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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Another way life adapts to climate change: fathers pass on climate lessons through epigenetics

Life on Earth is proving to be so uncannily adaptive to climate change, you’d almost think that a half a billion years of climate change mattered. Perhaps the precambrian clutter is not just junk, but handy tools from past lives that we may or may not need to use. Last week it was salt-water fish that got cast out of the sea by an Earthquake, and adapted to fresh water.

Stick male guinea pigs into a zone a full ten degrees hotter, and after a couple of months, his future sons and daughters will be better adapted to hot weather. Thank epi-genetics: the genes don’t change, but some get labelled “hot”, some  not. Dad’s body sticks methyl groups on choice genes which upregulates them, and the pattern of activation gets passed on in genes. It’s a way of taking his lessons in life and giving his offspring a head start.

In any case, it appears in guinea pigs that there not only can this mammal cope with changes in the climate on a daily and seasonal basis, but the machiney is in place to cope with longer term changes too.

Like father like son: Epigenetics in wild guinea [...]

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, [...]

Cheaters have been around since the Age of Amoeba

UPDATE: This is generating some good discussion, which is what I wanted to help me explain why this is relevant. It’s a study about amoeba, but reveals something I think about biological “laws” of all cooperative societies and genetics. It’s very relevant to the nature-nurture debate, and to national politics and policies. UPDATE #2: The cheating referred to in this post is defined as “social cheating” meaning to take some advantage over and above contributions to the social group. The amoeba are a simple “model system” that may help us learn more about the factors that influence the balance of “cheaters” versus “cooperators” in any social species.

See the critics and my replies at #7 and #16. Give it your best shot. :- )  Jo

You might think that corruption in science has only been around for 20 or 30 years. But I say this problem has been around since the Age of Amoeba.

The day after cells evolved to cooperate, some of them learnt to cheat. The battle of the cooperators versus the cheaters hasn’t stopped since and humans are the most socially evolved cooperators on the planet, (which just means we have more socially [...]

Two million years of climate change made us what we are

Bradshaw Art, Kimberley, Australia. This distinctive style of painting disappeared 7,000 years ago.  |  Photo TimJN1

Two million years of climate change has made us human — in a ying meets yang contradiction, while climate change destroyed cultures and groups,  without it, we would not be who we are. The brutal forces of Nature tested our ancestors with droughts, storms, floods and tidal surges, but if the climate had stayed the same, would we have had Bach, Leonardo, and Newton?

At the end of the day, we have a civilization that allows millions of people to pursue happiness without fear that they will die of dysentery, be murdered by marauding barbarians, or lose their children to slave traders.

We are the lucky bastards at the end of a long line of poor sods who struggled and suffered to stay one step ahead of the reaper.

Here are two stories of studies that suggest dramatic effects of climate change on long lost peoples. The second, below, may finally explain the disappearance of the mysterious well developed aboriginal artform known as the “Bradshaw” style.

Rapid changes occurred 2 million years ago

Some swings occurred so fast they happened in “hundreds of [...]