Evidence for Naturalistic Origins
What is evolution and how does it work?
- - -
How does evolution impact my life?
- - -
What is the evidence for evolution?
- - -
What is the history of evolutionary theory?
- - -
Evolution evidence rated as top 'breakthrough' of 2005
- - -
Evolution, Evidence of
- - -
Evolution Primer #1: Isn't Evolution Just a Theory?
Evolution Primer #2: Who Was Charles Darwin?
Evolution Primer #3: How Do We Know Evolution Happens?
Evolution Primer #4: How Does Evolution Really Work?
Evolution Primer #5: Did Humans Evolve?
Evolution Primer #6: Why Does Evolution Matter Now?
Evolution Primer #7: Why Is Evolution Controversial Anyway?
(includes some religious apologetics and
standard attempts to try to spin the bible
& evolution as compatible despite the bible's
plethora of anti-scientific & pre-scientific
& anti-human & superstitious notions)
- - -
Clues To A Secret Of Life Found
in Meteorite Dust
ScienceDaily (Mar. 18, 2009) - NASA scientists
analyzing the dust of meteorites have discovered
new clues to a long-standing mystery about how
life works on its most basic, molecular level.
"We found more support for the idea that biolog-
ical molecules, like amino acids, created in space
and brought to Earth by meteorite impacts help
explain why life is left-handed. ... "By that I mean
why all known life uses only left-handed versions
of amino acids to build proteins."
Proteins are the workhorse molecules of life, used
in everything from structures like hair to enzymes,
the catalysts that speed up or regulate chemical
reactions. Just as the 26 letters of the alphabet are
arranged in limitless combinations to make words,
life uses 20 different amino acids in a huge variety
of arrangements to build millions of different pro-
Amino acid molecules can be built in two ways
that are mirror images of each other, like your
hands. Although life based on right-handed amino
acids would presumably work fine, "you can't mix
them. ... If you do, life turns to something resem-
bling scrambled eggs -- it's a mess. Since life doesn't
work with a mixture of left-handed and right-handed
amino acids, the mystery is: how did life decide
-- what made life choose left-handed amino acids
over right-handed ones?"
"Finding more left-handed isovaline in a variety of
meteorites supports the theory that amino acids
brought to the early Earth by asteroids and comets
contributed to the origin of only left-handed based
protein life on Earth."
- - -
Elephant Shark Genome Sequence Leads To
Discovery of Color Perception In Deep-sea Fish
ScienceDaily (Mar. 18, 2009) - The elephant shark,
a primitive deep-sea fish that belongs to the oldest
living family of jawed vertebrates, can see color much
like humans can.
This discovery, published in the March 2009 issue of
Genome Research, may enhance scientists' understanding
of how color vision evolved in early vertebrates over the
last 450 million years of evolution.
"It was unexpected that a 'primitive' vertebrate like the
elephant shark had the potential for color vision like
humans. The discovery shows that it has acquired the
traits for color vision during evolution in parallel with
This finding indicates that the elephant shark had retained
more features of the ancestral genome than other verte-
brates belonging to the same evolutionary tree and hence
was a useful model for gaining insight into the ancestral
genome, in which the human genome also has its roots.
In several scientific publications, Dr. Venkatesh's team
has described research showing that the human DNA
sequence was more similar to elephant shark than to
any other fish.
"We expect the sequencing of the whole genome of the
elephant shark to be completed by early 2010, the availa-
bility of which will then enable scientists to explore the
important functional elements in both the human and
elephant shark genome that have remained unchanged
during the last 450 million years of evolution."
- - -
Billions Of Years Ago, Microbes Were Key
In Developing Modern Nitrogen Cycle
ScienceDaily (Mar. 3, 2009) - As the world marks the
200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, there is much
focus on evolution in animals and plants. But new research
shows that for the countless billions of tiniest creatures
- microbes - large-scale evolution was completed 2.5
billion years ago.
"For microbes, it appears that almost all of their major
evolution took place before we have any record of them,
way back in the dark mists of prehistory."
All living organisms need nitrogen, a basic component of
amino acids and proteins. But for atmospheric nitrogen to
be usable, it must be "fixed," or converted to a biologic-
ally useful form. Some microbes turn atmospheric nitrogen
into ammonia, a form in which the nitrogen can be easily
absorbed by other organisms.
But the new research shows that about 2.5 billion years
ago some microbes evolved that could carry the process
a step further, adding oxygen to the ammonia to produce
nitrate, which also can be used by organisms. That was
the beginning of what today is known as the aerobic nitro-
The microbes that accomplished that feat are on the last,
or terminal, branches of the bacteria and archaea domains
of the so-called tree of life, and they are the only microbes
capable of carrying out the step of adding oxygen to am-
The fact that they are on those terminal branches indicates
that large-scale evolution of bacteria and archaea was com-
plete about 2.5 billion years ago.
The scientists examined material from a half-mile-deep core
drilled in the Pilbara region of northwest Australia. They
looked specifically at a section of shale from 300 to 650
feet deep, deposited 2.5 billion years ago, and found tell-
tale isotope signatures created in the process of denitrifi-
cation, the removal of oxygen from nitrate.
If denitrification was occurring, then nitrification - the addi-
tion of oxygen to ammonia to form nitrate - also must have
been taking place. ... That makes the find the earliest solid
evidence for the beginning of the aerobic nitrogen cycle.
"What this shale deposit has done is record the onset of the
modern nitrogen cycle. This was a life-giving nutrient then
and remains so today. That's why you put nitrogen fertilizer
on your tomato plants, for example."
The discovery gives clues about when and how the Earth's
atmosphere became oxygen rich.
- - -
Origin of Life On Earth: Scientists Unlock Mystery
of Molecular Machine
ScienceDaily (Mar. 1, 2009) - A major mystery about the ori-
gins of life has been resolved. According to a study published
in the journal Nature, two Université de Montréal scientists have
proposed a new theory for how a universal molecular machine,
the ribosome, managed to self-assemble as a critical step in the
genesis of all life on Earth.
"While the ribosome is a complex structure it features a clear
hierarchy that emerged based on basic chemical principles."
"In the absence of such explanations, some people could ima-
gine unseen forces at work when such complex structures
emerge in nature."
What is a ribosome?
The ribosome is an enormous molecule responsible for trans-
lating the messages carried in the genetic code of all organisms
into the workhorse molecules of the cell - proteins - that carry
out all functions, including replicating the genome itself. As the
world celebrates the bicentennial anniversary of the Father of
Evolution, Charles Darwin, Prof. Steinberg's theory brings the
scientific community even deeper into the study of the origins
By examining the molecular self-organizing processes that pre-
ceded the living cell, the point where time begins for biologists,
Prof. Steinberg goes further than Darwin and the many evolu-
tionary biologists who followed could have imagined.
By the standards of biological molecules, ribosomes are immense.
Though visible only through lenses of the most powerful micro-
scopes, comparing most other biological molecules to this behe-
moth is like comparing a tricycle to a jumbo jet. Having spent
years gazing at the detailed structure of the ribosome, Prof. Stein-
berg pondered how such an immense and complex structure could
have assembled itself from smaller building blocks that existed on
the early Earth.
From the simple to the complex
The key breakthrough came when he realized that the ribosome is
organized by a set of simple structural rules and that it had to be
assembled from basic building blocks in a very specific order;
otherwise it would have fallen apart. He then showed with mathe-
matical rigor that the construction of the ribosome likely followed
an ordered series of steps to form the structure found in the first
living cell. To this day, that structure exists almost unchanged in
our own cells.
Chemists have been able to observe many examples of self-organ-
izing behavior with simple molecules, yet explaining the complex
self-assembly of biomolecules had not been so obvious.
"Thanks to the research of Sergey Steinberg and Konstantin Bo-
kov, scientists now have a glimpse of one key event that emerged
spontaneously out of the primordial chemical soup of the early
"Perhaps in the near future we may look forward to more discov-
eries that will take us beyond the world of Darwin into an under-
standing of the basic chemical principles that drove the emergence
of life on our planet and perhaps beyond."
- - -
Synthetic Biology Yields Clues To Evolution
and Origin Of Life
ScienceDaily (Feb. 25, 2009) - Researchers
in the field of synthetic biology are still
a long way from being able to assemble living
cells from scratch in the laboratory. But
according to biochemist David Deamer of the
University of California, Santa Cruz, their
efforts are yielding clues to the mystery of
how life began on Earth.
Deamer has been investigating the origin of
life for more than 20 years, focusing on the
molecular self-assembly processes that led
to the first "protocells" nearly 4 billion
According to Deamer, life began with com-
plex systems of molecules that came together
through the self-assembly of nonliving com-
ponents. A useful metaphor for understanding
how this came about, he said, can be found
in combinatorial chemistry, an approach in
which thousands of experiments are carried
out in parallel by robotic devices.
"I look at the origin of life as the result
of combinatorial chemistry on a global scale."
The power of combinatorial chemistry lies
in the vast numbers of structurally distinct
molecules that can be synthesized and tested
at the same time. Similarly, conditions on
the early Earth allowed not only the synthe-
sis of a wide variety of complex organic mol-
ecules, but also the formation of membrane-
bound compartments that would have encapsu-
lated different combinations of molecules.
"We have made protocells in the lab--artifi-
cial compartments containing complex systems
of molecules. ... The creationists charge
that it's too unlikely for the right combin-
ation to have come together on its own, but
combinatorial chemistry gives us a better
way to think about the probability of life
emerging from this process."
Life began when one or a few protocells hap-
pened to have a mix of components that could
capture energy and nutrients from the envir-
onment and use them to grow and reproduce.
Efforts to replicate this process in the
laboratory are still in their infancy, but
Deamer said he is optimistic that scientists
will eventually be able to assemble a living
cell from a parts list and thereby achieve
a better understanding of how life began.
The first forms of life did not evolve in
the usual sense, he said, but simply grew.
"Evolution began when large populations of
cells had variations that led to different
metabolic efficiencies," Deamer said. "If
the populations were in a confined environ-
ment, at some point they would begin to
compete for limited resources."
The first evolutionary selection processes
would have favored those organisms that
were most efficient in capturing energy
and nutrients from the local environment,
- - -
Cosmologists Aim To Observe First Moments Of Universe
ScienceDaily (Feb. 17, 2009) - During the next
decade, a delicate measurement of primordial
light could reveal convincing evidence for the
popular cosmic inflation theory, which proposes
that a random, microscopic density fluctuation
in the fabric of space and time gave birth to the
universe in a hot big bang approximately 13.7
billion years ago.
- - -
Draft Version of The Neanderthal Genome Completed
ScienceDaily (Feb. 16, 2009) - Scientists have
completed a first draft version of the Neandertal
The Neandertal genome sequence will clarify the
evolutionary relationship between humans and
Neandertals as well as help identify those genetic
changes that enabled modern humans to leave
Africa and rapidly spread around the world,
starting around 100,000 years ago.
Neandertals were the closest relatives of currently
living humans. They lived in Europe and parts of
Asia until they became extinct about 30,000 years
ago. For more than a hundred years, paleontol-
ogists and anthropologists have been striving to
uncover their evolutionary relationship to modern
These DNA sequences can now be compared to
the previously sequenced human and chimpanzee
genomes in order to arrive at some initial insights
into how the genome of this extinct form differed
from that of modern humans.
- - -
High-tech Tests Allow Anthropologists to
Track Ancient Hominids Across the Landscape
ScienceDaily (Feb. 13, 2009) - Dazzling new
scientific techniques are allowing archaeol-
ogists to track the movements and menus of
extinct hominids through the seasons and
years as they ate their way across the African
landscape, helping to illuminate the evolution
of human diets.
Piecing together relationships between the
diets of hominids several million years ago
to that of early and modern humans is allow-
ing scientists to see how diet relates to the
evolution of cognitive abilities, social struc-
tures, locomotion and even disease.
"Darwin surmised more than 150 years ago
in 'The Descent of Man' that changes in
the subsistence or environment of human
ancestors likely led to the advent of modern
humans. ... Dietary resources can be a force
"Textbooks treat these ancient hominids as
static piles of fossil bones. ... We treat them
as biological organisms moving across the
landscape. It's entirely possible that many
things we thought we knew about them were
wrong, and pages of textbooks will have to
- - -
Biologists Find Gene Network That
Gave Rise To First Tooth
ScienceDaily (Feb. 10, 2009) - Darwin had
his finches, Morgan had his fruit flies, and
scientists today have cichlid fishes to trace
the biological origins of jaws and teeth. ...
researchers ... report they have deduced a
network of dental genes in cichlids that likely
was present to build the first tooth some half
a billion years ago.
The researchers say their finding lays out a
core evolutionary list of molecules needed to
make a tooth. These original dental genes, like
a four-cylinder Model T engine to the marvels
of modern automotive engineering, were then
gradually replaced, rewired, or left in place to
produce the various shapes and sizes of teeth
now found in nature, from shark to mouse to
monkey to human.
- - -
Rapidly Evolving Gene Contributes
to Origin Of Species
ScienceDaily (Feb. 7, 2009) - A gene that
helped one species split into two species
shows evidence of adapting much faster than
other genes in the genome, raising questions
about what is driving its rapid evolution.
... the gene has connections to another pre-
viously identified "speciation gene." Both
genes code for key proteins that control mol-
ecular traffic into and out of a cell's nucleus.
The researchers believe an arms race of
sorts inside the cell drives these genes to
evolve rapidly-and as a consequence makes
closely related species genetically incompatible
with one another.
"When we cross two species of fruit fly, which
had split from one another 3 million years ago,
some of the hybrid offspring die. ... This tells
us that genes from one species are no longer
compatible with genes from the other species.
We've now found that a functionally related
group of genes is responsible, with different
versions of the genes having evolved in the two
species. And just as Darwin predicted 150 years
ago, they evolved by natural selection."
Presgraves has some ideas why two of the genes
in particular, called Nup160 and Nup96, have
evolved so quickly: they act as gatekeepers of
a cell's nucleus, a favorite target for viruses and
even malicious genes within the fly's own genome.
Presgraves says that these genes probably exper-
ience constant assault and thus must constantly
adapt. That these genes also prevent genetic mix-
ing between closely related species is incidental
-the origin of new species is just a by-product
of evolutionary arms races, he says.
- - -
Earliest Evidence For Animal Life Discovered:
Fossil Animal Steroids Date Back More Than
635 Million Years
ScienceDaily (Feb. 5, 2009) - An international
research team of scientists from UC Riverside,
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and
other institutions has found the oldest evi-
dence for animals in the fossil record.
The researchers examined sedimentary rocks in
south Oman, and found an anomalously high
amount of steroids that date back to 635 million
years ago, to around the end of the last ice age.
The steroids are produced by sponges - one of
the simplest forms of multicellular animals.
The researchers argue that the discovery of the
sponges is evidence for multicellular animal life
beginning 100 million years before the Cambrian
explosion, a well-studied and unique episode in
Earth history that began about 530 million years
ago when, as indicated by the fossil record, ani-
mal life diversified rapidly.
The discovery can help scientists reconstruct
Earth's early ecosystems and explain how animal
life may have first evolved on the planet.
... the climatic shock of the extensive glacial
episodes of the Neoproterozoic era (1000-542
million years ago) likely caused a major reorg-
anization of marine ecosystems, perhaps by irre-
vocably altering ocean chemistry.
"This paved the way for the evolution of animal
feeders living on the seafloor. ... We believe we
are converging on the correct date for the diver-
gence of complex multicellular animal life, on the
shallow ocean floor between 635 and 750 million
Next, Love and his colleagues plan to screen
other Neoproterozoic sedimentary rocks for ani-
mal steroids just before and through the Sturtian
and Marinoan glaciations, the greatest ice ages
known to have occurred on Earth during 850 to
635 million years ago.
"We aim to investigate the environmental context
by which multicellular animal life became viable
and flourished," he said.
- - -
At 2,500 Pounds And 43 Feet, Prehistoric
Snake Is Largest On Record
ScienceDaily (Feb. 4, 2009) - The largest
snake the world has ever known -- as long
as a school bus and as heavy as a small
car -- ruled tropical ecosystems only 6
million years after the demise of the fear-
some Tyrannosaurus rex, according to a
new discovery published in the journal
"The snake's body was so wide that if it
were moving down the hall and decided to
come into my office to eat me, it would
literally have to squeeze through the
Besides tipping the scales at an estimated
1.25 tons, the snake lived during the Pale-
ocene Epoch, a 10-million-year period im-
mediately following the extinction of the
dinosaurs 65 million years ago, Bloch said.
- - -
How Did Life Begin? RNA That Replicates
Itself Indefinitely Developed For First Time
ScienceDaily (Jan. 10, 2009) - One of the
most enduring questions is how life could
have begun on Earth. Molecules that can
make copies of themselves are thought to
be crucial to understanding this process as
they provide the basis for heritability, a cri-
tical characteristic of living systems. New
findings could inform biochemical questions
about how life began.
The scientists have synthesized for the first
time RNA enzymes that can replicate them-
selves without the help of any proteins or
other cellular components, and the process
In the modern world, DNA carries the genetic
sequence for advanced organisms, while RNA
is dependent on DNA for performing its roles
such as building proteins. But one prominent
theory about the origins of life, called the RNA
World model, postulates that because RNA
can function as both a gene and an enzyme,
RNA might have come before DNA and pro-
tein and acted as the ancestral molecule of life.
"This is the only case outside biology where
molecular information has been immortalized."
The research shows that the system can sustain
molecular information, a form of heritability,
and give rise to variations of itself in a way
akin to Darwinian evolution. ... "What we have
is non-living, but we've been able to show that
it has some life-like properties, and that was
He is quick to point out that, while the self-
replicating RNA enzyme systems share certain
characteristics of life, they are not themselves
a form of life.
The historical origin of life can never be re-
created precisely, so without a reliable time
machine, one must instead address the related
question of whether life could ever be created
in a laboratory. This could, of course, shed
light on what the beginning of life might have
looked like, at least in outline. "We're not
trying to play back the tape ... but it might
tell us how you go about starting the process
of understanding the emergence of life in the
- - -
Astronomers To Gaze Back In Time
and Map History Of Universe
ScienceDaily (Jan. 5, 2009) - UK astronomers
are set to expand our knowledge of the history
of our Universe with a new project to map the
inception and formation of galaxies.
The primary aim is to chart the distribution of
stars and black holes from when the Universe
was less than a billion years old to the present
"it is fantastic to see major international astro-
nomical facilities both on the ground and in
space working in harmony to tackle the fund-
amental questions of galaxy formation and evo-
- - -
(expanded -- end 4 of 4)
Posts in this series:
of Evidence for Naturalistic
of Evidence for Naturalistic
of Evidence for Naturalistic
of Evidence for Naturalistic
of Energy, Matter, Space, Time, and Life (2 of 2)
- - -