JoNova

A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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Adapting to climate change “it’s in our genes” — Another reason to ignore the extinction scare

Two different models predict two totally different futures. On the left, catastrophic extinction. On the right, happy bats. Click to enlarge

Yesterday a UN supercommittee of 145 scientists from 50 countries declared that one million species are set for extinction. The same day, ten other scientists published a paper pointing out that most modelers forget to allow for genetic variation and thus overestimate the extinction rate. (It’s like they’re modelling the World of Clones – take one small study, pretend they’re all the same — extrapolate globally.) Have a look at the big difference in model outcomes in figure 1 (right).

As I keep saying, 500 million years of brutal climate change means almost every species carries around an industrial tool-kit of handy genetic tricks. Matz et al estimated corals already have the genes to survived another 250 years of projected IPCC catastrophe (in the unlikely event that it happens). Liew et al showed corals even have epigenetic tricks as well as genetics ones.  Another group showed when corals are heated something like 74 different genes are activated — often  genes that we don’t even know what they’re there for.

My favourite all time Global Adaptability Prize goes to [...]

Scientist create, then cure, baldness, wrinkles and some aging in mice

Here’s a tantalizing bit of gene research. Scientists were able to switch off a central gene in the nucleus of a mouse cell. That in turn meant the mouse’s mitochondria started failing (I’m going to be talking a lot more about these fascinating bits of machinery in our cells). After two months, the poor lab mice were wrinkled, going bald and their organs were aging rapidly, but lo, after the gene in the nucleus was switched on again, the mitochondria were restored, and wow, all the hair and skin grew back to what it had been before.

Mitochondria have their own DNA loops.

Why get excited about mitochondria? These are tiny biological batteries we have inside every cell. The are the mini-factories burning sugar or fat, generating free radicals on a mass scale and churning out the chemical energy that is then used in most of the chemical reactions in our body. They are turning up in every second paper these days related to aging. These little organelles are so important and rule breaking they even have their own DNA loops with 37 genes — this is the only genetic material in us that is not part of the [...]

Corals use epigenetic tricks to adapt to warmer and “more acidic” water

After half a billion million years of climate change, I’m shocked, shocked I tell you, that life on Earth (and specifically corals) have so many ways to cope with the climate changing. After all, it’s natural (if you are trained by Greenpeace) to assume that corals can only survive in a world with one constant stable temperature just like they never had.

One more tool in the coral-reef-workshop

Corals don’t just have a tool-box, they have a Home Depot Warehouse. h/t to GWPF

We already knew corals chuck out the symbionts that don’t work so well and pick up better partners. Plus, evolution  left a stack of genes lying around that were honed  in a world that was warmer, and natural selection has a way of amplifying better combinations as conditions shift. Then there is the way corals can be reseeded from safe sites, far away. Now we find out that corals can use epigenetics too.

Epigenetics is that kind of spooky effect where people can inherit the exact same DNA code yet it works or doesn’t work depending on whether it was Dad’s copy, or Mum’s, or whether parents were starved, fearful or stressed. It’s weird, see more [...]

Life adapts — fish evolved from salt to fresh water in just fifty years

In 1964 an earthquake made some parts of the Pacific into ponds on a few islands. Fifty years later and the fish in those ponds are now freshwater fish. Apparently the genes for dealing with that sort of wild extreme change are held by some of the fish in the crowd and natural selection can work its wonders in a decade.

In terms of ocean acidification, this is as catastrophic as it gets, not only did the ocean become “more acidic” but it stopped being an ocean.

I can’t get much worse than this for a fish, and yet somehow life on Earth had the answer.

What’s the pH of those ponds — The ocean pH is 8.1, rain is 5.5. Those ponds will be somewhere in between.

And some people think a man-made “ocean acidication” that’s smaller than this and slower, will devastate the ocean.

 

Science Daily

Evolution is usually thought of as occurring over long time periods, but it also can happen quickly. Consider a tiny fish whose transformation after the 1964 Alaskan earthquake was uncovered by University of Oregon scientists and their University of Alaska collaborators.

The fish, [...]