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  • On the Origin of the Immune System

    With swine flu circulating the globe, it’s appropriate that May’s Origins essay is “On the Origin of the Immune System.” Immunology is the study of how we and other animals defend ourselves against pathogenic microorganisms—bacteria, viruses, and parasites, for example—and this battle goes back to the beginning of evolution. The first… Read More
  • Grain’s Evolutionary Secret

    Some 300,000 species strong, flowering plants dominate terrestrial landscapes, prompting awe and wonder dating from the days of Charles Darwin about how this group arose. (See this month’s Origins essay.) And although the blossoms themselves contributed much to the success of angiosperms—attracting and making efficient use of insects and o… Read More
  • Hobbit Specialists Gather on an Island …

    From left: Mark Moore, Mike Morwood, Susan Larson, William Jungers, and Thomas Sutikna with a cast of the hobbit and a modern human skull and limb bones for comparison
    John Griffin/SBU
    … Long Island, that is, where researchers studying the puzzling little people of the Indonesian island of Flores gathered for a public symposium at Stony Brook University on 21 April. The biggest news was archaeologist Mark Moore’s detailed report on the stone tools throughout the Liang Bua, the cave where hobbit bones were found. See… Read More
  • Fossil Backs Darwin’s Prediction

    Puijila darwini
    Mark A. Klingler
    Make sure to check out our latest ScienceNOW on the discovery of Puijila darwini, reported today in Nature. Puijilafills a fossil gap in the evolution of seals, sea lions, walruses, and other pinnipeds, by being the first of its kind to be found with legs and webbed feet in place of flippers. The fossil provides a glimpse of a terrestrial… Read More
  • Ancient Spores Push Back Origin of Vascular Land Plants

    No bigger than specks of dust, cryptospores are one of our largest windows into the deep history of plants. These ancient spores and pollen show up in the fossil record between 465 million and 407 million years ago, a key moment for Earth’s greenery. During the first half of that period, the nonvascular land plants—mosses… Read More
  • Another Ancient Angiosperm Comes Out of the Closet

    As I pointed out in my essay on the origin of flowering plants, a key breakthrough came in the late 1990s when molecular studies showed water lilies and the New Caledonia plant Amborella to be toward the bottom of the angiosperm tree. With these basal lineages in place, botanists could begin to tease out the more primitive angiosperm traits. Read More
  • Mistaken Identity in Fossil Flowers

    Tracing the origin of flowering plants has long been a challenge for evolutionary researchers, as discussed in this month’s Origins essay. Paleobotanist David Dilcher thinks part of the reason is that researchers in his field misidentified fossil plants as members of modern groups. Back in 1979, he and a colleague reanalyzed fossil leaves… Read More
  • Origins Writer Goes to India

    Last week, I had a rare opportunity to exchange ideas about the origins of art and symbolism with scientists, students, and the general public in India. After reading my 6 February essay, the president of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Dorairajan Balasubramanian of the L. V. Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, invited me on a lecture tour as… Read More
  • Brother, Can You Spare Some Nickel?

    For some microbes, nickel is a precious metal. A new paper suggests that by starving these bugs, a nickel shortage might have triggered an oxygen surge in the ancient atmosphere. The work will come as good news for researchers who favor an early start for oxygen-releasing photosynthesis, an intensely debated topic that was discussed in Science’s… Read More
  • University of California Withdraws Request to Return Ancient Remains to Local Tribe

    The skeletal remains of Paleoindians unearthed near the chancellor’s home in La Jolla
    Jan Austin, Santa Monica Community College
    After weeks of protest from anthropologists, University of California, San Diego (UCSD), officials have withdrawn their request to the federal government to rebury the skeletal remains (left) of Paleoindians unearthed near the chancellor’s home in La Jolla. The rare, 10,000-year-old bones were found in 1976. Anthropologists and the university’s… Read More
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