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Exploring evolution through genes, computers and history
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    Lucas Brouwers Lucas Brouwers is fascinated by evolution. He writes about science on his blog and for a Dutch daily newspaper. Follow on Twitter @lucasbrouwers.
  • The sexy sabercat: how the sabertooth got its teeth

    Skull of Homotherium crenatidens in the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle in Paris.

    Many sabertooths have stalked this world. The first sabertoothed mammals appeared over 50 million years ago. The last sabercats, such as Smilodon and Homotherium, went extinct only 10.000 years ago. All in all, five different lineages of carnivorous mammals evolved sabertooth dentition: the ancient creodonts, marsupials and three different lineages of true cats and cat-like [...]

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    How genetic plunder transformed a microbe into a pink, salt-loving scavenger

    The Pink Lakes in Australia are coloured pink by salt-loving microbes. Photo by Neilsphotography.

    Most cells would shrivel to death in a salt lake. But not the Halobacteria. These microbes thrive in brine, painting waters a gentle pink or crimson red wherever they bloom. The Halobacteria live in every salt lake on this planet, from the Dead Sea of Israel to the vast salt flats at the feet of [...]

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    Animal vision evolved 700 million years ago

    All animal eyes and eye-spots contain opsin, a protein that captures light. This is the compound eye of the Antarctic krill. Photo by Gerd Alberti and Uwe Kills

    Gaze deep into any animal eye and you will find opsin, the protein through which we see the world. Every ray of light that you perceive was caught by an opsin first. Without opsin there would be no blue, no red, no green. The entire visible spectrum would be.. just another spectrum. But opsins haven’t [...]

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    Book review: Survival of the Beautiful

    Sometimes all you have to do to make me buy your book, is think of a good title. Survival of the Beautiful by David Rothenberg definitely did the trick. “No one ever mentions the beautiful”, I thought when I took the book from its shelf in a London book store. Not when it comes to [...]

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    The grandmother and her genes: a grandson’s perspective

    Photo by redwood1

    Somewhere deep in my grandmother’s veins, a blood clot breaks free. Her blood carries the clot past her heart, to her lungs, where it becomes stuck in a pulmonary artery. This is when my grandmother feels a sudden sting in her chest and loses her breath. She is suffering a pulmonary embolism. My grandmother is [...]

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    The floor is yours!

    Carving this blog for a year now. Photo theangryblender

    Today, the Scientific American blogging network celebrates its very first birthday. It has been a tremendous ride so far, and I would really like to thank you for reading along so far, but there’s one little question I wanted to get out of the way first: Who are you? You see, writing this blog is [...]

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    Terrestrial hermit crabs only smell their favourite snacks when water is around

    Terrestrial hermit crabs love peanut snacks, but can only smell them when it's wet. Illustration Irene Goede

    The Caribbean hermit crabs in Anna-Sara Krång’s laboratory are no picky eaters. They are eager to gobble down any fruit, nuts, fish or coconut flakes that comes their way. But above all else, these culinary connoisseurs prefer peanut flips. These snacks are always the first to disappear down their gullets when feeding time comes around. [...]

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    Ancient fish had the backbone of a landlubber

    Tarrasius crushed its prey with its molars, just like modern wolf eels do. Photo Dan Hershman.

    Evolution has a knack for confronting us with strange and unexpected questions. One of them echoed through the halls of the Collections Centre of the National Museum of Scotland, not too long ago: “Why does a fish need a sacrum!?” Lauren Sallan was peering through her microscope, studying a fossil specimen of Tarrasius, when she [...]

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    Livestock bacteria are as old as the livestock they kill

    The aurochs were the ancestors of domestic cattle.

    Animals were wilder then. Horns were longer, temperaments fiercer. These wild things had forever been free when humans took control of their flocks and herds, 10.000 years ago. Through careful breeding and rearing, the first pastoralists of the Near East moulded the beasts into more docile versions of their former selves. Over time, Bezoar became [...]

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    A Spoonful of Molybdenum, some Ulysses and the Origin of Life

    Molybdenum was 'ineluctable' for the origin of life. Photo courtesy Alcehmist-hp.

    “Have you ever read Ulysses?” The question catches me off guard. I am interviewing Michael Russell, a geochemist working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Russell was originally trained as an ore prospector, but several twists and turns in his scientific career brought him where geology, chemistry and biology intersect: the origin of life. Decades of [...]

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