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Date of earliest animal life reset by 30 million years

June 28, 2012

The discovery was made by U of A geologists Ernesto Pecoits and Natalie Aubet in Uruguay. They found fossilized tracks a centimeter-long, slug-like animal left behind 585 million years ago in silty, shallow-water sediment.

A team of U of A researchers determined that the tracks were made by a primitive animal called a bilaterian, which is distinguished from other non-animal, simple life forms by its symmetry -- its top side is distinguishable from its bottom side -- and a unique set of "footprints."

U of A paleontologist Murray Gingras says fossilized tracks indicate that the soft-bodied animal's musculature enabled it to move through the sediment on the shallow ocean floor. "The pattern of movement indicates an evolutionary adaptation to search for food, which would have been organic material in the sediment," he said.

There were no fossilized remains of a bilaterian's body, just its tracks. "Generally when we find tracks of a soft-bodied animal, it means there's no trace of the body because they fossilize under different conditions," said Gingras. "It's usually just the body or just the tracks, not both."

It took more than two years for the U of A team members to satisfy themselves and a peer review panel of scientists that they had the right age for the bilaterian fossils.

U of A geochronologist Larry Heaman was among a group that returned to Uruguay to collect more fossil samples locked in a layer of sandstone. Heaman says because the depositional age of the sandstone is difficult to determine, they focused their investigation on particles of granitic rock found invading the sandstone samples.

Heaman explains that the granitic rocks were put through the university's mass spectrometry equipment, a process in which samples are bombarded by laser beams and the resulting atom- to molecule-sized particles are analyzed and dated.

Over the course of his U of A career, Heaman has taken part in a number of breakthrough research projects involving fossils. Last year he got the attention of the paleontology world when he confirmed the surprising date of a fossilized dinosaur bone found in New Mexico. Using U of A equipment, Heaman determined that the bone came from a sauropod, a plant-eating dinosaur that was alive some 700,000 years after the mass-extinction event that many believe wiped out all dinosaur life on Earth.

Heaman says the challenge in dating the bilaterian fossil makes it stand out from his other work. "This was the top research accomplishment because it has more direct relevance to the evolution of life as we know it," he said. "It was such a team effort; any one of us on our own couldn't have done this."

Before the U of A bilaterian find, the oldest sign of animal life was dated at 555 million years ago, from a find made in Russia.

Kurt Konhauser, a U of A geomicrobiologist, says the team's discovery will prompt new questions about the timing of animal evolution and the environmental conditions under which they evolved.

"This research was a huge interdisciplinary effort and shows the depth of the research capabilities here at the U of A," said Konhauser. "The challenge brought the sciences of geology, paleontology, geomicrobiology and geochronology together to nail down the age of the fossils."

Konhauser explains that in the past, research into the earliest signs of animal life would typically shift the date back by a few million years, but the U of A's finding of 30 million years is a real breakthrough.

The U of A's research team includes Ernesto Pecoits, Natalie Aubet, Kurt Konhauser, Larry Heaman, Richard Stern and Murray Gingras. The research was published June 28 in the journal Science.

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The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Alberta. The original article was written by Brian Murphy.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:

  1. Ernesto Pecoits, Kurt O. Konhauser, Natalie R. Aubet, Larry M. Heaman, Gerardo Veroslavsky, Richard A. Stern, and Murray K. Gingras. Bilaterian Burrows and Grazing Behavior at >585 Million Years AgoScience, 29 June 2012 DOI:10.1126/science.1216295

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Ancient Arctic Camel Was Ancestor Of Modern Breed


Illustration of the High Arctic camel on Ellesmere Island during the Pliocene warm period, about three and a half million years ago. Credit: Julius CsotonyiIllustration of the High Arctic camel on Ellesmere Island during the Pliocene warm period, about three and a half million years ago. Credit: Julius Csotonyi

OTTAWA (AP) — Ancient, mummified camel bones dug from the tundra confirm that the animals now synonymous with the arid sands of Arabia actually developed in subfreezing forests in what is now Canada’s High Arctic, a scientist said Tuesday.

About 3.5 million years ago, Strathcona Fiord on Ellesmere Island’s west-central coast would have looked more like a northern forest than an Arctic landscape, said paleobotanist Natalia Rybczynski of the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa.

“Larch-dominated, lots of wetlands, peat,” said Rybczynski, lead author of a study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications. Nearby fossil sites have yielded evidence of ancient bears, horses, deer, badgers and frogs. The average yearly temperature would have been about 0 Celsius (32 Fahrenheit).

“If you were standing in it and watching the camel, it would have the feel of a boreal-type forest.”

The Arctic camel was 30 percent larger than modern camels, she said. Her best guess is it was one-humped.

Although native camels are now only found in Africa and Asia, scientists have long believed the species actually developed in North America and later died out. Camel remains have been previously found in the Yukon.

What makes Rybczynski’s find special is not only how far north it was found, but its state of preservation.

The 30 fragments found in the sand and pebbles of the tundra were mummified, not fossilized. So despite their age, the pieces preserved tiny fragments of collagen within them, a common type of protein found in bones.

Analyzing that protein not only proved the fragments were from camels, but from a type of camel that is much more closely related to the modern version than the Yukon camel. Out of the dozens of camel species that once roamed North America, the type Rybczynski found was one of the most likely to have crossed the Bering land bridge and colonized the deserts.

“This is the one that’s tied to the ancestry of modern camels,” she said.

Out of Africa story rewritten - again: New DNA analysis puts date of human migration as early as 62,000 years ago

  • Findings contradict studies dating migration to 90,000 to 120,000 years ago
  • But they fit better with guesses based on archaeological evidence

Our ancestors migrated out of Africa more recently than thought, leaving the cradle of humanity as recently as 62,000 years ago, new research has claimed.

The new findings from a genetic analysis of fossil skeletons contradict recent gene studies which date our first footsteps out of Africa to 90,000 to 120,000 years ago.

That dating was problematic for researchers because it seemed to contradict the evidence given by the archaeological record.

This way chaps! A human hunting party imagined for the BBC series Planet of the Apeman. New genetic analysis has once again changed the date of our ancestors initial journey from the fertile plains of Africa

This way chaps! A human hunting party imagined for the BBC series Planet of the Apeman. New genetic analysis has once again changed the date of our ancestors initial journey from the fertile plains of Africa

But the most recent research, reported in the journal Current Biology, used a novel method to get results which, in the words of one co-author, 'agree with what we know from archaeology.

Even though the mass migration is one of the most important events in human evolution, exactly when it began has been the subject of fierce scientific debate.

Recent studies have used the rate of mutation in the modern human genome over generations like ticks in a molecular clock to date key events in human evolution.

In so doing, they pushed back several important dates including the evolutionary split between humans and chimpanzees and the exodus of modern humans out of Africa.


One team revised the date of the migration out of Africa from less than 80,000 years ago (based on archaeological evidence) to at least 90,000 to 130,000 years ago.

Another study put the date as far back as 200,000 years ago.

However, evolutionary geneticist Johannes Krause of the University of Tübingen, Germany, was doubtful that the mutation rate calibrated from living humans could be applied so far back in our species' history.


Neanderthal Man

Neanderthals had sharper eyesight and bigger bodies than our early ancestors, but these traits only contributed to their eventual downfall, new research suggests.

The brains of our now-extinct evolutionary cousins had too much to do managing their vision and the physical demands of their bodies to spare a thought for building communities.

That meant that the more socially adept early modern humans were better able to cope with environmental change and out-compete their Neanderthal rivals for shelter and food.

Outmatched by Homo sapiens, they eventually followed in the footsteps of the dinosaurs and became extinct.

Neanderthals had already long occupied Eurasia when early modern humans began migrating out of Africa about 70,000 years ago.

To test the idea, he and his colleagues sequenced mitochondrial DNA found in 10 fossilised skeletons of humans whose age was reliably known from radiocarbon dating methods.

The oldest was estimated to be 40,000 years old, while the most recent came from Medieval times.

In so doing they hoped to more reliably calibrate the molecular clock used to date important events in human history by seeing how quickly mutations had occurred in the periods each individual was born.

When the researchers applied this ancient DNA-derived mutation rate to the out-of-Africa migration, they got a new estimate of 62,000 to 95,000 years ago for the start of the migration - almost half the age given by other methods.

'The nice thing about this is it was similar to the archaeological evidence,' Dr Krause told ScienceNOW.

Of course, the wide variation in date the research found still leaves many questions to be answered. The researchers said that in their effort to avoid false positive their method may have missed a lot of real mutations.

As LiveScience reports, that would have led them to underestimate the mutation rate, resulting in a longer estimate for when humans left Africa.

Quantitative geneticist Peter Visscher, of the University of Queensland, who was not involved in the study, told LiveScience that it is not yet clear which method is most reliable.

'This debate will continue a bit longer, but soon there is likely to be a consensus on what mutation rates are in the present, because there is so much sequencing being done around the world,' he said.

Yet anther summing up:

Absolutely summing up! =)

makes sense

Watch a few minutes of this (about all you can stand) from Beacon Apologetics - he begins with a loaded question, "Can you show any DEMONSTRABLE proof of evolution?" He then refuses to accept any proof that requires evidence from the past - he insists that they show him evolution in action, in the here and now!

Kind of silly, it made me want to look up what a kind is in the Bible

Biblical kinds are a broader category than species, yet that was not always the case ...

Genesis 1 gives us the general idea about Biblical kinds, defined or described according to reproduction.   Adaptation and mutation allowed them to change and yet genetic information is not added.  A bird does not turn into a elephant / dinosaurs do not evolve into birds.  There are limits to adaptation which we observe in nature and in the fossil record.


 Jonathan Sarfati explains this quite well -


"Creationists, starting from the Bible, believe that God created different kinds of organisms, which reproduced ‘after their kinds’ (Gen. 1:11, 12, 21, 24, 25). Thus the biblical kinds would haveoriginally been distinct biological species, i.e., a population of organisms that can interbreed to produce fertile offspring but that cannot so breed with a different biological species.

But creationists point out that the biblical ‘kind’ is larger than one of today’s ‘species.’ Each of the original kinds was created with a vast amount of information. God made sure that the original creatures had enough variety in their genetic information so that their descendants could adapt to a wide variety of environments.

Based on the biblical criterion for kinds, creationists have made several deductions about the modern descendants of the original creations. They deduce, for example, that as long as two modern creatures can hybridize with true fertilization, the two creatures are descended from the same kind.3 Also, if two creatures can hybridize with the same third creature, they are all members of the same kind.4 The hybridization criterion is a valid operational definition, which could in principle enable researchers to list all the kinds. The implication is one-way—hybridization is evidence that two creatures are the same kind, but it does not necessarily follow that if hybridization cannot occur then they are not members of the same kind (failure to hybridize could be due to degenerative mutations). After all, there are couples who can’t have children, and we don’t classify them as a different species, let alone a different kind.

The boundaries of the ‘kind’ do not always correspond to any given man-made classification such as ‘species,’ genus, family, etc. But this is not the fault of the biblical term ‘kind’; it is actually due to inconsistencies in the man-made classification system. That is, several organisms classified as different ‘species,’ and even different genera or higher groupings, can produce fertile offspring. This means that they are really the same species that has several varieties, hence a polytypic (many type) species. A good example is Kekaimalu the wholphin, a fertile hybrid between a male false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) and a female bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), i.e., between two different so-called genera.5There are more examples in reference 3.

Biologists have identified several ways that a loss of genetic information through mutations (copying mistakes) can lead to new species—e.g., the loss of a protein’s ability to recognize ‘imprinting’ marks, ‘jumping genes,’ natural selection, and genetic drift. When these mutations take place in small populations, they can sometimes result in sterile or nonviable offspring. Or changes in song or color might result in birds that no longer recognize a mate, so they no longer interbreed. Either way, a new ‘species’ is formed. Thus, each created kind may have been the ancestor of several present-day species.

But again, it’s important to stress that speciation has nothing to do with real evolution (GTE), because it involves sorting and loss of genetic information, rather than new information.

The biblical model predicts rapid speciation

The biblical creation/Fall/Flood/migration model would also predictrapid formation of new varieties and even species. This is because all the modern varieties of land vertebrates must have descended from comparatively few animals that disembarked from the ark only around 4,500 years ago. In contrast, Darwin thought that this process would normally take eons. It turns out that the very evidence claimed by evolutionists to support their theory supports the biblical model.

Biologists have identified several instances of rapid adaptation, including guppies on Trinidad, lizards in the Bahamas, daisies on the islands of British Columbia, and house mice on Madeira.6Another good example is a new ‘species’ of mosquito that can’t interbreed with the parent population, arising in the London Underground train system (the ‘Tube’) in only 100 years. The rapid change has ‘astonished’ evolutionists, but should delight creationists.7 Scientific American admits as much.

These days even most creationists acknowledge that microevolution has been upheld by tests in the laboratory (as in studies of cells, plants and fruit flies) and in the field (as in Grant’s studies of evolving beak shapes among Galápagos finches). [SA 80]

And why should creationists deny such things? All of this so-called microevolution is part of a created and fallen world, but has never been observed to add new genetic information. In fact, the sorts of changes which are observed are the wrong type to drive the evolutionary story.8 Scientific American is forced to make a pointless claim about evidence of ‘profound’ changes:

Natural selection and other mechanisms—such as chromosomal changes, symbiosis, and hybridization—can drive profound changes in populations over time. [SA 80]

Again, do these profound changes increase information? No—populations are seen losing information, and adapting within the constraints of the information they already have. In contrast, goo-to-you evolution requires something quite different—the progressive addition of massive amounts of genetic information that is novel not only to that population, but to the entire biosphere."


For the entire article see -

No, NO, NO! PLEASE don't send me to AIG! Ah'm beggin' ya! Crazy can be contagious!

Interesting you should mention, "changes in song or color might result in birds that no longer recognize a mate." As a boy, I spent a lot of time in the woods, near my home town, and one of my favorite birds was the Cardinal. I reached the point where I could imitate their call so well, I could actually call them to me - of course when they realized I wasn't another Cardinal, they flew away, but my point is, that I was quite familiar with the Cardinal's call.

I now live on an acre in another state, which has many, many Cardinals, and their call is completely different from the ones of my boyhood - you could well anthropomorphize, and say they spoke a different language!

Why Has Republican Belief in Evolution Declined So Much?

There's been a drop of more than 10 points—to just 43 percent—in the last four years.
Is it posturing for votes, or are we actually witnessing the death throes of the Republican Party? One can only hope --


From Nature:

ChalresKing Charles II of Spain was physically and mentally disabled, infertile — and extremely inbred. When he died in 1700, aged 38, so did the male line of the Spanish Habsburg royal family, as famous for their pointed jaws as for their extreme consanguinity. A provocative analysis now suggests that the Habsburg royal family might have evolved under natural selection over three centuries to blunt the worst effects of inbreeding. Evolutionary theory predicts such a 'purging' process, and researchers have documented the effect in animals and plants. But evidence among humans is scant — in part because of the dearth of data on inbred families spanning many generations.

Royal families such as the Habsburgs are an ideal place to look, says Francisco Ceballos, a geneticist at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, who led the research. He and colleague Gonzalo Álvarez used written records to track the marriages, births and deaths of 4,000 individuals across more than 20 generations. “The royal dynasties of Europe are a lab of inbreeding for human populations,” says Ceballos. The team's study is published this month in Heredity1. The Habsburg pedigree resembles the organizational flowchart of a dysfunctional government agency. Inbred marriages, such as those between first cousins or between uncles and nieces, were the rule rather than exception. Such pairings, which include the marriage between Philip II of Spain — Charles II's great-grandfather — and his niece Anna of Austria, were used to keep titles in the family and to forge political alliances.

More here.

Posted by Azra Raza at 07:17 AM | Permalink


Carl Zimmer in Scientific American:

FlyCharles Darwin was not yet 30 when he got the basic idea for the theory of evolution. But it wasn't until he turned 50 that he presented his argument to the world. He spent those two decades methodically compiling evidence for his theory and coming up with responses to every skeptical counterargument he could think of. And the counterargument he anticipated most of all was that the gradual evolutionary process he envisioned could not produce certain complex structures.

Consider the human eye. It is made up of many parts—a retina, a lens, muscles, jelly, and so on—all of which must interact for sight to occur. Damage one part—detach the retina, for instance—and blindness can follow. In fact, the eye functions only if the parts are of the right size and shape to work with one another. If Darwin was right, then the complex eye had evolved from simple precursors. In On the Origin of Species, Darwin wrote that this idea “seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree.” But Darwin could nonetheless see a path to the evolution of complexity. In each generation, individuals varied in their traits. Some variations increased their survival and allowed them to have more offspring. Over generations those advantageous variations would become more common—would, in a word, be “selected.” As new variations emerged and spread, they could gradually tinker with anatomy, producing complex structures.

More here.

Posted by Azra Raza at 07:39 AM | Permalink |


From lensculture:

EvoSix months of daily shooting of over 250 skeletons at the Museum of Natural History in Paris as well as 4 other locations in France. From the smallest to the biggest vertebrate, isolated in front of a black background, Patrick Gries presents these skeletons as sculptures. This series of stark black-and-white photographs offers an atypical approach to viewing natural science and forces us to reconsider the boundaries between artistic and scientific objects. Spectacular, mysterious, elegant, or grotesque, vertebrate skeletons are objects of art, while they carry within them the traces of several billion years of evolution. 

The book Evolution from Editions Xavier Barral/Paris, in which more than two hundred fifty of Patrick Gries' photographs are accompanied with text written by scientist and documentarian Dr Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu. The result is a powerful pairing that profoundly illustrates how we came to be what we are. Evolution steps beyond the debate and presents the undeniable truth of Darwin's theory, showing through skeletons both obscure and commonplace, but always intriguing, the process by which life has transformed itself, again and again.

More here.

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