Chapter 6. Evolution of the Brain and Behavior

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Alison Abbott Neuroscientists have identified an area of the brain that might give the human mind its unique abilities, including language. The area lit up in human, but not monkey, brains when they were presented with different types of abstract information. The idea that integrating abstract information drives many of the human brain's unique abilities has been around for decades. But a paper published1 in Current Biology, which directly compares activity in human and macaque monkey brains as they listen to simple auditory patterns, provides the first physical evidence that a specific area for such integration may exist in humans. Other studies that compare monkeys and humans have revealed differences in the brain’s anatomy, for example, but not differences that could explain where humans’ abstract abilities come from, say neuroscientists. “This gives us a powerful clue about what is special about our minds,” says psychologist Gary Marcus at New York University. “Nothing is more important than understanding how we got to be how we are.” A team of researchers headed by Stanislas Dehaene at the INSERM Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit at Gif-sur-Yvette near Paris, looked at changing patterns of activation in the brain as untrained monkeys and human adults listened to a simple sequence of tones, for example three identical tones followed by a different tone (like the famous four-note opening of Beethoven’s fifth symphony: da-da-da-DAH). The researchers played several different sequences with this structure — known as AAAB — and other sequences to the subjects while they lay in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. The fMRI technique picks up changes in blood flow in the brain that correlate with regional brain activity. © 2015 Nature Publishing Group,

Keyword: Attention; Evolution
Link ID: 21220 - Posted: 07.25.2015

THERE’S more to semen than sperm. In many animals, seminal fluid alters both the bodies and sometimes even the behaviour of females. Human semen, too, triggers changes in the uterus, and might have wider effects on women, aimed at just one goal. “It’s all about maximising the chances of the male reproducing,” says Sarah Robertson of the University of Adelaide in Australia. The effects are most striking in fruit flies: seminal fluid can make the females eat more, lay more eggs and be less receptive to other males. Now a team led by Tracey Chapman at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, has found that male fruit flies selectively alter the chemical make-up of their seminal fluid. In the presence of rivals, the males produce more seminal proteins. “It came as a real surprise,” says Chapman. “It’s a sophisticated response to the social and sexual situation.” Some of their findings were presented at the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution conference in Vienna, Austria, last week, including their discovery that one of these proteins is a “master regulator” of genes. Females exposed to it show a wide range of changes in gene expression. Chapman thinks this kind of seminal signalling is widespread in the animal world. The semen of people, pigs and mice affects the female reproductive tract, and the question is whether it can also produce behavioural responses in female mammals similar to those seen in fruit flies. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Evolution
Link ID: 21209 - Posted: 07.23.2015

Ewen Callaway A mysterious group of humans crossed the Bering land bridge from Siberia into the Americas thousands of years ago, genetic analyses reveal. Modern-day signatures of this ‘ghost population’ survive in people who live deep in the Brazilian Amazon, but the two research teams who have made the discovery have different ideas about when and how these migrants reached the Americas1, 2. "This is an unexpected finding," says Jennifer Raff, an anthropological geneticist at the University of Texas at Austin who was not involved in either study. "It’s honestly one of the most exciting results we’ve seen in a while." North and South America were the last continents that humans settled. Previous studies of DNA from modern and ancient Native Americans suggest that the trek was made at least 15,000 years ago (although the timing is not clear-cut) by a single group dubbed the ‘First Americans’, who crossed the Bering land bridge linking Asia and North America. “The simplest hypothesis would be that a single population penetrated the ice sheets and gave rise to most of the Americans,” says David Reich, a population geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. In 2012, his team found evidence for a single founding migration in the genomes from members of 52 Native American groups3. So Reich was flabbergasted when a colleague called Pontus Skoglund mentioned during a conference last year that he had found signs of a second ancient migration to the Americas lurking in the DNA of contemporary Native Amazonians. Reich wasted no time in verifying the discovery. “During the session afterward, he passed his laptop over the crowd, and he had corroborated the results,” says Skoglund, who is now a researcher in Reich’s lab. © 2015 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 21201 - Posted: 07.22.2015

Carl Zimmer An ant colony is an insect fortress: When enemies invade, soldier ants quickly detect the incursion and rip their foes apart with their oversize mandibles. But some invaders manage to slip in with ease, none more mystifyingly than the ant nest beetle. Adult beetles stride into an ant colony in search of a mate, without being harassed. They lay eggs, from which larva hatch. As far as scientists can tell, workers feed the young beetles as if they were ants. When the beetles grow into adults, the ants swarm around them, grooming their bodies. In exchange for this hospitality, the beetles sink their jaws into ant larvae and freshly moulted adults in order to drink their body fluids. “They’re like vampire beetles wandering in the ant nests,” said Andrea Di Giulio, an entomologist at Roma Tre University in Rome. Dr. Di Giulio and his colleagues have now uncovered a remarkable trick that the beetles use to fool their hosts. It turns out they can perform uncanny impressions, mimicking a range of ant calls. Dr. Di Giulio and his colleagues study a species of ant nest beetle called Paussus favieri, which lives in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, where it infiltrates the nests of Moroccan ants, known as Pheidole pallidula. Like many ant species, Pheidole pallidula makes noises by rubbing its legs against ridges on its body. The meanings of these signals vary from species to species; leaf-cutting ants summon bodyguards for the march back to the nest; in other species, a queen trills to her workers to attend to her. Scientists have found that Pheidole pallidula ants make three distinct sounds, each produced by a different caste: soldiers, workers and the queen. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Evolution; Language
Link ID: 21193 - Posted: 07.20.2015

by Stephen Buchmann Flowers, bugs and bees: Stephen Buchmann wanted to study them all when he was a kid. "I never grew out of my bug-and-dinosaur phase," he tells NPR's Arun Rath. "You know, since about the third grade, I decided I wanted to chase insects, especially bees." These days, he's living that dream. As a pollination ecologist, he's now taking a particular interest in how flowers attract insects. In his new book, The Reason for Flowers, he looks at more than just the biology of flowers — he dives into the ways they've laid down roots in human history and culture, too. On the real 'reason for flowers' The reason for flowers is actually one word: sex. So, flowers are literally living scented billboards that are advertising for sexual favors, whether those are from bees, flies, beetles, butterflies or us, because quite frankly most of the flowers in the world have gotten us to do their bidding. But that's only the first stage because flowers, if they're lucky, turn into fruits, and those fruits and seeds feed the world. On the raucous secret lives of beetles One of my favorite memories is roaming the Napa foothills as a UC Davis grad student. And I would go to the wineries, of course, and in between I would find western spice bush, which is this marvelous flower that kind of smells like a blend between a cabernet and rotten fruit. And when you find those flowers and open them up, you discover literally dozens of beetles in there, mating, defecating, pollinating — having a grand time. © 2015 NPR

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Evolution
Link ID: 21192 - Posted: 07.20.2015

Tina Hesman Saey The Earth has rhythm. Every 24 hours, the planet pirouettes on its axis, bathing its surface alternately in sunlight and darkness. Organisms from algae to people have evolved to keep time with the planet’s light/dark beat. They do so using the world’s most important timekeepers: daily, or circadian, clocks that allow organisms to schedule their days so as not to be caught off guard by sunrise and sunset. A master clock in the human brain appears to synchronize sleep and wake with light. But there are more. Circadian clocks tick in nearly every cell in the body. “There’s a clock in the liver. There’s a clock in the adipose [fat] tissue. There’s a clock in the spleen,” says Barbara Helm, a chronobiologist at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Those clocks set sleep patterns and meal times. They govern the flow of hormones and regulate the body’s response to sugar and many other important biological processes (SN: 4/10/10, p. 22). Having timekeepers offers such an evolutionary advantage that species have developed them again and again throughout history, many scientists say. But as common and important as circadian clocks have become, exactly why such timepieces arose in the first place has been a deep and abiding mystery. Many scientists favor the view that multiple organisms independently evolved their own circadian clocks, each reinventing its own wheel. Creatures probably did this to protect their fragile DNA from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays. But a small group of researchers think otherwise. They say there had to be one mother clock from which all others came. That clock evolved to shield the cell from oxygen damage or perhaps provide other, unknown advantages. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015

Keyword: Biological Rhythms; Evolution
Link ID: 21171 - Posted: 07.15.2015

By Michael Balter The human hand is a marvel of dexterity. It can thread a needle, coax intricate melodies from the keys of a piano, and create lasting works of art with a pen or a paintbrush. Many scientists have assumed that our hands evolved their distinctive proportions over millions of years of recent evolution. But a new study suggests a radically different conclusion: Some aspects of the human hand are actually anatomically primitive—more so even than that of many other apes, including our evolutionary cousin the chimpanzee. The findings have important implications for the origins of human toolmaking, as well as for what the ancestor of both humans and chimps might have looked like. Humans and chimps diverged from a common ancestor perhaps about 7 million years ago, and their hands now look very different. We have a relatively long thumb and shorter fingers, which allows us to touch our thumbs to any point along our fingers and thus easily grasp objects. Chimps, on the other hand, have much longer fingers and shorter thumbs, perfect for swinging in trees but much less handy for precision grasping. For decades the dominant view among researchers was that the common ancestor of chimps and humans had chimplike hands, and that the human hand changed in response to the pressures of natural selection to make us better toolmakers. But recently some researchers have begun to challenge the idea that the human hand fundamentally changed its proportions after the evolutionary split with chimps. The earliest humanmade stone tools are thought to date back 3.3 million years, but new evidence has emerged that some of the earliest members of the human line—such as the 4.4-million-year-old Ardipithecus ramidus (“Ardi”)—had hands that resembled those of modern humans rather than chimps, even though it did not make tools. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Evolution
Link ID: 21170 - Posted: 07.15.2015

by Bob Holmes Bonobos can be just as handy as chimpanzees. In fact, bonobos' tool-using abilities look a lot like those of early humans, suggesting that observing them could teach anthropologists about how our own ancestors evolved such skills. Until now, bonobos have been more renowned for their free and easy sex lives than their abilities with tools. They have never been seen to forage using tools in the wild, although only a handful of wild populations have been studied because of political instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where they live. As for those in captivity, Itai Roffman of Haifa University in Israel and his colleagues previously observed one captive bonobo, called Kanzi, using stone tools to crack a log and extract food. However, it was possible that Kanzi was a lone genius, raised by humans and taught sign language, as well as once being shown how to use tools. To find out if other captive bonobos shared Kanzi's aptitude, Roffman's team looked to animals at a zoo in Germany and a bonobo sanctuary in Iowa. The team gave them a series of problems that required tools to solve – for example, showing the bonobos that food was buried under rocks, then leaving a tray of potential aids such as sticks and antlers nearby. Two of eight zoo animals and four of seven in the sanctuary made use of the tools – in some cases almost immediately. The bonobos used sticks, rocks and antlers to dig, and also used long sticks as levers to move larger rocks out of the way (see video above). Some used different tools in sequence. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd

Keyword: Evolution
Link ID: 21147 - Posted: 07.08.2015

By Sabrina Imbler To our knowledge, there’s no correlation between a man’s singing ability and his care and attentiveness as a father. But any Pavarotti among the nightingales will serenade his mate while she sits on her eggs. And after they hatch he will visit the nest about 16 times each hour to feed their offspring. Because, among nightingales at least, the best singers also make the best fathers. So finds a study in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology. [Conny Bartsch, Michael Weiss and Silke Kipper, Multiple song features are related to paternal effort in common nightingales] Some 80 percent of birds practice biparental care, meaning both the male and female rear their offspring together. So it’s crucial for a female bird to pick as a mate the most promising father—both genetically and behaviorally. Female birds look for signs of fitness that range from the flamboyant plumage of the peacock to the bizarre dances of birds of paradise. And for nightingales, it’s the most elaborate song that apparently wins the day. The average male has some 180 tunes in his repertoire. These avian Sinatras vocalize highly variable song types including buzzes, whistles and trills. And such virtuoso singing seems to signal the female that this is a guy she can count on. That is, when it’s time to help raise the kids, he’s not a flight risk. © 2015 Scientific American

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Evolution
Link ID: 21140 - Posted: 07.07.2015

By Adrian Cho Whether they're from humans, whales, or elephants, the brains of many mammals are covered with elaborate folds. Now, a new study shows that the degree of this folding follows a simple mathematical relationship—called a scaling law—that also explains the crumpling of paper. That observation suggests that the myriad forms of mammalian brains arise not from subtle developmental processes that vary from species to species, but rather from the same simple physical process. In biology, it rare to find a mathematical relationship that so tightly fits all the data, say Georg Striedter, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Irvine. "They've captured something," he says. Still, Striedter argues that the scaling law describes a pattern among fully developed brains and doesn't explain how the folding in a developing brain happens. The folding in the mammalian brain serves to increase the total area of the cortex, the outer layer of gray matter where the neurons reside. Not all mammals have folded cortices. For example, mice and rats have smooth-surfaced brains and are "lissencephalic." In contrast, primates, whales, dogs, and cats have folded brains and are "gyrencephalic." For decades, scientists have struggled to relate the amount of folding in a species' brain to some other characteristic. For example, although animals with tiny brains tend to have smooth ones, there is no clean relationship between the amount of folding—measured by the ratio of the total area of the cortex to the exposed outer surface of the brain—and brain mass. Make a plot of folding versus brain mass for various species and the data points fall all over and not on a unified curve. Similarly, there is no clean relationship between the amount of folding and the number of neurons, the total area of the cortex, or the thickness of the cortex. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Evolution
Link ID: 21133 - Posted: 07.04.2015

Henry Nicholls Andy Russell had entered the lecture hall late and stood at the back, listening to the close of a talk by Marta Manser, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Zurich who works on animal communication. Manser was explaining some basic concepts in linguistics to her audience, how humans use meaningless sounds or “phonemes” to generate a vast dictionary of meaningful words. In English, for instance, just 40 different phonemes can be resampled into a rich vocabulary of some 200,000 words. But, explained Manser, this linguistic trick of reorganising the meaningless to create new meaning had not been demonstrated in any non-human animal. This was back in 2012. Russell’s “Holy shit, man” excitement was because he was pretty sure he had evidence for phoneme structuring in the chestnut-crowned babbler, a bird he’s been studying in the semi-arid deserts of south-east Australia for almost a decade. After the talk, Russell (a behavioural ecologist at the University of Exeter) travelled to Zurich to present his evidence to Manser’s colleague Simon Townsend, whose research explores the links between animal communication systems and human language. The fruits of their collaboration are published today in PLoS Biology. One of Russell’s students Jodie Crane had been recording the calls of the chestnut-crowned babbler for her PhD. The PLoS Biology paper focuses on two of these calls, which appear to be made up of two identical elements, just arranged in a different way. © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Language; Evolution
Link ID: 21110 - Posted: 06.30.2015

Sharon Darwish Bottlenose dolphins have an average brain mass of 1.6 kg, slightly greater than that of humans, and about four times the size of chimpanzee brains. Although you couldn’t really imagine a dolphin writing poetry, dolphins demonstrate high levels of intelligence and social behaviour. For example, they display mirror self-recognition, as well as an understanding of symbol-based communication systems. Research into the differing brain sizes and intellectual capabilities within the animal kingdom is fascinating. Why have some species evolved to be more intelligent than others? Does brain size affect cognitive ability? Some studies say yes, but some insist otherwise. It really depends which species we are talking about. In humans, for example, larger brains do not indicate higher intelligence – otherwise Einstein, who had an average-sized brain, may have not been quite as successful in his career. (Yes, that link was to a 23-pager on the analysis of Einstein’s brain. It makes for great bedtime reading.) Most neuroscientists now believe that it is the structure of the brain on a cellular and molecular level that determines its computational capacity. Within certain animal species however, a larger brain offers evolutionary advantage. For example, large-brained female guppies are better survivors and demonstrate greater cognitive strengths than their smaller-brained counterparts. © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 21102 - Posted: 06.27.2015

By Sarah Lewin Evolutionary biologists have long wondered why the eardrum—the membrane that relays sound waves to the inner ear—looks in humans and other mammals remarkably like the one in reptiles and birds. Did the membrane and therefore the ability to hear in these groups evolve from a common ancestor? Or did the auditory systems evolve independently to perform the same function, a phenomenon called convergent evolution? A recent set of experiments performed at the University of Tokyo and the RIKEN Evolutionary Morphology Laboratory in Japan resolves the issue. When the scientists genetically inhibited lower jaw development in both fetal mice and chickens, the mice formed neither eardrums nor ear canals. In contrast, the birds grew two upper jaws, from which two sets of eardrums and ear canals sprouted. The results, published in Nature Communications, confirm that the middle ear grows out of the lower jaw in mammals but emerges from the upper jaw in birds—all supporting the hypothesis that the similar anatomy evolved independently in mammals and in reptiles and birds. (Scientific American is part of Springer Nature.) Fossils of auditory bones had supported this conclusion as well, but eardrums do not fossilize and so could not be examined directly. © 2015 Scientific American

Keyword: Hearing; Evolution
Link ID: 21098 - Posted: 06.27.2015

By Michael Balter For much of the time dinosaurs were lording over the land, sleek marine reptiles called ichthyosaurs were the masters of the sea. The dolphinlike predators had enormous eyes for hunting and grew as long as 20 meters. But paleontologists have long been baffled by their brain structure, because most fossil specimens have been squished flat by marine sediments. One rare exception—discovered in the 1800s in southern England’s Bristol Channel—is a spectacularly preserved, 180-million-year-old ichthyosaur named Hauffiopteryx. Now, using computerized tomography (CT) scanning, researchers have created a 3D digital reconstruction of Hauffiopteryx’s skull, making a “ghost image” of its brain known as a digital endocast (above). The team, which reported its findings online earlier this month in Palaeontology, found that the brain’s optic lobes were particularly large; so were the cerebellum, which controls motor functions, and the olfactory region, where odors are processed. Taken together, the team concludes these features show ichthyosaurs were highly mobile predators with a keen sense of sight and smell. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Evolution
Link ID: 21097 - Posted: 06.27.2015

By Sarah C. P. Williams Parrots, like the one in the video above, are masters of mimicry, able to repeat hundreds of unique sounds, including human phrases, with uncanny accuracy. Now, scientists say they have pinpointed the neurons that turn these birds into copycats. The discovery could not only illuminate the origins of bird-speak, but might shed light on how new areas of the brain arise during evolution. Parrots, songbirds, and hummingbirds—which can all chirp different dialects, pick up new songs, and mimic sound—all have a “song nuclei” in their brain: a group of interconnected neurons that synchronizes singing and learning. But the exact boundaries of that region are fuzzy; some researchers define it as larger or smaller than others do, depending on what criteria they use to outline the area. And differences between the song nuclei of parrots—which can better imitate complex sounds—and other birds are hard to pinpoint. Neurobiologist Erich Jarvis of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, was studying the activation of PVALB—a gene that had been previously found in songbirds—within the brains of parrots when he noticed something strange. Stained sections of deceased parrot brains revealed that the gene was turned on at distinct levels within two distinct areas of what he thought was the song nuclei of the birds’ brains. Sometimes, the gene was activated in a spherical central core of the nuclei. But other times, it was only active in an outer shell of cells surrounding that core. When he and collaborators looked more closely, they found that the inner core and the outer shell—like the chocolate and surrounding candy shell of an M&M—varied in many more ways as well.

Keyword: Language; Evolution
Link ID: 21091 - Posted: 06.25.2015

By Kiona Smith-Strickland Are crows the smartest animals of all? Many scientists think that corvids — the family of birds that includes crows, ravens, rooks and jays — may be among the most intelligent animals on Earth, based on their ability to solve problems, make tools and apparently consider both possible future events and other individuals’ states of mind. “There’s a lot of research that has been done with both ravens and crows because they are such intelligent species,” said Margaret Innes, an assistant curator at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. Even in humans, defining and measuring intelligence is difficult, and it’s more complicated in other species, which have very different body shapes and have evolved for their niche in the environment. However, scientists who study cognition have defined a few measures of intelligence: recognizing oneself in a mirror, solving complex problems, making tools, using analogies and symbols, and reasoning about what others are thinking. For a long time, biologists expected most of these mental feats to be unique to primates. The great apes — chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas — succeed at nearly all of these tasks, from making and using tools to learning large vocabularies of symbols, as well as recognizing themselves in mirrors. A select few other mammals also meet most of the accepted criteria for intelligence. Dogs and dolphins, for instance, are very good at tasks involving social intelligence, such as communication, conflict resolution and reasoning about what others are thinking. Dolphins are also capable of basic tool use — for instance, carrying sea sponges in their mouths to shield their noses from scrapes and bumps as they forage on the ocean floor.

Keyword: Intelligence; Evolution
Link ID: 21086 - Posted: 06.23.2015

by Bob Holmes Lions might be one of the biggest threats to hyenas, but that doesn't stop the smaller animals teaming up to steal from the big cats. Nora Lewin from Michigan State University in East Lansing and her colleagues observed the mobbing behaviour at the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Hyenas were also spotted banding together to keep lions away from their dens. The mobbing involves a surprising degree of cooperation and communication. Male lions, which actively pursue and kill hyenas, are much more of a danger than females, who usually just make threats. This could be why the hyenas in the video above are confronting females. The team suggests the hyenas can identify their opponent's age and sex before deciding as a group whether or not to mob it. Levin and her colleagues are now investigating how the hyenas communicate to make a group decision. The findings were reported on 13 June at the annual meeting of the Animal Behavior Society in Anchorage, Alaska. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Attention; Evolution
Link ID: 21074 - Posted: 06.20.2015

By David Shultz Not usually lauded for their cuddly appearance, opossums were long thought to have a social inclination to match their looks; the marsupials have mostly been observed lurking alone and hissing at others who encroach on their personal space. However, a new study published online today in Biology Letters suggests that opossums sometimes live in groups and may form pair bonds with mates before the mating season starts. Based on 17,127 observations of 312 artificial nests over 8 years, scientists at the Federal University of Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, discovered 10 instances of multiple opossums sharing the same den with no signs of hostility or ongoing reproductive activity. An additional observation made on the university campus revealed a group of 13 opossums from three separate age groups all sharing a single den. The researchers speculate that this type of “gregarious denning” may be relatively common in the wild and that males and females may work cooperatively to build a nest—a ritual that could trigger the onset of an estrous cycle in females. Furthermore, the group of 13 animals was discovered in a large concrete box housing electrical equipment, much bigger than the typical artificial dens used by scientists studying opossums. The team suspects that building larger artificial dens may promote more social interactions like the ones they observed. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Evolution
Link ID: 21059 - Posted: 06.17.2015

by Michael Le Page It is perhaps the most extraordinary eye in the living world – so extraordinary that no one believed the biologist who first described it more than a century ago. Now it appears that the tiny owner of this eye uses it to catch invisible prey by detecting polarised light. This suggestion is also likely to be greeted with disbelief, for the eye belongs to a single-celled organism called Erythropsidinium. It has no nerves, let alone a brain. So how could it "see" its prey? Fernando Gómez of the University of São Paulo, Brazil, thinks it can. "Erythropsidinium is a sniper," he told New Scientist. "It is waiting to see the prey, and it shoots in that direction." Erythropsidinium belongs to a group of single-celled planktonic organisms known as dinoflagellates. They can swim using a tail, or flagellum, and many possess chloroplasts, allowing them to get their food by photosynthesis just as plants do. Others hunt by shooting out stinging darts similar to the nematocysts of jellyfishMovie Camera. They sense vibrations when prey comes near, but they often have to fire off several darts before they manage to hit it, Gómez says. Erythropsidinium and its close relatives can do better, Gómez thinks, because they spot prey with their unique and sophisticated eye, called the ocelloid, which juts out from the cell. "It knows where the prey is," he says. At the front of the ocelloid is a clear sphere rather like an eyeball. At the back is a dark, hemispherical structure where light is detected. The ocelloid is strikingly reminiscent of the camera-like eyes of vertebrates, but it is actually a modified chloroplast. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Vision; Evolution
Link ID: 21058 - Posted: 06.16.2015

By Michael Balter Alcoholic beverages are imbibed in nearly every human society across the world—sometimes, alas, to excess. Although recent evidence suggests that tippling might have deep roots in our primate past, nonhuman primates are only rarely spotted in the act of indulgence. A new study of chimpanzees with easy access to palm wine shows that some drink it enthusiastically, fashioning leaves as makeshift cups with which to lap it up. The findings could provide new insights into why humans evolved a craving for alcohol, with all its pleasures and pains. Scientists first hypothesized an evolutionary advantage to humans’ taste for ethanol about 15 years ago, when a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, proposed what has come to be called the “drunken monkey hypothesis.” Robert Dudley argued that our primate ancestors got an evolutionary benefit from being able to eat previously unpalatable fruit that had fallen to the ground and started to undergo fermentation. The hypothesis received a boost last year, when a team led by Matthew Carrigan—a biologist at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida—found that the key enzyme that helps us metabolize ethanol underwent an important mutation about 10 million years ago. This genetic change, which occurred in the common ancestor of humans, chimps, and gorillas, made ethanol metabolism some 40 times faster than the process in other primates—such as monkeys—that do not have it. According to the hypothesis, the mutation allowed apes to consume fermented fruit without immediately getting drunk or, worse, succumbing to alcohol poisoning. Nevertheless, researchers had turned up little evidence that primates in the wild regularly eat windfall fruit or are attracted to the ethanol that such fruit contains. Now, a team led by Kimberley Hockings, a primatologist at the Center for Research in Anthropology in Lisbon, concludes from a 17-year study of chimps in West Africa that primates can tolerate significant levels of ethanol and may actually crave it, as humans do. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Evolution
Link ID: 21037 - Posted: 06.10.2015