Can science explain the origin of life?
We’re working on it…
Can science explain the origin of life?
We’re working on it…
An MIT physicist has proposed the provocative idea that life exists because the law of increasing entropy drives matter to acquire lifelike physical properties.
New Dinosaur Changes Understanding of T. rex Origins
by Brian Switek
Named Lythronax argestes in a PLoS One study by Natural History Museum of Utah paleontologist Mark Loewen and colleagues, the 23 foot long tyrannosaur lived about 12 million years before Tyrannosaurus and trod a part of southern Utah that laid near the coast of a long-lost subcontinent called Laramidia. The pieces of skull and postcrania were discovered within the vast wilderness of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Yet, despite the distance in space and time, the skull of Lythronax holds a remarkable resemblance to Tyrannosaurus.
Rather than having a narrow, streamlined skull typical of later tyrannosaurid dinosaurs found further to the north – such as Gorgosaurus and Daspletosaurus – Lythronax shared with Tyrannosaurus a skull that widened towards the back, giving these carnivores extra room for powerful jaw muscles and having the added benefit of situating their eyes to the side far enough to allow for binocular vision. Lythronax was one of the few predatory dinosaurs that could have stared you down.
But it would be a mistake to call Lythronax an ancestor of Tyrannosaurus. As study co-author and NHMU paleontology curator Randall Irmis commented at a press conference about the dinosaur this morning, Lythronax was more of a “great uncle” to Tyrannosaurus than an ancestor. Loewen put it another way – the ancestor of Tyrannosaurus is also the ancestor of Lythronax, meaning that these two predators represent close lineages that split from an even earlier common ancestor.
This is why Lythrnoax is so strange. The 80 million year old dinosaur was among the first of the famous tyrannosaurid group, yet it looks very much like one of the very last of the tyrannosaurids. This suggests that are even more tyrannosaurs waiting to be found…
(read more: Laelaps blog - National Geo)
images: illustrations by by Lukas Panzarin (T) & Scott Hartman (ML) via Mark Leowen, and Andrey Atuchin (B)
A cross between Wayne Manor, a Napa Valley vineyard, a calculus-obsessed kibbutz and a British collegiate faculty lounge, somebody (Ali Nesin) actually built t…
Read about my friend Betül’s experiences teaching evolution in Turkey.
Some of y’all wanted this rebloggable.
Who else thinks astrotastic is destined for great things?
- by Victoria Gill
This is according to researchers from Duke University in the US, who developed decision-making games that the apes played to earn edible treats. Some animals that lost the game - receiving a bland piece of cucumber rather than a preferred piece of banana - reacted with what looked like the ape equivalent of a tantrum.
The findings are published in Plos One. The researchers worked with 23 chimps and 15 bonobos in two ape sanctuaries in the Republic of Congo. “The animals were all [rescued] orphans of the bushmeat trade,” explained lead researcher Alexandra Rosati, now at Yale University. “They’re sort of in semi-captivity, but it’s possible to play games with them. “It’s as close as we can come to wild animals without actually being in the wild.” Dr Rosati, who studies problem-solving in apes in order to examine the origins of human behaviour, designed two games” (read more).
Evolution helps us imagine what aliens might be like
Side Note: I love these types of discussions, specifically because of their overall implications. The more we learn about how evolution works and where it works and under what conditions the more we see how life, while not always probable still very possible, can grow on other worlds. Think of how limited our technology still is in terms of what we are able to see and how many habitable planets we can currently detect. Now think how exponentially larger that scope of detection would become if its technology continue to progress. I imagine this would also change our minds about how we think evolution evolves elsewhere, how much more diverse it may be, and how often in occurs in the cosmos once the right conditions for life are set. I recommend reading this whole piece especially if you’re well into astronomy, biology, or astrobiology and the topic of evolution occurring elsewhere in the Universe.
Image: Cover art for Carl Sagan’s ‘The Dragons of Eden’
What are the odds that intelligent, technically advanced aliens would look anything like the ones in films, with an emaciated torso and limbs, spindly fingers and a bulbous, bald head with large, almond-shaped eyes? What are the odds that they would even be humanoid? In a YouTube video, produced by Josh Timonen of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, I argue that the chances are close to zero (www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKAXrmkx12g). Richard Dawkins himself made this interesting observation in a private communication after viewing it:
I would agree with [Shermer] in betting against aliens being bipedal primates, and I think the point is worth making, but I think he greatly overestimates the odds against. [University of Cambridge paleontologist] Simon Conway Morris, whose authority is not to be dismissed, thinks it positively likely that aliens would be, in effect, bipedal primates. [Harvard University biologist] Ed Wilson gave at least some time to the speculation that, if it had not been for the end-Cretaceous catastrophe, dinosaurs might have produced something like the attached [referring to paleontologist Dale A. Russell’s illustrated evolutionary projection of how a bipedal dinosaur might have evolved into a reptilian humanoid].
I replied to Dawkins that if something like a smart, technological, bipedal humanoid has a certain level of inevitability because of how evolution unfolds, then it would have happened more than once here. In his 2001 book Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, Robert Wright argues that our existence precludes other terrestrial intelligences of our level from arising. But Neandertals were as close as one can get to a counterfactual experiment: they had hundreds of thousands of years to themselves in Europe without our interference and showed nothing like the technological and cultural progress of the modern humans who displaced them. Dawkins’s rejoinder to me is enlightening:
But you are leaping from one extreme to the other. In the film vignette, you implied a quite staggering rarity, so rare that you don’t expect two humanoid life-forms in the entire universe. Now you are … pointing out, correctly, that a certain inevitability would predict that humanoids should have evolved more than once on Earth! So, yes, we can say that humanoids are fairly improbable, but not necessarily all that improbable! Anything approaching “a certain inevitability” would mean millions or even billions of humanoid life-forms in the universe, simply because the number of available planets is so huge. Now, my guess is intermediate between your two extremes … I suspect that humanoids are not so very rare as to justify the statistical superlatives that you permitted yourself in the vignette.
Good point. But of the 60 to 80 phyla of animals, only one, the chordates, led to intelligence, and only the vertebrates actually developed it. Of all the vertebrates, only mammals evolved brains big enough for higher intelligence. And of the 24 orders of mammals only one—ours, the primates—has technological intelligence. As the late Harvard evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr concluded: “Nothing demonstrates the improbability of the origin of high intelligence better than the millions of phyletic lineages that failed to achieve it.” In fact, Mayr calculated that even though there have evolved perhaps as many as 50 billion species on Earth, “only one of these achieved the kind of intelligence needed to establish a civilization.”
The late astronomer Carl Sagan, in a Planetary Society debate with Mayr (Bioastronomy News, Vol. 7, No. 4, 1995), noted that technologically communicating species “may live on the land or in the sea or air. They may have unimaginable chemistries, shapes, sizes, colors, appendages and opinions. We are not requiring that they follow the particular route that led to the evolution of humans. There may be many different evolutionary pathways, each unlikely, but the sum of the number of pathways to intelligence may nevertheless be quite substantial.”
Thus, the probability of intelligent life evolving elsewhere in the cosmos may be very high even while the odds of it being humanoid may be very low. I strongly suspect that we are blinded by Protagoras’ bias (“Man is the measure of all things”) when we project ourselves into the alien Other.
Chimpanzees are Smart Eaters
Chimpanzees watch what they eat and when, which may show that these primates are giving some thought to the quality of their food, according to Purdue Univ. research.
“There is an association between the time of day primates eat certain resources and the nutritional quality of those resources, suggesting consumption may track nutrient content,” says Bryce Carlson, an assistant professor of anthropology who studies primate ecology and nutrition in human evolution. “We can’t say for sure if chimpanzees are consciously selecting the leaves when nutritional content is greatest, but this correlation presents an intriguing hypothesis to explain feeding behavior in this primate species and mechanisms for ingestive behavior in general.”
Read more: http://www.laboratoryequipment.com/news/2013/03/chimpanzees-are-smart-eaters
Co-Discoverer of Evolution by Natural Selection: Alfred Russel Wallace Letters Go Online
Alfred Russel Wallace may not be a name as well-known as Charles Darwin, but London’s Natural History Museum is one of many institutions that believes it should be.
The reason why is simple: ask the average person in the street who discovered natural selection, they will say, “Darwin”. In fact it was discovered by Darwin and Wallace — both scientists arrived at the conclusion independently in the 19th century, and in fact the original publication of the theory featured both of their names on the cover.
A hundred years after his death, the Natural History Museum (NHM) is hoping to address this and to make 2013 the “Year of Wallace”. By doing so, it hopes to publicly reinstate the Victorian as the co-discoverer of one of the most important discoveries in the history of science.
The NHM has this week launched Wallace Letters Online, a website that showcases for the first time the correspondence Wallace had during his life and research. All surviving letters have been scanned and transcribed by museum volunteers and staff, and can be freely read and downloaded.
Who was Alfred Wallace?
One need only speak to George Beccaloni, NHM curator and director of the Wallace Correspondence Project, to discover why Wallace was such an important character in the scientific history books.
“When he died it’s been said that he was the most famous person in the world,” Beccaloni tells Wired.co.uk. “Every newspaper around the world ran obituaries about him and called him the last of the great Victorians.
“Wallace received a lot of credit in his lifetime for being the co-discoverer [of natural selection]. He was awarded every honour that it’s possible for a biologist to receive in Britain, including the most prestigious honour of the Royal Society, the Copley Medal.”
Problematically, natural selection was a distinctly controversial topic when it was proposed, and so after his death in 1913, Wallace’s name devolved into relative obscurity.
“It was only when modern genetics and population ecology emerged in the late-1930s that people realised that natural selection was the key to evolution,” says Beccaloni. “People got interested in the history of the subject and in where the idea came from and they looked back and saw Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’ and didn’t look any further.”
Beccaloni is something of a Wallace evangelist, but he’s not alone. He recently travelled with fellow Wallace fan Bill Bailey to Indonesia to film a two-part documentary for the BBC about the late scientist’s discoveries. (“I went out as a sort of personal Wallace fact checker,” says Beccaloni.) The documentary is set to be broadcast later this year.
For an insight into the life of Wallace, the Natural History Museum’s Wallace Letters Online website is now open to the public.
A new antiscience bill was introduced in the Arizona Senate. A typical instance of the “academic freedom” strategy for undermining the teaching of evolution and climate change, Senate Bill 1213 would, if enacted, call on state and local education administrators to endeavor to “create an environment in schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues” and to “assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.”
Wow. I’m really fascinated by the rhetoric that is used in bills like this to make it sound like it’s scientific. I also like how they put “global warming” right next to human cloning in their list of “scientific controversies.”
But mostly, I’m just going to go in the other room and cry for Arizona.