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  • Visualizing life’s origins

    What did Earth’s earliest forms of life look like? This was one of the central questions that I faced as I started a postdoc in Jack Szostak’s lab at Massachusetts General Hospital in the fall of 2006. My postdoc was a very unconventional one–through NSF’s Discovery Corps, and I was being funded to carry out a 2-year pro… Read More
  • A modern artist’s take on Darwin’s classic

    The cover for Penguin Books' 150th anniversary edition of On the Origin of Species
    Love him or hate him, British artist Damien Hirst is at least always provocative. He continues that tradition with the ghoulish cover for Penguin Books’ 150th anniversary edition of On the Origin of Species. In a Guardian blog post today (which includes a larger version of the cover titled “Human skull in space”), Hirst c… Read More
  • Impressions from NAS Darwin celebration

    There are few science paradigms that survive and continue their influence for very long—most disappear within a decade. So it was a remarkable gathering at the Beckman Center of the National Academies of Science and Engineering in Irvine, California (hosted by John C. Avise and Francisco J. Ayala), where a group of eclectic evolution experts… Read More
  • National Academy meeting celebrates Darwin

    John C. Avise
    Jesse Willis, NAS
    One of the first of many scheduled events to commemorate the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth and the sesquicentennial of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species took place in Irvine, California, this past weekend. Sponsored by the Sackler program of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and hosted by John C. Avise (right) and Fran… Read More
  • Cambridge University sheds light on Darwin

    A graying Darwin ponders the tree of life, whose branches recapitulate the origins of the species
    The University of Cambridge rang in its 800th anniversary with church bells and a light show on Saturday the 17th. The light show, created by projection artist Ross Ashton, included specially commissioned illustrations of Cambridge alumni Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton by Roald Dahl’s illustrator, Quentin Blake. Above, a graying Darwi… Read More
  • An origin-al: Stanley Miller

    Stanley Miller
    In On the Origin of Life on Earth, the first of our monthly Origins essays, Carl Zimmer briefly notes Stanley Miller’s “iconic” 1953 spark-discharge experiment indicating that amino acids could be created in what was then thought to have been the gases in our planet’s early atmosphere. Indeed, countless researchers credit M… Read More
  • Sizing genomes

    An illustration of people playing the game Telephone
    Have you ever played the game Telephone? In this game, several people sit in a circle, and the first person whispers an arbitrary message to his or her neighbor, as quietly as possible. The message is passed by successive whispers around the circle, and the last person attempts to repeat the message out loud. Typically… Read More
  • Good news for lost tiger

    Don’t call it a comeback, but the regal Caspian tiger–thought to have gone extinct nearly 40 years ago–lives on in a closely related subspecies, a new genetic analysis reveals. Conservationists say they can use these relatives to help reestablish the Caspian tiger in Central Asia, parts of which are no longer inhabited by people a… Read More
  • A virtual bookclub on Darwin’s classic

    All the Darwin celebrations this year will certainly make some of us reread On the Origin of Species and others pick it up for the first time. One of the latter is John Whitfield, who trained as an evolutionary biologist before turning to science writing. (He’s written several stories for Science including one on cheating… Read More
  • RNA begets RNA

    Gerald Joyce, Scripps Institute
    As Science‘s essay on the origin of life on Earth points out, many researchers think RNA was central to early life. But one challenge has been to show that RNA could make copies of itself without help from another biological molecule–DNA or proteins, for example–and that it could do this for long enough to allow evolution to gain… Read More