Bioluminescence is woven into folklore legends. From the 8th century Japanese firefly legend known as hotaru, to Fox an Apache American Indian who spread fire over the Earth during festive dance with fireflies, the world-wide wonder of bioluminescence is interlaced throughout the expanse of nature from the microbe to vertebrates.
To explore the science of ancient legends, evolutionary biologist Matthew Davis at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, published the results of their study in the paper entitled “Repeated and Widespread Evolution of Bioluminescence in Marine Fishes” in the journal PLoS One (2016). Despite the inference in the title, however, evidence for the origin of bioluminescence continues to stymie scientists.
The shape of bacteria has long been anticipated to correlate with movement. From an evolutionary perspective, form is predicted to follow function – but, had yet to be tested. In the words of evolutionary geneticist Fouad El baidouri, “despite a few pioneering attempts to link bacterial form and function, functional morphology is largely unstudied in prokaryotes [bacteria].”
Now in a landmark study published in Nature, Ecology & Evolution, a research team lead by El baidouri from the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom Elizabeth Allen explains in Phys Org, “the shape of bacteria does not influence how well they can move – this is the surprising finding… The findings refute long-held theories that there should be a strong link between the evolution of shape in bacteria and their ability to move.”
Early northeast colonial settlers, William Bradford and Edward Winslow, in 1620 sent out a business prospectus: “Cape Cod was like to be a place of good fishing, for we saw daily great whales, of the best kind for oil and bone.” The American whaling industry was just beginning. Two-hundred years later, New England was the premier whaling center in the world. More than 10,000 men set-sail on whaleships in 1857 from New Bedford, Massachusetts, alone.
Within the next 100 years, during the life-time of Herman Melville’s mythical Moby Dick (illustrated), the whaling industry was forced to hunt deeper into the ocean and eventually into the southern Atlantic, leaving the north Atlantic population decimated. Since fewer than 100 were known to exist by 1935, whaling was globally banned in 1937. While the population is estimated to have finally increased to 500 in 2013, a Florida research team has uncovered that a genetic mutation is now forcing the whale population into extinction – a whale evolution nightmare.
In the early 1900s, Thomas Hunt Morgan, Columbia University zoologist, was looking for an organism to test Charles Darwin’s theory in the laboratory. Morgan was critical of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. After learning of an easily-reproducible insect yielding hundreds of progeny every few weeks, Morgan thought that he had discovered a model by which to study evolution. Morgan was eventually awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for demonstrating that chromosomes act as the carriers of inheritance in 1936.
Of the lion’s share of laboratory research, Morgan’s fruit flies became one of the most popular study models of evolution. After surviving through an unknown number of laboratory experiments, however, fruit flies are still fruit flies. “We are due for a renaissance,” said Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado, a biologist at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Missouri in an interview with Quanta Magazine science writer Emily Singer. “We have narrowed our focus to a handful of organisms that statistically are highly unlikely to encompass the gamut of biological activity on the planet.” The evolution industry is on a mission to find a new study model of evolution.
The mystery behind the superiority of bird eye sight over humans is now more mysterious than ever. Joe Corbo, staring into the eye of a chicken seven years ago, saw something startling carpeting the retina. Rather than randomly distributed color-sensitive cones, like in humans, Corbo observed a uniform distribution of the cones – a pattern previously unrecognized in birds.
Science writer, Natalie Wolchover, in A Bird’s-Eye View of Nature’s Hidden Order published in Quanta Magazine in July reported that while cones were remarkably uniform in distribution, the actual cone locations seemed haphazard. “The dots’ locations followed no discernible rule, yet never seemed too close or too far apart” – a strange mix of bird eye random regularity.
In the native land of Charles Darwin for the first time, the Royal Society is challenging evolution academia to develop a new theory of biological evolution. Recognized as the original science organization in western civilization, the society explains the problem with today’s most popular current theory: “Developments in evolutionary biology and adjacent fields have produced calls for revision of the standard theory of evolution, although the issues involved remain hotly contested.”
Increasingly, the standard theory of evolution has been challenged in the wake of the twentieth century genomic revolution. On center stage is the validity of random genetic mutations coupled with natural selection as the standard theory of biological evolution. The Royal Society’s radical referendum scheduled for this November in London is slated to revolutionize the current “hotly contested” and chaotic landscape of the evolution industry.
Britain’s peppered moth has long been an evolution icon. This month, a new genetic discovery renews the spotlight on the moth. “Researchers from the University of Liverpool,” reports ScienceDaily, “have identified and dated the genetic mutation that gave rise to the black form of the peppered moth, which spread rapidly during Britain’s industrial revolution. The new findings solve a crucial missing piece of the puzzle in this iconic textbook example of evolution by natural selection.”
Peppered moths are notable for their unique speckled range of colors from light, shades of gray, to nearly black. The dark moths are also known as melanics or carbonaria. ScienceDaily’s crucial missing piece evidence, the “jumping gene,” was published this month in the prestigious journal Nature. “From time to time,” however, according to Jerry Coyne, a University of Chicago evolution scientist, “evolutionists re-examine a classical experimental study and find, to their horror, that it is flawed.”
“The Brain defects caused by Zika virus ‘could set evolution back 2 million years’ scientists claim” was the leading story in the UKs Daily Mirror in February. Since then, the global spread of Zika virus, a previously known as a rare virus, continues as a leading headline story – for good reasons. As CNN reports, “This is the first time a mosquito has been found to cause congenital birth defects.”
The New England Journal of Medicine published the article entitled “Zika virus and Birth Defects — Reviewing the Evidence for Causality” on April 13, written by a team headed by Sonja Rasmussen at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to Rasmussen, “sufficient evidence has accumulated to infer a causal relationship between prenatal Zika virus infection and microcephaly and other severe brain anomalies.” Since Zika infections are associated with congenital defects, the Zika virus is set to test the holy grail of evolution – natural selection.
J. Craig Venter, best known for being the first to sequence the human genome in 2000, is recognized as one of the leading scientists of the 21st century. Ten years after his important accomplishment, Venter was credited for successfully recreating “the first synthetic species” in 2010 – named Mycoplasma laboratorium.
In his relentless pursuit to “understand the molecular and biological function of every gene in a cell,” Venter released the latest findings discovered in his genetics research laboratory in Southern California. The paper, entitled “Design and Synthesis of a Minimal Bacterial Genome,” was published on March 25, 2016 in the journal Science. The findings have emerged as a new genomic evolution nightmare for Craig Venter.
R2D2, short for Artoo-Detoo, is best known as the fictional robotic character in the Star Wars universe series created by George Lucas. Inducted into the Robot Hall of Fame in 2003, R2D2 has since been included in the Smithsonian Institution list of 101 Objects that Made America. R2D2 is the good guy; the favorite character of George Lucas – known for always saving the day at least once in every film.
In the realm of biology however, the R2d2 gene is a Darth Vader villain terrorizing Darwin’s once popular theory. R2d2’s newly recognized function was published on February 15 in a paper in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution by leading investigator Fernando Pardo-Manuel de Villena (pictured below), professor of genetics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. With a stealthy title, “R2d2 drives selfish sweeps in the house mouse,” R2d2 disses Darwin with scientific evidence.