19TH AUGUST 2022
Dear Friend of Darwin,
Putting together these newsletters, I’m always surprised at just how many news stories and recent scientific studies have Darwinian associations. Clearly there’s a huge element of sampling bias here—I am, after all, on the lookout for exactly those sorts of articles—but should I be all that surprised?
As a self-confessed Darwin groupie, I like to joke everything has a Darwin connection. But in biology, it’s not really a joke. Darwin’s great theory of evolution by means of natural selection underpins the whole of modern biology. Yes, the theory has itself evolved over the years, as scientists delved deeper into its implications, found out more stuff, incorporated their own insights, and corrected a few of Darwin’s errors. But, embellishments notwithstanding, Darwin’s original theory is still very much with us, helping us make sense of the world. How, indeed, could any new biological study not have Darwinian associations?
Some Darwin- and evolution-related stories that caught my eye recently:
- Darwin in Conversation
Marking the completion of the magnificent Darwin Correspondence Project, a 40-year endeavour to publish all of Darwin’s correspondence, a new exhibition in Cambridge, UK celebrates the endlessly curious life and letters of Charles Darwin.
- Self-pollinating plant shows rapid loss of genetic variation
A modern experimental study similar to a series of experiments performed by Charles Darwin has shown that, without bumble bees, a flowering plant that can self-pollinate lost substantial genetic variation within only nine generations.
- Ice Age wolf DNA reveals dogs trace ancestry to two separate wolf populations
Darwin incorrectly concluded domestic dogs arose from more than one species of wild canid, not just wolves. The latest development in this popular field of research suggests dogs’ origins can be traced to at least two different populations of ancient wolves.
- How humans’ ability to digest milk evolved from famine and disease
A major new study attempts to quantify how lactose tolerance developed in Europeans. See also: Why did Europeans evolve into becoming lactose tolerant?
- Study explores coevolution of mammals and their lice
The first mammalian louse most likely species-hopped from birds, beginning the long co-evolution of mammals and their lice.
- New study challenges old views on what’s ‘primitive’ in mammalian reproduction
For decades, marsupial reproduction has been seen as more ‘primitive’ than that of placental mammals. New research suggests otherwise.
- Tiny bodies of bats allow perfect balance between flight costs and heat dissipation
Evolution often involves design compromises. Many mammal species living in cold climates tend to have large bodies and short limbs to reduce heat loss. But bats are an exception to the rule.
- Mystery solved: when mammals’ ancestors became warm-blooded
It looks as if warm-bloodedness developed in our mammalian ancestors around 233 million years ago, during the Late Triassic period, at a time when many other features of the mammalian body plan were also falling into place.
- Rise of the dinosaurs traced back to their adaptation to cold
Meanwhile, in other Late-Triassic news… Scientists have suggested coverings of feathers enabled early dinosaurs to survive when other creatures died off in a mass extinction event.
- Impact crater may be dinosaur killer’s baby cousin
Scientists investigating the other end of the dinosaurs’ magnificent 165-million-year reign have discovered what seems to be a second impact crater of a very similar age to the one associated with the demise of the non-avian dinosaurs.
- All the better to better eat you with: dinosaurs evolved different eye socket shapes to allow stronger bites
Large predatory dinosaurs evolved elongated eye sockets to better deal with high bite forces, a new study suggests.
- Ancestral genetic variation essential for rapid evolution of Darwin’s finches
Researchers have identified 28 ancestral gene regions particularly important in the evolution of Darwin’s finches.
- Researcher examines how two volcanic eruptions forever changed flightless brown kiwi
A nice example of Darwin’s important idea that geographical isolation can lead to divergence of populations.
- Darwin in Edinburgh
An account of the recent Darwin in Edinburgh walking theatre tour.
For regular links like these, please like and follow the Friends of Charles Darwin Facebook page.
Some book recommendations for you:
Journal of Researches
Natural selection and evolution also applies to writing. Earlier this week, I realised the latest chapter I’d been struggling to outline for my Darwin book wasn’t viable. It would never have what it takes to survive the trials of later drafts. One lesson my former career working on projects and programmes of work taught me is the sooner you stop a bad idea the better. So I see the rapid extinction of my latest chapter as a good thing: my book will be better without it.
Onward and upward, to the next chapter! (Let’s hope this one evolves some legs!)
Expression of Emotions
Thanks as always for taking time to read this newsletter. Please feel free to forward it to any friends you think might like to subscribe.
As I said last time, if you enjoy this newsletter, you might also like to check out my other newsletter, which is remarkably similar in format, but with less emphasis on Darwin-related stuff (even though, as we all know, everything has a Darwin connection).
See you next time!
Richard Carter, FCD