UW News

evolution


August 12, 2019

First cells on ancient Earth may have emerged because building blocks of proteins stabilized membranes

Scientists have discovered that the building blocks of proteins can stabilize cell membranes. This finding may explain how the first cells emerged from the primordial soup billions of years ago: The protein building blocks could have stabilized cell membranes against salt and ions that were present in ancient oceans. In addition, membranes may have been a site for these precursor molecules to co-localize, a potential mechanism to explain what brought together the ingredients for life.


June 20, 2019

Mammals and their relatives thrived, diversified during so-called ‘Age of Dinosaurs,’ researchers show

Illustration of an extinct marsupial.

Old myths state that, during the time of the dinosaurs, mammals and their relatives were small and primitive. But new research shows that, during the time of the dinosaurs, mammals and their relatives actually underwent two large ecological radiations, diversifying into climbing, gliding and burrowing forms with a variety of diets.


May 2, 2019

Bats evolved diverse skull shapes due to echolocation, diet

A close-up image of a California leaf-nosed bat.

In a paper published May 2 in Nature Communications, a University of Washington team reports that two major forces have shaped bat skulls over their evolutionary history — echolocation and diet — generating a huge diversity of skull shapes across 1,300 bat species today.


April 30, 2019

Flowering plants, new teeth and no dinosaurs: New study sheds light on the rise of mammals

Well-preserved fossils ― like this Yanoconodon allini (Specimen No.: NJU P06001; Formation: Yixian; Age: 122.2–124.6 million years ago; Provenance: China) ― enabled the team to infer ecology of these extinct mammal species and look at changes in mammal community structure during the last 165 million years.

A new study published April 30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences identified three factors critical in the rise of mammal communities since they first emerged during the Age of Dinosaurs: the rise of flowering plants; the evolution of tribosphenic molars in mammals; and the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs, which reduced competition between mammals and other vertebrates in terrestrial ecosystems.


March 14, 2017

In times of plenty, penguin parents keep feeding their grown offspring

A juvenile Galapagos penguin being fed by an adult.

A research team led by University of Washington biology professor Dee Boersma reports that fully grown Galapagos penguins who have fledged — or left the nest — continue to beg their parents for food. And sometimes, probably when the bounty of the sea is plentiful, parents oblige and feed their adult offspring.


January 24, 2017

Prized fossil find — the oldest, most complete iguanian in the Americas — illuminates the lives of lizards in the Age of Dinosaurs

A drawing of lizards eating wasps.

Paleontologists picking through a bounty of fossils from Montana have discovered something unexpected — a new species of lizard from the late dinosaur era, whose closest relatives roamed in faraway Asia.


December 8, 2016

New study traces the marsupial origins in N. America, finds mammals during Age of Dinosaurs packed a powerful bite

an extinct mammal

A new study by paleontologists at the Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture and the University of Washington describes an early marsupial relative called Didelphodon vorax that lived alongside dinosaurs and had, pound-for-pound, the strongest bite force of any mammal ever recorded.


Fossilized evidence of a tumor in a 255-million-year-old mammal forerunner

A tumor next to a tooth.

University of Washington paleontologists have discovered a benign tumor made up of miniature, tooth-like structures embedded in the jaw of an extinct ‘mammal-like’ gorgonopsian. Known as a compound odontoma, this type of tumor is common to mammals today. But this animal lived 255 million years ago, before mammals even existed.


September 23, 2016

How natural selection acted on one penguin species over the past quarter century

Adult Magellanic penguin and two chicks begging.

University of Washington biologist Dee Boersma and her colleagues combed through 28 years’ worth of data on Magellanic penguins to search for signs that natural selection — one of the main drivers of evolution — may be acting on certain penguin traits. As they report in a paper published Sept. 21 in The Auk: Ornithological Advances, selection is indeed at work on the penguins at the Punta Tombo breeding site in Argentina.


August 18, 2016

Paleontologists with the UW’s Burke Museum discover major T. rex fossil

Paleontologists prepare to remove a Tyrannosaurus rex skull from a fossil dig site in northern Montana and transport it to the Burke Museum at the University of Washington.

Paleontologists with the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture and the UW have discovered a Tyrannosaurus rex, including a very complete skull. The find, which paleontologists estimate to be about 20 percent of the animal, includes vertebrae, ribs, hips and lower jaw bones.


May 11, 2016

Skull specializations allow bats to feast on their fellow vertebrates

Skull of a fish-eating bat.

Over their 52-million-year history, a few bats have evolved a taste for their fellow vertebrates. Now biologists at the University of Washington and the Burke Museum of History and Culture are shedding light on how these so-called “carnivorous bats” adapted to the daunting task of chowing down their backboned prey.


September 10, 2015

UW scientists will continue studies of evolution ‘in real time’ with five-year grant renewal

Faculty members from several departments at the University of Washington will share $2.25 million in research funds from the National Science Foundation to study and apply the principles of evolution “in real time.” Their studies are a part of the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action. Founded in 2010, this NSF science…


February 18, 2015

Fearless birds and shrinking salmon: Is urbanization pushing Earth’s evolution to a tipping point?

We’ve long known that humans and our cities affect the ecosystem and even drive some evolutionary change. What’s new is that these evolutionary changes are happening more quickly than previously thought, and have potential impacts not in the distant future — but now.


January 29, 2014

Neanderthal lineages excavated from modern human genomes

Neanderthal Child

A fossil-free method of sequencing archaic DNA may provide insight into human evolution.


July 3, 2013

Great ape genetic diversity catalog frames primate evolution and future conservation

Belinga, a great ape

A model of great ape history during the past 15 million years has been fashioned through the study of genetic variation in a large panel of humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans.


March 29, 2013

Head-on collisions between DNA-code reading machineries accelerate gene evolution

Houra Merrikh Samuel Million-Weaver

Bacteria speed up their evolution by positioning specific genes along the route of expected traffic jams in DNA encoding. Collisions can result in mutations.


March 4, 2013

‘True grit’ erodes assumptions about evolution

Large cliff of white ashy material surrounded by rock cliffs when two researchers working the face

New work in Argentina where scientists had previously thought Earth’s first grasslands emerged 38 million years ago, shows the area at the time covered with tropical forests rich with palms, bamboos and gingers. Grit and volcanic ash in those forests could have caused the evolution of teeth in horse-like animals that scientists mistakenly thought were adaptations in response to emerging grasslands.


February 19, 2013

Mutant champions save imperiled species from almost-certain extinction

Gloved had holds plate with dozes of tiny wells of reddish orange hue

Species facing widespread and rapid environmental changes can sometimes evolve quickly enough to dodge the extinction bullet. UW scientists consider the genetic underpinnings of such evolutionary rescue.


December 26, 2012

Piranha kin wielded dental weaponry even T. rex would have admired — with video

Head, teeth and ribs of a piranha skeleton

Taking into consideration size, an ancient relative of piranhas weighing about 20 pounds delivered a bite with more force than prehistoric whale-eating sharks or – even – Tyrannosaurus rex.


December 6, 2012

Moths wired two ways to take advantage of floral potluck

Moths are able to enjoy a pollinator’s buffet of flowers because of two distinct “channels” in their brains, scientists have discovered.