WBEZ | evolution http://www.wbez.org/tags/evolution Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en High-speed evolution http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/high-speed-evolution-105523 <p><p><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mambol/5787422021/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/squirrel-by-mambol-via-flickr.jpg" title="Evolution may seem remote, but urban species are evolving before our eyes. (mambol via Flickr)" /></a></p><p>Humans&rsquo; impact on nature has a tendency to eclipse our expectations, from our capacity for population growth to our hand in altering atmospheric chemistry. Scientists studying urban ecology were similarly surprised to learn that animals in metropolitan areas appear to be evolving faster than our classic understanding of the process would predict.</p><p>Joel Brown, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, said that knowledge demands a new framework for environmental decision-making. He calls it evolutionarily enlightened management.</p><p>&ldquo;Evolution happens,&rdquo; said Brown, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/programs/afternoon-shift/2013-02-01/afternoon-shift-where-wild-things-are-105292">who was on The Afternoon Shift Feb. 1</a>. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not just an academic thought.&rdquo;</p><p>It is surprising that evolution could be happening before our eyes, but at the same time it shouldn&rsquo;t be &mdash; species accustomed to our urbanized habitat meet the major criteria for speciation, the process of forming new species through evolution. Subject to different pressures than their more rural counterparts, and sufficiently separated from them by habitat loss, urban animal populations can spin off new &ldquo;ecotypes&rdquo; &mdash; not quite new species, taxonomically speaking, but genetically different nonetheless.</p><p>Recent research has shown the way we manage species induces rapid evolutionary changes. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/scitech/science/chicago-scientist-finds-evidence-high-speed-evolution">Scientists found populations of white-footed mice have shrunk over time</a>, in correlation with changes in climate and human population density. It isn&rsquo;t that they&rsquo;re just going hungry. A look at urbanized species reveals their mitochondrial DNA &mdash; their actual genes &mdash; have changed overnight, evolutionarily speaking.</p><p>&ldquo;We have this sense that nature is on hold until we make our decisions,&rdquo; Brown said. &ldquo;But evolution is happening around us.&rdquo;</p><p>We are not going to wake up and find our wolves have turned into Chihuahuas, he said, but &ldquo;backyard ecotypes&rdquo; are edging out their native counterparts in interesting ways. Red squirrels have developed tougher jaws to crack the harder nuts that fall from our deciduous hardwood trees. And some are getting fatter.</p><p>Squirrels in the Morton Arboretum, Brown said, build sizable seed caches for the winter &mdash; a 401acorn plan. In the city, packed together with other squirrels who might plunder their stash, they fatten up instead &mdash; they carry their money in their wallet.</p><p>No one knows exactly why this is happening. It could be that urban environments are more manic-depressive for mammals, so to speak, with greater heights and lower lows than in the wilderness. If that&rsquo;s true for squirrels, larger bodies could act as a check against lean times.</p><p>But Brown said the important thing is just to incorporate the knowledge that it is happening into environmental management. We catch these stories after the fact, he said, but we are facilitating and accelerating the evolution of urban ecotypes with almost every action, or inaction.</p><p>&ldquo;Oftentimes by making no decision, we&rsquo;re making a decision,&rdquo; Brown said, observing at least 80 Canada geese patrolling the UIC lawn outside his window while we spoke over the phone. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re rewarding those geese that don&rsquo;t migrate by giving them so much food.&rdquo;</p><p>Repatriating an errant raccoon to &ldquo;the wild&rdquo; may feel like a good idea, Brown said, but over time as more people dump urban-born animals into natural areas it will speed up the creation of these non-native ecotypes.</p><p>&ldquo;This becomes a societal decision,&rdquo; Brown said. &ldquo;Everybody has to get involved in this discussion.&rdquo;</p><p>Brown asked rhetorically, do we want to declare open hunting season for Canada geese after December 1? Evolutionarily enlightened management could be another tool in ecologists&rsquo; arsenal, he said, but it is also a responsibility.</p><p>&ldquo;If I&rsquo;m going to wield the evolutionary sword,&rdquo; Brown said, &ldquo;I have to be willing to die by it.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Follow Chris Bentley on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley">@Cementley.</a></em></p></p> Thu, 14 Feb 2013 06:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/high-speed-evolution-105523 Bigger not necessarily better for Big Bird’s ancestors http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-12/bigger-not-necessarily-better-big-bird%E2%80%99s-ancestors-104149 <p><p>For most of us, Big Bird is about as big as it gets when it comes to our feathered friends.</p><p>But for Peter Makovicky of the Field Museum, Big Bird is small stuff.</p><p>Makovicky is the Curator of Dinosaurs and Chair of the Department of Geology at Chicago&#39;s <a href="http://fieldmuseum.org/" target="_blank">Field Museum of Natural History</a>. He&rsquo;s spent the last few years researching giant bird-like dinosaurs of the Cretaceous period, called theropods. You might know them from Jurassic Park or elementary school coloring books. T-Rex and the infamous velociraptor are both theropods. And in case you missed the memo, scientists now believe <a href="http://phys.org/news/2012-10-canadian-fossils-feathered-dinosaurs-north.html" target="_blank">theropods had feathers</a>. (<a href="http://www.jurassicparkiv.org/" target="_blank">Jurassic Park IV</a>, anyone?)</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6773_Khan-scr.jpg" style="height: 234px; width: 200px; float: left;" title="Skeleton of the small oviraptor Khan from the Late Cretaceous of Mongolia. The short, deep skull bears a parrot like beak. (Field Museum)" />A couple years ago Makovicky and Lindsay Zanno of North Carolina State University did a study showing that <a href="http://phys.org/news/2010-12-meat-eating-dinosaurs-carnivorous.html" target="_blank">many theropods are actually vegetarians</a>. So much for the <a href="http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lh4x81XKTF1qaekpeo1_500.jpg" target="_blank">cruel velociraptor stereotype</a>.</p><p>The pair&rsquo;s latest research focuses on the evolutionary patterns of those fearsome herbivores.</p><p>&ldquo;The research that [we] did was to use dinosaurs to investigate the bigger evolutionary question of how animals become herbivorous,&rdquo; said Makovicky. Scientists had hypothesized that as species&rsquo; evolved to become plant-eaters, their body mass would also grow.</p><p>Big vegetarians not ringing a bell? Step away from <a href="http://www.peta2.com/blog/americas-next-top-vegetarian-model/" target="_blank">America&rsquo;s next top vegetarian model</a> and instead imagine an elephant, or a brachiosaurus, or a snuffaluffagus (not totally real, but <a href="http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/File:BirdandSnuffy.jpg#file" target="_blank">still a relevant example</a>). The broad theory about evolutionary mass and herbivory says that the bigger some herbivores get, the easier it is to take in all those leafy greens.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a lot harder to digest plants than meat,&rdquo; Makovicky explained. &ldquo;You have to intake the plants, and they have to sit in your gut for a long time and ferment for you to get as many calories out of them as from meat. For them to sit in a gut for a longer time, you essentially get a longer and larger gastrointestinal tract.&rdquo;</p><p><a href="http://images.nationalgeographic.com/wpf/media-live/photos/000/005/cache/giraffe_549_600x450.jpg" target="_blank">Precisely</a>.</p><p>But Makovicky&rsquo;s and Zanno&rsquo;s study, published Wednesday in the <a href="http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/280/1751/20122526.abstract" target="_blank"><em>Proceedings of the Royal Society B</em></a>, shows the vegetarians in the bunch did not consistently evolve to get bigger. Or, as the article title states, there is &ldquo;No evidence for directional evolution of body mass in herbivorous theropod dinosaurs.&rdquo;&nbsp;<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6775_PeteInField-scr.jpg" style="height: 313px; width: 280px; float: right;" title="Peter Makovicky digging for dinosaur fossils. (Field Museum)" /></p><p>To find out that such evidence didn&rsquo;t exist, Makovicky and Zanno broke down the evolutionary trees of three different theropods who shifted to plant-based diets during the same time span, about 125 million to 65 million years ago. Evolutionary trees, or phlogenetic trees, are graphs that show the relationships scientists infer between evolving species over a period of time.</p><p>When Makovicky and Zanno analyzed the trees of their chosen theropods, they found that some of the bird-like giants got bigger, others smaller over different periods.</p><p><strong>Chickens of the Cretaceous</strong></p><p>The theropods Makovicky and Zanno studied were no slouches in the looks department. Makovicky called them &ldquo;oddballs.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;They don&rsquo;t look anything like your traditional view of a dinosaur,&rdquo; he said. The egg-thieves (oviraptorosaurs) are often depicted sitting on nests. They had a beak with a sliding jaw joint and a parrot-like head, sometimes with a bulge on top.</p><p>The scythe-lizards (therizinosaurs) were toothless, with a small head atop a long neck and squat body. Unlike the massive flamingos you might be picturing, though, they had thick limbs. And the ostrich-mimics (ornithomimosaurs) have a name that speaks for itself. Think of them as the giant chickens of the Cretaceous age.</p><p>All of these lizardly curios had feathers and are thought to be close relatives of current-day birds, and they lived in China, Mongolia, and what is now western North America.</p><p>Makovicky and Zanno conducted three tests based on the three theropod species, which they selected because all became herbivores during the Cretaceous period.</p><p>The first test showed that overall, the dinos in question got bigger over time. That was was scientists expected, a tendency that would be called &ldquo;directional evolution of body mass.&rdquo;</p><p>But when Zanno and Makovicky did a second test in which they broke down the evolutionary trees of each species and studied the branches of the trees, some of the branches got bigger while others got smaller at different times. That made it seem far less likely that any overall growth was consistently linked to the transition to herbivory.</p><p><br /><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/2310676873_e8168d5610%20%281%29.jpg" style="height: 373px; width: 280px; float: left;" title="A rendering of a therizinosaur from the early Cretaceous (Flickr/Cryptonaut)" />In their third test, they focused on two theropod lineages that occurred over the same period and in a similar location. That allowed the researchers to observe that the changes in size over time track each other, meaning that when one of the species got smaller, so did the other. The logical conclusion from this observation was that some environmental factor experienced by both species was more important than diet in determining the evolutionary direction of their sizes.</p><p><strong>Bigger is not always better. But why?</strong></p><p>What would make a recent convert to vegetarianism benefit from shrinking?</p><p>Makovicky and Zanno&rsquo;s research can&rsquo;t say for sure. Competition with other dinosaurs could be a factor. For herbivores living around a slew of other herbivore species, there could be advantages to focusing on a specialized dietary niche that larger feathered friends couldn&rsquo;t access. Makovicky also said smaller animals tend to reach maturity and reproduce at earlier ages. When the creatures ended up in environments with less abundant resources, evolving to smaller sizes could have been a way to stabilize the population.</p><p>The simultaneous changes in multiple species from one environment could also result from the nature of the geologic record.</p><p>&ldquo;You might have [geologic] environments that preferentially preserve small things,&rdquo; said Makovicky. The ups and downs in size could reflect shifts in what was mostly likely to be preserved, rather than in the actual sizes of the creatures.</p><p>The layman&rsquo;s take-away from Makovicky and Zanno&rsquo;s research is probably still the Big Bird bottom line: these theropods were huge, and they tended to get ginormous.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s definitely capacity to grow very large as a herbivore, almost as large as a T-Rex,&rdquo; said Makovicky. &rdquo;In some of these environments these animals would have been bigger than any of the carnivores around. But the fact that they are herbivorous alone doesn&rsquo;t explain their body size evolution.&rdquo;</p><p>Some of the biggest specimens were found right at the end of the Cretaceous, which was the era of big dinosaurs in general: &ldquo;Everything got bigger,&rdquo; Makovicky said.</p><p>The environment for everyone - right up until that pesky extinction problem made the news - seems to have turned body mass into an asset. The reason for that grand trend is one of the <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/09/dinosaurs-not-that-big-scientists" target="_blank">big questions dino experts are still struggling to answer</a>.<br />&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 30 Nov 2012 18:34:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-12/bigger-not-necessarily-better-big-bird%E2%80%99s-ancestors-104149 Clever Apes #28: The critter economy http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2012-03-20/clever-apes-28-critter-economy-97474 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2012-March/2012-03-20/THUMBNAIL_Gorrilla.png" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="Dario Maestripieri studies how humans behave compared with primates." class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-March/2012-03-20/DARIO pic for post.png" style="width: 600px; height: 484px;" title="Dario Maestripieri studies how humans behave compared with primates. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)"></p><p>It seems like economics is a purely human invention, far removed from the jungle. But scientists say our ancestors were spending and investing for millions of years. So our behavior when we manage our portfolio or climb the corporate ladder resembles nothing so much as the interactions of apes or monkeys. In the latest installment of Clever Apes, we consider how our financial activity has deep parallels in the primate world. And furthermore, many of our most important financial decisions come from even more primitive impulses, deep in our lizard brains.</p><p>The University of Chicago’s <a href="http://primate.uchicago.edu/dario.htm">Dario Maestripieri </a>is a professor of comparative human development, evolutionary biology, neurobiology and psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience. (I usually abbreviate titles, but his makes me happy). He studies the intersections among our minds, our primate cousins, and evolution. In his new book <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Games-Primates-Play-Investigation-Relationships/dp/046502078X">Games Primates Play</a>, he details how the mechanisms of economics have their origins in our deep past.</p><p>Apes and monkeys play the market by choosing whom to groom and whom to attack, whom to sleep with and what food is worth risking a fight for. As Yale psychologist Laurie Santos explains, the psychology that governs those decisions didn’t begin with humans. So we see monkeys making the same kinds of classic mistakes that humans make, like “loss aversion,” where we work harder to avoid losses than to achieve equivalent gains. (<a href="http://www.ted.com/talks/laurie_santos.html">check out her TED talk </a>for a great explanation.)</p><p><img alt="(WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-March/2012-03-20/THUMBNAIL_Gorrilla.png" style="width: 250px; height: 188px; margin: 10px; float: right;" title="(WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)">We’re also subject to the same quirks of biology as many non-human primates. Biologists have found that <a href="http://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223%2895%2900675-3/abstract">monkeys with high levels of testosterone and lower levels of the brain chemical serotonin </a>tend to take more risks: taking longer leaps between trees, challenging unfamiliar males, and so on. Maestripieri and his colleagues set up a <a href="http://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/index.php/Kellogg/article/the_biochemistry_of_financial_risk">similar experiment with business school students. </a>There too, those with higher levels of testosterone were more likely to make long-shot investments or go into a riskier profession.</p><p>Finally, we check in with neuroeconomist <a href="http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/faculty/kuhnen/htm/">Camelia Kuhnen </a>of Northwestern University. She finds that our investment decisions are heavily influenced by some of the most ancient parts of our brains. She and a colleague did an experiment where they <a href="http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/faculty/kuhnen/htm/RESEARCH/KWKW_2008.pdf">activated the brain’s reward center </a>using something that had nothing to do with money – in this case, it was sexy pictures. In males, anyway, this led them to make riskier bets in an investment game. Just the whiff of reward was enough to make these guys high-rollers … something we can thank our reptilian ancestors for.</p></p> Tue, 20 Mar 2012 20:25:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2012-03-20/clever-apes-28-critter-economy-97474 Chicago scientist illuminates a mystery of evolution http://www.wbez.org/story/chicago-scientist-illuminates-mystery-evolution-95369 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2012-January/2012-01-08/1000px-Human_evolution.svg_.png" alt="" /><p><p>A Chicago scientist has shed some light on one of evolution’s most stubborn mysteries by resurrecting 800-million-year-old genes in the lab.</p><p>The basics of evolution are pretty well understood: random genetic mutations over time lead to ever-more complex living things. But at tiny scales, there’s a puzzle: Scientists have had a hard time explaining how tiny, complicated structures in our cells referred to as “molecular machines” evolved.</p><p>Joe Thornton, a professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago, used a technique he calls “molecular time travel” to recreate ancient genes and actually built the primitive cellular machine. Then he observed how common processes led to highly intricate structures.</p><p>“Increases in complexity don’t require these very low probability, hard to imagine mutations,” said Thornton, who is also on faculty at the University of Oregon.. “Complexity can increase through very routine mechanisms which happen all the time.”</p><p>Explaining that complexity would address a point raised by skeptics of evolution. Some proponents of “intelligent design” have asserted that molecular machines are “irreducibly complex,” and therefore could not have evolved from a simpler form.&nbsp;</p><p>Thornton’s results are published in the journal, Nature.</p></p> Mon, 09 Jan 2012 04:56:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/chicago-scientist-illuminates-mystery-evolution-95369 Scientists demonstrate empathy in rats http://www.wbez.org/story/scientists-demonstrate-empathy-rats-94696 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-December/2011-12-07/bartal1HR.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago researchers say it’s time to take another look at the noble rat. <a href="http://www.sciencemag.org/content/334/6061/1427">They’ve demonstrated</a> what they call the first clear example in rodents of empathy, a quality previously only observed in primates.</p><p>Scientists have known that rodents show a primitive kind of empathy called “emotional contagion,” meaning a rat near another rat in distress will also feel distress. But the University of Chicago team designed an experiment to see if a rat would actually go out of its way to help a comrade.</p><p>They placed two rats in a cage. One roamed free while the other was trapped in a transparent stall in the center of the cage. The stall could only be opened by the other rat. Once he figured it out, the free rat would quickly move to liberate his cagemate.</p><p>“The trapped rat is now liberated and he runs around the arena,” said neurobiology professor Peggy Mason. “And the free rat runs after him. And jumps on him. And licks him. And it looks like a celebration.”</p><p>The scientists, beginning with graduate student Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, then refined the experiment to be sure it really was empathy they were observing. They rigged the setup so that the liberator would not be able to play with his newly freed cagemate, to see if the action was motivated by wanting the reward of social interaction. But the behavior didn’t change even when there was no reward. They also tested whether the free rat would open the stall if it was empty, or if it contained a toy rat. He did not.</p><p>Finally, they put in a second stall, containing a handful of chocolate chips. To the scientists’ shock, the free rat would still release the trapped rat first before going for the chocolate -- about half the time.</p><p>“That was spectacularly clear, and what it tells us is that liberating a trapped cagemate is on a par with chocolate. And these are rats that like chocolate,” Mason said.</p><p>Even more staggering is that the free rat left some chocolate for his cagemate, rather than gobbling up all of it as they do when there’s no companion to think of.</p><p>Washington State University neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp <a href="http://www.sciencemag.org/content/334/6061/1358.summary">wrote an analysis</a> accompanying the research article, which appears in the journal Science. Panksepp said in an email that this experiment is the clearest-yet demonstration of behavior of this kind, but that further research is needed to untangle the motivation, be it empathy or "social stimulus enrichment."</p><p>The University of Chicago's Peggy Mason believes she's controlled for that possibility, and says she's certain that empathy is what's on display in the rat cage. She says the results suggest empathy goes back much farther in our evolutionary history than previously thought, and is therefore a deep and fundamental part of our very animal nature.</p><p>“What it basically tells us is that if we obey our biological inheritance, we’ll help each other,” Mason said. “To not help another person takes a conscious suppression of a natural biological tendency.”</p><p><object classid="clsid:D27CDB6E-AE6D-11cf-96B8-444553540000" codebase="http://download.macromedia.com/pub/shockwave/cabs/flash/swflash.cab#version=9,0,47,0" height="270" id="flashObj" width="480"><param name="movie" value="http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&amp;isUI=1"><param name="bgcolor" value="#FFFFFF"><param name="flashVars" value="@videoPlayer=1310843557001&amp;playerID=1217716884001&amp;playerKey=AQ~~,AAAAp3Tjq0E~,iTywAQf1ctD7bjeOK3Q_u_yu5gvGIZDP&amp;domain=embed&amp;dynamicStreaming=true"><param name="base" value="http://admin.brightcove.com"><param name="seamlesstabbing" value="false"><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"><param name="swLiveConnect" value="true"><param name="allowScriptAccess" value="always"><embed allowfullscreen="true" allowscriptaccess="always" base="http://admin.brightcove.com" bgcolor="#FFFFFF" flashvars="@videoPlayer=1310843557001&amp;playerID=1217716884001&amp;playerKey=AQ~~,AAAAp3Tjq0E~,iTywAQf1ctD7bjeOK3Q_u_yu5gvGIZDP&amp;domain=embed&amp;dynamicStreaming=true" height="270" name="flashObj" pluginspage="http://www.macromedia.com/shockwave/download/index.cgi?P1_Prod_Version=ShockwaveFlash" seamlesstabbing="false" src="http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&amp;isUI=1" swliveconnect="true" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="480"></object></p></p> Wed, 07 Dec 2011 19:55:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/scientists-demonstrate-empathy-rats-94696 Clever Apes #13: Origin stories http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-05-24/clever-apes-13-origin-stories-86999 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-May/2011-05-24/Kipunji.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="The only known specimen of rungwecebus kipunji is locked away at the Field Museu" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-May/2011-05-25/Kipunji 1.jpg" style="width: 595px; height: 335px;" title="The only known specimen of rungwecebus kipunji is locked away at the Field Museum. "></p><p>Say the original <a href="http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/">Declaration of Independence </a>burned up. No problem, you might think – we have pictures of it. But then say someone discovered that a word had been scratched out and replaced. Without the original document to examine, we might never know what that discarded word was … or how close we came to being a nation founded on the right to pursue “life, liberty and the pursuit of waffles.”</p><p><audio class="mejs mediaelement-formatter-identified-1332483509-1" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/sites/default/files/Clever_Apes_13_Origin_Stories.mp3">&nbsp;</audio></p><p>There’s power in the original – whether it’s a document, the mold of a famous sculpture, or the standard of a common measurement, like <a href="http://www.bipm.org/en/practical_info/faq/faqs_mass.html">the kilogram.</a></p><p>Scientists who name a new species keep an artifact of its origin. It’s called the holotype – the standard by which a new species (or genus or subspecies) is designated. It turns out there are a whole bunch of these <a href="http://fieldmuseum.org/explore/our-collections/mammal-collection">locked away in secure cases in Chicago</a> – more than 500 just for mammals. It’s like a tiny National Archives of biology.</p><p>On this round of <a href="http://www.wbez.org/cleverapes">Clever Apes, </a>we consider origins, from the concrete example of a <a href="http://www.wcs.org/saving-wildlife/small-primates/kipunji.aspx">monkey holotype</a>, to the murk of the beginnings of consciousness. On that point, we check in with Malcolm MacIver of Northwestern, whom we visited last year to hear a choir of singing fish he helped create. Those fish inspired his theory on the origins of consciousness, which he first laid out in <a href="http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/sciencenotfiction/2011/03/14/why-did-consciousness-evolve-and-how-can-we-modify-it/">several blog posts.</a> He dates it back to our emergence from the primordial oceans, when all of a sudden we could begin to see much farther. That meant more time to plan, to consider possible futures. And that, by at least one formulation, is the essence of consciousness.</p><p>As always, subscribe to the Clever Apes&nbsp;<a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast" target="_blank" title="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast">podcast</a>, follow us on&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/cleverapes" target="_blank" title="http://twitter.com/#!/cleverapes">Twitter</a>, find us on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412" target="_blank" title="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>.</p><p><img alt="Alas, poor Kipunj: Bill Stanley and the skull of a new genus he helped identify." class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-May/2011-05-25/Stanley and skull 1.jpg" title="Alas, poor Kipunj: Bill Stanley and the skull of a new genus he helped identify." width="600" height="337"></p></p> Wed, 25 May 2011 04:28:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-05-24/clever-apes-13-origin-stories-86999 Clever Apes #11: Deconstructing disgust http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-04-26/clever-apes-11-deconstructing-disgust-85712 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-April/2011-04-27/Mr20Yuck.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" height="369" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-April/2011-04-26/Mr Yuck.jpg" title="" width="500"></p><p>Last time around on Clever Apes we dipped into realms of science that <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-04-13/clever-apes-10-yuck-85105">some might consider disgusting</a>. Now we turn to the science of disgust itself.</p><p><audio class="mejs mediaelement-formatter-identified-1332483487-1" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/sites/default/files/Clever_Apes_11_Deconstructing_Disgust.mp3">&nbsp;</audio></p><p>What is disgust, and where does it come from? There are a few places where scientists can look for clues, starting with what disgusts people. We did a decidedly unscientific survey of kids at the <a href="http://msichicago.org/whats-here/exhibits/body-worlds/">Museum of Science and Industry</a>, and the results line up pretty well with what <a href="http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1993-98937-034">actual experts say</a>. They break out in a few categories: bodily secretions (blood, vomit, feces, puss), animals that could carry disease (insects, vermin), and certain foods (pot pies … don’t ask). A few common ones our pint-sized sample group didn’t bring up, thankfully, include corpses and incest.</p><p>Then there’s the strong physiological response to disgust, especially nausea and facial contortions. According to psychologist <a href="http://www.psych.upenn.edu/%7Erozin/">Paul Rozin</a>, that evidence indicates that disgust has its origins in <a href="http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/rev/94/1/23/">avoiding toxic agents in stuff we eat</a>. Evolutionary anthropologist <a href="http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/anthro/faculty/fessler/">Dan Fessler</a> adds that the feeling then gets generalized to all sorts of other things, from sexual mores all the way up to our deepest moral convictions.</p><p>One place where Rozin and Fessler part ways: Rozin, <a href="http://www.sas.upenn.edu/sasalum/newsltr/fall97/rozin.html">one of the forefathers of disgust theory</a>, believes disgust serves to <a href="http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/xge/130/3/427/">distance us from our most animalistic behaviors</a>: dying, procreating, eating, pooping. By this view disgust is existential armor, protecting us from having to come to terms with our bestial nature. Fessler is skeptical of that argument (in part because of <a href="http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/anthro/faculty/fessler/pubs/NavarreteNormativeBiasEP.pdf">his own experimental results</a>). He argues the disgust response has become a way to <a href="http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/anthro/faculty/fessler/pubs/Fessler&amp;HaleyOrganDisgust.pdf">define and protect boundaries</a> – from national borders right down to the boundaries of our own bodies.</p><p>In any case, disgust seems to be a basic human emotion, written into our nature by evolution, shaping and shaped by our culture.&nbsp;</p><p>Subscribe to the Clever Apes&nbsp;<a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast" style="text-decoration: none; color: rgb(0, 104, 150);" target="_blank" title="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast">podcast</a>, follow us on&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/cleverapes" style="text-decoration: none; color: rgb(0, 104, 150);" target="_blank" title="http://twitter.com/#!/cleverapes">Twitter</a>, or find us on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412" style="text-decoration: none; color: rgb(0, 104, 150);" target="_blank" title="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>.</p></p> Tue, 26 Apr 2011 20:51:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-04-26/clever-apes-11-deconstructing-disgust-85712 Chicago researcher: Rock, Paper, Scissors helps explain biodiversity http://www.wbez.org/story/biodiversity/chicago-researcher-rock-paper-scissors-helps-explain-biodiversity <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-March/2011-03-14/P1000144.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>A Chicago researcher says he&rsquo;s found insight into how ecosystems work from what may be the world&rsquo;s most basic game: rock, paper, scissors. <br /><br />Stefano Allesina says there&rsquo;s long been a paradox in ecology. An ecosystem can teem with thousands of competing species, but the math can&rsquo;t quite explain that. Models suggest that more strong ones should push out more weak ones, leaving fewer species overall. <br /><br />Now Allesina says he&rsquo;s worked out a new model to account for the diversity. The key was finding a setting where multiple, equally powerful contestants can all survive: rock, paper, scissors. <br /><br />&ldquo;For any two species, you have one winner, and it&rsquo;s a very clear winner,&rdquo; says Allesina, an assistant professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago. &ldquo;But through a third species, they can close this cycle, and then start this mechanism.&rdquo;<br /><br />Allesina scaled up the game to not just three variables, but hundreds or thousands. He says his model could account for almost unlimited biodiversity, and it also explains why why the loss of one seemingly minor species can topple a carefully balanced ecosystem. <br /><br />His findings are out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. <br />&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 14 Mar 2011 19:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/biodiversity/chicago-researcher-rock-paper-scissors-helps-explain-biodiversity Evolving Culture: Where Do We Go From Here? http://www.wbez.org/story/animals/evolving-culture-where-do-we-go-here <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//npr/images/30-10-2010/muskox.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>For billions of years, the environment and how it affected organisms' genes was the key to evolution. But in the past 10,000 years, for humans at least, genetic evolution has been nudged aside by something more powerful.</p><p>&quot;What we are able to do which other animals aren't able to do is to rapidly adapt to completely new environments,&quot; says Robert Boyd, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. &quot;Most animals -- all animals except humans -- would have to adapt to that by changing genetically.&quot;</p><p><strong>Humans Adapt With Their Wits</strong></p><p>Think about it. Let's say you want to live in Fairbanks, Alaska. If you're a musk ox, you can't build a shelter or buy insulations, so you make your own.</p><p>&quot;They have a very, very superfine sort of wool that's underneath a long skirt of hair,&quot; says biologist Perry Barboza, director of the Large Animal Research Station, a part of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. &quot;That provides an enormous amount of insulation. And on top of that, or beneath that, they have about 2 inches fat as well.&quot;</p><p>But musk ox can only survive in one kind of environment. Transport them to the desert, and they die within days because they don't have the physiology to get rid of excess heat.</p><p>Humans can live anywhere they like: in Fairbanks, where the winters get to 40 below zero, or Dubai, where the summers are routinely 100 and above. The reason is we don't have to make genetic adaptations to our environments in order to survive.</p><p>&quot;You could say that one of the most important tools for [humans] surviving in the north is the needle,&quot; says Aron Crowell, who is <a href="http://www.anchoragemuseum.org/expansion/smithsonian.aspx">Alaska Director of the Smithsonian's Arctic Studies Center</a>. The earliest humans used those needles to sew warm, waterproof clothing: fur jackets, sealskin boots and waterproof parkas.</p><p>Eskimos don't have a gene that tells them how to make a parka. That ability comes from cultural knowledge passed from generation to generation. Sure, we needed to evolve a brain that could conceive of the idea of using seal intestines to make a waterproof parka, but Boyd says having a big brain is just the start.</p><p>&quot;It's easy to see that it's not individual intelligence that makes us so good at adapting,&quot; he says. &quot;It's an important component, but we also need the ability to accumulate knowledge gradually over a whole population of people over hundreds or maybe even thousands of years.&quot;</p><p>The <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9dwodDdvjk">Franklin Expedition</a> in the mid-1800s exemplifies this concept well, Boyd says. On May 19, 1845, two ships set out from England in search of the Northwest Passage through the Arctic. Neither returned. Almost 15 years later, a search party <a href="http://visionsnorth.blogspot.com/2009/04/it-is-perhaps-most-evocative-document.html">found a single sheet of paper</a> left in a tin can covered by stones on King William Island in the Canadian Arctic.</p><p>28 of May 1847 &hellip; Having wintered in 1846-7 at Beechey Island &hellip; after having ascended Wellington Channel and returned by the West side of Cornwallis Island. Sir John Franklin commanding the Expedition. All well.</p><p>But scribbled in the margins of the paper was a more ominous note.</p><p>Sir John Franklin died on the 11th June, 1847, and the total loss by deaths in the Expedition has been to this date 9 officers &amp; 15 men.</p><p>In the end, all perished, but not before the starving crew apparently resorted to cannibalism. Boyd says the irony is that there were Canadian Eskimos living near where the ships became frozen in the ice, and the Eskimos survived the harsh winter just fine.</p><p>&quot;The difference was the English sailors didn't have the knowledge to live in the Arctic, and they couldn't figure it out on their own,&quot; he says.</p><p><strong>Sharing Knowledge</strong></p><p>For the past 10,000 years, it's been cultural changes that have shaped how humans have evolved and coped with their environments -- not genetic changes.</p><p>And just as geneticists have been looking at ancient DNA to see how new genes emerged and spread, anthropologists and archaeologists are trying to do the same for the emergence and transmission of new skills.</p><p>Archaeologist Ben Potter of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, spends a lot of time visiting ancient sites of human habitation throughout the state. He says you can think of them like a laboratory to understand how humans coped &quot;when they're pushed to their limit, or when they are approaching an environment that they're not equipped for biologically.&quot;</p><p>Ten-thousand years ago, the latest development in arrowheads or stone microblades would be passed from parent to child or tribe to tribe. Now, the way cultural information is transmitted has changed dramatically. UCLA's Boyd says that today there are institutions whose whole function is to be engaged in cultural transmission.</p><p>&quot;Schools, religious institutions and other kinds of associations -- and then there are things like NPR who transmit to zillions of people,&quot; he says.</p><p>There's a torrent of cultural knowledge flowing over us all the time, and we get to decide how to use that knowledge to shape our future.</p><p>&quot;Where it's going to go? Your guess is as good as mine,&quot; he says.</p><p>Wherever it goes, if we don't like the outcome, we'll have only ourselves to blame.</p><p><em>This story was produced by Jane Greenhalgh.</em> Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1288486717?&amp;gn=Evolving+Culture%3A+Where+Do+We+Go+From+Here%3F&amp;ev=event2&amp;ch=128245649&amp;h1=The+Human+Edge,Animals,Humans,Environment,Research+News,Science,Home+Page+Top+Stories,News&amp;c3=D%3Dgn&amp;v3=D%3Dgn&amp;c4=129604791&amp;c7=1007&amp;v7=D%3Dc7&amp;c18=1007&amp;v18=D%3Dc18&amp;c19=20100906&amp;v19=D%3Dc19&amp;c20=1&amp;v20=D%3Dc20&amp;c21=3&amp;v21=D%3Dc2&amp;c31=128245649&amp;v31=D%3Dc31&amp;c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001" alt="" /> Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1288486718?&amp;gn=Evolving+Culture%3A+Where+Do+We+Go+From+Here%3F&amp;ev=event2&amp;h1=The+Human+Edge,Animals,Humans,Environment,Research+News,Science,Home+Page+Top+Stories,News&amp;c3=D%3Dgn&amp;v3=D%3Dgn&amp;c4=129604791&amp;c7=1007&amp;v7=D%3Dc7&amp;c18=1007&amp;v18=D%3Dc18&amp;c19=20100906&amp;v19=D%3Dc19&amp;c20=1&amp;v20=D%3Dc20&amp;c21=3&amp;v21=D%3Dc2&amp;c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001" alt="" /></p></p> Sun, 05 Sep 2010 23:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/animals/evolving-culture-where-do-we-go-here Fast Feet: A Springy Step Helps Humans Walk http://www.wbez.org/story/home-page-top-stories/fast-feet-springy-step-helps-humans-walk <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//npr/images/30-10-2010/footscan.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>It took a few million years for human ancestors to evolve into the walking, talking, texting and blogging creatures we've become. Along the way, the human body and brain have changed a lot. And we couldn't have done it without our feet.</p><p>Our ape-like ancestors had a foot built for grasping branches and climbing trees. But our foot is stiff, taut and springy, built for walking and running.</p><p>Brian Richmond, an anthropologist, runner and kids soccer coach, is trying to find out how our unique appendage evolved.</p><p>At his office at George Washington University, Richmond has some tantalizing clues to how the change took place.</p><p>&quot;These are the earliest footprints of early humans,&quot; he says, showing me an image of a track in what looks like dried mud. They were left in the African mud by one of our ancestors -- 1.5 million years ago. It's about a size 9.</p><p>And there's more than one; there's a whole trackway. The prints look like the diagrams of feet that dance instructors use to show how to do the salsa or the tango.</p><p>These Kenyan prints are the kind of discovery that makes a scientific career. For me, and I suspect for Richmond, they're even more exciting to behold than a bone or even a skull that old, because they represent an ancient <em>action </em>-- a <em>living </em>moment -- captured.</p><p>&quot;A fossilized footprint is basically fossilized behavior,&quot; Richmond says. &quot;It shows you what that individual did 1.5 million years ago that instant in time.&quot;</p><p><strong>Marvelous Feet</strong></p><p>And what do those prints tell Richmond? &quot;Sure enough, they were walking with a long stride, they had an arch in the foot the way we have.&quot;</p><p>Long legs and an arch in our foot. Our primate cousins -- gorillas, chimps, bonobos -- are flat-footed with no arch. The arch is actually the manifestation of a very complex apparatus <em>inside </em>our foot -- an apparatus for walking like no other in the world.</p><p>Richmond is trying to determine when humans developed these marvelous feet. He's doing it by working backwards, comparing our feet now to the climbing and grasping feet of apes and the feet of our early ancestors.</p><p>Blue-gloved and white-coated, Richmond leads the way into a brightly lit room at the GWU medical school. Metal gurneys are lined up in neat rows, each covered with a steel lid.</p><p>&quot;I look at the human body and see how it's put together from a functional perspective and an evolutionary perspective,&quot; he explains. &quot;I look at how it is different from other primates.&quot;</p><p>Richmond lifts a steel cover. Underneath, a cadaver lies pale and heavy, the head shrouded in gauze. In death, these donated bodies are instruments of learning. Richmond lifts a flap of skin -- the sole of the foot -- with a metal probe.</p><p>&quot;So here I've just pulled the skin back, and here you can see one of those characteristics that's really uniquely human, and that is the long tendon that runs from the heel, underneath the skin, forward, all the way to the base of the toes.&quot; It's called the plantar aponeurosis. It's a flat, broad tendon, whitish and taut. Along with spring ligaments, it gives the foot its arch and its stiffness.</p><p>Imagine a thick rubber band stretching from your toes to your heel. Step down and the rubber band stretches and absorbs energy. As you roll forward, it transfers weight to your toes. And when the tendon snaps back, it even returns some of the energy in each step back up your leg.</p><p>We also have short toes, and a big toe that's in line with the other toes -- also for better walking and running.</p><p>So, when did this elegant appendage evolve? The Kenyan prints <em>seem </em>to show an arched foot. And that was 1.5 million years ago -- so sometime before that.</p><p><strong>Seat-Of-The-Pants Science</strong></p><p>But footprints also reveal a lot about <em>how </em>a person walks: their posture, their stride, even the angle of their leg bones. So Richmond is filming people walking in sand and comparing their footprints to the Kenyan ones. &quot;So that when we have a footprint,&quot; he says, &quot;we can work backward and reconstruct what the steps were like in that individual, even at 1.5 million years ago.&quot;</p><p>If they're similar, then those ancestors probably were built -- and walked -- much like we do. If they're not, Richmond may learn how they were different.</p><p>This is where graduate student Kallista Bernal comes in.</p><p>&quot;I'm standing here while they're trying to put these reflective markers on my joints,&quot; Bernal explains.</p><p>We're in a windowless laboratory at GWU. There's a 4-by-8-foot sandbox in the middle of the floor. Bernal is dressed in tights and a T-shirt, getting ready to walk the walk. &quot;Can I wear a toe ring?&quot; she asks.</p><p>No toe rings, but more than a dozen reflective markers are stuck to her hips, legs and her bare feet. She will walk through the sandbox as cameras focused on those markers produce a sort of stick-figure computer animation of her gait -- the turn of her ankles, the angle of her thighs, even the curl of her toes.</p><p>&quot;Each footprint that I make, we're going to do 3-D scans, and try and figure out, based upon how I move and in what type of sediment I step in, how my footprints change,&quot; she says.</p><p>She gets the go-ahead and strolls through the sand as casually as she can under the watchful eyes of several researchers and a row of cameras. She leaves a nice set of prints in the sand. Richmond measures them with a laser and photographs them.</p><p>It's seat-of-the-pants science -- there's no precedent for it. And Richmond isn't sure what he'll find out. He needs to analyze hundreds of prints to make good comparisons between us -- that is, Kallista Bernal -- and the Kenyan ancestor.</p><p><strong>Evolving Into Us</strong></p><p>That ancestor was probably <em>Homo erectus</em>, which emerged about 1.8 million years ago. They made tools, hunted, used fire and were taller and had a bigger brain than their predecessors.</p><p>&quot;They were starting to change their way of life,&quot; Richmond says. &quot;They would go much farther. And a lot of people think it's mainly in terms of finding meat, and meat became a new and important part of the diet. That also led eventually to us populating the world more.&quot;</p><p>Eventually, <em>Homo erectus</em> evolved into us, modern humans. And we can thank them for inventing that spring in our step that gave us -- literally -- the get-up-and-go to hunt, to populate Africa and eventually to walk ourselves all over the world. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1288486717?&amp;gn=Fast+Feet%3A+A+Springy+Step+Helps+Humans+Walk&amp;ev=event2&amp;ch=128245649&amp;h1=The+Human+Edge,Science+Headlines+E-Mail+Newsletter,Humans,Environment,Research+News,Science,Home+Page+Top+Stories&amp;c3=D%3Dgn&amp;v3=D%3Dgn&amp;c4=128575033&amp;c7=1007&amp;v7=D%3Dc7&amp;c18=1007&amp;v18=D%3Dc18&amp;c19=20100719&amp;v19=D%3Dc19&amp;c20=1&amp;v20=D%3Dc20&amp;c21=3&amp;v21=D%3Dc2&amp;c31=128245649,122101520&amp;v31=D%3Dc31&amp;c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001" alt="" /> Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1288486734?&amp;gn=Fast+Feet%3A+A+Springy+Step+Helps+Humans+Walk&amp;ev=event2&amp;h1=The+Human+Edge,Science+Headlines+E-Mail+Newsletter,Humans,Environment,Research+News,Science,Home+Page+Top+Stories&amp;c3=D%3Dgn&amp;v3=D%3Dgn&amp;c4=128575033&amp;c7=1007&amp;v7=D%3Dc7&amp;c18=1007&amp;v18=D%3Dc18&amp;c19=20100719&amp;v19=D%3Dc19&amp;c20=1&amp;v20=D%3Dc20&amp;c21=3&amp;v21=D%3Dc2&amp;c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001" alt="" /></p></p> Mon, 19 Jul 2010 10:06:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/home-page-top-stories/fast-feet-springy-step-helps-humans-walk