Biology news

Plant genes is a story about how it is thought the wild grass teosinte developed into corn (maize). Experiments in domestication have shown it is possible that domestic plants took fewer than 20 generations to take place - a very short space of time. This appears to contradict the archaeology and this article is a bit of a fight-back by palaeo-botanists against geneticists.

Studies of Fossils June 15th ... reports on attempts to extract further information from fossilised creatures - the behaviour of ancient life forms. I don't know if there is sleight of hand involved here but instead of using fossils as a means of classifying and cataloguing the diversity of life in the past scientists are looking at the possibility of discovering clues about behaviour from that frozen moment of death. Insects caught in amber is one example given.

Shimmering Butterflies

I was watching BBCs 'Springwatch' a couple of days ago and Chris Packham mentioned that the colours of butterflies are produced not by pigments but by a special geometric formation of cells, that shimmer and give the illusion of colour.

The Iowa Cicada

At ... there is a story about the rare appearance of the cicada, an insect, in Iowa - that is supposed to appear at 17 year intervals. Why?

Termites in the Savannah Belt

At a paper published by PLoS Biology says that termites are typically viewed as pests and as threats to agricultural and livestock production - and termite mounds are often destroyed. However, it has been found it can take centuries to build up a single termite mound and field research in Kenya has found they form a network of uniformly distrubuted mounds across the savannah environment.

Oxygen and Evolution

At - the journal Astrobiology has a paper that suggests the evolution of complex life forms may have had a kickstart a couple of billion years ago when geological events caused large quantities of phosphorous to wash into the oceans. In turn, this caused vast algal blooms that pumped extra oxygen into the environment which allowed larger more complex organisms to thrive.

Mammoth Blood

The New York Times (at ) May 3rd (see also Science Daily and ) all have a story about research on mammoths, claiming they have adapted to living in a cold environment. Scientists have managed to reconstruct mammoth hemoglabin. Mammoths originated in a tropical climate but diverged from elephants some 7 million years ago. They adapted to a cold environment by developing smaller ears, a thick coat of fur, and glands in their skin to keep the fur well oiled.

Lizards on islands

At April 29th ... a genetic study of lizards isolated geographically on islands, sometimes for thousands of years, possibly even millions of years, do not appear to have evolved into separate species as demanded by conventional evolutional theory. They remained stubbornly like their predecessors. They were also capable of reproducing with similar species from elsewhere. However, the PLoS Genetics paper says that research was ongoing.

Intelligent Design and Human Behaviour

At ... although evolutionists and creationists strongly differ over the role of intelligent design in the origin of species they do appear to agree about the role it plays in the origin of human inventiveness. In the May issue of American Scientist there is an article on this issue.

Dogs ... contrary to research published last year, using genetics, domesticated dogs originated in East Asia and were used as a supplementary meat source in lean times of the year. Dogs are still eaten in China - and across Siberia and East Asia (and the practise was transferred into North America by migrants). Another genetic study at about the same time suggested village dogs in Africa may have been the origin of some, if not many, dog breeds.