Breaks

Evolution & Behaviour

Number of breaks: 12

Human gut parasite has a sinister use for its stolen genes

It is well established knowledge that bacteria routinely exchange genes between unrelated species, creating an extensive network of information flow independent of sexual reproduction. By acquiring new genes, each being a blueprint for a single protein, the bacteria gain also the functions the proteins perform within the cell. This phenomenon is forcing itself on our attention especially with the spread of antibiotic resistance among bacteria, which is threatening our ability to fight infections. But is swapping of genes important also in more complex organisms like animals, plants, or single-celled protists? Their DNA might be better protected against change as it is enwrapped in membranes of the nucleus, but it is unclear if this barrier plays a significant role. Answers to (...)

· Lukáš Novák | PhD student at Department of Parasitology, Faculty of Science, Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic

Published on May 18, 2017Reading time: 3 min

Symbiogenesis: how algae and bacteria shaped new genes together

Genes are an essential component of every living being. They are encoded in the DNA, and contain the information needed to produce a fully-functional organism. Deciphering the origin of new genes in organisms is important to understand how living beings adapted to their environment. Genes can emerge through numerous and diverse mechanisms. For example, new genes in plants and animals are mostly formed by recycling those already present in their own DNA while bacteria often acquire new genes by stealing them from other bacteria living in their environment. Symbiosis, the close association between unlike organisms, can also have an impact on the way genes are formed and this is what our research showed in algae. Unlike animals which obtain energy from (...)

· Raphaël Méheust | PhD student at Pierre and Marie Curie University - Paris 6, Unité de recherche Systématique, Adaptation, Évolution

· Eric Bapteste | Professor at Pierre and Marie Curie University - Paris 6, Unité de recherche Systématique, Adaptation, Évolution

Published on May 3, 2017Reading time: 3.5 min

“Who is really, really smart?” Early differences in boys’ and girls’ assumptions about intelligence

Common stereotypes associate brilliance with men more than women. Evidence for this association is everywhere around us, but maybe easiest to detect in portrayals of brilliance and genius on TV and in the movies. The vast majority of characters that are supposed to be brilliant, such as Sherlock Holmes or Dr. House, are men. Because of this stereotype, women may feel they are less likely to be brilliant and thus less likely to succeed in careers that are thought to require this characteristic. As a result, women might be underrepresented in these careers. In fact, in a paper published in the journal Science in 2015, researchers found that women are indeed underrepresented in fields that are thought to require brilliance (...)

· Lin Bian | PhD student at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, USA

Published on April 6, 2017Reading time: 3 min

Amoebas trap bacteria using nets of DNA: the same mechanism as human immune cells

Our multicellular bodies containing trillions of cells seem to have little in common with protists, the tiny single-celled creatures inhabiting every drop of water, which spend their days eating bacteria or each other, parasitizing larger organisms or living from light. And yet, this is how our ancestors looked like. It took almost one billion years to fine-tune the coordination between cells so they can altruistically cooperate within our tissues and organs. However, there are still several features in our cells which don't let us forget our humble unicellular predecessors. For example, the motile "tails" of sperm cells are nothing else than flagella which protists use to propel themselves through water. The immune cells circulating through our bodies and defending us (...)

· Lukáš Novák | PhD student at Department of Parasitology, Faculty of Science, Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic

Published on January 27, 2017Reading time: 3.5 min

Fancy footwork: Darwin’s pigeons and the evolution of foot feathers

Ever since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, people have been fascinated with understanding the mechanisms of how species could change over time. Like sitting down with relatives around the dinner table during the holidays, it is sometimes hard for us to look at other species and understand how we could have a common ancestor, yet wind up looking and acting so differently. We know that heritable traits are encoded in DNA, and that changes in DNA (mutations) are responsible for changes in traits. But this raises many questions, such as: how many mutations does it take to evolve a new trait? Which genes are mutated to form a new trait, and how do the mutations affect the (...)

· Eric Domyan | Assistant Professor at Utah Valley University, 800 W. University Parkway, Orem

Published on January 20, 2017Reading time: 3.5 min

The Dark Side of Love

Love isn't all rainbows and butterflies. Sure, in the beginning, everything is great. Everyone knows the age-old story: boy meets girl, boy courts girl, and if girl accepts then boy mates with girl. Life is good. Unfortunately, this honeymoon stage doesn't endure. Initially, the interests of the sexes are aligned because mating benefits both males and females. From an evolutionary perspective, these benefits are expressed in terms of number and quality of offspring produced. The name of the game is passing on genes to the next generation, and "success" is measured in offspring number. In this way, sexual reproduction is cooperation between males and females. Everyone is happy...until they are not. After mating, things change. Conflict of interest arises when either (...)

· Meghan Laturney | PhD student at Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences, University of Groningen, The Netherlands

Published on January 13, 2017Reading time: 4 min

Living without mitochondria: the downfall of one textbook truth

It was the greatest leap in evolution since the emergence of life on Earth. So-called eukaryotic cells, the building blocks of all multicellular organisms like you and me, animals, plants, fungi, and also a whole zoo of single-celled protists, evolved from a common ancestor more than a billion years ago. This ancestor resembled current-day prokaryotes, i.e. bacteria and archaea. These organisms populated all imaginable habitats and developed a plethora of wildly diverse means of obtaining their energy. However, the simple structure of their cells limited their size and complexity of interactions. With time, our ancestor developed a series of innovations that are nowadays defining characteristics of the eukaryotic cell. How this process went through, what was its driving force, and (...)

· Lukáš Novák | PhD student at Department of Parasitology, Faculty of Science, Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic

Published on October 3, 2016Reading time: 3.5 min

Lab-life: the afternoon siesta of the fruit fly

"The early bird catches the worm" it's a simple enough idiom that we've all heard. But to a circadian biologist - a scientist studying 24 hour rhythms - that idiom leads to all manner of further questions: how does the bird know when to get up, are there early worms that escape the bird, and why aren't all birds early? It's a question we can all relate to: why are some people early risers, others night owls, and teenagers stuck in bed till midday? It turns out that our bodies have a "clock" that accurately tells the time, and which organises all sorts of physiological processes to keep them in synchrony with the day/night cycle. Importantly, the body clock can be (...)

· Edward Green | Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Marie Curie Intra European Fellowship, German Cancer Research Center, Germany

Published on July 13, 2016Reading time: 3.5 min

Distractions and emotions: key factors in vehicle collisions

In general, fatal crash rates have been declining in the U.S. for several decades.1 This improvement is due to a variety of factors, including the reliability and overall safety of vehicles and the design and conditions of U.S. roadways. However, the U.S. has not kept pace with other developed countries in terms of overall traffic safety.2 There are many potential reasons for this discrepancy, including driver behavior and performance. Until relatively recently, we have not been able to fully understand the role of driver behavior and performance leading up to a crash. To fill that knowledge gap, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) pioneered - and continues to evolve - the naturalistic driving study (NDS) method. The NDS method involves instrumenting (...)

· Jon Hankey | Director of Research and Development at Research and Development, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), VA, USA

Published on June 30, 2016Reading time: 3 min

Chimpanzees Trust Their Friends

Human friendships are often characterized by preferential intentions and attitudes including trusting expectations of close social relations. Humans largely trust only their friends with crucial resources or important secrets. In this study, we investigated whether chimpanzees show a comparable pattern and extend trust selectively toward those individuals they are closely bonded with. A large body of research shows that chimpanzees cooperate with each other in a wide variety of contexts including grooming, meat-sharing, group-hunting, and communal border patrols. Many different psychological mechanisms might account for such collaborative behaviors. For example, chimpanzees may cooperate with dominant individuals out of a fear of being punished. Alternatively, chimpanzees might show trust-based cooperation, i.e. chimpanzees might cooperate because they expect their partners to behave in (...)

· Jan Engelmann | Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany

Published on April 14, 2016Reading time: 3.5 min

The lingering effects of parental care and its role in evolutionary change

For centuries, European culture has been enriched by depictions in art and literature of the diverse ways in which parents can exert a long-lasting influence on their children. We now know that animal parents can have similarly lingering effects on their offspring and a relatively new and growing area of research in evolutionary biology sets out to understand the causes and consequences of these influences. Formally known as ‘parental effects’, and defined as non-genetic influences of the parent on their young, the phenomenon is of particular interest because it can potentially speed up the pace of evolutionary change that allows animals to adapt to changing environments. This may prove vital for the continued survival of animal populations whose habitats are (...)

· Rebecca Kilner | Professor at Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, UK

Published on January 27, 2016Reading time: 4 min

How humans gave acne to the grapevine

Many organisms, ourselves included, host diverse communities of microorganisms that live on and within us. Plenty of these are bacteria and with time, some adapt to live and depend so intimately with their hosts that eventually, life without them is almost impossible. However, in some rare cases, bacteria can switch and adapt to a different host, much like other organisms may adapt to new ecosystems. So far, this has been observed mainly between hosts that are closely related. For example, bacteria depending on one insect species can switch to another insect species and adapt to the new host. One bacterium that lives closely with us humans is Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), usually present in our skin, sometimes causing acne. In (...)

· Carlos J. Rivera-Rivera | PhD student at Department of Genetics and Evolution, University of Geneva, Switzerland

Published on February 28, 2015Reading time: 3.5 min