EvoLiteracy News 03 19 2015

US Senator Ted Cruz Distorts NASA’s Mission Budget. This report, appeared first in FactCheck.org and refers to Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness (03 18 2015).

Earth Art from Space Close Up imageFactCheck.Org summarizes both Sen. Cruz remarks vs. NASA’s mission and vision:  Sen. Cruz, March 12, 2015: As we begin the process of putting together a roadmap for the future of NASA, there is one vital question that this committee should examine: Should NASA focus primarily inwards, or outwards beyond lower Earth orbit. Since the end of the last administration we have seen a disproportionate increase in the amount of federal funds that have been allocated to the earth science program at the expense of and in comparison to exploration and space operations, planetary science, heliophysics and astrophysics, which I believe are all rooted in exploration and should be central to the core mission of NASA. … I am concerned that NASA in the current environment has lost its full focus on that core mission. NASA, 1964: The fundamental objective of the Geophysics and Astronomy Program is to increase our knowledge and understanding of the space environment of the Earth, the Sun and its relationships to the Earth, the geodetic properties of the Earth, and the fundamental physical nature of the Universe. Knowledge of these areas is basic, not only to our understanding of the problems of survival and navigation in space, but also to the improvement of our ability to make technological advances in other fields. The understanding of the Earth’s atmosphere is important for advancement of weather forecasting, for solution of spacecraft reentry problems and for study of the atmospheres of other planets. For complete report go to FactCheck.org Cruz Distorts NASA’s Mission, Budget.

The Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness “has responsibility for science, technology, engineering, and math research and development and policy; standards and measurement; and civil space policy. The Subcommittee conducts oversight on the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the National Technical Information Service. Advancements in science and technology are vital to the nation’s continued economic security, innovation, and competitiveness.”

Extraordinary diversity of visual opsin genes in dragonflies. This article was just published and featured on the cover of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (03 17 2015).

Dragonfly PNAS 03 17 2015The authors highlight the significance of their study as follows: “Human color vision is tri-chromatic, with three opsins expressed in cone photoreceptors that are sensitive in the red, green, and blue region of the spectrum. As theories predict, such tri- or tetra-chromacy with three or four opsin genes is common among mammals, birds, and other animals, including insects. However, we discovered that dragonflies possess as many as 15–33 opsin genes that have evolved through dynamic gene multiplications and losses within the lineage of dragonflies. These opsin genes are differentially expressed between adult and larva, as well as between dorsal and ventral regions of adult compound eyes, which plausibly underpin the versatile behavioral and ecological adaptations of actively flying adults to aerial lifestyle and sedentary larvae to aquatic lifestyle.” See source PNAS Vol. 112 (11).

UK mapped out by genetic ancestry. Finest-scale DNA survey of any country reveals historical migrations (03 18 2015).

UK Genetic Diversity Nature March 18 2015

A map of the United Kingdom shows how individuals cluster based on their genetics, with a striking relationship to the geography of the country. Source Stephen Leslie, Nature Magazine.

“The analysis — which shows a snapshot of clusters of genetic variation in the late 1800s, when people were less likely to migrate far from their region of birth — reflects historical waves of migration by different populations into the island…  [A] statistical model lumped participants into 17 groups based only on their DNA, and these groupings matched geography. People across central and southern England fell into the largest group, but many groupings were more isolated, such as the split between Devonians and Cornish in Britain’s southwest. People who trace their ancestry to the Orkney Islands, off the northeast coast of Scotland, fell into three distinct categories.” Source Nature  http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature14230.

Darwin’s puzzle… again evolution was, is true. Ancient proteins resolve the evolutionary history of some South American ungulates. Camel or elephant? Actually, this extinct South American mammal called Macrauchenia is most closely related to horses! (03 18 2015).

Toxodon Illustration

Toxodon – Illustration by Peter Schouten “Biggest, Fiercest, Strangest” W. Norton Publishers

The study was published in the journal Nature: “…Toxodon and Macrauchenia form a monophyletic group whose sister taxon is not Afrotheria or any of its constituent clades as recently claimed, but instead crown Perissodactyla (horses, tapirs, and rhinoceroses). These results are consistent with the origin of at least some South American native ungulates from ‘condylarths’, a paraphyletic assembly of archaic placentals. With ongoing improvements in instrumentation and analytical procedures, proteomics may produce a revolution in systematics such as that achieved by genomics, but with the possibility of reaching much further back in time.” See source Nature doi:10.1038/nature14249.

Macrauchenia Illustration

Macrauchenia – Illustration by Peter Schouten “Biggest, Fiercest, Strangest” W. Norton Publishers