Links for Keyword: Evolution

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By Rachel Ehrenberg Chimps, gibbons and other primates are not just humans’ evolutionary cousins; a new analysis suggests they are also our blood brothers. The A, B and O blood types in people evolved at least 20 million years ago in a common ancestor of humans and other primates, new research suggests. The analysis deepens a mystery surrounding the evolutionary history of the ABO blood system, and should prompt further research into why the different blood groups have persisted over time, Laure Ségurel of the University of Chicago and colleagues report online October 22 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Their evidence is rather convincing that this is a shared, very old capability that has remained throughout the divergence of the species,” says doctor and transfusion specialist Martin Olsson of Lund University in Sweden. Different forms of a single blood type gene determine what types of molecules sit on your red blood cells: type A molecules, type B molecules, A and B together, or no intact surface molecules in the case of type O (O was originally called type C, then was changed to O for the German “ohne,” meaning “without”). The A, B and O versions of the gene differ only slightly, and scientists have debated two scenarios to explain their evolution. One posits that the A version of the gene existed long ago, and the B and/or O versions later cropped up independently in several species (including humans, gorillas, baboons and chimps). Alternatively, all of those species may have inherited the A and B types from a single ancestor. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2012

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 17418 - Posted: 10.25.2012

By Erin Wayman Rusty red stains on the head of a fossilized segmented creature found in southwestern China are a paleontological record-breaker: They are the remains of the oldest arthropod brain ever found. The imprint of the 520-million-year-old critter’s three-part brain indicates that complex nervous systems evolved fairly early in animal evolution, among the ancestors of insects, centipedes and crustaceans. The roughly 7-centimeter-long specimen includes the entire body of Fuxianhuia protensa. The species lived during the Cambrian period, before modern arthropod lineages evolved. The fossil shows F. protensa had a brain composed of three sections that sat in front of the animal’s gut. That’s the same setup seen today in insects, crabs, lobsters and many other arthropods, researchers report in the Oct. 11 Nature. “It was very fascinating and very exciting,” says study coauthor Nicholas Strausfeld, a neuroscientist at the University of Arizona. “It suggests that the organization we see in the modern [arthropod] brains is very ancient.” Scientists had thought early arthropods had simpler brains like those of modern water fleas, fairy shrimp and other tiny freshwater crustaceans called branchiopods. The branchiopod brain consists of two connected parts with a third mass of nervous tissue sitting behind the stomach. Sometime after the branchiopod lineage split from the other arthropods, scientists had assumed, the nervous tissue behind the gut migrated up and connected with the other parts of the brain, Strausfeld says. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2012

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 17357 - Posted: 10.11.2012

By Bruce Bower A new study suggests that present-day Europeans share more genes with now-extinct Neandertals than do living Africans, at least partly because of interbreeding that took place between 37,000 and 86,000 years ago. Cross-species mating occurred when Stone Age humans left Africa and encountered Neandertals, or possibly a close Neandertal relative, upon reaching the Middle East and Europe in the latter part of the Stone Age, says a team led by geneticist Sriram Sankararaman of Harvard Medical School. The new study, published online October 4 in PLOS Genetics, indicates that at least some interbreeding must have occurred between Homo sapiens and Neandertals, Sankararaman says. But it’s not yet possible to estimate how much of the Neandertal DNA found in modern humans comes from that interbreeding and how much derives from ancient African hominid populations ancestral to both groups. A separate analysis of gene variants in Neandertals and in people from different parts of the world also found signs of Stone Age interbreeding outside Africa. That study, published online April 18 in Molecular Biology and Evolution, was led by evolutionary geneticist Melinda Yang of the University of California, Berkeley. Results from Sankararaman and Yang’s groups “convincingly show that the finding of a higher proportion of Neandertal DNA in non-Africans compared to Africans can be best explained by gene flow from Neandertals into modern humans,” says evolutionary geneticist Johannes Krause of the University of Tübingen in Germany. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2012

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 17336 - Posted: 10.06.2012

by Elizabeth Norton Baboons, like people, really do get by with a little help from their friends. Humans with strong social ties live longer, healthier lives, whereas hostility and "loner" tendencies can set the stage for disease and early death. In animals, too, strong social networks contribute to longer lives and healthier offspring—and now it seems that personality may be just as big a factor in other primates' longevity status. A new study found that female baboons that had the most stable relationships with other females weren't always the highest up in the dominance hierarchy or the ones with close kin around—but they were the nicest. Scientists are increasingly seeing personality as a key factor in an animal's ability to survive, adapt, and thrive in its environment. But this topic isn't an easy one to study scientifically, says primatologist Dorothy Cheney of the University of Pennsylvania. "Research in mammals, birds, fish, and insects shows individual patterns of behavior that can't be easily explained. But the many studies of personality are based on human traits like conscientiousness, agreeableness, or neuroticism. It isn't clear how to apply those traits to animals," Cheney says. Along with a group of scientists—including co-authors Robert Seyfarth, also at the University of Pennsylvania, and primatologist Joan Silk of Arizona State University, Tempe—Cheney has studied wild baboons at the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana for almost 20 years. Besides providing detailed, long-term observations of behavior in several generations of baboons, the research has yielded a wealth of biological and genetic information. © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 17323 - Posted: 10.02.2012

By Gary Stix Evolutionary psychology has typically tried to identify the piece parts of human cognition shaped by the rigors of natural selection. New questions have arisen in this contentious discipline about what exactly is on that parts list—or whether the list itself really exists. One of the foremost debating points centers on whether the brain consists of a series of Lego-like modules, each one produced from evolutionary adaptations that resulted in mental tools for things like going after Mastodons, forming clans and communicating the daily incidentals related to food, shelter and mating. Another way to think about all this is to invoke the metaphor of a Swiss-Army knife, with each adaptive module the equivalent of a corkscrew, nail clipper or a myriad of cutting implements. The revisionist viewpoint rejects this neat tailoring of mental functioning championed by psychologists like Leda Cosmides and John Tooby. Instead, upstarts trot out the human hand as a replacement analogy for the pocket knife, a single all-purpose implement that can poke, prod, pull and push. A walk through the new thinking on evolutionary psychology appears in the Aug. 5 edition of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B. (The original journal, founded in 1665, was the first anywhere to deal solely with science—and this issue is open to everyone for a download.) The metaphor of the hand, notes Cecilia Heyes of Oxford in an introductory article, alludes to the ability of a limb extension that can “strip the defensive spines from a piece of fruit, making it safe to eat, but in Thai dancing it can also signal the smallest nuances of emotion. The human hand performs with equal facility a vast array of tasks that natural selection did and did not ‘foresee’.” © 2012 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 0:
Link ID: 17218 - Posted: 08.30.2012

By SEAN B. CARROLL Early one evening a few years ago, I took a short hike with my wife, Jamie, in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize. The large, lush reserve is known for its healthy population of jaguars, so, following closely behind our guide, we kept our eyes peeled for the elusive cats. We saw a few tracks and some claw marks on trees, but elected to leave the jungle before nightfall. We were very near the end of the trail when we were surprised by a large snake, about six feet long, crossing directly in front of us. Belize has lots of snakes, more than 50 species. Some can get pretty large, like the boa constrictor, which is impressive but harmless. This one was not harmless. Even in the darkening jungle, the triangular pattern on its back allowed me to identify it quickly as a fer-de-lance, the most dangerous snake in Belize. Excited, and comfortable that I was well out of striking range, I reached into my backpack for my video camera and flipped on its “night shot” feature. I now saw the magnificent snake clearly on my LCD screen. As I tried to creep in for a closer shot, however, I felt something holding me back. It was Jamie. She had a grip on my backpack and was concerned that my enthusiasm for snakes had overtaken my judgment. She was not convinced that we were out of range, nor that the snake would not move quickly toward us. I used the zoom and filmed from where I stood. For me to film the snake in the dark, I had to rely on Sony’s innovation and engineering. The camera’s infrared LED source generated light with a longer wavelength than the human eye can detect; those photons then bounced off the snake and were detected by the camera’s infrared sensors and converted into an image. © 2012 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 17210 - Posted: 08.28.2012

by Hannah Krakauer Kanzi the bonobo continues to impress. Not content with learning sign language or making up "words" for things like banana or juice, he now seems capable of making stone tools on a par with the efforts of early humans. Eviatar Nevo of the University of Haifa in Israel and his colleagues sealed food inside a log to mimic marrow locked inside long bones, and watched Kanzi, a 30-year-old male bonobo chimp, try to extract it. While a companion bonobo attempted the problem a handful of times, and succeeded only by smashing the log on the ground, Kanzi took a longer and arguably more sophisticated approach. Both had been taught to knap flint flakes in the 1990s, holding a stone core in one hand and using another as a hammer. Kanzi used the tools he created to come at the log in a variety of ways: inserting sticks into seams in the log, throwing projectiles at it, and employing stone flints as choppers, drills, and scrapers. In the end, he got food out of 24 logs, while his companion managed just two. Perhaps most remarkable about the tools Kanzi created is their resemblance to early hominid tools. Both bonobos made and used tools to obtain food – either by extracting it from logs or by digging it out of the ground. But only Kanzi's met the criteria for both tool groups made by early Homo: wedges and choppers, and scrapers and drills. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 19: Language and Hemispheric Asymmetry
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 0: ; Chapter 15: Language and Our Divided Brain
Link ID: 17191 - Posted: 08.22.2012

By Jason G. Goldman The largest fish in the ocean is the whale shark (Rhincodon typus). This massive, migratory fish can grow up to twelve meters in length, but its enormous mouth is designed to eat the smallest of critters: plankton. While the biggest, the whale shark isn’t the only gigantic filter-feeding shark out there: the basking shark and the megamouth shark also sieve enormous amounts of the tiny organisms from the sea in order to survive. While scientists like Al Dove and Craig McClain (of Deep Sea News) are learning more and more about the basic biology and behavior of these magnificent creatures, other scientists are busy investigating their neuroanatomy. A few years ago, Kara E. Yopak and Lawrence R. Frank from the University of California in San Diego got their hands on two whale shark brains from an aquarium, and put them into an MRI scanner. But they weren’t just interested in imaging the brains of the whale sharks. What they wanted to know was how the organization of whale shark brains compared to the brains of other shark species for which scientists had previously obtained neuroanatomical data. Would the brains of two species be more similar if they shared a recent evolutionary ancestor, and were therefore more genetically related? Or would shark brains be more similar among species that shared a similar lifestyle, such as those that patrol the middle and surface of the water column (pelagic sharks, such as the great white, oceanic whitetip, blue, mako, and whale sharks) versus those that live along the sea floor (benthic sharks, such as the nurse and cat sharks). Or perhaps the brains of sharks would be grouped according to their habitat, such as those that live in coastal waters, around reefs, or in the open ocean. Maybe sharks brains ought to be grouped according to behavioral specialization, such as hunting methods. Answers to these questions could shed some important light on brain evolution, both in sharks as well as more generally. © 2012 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 0: ; Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System
Link ID: 17180 - Posted: 08.18.2012

By Bruce Bower An ancient finger bone recently landed a genetic sucker punch on scientists studying human evolution. DNA extracted from this tiny fossil, unearthed in Siberia’s Denisova Cave, unveiled a humanlike population that interbred with people in East Asia at least 44,000 years ago. Denisovans supplied nearly 5 percent of the genes of native groups now living in Australia, New Guinea and on several nearby islands. That molecular shocker followed a revelation that the genetic instruction books of people from Australia to the Americas contain a roughly 2.5 percent contribution from Neandertals, modern humans’ evolutionary cousins that died out around 30,000 years ago. Pulling the DNA shades up on ancient human dalliances with Neandertals and closely related Denisovans has sparked a scientific consensus that members of mobile human groups interbred with closely related populations in the Homo genus during the Stone Age. “The question is no longer ‘When did ancient populations such as Neandertals go extinct?’ but ‘What happened to those populations and to modern humans as a result of interbreeding?’ ” says anthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Clear signs of interbreeding have left archaeologists and other students of the Stone Age scrambling to revisit existing ideas about Homo sapiens’ evolutionary past. A dominant theory holding that humans evolved in Africa and left on neat one-way routes to Asia and Europe has to be revised. Instead, these ancient people must have followed a tangled web of paths taking them to other continents and sometimes reversing course. During these travels, humans encountered Neandertals, Denisovans and probably other humanlike populations that were already traipsing interconnected avenues through Asia and Europe. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2012

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 0:
Link ID: 17161 - Posted: 08.14.2012

By Michael Harré As humans, we aren't born with formidable armaments or defenses, nor are we the strongest, fastest, or biggest species, yet despite this we are amazingly successful. For a long time it was thought that this success was because our enlarged brains allows each of us to be smarter than our competitors: better at abstract thinking, better with tools and better at adapting our behavior to those of our prey and predators. But are these really the most significant skills our brains provide us with? Another possibility is that we are successful because we can form long-lasting relationships with many others in diverse and flexible ways, and that this, combined with our native intelligence, explains why homo sapiens came to dominate the planet. In every way from teaching our young to the industrial division of labour we are a massively co-operative species that relies on larger and more diverse networks of relationships than any other species. In 1992 British anthropologist Robin Dunbar published an article showing that, in primates, the ratio of the size of the neo-cortex to that of the rest of the brain consistently increases with increasing social group size. For example, the Tamarin monkey has a brain size ratio of about 2.3 and an average social group of size of about 5 members. On the other hand, a Macaque monkey has a brain size ratio of around 3.8 but a very large average group size of about 40 members. From this work Dunbar put forward what is now known as the “social brain hypothesis.” The relative size of the neo-cortex rose as social groups became larger in order to maintain the complex set of relationships necessary for stable co-existence. Most famously, Dunbar suggested that given the human brain ratio we have an expected social group size of around 150 people, about the size of what Dunbar called a “clan.” © 2012 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 0:
Link ID: 17141 - Posted: 08.08.2012

By Tina Hesman Saey Expeditions to Africa may have brought back evidence of a hitherto unknown branch in the human family tree. But this time the evidence wasn’t unearthed by digging in the dirt. It was found in the DNA of hunter-gatherer people living in Cameroon and Tanzania. Buried in the genetic blueprints of 15 people, researchers found the genetic signature of a sister species that branched off the human family tree at about the same time that Neandertals did. This lineage probably remained isolated from the one that produced modern humans for a long time, but its DNA jumped into the Homo sapiens gene pool through interbreeding with modern humans during the same era that other modern humans and Neandertals were mixing in the Middle East, researchers report in the August 3 Cell. The evidence for ancient interbreeding is surprisingly convincing, says Richard “Ed” Green, a genome biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “There is a signal that demands explanation, and archaic admixture seems to be the most reasonable one at this point,” he says. Scientists have discovered that some people with ancestry outside Africa have DNA inherited from Neandertals or Denisovans, a mysterious group known only through DNA derived from a fossil finger bone found in a Siberian cave (SN: 6/5/10, p. 5; SN: 1/15/11, p.10). But those researchers had DNA from fossils to guide their research. This time, researchers led by Sarah Tishkoff at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia didn’t have fossil DNA, or even fossils. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2012

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 0:
Link ID: 17112 - Posted: 08.01.2012

By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD In the widening search for the origins of modern human evolution, genes and fossils converge on Africa about 200,000 years ago as the where and when of the first skulls and bones that are strikingly similar to ours. So this appears to be the beginning of anatomically modern Homo sapiens. But evidence for the emergence of behaviorally modern humans is murkier — and controversial. Recent discoveries establish that the Homo sapiens groups who arrived in Europe some 45,000 years ago had already attained the self-awareness, creativity and technology of early modern people. Did this behavior come from Africa after gradual development, or was it an abrupt transition through some profound evolutionary transformation, perhaps caused by hard-to-prove changes in communication by language? Now, the two schools of thought are clashing again, over new research showing that occupants of Border Cave in southern Africa, who were ancestors of the San Bushmen hunter-gatherers in the area today, were already engaged in relatively modern behavior at least 44,000 years ago, twice as long ago as previously thought. Two teams of scientists reported these findings Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Since this early date for the San culture is close to when modern humans first left Africa and reached Europe, proponents of the abrupt-change hypothesis took the findings as good news. Richard G. Klein, a paleoanthropologist at Stanford University, said in an e-mail from South Africa that the new evidence “supports my view that fully modern hunter-gatherers emerged in Africa abruptly around 50,000 years ago, and I remain convinced that the behavior shift, or advance, underlies the successful expansion of modern Africans to Eurasia.” © 2012 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 0:
Link ID: 17108 - Posted: 07.31.2012

Matt Kaplan Neanderthals have long been viewed as meat-eaters. The vision of them as inflexible carnivores has even been used to suggest that they went extinct around 25,000 years ago as a result of food scarcity, whereas omnivorous humans were able to survive. But evidence is mounting that plants were important to Neanderthal diets — and now a study reveals that those plants were roasted, and may have been used medicinally. The finding comes from the El Sidrón Cave in northern Spain, where the roughly 50,000-year-old skeletal remains of at least 13 Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) have been discovered. Many of these individuals had calcified layers of plaque on their teeth. Karen Hardy, an anthropologist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain, wondered whether it might be possible to use this plaque to take a closer look at the Neanderthal menu. Using plaque to work out the diets of ancient animals is not entirely new, but Hardy has gone further by looking for organic compounds in the plaque. To do this she and a team including Stephen Buckley, an archaeological chemist at the University of York, UK, used gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to analyse the plaque collected from ten teeth belonging to five Neanderthal individuals from the cave. The plaque contained a range of carbohydrates and starch granules, hinting that the Neanderthals had consumed a variety of plant species. By contrast, there were few lipids or proteins from meat. © 2012 Nature Publishing Group

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 0:
Link ID: 17067 - Posted: 07.19.2012

Emma Marris Large-brained animals may be less likely to go extinct in a changing world, perhaps because they can use their greater intelligence to adapt their behaviour to new conditions, according to an analysis presented to a meeting of conservation biologists this week. The finding hints at a way to prioritize future conservation efforts for endangered species. Brain size relative to body size is fairly predictable across all mammals, says Eric Abelson, who studies biological sciences at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. “As body size grows, brain size grows too, but at slower rate,” he says. Plotting brain size against body size creates a tidy curve. But some species have bigger or smaller brains than the curve would predict for their body size. And a bigger brain-to-body-size ratio usually means a smarter animal. Abelson looked at the sizes of such deviations from the curve and their relationships to the fates of two groups of mammalian species — ‘palaeo’ and ‘modern’. The palaeo group contained 229 species in the order Carnivora from the last 40 million years, about half of which are already extinct. The modern group contained 147 species of North American mammals across 6 orders. Analysis of each group produced similar results: species that weighed less than 10 kilograms and had big brains for their body size were less likely to have gone extinct or be placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list for endangered species. For species larger than about 10 kilograms, the advantage of having a large brain seems to be swamped by the disadvantage of being big. Large species tend to reproduce later in life, have fewer offspring, require more resources and larger territories, and catch the attention of humans, either as food or as predators. Hunting pressure or reductions in available space can hit them particularly hard. © 2012 Nature Publishing Group

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 0: ; Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Link ID: 17063 - Posted: 07.18.2012

By Jennifer Viegas Dolphins may use complex nonlinear mathematics when hunting, according to a new study that suggests these brainy marine mammals could be far more skilled at math than was ever thought possible before. Inspiration for the new study, published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society A, came after lead author Tim Leighton watched an episode of the Discovery Channel's "Blue Planet" series and saw dolphins blowing multiple tiny bubbles around prey as they hunted. "I immediately got hooked, because I knew that no man-made sonar would be able to operate in such bubble water," explained Leighton, a professor of ultrasonics and underwater acoustics at the University of Southampton, where he is also an associate dean. "These dolphins were either 'blinding' their most spectacular sensory apparatus when hunting -- which would be odd, though they still have sight to reply on -- or they have a sonar that can do what human sonar cannot…Perhaps they have something amazing," he added. Leighton and colleagues Paul White and student Gim Hwa Chua set out to determine what the amazing ability might be. They started by modeling the types of echolocation pulses that dolphins emit. The researchers processed them using nonlinear mathematics instead of the standard way of processing sonar returns. The technique worked, and could explain how dolphins achieve hunting success with bubbles. © 2012 Discovery Communications, LLC.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 17062 - Posted: 07.18.2012

By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD Who are we, and where did we come from? Scientists studying the origin of modern humans, Homo sapiens, keep reaching deeper in time to answer those questions — toward the last common ancestor of great apes and humans, then forward to the emergence of people more and more like us in body and behavior. Their research is advancing on three fronts. Fossils of skulls and bones expose anatomical changes. Genetics reveals the timing and place of the Eve of modern humans. And archaeology turns up ancient artifacts reflecting abstract and creative thought, and a growing self-awareness. Just last month, researchers made the startling announcement that Stone Age paintings in Spanish caves were much older than previously thought, from a time when Neanderthals were still alive. To help make sense of this cascade of new information, a leading authority on modern human evolution — the British paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer — recently sat for an interview in New York that ranged across many recent developments: the evidence of interbreeding between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens; the puzzling extinct species of little people nicknamed the hobbits; and the implications of a girl’s 40,000-year-old pinkie finger found in a Siberian cave. Dr. Stringer, an animated man of 64, is an anthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London and a fellow of the Royal Society. But he belies the image of a don: He showed up for our interview wearing a T-shirt and jeans, looking as if he had just come in from the field. © 2012 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 0:
Link ID: 17051 - Posted: 07.17.2012

by Elizabeth Pennisi OTTAWA—With big brains comes big intelligence, or so the hypothesis goes. But there may be trade-offs as well. Humans and other creatures with large brains relative to their body size tend to have smaller guts and possibly fewer offspring. Scientists have debated for decades whether the two phenomena are related. Now a team of researchers says that they are—and that big brains do indeed make us smart. The finding comes thanks to an unusual experiment reported here yesterday at the Evolution Ottawa evolutionary biology meeting in which scientists shrank and grew the brains of guppies over several generations. "This is a real experimental result," says David Reznick, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Riverside, who was not involved in the study. "The earlier results were just correlations." Researchers first began to gather evidence that big brains were advantageous after 19th century U.S. biologist Hermon Bumpus examined the brains of sparrows, some of whom had succumbed in a blizzard and some of whom survived. The survivors had relatively larger brains. More recently, evolutionary biologist Alexei Maklakov from Uppsala University in Sweden found evidence that songbirds that colonize cities tend to have larger brains relative to their body size than species still confined to the countryside. The challenge of urban life might require bigger brains, he and his colleagues concluded last year in Biology Letters. Yet in humans and in certain electric fish, larger brain size seems to have trade-offs: smaller guts and fewer offspring. That's led some scientists to suggest there are constraints on how big brains can become because they are expensive to build and maintain. © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 0: ; Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 17026 - Posted: 07.11.2012

By Eric Michael Johnson What would it take for you to give your life to save another? The answer of course is two siblings or eight cousins, that is, if you’re thinking like a geneticist. This famous quip, attributed to the British biologist J.B.S. Haldane, is based on the premise that you share on average 50% of your genes with a brother or sister and 12.5% with a cousin. For altruism to be worth the cost it should ensure that you break even, genetically speaking. This basic idea was later formalized by the evolutionary theorist William Hamilton as “inclusive fitness theory” that extended Darwin’s definition of fitness–the total number of offspring produced–to also include the offspring of close relatives. Hamilton’s model has been highly influential, particularly for Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins who spent considerable time discussing its implications in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. But in the last few years an academic turf war has developed pitting the supporters of inclusive fitness theory (better known as kin selection) against a handful of upstarts advocating what is known as group selection, the idea that evolutionary pressures act not only on individual organisms but also at the level of the social group. The latest row was sparked by the publication of Edward O. Wilson’s new book, The Social Conquest of Earth, which followed up on his 2010 paper in the journal Nature written with theoretical biologists Martin Nowak and Corina Tarniţă. In both cases Wilson opposes kin selection theory in favor of the group selection model. For a revered scientist like Wilson–a Harvard biologist, recipient of the Crafoord Prize (the Nobel of the biosciences) and two-time Pulitzer prizewinner–to adopt a marginal and widely disputed concept has received a lot of attention and caused other prominent scientists to step forward and defend the mainstream point of view. © 2012 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 17016 - Posted: 07.10.2012

SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer WASHINGTON (AP) — The more we study animals, the less special we seem. Baboons can distinguish between written words and gibberish. Monkeys seem to be able to do multiplication. Apes can delay instant gratification longer than a human child can. They plan ahead. They make war and peace. They show empathy. They share. "It's not a question of whether they think — it's how they think," says Duke University scientist Brian Hare. Now scientists wonder if apes are capable of thinking about what other apes are thinking. The evidence that animals are more intelligent and more social than we thought seems to grow each year, especially when it comes to primates. It's an increasingly hot scientific field with the number of ape and monkey cognition studies doubling in recent years, often with better technology and neuroscience paving the way to unusual discoveries. This month scientists mapping the DNA of the bonobo ape found that, like the chimp, bonobos are only 1.3 percent different from humans. Says Josep Call, director of the primate research center at the Max Planck Institute in Germany: "Every year we discover things that we thought they could not do." Call says one of his recent more surprising studies showed that apes can set goals and follow through with them. © 2012 Hearst Communications Inc.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 0: ; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 16961 - Posted: 06.25.2012

by Michael Balter The basic questions about early European cave art—who made it and whether they developed artistic talent swiftly or slowly—were thought by many researchers to have been settled long ago: Modern humans made the paintings, crafting brilliant artworks almost as soon as they entered Europe from Africa. Now dating experts working in Spain, using a technique relatively new to archaeology, have pushed dates for the earliest cave art back some 4000 years to at least 41,000 years ago*, raising the possibility that the artists were Neandertals rather than modern humans. And a few researchers say that the study argues for the slow development of artistic skill over tens of thousands of years. Figuring out the age of cave art is fraught with difficulties. Radiocarbon dating has long been the method of choice, but it is restricted to organic materials such as bone and charcoal. When such materials are lying on a cave floor near art on the cave wall, archaeologists have to make many assumptions before concluding that they are contemporary. Questions have even arisen in cases like the superb renditions of horses, rhinos, and other animals in France's Grotte Chauvet, the cave where researchers have directly radiocarbon dated artworks executed in charcoal to 37,000 years ago. Other archaeologists have argued that artists could have entered Chauvet much later and picked up charcoal that had been lying around for thousands of years. Now in a paper published online today in Science, applied a technique called uranium-series (U-series) dating to artworks from 11 Spanish caves. U-series dating has been around since the 1950s and is often used to date caves, corals, and other proxies for climate and sea level changes. But it has been used only a few times before on cave art, including by Pike and Pettit, who used it to date the United Kingdom's oldest known cave art at Cresswell Crags in England. © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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Link ID: 16919 - Posted: 06.16.2012