News From The Tiktaalik Front

Unless you are evolutionarily predisposed to living under a rock, you know the story behind Tiktaalik. For the rock dwellers out there I will elaborate. Back in 2004 Neil Shubin PHD made the Tiktaalik discovery. He reasoned, and rightly so, that if the theory of evolution was correct, (and it is) then a transitional fossil between fish and four legged land walkers would fall in the time period of roughly 380 million years ago. He decided that if this transitional creature was out there to be found, it would be found in rock layers dating back to that time. Mr. Shubin managed to get funding for an expedition, and went about finding this fossil. Found it he did. This predictable power of evolution is perhaps THE most important aspect of evoulutionary theory. An amazing discovery. Mr. Shubin later authored the book “Your Inner Fish” (which sadly I have yet to read) and apparently has been back to his Tiktaalik honey hole, fishing for more fossils.

Found them he did. The first Tiktaalik discovery was the front end of the animal with the head and front “feet.” This time they found the back half, completing the picture of this incredible animal. I am going to crib in part much of the story, which was realeased from here:   

“The discovery of well-preserved pelves and a partial pelvic fin fromTiktaalik roseae, a 375 million-year-old transitional species between fish and the first legged animals, reveals that the evolution of hind legs actually began as enhanced hind fins. This challenges existing theory that large, mobile hind appendages were developed only after vertebrates transitioned to land. The fossils are described by scientists in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online on Jan. 13.

“Previous theories, based on the best available data, propose that a shift occurred from ‘front-wheel drive’ locomotion in fish to more of a ‘four-wheel drive’ in tetrapods,” said Neil Shubin, PhD, Robert R. Bensley Distinguished Service Professor of Anatomy at the University of Chicago and corresponding author of the study, which marks his inaugural article as a member of the National Academy of Sciences. “But it looks like this shift actually began to happen in fish, not in limbed animals.”

Discovered in 2004 by Shubin and co-authors Edward Daeschler, PhD, Associate Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, and the late Farish A. Jenkins, Jr., PhD, of Harvard University, Tiktaalik roseae represents the best-known transitional species between fish and land-dwelling tetrapods.

A lobe-finned fish with a broad flat head and sharp teeth, Tiktaaliklooked like a cross between a fish and a crocodile, growing up to a length of 9 feet as it hunted in shallow freshwater environments. It had gills, scales and fins, but also had tetrapod-like features such as a mobile neck, robust ribcage and primitive lungs. In particular, its large forefins had shoulders, elbows and partial wrists, which allowed it to support itself on ground.

However, only specimen blocks containing the front portion of Tiktaalikhave been described thus far. As the researchers investigated additional blocks recovered from their original and subsequent expeditions to the dig site in northern Canada, they discovered the rear portion of Tiktaalik, which contained the pelves as well as partial pelvic fin material. The fossils included the complete pelvis of the original ‘type’ specimen, making a direct comparison of the front and rear appendages of a single animal possible.

The scientists were immediately struck by the pelvis, which was comparable to those of some early tetrapods. The Tiktaalik pelvic girdle was nearly identical in size to its shoulder girdle, a tetrapod-like characteristic. It possessed a prominent ball and socket hip joint, which connected to a highly mobile femur that could extend beneath the body. Crests on the hip for muscle attachment indicated strength and advanced fin function. And although no femur bone was found, pelvic fin material, including long fin rays, indicated the hind fin was at least as long and as complex as its forefin.

“This is an amazing pelvis, particularly the hip socket, which is very different from anything that we knew of in the lineage leading up to limbed vertebrates,” Daeschler said. “Tiktaalik was a combination of primitive and advanced features. Here, not only were the features distinct, but they suggest an advanced function. They appear to have used the fin in a way that’s more suggestive of the way a limb gets used.”

Tiktaalik pelves were still clearly fish-like, with primitive features such as an undivided skeletal configuration, as opposed to the three-part pelvic girdle of early tetrapods. However, the expanded size, mobility and robusticity of the pelvic girdle, hip joint and fin of Tiktaalik made a wide range of motor behaviors possible.

“It’s reasonable to suppose with those big fin rays that Tiktaalik used its hind fins to swim like a paddle,” Shubin said. “But it’s possible it could walk with them as well. African lungfish living today have similarly large pelves, and we showed in 2011 that they walk underwater on the bottom.” End Quote.

So to sum it up, Tiktaalik had developed “walking feet” well before it made its move to land. As well as rudimentary lungs and a ribcage. All of these traits made it (I would suspect) much easier for this creature to invade land, and go on to provide the evolutionary foundation for all vertebrates today. Absolutely amazing!  Even more awseome is this (also cribbed from the link above)  “Shubin will be hosting a three-part TV series based on his book “Your Inner Fish,” on PBS in April 2014, tracing the origins of the human body through the DNA of living animals and the legacies of now-extinct, but biologically important species such as Tiktaalik roseae.” It is safe to say I am really looking forward to this. Is it April yet?



Help Wanted: Maid, Must Be Willing To Travel

Every once in a while a story comes along that makes me not feel so bad about misplacing my keys, or becoming distracted on a trip to town and forgetting to pick up the main item I went there for…

Back during the Apollo moon missions, there were dust detectors deployed on the moon. They gathered data on the buildup of dust, then the braniacs at NASA “lost” the data. The article says, and I quote: “, NASA did not preserve the archival tapes of the data they collected.” Which I think is code for: “some dumb ass deleted it.” Anyway upon learning that they lost the data, Professor Brian O’Brien, who developed the experiment, heard about NASA’s screw up (30 years later), and said “Hey I have backup copies!” This was in 2006, They have spent time since analyzing the data and have discovered that the dust builds up much quicker than they thought. Which is an important discovery, as solar panels lose their effectiveness quickly when dust settles on them. Which in turn means they need to figure out a way to lessen this buildup if they ever want to use the moon as any kind of waystation for exploring our solar system. 

Now you may be wondering, “there shouldn’t be any wind on the moon to scatter the dust”? Well, here is a known theory posited by Mr. O’Brian that: a popular idea of a “dust atmosphere” on the Moon could explain the difference. The concept goes that, during each lunar day, solar radiation is strong enough to knock a few electrons out of atoms in dust particles, building up a slight positive charge. On the nighttime side of the Moon, electrons from the flow of energetic particles, called the solar wind, which comes off the Sun strike dust particles and give them a small negative charge. Where the illuminated and dark regions of the moon meet, electric forces could levitate this charged dust, potentially lofting grains high into the lunar sky.

 Prof O’brien’s outlook on the situation…” “It’s been a long haul,” said O’Brien. “I invented [the detector] in 1966, long before Monique was even born. At the age of 79, I’m working with a 23-year old working on 46-year-old data and we discovered something exciting — it’s delightful.” ( I assume Monique is someone he works with) Anyway, it is kinda neat that this all has a happy ending. I hope this information leads to a new tech that will help keep solar panels clean, so we can move forward with our journey.

Oldest Known Big Cat Fossil Found



Caption: At left is: Life reconstruction of Panthera blytheae based on skull CT data; illustrated by Mauricio Antón. At Right are images of the holotype specimen and reconstructed facial bones based on CT data; Figure 1 from the paper.

Full story here:

Short version, this is a copy and paste job today:

The oldest big cat fossil ever found – which fills in a significant gap in the fossil record – was discovered on a paleontological dig in Tibet, scientists announced today.

A skull from the new species, named Panthera blytheae, was excavated and described by a team led by Jack Tseng – a PhD student at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at the time of the discovery, and now a postdoctoral fellow at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York.

“This find suggests that big cats have a deeper evolutionary origin than previously suspected,” Tseng said.

DNA evidence suggests that the so-called “big cats” – the Pantherinae subfamily, including lions, jaguars, tigers, leopards, snow leopards, and clouded leopards – diverged from their nearest evolutionary cousins, Felinae (which includes cougars, lynxes, and domestic cats), about 6.37 million years ago. However, the oldest fossils of big cats previously found are tooth fragments uncovered at Laetoli in Tanzania (the famed hominin site excavated by Mary Leakey in the 1970s), dating to just 3.6 million years ago.

Using magnetostratigraphy – dating fossils based on the distinctive patterns of reversals in the Earth’s magnetic field, which are recorded in layers of rock – Tseng and his team were able to estimate the age of the skull at between 4.10 and 5.95 million years old.

Incredible between 4 and 6 million years old. So was that before…or after it got off the ark? (Ha!) This magnetostratigraphy dating method must be an amazing tool for paleobiology. What I am reading here is this big cat discovery, puts big cats at or very near the estimated DNA based evidence split, between the two groups of cats, and…this new cat fossil out dates the previously oldest known big cat fossil by .5 to 2.5 million years. 

There is more:  In addition, recent estimates suggested that species within the genus Panthera (lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, and snow leopards) did not diversify until 3.72 million years ago – which the new find disproves. I’d say this discovery sets that estimate back a few years.

All in all really cool discovery, and it’s stuff like this that keeps me glued to the internet as much as I can get away with. 



New Supernova



Hubble has a new supernova discovery to its credit. This one is dubbed SN 2013ek. Another supernova was discovered in this same galaxy last year, and very close to the same spot as this new one. Which is raising a few eyebrows. Indeed they believe these two events could be linked.

The nova is the bright starlike object just above and to the right of the bright galactic nucleus. The other objects in that galaxy that look similar are likely knots of young stars, or large globular clusters, that are fairly commonly found in galaxies, even our own. My only regret is this object is so far south from my location I won’t be able to turn a telescope in its direction to see if I can spot it. 

This is indeed the age of discovery. I am happy to be alive in this era. I have personally seen our species move from earth bound species, with rotary phones and black and white television to putting man on the moon, in space, and having a host of space bound observatories, Mars rovers, planetary probes, cell phones, high speed internet, etc etc. It is in some strange way, a sense of pride seeing and experiencing the advances we have made along the way. Besides family, I think the biggest thing I will miss when I no longer exist, will be the ever advancing rate of our technology, and not knowing where it may lead…

It Took Science To Prove This?

I can live with that I suppose, but anyone with a knack for spotting bullshit arguments probably didn’t need scientific evidence to show this idea was wrong. What idea is that? That the earth, the sun, our solar system would be the center of the universe of course. That argument fostered by the religious wingnuts who believe everything in their little black book is true despite any good evidence to the contrary. 

The money quote from the article:  “Dartmouth researchers found that this model* can’t hold up to other observational tests. The sky glows with light left over from the Big Bang, also known as the Cosmic Microwave Background, so they calculated how that glow would be affected. Their findings show that the model’s prediction is completely contrary to the glow that has been measured.”  The article goes on with:  “Essentially, we held a mirror up to the universe and asked if the reflection was special,” says Robert Caldwell, a professor of physics and astronomy who co-wrote the article with undergraduate physics major Nina Maksimova. “The reflection shows that we do not appear to live in a special location, and decisively excludes this** explanation for the universe’s accelerating expansion. It would be a great relief to be able to understand a basic problem of cosmology within the known laws of physics, but our research is an important step in explaining the physics responsible for the cosmic acceleration.” (and an unfortunate side effect being this result)

Well how about that? Another biblical literalist statement of fact slain with the sword of science. Those damn scientists with their damn facts just keep on dismantling the delusion one myth at a time. I predict the professional creationist spin doctors to begin with the howling in 3…2…1…and go!

*,** The “we are the center of the universe theory”, until this morning I just thought that was a wacky idea held by creationists, I did not know it was actually postulated as a cough, cough…theory.

Science is Cool

I spend way too much time looking at Science Daily. It is a mainstay of my daily routine, and while I often see articles there that rank kinda low on my interest-o-meter, today there are two releases that struck my wow gong (I don’t know if that is legal in some states). First up: The University of Minnesota (isn’t there some well known blogger/ bearded atheist dude that harks from there?) announced they had discovered (or encouraged through experimentation) a new step in an algal form, moving from single celled algae, to multi celled algae that reproduces through a single cell system. Kinda like us, and many other organisms on the planet. Which indicates that this means of evolution can occur in a simultanious step, and not through many incremental steps throughout time, as previously thought. I would love to be on that research team.

Second is a story of light, or a new way of using the suns light to illuminate interior rooms. It is called SmartLight. Best I can tell it is in an experimental stage at this point, and not developed/available technology (I did not see anything to indicate this tech is in any existing form except as experimental, but am as always open to evidence). The story claims it works like this: “A narrow grid of electrofluidic cells which is self-powered by embedded photovoltaics is applied near the top of a window. Each tiny cell ¬- only a few millimeters wide — contains fluid with optical properties as good or better than glass. The surface tension of the fluid can be rapidly manipulated into shapes such as lenses or prisms through minimal electrical stimulation — about 10,000 to 100,000 times less power than what’s needed to light a traditional incandescent bulb. In this way, sunlight passing through the cell can be controlled.”

In other words, it is taking the suns light, focusing it in directional beams, which basically transforms the light into an effective track lighting system, with extremely low power demands for it operate, equating to a ton of effeciency. The story goes on to mention that a great deal of human energy consumption is for lighting, and how a system like this could be a huge savings on our power demands. Anything that can achieve that goal, is in my opinion, a very noble cause. I hope this tech evolves quickly and becomes a mainstay for every building in every town, and affordable for the average Joe. Please, let this not be one of those great ideas that never comes to fruition. (Flying cars anyone?)

Note: Both of these stories I found here:  but any time I decide to post on a story I see there, I usually go to the source of the material and provide that link. Sometimes there is better,  more detailed info at the source.

Free Floating Planet


A planet has been discovered floating free in space, not attatched to a star. This is the first discovered with this distinction.

Over the last few years, quite close to 1000 planets have been found orbiting other stars besides our sun. Which is really cool. That was to be expected, stars form in nebulous clouds of gas and dust, just as our sun did. It also stands to reason that most stars, would have planetary systems as we do. The investigation in the matter proves conclusively that this is so. Science for the win!

It has also been suggested that during the planet forming stage, or just after, when the orbits are being worked out, that the possibility exists that a fledgling planet could be flung out into space. Again scientific investigation, lends credence to the idea. This looks like a smoking gun to me.

Moral of the story, science is working diligently every day to test new ideas. When these ideas are confirmed, it is cause for a moment of celebration. Then when that moment passes, new questions arise, which need looking into, and that is why science is awesome! There is no end to inquiry, there are standards to be met, there is no room for bias or preconceptions, there is a never ending investigation into the why and the how, it is this desire to learn that makes an (yep, I’m gonna do it) Evidence Based Reality the king of the school of thought.

On a personal note, I was out last night with the big gun (12.5″ telescope) observing Uranus and Neptune. There is nothing quite like looking at a planet that is very close to 2 billion miles away (Uranus) and close to 3 billion miles away (Neptune) and seeing them with your own eyes. I also took time to look at a few deep sky objects one of which being the Andromeda Galaxy and it’s companion galaxies, The Ring Nebula was spectacular at nearly 300x, then I just dropped in a low power wide field eyepiece and just cruised the Milky Way for a while. It was fun, you should have been there 🙂


Low Omega 3 Linked to Lower Brain Function

Interesting study reveals that low Omega 3 fatty acids, are related to lower reading skills, concentration, behavior, and learning ability.

If you know anything at all about the course of evolution, related to humans and our earliest ancestors, fish, it isn’t really all that much of a surprise that these O 3’s would be an important part of our diet…right? With a data set of nearly 500 participants, this is in my mind a significant study, with a significant conclusion, being that kids during their earlier years of development, would do well to have a good dose of Omega 3 intake. Probably could’t hurt us adults either.

No Freakin Way


Was the first thing that popped into my head when I saw this.

That pic is the first known biological gear mechanism. Full story here, …anyone who digs science, this is a must click link.

The short story is an insect known as an Issus, has a gear mechanism, by way of evolution, that synchronizes its legs for jumping. Allowing it to perform powerful jumps, and retain control throughout the jump, due to the accurate dispersal of energy to both legs at the moment the jump is initiated. 

As in many evolutionary traits (think embryology) this function is lost in adulthood, being present only in juvenile Issus.




The Nose Knows

Interesting story here :  on the differences in individuals ability to perceive odors.  Apparently ones ability to sense the smell of various fragrances is a genetic trait. Which isn’t all that surprising unless you have been living under a rock, or use certain outdated mythologies as a basis for your understanding of reality…

For a long time now science has been studying genetic traits and the variances between certain genetic coding and the unique effects brought about by these minute changes in the code. We have known for years about things like hair and eye color, and the gene switches that account for them. Now we know that the sense of smell can be unique between individuals.

Which explains a lot…I don’t know how many times I have had to roam the aisles of various retail stores, and passing by some otherwise normal person, except for the fact they most certainly just took a bath in some foul substance that is probably marketed as perfume. I am talking about a person cloaked in an enormous cloud of stench that trails along behind them akin to that car that we have all seen at one time or another, that was puffing out so much smoke it looked like it was spraying for mosquito’s. We are talking weapon of mass destruction level of offensiveness that lasts for several minutes, sometimes so bad I can still have that smell in my nose in the car on the way home.

I have often wondered if these people had some altered sense of smell issue, even considered a genetic trait being responsible, just never knew for sure. Thing is I still don’t know if its them…or me! I do not know where or even if the standard for normal exists, or if I am in it…but some of us have some serious olfactory issues.