Denisova Cave, where the fossil finger was discovered. Photo provided by ЦуваевНиколай at ru.wikipedia and shared via Creative Commons.
When archaeologists discovered a 40,000 year old pinky bone in a Siberian cave, everyone wondered who the bone belonged to. Researchers extracted DNA from the fossil and used it to construct an evolutionary tree to see how the pinky bone's owner was related to modern day humans and Neanderthals. Scientists were surprised by what they found — read more about it in this month's Evo in the news: Making sense of ancient homonin DNA.
Each month, the UCMP's Understanding Evolution website features an Evo in the news article, which focuses on the evolutionary aspects of a popular news story. Click here to browse the Evo in the news archive!
Map and photos: Tom Devitt
Ring species are often touted as examples of speciation in action — and the Ensatina salamander, which forms a ring around California's Central Valley, is a classic example. Biologists discovered this ring species back in the 1950s, and investigations of Ensatina continue today. Learn more about Ensatina in this research profile of biologist Tom Devitt, on the UCMP's Understanding Evolution website. Tom is a graduate student in Integrative Biology here at UC Berkeley. The profile follows him from the field to the lab, from studying the morphology to investigating the molecules. Tom even does some exciting experiments on Ensatina mating behavior — be sure to check out this research profile!
The Central European blackcap (left) and Galapagos ground finch (right) are two bird species that have undergone speciation recently, while scientists observed.
Speciation isn't always slow — sometimes, we can see evidence of evolution over a very short period of time. This month's Evo in the news: Speciation in real time looks at two examples of speedy speciation. The Central European blackcap, a bird, could be on the verge of a speciation event — over the past 30 years, researchers have seen a split in the behavior and morphology of two groups of blackcaps. Speciation has occurred in another bird species over a similar time period: the Galapagos finches, long an example of speciation by natural selection, have done it again. Learn more about how speciation can happen right in front of scientists' eyes in Evo in the news: Speciation in real time, on the UCMP's Understanding Evolution website. This month's Evo in the News also features a video podcast, provided by the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent).
Click here to browse the Evo in the news archive!
Congratulations Judy Scotchmoor, UCMP Assistant Director for Education and Public Programs! Judy was named an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Fellow. Judy receives this prestigious award "for leadership in defending teaching of evolution and quality science education through nationally recognized websites on these issues and through leadership of Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science."
The websites, for which Judy is project coordinator, include The Paleontology Portal, Understanding Evolution, and Understanding Science. She is also a founder of the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS), a grassroots network of science organizations.
Upon learning of her award, Judy exclaimed "This was a huge and wonderful surprise — a real 'Oh WOW!' kind of moment!"
Judy will receive her award in February 2010 at the AAAS Annual Meeting, in San Diego.
Mosquitos like this one spread the malaria pathogen. Photo: CDC.
Evolution doesn't just happen in a textbook — evolution is happening right now, and one example is the pathogen that causes malaria. Malaria kills nearly one million people each year. The disease can be treated, but new drug-resistant strains of the pathogen, Plasmodium falciparum, have recently been discovered in western Cambodia. These strains are resistant to artemisinin, the most effective anti-malarial drug available. Learn more about the evolution of drug resistant malaria pathogens, and how combination drug therapies help prevent the evolution of drug resistance, in the latest Evo in the News story, Fighting the evolution of malaria in Cambodia. This story is on UCMP’s Understanding Evolution website and is released in conjunction with the Year of Science. This month's theme is science and health.
Evolution is everywhere — including in the news! That's why each month we publish a new Evo in the News feature on our Understanding Evolution website. This month, we focus on oxygen as an evolutionary constraint. When life began 3.5 billion years ago, all organisms were tiny. Today, earth has some pretty big inhabitants, like the blue whale and the giant sequoia. Learn how the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere opened the door for the evolution of these big organisms. Read the latest Evo in the News story, oxygen as an evolutionary constraint!
Click here to read more Evo in the News stories.
Photo Credits, clockwise from top left: University of California Irvine, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, British Antarctic Survey, Rolando Garcia, NASA, Susan Solomon
Well, hairspray is not really the focus of this article, but the process of science IS, and that explains its connection to the UCMP!
With all of the efforts on our Understanding Evolution website, it did not take long before it became apparent to us that much of the confusion about evolution is linked to confusions about science itself – how it works, what it is, what it is not, and what is not science. In response, UCMP pulled together an astonishing set of advisors and launched a new website that is gaining a lot of attention in the science education community – Understanding Science. The site is extremely rich and contains numerous examples of how science really works.
So back to the hidden hazard of hairspray - Read Ozone depletion: Uncovering the hidden hazard of hairspray, one of the online interactive case studies on the Understanding Science website. This article looks at the work of chemists Mario Molina, F. Sherwood Rowland, and many others and examines how scientific research revealed the global threat posed by chlorofluorocarbons and influenced policy changes. And see how Molina and his colleagues' investigations measure up against the Science Checklist: read The science checklist applied: CFCs and the destruction of the ozone layer.
And while you are there, explore the rest of Understanding Science, an NSF-funded website, and let us know what you think!