Origin and evolution of life

  • Was Life Wasted on the Young?
    Did life shape the early Earth, or did the early Earth shape life? The choice may be a false dichotomy, but living without light, water or oxygen gave the earliest microbes a limited menu to order their lives around.
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  • Mind the Gap
    Scientists have unearthed skeletal fossils of a human ancestor believed to have lived about 4.5 million years ago. From the Gona Study Area in northern Ethiopia, the fossils will help scientists piece together the mysterious transformation of primitive chimp-like hominids into more human forms.
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  • More than Monkey See, Monkey Do?
    Language has long been considered one of the defining characteristics for humans, but recent work with Tamarin monkeys and rats suggest that picking up speech cues has a rhythmic quality throughout the mammalian world.
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  • Ordering Genes
    Less can be more, at least with regard to how genes organize themselves into an entire ecosystem. Two new studies reveal how genes maintain control and don't run wild in a single organism, and then how few genes it may take to predict new branches
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  • Running Key to Shapely Human
    The evolution of the human form may be tied to the survival benefits of endurance running, according to a recent examination of seemingly inconsequential traits. The development of the neck and skull have implications for human intelligence.
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  • Dinosaurs in Bullet-Proof Vests
    One just has to skim the terrestrial timeline of species to be astonished at the alien experiments done in Earth's biological history. Animals and plants evolved all sorts of protective methods, but among the mighty dinosaurs, there was one particular animal that was tough to
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  • Birds, Bees and Cool Shades
    When the sky is bright, few may realize it is also polarized. Few humans without sunglasses, that is. Birds and insects may locate their navigational tiepoints using the sun's polarization and their own built-in shades.
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  • Counting on Toes
    A key question for the history of life is the origin of terrestriality, when ancestral species first took advantage of movement on land. New tracks dried into the Canadian mud, shows fingers and toes progressing quite early in the Carboniferous period, tens of millions of
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  • Hatching the First Animal
    Who laid the first egg? Thousands of 600 million years old embryo microfossils have been found in China that may be among the first animals. It is a case of preserving the seemingly unpreserveable.
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  • The Left-Handed Lobster
    Nature versus nurture, what is the cause of the lop-sided claw weight in lobsters? The question borders on watching evolution in action, as a new study reveals that after being born with same-sized claws, the favored one in use becomes the big one.
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  • Folding Flipper’s Brain
    Why are dolphins smart? One clue is how much the dolphin brain folds in to make room for greater neural mass. This encephalization may have arisen when dolphins first started sonar imaging (or echolocating fish underwater) and also when social bonds became important to
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  • Pruning the Tree of Life
    The relationship between species has historically been depicted as a tree of life. Branches on this tree are assigned based on genetic similarities. But is there a better way to prune the family tree that comprise the great kingdoms?
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  • Life’s a Gas
    How did the first amino acids form the first peptides? It is the important question that may point the pathway towards understanding the primordial soup. Researchers now suggest that the binder for linking together building blocks may have been volcanic gases--or carbonyl sulfide.
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  • Designing Darwin’s Finches
    Charles Darwin first looked to the beak of different finches as evidence of natural adaptation, as their beak shapes reflected their niches in the food chain. New efforts have tried to find what underlying biochemistry can account for the birth of a beak.
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  • How Life First Bubbled Up
    If evolution is viewed as a battle of the fittest, it becomes possible to imagine a battle even at the chemical level for what might ultimately act as a single cell. In what biochemists might term, the battle of the bubbles, competition for encapsulating a
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