Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Interesting News Round-up

I am going to try not to make the news round-up a regular thing, but having been to Download festival for several days means that I missed out on some news which I found interesting. So here it is.

Molecular Data Insufficient in Systematics?

A recent study has shown that molecular methods used for studies in systematics and evolution are not sufficient. The researchers amply demonstrate that methods such as using mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) did not give enough of the picture to be relied upon alone. See the article here for details. Any ecologists who thought they were becoming obsolete due to DNA analysis can breathe a sigh of relief. Personally the idea that genetic data should be bolstered with other lines of data when constructing phylogenies seems obvious. At least now I can't be accused of having a bias towards wanting palaeontology to have a voice.

Mathematical Models and Multicellularity

This is something I really need to do more research into. The evolution of multicellularity is largely a mystery, particularly concerning differentiation. Individual cells are expected to act selfishly, making multicellularity a difficult trait to evolve. Multicellularity has actually been observed evolving, at least in a crude form, see here for details. But whether that study applies to the multicellular evolution in our ancestors remains to be seen. Now a mathematical model has been formed which elucidates this complex process. Through the evolution of developmental plasticity comes the evolution of differentiation. I would love to say more about this, but as I am not mathematically minded I would probably make a mess of things until I do more research, it is exciting though. Here is the simpler article.

More Insight into Abiogenesis

Recent experiments have successfully synthesised guanine, one of the nucleotide bases found in DNA and RNA. This is a big step as it much of the evidence supports the concept of RNA being the precursor of DNA and so far all RNA bases had been synthesised in prebiotic conditions except for guanine (those are adenine, cytosine and uracil). The experiments were elegantly simple, using UV light to cause the reaction. Not only did it produce guanine, but also facilitated the production of the other molecules as well. This is a big yet simple step in our understanding of life's origins. For more info check the ScienceDaily article here or the journal paper here.

Warm Blooded Ichthyosaurs

After looking at the gorgeous ichthyosaur fossil in Doncaster museum today this story was particularly exciting. Using techniques I mentioned in a previous blog, a team have determined that marine reptiles such as ichtyosaurs, plesiosaurs and mosasaurs were warm blooded. Again, for the ScienceDaily article see here, for the journal paper see here.

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