Tag Archives: charles darwin

Not so picky and coy after all: Female animals also have mating contests. They’re just more subtle than males

Sage-grouse on lek site in Central Oregon. Credit: NRCS Oregon, Flickr.

Men chase and women choose. This old-fashioned perspective on dating is also surprisingly prevalent among scientists studying mating dynamics shaped by sexual selection, wherein male animals are seen as more expendable and have to compete for the attention of picky females. But a new study shines light on the often-overlooked female competition for access to quality male mates, showing that sexual selection in females is actually the norm rather than the exception.

Victorian-era sex stereotypes

Charles Darwin claimed that all living species were derived from common ancestors, proposing natural selection as the driving mechanism in his pivotal book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Natural selection says that organisms better adapted to their environment would benefit from higher rates of survival than those less equipped to do so, and would thus be more likely to pass on copies of their genes.

Darwin noted, however, that some elaborate traits had no apparent adaptive purpose and clearly did not aid survival (and in some cases jeopardized it by attracting predators) but rather served a sexual purpose. The male peacock with its extravagant plumage is an often-cited example of this effect. These traits could evolve if they are sexually selected, hence the name sexual selection, which Darwin explored at length in his follow-up book, The Descent of Man.

Sexual selection operates through two mechanisms: intrasexual selection, which refers to competition between members of the same sex (usually males) for access to mates, and intersexual selection, where members of one sex (usually females) choose members of the opposite sex. 

In a new study, a team of researchers led by Salomé Fromonteil of CNRS and the University of Rennes in France argues that the male-centered perspective on sexual selection is greatly exaggerated and has contributed to “a pervasive bias in research agendas of behavioural ecologists and evolutionary biologists over the last decades.

“Despite an increased awareness that females also compete for mating partners, we still tend to consider sexual selection in females a rare peculiarity,” the researchers wrote in a new study that appeared in the preprint server biorxiv.org.

In the 19th-century, Darwin wrote in his original conception of sexual selection that “with almost all animals, in which the sexes are separate, there is a constantly recurrent struggle between the males for the possession of the females” and that “the female […], with the rarest exception, is less eager than the male […,] she is coy and may often be seen endeavouring for a long time to escape from the male.”

This Victorian-era assertion has proven remarkably resilient, largely because there is some truth to it. In 2016, Tim Janicke, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Montpellier in France and co-author of the new study, measured the strength of sexual selection acting upon a variety of animal species and found that males experience a higher degree of sexual selection than females do.

However, the male side of sexual selection is greatly inflated compared to the female side, the researchers argue. For instance, studies exploring aspects of sexual selection on males outnumber those examining female competition for mates and male choice by a factor of ten to one, despite the fact that there are numerous instances of female intrasexual selection in the animal kingdom.

When females compete for males’ attention

Seahorses mating, taken at Seahorse World in Beauty Point, Tasmania. Credit: Flickr, John Dalton.

The clearest examples can be found in so-called sex-role reversed species in which the females actively compete for males and are the more ornamented sex. These include pipefishes and seahorses, in which fertilization takes place inside the brood pouch of the male until the young are ready to hatch, and this male will provide all parental care. In such species, males are a limited resource for which females have to compete, which leads to selection for ornaments favored by males in both pre- and post-copulatory mate choice.

However, nature doesn’t have to be flipped on its head in order to see sexual selection operating in females. Even in species with conventional sex roles where male ornamentation and extravagant courtship behaviors are selected for, you can still see female competition for high-quality males. For instance, female wattled jacanas (Jacana jacana) are known to aggressively fight for control over territory in order to monopolize multiple mates. Meanwhile, dung beetle females have evolved small horns that they sometimes use to battle other females in contests over access to mates. In Black grouse (Tetrao tetrix), both males and females compete for mates in elaborate courtship displayed arenas called leks.

“Consequently, sexual selection in females might actually be an omnipresent phenomenon in animals but operating less intensely and more subtly compared to males, which can make it more difficult to detect,” the researchers wrote.

In their new investigation, Janicke and Fromonteil investigate the published literature reporting evidence of sexual selection in females from 72 species. Particularly, the researchers measured and compared the Bateman gradient, a measure of the fitness benefit of mating, named after 20th-century British geneticist Angus John Bateman.

Bateman’s work showed that males produce sperm at a low energy cost, whereas females have a relatively much higher investment in far fewer eggs. This energy imbalance in gamete investment, Bateman argued, drives competing strategies in males and females. Males are thus incentivized to spread their sperm to as many mates as possible and to compete with other males for access to mating partners, while females are incentivized to be more choosy.

Sex is costly for females but the worst outcome is no sex at all

The Bateman gradient is a measure of the benefit of having multiple mating partners. The steeper the curve of the Bateman gradient, the greater the fitness benefit a male or female gains from mating more.

Although these gradients varied wildly among the species included in the meta-analysis, the researchers found that females from species that had access to many partners had higher Bateman gradient values than females of species that tended to mostly mate with one male at a time.

In effect, this means that, just like males, females also gain a fitness boost from access to multiple males, which naturally opens the door for sexual selection. In fact, the study’s authors claim that sexual selection in females is the norm rather than the exception across the animal tree of life.

“Specifically, our results document that females – just as widely assumed for males – typically benefit from having more than one mating partner. As a consequence, selection is also expected to favour the evolution of female traits that promote the acquisition of mating partners. However, given the previously documented higher benefit of mating in males, sexual selection on females may often operate more hiddenly leading to the evolution of less conspicuous ornaments and armaments compared to males,” they wrote.

While the relative difference in gamete cost between the sexes likely drives important behavioral changes in their mating strategies, the researchers argue that reproductive success may sometimes be maximized when mating with multiple mates or, at the very least, having additional mating episodes.

“Collectively, our study contributes to a more nuanced view on sexual selection and sex differences in general. Darwinian sex roles may predominate the animal tree of life in the sense that sexual selection is typically stronger on males compared to females but our meta-analysis questions the view that females are typically coy and passive. Sexual selection on females should not be considered a rare phenomenon but instead be acknowledged as widespread across animals,” the researchers concluded.

Book Review: ‘A Most Interesting Problem’

A Most Interesting Problem: What Darwin’s Descent of Man got Right and Wrong About Human Evolution
Edited by Jeremy DeSilva
Princeton University Press, 288 pages | Buy on Amazon

In 1859, Charles Darwin published what’s arguably the most influential book in modern science: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. In this seminal work, Darwin introduced the concept of natural selection — a cornerstone of modern biology — as a mechanism for evolution.

The British naturalist defined evolution as “descent with modification,” by which he meant species change over time, give rise to new species, and share a common ancestor. Organisms with heritable traits that favor survival and reproduction will tend to be more successful and produce more offspring than their peers, causing the traits to increase in frequency over generations — this is the crux of natural selection.

Unsurprisingly, these views, which we now hold for granted, were met with great backlash by Darwin’s peers and Victorian society at large. Although Darwin never addresses the question of human evolution in On the Origins of Species, the implications were obvious. If all species descend with modification, that means humans also descended from a lesser form, which was incongruent with creationist views of the time.

Darwin avoided addressing human evolution on purpose because he needed more time to construct his thesis, being well aware that was a sensitive topic. In 1871, the scientist finally published his follow-up The Descent of Man, in which he attempted to explain human evolution during a time when there were no confirmed fossil records of human ancestors.

What Darwin got right, and what he didn’t

In the book, Darwin prefaced this topic as “the highest and most interesting problem for the naturalist.” On this note, in the newly released A Most Interesting Problem, acclaimed scientists present what Darwin got right and what he got horribly wrong about the origin, history, and biological variation of humans 150 years after he wrote his thesis on human evolution.

The book is edited by Jeremy DeSilva, associate professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College, and features contributions from world-renowned experts in their field. Each chapter is authored by a different researcher discussing modern evidence supporting or countering Darwin’s views.

Unsurprisingly for a scientist of his magnitude with a phenomenal intuition of the natural world, Darwin was spot on with many of his assertions. For instance, his comparative study of living primates led him to claim that humans must have evolved in Africa, which is also .

He also made claims that have now been proven flat out wrong. His most obvious blunders were related to matters of race and sex. Darwin asserted that humans are separated into biological races that follow a hierarchy and that women were biologically inferior to men virtually in every way. Later, these views would be exploited by proponents of eugenics and white-supremacists in the 20th century.

That being said, it’s easy to judge Darwin’s by today’s standards. But during his time, Darwin was no more sexist or racist than his Victorian peers — that was simply the unfortunate status quo.

One can only wonder how the British naturalist must have reacted in the face of confounding evidence. My guess is that he would live by his scientific creed and renounce his previous claims in favor of those supported by evidence such as DNA, brain scans, and the fossils belonging to more than 60 hominins.

Ultimately, A Most Interesting Problem is a fantastic run-down of today’s understanding of human evolution and a great showcase of the scientific process. Science isn’t meant to be perfect, but its self-correcting nature makes it the best tool at our disposal for approximating reality.

Darwin’s century-old prediction about flightless insect seems to be on point

Insects are an incredibly varied and diverse group, making up more than half of all known life, with more than a million described species. Many are social, while others are solitary.

Most can fly, while some had this ability but lost it at some point in the past, especially on islands. When Charles Darwin noticed this trend, he speculated that this happens for a very simple reason: so that the insects don’t get blown out into the sea. Those that fly a lot are more likely to get blown, so evolution favors those who don’t.

Many biologists contradicted Darwin’s simplistic assumption. Now, a new study suggests that he might have been right after all — at least partially.

Image credits: Cedric VT.

Flies walk, moths crawl

In between the Antarctic and Australia, a few islands called the Southern Ocean Islands host almost exclusively flightless insects. It’s an extremely peculiar thing, since so many insects fly, and it’s a trend that is also present on many other islands.

“Of course, Charles Darwin knew about this wing loss habit of island insects,” says Ph.D. candidate Rachel Leihy, from the Monash University School of Biological Sciences.

“He and the famous botanist Joseph Hooker had a substantial argument about why this happens. Darwin’s position was deceptively simple. If you fly, you get blown out to sea. Those left on land to produce the next generation are those most reluctant to fly, and eventually, evolution does the rest. Voilà.”

But Hooker, who was an accomplished explorer himself, had different ideas — and Hooker’s own travels to the Antarctic only cemented his ideas. As time passed, biologists seemed to side with Hooker rather than Darwin. Surely there must be some other mechanism at work, most believed. But there seemed to be no clear pattern to explain this. Island size is a poor predictor of flightlessness and climate is also hard to correlate with this.

But few thought to test the idea in the Southern Ocean Islands (SOIs). Leihy and colleagues believe the sub-Antarctic SOIs are an excellent testbed for these hypotheses. They’re pretty cold, food is scarce, and most importantly, they’re some of the windiest places on Earth.

“If Darwin really got it wrong, then wind would not in any way explain why so many insects have lost their ability to fly on these islands,” said Leihy.

They found that out of the indigenous SOI insects, 47% are flightless, compared to 8% for Arctic species, and the 5% global average. In other words, the windier the island, the likelier it is for the insects to ditch flying — essentially making Darwin right.

However, the researchers gave a new spin to Darwin’s idea. Wind is indeed a deterrent to flying, but it’s maybe not because the insects get blown out to sea, but rather because it expends more energy.

Flying is very taxing, it takes a lot of energy to do it. The reason why so many insects can fly is that they’re generally light, which works very well with flying. But if you’re battling a lot of wind, you need to spend more energy than you normally would, which leaves less energy for other things like reproduction. Less reproduction means you’re less likely to spread your genes, and voilà.

Instead, insects on windy islands can choose to redirect the energy for wings and flying muscles to other activities, which seems to be a viable strategy for many species.

It’s remarkable that the ideas of Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, can turn out to be so valuable to this day.

“It’s remarkable that after 160 years, Darwin’s ideas continue to bring insight to ecology,” concludes Leihy, the lead author of the paper.

The study has been published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Two of Darwin’s notebooks were lost, possibly stolen, around 20 years ago — Cambridge University calls for public help

Two notebooks that Charles Darwin filled with his ideas and his famous “Tree of Life” sketch have gone missing and are believed to have been stolen, the Cambridge University Library announced earlier today.

Charles Darwin’s ‘Tree of Life’ sketch. Image credits University of Cambridge.

“On the Origin of Species” is doubtlessly one of the most influential books in history. It was heavily rooted in Darwin’s experiences and observations performed during the voyage of the HMS Beagle, completed in 1837 — which he recorded in leather-bound notebooks. One of them also held a diagram showing the possible evolutionary lineages of a certain species, which was later refined over the decades into the modern concept of a phylogenetic tree.

While not materially valuable, the missing notebooks are worth millions of pounds due to their connection to Darwin.

Long in the making

The library first lost track of the notebooks in 2001, after they were taken out of the Special Collections Strong Rooms to clear room for a photography project to be carried out there. They were listed as missing and it was assumed that someone filed them incorrectly somewhere in the collection, to be found eventually.

It takes quite a while to look through a library with over 10 million books, maps, and manuscripts, so the search continued and nobody was too worried. But a major search this year, the largest and most comprehensive effort of its kind ever undertaken at the Cambridge University Library, failed to produce the notebooks.

“Curators have concluded the notebooks […] have likely been stolen,” the library said in a statement.

Local police have been informed, they added, and the Interpol has updated their database of stolen works (“Psyche”) to include the notebooks. Jessica Gardner, the University Librarian, has also asked the public for help.

“I would ask anyone who thinks they know of the notebooks’ whereabouts to get in touch. Please help,” she said. “It is deeply regretful to me that these notebooks remain missing despite numerous wide-scale searches over the last 20 years”.

A project to significantly improve the library’s security systems has already been completed, and it will hopefully prevent the loss of any further materials. The appeal was made today, on November 24, as it marks the date of the first publication of “On the Origin of Species”. Anyone who may have information about the missing notebooks is asked to contact Cambridge University library via email at manuscriptappeal@lib.cam.ac.uk.

Darwin’s “advertising” — the magnificent biological art of Ernst Haeckel

When Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species in 1859, it forever changed the way we understood life. Darwin’s work stirred discussion and it quickly rose to fame, but not everyone was convinced. Many scientists were skeptical, and many laypeople just couldn’t grasp it. Ernst Haeckel changed all that.

Drawing by Ernst Haeckel. (Photo: Taschen Köln)

While Darwin was the brain behind the theory of evolution, many other scientists of the time helped spread and develop his ideas. If Darwin was the brain, Ernst Haeckel was the face of the beautiful theory. Haeckel’s scientific work and his drawings helped popularize evolution — but to link his name only to evolution would be terribly unfair.

Haeckel discovered, described, and named over a thousand species. He mapped a genealogical tree relating all life forms and coined many terms in biology. Words like anthropogeny, ecology, and stem cell were all coined by Haeckel.

He was also an active philosopher and a physician — although he wasn’t very fond of medicine. His practice was only open for one hour, and an ungodly hour at that: from 5 to 6 a.m. This allowed him to focus on his other passion, zoology. But here, we’re going to have a closer look at another one of his many talents: his drawing.

(Photo: Taschen Köln)

Like Darwin, Haeckel also liked to travel to exotic places and study the wildlife he encountered. But he didn’t settle for describing them — he often drew them.

Haeckel also had an uncanny attention to detail, being able to memorize and reproduce features he had seen even for a short amount of time. He created intricate illustrations of both macroscopic and microscopic creatures, making the unseen available for everyone.

He seemed to have a particular fondness for jellyfish, depicting them in various settings and with their arms and tentacles in different positions.

Few, if any scientists had the capacity to make such beautiful works of art while also depicting organisms very accurately.

Ernst Haeckel illustrated all sorts of lifeforms, some of which are featured here. (Photo: Taschen Köln)

Jellyfish account for many of Haeckel’s illustrations. He named one species Desmonema annasethe (figures 1 and 2, above), after his wife, Anna Sethe. He named many species after her. She died a mere 18 months into their marriage, leaving Haeckel to believe that there really is no God — or if there is, he is simply nature without a will.

But what made Haeckel’s drawings really amazing was his artistic skill. He didn’t just capture the traits of the wildlife he encountered, but he made it look good — really good. So good, that some biologists didn’t really like his style. They felt he went too overboard with the colors and drawing style.

Yet Haeckel understood something that many seem to have forgotten: if you want to draw people to science, you need to make things interesting. See, he wasn’t only drawing for his fellow biologists. He was drawing for the entire world to see.

As Rainer Willmann, one of the editors of the collection, explained to the Guardian:

“Instead of drawing just a front view, he also illustrated the other side if visible through gaps and holes in the skeletons. The result was a three-dimensional picture — rarely seen until then.”

Willmann continued: “Many of Haeckel’s contemporaries thought that he went too far with his stylistic flair — but he knew all too well that a wide audience must be reached to get support for the natural sciences and the idea of evolution. To combine scientific accuracy with the presentation of natural beauty reflects his philosophy — that everything in the universe coheres.”

Another jellyfish illustration, this one of Thamnostylus dinema, highlighting Haeckel’s ability as a scientific illustrator, capturing an organism from many angles. (Photo: Taschen Köln)

We owe much of our biological understanding to Ernst Haeckel’s love for nature, and to his groundbreaking talent in describing and presenting it. As a scientist and as an artist, he was outstanding.

Thankfully, his art is easily accessible now (though at a hefty price). “The Art and Science of Ernst Haeckel” is a sizable book that blends biography, science and art history in a delicious and informative blend. He helped people understand science, and he made them care about science — something which we could sure use today.

 

Charles Darwin and his wife Emma:

Marry or not? Charles Darwin’s list of pros and cons

Charles Darwin and his wife Emma:

Charles Darwin and his wife Emma.

When faced with an important decision in life, a nifty trick is to get organized. Should you buy a new car? Should you drop out of college and pursue your lifelong dream of building your own business? Lists are helpful to come to a decision in this regard. You can write the pros and cons of such decisions on paper, then strike them off one at a time. Eventually, you might see things more objectively and reach a more rational decision. But can this work for anything? Maybe.

Charles Darwin, the pioneering scientists whom we owe the theory of evolution, used a rational approach in most of his endeavors. He was a true scientist, after all.

Scribbling on the back of a letter from a friend, Darwin listed the pros and cons of marrying his cousin  Emma Wedgwood.  The original manuscripts are in the Darwin Archive in Cambridge University Library; these edited transcripts were originally published in Correspondence vol. 2, Appendix IV.

First note, after 7 April 1838

If not marry Travel. Europe, yes? America????

If I travel it must be exclusively geological United States, Mexico Depend upon health & vigour & how far I become Zoological

If I dont travel. — Work at transmission of Species — Microscope simplest forms of life — Geology. ?.oldest formations?? Some experiments — physiological observation on lower animals

B Live in London for where else possible[6] in small house, near Regents Park –keep horse –take Summer tours Collect specimens some line of Zoolog: Speculations of Geograph. range, & Geological general works. — Systematiz. — Study affinities.

If marry — means limited, Feel duty to work for money. London life, nothing but Society, no country, no tours, no large Zoolog. Collect. no books. Cambridge Professorship, either Geolog. or Zoolog. — comply with all above requisites — I could not systematiz zoologically so well. — But better than hybernating in country, & where? Better even than near London country house. — I could not indolently take country house & do nothing — Could I live in London like a prisoner? If I were moderately rich, I would live in London, with pretty big house & do as (B), but could I act thus with children & poor? No — Then where live in country near London; better, but great obstacles to science & poverty. Then Cambridge, better, but fish out of water, not being Professor & poverty. Then Cambridge Professorship, — & make best of it, do duty as such & work at spare times — ¶ My destiny will be Camb. Prof. or poor man; outskirts of London, some small Square &c: — & work as well as I can

I have so much more pleasure in direct observation, that I could not go on as Lyell does, correcting & adding up new information to old train & I do not see what line can be followed by man tied down to London. —

In country, experiment & observations on lower animals, — more space —

Second note, July 1838

To marry or not – 2nd Note, MS Dar 210.8:2r, ©Cambridge University Library

To marry or not – 2nd Note, MS Dar 210.8:2r, ©Cambridge University Library

This is the Question

[row][column class=” col-md-6″]

Marry

Children—(if it Please God)  — Constant companion,
(& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one,—
object to be beloved & played with.— —better than a
dog anyhow.— Home, & someone to take care of
house— Charms of music & female chit-chat.— These
things good for one’s health.— but terrible loss of
time
. —

My God, it is intolerable to think of spending ones
whole life, like a neuter bee, working, working, &
nothing after all.— No, no won’t do.— Imagine living
all one’s day solitarily in smoky dirty London House.—
Only picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa with
good fire, & books & music perhaps— Compare this
vision with the dingy reality of Grt. Marlbro’ St.

[/column][column class=” col-md-6″]

Not Marry

Freedom to go where one liked— choice of Society
& little of it. — Conversation of clever men at clubs—
Not forced to visit relatives, & to bend in every
trifle.— to have the expense & anxiety of children—
perhaps quarelling— Loss of time. — cannot read in
the Evenings— fatness & idleness— Anxiety &
responsibility— less money for books &c— if many
children forced to gain one’s bread.— (But then it is
very bad for ones health to work too much)

Perhaps my wife wont like London; then the sentence
is banishment & degradation into indolent, idle fool—

[/column][/row]

At long last, Darwin reached a conclusion “Marry—Mary—Marry Q.E.D.” But only to move the next important question.

“It being proved necessary to Marry

When? Soon or Late”

The Governor says soon for otherwise bad if one has children — one’s character is more flexible –one’s feelings more lively & if one does not marry soon, one misses so much good pure happiness. —

But then if I married tomorrow: there would be an infinity of trouble & expense in getting & furnishing a house, –fighting about no Society –morning calls –awkwardness –loss of time every day. (without one’s wife was an angel, & made one keep industrious). Then how should I manage all my business if I were obliged to go every day walking with my wife. — Eheu!! I never should know French, –or see the Continent –or go to America, or go up in a Balloon, or take solitary trip in Wales –poor slave. –you will be worse than a negro — And then horrid poverty, (without one’s wife was better than an angel & had money) — Never mind my boy — Cheer up — One cannot live this solitary life, with groggy old age, friendless & cold, & childless staring one in ones face, already beginning to wrinkle. — Never mind, trust to chance –keep a sharp look out — There is many a happy slave —

On November 11, 1838, the 29-year-old Darwin wrote in his journal “The day of days!,” after Emma accepted his marriage proposal. The two had 10 children and remained together until Darwin’s death in 1882.

Heterostyly in Primula farinosa: the position of the stigma (♀) in each morph corresponds to the position of the anthers (♂) in the other morph. Credit: Royal Society

Scientists find the supergene that codes the reproductive traits of flowers

Heterostyly in Primula farinosa: the position of the stigma (♀) in each morph corresponds to the position of the anthers (♂) in the other morph. Credit: Royal Society

Heterostyly in Primula farinosa: the position of the stigma (♀) in each morph corresponds to the position of the anthers (♂) in the other morph. Credit: Royal Society

Herbalists, gardeners, and biologists have known since the 16th century that flowers come in distinct forms based on the position of the male and female sex organs. More than 150 years ago, Charles Darwin claimed that this phenomenon called  “heterostyly” appeared to prevent pollinating insects from fertilizing flowers of the same type. This seems to be extremely important because, in the end, heterostyly leads to cross-pollination between unrelated plants and variation in the offspring – the fuel that powers natural selection.

It’s said Darwin thought heterostyly was the greatest and most fulfilling discovery of his career. Now, using modern tools, biologists have found the supergene or cluster of genes responsible for coding reproductive traits in the Primula flower which Darwin grew in his own back garden and used to experimentally validate his hypothesis.

The work led by researchers at University of East Anglia, UK, concludes that the two forms of flower, known as ‘pins’ (female stigma and style are greatly elongated, male anthers are shortened) and ‘thrums’ (the pins reverse — female parts shortened and male organs extended) are coded by genes that surfaced some 51.7 million years ago. These clusters of closely-associated genes are called supergenes because they act together as a unit and control complex biological mechanisms. The heterostyly supergene is called S locus. 

“Not only did we identify the supergene but we found it is specific to just one of the flower forms, the thrum. This insight has profound implications for our understanding of a key evolutionary innovation of flowering plants,” said Prof Philip Gilmartin from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences.

“This study answers some of the crucial questions that have been asked since Darwin’s time, and for me since I bought my first packet of Primula seeds twenty years ago,” Gilmartin added.

Following the sequencing of the Primula genome, the researchers found that the supergene is related to another identified six years earlier which controls the identity of petals on a Primula flower. At some point this gene duplicated, inserted itself in the S locus, and mutated to control the position of the anther in the flower. Finding the duplicate gene proved to be important because it is this way that a mutation can be dated.

“Understanding of the genetics which underpin flower development and reproduction of a species broadens our knowledge about the entire system of pollination, which underpins biodiversity and food security,” noted Gilmartin about the study’s importance.

“With challenges such as climate change and its effects on plants, crops and their insect pollinators, it’s even more important to understand pollination mechanisms and how species can and will react.”

 

 

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Evolution in a lab flask: scientists witness virus speciating into two distinct species

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Credit: Pixabay

One of the backbone’s of Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is speciation — the branching of a species into two incipient species. Indirect evidence like genome analysis, fossils or plant and animal population surveys support speciation. However, the process is very slow requiring many breeding cycles, prompting some to question evolution. ‘How can a fish turn into an ape?! Prove it!” is a rhetorical question I often see on facebook and forums across the web. Well, here’s something to show them: a virus speciating in a lab flash, all under the watchful eye of researchers at University of California San Diego.

Justin Meyer, an assistant professor of biology at UC San Diego and lead author of the new study, began his experiments while still a doctoral student at Michigan State University. He and colleagues started breeding  a “bacteriophage lambda”, which is a virus capable of infecting E. coli bacteria using two receptors. These are molecules that line the outside walls of the cell which, like holes for grappling, are used by the virus to attach itself to the infected cell.

What the researchers did was introduce two different types of bacteria to the virus, each with its different kinds of receptors. It didn’t take too long for the virus to branch into two distinct species, each specialized to handle the different cell receptors, as reported in the paper.

Molecular models of the two receptors the virus evolved to specialize on. Credit: Justin Meyer, UC San Diego

Molecular models of the two receptors the virus evolved to specialize on. Credit: Justin Meyer, UC San Diego

“The virus we started the experiment with, the one with the nondiscriminatory appetite, went extinct. During the process of speciation, it was replaced by its more evolved descendants with a more refined palette,” explained Meyer.

Per Darwin’s natural selection, the ‘jack-of-all-trades virus’ went extinct and only those individuals that specialized in attacking the new cell types passed on their genes. “The survival of the fittest led to the emergence of two new specialized viruses,” Meyer explained.

“With these experiments, no one can doubt whether speciation occurs,” Meyer added. “More importantly, we now have an experimental system to test many previously untestable ideas about the process.”

It’s worth mentioning that this isn’t the first time speciation has been observed in real time. For instance, scientists proved speciation occurs in fruit flies, which are far more complex organisms than viruses. If you’d like to learn more about speciation and the various case studies that prove it, check this link.

 

 

Intelligent design without a creator? Why evolution may be smarter than we thought

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution offers an explanation for why biological organisms seem so well designed to live on our planet. This process is typically described as “unintelligent” – based on random variations with no direction. But despite its success, some oppose this theory because they don’t believe living things can evolve in increments. Something as complex as the eye of an animal, they argue, must be the product of an intelligent creator.

I don’t think invoking a supernatural creator can ever be a scientifically useful explanation. But what about intelligence that isn’t supernatural? Our new results, based on computer modelling, link evolutionary processes to the principles of learning and intelligent problem solving – without involving any higher powers. This suggests that, although evolution may have started off blind, with a couple of billion years of experience it has got smarter.

What is intelligence?

Intelligence can be many things, but sometimes it’s nothing more than looking at a problem from the right angle. Finding an intelligent solution can be just about recognising that something you assumed to be a constant might be variable (like the orientation of the paper in the image below). It can also be about approaching a problem with the right building blocks.

With good building blocks (for example triangles) it’s easy to find a combination of steps (folds) that solves the problem by incremental improvement (each fold covers more picture). But with bad building blocks (folds that create long thin rectangles) a complete solution is impossible.

Looking at a problem from the right angle makes it easy.

In humans, the ability to approach a problem with an appropriate set of building blocks comes from experience – because we learn. But until now we have believed that evolution by natural selection can’t learn; it simply plods on, banging away relentlessly with the same random-variation “hammer”, incrementally accumulating changes when they happen to be beneficial.

The evolution of evolvability

In computer science we use algorithms, such as those modelling neural networks in the brain, to understand how learning works. Learning isn’t intrinsically mysterious; we can get machines to do it with step by step algorithms. Such machine learning algorithms are a well-understood part of artificial intelligence. In a neural network, learning involves adjusting the connections between neurons (stronger or weaker) in the direction that maximises rewards. With simple methods like this it is possible to get neural networks to not just solve problems, but to get better at solving problems over time.

But what about evolution, can it get better at evolving over time? The idea is known as the evolution of evolvability. Evolvability, simply the ability to evolve, depends on appropriate variation, selection and heredity – Darwin’s cornerstones. Interestingly, all of these components can be altered by past evolution, meaning past evolution can change the way that future evolution operates.

For example, random genetic variation can make a limb of an animal longer or shorter, but it can also change whether forelimbs and hindlimbs change independently or in a correlated manner. Such changes alter the building blocks available to future evolution. If past selection has shaped these building blocks well, it can make solving new problems look easy – easy enough to solve with incremental improvement. For example, if limb lengths have evolved to change independently, evolving increased height will require multiple changes (affecting each limb) and intermediate stages may be worse off. But if changes are correlated, individual changes might be beneficial.

The idea of the evolution of evolvability has been around for some time, but the detailed application of learning theory is beginning to give this area a much needed theoretical foundation.

Gene networks evolve like neural networks learn.

Our work shows that the evolution of regulatory connections between genes, which govern how genes are expressed in our cells, has the same learning capabilities as neural networks. In other words, gene networks evolve like neural networks learn. While connections in neural networks change in the direction that maximises rewards, natural selection changes genetic connections in the direction that increases fitness. The ability to learn is not itself something that needs to be designed – it is an inevitable product of random variation and selection when acting on connections.

The exciting implication of this is that evolution can evolve to get better at evolving in exactly the same way that a neural network can learn to be a better problem solver with experience. The intelligent bit is not explicit “thinking ahead” (or anything else un-Darwinian); it is the evolution of connections that allow it to solve new problems without looking ahead.

So, when an evolutionary task we guessed would be difficult (such as producing the eye) turns out to be possible with incremental improvement, instead of concluding that dumb evolution was sufficient after all, we might recognise that evolution was very smart to have found building blocks that make the problem look so easy.

Interestingly, Alfred Russel Wallace (who suggested a theory of natural selection at the same time as Darwin) later used the term “intelligent evolution” to argue for divine intervention in the trajectory of evolutionary processes. If the formal link between learning and evolution continues to expand, the same term could become used to imply the opposite.

The Conversation

About the author: Richard A. Watson, Associate Professor of the Institute for Life Sciences/Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” voted most influential academic book in history

Charles Darwin’s monumental formulation of the theory of evolution has been overwhelmingly voted as the most influential and important academic book, ahead of works by Newton, Plato and Einstein.

“Tabular View of Characteristic British Fossils, Stratigraphically Arranged” (1853) from “Science Circa 1859: On the Eve of Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species.

“Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”

Now that’s how you write a book! Darwin’s book came out November 1859, basically defining how we think of biology for the next 150 years. But it wasn’t this popular in the beginning. The book aroused massive interest, but also controversy and criticism. Much of the initial reaction was hostile, but Darwin had to be taken seriously as a prominent and respected name in science. There was much less controversy than had greeted the 1844 publication Vestiges of Creation, which had been rejected by scientists, but had influenced a wide public readership into believing that nature and human society were governed by natural laws, Darwin’s book legitimised scientific discussion of evolutionary mechanisms, and the newly coined term Darwinism was used as an umbrella term for many other ideas, not just his own.

But now, looking back on it, there’s no denying its influence; it changed not only how we think about biology and other animals, but also how we think about ourselves. Professor Andrew Prescott of the University of Glasgow called Darwin’s 1859 study “the supreme demonstration of why academic books matter,” saying:

“Darwin used meticulous observation of the world around us, combined with protracted and profound reflection, to create a book which has changed the way we think about everything – not only the natural world, but religion, history and society,” he said. “Every researcher, no matter whether they are writing books, creating digital products or producing artworks, aspires to produce something as significant in the history of thought as Origin of Species.”

But Darwin’s book also played another crucial role: it showed that in a time when already papers and journals were regarded as the scientific standard, academic books are still very important. Personally, I feel like it’s not really possible to distinguish, in terms of importance, between (for example) Darwin’s book and Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, so while it’s important to acknowledge the importance of academic books, it’s maybe not that relevant to classify them.

But, even so, here is the rest of the top, as seen by expert academic booksellers, librarians and publishers:

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
Orientalism by Edward Said
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer
The Making of the English Working Class by EP Thompson
The Meaning of Relativity by Albert Einstein
The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
The Republic by Plato
The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
The Uses of Literacy by Richard Hoggart
The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
Ways of Seeing by John Berger

Macrauchenia ("long llama"). Image: Wikimedia Commons

Darwin’s ‘strangest animals’ finally classified thanks to protein sequencing

While in South American during his 1830 expedition with the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin came across the fossils of two peculiar hoofed species which he was unable to classify properly. One was Macrauchenia, which looked like a camel with the head of an ant eater, and the other was  Toxodon which had the body of rhino, the head of a hippo and the teeth of a rodent. So, was the Macrauchenia related to the camel or the ant eater? Who was Toxodon’s closet cousin, the hippo or the rhino? Darwin was puzzled and to no avail concluded these were  “perhaps one of the strangest animals ever discovered”. But Darwin didn’t have the tools we have today. Now, using a ground breaking technique researchers have sequenced the collagen of a myriad of South American mammals, including Darwin’s ‘strangest animals’ and finally found their real taxonomy.

Macrauchenia ("long llama"). Image: Wikimedia Commons

Macrauchenia (“long llama”). Image: Wikimedia Commons

The two beasts are among 250 mammals that make up a family known as the South American ungulates, which lived for 60 million years on the continent and vanished only 12,000 year ago. Studying Macrauchenia and Toxodon has been difficult because: 1) few and disperse fossil fragments and 2) because researchers have never been able to isolate proper DNA samples. These simply get too damaged because of the wet climate and interfere with conventional genetic screening that is typically used to relate ancient, extinct species with another and uncover their ancestry. Here’s where collagen comes in, though – the fibrous protein that binds cells together into organs and tissues. It can last for at least 10 times as long as DNA and be used to build a collagen family tree.

Toxodon. Digital illustration: martinoraptor

Toxodon. Digital illustration: martinoraptor

A team made up of researchers at the Natural History Museum in London and  University of York, UK extracted, then sequenced collagen from 48 fossils from the remains of Darwin’s animals collected from Argentina and Uruguay. Previously, the South American ungulates were suggested to have belonged to the group Afrotheria, along with elephants and manatees. The protein sequencing, however, clearly shows that both animals belong to  Perissodactyla, a group that includes horses, tapirs and rhinos. The paper appeared in the journal Nature.

So, finally Darwin’s puzzle has been solved, but in doing so the researchers have unlocked a tool that could prove to be a lot more useful. The oldest DNA comes from an 800,000 years old ice core. Collagen can survive for at least four millions years, and in cold conditions maybe even 20 million years. With this in mind, the technique employed in this study could be used study other extinct groups where DNA is not an option, like is the case of dwarf elephants and enormous rodents of the Indonesian island of Flores, or Australia’s giant lizards and kangaroos.

An acorn-eating island scrub jay. Photo: Katie Langin

These birds evolutionary diverged on the same island – why this is very big news

When he was only 22 years of age, Charles Darwin sailed on the ship H.M.S. Beagle to the Galapagos Island on a trip that would later inspire him to write the theory of evolution. Paramount to his evolutionary theories was his study of finches. He identified 13 different species differentiated by beak size, and correctly concluded that the different beaks were adaptations to different diets available among the islands. This was a powerful example of divergent evolution – varieties which diverge from some original species. For instance, domestic dogs from wolves. One powerful driver of divergent evolution is physical isolation. Each left to its own island, Darwin’s finches evolved specialized traits. On California’s Santa Cruz Island, however, a most peculiar finding was made.  Katie Langin, a biologist at Colorado State University, discovered two varieties belonging to the same species (Aphelocoma californica or the Scrub Jay) which diverged despite the absence of a physical barrier. Isolation drives speciation, but not in this case. Granted, the two Scrub Jay populations are essentially the same species. This is still definitely very, very weird – and we’re only beginning to understand what’s happening.

An acorn-eating island scrub jay. Photo: Katie Langin

An acorn-eating island scrub jay. Photo: Katie Langin

Langin first visited the island to study the jays in 2007, to work on her dissertation. She would lay out traps and tag the birds systematically. Suddenly, she realized that there were two populations belonging to the same species, but living in two different habitats: oak forest scrub jays which have shorter bills, good for cracking acorns, and pine forest dwelling jays with longer bills, which seem better adapted to prying open pine cones. But the two populations live on the same island. They’re not separated by large bodies of water, mountains or desert. When densely pack together, any hybrids or genetic strays eventually homogenize through breeding. Something happened, and Langin is only beginning to scratch the surface.

Of course, this isn’t the first example of divergence absent physical separation. For instance, the Northeast US endemic apple maggot fly used to exclusively munch on the the hawthorn tree, but once Europeans introduced apples it diverged. Two populations from the same species, each focused on one particular type of tree despite they shared the same space. Even in this case, the apple maggot fly hasn’t technically speciated. Neither did the jays – and might never will – but the point that needs to be made is that the basic tenets of evolutionary divergence might require revision.

“This was really surprising given that these habitats were directly adjacent to one another,” Langin told Wired, “and this bird is one of the most narrowly distributed birds in North America.”

The oak variety jay. Photo: Katie Langin

The oak variety jay. Photo: Katie Langin

She continued saying “a lot of work recently supports the idea that you don’t need to have geographic isolation in order to have evolutionary divergence occur. There are a lot of examples coming out now that show that at really small spatial scales you can actually get divergence.”

The jays have been living on Santa Cruz for at least one million years, but it’s still uncertain when the divergence took place, or why for that matter. Because the populations didn’t homogenize, it’s quite possible that each member is attracted to the defining characteristics of the population. If you’re living in the pine forest, it makes sense to find a mate that’s apt at opening pine cones.

“I feel like this is just the beginning of the story,” she says. “We’re just scratching the surface here.”

Her paper was published last week in the journal Evolution.

darwin cambridge manuscript

Cambridge University releases over 12,000 images from Darwin’s original notes

Charle’s Darwin’s original notes during which he first scribbled down the ideas which led to evolution have been digitized and published online by Cambridge University. Over 12,000 high-res images have been published online – including the ones with the pages where he actually coins the term ‘natural selection’.

darwin cambridge manuscript

Charles Darwin. Image via Cambrdige Digital Library.

“One may say there is a force like a hundred thousand wedges trying force ‹into› every kind of adapted structure into the gaps ‹of› in the œconomy of Nature, or rather forming gaps by thrusting out weaker ones” – Charles Darwin, 1838, original notes.

The work was part of the Darwin Manuscript Project – a historical and textual edition of Charles Darwin’s scientific manuscripts, designed from its inception as an online project. The database of catalogues contains some 96,000 pages of Darwin scientific manuscripts, including the newly added pages. Professor David Kohn, Director of the Darwin Manuscripts Project, was thrilled of these new additions:

“These documents truly constitute the surviving seedbed of the Origin. In them, Darwin hammered out natural selection and the structure of concepts he used to support natural selection. It was here also that he developed his evolutionary narrative and where he experimented privately with arguments and strategies of presentation that he either rejected or that eventually saw the light of day with the Origin’s publication on November 24, 1859.”

This also marks the end of the first phase of funding for the Cambridge Library, launched to worldwide acclaim in 2011 with the publication of Isaac Newton’s scientific archive. The main goal of the project is to digitize old notes and make them open access – available for everyone. The current release is particularly special as it includes important documents such as the “Transmutation” and “Metaphysical” notebooks of the 1830s and the 1842 “Pencil Sketch” which sees Darwin’s first use of the term “natural selection”.

Charles Darwin’s notes – the first use of the term ‘natural selection’. Image via Cambridge Digital Library.

The library also contains other remarkable manuscripts, including over 500 religious manuscripts South Asia, including Vedic, Hindu, Buddhist and Jainist texts. Hopefully, the funding will continue, and more works will be digitized. Anne Jarvis, Cambridge University Librarian, said:

“With seed funding from the Polonsky Foundation, we launched the Cambridge Digital Library in 2011 with Isaac Newton’s papers, declaring our ambition of becoming a digital library for the world, opening up our collections to anyone, anywhere on the planet with access to the Internet. Now, after millions of visits to the Digital Library website, we bookend our first phase of development with the launch of Charles Darwin’s papers and our Sanskrit collection. These now sit alongside Newton’s scientific works and a wealth of other material, including the Board of Longitude papers and, most recently, our Siegfried Sassoon archive.”

See the manuscripts at the Cambridge Digital Library.

Darwin was proven right by study: life originated on earth, not in the sea

Life on Earth started out in a ‘small little pond’, just like Darwin, the father of evolution, proposed more than 140 years ago, according to a provocative new study.

According to this study, the primordial cells were ‘created’ (though germinated would be a better word) in pools of condensed vapor which appeared as a result of hot water or steam bubbling towards the surface. The finding, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences challenges the ‘traditional’ view that life originated in the sea, supporting the first true theory of life origin – Darwin’s.

To come to this conclusion, researchers analyzed some key chemical markers in rocks and ancient inland and marine habitats and compared them with a genetic reconstruction of Earth’s first inhabitants. Physics Professor Dr Armen Mulkidjanian, leader of the study, discovered that oceans did not have the right balance of elements to foster life, and instead, found the perfect balance for a ‘hatchery’ inland, especially in places like hot springs and geysers, or where volcanic activity can actively vent hot vapors from beneath the surface.

Researchers noted that these ‘cradles of life’ share all the advantages of the deep sea environment, and also have one crucial advantage: the presence of organic matter. Other scientists seem quite convinced by this study. Prof Mulkidjanian, of Osnabruck University in Germany:

‘I do not think the oceans were a favourable environment for the origin of life – freshwater ponds seem more favourable,’ Nobel laureate Jack Szostak at Harvard University told New Scientist.
‘Freshwater ponds have lower salt concentrations, which would allow for fatty acid based membranes to form.’

Basically similar to Darwin’s idea, this model suggests that life originated on earth and then quickly migrated to the sea. As Darwin put it in a legendary letter to English botanist Joseph Hooker, life may have begun in a ‘a warm little pond’. He then writes:

‘Geochemical reconstruction shows the ionic (chemical) composition conducive to the origin of cells could not have existed in marine settings but is compatible with emissions of vapour-dominated zones of inland geothermal systems. ‘The pre-cellular stages of evolution might have transpired in shallow ponds of condensed and cooled geothermal vapour that were lined with porous silicate minerals mixed with metal sulfides and phosphorous compounds.’

Who said Darwin couldn’t teach us anything new?

Artist's impression of the birdlike dinosaur known as Xiaotingia zhengi. (c) Xing Lida and Liu Yi

Oldest bird might not be a bird in the first place

Artist's impression of the birdlike dinosaur known as Xiaotingia zhengi. (c) Xing Lida and Liu Yi

Artist's impression of the birdlike dinosaur known as Xiaotingia zhengi. (c) Xing Lida and Liu Yi

In a paper published in the journal Nature, Chinese paleontologists have detailed their impressions on the finding of a chicken-sized feathered dinosaur which might lead to a total reconsideration of the origin of birds on Earth.

In 1861, just two years after Darwin published his infamous Origin of Species, scientists unearthed the fossils of Archaeopteryx, hailed to this day as the oldest bird and an important evolutionary link between dinosaurs and the feathered creatures of today. In recent years, however, doubts have arisen after similar older bird-like fossils, complete with three finger legs and feathers, have been discovered.

Now, the discovery of Xiaotingia, found by a collector in China’s Liaoning Province, has lead renowned Chinese paleontologists to believe that Archaeopteryx is not what it seems – not a primitive bird, but just another feathered dinosaur. Xiaotingia, dates back 155 million years to the Jurassic Period.

An Archaeopteryx specimen highlights wing and tail feather impressions. (c) G. Mayr / Senckenberg

An Archaeopteryx specimen highlights wing and tail feather impressions. (c) G. Mayr / Senckenberg

Using a complex computer model in which they fed 89 fossilized dinosaur and bird species, including Archaeopteryx, they analyzed the skeletal measurements in detail. Without the Xiaotingia fossil added to the system, Archaeopteryx was put on a evolutionary line leading to modern-day birds. When Xiaotingia was included, the algorithm classed Archaeopteryx in a group of birdlike dinosaurs known as deinonychosaurs.

“There are many, many features that suggest that Xiaotingia and Archaeopteryx are a type of dinosaur called Deinonychosaurs rather than birds. For example, both have a large hole in front of the eye; this big hole is only seen in these species and is not present in any other birds,” professor Xu Xing said.

Archaeopteryx and Xiaotingia are very, very similar to other Deinonychosaurs in having a quite interesting feature – the whole group is categorised by a highly specialised second pedo-digit which is highly extensible, and both Archaeopteryx and Xiaotingia show initial development of this feature,” he went on to continue.

Since its discovery 150 years ago, Archaeopteryx has almost unanimously hailed by evolutionists as the most primitive bird, which lead every theory related to the formation of birds to be linked with it. A new set of hypothesis might have to be re-written now, however. A slew of debates will likely follow soon in the scientific community, as scientists hanging on to the iconic Archaepteryx status will ask for more substantial evidence.

“The reality is, that next fossil find could kick Archaeopteryx right back into birds. That’s the thing that’s really exciting about all of this,” said Prof Lawrence Witmer from Ohio University.

357 dead sharks found on illegal fishing ship in Galapagos Park

(c) Galapagos National Park

A patrol by park rangers and an Ecuador navy ship made the largest shark seizure in the country’s history, when they detained a fishing vessel as it was casting its nets 20 miles inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve. On board they found 357 dead sharks.

The government news agency says criminal proceedings will be pursued against the crew of the Ecuadorean fishing boat, in a report which also stats that the boat was detained last Tuesday southeast of Genovesa island inside the marine reserve.

John Bruno, a University of North Carolina marine biologist teaching at the Galapagos Science Center, wrote on his blog, 

“As sad as it is,” he wrote, “I am really encouraged that the park now has the capacity to detect and apprehend illegal fishers in the marine reserve.”

Among the 357 dead sharks, law enforcement officers found 286 bigeye thresher, 22 blue sharks, 40 Galapagos sharks, 6 hammerhead sharks, 2 tiger sharks, and 1 mako shark. Shark poaching is a blooming trade, especially in Ecuador which ships a good chunk of the demand for shark fin soup in Asia. In the Galapagos, illegal shark fishing and finning — the act of cutting off the fins — took off in the late 1990s when the local sea cucumber fishery collapsed. The bodies of sharks are frequently dumped at sea after the fins are cut off.

Currently, 30 fisherman are currently detained and are awaiting their hearing. This may come as little discouragement for those still practicing shark poaching, who make a lot of money worth the risk a fine or a little jail time. The practice has put pressure on many shark species, some of which have become endangered or threatened with extinction.

The Galapagos, made famous by famous naturalist Charles Darwin, was declared an U.N. World Heritage site in 1979.

 

Keep religion out of science class !

In a recent act that just baffles my mind, Tennesee, not one of the US brightest states, has passed a bill that makes it easier for virtually any creationist teacher to include religion in science class. They did this by including mythology in science classes to promote critical thinking. Now I wonder, do you think there’ll be discussions about the Egyptian gods, or about Norse mythology, or about Zeus ?

Might as well do this

Let’s get one think straight; regardless of my beliefs, I do believe anyone is entitled to believe in whatever they want, as long as they don’t try to impose it directly or indirectly upon others. But religion is in religion class, science is in science class, doesn’t that make sense ? We’re talking about centuries of research, tens of thousands of peer reviewed papers against the Bible – I strongly believe that this bill is absurd.

The Tennessee Science Teachers Association had a firm and prompt response, declaring itself disgusted by the bill, and declaring it “unnecessary, anti-scientific, and very likely unconstitutional.”. As a matter of fact, creationism has lost every major U.S. federal court case for decades, and legislators are still trying to find a way to bring God into the biology class. This sort of meddling in the educational system is going out all over the US, and it will not bring anything good to the table, quite the opposite. Critical thinking is encouraged by trusting what is proven, and not what is believed; it’s dissapointing.