Category Archives: Evolution

OSU Scientist Reconstructs Four-billion year old (yes, 4-billion) Genetic Code

The following is a news release from Oklahoma State University

(STILLWATER, Okla., August 9, 2016) – An Oklahoma State University microbiologist and a colleague have reported progress in understanding the evolutionary origin of the genetic code used by all known cells. The scientists reconstructed the genetic code of the last universal common ancestor (LUCA), believed by some scientists to be the origin of all life on Earth.

Wouter Hoff, with OSU’s Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, and Peter van der Gulik, with CWI, the Netherland’s national research institute for mathematics and computer science, published their findings in the journal PLoS ONE. The evolutionary origin of the genetic code has remained a scientific puzzle since its original discovery in the 1960s, which was a seminal breakthrough in understanding the molecular basis of life.

OSU Microbiologist Dr. Wouter Hoff

OSU Microbiologist Dr. Wouter Hoff

LUCA is the proposed single-cell organism that gave rise to the current three domains of life: Archaea, Bacteria, and Eucarya that includes plants and animals. It is believed LUCA lived four billion years ago and may have developed in the extreme conditions surrounding deep sea vents where magma rises to the surface. The properties of LUCA and its possible resemblance to present day organisms are currently attracting intense scientific attention and mainstream news coverage. An influential, but hotly debated, notion is that modern Archaea living in extreme environments most resemble LUCA.

“Our reconstruction of LUCA’s genetic code reveals that the evolution of the set of transfer RNA molecules that are at the center of the genetic code was already almost complete in LUCA,” said Hoff. “Our work reveals that the set of transfer RNA molecules in LUCA closely resembles that in present day Archaea. In this respect, the primordial character referred to in the name of Archaea seems very appropriate.”

To obtain their results, Hoff and van der Gulik used recent genomic and biochemical data in combination with a largely ignored but central biochemical regularity in the genetic code.

“While many questions regarding the origin of the genetic code remain to be addressed, this publication makes a clear step in elucidating part of the evolutionary development of this process that is so important for all living organisms,” Hoff said.

Want more? Click here to read the article Hoff published.

Evolution and the Human Body

Signs of evolution can easily be found in the human body. Vox recently put together this AMAZING video explaining how you can see evidence of evolution in your own body. From babies born with tails to why you get goosebumps.

I can’t recommend this enough to get a better understanding of how evolution has affected the human body.

Microbes and You

(Note: The following is a news release from the University of Oklahoma)

Norman, Okla.—University of Oklahoma anthropologists are studying the ancient and modern human microbiome and the role it plays in human health and disease.  By applying genomic and proteomic sequencing technologies to ancient human microbiomes, such as coprolites and dental calculus, as well as to contemporary microbiomes in traditional and industrialized societies, OU researchers are advancing the understanding of the evolutionary history of our microbial self and its impact on human health today.

Dr. Christina Warinner

Dr. Christina Warinner

Christina Warinner, professor in the Department of Anthropology, OU College of Arts and Sciences, will present, “The Evolution and Ecology of Our Microbial Self,” during the American Association for the Advancement of Science panel on Evolutionary Biology Impacts on Medicine and Public Health, at 1:30 pm, Sunday, Feb. 14, in the Marriott Marshall Ballroom West, Washington, DC.  Warinner will discuss how major events, such as the invention of agriculture and the advent of industrialization, have affected the human microbiome.

“We don’t have a complete picture of the microbiome,” Warinner said. “OU research indicates human behavior over the past 2000 years has impacted the gut microbiome.  Microbial communities have become disturbed, but before we can improve our health, we have to understand our ancestral microbiome.  We cannot make targeted or informed interventions until we know that.  Ancient samples allow us to directly measure changes in the human microbiome at specific times and places in the past.”

Warinner and colleague, Cecil M. Lewis, Jr., co-direct OU’s Laboratories of Molecular Anthropology and Microbiome Research and the research focused on reconstructing the ancestral human oral and gut microbiome, addressing questions concerning how the relationship between humans and microbes has changed through time and how our microbiomes influence health and disease in diverse populations, both today and in the past.  Warinner and Lewis are leaders in the field of paleogenomics, and the OU laboratories house the largest ancient DNA laboratory in the United States.

Warinner is pioneering the study of ancient human microbiomes, and in 2014 she published the first detailed metagenomics and metaproteomic characterization of the ancient oral microbiome in the journal Nature Genetics.  In 2015, she published a study on the identification of milk proteins in ancient dental calculus and the reconstruction of prehistoric European dairying practices.  In the same year, she was part of an international team that published the first South American hunter-gatherer gut microbiome and identified Treponema as a key missing ancestral microbe in industrialized societies.

Warinner has published 17 peer-reviewed journal articles, 2 books, and 5 book chapters, and she serves on the Editorial Board of Scientific Reports.  Her research earned an Honorable Mention for the Omenn Prize, an annual prize for best article published on evolution, medicine and public health; and her ancient microbiome findings were named among the top 100 scientific discoveries of 2014 by Discover Magazine.

Warinner’s research has been featured in more than 75 news articles, including stories in Science, Cell, Scientific American, The New Scientist, Archaeology Magazine, the LA Times, the Guardian, WIRED UK, MSNBC, FOX News, and CNN, among others.  She has presented before the Royal Society of London and on behalf of the Leakey Foundation, and in 2015 she was invited to participate in a White House microbiome innovation forum sponsored by the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  She has been featured in two documentaries, and her current work on ancient Nepal appears in the award-winning children’s book, Secrets of the Sky Caves.

Warinner was named a U.S. National Academy of Sciences Kavli Fellow in 2014, and she was awarded a TED Fellowship in 2012.  Her TED Talks on ancient dental calculus and the evolution of the human diet have been viewed more than 1.5 million times.  For more information on Warinner’s AAAS presentation on the “Evolution and the Ecology of the Microbial Self,”

Science Research in Oklahoma

There is so much science happening right under our noses here in eastern Oklahoma. The OSU Center for Health Sciences is just one example. You’ll find research into biomedical and forensic science, healthcare, medicine, and ,my personal favorite, paleontology.

The cool thing is OSU-CHS has a fantastic resource to help you stay on top of what they’re doing. They call it the Research Spotlight. There are videos and information all on kinds of topics. The video below is one example of the research taking place right here in Tulsa!

 

 

Tools for Digging up Dinos

Ever wonder what tools paleontologists use for digging up dinos? Wonder no more. Here’s the second video from my trip to the Oklahoma Panhandle. (Here’s the first.) It was part of the ExplorOlogy program sponsored by the Sam Noble Museum. We went to Kenton, OK and Black Mesa. It’s home to a ton of fossils from about 150 million years ago.

Dr. Lindsey Yann of the OSU Center for Health Sciences explains the main kinds of tools they use to dig up those fossils and why it’s important to study Oklahoma’s past.

Dr. Yann is the volunteer coordinator for the Vertebrate Paleontology lab in Tulsa. It’s a great place to volunteer if you want to see fossils up close but can’t make it to the Panhandle.

Thanks again to the scientists at the Sam Noble Museum and the OSU Center for Health Sciences for inviting me on this trip.

Digging for Dinos

Who doesn’t like digging for dinos? I had the chance this summer to go on a real-life, honest to goodness dinosaur dig in the Oklahoma Panhandle. It was in Black Mesa near Kenton, OK. That’s about thisclose to the New Mexico and Colorado state lines.

I was a guest of Dr. Anne Weil of the OSU Center for Health Sciences. (She’s been featured before here, here, and here.) The dig was part of the ExplorOlogy program run through the Sam Noble Museum in Norman. ExplorOlogy is all about helping Oklahoma students and teachers get a hands on look at the wonderful world of science. The kids spend the night in the Sam Noble Museum, they get an up close look at the OKC Zoo, and they go work in the field on actual science expeditions.

The dinosaur dig in Black Mesa is an example. The students were helping dig up some Apatosaurus bones. That was a huge dinosaur most of us grew up calling a Brontosaurus.

In addition to digging up the dinosaurs the students went hiking and took a census of the local insects in Black Mesa (video to come!!).

I can’t thank Dr. Weil and the staff at the Sam Noble Museum enough for letting me tag along.

If you know a student who is interested on going next summer click here to learn more about the program and how you can register.

 

Free Science Workshop for Teachers

Attention all elementary and middle school teachers…here’s a great opportunity to learn about life sciences and do a little fossil hunting.

Janessa Doucette is a PhD candidate at the University of Oklahoma. She’s hosting a free workshop series called Oklahoma Educators Evolve. It’ll take place on Saturday Oct. 17th and Saturday Oct. 24th. The first one is a fossil hunting trip to the rich grounds at White Mound in Sulphur. The second is a workshop in Oklahoma City. You’ll study the nature of science, biological concepts, and paleontology, “We will provide you with a foundation for these concepts, as well as provide you with a variety of ways to successfully teach these topics in your classroom. Participants will leave this workshop with their very own classroom collection of fossils and fossil casts with which to enjoy science learning with their students!”

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The cool thing is these workshops are FREE and you don’t have to be a science teacher!!! Click here to register. Click here to learn about the program.

OKEEflyer

 

This Scientist is OK- Dr. J.P. Masly

Dr. J.P. Masly is an assistant professor of biology at the University of Oklahoma. He studies how genes evolve over time to form complex organisms (like you and me!!).

He recently received an award from the National Science Foundation that will allow him to continue with his research and build educational outreach programs in the community.

He talks, in this video, about why he studies the genes of fruit flies (here’s a hint, we’re a lot a like) and at the 2:15 mark about why he thinks science and religion do not have to conflict.

This Scientist Is OK- Dr. Stanley Rice

Dr. Stanley Rice is a botanist and professor at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant. He’s one of the more active scientists in Oklahoma in terms of public outreach. He works with Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education and he’s well known for channeling his inner Charles Darwin (check it out at the 1:50 mark) and click here to go to his YouTube channel.

Dr. Rice loves science and has made it his life mission to share his passion. He says, “What’s most important to me is that people can understand why science is important and how that fits in with their lives and their responsibility to all of humankind and to all the world. All the little things we do matter and science helps us understand how those little things matter.”

 

 

Evolution Explained

I’ve always said evolution is one of those things that you don’t get until you get it. In other words, it can be a difficult to understand until it’s explained the right way and then it’s so simple to understand. The talented folks over at Molecular Life Sciences have created an easy to follow infographic explaining evolution using some of the arguments against it. Here’s one of the many panels…

courtesy: http://molecularlifesciences.tumblr.com

courtesy: http://molecularlifesciences.tumblr.com

Evolution isn’t a belief system. It’s a systematic way to describe how life on Earth has changed over time. I don’t believe in evolution any more than I believe in the Thursday. I understand what it is, how it works, and why it’s the best way to explain the natural world. Major props to Molecular Life Sciences for creating this.

http://molecularlifesciences.tumblr.com/post/75224638930/top-5-misconceptions-about-evolution-a-guide-to