Monday, January 3, 2011

Discover's science headlines of 2010

Among the opening paragraphs to his book “Why Evolution is True”, Jerry Coyne writes:
Learning about evolution can transform us in a deep way.  It shows us our place in the whole splendid and extraordinary panoply of life.  It unites us with every living thing on the earth today and with myriads of creatures long dead.  ...the process of evolution- natural selection, the mechanism that drove the first naked, replicating molecule into the diversity of millions of fossil and living forms- is a mechanism of staggering simplicity and beauty.  
I can personally attest to this sentiment.  The more one learns about the processes of evolution, the more one recognizes them in everyday life.  The explanatory power of evolutionary biology is better than any religion.  Recently I read through Discover magazine's annual “The Year in Science” issue, and among their top 100 stories of 2010 I found a few especially noteworthy.  The first (though numbered “three” according to the editors at the magazine) to catch my attention was an interview with E.O. Wilson about his recent paper in the journal Nature questioning the usefulness of kin selection.  Kin selection is often used as an explanation for altruism.  Many people, including Jerry Coyne, think he was wrong.  (I haven't found a link to the original paper online.) 

I'll quickly describe a few other bits from the magazine.  Next, though numbered 86, was research by John Endler (whose research was also featured in Dawkins book) about bowerbirds that employ forced perspective to deceive potential mates into thinking they are bigger than they actually are.  Very cool.  I was also happy to see Craig Venter's work with the first artificially synthesized genome mentioned at number two.  New to me was an article published in the September issue of Cell, authored by Raju Tomer, which garnered the number 12 spot.  It described similarities between the human and ragworm brains as a result of descent from a common ancestor.  I became more familiar with our Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, who seems to be taking a refreshingly long view on energy policy, at number 25; learned about loricifera, multicellular organisms capable of surviving without oxygen, at number 65, and lastly contemplated what the implications of “dark flow” may mean for our universe (if correct) at number 76. 

The papers by Wilson, Endler, and Tomer dealt with some of the most intriguing subjects, all of these were directly about evolutionary biology.  And I didn't even mention the articles specifically about human anthropology! 

No comments:

Post a Comment