For a species whose numbers show no signs of collapsing, humans have a shockingly high mutation rate. Each of us is born with about 70 new genetic errors that our parents did not have. That’s much more than a slime mold, say, or a bacterium. Mutations are likely to decrease an organism’s fitness, and an avalanche like this every generation could be deadly to our species. The fact that we haven’t gone extinct suggests that over the long term, we have some way of taking out our genetic garbage. And a new paper, recently published in Science, provides evidence that the answer may be linked to another fascinating procedure: sex.
Plants are a lot less passive than their reputation makes them out to be. They foster helpful microbes, have internal systems of communication, and can even share information with their neighboring plants. When they’re being eaten, their alarm signals call in predator species that consume whatever’s eating them.
Now, a new paper suggests that predators aren’t the only danger called in by those alarm signals. Indirectly, the signals induce a starvation-driven cannibalism among the erstwhile herbivores. The result is fewer insect pests and greater plant health.
Fine young cannibals
It turns out that cannibalism is widespread among the insects that otherwise spend their time munching on plants. “It often starts with one caterpillar biting another one in the rear, which then… Read the rest
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In 1665, Robert Hooke’s Micrographia brought micrscopic observations of objects smaller than a grain of sand out of the laboratory and into the wider world… Read the rest
There are many patterns of collective behavior in biology that are easy to see because they occur along the familiar dimensions of space and time. Think of the murmuration of starlings. Or army ants that span gaps on the forest floor by linking their own bodies into bridges. Loose groups of shoaling fish that snap into tight schools when a predator shows up.
Then there are less obvious patterns, like those that the evolutionary biologist Jessica Flack tries to understand. In 2006, her graduate work at Emory University showed how just a few formidable-looking fighters could stabilize an entire group of macaques by intervening in scuffles between weaker monkeys, who would submit with teeth-baring grins rather than risk a fight they thought they would lose. But … Read the rest
Tweaking genes to prevent your child dying early from a genetic disorder would be acceptable to most people, but we need to ask how far we should go… Read the rest
Analysis of DNA from a fossilised Neanderthal bone suggests modern human ancestors entered Europe and interbred with locals more than 219,000 years ago… Read the rest
We cannot restore the environment to a pristine state, but we can be better stewards of change. Making dams work for us and for nature is a good start… Read the rest
Frogs leaped to take advantage of the global catastrophe that killed off the dinosaurs 66 million years ago… Read the rest
A retirement community on Lake Erie has turned to a technology more common in sci-fi thrillers than old folks homes: iris scan recognition. The post Iris Scans Come to Nursing Homes. Next Stop, Your Phone appeared first on WIRED.… Read the rest
The government is failing to designate marine protected areas off its coast as promised, says a parliamentary report… Read the rest