“On the other hand, some other genes are evolutionarily very stable, without any change in number and with very few changes in sequence. These genes (are likely) very important for the survival of any mammal,” said Niimura.

He also emphasized that research on olfactory genes is still limited, and that another species—say, the Asian elephant—could very well break the African elephant’s record.

Superior Smellers

Overall, though, his research supports behavioral studies that show African elephants have an incredible nose for detecting odors.

For instance, studies have revealed that African elephants can distinguish between the scents of two ethnic groups in Kenya: the Maasai and the Kamba. (Related: “Elephants Know How Dangerous We Are From How We Speak.”)

“Maasai men spear elephants to show their virility, while Kamba people are agricultural and give little threat to them; therefore, elephants are afraid of Maasai men,” he said.

Joyce Poole, co-founder of the conservation group ElephantVoices, also referenced this ability of elephants to distinguish between tribes.

“This is a fascinating study that confirms what we have observed in the field,” Poole, also a National Geographic explorer, said by email. (See National Geographic’s elephant pictures.)

“If the wind is blowing in the correct direction, elephants can pick up the scent of humans … from over a kilometer away or detect and find the exact location of a tiny sliver of banana from over 50 meters away,” she said.

In addition, “experimental studies show that by sniffing urine-soaked soil, elephants can discriminate between and keep track of the location of family members.

“Want to know what is going through the mind of an elephant? I have always said: Watch the tip of its trunk.”


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Posted: Jul 17, 2014 - 11:20am

The New Science of Evolutionary Forecasting
Newly discovered patterns in evolution may help scientists make accurate short-term predictions.
Brain of world's first known predators discovered

At right, a nearly complete specimen of the Cambrian anomalocaridid Lyrarapax ungusipinus, from the Chengjiang biota, China. The three images at the left depict traces of neural structures in the head, including the brain. These are highlighted with a blue digital filter that cancels colours except for dark neural regions (top left image), shown as carbon-rich domains by energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (centre left image), and with oblique lighting (lower left image). Credit: Peiyun Cong and co-authors

An international team of paleontologists has identified the exquisitely preserved brain in the fossil of one of the world's first known predators that lived in the Lower Cambrian, about 520 million years ago. The discovery revealed a brain that is surprisingly simple and less complex than those known from fossils of some of the animal's prey.

The find for the first time identifies the fossilized brain of what are considered the top predators of their time, a group of animals known as anomalocaridids, which translates to "abnormal shrimp." Long extinct, these fierce-looking arthropods were first discovered as fossils in the late 19th century but not properly identified until the early 1980s. They still have scientists arguing over where they belong in the tree of life.

"Our discovery helps to clarify this debate," said Nicholas Strausfeld, director of the University of Arizona's Center for Insect Science. "It turns out the top predator of the Cambrian had a brain that was much less complex than that of some of its possible prey and that looked surprisingly similar to a modern group of rather modest worm-like animals."

Strausfeld, a Regents' Professor in the Department of Neuroscience in the UA College of Science is senior author on a paper about the findings, which is scheduled for advance online publication on Nature website on July 16.

The brain in the fossil, a new species given the name Lyrarapax unguispinus – Latin for "spiny-clawed lyre-shaped predator" – suggests its relationship to a branch of animals whose living descendants are known as onychophorans or velvet worms. These wormlike animals are equipped with stubby unjointed legs that end in a pair of tiny claws.

Onychophorans, which are also exclusively predators, grow to no more than a few inches in length and are mostly found in the Southern Hemisphere, where they roam the undergrowth and leaf litter in search of beetles and other small insects, their preferred prey. Two long feelers extend from the head, attached in front of a pair of small eyes.

The anomalocaridid fossil resembles the neuroanatomy of today's onychophorans in several ways, according to Strausfeld and his collaborators. Onychophorans have a simple brain located in front of the mouth and a pair of ganglia – a collection of nerve cells – located in the front of the optic nerve and at the base of their long feelers. (...)




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Posted: Jul 15, 2014 - 8:58pm

Why so many domesticated mammals have floppy ears

ScottN
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Posted: Jul 12, 2014 - 7:34pm

 ScottFromWyoming wrote:
"We're gonna make shitloads!"
 
Shitload is an internationally recognized unit of measure.  Trained and experienced researchers all know this.
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Posted: Jul 12, 2014 - 4:39pm

 kurtster wrote:

Thanks for the help.  I would like to conduct the bulk of my research in Hawaii, so I would also need to calculate travel and lodging needs as well as sunblock.   5 years should be a reasonable length of time for a thorough and timely report.  Then I can apply for a new grant to study implementing my findings.

Of course, I will need plenty of assistants. 

 
Oh!
Me! Me! Me!
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Posted: Jul 10, 2014 - 9:17pm

 haresfur wrote:

Sure.  Please include a calculation of the potential economic benefits of your study in the grant application.

 
Thanks for the help.  I would like to conduct the bulk of my research in Hawaii, so I would also need to calculate travel and lodging needs as well as sunblock.   5 years should be a reasonable length of time for a thorough and timely report.  Then I can apply for a new grant to study implementing my findings.

Of course, I will need plenty of assistants. 
ScottFromWyoming
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Posted: Jul 10, 2014 - 8:49pm

 haresfur wrote:

Sure.  Please include a calculation of the potential economic benefits of your study in the grant application.

 
"We're gonna make shitloads!"
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Posted: Jul 10, 2014 - 8:46pm

 kurtster wrote:

I would like to do a study on the future of staplers and paper clips in the paperless workplace and the economic impact of displaced paperclip and stapler manufacturing employees.

Would a business degree suffice ? 

 
Sure.  Please include a calculation of the potential economic benefits of your study in the grant application.
kurtster
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Posted: Jul 10, 2014 - 8:37pm

 RichardPrins wrote:
 kurtster wrote:


Among the projects listed were:

• $375,000 for a Pentagon study of the Frisbee
• $84,000 for a study of cross-cultural love
• $70,000 to study the smell of perspiration given off by
   Australian aborigines
• $5,000 to the author of the one one-word poem—”Light”
• $20,000 to study the blood groups of Polish Zlotnika pigs
• $5,000 for an analysis of violin varnish

The question of course is are those degrees relevant to the mentioned fields...

As for the amounts listed, I can only offer...
Peanuts {#Mrgreen}
Small fries {#Cheesygrin}

 
I would like to do a study on the future of staplers and paper clips in the paperless workplace and the economic impact of displaced paperclip and stapler manufacturing employees.

Would a business degree suffice ? 
RichardPrins
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Posted: Jul 10, 2014 - 8:21pm

 haresfur wrote:
What's facile is saying that genes determine chimp intelligence. I mean, if they didn't then amoebae would be as intelligent (or intelligent in the same way) as primates. And since intelligence is largely the ability to learn, it certainly can't be just a learned ability (although the question of how much you can be trained in how to learn is an interesting sideline).

So yeah, the headline finding is trivial.  Probably the more important part of the research is that they have developed some methods to characterise the relationship between gene expression and intelligence in Chimpanzees that will likely lead to an improved understanding of those factors in primates, given future funding. Nothing wrong with that, but not exactly earth-shaking IMO.

And people who don't accept intelligence in other animals are of as little scientific merit as the people who don't accept the currency of climate change.  However, I do agree that the behaviorists need to get their act together to address the bias against the obviously fuzzy continuum between animal and human intelligence that seems to have persisted in their field for generations.

Yeah, I did know all of that, too.

See, you can do it if you make an effort... {#Mrgreen}
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