All posts tagged: Evolution

Instant evolution: If AI can design a robot in 26 seconds, what else can it do?

Instant evolution: If AI can design a robot in 26 seconds, what else can it do?

Nortwestern University’s Prof. Sam Kriegman and his ‘insta robot’ Northwestern Univ. Sam Kriegman, a professor at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, is something of a local celebrity. He can often be found on television shows explaining the wonders of his new invention – an insta-robot. In one TV appearance, Kriegman places his insta-robot on his palm to show it off — a purple-grey, gelatinous, squishy object with a few holes that looks a little like what you imagine a rhinoceros’s ancestor to be. Also: Robots plus generative AI: Everything you need to know when they work as one He then attaches a flexible pipe to the robot and starts pumping. The jelly-robot kicks its legs out and — in perhaps the first robotic imitation of the moonwalk — begins to move backward. (You can watch the video here.) It may all appear a bit underwhelming, a DIY toy from a science fair that you brought home to your five-year-old. The truth is, however, that it may be a revolutionary moment in robot design with far-reaching implications …

ADHD may have been an evolutionary advantage, research suggests | Evolution

ADHD may have been an evolutionary advantage, research suggests | Evolution

Traits common to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such as distractibility or impulsivity, might have been an evolutionary advantage for our ancestors by improving their tactics when foraging for food, researchers have said. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder with symptoms including impulsiveness, disorganisation and difficulty focusing. While estimates of prevalence have varied, diagnoses have been rising in many countries, including the UK. Now, researchers say while some of these traits tend to be viewed negatively, they might have helped people seek out new patches for foraging. Dr David Barack of the University of Pennsylvania, who was the first author of the research, said the study offered a potential explanation for why ADHD was more prevalent than expected from random genetic mutations alone and – more broadly – why traits such as distractibility or impulsivity were common. “If [these traits] were truly negative, then you would think that over evolutionary time, they would be selected against,” he said. “Our findings are an initial data point, suggestive of advantages in certain choice contexts.” Writing in the journal …

The hidden evolutionary advantages of the teenage brain

The hidden evolutionary advantages of the teenage brain

There are hidden evolutionary benefits of the teenage brain Kerry Woolman/Millennium TEENAGERS, eh, what are they like? They have a reputation for being difficult, reckless and self-absorbed, but surely these negative stereotypes can’t be the whole story. Most other animals fly the nest soon after puberty, and none, including our closest primate relatives, has the prolonged adolescence that we do. Why would humans have evolved this peculiar life stage? A closer look at the teenage brain suggests it brings a hidden evolutionary advantage. The past two decades of research has emphasised that the cerebral cortex, the brain region central to higher processing and cognitive control, continues to develop until our early to mid-20s. By contrast, regions that are sensitive to rewards – including an area called the ventral striatum – are firing on all cylinders by our mid-teens. This has bolstered the narrative that the adolescent brain is noisy and imbalanced, with its overactive reward system causing erratic, sub-optimal decision-making. Early assessments of adolescent cognitive performance seemed to support this. “Sometimes adolescents would do a …

Deadly plant kills its pollinators but nurses their young

Deadly plant kills its pollinators but nurses their young

The Arisaema plant is a death trap for the fungus gnats that pollinate it Archive PL/Alamy Jack-in-the-pulpit flowers – famed for trapping and killing their pollinators – might also serve as a nursery for the insects’ eggs, revealing a more nuanced and mutually beneficial relationship that challenges existing assumptions. These pitcher-shaped plants, of the genus Arisaema, lure in their primary pollinators, fungus gnats, by mimicking the looks and scent of musty mushrooms. But once the insect dips into the flower’s spathe in pursuit of this pungent treat, it cannot crawl out because the flower’s elongated hood interior is too waxy. The gnat jostles and struggles inside the mottled, reddish-green cup, spreading pollen around and thoroughly pollinating the plant, but it eventually tires itself to death. At least this is what botanists have long thought. But when Kenji Suetsugu and his team at Kobe University in Japan incubated 62 flowers of the Asian jack-in-the-pulpit species Arisaema thunbergii, they noticed something odd. The helplessly trapped gnats laid their eggs in the flowers’ crowns. When the flowers began dying, …

Scientists discover the ancient link between bees and the evolution of colors in flowers

Scientists discover the ancient link between bees and the evolution of colors in flowers

Popular honey-producing Western honey bees. (CREDIT: Creative Commons) According to Dorin, insects such as bees developed visual perception long before the emergence of flowers. This ability allowed them to navigate among various natural elements like rocks, leaves, sticks, and bark. “Our findings indicate that early flowers evolved vibrant colors to stand out against their drab backgrounds, aiming to attract ancient pollinators,” Dorin stated. To examine whether bees perceive their surroundings similarly to their ancestors, the researchers conducted experiments comparing bees’ color perception with simulated prehistoric environments. “Considering Australia’s ancient geological history, we analyzed color spectrum data from Australian bushlands spanning from Cairns to Victoria’s southern tip, mimicking landscapes from the Mesozoic era,” Dorin explained. Associate Professor Adrian Dyer, a vision scientist and co-author of the study from Monash University’s Department of Physiology, highlighted the significant correlation between the visual perception of ancient pollinators and modern bees in guiding flower color evolution. Sample surfaces encountered as flower backgrounds by pollinators shown here with Pig face (Carpobrotus sp.). (CREDIT: Proceedings of the Royal Society) “Our research unveils …

Fire is driving animals’ evolution

Fire is driving animals’ evolution

This article was originally featured on High Country News. Increasing frequent and intense fires are shaping how species change, according to a paper published last year in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution. While previous research tended to focus on a blaze’s immediate impacts—Did population numbers go up or down?—scientists are starting to consider a longer timeline, said study co-author Gavin Jones, a Forest Service research ecologist at the Rocky Mountain Research Station. Fire kills some animals but helps others survive, thereby determining which animal’s genes are passed on to future generations. The process of some individuals surviving better than others is natural selection, the driver of evolution. Sometimes, the survivors have traits that allow them to not only live through a fire but actually thrive in the burned ecosystem and later reproduce successfully. Fire can also act as a connector, creating habitat that encourages members of a species to mingle over a larger range. Conversely, it can sometimes split populations into smaller, more isolated groups. That may result in inbreeding and eventual extinction—or the need for human …

Ancient viruses emerge as unexpected heroes in vertebrate brain evolution

Ancient viruses emerge as unexpected heroes in vertebrate brain evolution

Scientists have uncovered a fascinating link between ancient viruses and the development of myelination, the biological process crucial for the advanced functioning of the nervous system in vertebrates, including humans. This discovery sheds light on the evolutionary puzzle of how complex brains and sophisticated nervous systems evolved in animals. The researchers have identified a genetic element, named “RetroMyelin,” derived from retroviruses, as essential for the production of myelin in a broad range of vertebrates, including mammals, amphibians, and fish. This finding, published in the journal Cell, suggests that the intrusion of viral sequences into the genomes of early vertebrates was a pivotal step in the evolution of myelination, thereby enabling the development of complex brains and diverse vertebrate life. Myelination is the process by which nerve fibers are wrapped in a fatty insulating sheath called myelin. This sheath is critical for the rapid transmission of electrical signals along nerve cells, facilitating efficient communication within the nervous system. Myelin not only speeds up signal transmission but also provides metabolic support to nerve fibers, allowing them to …

Inner ear of extinct ape species is overlooked aspect of human bipedal evolution, study finds

Inner ear of extinct ape species is overlooked aspect of human bipedal evolution, study finds

The inner ear may not seem like a particularly bony place, but human ears in fact have three small bones (also known as ossicles): the malleus, the incus and the stapes. While most people would assume that these bones are necessary for hearing, one would not imagine that they relate much to how we walk. Yet according to Chinese and American scientists working together for a study in the journal The Innovation, the ear bones of ancient apes can teach us a lot not only about our primate ancestors, but also about ourselves. In a sense, the inner ear bones of the Lufengpithecus is a missing link in the evolutionary history of human locomotion. It all comes down to bipedalism, or the fact that humans walk on two legs. Because our various primate ancestors were often quadrupedal (walking on four legs), evolutionary scientists have often wondered how we made the shift from being a four-legged species to one that relies on two legs. The experts turned to the seemingly obvious places for answers: They studied the bones …

What apes can tell us about the origins of teasing | podcast | Science

What apes can tell us about the origins of teasing | podcast | Science

We all know people who find it hilarious to prod and poke, pinch and tickle, all in the name of fun. But are humans the only ones who like to tease each other? Or are other animals in on the act? Ian Sample talks to Prof Erica Cartmill about her work on apes and teasing and asks, given how annoying teasing is, why do apes, and humans, do it? How to listen to podcasts: everything you need to know Source link

The uncomfortable truth about cannibalism’s role in human history

The uncomfortable truth about cannibalism’s role in human history

IN GOUGH’S cave in Cheddar Gorge, south-west England, archaeologists have found the remains of at least six individuals. Many of the bones were intentionally broken and the fragments are covered in cut marks, the result of people using stone tools to separate them and remove the flesh. What’s more, 42 per cent of the bone fragments bear human teeth marks. There is little doubt: the people who lived in this cave 14,700 years ago practised cannibalism. Today, cannibalism is a taboo subject in many societies. We see it as aberrant, as is clear in films such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. We associate it with zombies, psychopaths and serial killers like the fictional Hannibal Lecter. Positive stories of cannibals are few and far between. But perhaps it is time for a rethink because, despite our preconceptions, evidence is accumulating that cannibalism was a common human behaviour. Our ancestors have been eating each other for a million years or more. In fact, it seems that, down the ages, around a fifth of societies have practised …