Field of Science

Evolution highlights VII

Interjections! This crazy article 'pothesizing that depression is adaptive in humans has resurfaced in an Irish newspaper (scroll down ten paragraphs to see it). I dealt with it in August, and I don't think the idea sounds any better in November (but then again, the weather in Southern California is fantastic).

Jubilations! Researchers have discovered an anti-kuru gene that makes humans resistant to prion disease. The mutation that causes the variant gene is thus beneficial, and I am looking forward to see how the creationists, who don't believe in beneficial mutations, will respond this time ("but these are Hell-spawn cannibals"?). Much better. Also, did you know that it is not known what prions do, apart from causing disease when they misfold? Humans have genes for coding them, and they are expressed all over in the body, but the function of them is still a mystery.
Thanks to Jasper the triathlete for the link to this one.

Peter and Rosemary Grant have been studying Darwin's Finches in the Galapagos Islands for decades. Most recently they have a great paper out in PNAS about secondary contact after allopatric speciation. I have some problems accepting the view that the case they studied is an example of 'incipient' speciation (meaning in progress), but a fascinating account is in indeed.

Here's a report in National Geographic from earlier this year where they found that the very same birds described in the PNAS paper diverged further from each other in beak size when they came into contact, specializing on different resources. Such character displacement "paradoxically may often occur so rapidly that we may actually miss the process taking place."

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