Competition and Cooperation in Evolution

Despite the old adage “nice guys finish last”, cooperation is common in life – from the scale of genes or cells through to entire societies. Although these two ideas seem to contradict each other, Dr. Egbert Giles Leigh Jr. has demonstrated throughout his career at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama that working together …

Why Crocodiles today look the same as they did 200 million years ago?

Max Stockdale, University of Bristol One of the most enduring tropes about crocodiles is to describe them as “living fossils”. They are cold, slow-moving, and scaly, so they look like how one might picture a dinosaur. Like many clichés, there is an element of truth to this comparison. The crocodiles from 200 million years ago …

Funky Smells, Strange Sounds, and Weird Sights: Evolutionary Explanations About Our Senses

The world looked very different for early humans, and their daily life was vastly different from that of people living in the 21st century. Our five senses, once crucial to our survival, are easy to take for granted. For most modern humans, food is easily accessed, and we spend the bulk of our time indoors, …

Evolution: that famous “march of progress” image is just wrong

Evolution explains how all living beings, including us, came to be. It would be easy to assume evolution works by continuously adding features to organisms, constantly increasing their complexity. Some fish evolved legs and walked onto the land. Some dinosaurs evolved wings and began to fly. Others evolved wombs and began to give birth to …

Were other humans the first victims of the sixth mass extinction?

Nine human species walked the Earth 300,000 years ago. Now there is just one. The Neanderthals, Homo neanderthalensis, were stocky hunters adapted to Europe’s cold steppes. The related Denisovans inhabited Asia, while the more primitive Homo erectus lived in Indonesia, and Homo rhodesiensis in central Africa. Nick Longrich, University of Bath

Top 10 most extreme places where life can be found on earth

The Earth is the only planet we know of that can support life in the cold, vast space. It seems we’re so, so lucky because our planet has a lot of unique characteristics that made life possible on it. But, interestingly, it also seems “where life can evolve, it will”. The diversity in life our …

Humanity’s birthplace: why everyone alive today can call northern Botswana home

Where was the evolutionary birthplace of modern humans? The East African Great Rift Valley has long been the favoured contender – until today. Our new research has used DNA to trace humanity’s earliest footsteps to a prehistoric wetland called Makgadikgadi-Okavango, south of the Great Zambezi River. Our analysis, published in Nature today, shows that the …

Evolution tells us we might be the only intelligent life in the universe

Are we alone in the universe? It comes down to whether intelligence is a probable outcome of natural selection or an improbable fluke. By definition, probable events occur frequently, improbable events occur rarely – or once. Our evolutionary history shows that many key adaptations – not just intelligence, but complex animals, complex cells, photosynthesis, and …

How and Why Sleep Evolved

Sleep. We all need it, and most of us don’t get enough of it. And even if we get the average recommended amount (the good old 8-hour dosage), that takes up about a third of our lives overall. But why do we sleep, from an evolutionary standpoint? The fact that it’s so widespread in the …

The end of the world: a history of how a silent cosmos led humans to fear the worst

It is 1950 and a group of scientists are walking to lunch against the majestic backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. They are about to have a conversation that will become a scientific legend. The scientists are at the Los Alamos Ranch School, the site for the Manhattan Project, where each of the group has lately …