Category Archives: Evolution

This Scientist Is OK- Kyle Davies

Kyle Davies is a paleontologist and a fossil preparator at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. He builds the displays you see on the museum floor. He most recently helped prepare Aquilops americanus display which debuted in February.

Davies is one of those people who’s living a childhood dream. He says all he ever wanted to do was build fossil displays. How abut that? Now he’s doing it and that makes him an OK scientist.

It’s what’s in the Gut that matters

Scientists at the University of Oklahoma are getting international attention for research into what’s in your gut. Cecil Lewis and his team at the Laboratories of Molecular Anthropology and Microbiome Research at OU studied what’s inside the guts of a group of Norman residents and compared it to the guts of a hunter-gatherer society in the Amazon.

They found that the population of gut microbes of the people in the Amazon and city-dwellers in Norman have some significant differences. For example, one microbe called Treponema was not found in the Norman population but was found in the tribe of hunter-gatherers. This is a bacteria that has been in human and primate guts for millions of years.

“In our study, we show that these lost bacteria are in fact multiple species that are likely capable of fermenting fiber and generating short chain fatty acids in the gut.  Short chain fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties.  This raises an important question, could these lost Treponema be keystone species that explain the increased risk for autoimmunce disorders in industrialized people?  This is what we hope to explore next,” says Lewis.

You can read the research for yourself in nature.  Or you can read this article in Science Magazine by Ann Gibbons to see how researchers convinced the tribe in the Amazon to let them study their guts. (Let’s just say, sometimes science ain’t pretty.). Gibbons sums it up quite nicely about what this means and why this kind of research is important.

How you can help find Fossils

If you’ve ever wanted to work with fossils and help paleontologists make new discoveries this is the story for you. The Vertebrate Paleontology lab at the OSU Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa needs volunteers. You don’t need to have any experience, just a love for science. You’ll also get to work with Dr. Anne Weil.

Volunteers work Wednesday-Friday, 9 to 5 sifting through rock and soil looking for fossils.

Click here for a more information, as well as how to get in touch with the volunteer coordinator.

This Scientist is OK- Dr. Anne Weil

Dr. Anne Weil is a vertebrate paleontologist at the OSU Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa. Her specialty is looking at a “lost branch of mammalia” called multituberculates. They lived roughly 180 to 30 million years ago. Here’s an example.

She started college wanting to be a novelist but soon found herself taking geology and paleontology courses. Next thing you know she’s paleontologist researching fossilized mammal teeth.

She’s an OK scientist.

Calling Future Paleontologists

Do you know a high schooler who loves fossils or wants to be a paleontologist? The Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History has a fantastic program aimed just for them. It’s called Paleo Expedition and the museum is looking for twelve kids to take part.

They’ll get hands on training at geological and paleontological sites in Oklahoma, including the famed Black Mesa site. Best of all, it’s free. As in $0 to attend! The deadline to apply is March 27th.

But wait, there’s more. The Sam Noble Museum has another program called Oklahoma Science Adventure for students in 6-8th grade. The goal is to show the kids what science is like out in the field. They’ll research fossils as well as live animals. It’s also free! 

I really could go on an on about the programs offered through the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum, they also have one just for teachers. But your best bet is to visit the museum’s explorology website. It’s chalk full on information for parents and teachers.

This is why your child needs braces

Ever wonder what’s up with crooked teeth? I mean, why don’t our teeth fit in our mouth? A recent report in the journal PLOS ONE says you can blame the switch to farming by our ancestors.

This article sums it up nicely. It includes some pictures that really show the difference.

The first humans were hunter-gatherers. They just fought it and killed it and ate it. They didn’t grow it and they didn’t cook it. The report says their teeth and jaws fit together perfectly. That’s how they evolved, big jaws were needed to chew their tough, uncooked food. As farming was developed and the food became more processed and not near as tough, humans didn’t need those big jaws so the jaws became smaller but the teeth stayed the same.

This is just one more example of how evolution works. Nature makes do with what it has. It’s not perfect, it’s not ideal. It just is what it is. Our teeth evolved to fit a different sized jaw and now we have to fork out thousands of dollars for braces to get it fixed.

Anti-Science Bill Update

We’ve been following an anti-science bill proposed in the state legislature. Sen. Josh Brecheen (R-District 6) is author of the bill. It’s his latest attempt to flush out climate change and evolution among other topics.

Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education does a great job staying on top of these bills. They say the best way to stop it is to contact the committee members where the bill starts. Here’s what OESE has on their website about SB 665:

Senate Bill 665, Oklahoma Science Education Act by Brecheen is the only legislation that directly attacks the teaching of sound science introduced in the legislature this year. Deadline for filing bills was January 22. The bill is virturally identical to a bill filed by Brecheen last year that died in the Senate Education Committee. Analysis of the bill by Rich Brougton is here. A description of the bill and its history is on the NCSE site. Additional information at the Sensuous Curmudgeon and Science is OK. We will let you know if and when it is assigned to a committee. Instructions for tracking bills can be found at Bill tracking in the Oklahoma legislature. There are several bills concerning science standards that we will keep an eye on as well. 
Action Alert: SB 665 has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee. Please contact the committee members and let them know you oppose the bill. Here is contact info for that committee: 
John Ford, Chair, 521-5634, fordj@oksenate.gov 
Ron Sharp, Vice Chair, 521-5539, sharp@oksenate.gov
Earl Garrison, 521-5533, whitep@oksenate.gov
Jim Halligan, 521-5572, halligan@oksenate.gov
Clark Jolley, 521-5622,jolley@oksenate.gov 
Susan Paddack, 521-5541, paddack@oksenate.gov
Marty Quinn, 521-5555, quinn@oksenate.gov
Wayne Shaw, 521-5574, shaw@oksenate.gov
Jason Smalley, 521-5547, smalley@oksenate.gov
John Sparks, 521-5553, sparks@oksenate.gov
Gary Stanislawski, 521-5624, stanislawski@oksenate.gov
Roger Thompson, 521-5588, thompson@oksenate.gov

Bedbugs, Bats, and Cavemen

News On 6 in Tulsa had an interesting story about research being done on the evolution of bedbugs. It says Dr. Warren Booth, a University of Tulsa biology professor, has evidence that bedbugs first evolved to feed off bats in caves. Eventually, early humans lived in the caves and some bedbugs branched off to feed on the humans. The story refers to the early humans as cavemen and says bedbug evolution took place about 250,000 years ago. That would mean the “cavemen” could be Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, or even Neanderthals.

What I think is cool is how this story punctuates why it’s important to study evolution. Here’s a quote from the story, “We need to understand the evolutionary history of the organisms before we can bring it right down to what’s happening here,” said Booth. I’ve heard too many people question why we should study evolution. Dr. Booth says it right there, basically you have to know where you’ve been before you know where to go.

Thank you News On 6 for highlighting an Oklahoma scientist and the important research being done right here.

Anti-science Bill Proposed

A bill has been proposed in the Oklahoma senate that is, without a doubt, anti-science. Senate bill 665 was written by Sen. Josh Brecheen (R-District 6). The bill would create what Sen. Brecheen calls the Oklahoma Science Education Act. A bunch of words that say one thing but mean something entirely different.

SB 665 would force school districts and the state to “assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.” The bill does not mention what those controversies may be but, when you understand Sen. Brecheen’s history, it’s very clear evolution and climate change are two of his targets.

The National Center for Science Education has a good write up on Sen. Brecheen’s attempts to give biology teachers a way out of teaching evolution.

This all follows the roadmap set forth in the Wedge Document. It was a campaign introduced in the late 90’s by the Discovery Institute. The point of the Wedge Document is to show how a wedge can and should be driven between public opinion and policy makers to create a more theistic approach to science education, specifically evolution.

You can contact Senator Brecheen at brecheen@oksenate.gov. Please let him know that Oklahoma needs more science education and less interference from lawmakers.

This Scientist Is OK- Dr. Richard Broughton

Dr. Richard Broughton is an Assistant Professor with the Oklahoma Biological Survey and the Department of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma. He recently developed a new classification system for fish. For example, he discovered that tuna and seahorses are related.

Dr. Broughton is the focus of this edition of This Scientist Is OK. He told me that, as a kid, he would just play around outside and that got him hooked on biology. Next thing you know (and a lot of hard work) he’s a biologist making incredible discoveries.