Evolve… Innovate… Repeat: Scientists Peel Back the Layers of Virus-Host Evolution and Innovation

Scientists have uncovered an intriguing new understanding of how viruses and the hosts they infect evolve new innovations to outcompete each other. Culminating a 10-year research effort, the researchers tracked the way fitness landscapes constantly change in the ongoing struggle for survival.

Tiny Limbs and Long Bodies: Coordinating Lizard Locomotion

Using biological experiments, robot models, and a geometric theory of locomotion, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology investigated how and why intermediate lizard species, with their elongated bodies and short limbs, might use their bodies to move. They uncovered the existence of a previously unknown spectrum of body movements in lizards, revealing a continuum of locomotion dynamics between lizardlike and snakelike movements.

Sea dragons’ genes give clues to their distinctive looks

Even with plenty of fish in the sea, sea dragons stand out from the crowd. The funky, fabulous fish are bedecked with ruffly leaf-like adornments. Their spines are kinked. They’re missing their ribs and their teeth. And the responsibility of pregnancy is taken on by the males. By sequencing the genomes of two species of sea dragons, University of Oregon researchers have found genetic clues to the fish’s distinctive features: They’re missing a key group of genes found in other vertebrates. Those genes help direct the development of the face, teeth and appendages, as well as parts of the nervous system.

Scientists See Signs of Traumatic Brain Injury in Headbutting Muskox

Scientists at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai saw for the first time hallmarks of concussions and other head trauma in the brains of deceased headbutting animals—muskoxen and bighorn sheep. The results published in the journal Acta Neuropathologica may contradict the commonly-held belief that ramming animals do not suffer brain injuries and support the notion that studies on animals with brains evolutionarily similar to those of humans may help researchers understand and reduce traumatic brain injuries.

FAU Receives NSF Grant to Explore Trait Evolution Across Species

The NSF grant will enable scientists to elucidate trait evolution across species using statistical and supervised machine learning approaches to vigorously and accurately predict general and specific evolutionary mechanisms that also will be applicable to various genomic and transcriptomic data for evolutionary discovery.

Evolutionary ‘time travel’ reveals enzyme’s origins, possible future designs

“The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion,” Albert Einstein wrote. Now, researchers have used evolutionary “time travel” to study how an enzyme has evolved, with implications for future design. They will present their results at ACS Fall 2021.

Climate change is driving plant die-offs in Southern California, UCI study finds

Irvine, Calif., June 21, 2021 – A shift is happening in Southern California, and this time it has nothing to do with earthquakes. According to a new study by scientists at the University of California, Irvine, climate change is altering the number of plants populating the region’s deserts and mountains. Using data from the Landsat satellite mission and focusing on an area of nearly 5,000 square miles surrounding Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the research team found that between 1984 and 2017, vegetation cover in desert ecosystems decreased overall by about 35 percent, with mountains seeing a 13 percent vegetation decline.

New Approach Helps Determine How Much Microbial Community Composition Is Driven by Selection and How Much by Chance

Quantifying the relative importance of natural selection, migration, and random shifts to a species is a major challenge in ecology research, especially for microbes. This study develops an approach named iCAMP that is based on the concept that different processes can govern different groups of species in a diverse community. Applied to grassland microbial communities, iCAMP revealed that environmental changes altered the relative importance of the ecological processes.

Scientists describe earliest primate fossils

A new study published Feb. 24 in the journal Royal Society Open Science documents the earliest-known fossil evidence of primates. These creatures lived less than 150,000 years after the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction event that killed off non-avian dinosaurs and saw the rise of mammals.

How and why microbes promote and protect against stress

The bacteria, yeast and viruses that make up the human microbiome affect physical health, behavior and emotions. Some microbes in the human microbiome prosper when the body is under stress, while other microbes contribute to buffering the body against stress. Evolutionary theory suggests reciprocal relationships between microbes in the human body and stress; these relationships can possibly be harnessed to promote physical and mental health.

Tail regeneration in lungfish provides insight into evolution of limb regrowth

A new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B from researchers at the University of Chicago and Universidade Federal do Pará explores regenerative ability in the tails of West African lungfish for the first time, and finds that the process shares many of the same traits as tail regeneration in salamanders. Their results indicate that this trait was likely found in a common ancestor – and provide a new opportunity for better understanding and harnessing the mechanisms of limb regrowth.

PECASE Honoree Sohini Ramachandran Studies the Genetic Foundations of Traits in Diverse Populations

NIGMS grantee and presidential award recipient Sohini Ramachandran, Ph.D., is challenging our understanding of genetic variation among human populations. She discusses her research on how the genetic composition of traits and diseases varies among populations, the value of statistical and computational work in human genetics, and what this all means for patient treatment.