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Evaluation of microscopy techniques may help scientists to better understand ancient plants

1000pa (June 12, 2012) — In a paper published in PLoS ONE, scientists at the University of Illinois released their findings on what microscopy techniques are needed to identify the shape and texture of pollen grains. Understanding pollen morphology is important to classifying ancient vegetation.

Because pollen morphologies often align quite closely to taxonomic groupings, understanding the appearance of ancient pollen allows scientists to better understand prehistoric flora in the context of modern-day ancestors.

The team's research, led by Surangi Punyasena and Mayandi Sivaguru of the Institute for Genomic Biology, focused on comparing how several reflected and transmitted light microscopy techniques image individual...

Woolly mammoth extinction has lessons for modern climate change

1000pa (June 12, 2012) — Although humans and woolly mammoths co-existed for millennia, the shaggy giants disappeared from the globe between 4,000 and 10,000 years ago, and scientists couldn't explain until recently exactly how the Flintstonian behemoths went extinct.

In a paper published June 12 in the journal Nature Communications, UCLA researchers and colleagues reveal that not long after the last ice age, the last woolly mammoths succumbed to a lethal combination of climate...

Untangling knots, slipknots in species separated by a billion years of evolution

1000pa (June 11, 2012) — Strings of all kinds, when jostled, wind up in knots. It turns out that happens even when the strings are long strands of molecules that make up proteins.

A new study by scientists at Rice University and elsewhere examines structures of proteins that not only twist and turn themselves into knots, but also form slipknots that, if anybody could actually see them, might look like shoelaces for cells.

Proteins that serve the same essential functions in...

Predicting the formation of new species

1000pa (June 10, 2012) — Why do some groups of species diversify -- in just a few thousand years -- to the point of forming a wide variety of new species, while others remain essentially unchanged for millions of years? This is one of the key questions for scientists investigating the emergence and decline of biodiversity. From various studies, it is known that speciation is influenced both by environmental factors (e.g. habitat diversity, climate) and by species-specific traits (e.g...

Protein knots gain new evolutionary significance

1000pa (June 5, 2012) — A new study suggests that protein knots, a structure whose formation remains a mystery, may have specific functional advantages that depend on the nature of the protein's architecture.

"The presence of a knotted or slipknotted structure in a protein is relatively rare but really is very interesting," said Kenneth Millett, a professor of mathematics at UC Santa Barbara and a co-author of the paper, "Conservation of complex knotting and slipknotting...

Reign of the giant insects ended with the evolution of birds

1000pa (June 4, 2012) — Giant insects ruled the prehistoric skies during periods when Earth's atmosphere was rich in oxygen. Then came the birds. After the evolution of birds about 150 million years ago, insects got smaller despite rising oxygen levels, according to a new study by scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Insects reached their biggest sizes about 300 million years ago during the late Carboniferous and early Permian periods. This was the reign of...

Plate tectonics cannot explain dynamics of Earth and crust formation more than three billion years ago

1000pa (June 1, 2012) — The current theory of continental drift provides a good model for understanding terrestrial processes through history. However, while plate tectonics is able to successfully shed light on processes up to 3 billion years ago, the theory isn't sufficient in explaining the dynamics of Earth and crust formation before that point and through to the earliest formation of planet, some 4.6 billion years ago. This is the conclusion of Tomas Naæraa of the Nordic Center for...

Hacking code of leaf vein architecture solves mysteries, allows predictions of past climate

1000pa (May 23, 2012) — UCLA life scientists have discovered new laws that determine the construction of leaf vein systems as leaves grow and evolve. These easy-to-apply mathematical rules can now be used to better predict the climates of the past using the fossil record.

The research, published May 15 in the journal Nature Communications, has a range of fundamental implications for global ecology and allows researchers to estimate original leaf sizes from just a fragment of a...

Human-like spine morphology found in aquatic eel fossil

1000pa (May 22, 2012) — For decades, scientists believed that a spine with multiple segments was an exclusive feature of land-dwelling animals. But the discovery of the same anatomical feature in a 345-million-year-old eel suggests that this complex anatomy arose separately from -- and perhaps before -- the first species to walk on land.

Tarrasius problematicus was an eel-like fish that lived in shallow bodies of water in what is now Scotland, in the Carboniferous period between...

Squid ink from Jurassic period identical to modern cuttlefish ink

1000pa (May 21, 2012) — und that two ink sacs from 160-million-year-old giant cephalopod fossils discovered two years ago in England contain the pigment melanin, and that it is essentially identical to the melanin found in the ink sac of a modern-day cuttlefish.

The study is published online in the May 21 edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The finding -- in an extremely rare case of being able to study organic material that is hundreds...

The Rhine is five million years older than first thought: Age of the river corrected based on fossils

1000pa (May 16, 2012) — Scientists at the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoecology (HEP) at the University of Tubingen and the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt have examined the age of the Rhine based on fossils. They have discovered that the river is five million years older than previously believed.

The accompanying study is published May 16 in the journal PLoS ONE.

The Rhine is not an unknown entity in Europe -- on its journey to the North Sea...

Big-mouthed babies drove the evolution of giant island snakes

1000pa (May 15, 2012) — Some populations of tiger snakes stranded for thousands of years on tiny islands surrounding Australia have evolved to be giants, growing to nearly twice the size of their mainland cousins. Now, new research in The American Naturalist suggests that the enormity of these elapids was driven by the need to have big-mouthed babies.

Mainland tiger snakes, which generally max out at 35 inches (89 cm) long, patrol swampy areas in search of frogs, their dietary...

First ever record of insect pollination from 100 million years ago

1000pa (May 14, 2012) — Amber from Cretaceous deposits (110-105 my) in Northern Spain has revealed the first ever record of insect pollination. Scientists have discovered in two pieces of amber several specimens of tiny insects covered with pollen grains, revealing the first record of pollen transport and social behavior in this group of animals.

Today, more than 80% of plant species rely on insects to transport pollen from male to female flower parts. Pollination is best known...

Newly discovered bacterium forms intracellular minerals

1000pa (May 11, 2012) — A new species of photosynthetic bacterium has come to light: it is able to control the formation of minerals (calcium, magnesium, barium and strontium carbonates) within its own organism. Published in Science on April 27, 2012, a study by French researchers[1] reveals the existence of this new type of biomineralization, whose mechanism is still unknown. This finding has important implications for the interpretation of the ancient fossil...

Not always safety in numbers when it comes to extinction risk

1000pa (May 8, 2012) — A basic tenet underpinning scientists' understanding of extinction is that more abundant species persist longer than their less abundant counterparts, but a new University of Georgia study reveals a much more complex relationship.

A team of scientists analyzed more than 46,000 fossils from 52 sites and found that greater numbers did indeed help clam-like brachiopods survive the Ordovician extinction, which killed off approximately half of Earth's life...

Eye size determined by maximum running speed in mammals

1000pa (May 2, 2012) — Maximum running speed is the most important variable influencing mammalian eye size other than body size, according to new research from The University of Texas at Austin.

Species with larger eyes usually have higher visual acuity, says Chris Kirk, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology. But what are the ecological factors that cause some mammals to develop larger eyes than others?

"If you can think of mammals that are fast like a...

Escape response of small fish tested using a supercomputer

1000pa (May 2, 2012) — ETH researchers have for the first time succeeded in discovering the optimal escape response of fish using a supercomputer. The aim was to test whether the escape mechanism of small fish, developed in the course of evolution, is optimal for achieving the maximum escape distance in a short time.

Small fish bend themselves into a 'C' shape before they flee from predators. Observations have suggested that this shape helps them to abruptly put the greatest...

Old fish makes new splash: Coelacanth find rewrites history of the ancient fish

1000pa (May 2, 2012) — Coelacanths, an ancient group of fishes that were once thought to exist only in fossils, made headlines in 1938 when one of their modern relatives was pulled alive from the ocean. Now coelacanths are making another splash -- and University of Alberta researchers are responsible for the discovery.

Lead U of A researcher Andrew Wendruff identified coelacanth fossils that he says are so dramatically different from previous finds, they shatter the theory that...

Were dinosaurs undergoing long-term decline before mass extinction?

1000pa (May 1, 2012) — Despite years of intensive research about the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs about 65.5 million years ago, a fundamental question remains: were dinosaurs already undergoing a long-term decline before an asteroid hit at the end of the Cretaceous? A study led by scientists at the American Museum of Natural History gives a multifaceted answer.

The findings, published online May 1 in Nature Communications, suggest that in general, large-bodied...

Did exploding stars help life on Earth to thrive?

1000pa (Apr. 24, 2012) — Research by a Danish physicist suggests that the explosion of massive stars -- supernovae -- near the Solar System has strongly influenced the development of life. Prof. Henrik Svensmark of the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) sets out his novel work in a paper in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

When the most massive stars exhaust their available fuel and reach the end of their lives, they explode as supernovae...

Did exploding stars help life on Earth thrive?

1000pa (Apr. 24, 2012) — Research by a Danish physicist suggests that the explosion of massive stars -- supernovae -- near the Solar System has strongly influenced the development of life. Prof. Henrik Svensmark of the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) sets out his novel work in a paper in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

When the most massive stars exhaust their available fuel and reach the end of their lives, they explode as supernovae...

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Book review

Dinosaurs Encyclopedia

Book Review

Dinosaurs: The Most Complete, Up-to-Date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages ... WRITTEN BY A PROFESSIONAL paleontologist specifically for young readers, this guide to the Dinosauria is packed...