Links for Keyword: Evolution

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or subscribe to our mailing list, to receive news updates. Learn more.


Links 1 - 20 of 821

By Rachel Nuwer In the perennial battle over dogs and cats, there’s a clear public relations winner. Dogs are man’s best friend. They’re sociable, faithful and obedient. Our relationship with cats, on the other hand, is often described as more transactional. Aloof, mysterious and independent, cats are with us only because we feed them. Or maybe not. On Monday, researchers reported that cats are just as strongly bonded to us as dogs or infants, vindicating cat lovers across the land. “I get that a lot — ‘Well, I knew that, I know that cats like to interact with me,’” said Kristyn Vitale, an animal behavior scientist at Oregon State University and lead author of the new study, published in Current Biology. “But in science, you don’t know that until you test it.” Research into cat behavior has lagged that into dogs. Cats are not social animals, many scientists assumed — and not as easy to work with. But recent studies have begun to plumb the depth of cats’ social lives. “This idea that cats don’t really care about people or respond to them isn’t holding up,” Ms. Vitale said. In a study in 2017, Ms. Vitale and her colleagues found that the majority of cats prefer interacting with a person over eating or playing with a toy. In a 2019 study, the researchers found that cats adjust their behavior according to how much attention a person gives them. Other researchers have found that cats are sensitive to human emotion and mood, and that cats know their names. Scientists had arrived at conflicting findings about whether cats form attachments to their owners, however, so Ms. Vitale and her colleagues designed a study to more explicitly test the hypothesis. They recruited owners of 79 kittens and 38 adult cats to participate in a “secure base test,” an experiment commonly used to measure bonds that dogs and primates form with caretakers. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: 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: 26647 - Posted: 09.25.2019

By Eva Frederick There may be honor among thieves, but there certainly isn’t among parasitic wasps. A new study suggests the crypt keeper wasp, whose larvae burrow into the bodies of other wasps and live off their corpses, has more than half a dozen hosts—or, if you prefer, victims. Those victims are typically Bassettia pallida wasps, which lay their eggs in the stems and branches of oak trees, forming swollen bumps called galls or crypts. The crypt keeper wasp (Euderus set) then lays her eggs in the gall, where her larvae either camp out next to the host hatchlings or burrow into their bodies. When a hatchling is ready to chew its way out of the gall, the crypt keeper—through a feat of undiscovered mind control or through simply weakening the host—makes it chew a hole that is too small. That causes the host’s head to get stuck like a cork in a wine bottle. After snacking on the body of the host, the crypt keeper wasp escapes the gall by burrowing out through its host’s head, which is much softer than the tough stem of the plant. © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 26644 - Posted: 09.25.2019

By Laura Sanders Dog breeders have been shaping the way the animals look and behave for centuries. That meddling in canine evolution has sculpted dogs’ brains, too. A brain-scanning study of 62 purebred dogs representing 33 breeds reveals that dog brains are not all alike — offering a starting point for understanding how brain anatomy relates to behavior. Different breeds had different shapes of various brain regions, distinctions that were not simply the result of head shape or the size of the dogs’ brains or bodies, researchers report September 2 in the Journal of Neuroscience. Through selective breeding, “we have been systematically shaping the brains of another species,” Erin Hecht, an evolutionary neuroscientist at Harvard University, and colleagues conclude. The MRI scans were taken of dogs with normal brain anatomy at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at the University of Georgia at Athens. While the study wasn’t designed to directly link brain shape to behavior, the results offer some hints. Researchers identified groups of brain areas, such as smell and taste regions, that showed the most variability between breeds. Those groups are involved in specialized behaviors that often serve humans, such as hunting by smell, guarding and providing companionship to people, earlier studies have suggested. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2019

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 26566 - Posted: 09.03.2019

Colin Barras An ancient face is shedding new light on our earliest ancestors. Archaeologists have discovered a 3.8-million-year-old hominin skull in Ethiopia — a rare and remarkably complete specimen that could change what we know about the origins of one of humanity’s most famous ancestors, Lucy. The researchers who discovered the skull say it belongs to a species called Australopithecus anamensis, and it gives scientists their first good look at the face of this hominin. This species was thought to precede Lucy’s species, Australopithecus afarensis. But features of the latest find now suggest that A. anamensis shared the prehistoric Ethiopian landscape with Lucy’s species for at least 100,000 years, the researchers say. This hints that the early hominin evolutionary tree was more complicated than scientists had thought — but other researchers say the evidence isn’t yet conclusive. “Fossil hominin crania are exceptionally rare treasures,” says Carol Ward, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of Missouri in Columbia who wasn’t involved in the analysis. “This to me is the specimen we have been waiting for.” An analysis of the skull is published in Nature1 . Exceptionally preserved A. afarensis lived in East Africa between about 4 million and 3 million years ago. It is important to the understanding of human evolution because it might have been the ape-like species from which the ‘true’ human genus, Homo, evolved about 2.8 million years ago. Over the past few decades, researchers have discovered dozens of fragments of australopithecine fossils in Ethiopia and Kenya that date back more than 4 million years. Most researchers think these older fossils belong to the earlier species, A. anamensis. It’s generally thought that A. anamensis gradually morphed into A. afarensis, implying that the two species never coexisted.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 26551 - Posted: 08.29.2019

By Bruce Bower A 20-million-year-old monkey skull that fits in the palm of an adult’s hand may contain remnants of piecemeal brain evolution in ancient primates. Neural landmarks preserved on the skull fit a scenario in which specific primate brain regions expanded or, at times, contracted while other regions remained unchanged, a new study finds. In an early clue to that evolutionary process, researchers say, a small part of the monkey’s brain devoted to odor perception was not counterbalanced by an enlarged visual system, as is typical of primates today. Primate visual systems expanded in size and complexity over millions of years without requiring substantial changes elsewhere in the brain, contend paleontologist Xijun Ni of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and colleagues. And comparisons of the skull with fossils of African primates from 30 million years ago or more indicate that major brain structures evolved at different rates in different primate lineages, as did increases in brain size relative to body size, the team reports August 21 in Science Advances. The study adds evidence to the idea that the brains of primates, a group that includes humans, evolved in a piecemeal way, instead of progressively getting bigger overall as time passed. The skull, from an extinct monkey called Chilecebus carrascoensis, was reported discovered in Chile’s Andes Mountains in 1995 by a team led by paleontologist John Flynn of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. In the new study, Flynn and colleagues used high-resolution scanning and a digital, 3-D cast of the inner surface of the skull’s tiny braincase to reveal impressions made by a set of neural folds. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2019.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 26528 - Posted: 08.22.2019

By Virginia Morell A bold claim about gorilla societies is drawing mixed reviews. Great apes, humans’ closest evolutionary relatives, were thought to lack our social complexity. Chimpanzees, for example, form only small bands that are aggressive toward strangers. But based on years of watching gorillas gather in food-rich forest clearings, a team of scientists has concluded the apes have hierarchical societies similar to those of humans, perhaps to help them exploit rich troves of food. The finding, reported in the current issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, challenges the prevailing notion that such sophisticated societies evolved relatively recently, after humans split from chimpanzees. Instead, these researchers say, the origins of such social systems extend at least as far back as the common ancestor of humans and gorillas, but were lost in chimpanzees. The group has presented “a pretty convincing case for a hierarchical social structure in gorillas,” says Richard Connor, a cetacean biologist and expert on dolphin society at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth. But because other primates that are not great apes—notably baboons, geladas, and colobine monkeys—show similar hierarchies, he’s not surprised they have turned up in gorillas, too. Gorillas spend most of their time in dense forests, travel great distances to a new home spot daily, and are slow to get used to observers, making their social lives hard to study. But western gorillas in the Republic of Congo gather periodically at swampy clearings in the forests to feed primarily on the highly abundant vegetation, but also on favorite and rare foods such as certain fig trees that produce massive amounts of fruit only every 3 to 5 years, says Robin Morrison, a zoologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and the study’s lead author. © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 26428 - Posted: 07.18.2019

Ian Sample Science editor A broken skull chiselled from a lump of rock in a cave in Greece is the oldest modern human fossil ever found outside Africa, researchers claim. The partial skull was discovered in the Apidima cave on the Mani peninsula of the southern Peloponnese and has been dated to be at least 210,000 years old. If the claim is verified – and many scientists want more proof – the finding will rewrite a key chapter of the human story, with the skull becoming the oldest known Homo sapiens fossil in Europe by more than 160,000 years. Katerina Harvati, the director of paleoanthropology at the University of Tübingen in Germany, said the skull revealed that at least some modern humans had left Africa far earlier than previously thought and reached further geographically to settle as far away as Europe. Other fossils of early modern humans found in Israel already point to brief excursions out of Africa, where the species evolved, long before the mass exodus during which Homo sapiens spread from the continent about 70,000 years ago and colonised the world. Paleontologists view the excursions as failed dispersals, with the pioneers ultimately dying out and leaving no genetic legacy in people alive today. “Our results indicate that an early dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa occurred earlier than previously believed, before 200,000 years ago,” Karvati said. “We’re seeing evidence for human dispersals that are not just limited to one major exodus out of Africa.” © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 26405 - Posted: 07.11.2019

Bruce Bower South American capuchin monkeys have not only hammered and dug with carefully chosen stones for the last 3,000 years, but also have selected pounding tools of varying sizes and weights along the way. Capuchin stone implements recovered at a site in northeastern Brazil display signs of shifts during the last three millennia between a focus on dealing with either relatively small, soft foods or larger, hard-shelled edibles, researchers report. These discoveries, described online June 24 in Nature Ecology & Evolution, are the first evidence of changing patterns of stone-tool use in a nonhuman primate. “It’s likely that local vegetation changes after 3,000 years ago led to changes in capuchin stone tools,” says archaeologist Tomos Proffitt of University College London. The new findings raise the possibility that chimpanzees and macaque monkeys, which also use stones to pound and dig, have shifted their tool-use styles over the long haul, perhaps in response to climate and habitat changes, Proffitt says. Archaeological sites linked to apes and monkeys are rare, though. Previous excavations in West Africa unearthed nut-cracking stones wielded by chimps around 4,300 years ago (SN: 11/21/09, p. 24). Present-day chimps inhabiting the same part of Africa crack nuts with similar-looking rocks. Evidence of long-term changes in tools used by wild capuchins (Sapajus libidinosus) comes from a site in Brazil’s Serra da Capivara National Park. Excavations there have also yielded ancient human stone tools (SN: 10/18/14, p. 14). But the newly unearthed artifacts more closely resemble stone tools used by modern capuchins at the same site (SN: 11/26/16, p. 16), rather than Stone Age human implements, the researchers say. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2019

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 26356 - Posted: 06.25.2019

By Joshua Sokol For half the year, a little brown bird on the northernmost islands of the Galápagos uses its wickedly sharp beak to pick at seeds, nectar and insects. But when the climate dries out, it drinks blood. Yes, there is such a thing as a vampire finch. Yes, it is what it sounds like. Galápagos finches have been used since Darwin’s time to illustrate evolution in action. Even among them, Geospiza septentrionalis is an outlier, one of the few birds in the world to intentionally draw and drink blood. And the species is only found on Wolf and Darwin islands, two of the most remote and off-limits places in the entire archipelago. The vampire finch has a method. First, one bird hops on the back of a resting Nazca booby, pecks at the base of the seabird’s wing, and drinks. Blood stains the booby’s white feathers. Other finches crowd around to wait their turn, or to watch and learn. Because adult boobies can fly away, the attacks are almost never fatal. The only casualties are chicks that flee from the finches on foot and, unable to find their way back, starve. Drinking blood is an unusual diet, and research published last year showed that vampire finches have evolved specialized bacteria in their guts to aid digestion. Even more surprising, according to a paper this week in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, is that some of these bacteria are similar to ones found in the vampire bats of Central and South America. Se Jin Song, a biologist at the University of California San Diego and the study’s lead author, had previously studied the convergent evolution of gut bacteria. Do disparate animals with the equivalent of fad diets — eating only ants and termites, for instance — develop similar gut microbiota over evolutionary time? © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Link ID: 26312 - Posted: 06.10.2019

Bruce Bower People and Neandertals separated from a common ancestor more than 800,000 years ago — much earlier than many researchers had thought. That conclusion, published online May 15 in Science Advances, stems from an analysis of early fossilized Neandertal teeth found at a Spanish site called Sima de los Huesos. During hominid evolution, tooth crowns changed in size and shape at a steady rate, says Aida Gómez-Robles, a paleoanthropologist at University College London. The Neandertal teeth, which date to around 430,000 years ago, could have evolved their distinctive shapes at a pace typical of other hominids only if Neandertals originated between 800,000 and 1.2 million years ago, she finds. Gómez-Robles’ study indicates that, if a common ancestor of present-day humans and Neandertals existed after around 1 million years ago, “there wasn’t enough time for Neandertal teeth to change at the rate [teeth] do in other parts of the human family tree” in order to end up looking like the Spanish finds, says palaeoanthropologist Bernard Wood of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Many researchers have presumed that a species dubbed Homo heidelbergensis, thought to have inhabited Africa and Europe, originated around 700,000 years ago and gave rise to an ancestor of both Neandertals and Homo sapiens by roughly 400,000 years ago. Genetic evidence that Sima de los Huesos fossils came from Neandertals raised suspicions that a common ancestor with H. sapiens existed well before that (SN Online: 3/14/16). Recent Neandertal DNA studies place that common ancestor at between 550,000 and 765,000 years old. But those results rest on contested estimates of how fast and how consistently genetic changes accumulated over time. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2019.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 26239 - Posted: 05.17.2019

By Cara Giaimo Here’s a pop quiz for you. Tom is taller than Dick. Dick is taller than Harry. Who’s taller, Harry or Tom? If you said Tom, congratulations! You just demonstrated what’s called “transitive inference” — the ability to compare things indirectly, based on previous juxtapositions. But before you pat yourself on the back too much, you should know that this skill was recently demonstrated by another creature: the humble paper wasp that might be living in your backyard right now. In the summer of 2017, researchers at the University of Michigan put two species of paper wasps through a transitive inference test. A statistically significant portion of the time, the wasps passed. Other animals — including rats, geese and cichlid fish — have also exhibited this capacity. But this study, which was published Tuesday in Biology Letters, is the first to successfully showcase it in an invertebrate (honeybees failed a similar test in 2004). Paper wasps are found on every continent except Antarctica. You might be near some right now. “They tend to nest in the eaves of houses, or inside barbecue grills,” said Elizabeth Tibbetts, the study’s lead author. In a previous study, Dr. Tibbetts showed that individual female wasps can identify one another by their distinct facial patterns, which resemble Rorschach ink blots. “When two wasps meet, they learn, ‘Oh, that’s what Suzy looks like,’” she said. “And the next time they meet, they remember who Suzy is.” In the spring, the females spend a lot of time brawling, getting in each other’s faces and trading slaps with their appendages. These matchups look like schoolyard tussles. “Some wasps will be fighting; some wasps will be watching the fights,” said Dr. Tibbetts. “It’s a very exciting time.” The wasps remember the winners and losers, and use them to establish a social hierarchy: the strongest reproduce, while the weaker ones do all the work. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26229 - Posted: 05.11.2019

Matthew Warren Scientists have uncovered the most complete remains yet from the mysterious ancient-hominin group known as the Denisovans. The jawbone, discovered high on the Tibetan Plateau and dated to more than 160,000 years ago, is also the first Denisovan specimen found outside the Siberian cave in which the hominin was uncovered a decade ago — confirming suspicions that Denisovans were more widespread than the fossil record currently suggests. The research marks the first time an ancient human has been identified solely through the analysis of proteins. With no usable DNA, scientists examined proteins in the specimen’s teeth, raising hopes that more fossils could be identified even when DNA is not preserved. “This is fantastic work,” says Katerina Douka, an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, who runs a separate project aiming to uncover Denisovan fossils in Asia. “It tells us that we are looking at the right area.” Until now, everything scientists have learnt about Denisovans has come from a handful of teeth and bone fragments from Denisova Cave in Russia’s Altai Mountains. DNA from these remains revealed that the Denisovans were a sister group to Neanderthals, both descending from a population that split away from modern humans about 550,00–765,000 years ago. And at Denisova Cave, the two groups seem to have met and interbred: a bone fragment described last year belonged an ancient-human hybrid individual who had a Denisovan father and Neanderthal mother.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 26198 - Posted: 05.02.2019

By Sam Roberts Ralph Solecki, an archaeologist whose research helped debunk the view of Neanderthals as heartless and brutish half-wits and inspired a popular series of novels about prehistoric life, died on March 20 in Livingston, N.J. He was 101. The cause was pneumonia, his son William said. Starting in the mid-1950s, leading teams from Columbia University, Dr. Solecki discovered the fossilized skeletons of eight adult and two infant Neanderthals who had lived tens of thousands of years ago in what is now northern Iraq. Dr. Solecki, who was also a Smithsonian Institution anthropologist at the time, said physical evidence at Shanidar Cave, where the skeletons were found, suggested that Neanderthals had tended to the weak and the wounded, and that they had also buried their dead with flowers, which were placed ornamentally and possibly selected for their therapeutic benefits. The exhumed bones of a man, named Shanidar 3, who had been blind in one eye and missing his right arm but who had survived for years after he was hurt, indicated that fellow Neanderthals had helped provide him with sustenance and other support. “Although the body was archaic, the spirit was modern,” Dr. Solecki wrote in the magazine Science in 1975. Large amounts of pollen found in the soil at a grave site suggested that bodies might have been ceremonially entombed with bluebonnet, hollyhock, grape hyacinth and other flowers — a theory that is still being explored and amplified. (Some researchers hypothesized that the pollen might have been carried by rodents or bees, but Dr. Solecki’s theory has become widely accepted.) “The association of flowers with Neanderthals adds a whole new dimension to our knowledge of his humanness, indicating he had a ‘soul,’ ” Dr. Solecki wrote. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 26131 - Posted: 04.12.2019

By Carl Zimmer In a cave in the Philippines, scientists have discovered a new branch of the human family tree. At least 50,000 years ago, an extinct human species lived on what is now the island of Luzon, researchers reported on Wednesday. It’s possible that Homo luzonensis, as they’re calling the species, stood less than three feet tall. The discovery adds growing complexity to the story of human evolution. It was not a simple march forward, as it once seemed. Instead, our lineage assumed an exuberant burst of strange forms along the way. Our species, Homo sapiens, now inhabits a comparatively lonely world. “The more fossils that people pull out of the ground, the more we realize that the variation that was present in the past far exceeds what we see in us today,” said Matthew Tocheri, a paleoanthropologist at Lakehead University in Canada, who was not involved in the new discovery. In the early 2000s, Armand Salvador Mijares, a graduate student at the University of the Philippines, was digging at Callao Cave, on Luzon, for traces of the first farmers on the Philippines. Soon, he decided to dig a little deeper. Researchers on the Indonesian island of Flores had discovered the bones of an extraordinary humanlike species about 60,000 years old. The scientists named it Homo floresiensis. Some features were similar to ours, but in other ways Homo floresiensis more closely resembled other hominins (the term scientists use for modern humans and other species in our lineage). © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 26126 - Posted: 04.11.2019

/ By Richard Kemeny Northern Ethiopia was once home to a vast, ancient lake. Saber-toothed cats prowled around it, giant crocodiles swam within. The streams and rivers that fed it — over 3 million years ago, during the Pliocene — left behind trails of sediment that have now hardened into sandstone. Deposited within these layers are fossils: some of early hominins, along with the bones of hippos, antelope, and elephants. Anthropologist Jessica Thompson encountered two of these specimens, from an area named Dikika, in 2010. At the time, she was a visiting researcher at the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University. Given no explanation as to their history, she analyzed the bones and found signs of butchery. Percussion marks suggested someone may have accessed the marrow; cut marks hinted that flesh was stripped from bone. To her surprise, the specimens were 3.4 million years old, putting the butcher’s behaviors back 800,000 years earlier than conventional estimates would suggest. That fact got Thompson, now an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at Yale University, thinking there might be more traces of tool use from those early times. In a wide-ranging review published in February’s issue of Current Anthropology, Thompson joins a team of researchers to weave together several strands of recent evidence and propose a new theory about the transition to large animal consumption by our ancestors. The prevailing view, supported by a confluence of fossil evidence from sites in Ethiopia, is that the emergence of flaked tool use and meat consumption led to the cerebral expansion that kickstarted human evolution more than 2 million years ago. Thompson and her colleagues disagree: Rather than using sharpened stones to hunt and scrape meat from animals, they suggest, earlier hominins may have first bashed bones to harvest fatty nutrients from marrow and brains. Copyright 2019 Undark

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Link ID: 26107 - Posted: 04.03.2019

By Lee Dugatkin Like many breakthroughs in science, Dmitri Belyaev’s silver fox domestication experiment began with a thunderbolt: one simple, powerful, new idea. Born of a parish priest in early 20th century Russia, the geneticist proposed that all domestic animals were tamed through a generations-long process in which our distant ancestors repeatedly chose the calmest animals — those that were friendliest to people — for breeding. Whether horses for transport, dogs for protection, pigs for food, or oxen for labor, the essential trait was that the animals not try to bite the hand that fed them. Belyaev went on to speculate that all of the other characteristics we tend to see in domesticated species — their curly tails, floppy ears, juvenile facial, and body features — were somehow byproducts of this selection for the friendliest of the friendly. As a test, Belyaev decided that he would build a dog out of a fox, in real time, to understand how man’s best friend came to be. No one had ever attempted anything like it. No matter, he would try. At the time, in Stalinist Russia, the idea was considered radical and out of line with State orthodoxy. There were men who might very well have thrown the scientist in prison for what he was dreaming. But he would perform his magic in a far off, frozen land: The Siberian town of Novosibirsk, where winter temperatures can plummet to a bone-chilling -50 degrees Fahrenheit. Some 60 years later, his experiment is still going. It is one of the longest running science experiments ever, having outlived even its creator. And after all this time, it is still shaping the way we think about fundamental questions in biology — and even influencing the way we understand our own evolutionary trajectory. Copyright 2019 Undark

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 25940 - Posted: 02.08.2019

Ewen Callaway Neanderthals and Denisovans might have lived side by side for tens of thousands of years, scientists report in two papers in Nature1,2. The long-awaited studies are based on the analysis of bones, artefacts and sediments from Denisova Cave in southern Siberia, which is dotted with ancient-human remains. They provide the first detailed history of the site’s 300,000-year occupation by different groups of ancient humans. “We can now tell the whole story of the entire cave, not just bits and pieces,” says Zenobia Jacobs, a geochronologist at the University of Wollongong, Australia, who co-led one of the studies. Soviet archaeologists began unravelling the story of Denisova Cave, at the foot of the Altai Mountains, in the early 1980s. Since then, scientists have found the fragmentary remains of nearly a dozen ancient humans at the site. The cave became world famous in 2010, after an analysis of the DNA from a tiny hominin finger bone found that the creature was distinct from both modern humans and Neanderthals3. It belonged to a previously unknown hominin group, later named Denisovans. Additional sequencing of the DNA in bone remains from the cave found that Denisovans were a sister group to Neanderthals, and might once have lived across Asia — where they interbred with the ancestors of some humans now living there4. © 2019 Springer Nature Publishing AG

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 25916 - Posted: 01.31.2019

By Elizabeth Pennisi TAMPA, FLORIDA—Swimming through the oceans, voraciously consuming plankton and other small creatures—and occasionally startling a swimmer—the beautiful gelatinous masses known as comb jellies won’t be joining Mensa anytime soon. But these fragile creatures have nerve cells—and they offer insights about the evolutionary origins of all nervous systems, including our own. Inspired by studies of a glue-secreting cell unique to these plankton predators, researchers have now proposed that neurons emerged in the last common ancestor of today’s animals—and that their progenitors were secretory cells, whose primary function was to release chemicals into the environment. Joseph Ryan, a computational evolutionary biologist the University of Florida Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience in St. Augustine, suggested that scenario last year after tracing the development of nerve cells in embryos of comb jellies, among the most ancient animals. Earlier this week at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) here, he marshaled evidence from developmental studies of other animals, all pointing to common origins for some neuron and secretory cells. “What Ryan is proposing is novel and important,” says David Plachetzki, an evolutionary biologist at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. Among other mysteries, it could resolve a long debate about whether the nervous system evolved twice early in animal life. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 25857 - Posted: 01.11.2019

Bruce Bower An ancient hominid skeleton dubbed Little Foot possessed a brain largely similar to that of modern chimpanzees and an inner ear with a mix of apelike and humanlike features, two studies suggest. These findings, along with other analyses of the adult female’s 3.67-million-year-old skeleton, point to the piecemeal evolution of humanlike traits in close relatives of our species, scientists say. The research is part of the first formal analyses of Little Foot’s skeleton, which was discovered more than 20 years ago in a South African cave but was recently removed from its rocky encasing. Other analyses of trunk and limb bones indicate that Little Foot, who lived perhaps a million years before the emergence of the human genus, Homo, already walked upright about as well as people today do (SN: 1/19/19, p.13). Although Little Foot consists of a nearly complete skeleton, her evolutionary identity is controversial. Paleoanthropologist Ronald Clarke of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg — Little Foot’s discoverer and a coauthor of the two new studies — assigns the find to Australopithecus prometheus, an early extinct hominid species that many scientists don’t regard as valid. Other researchers regard Little Foot as an early member of Australopithecus africanus, a species previously known from fossils discovered at several South African sites (SN: 1/19/19, p. 13). |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2018

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 25855 - Posted: 01.10.2019

Ewen Callaway No human has the brain of a Neanderthal — but some have hints of its shape. The brain shape of some people with European ancestry is influenced by Neanderthal DNA acquired through interbreeding tens of thousands of years ago, researchers report on 13 December in Current Biology1. These DNA variants seem to affect the expression of two genes in such a way as to make the brains of some humans slightly less round, and more like the Neanderthals’ elongated brains. “It’s a really subtle shift in the overall roundedness,” says team member Philipp Gunz, a palaeoanthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. “I don’t think you would see it with your naked eye. These are not people that would look Neanderthal-like.” The Neanderthal DNA variants alter gene expression in brain regions involved in planning, coordination and learning of movements. These faculties are used in speech and language, but there is no indication that the Neanderthal DNA affects cognition in modern humans. Instead, the researchers say, their discovery points to biological changes that might have endowed the human brain with its distinct shape. Earlier this year, Gunz and two colleagues determined that the rounded brain shape of modern humans evolved gradually, reaching its current appearance between 35,000 and 100,000 years ago2. The earliest human fossils from across Africa, dating to around 200,000–300,000 years ago, have large yet elongated brains. “There really is something going on in the brain that changes over time in the Homo sapiens lineage,” says Gunz. © 2018 Springer Nature Publishing AG

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 25787 - Posted: 12.15.2018