Evolutionary Biology

Neurophilosophy

Category archives for Evolutionary Biology

A whiff of early brain evolution

Skull of Hadrocodium wui. (Image courtesy of Mark Klinger and Zhe-Xi Luo, Carnegie Museum of Natural History) THE question of how mammals evolved their exceptionally large brains has intrigued researchers for years, and although many ideas have been put forward, none has provided a clear answer. Now a team of palaeontologists suggests that the mammalian…

Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur (Artforms of Nature) was a landmark in biological illustration. Published in 1904, it was lavishly illustrated with 100 exquisitely detailed lithographic plates, including this one, showing nine different species of cubomedusae, or box jellyfish. It has been known, since around the time that Haeckel’s masterpiece was published, that box jellyfish…

SNAKES have a unique sensory system for detecting infrared radiation, with which they can visualize temperature changes within their immediate environment. Using this special sense, they can image the body heat radiating from warm-blooded animals nearby. This enables them to track their prey quickly and with great accuracy, even in the dark, and to target…

THE human brain is a true marvel of nature. This jelly-like 1.5kg mass inside our skulls, containing hundreds of billions of cells which between them form something like a quadrillion connections, is responsible for our every action, emotion and thought. How did this remarkable and extraordinarily complex structure evolve? This question poses a huge challenge…

The evolution of manual dexterity

The unique capabilities of the human hand enable us to perform extremely fine movements, such as those needed to write or to thread a needle. The emergence of these capabilities was undoubtedly essential in human evolution: a combination of individually movable fingers, opposable thumbs and the ability to move the smallest finger and ring finger…

Who’s a clever boy then?

Self-recognition was long believed to be unique to humans. However, it was established more than 30 years ago that the great apes are capable of recognizing themselves in the mirror, and more recently it has been found that dolphins and elephants can too. Now Prior et al provide the first evidence of mirror self-recognition in…

Nematodes see without eyes

The humble nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is a millimeter-long roundworm which eeks out its existence in the soil and feeds on bacteria. Because it lives in a dark environment, and lacks specialized light-sensing organs, the nematode has always been assumed to be completely blind. However, a new study published online in Nature Neuroscience shows that C.…

An overview of corticogenesis

The winners of the first Kavli Prize were announced a couple of weeks ago. One of the three recipients of the prize for neuroscience was Pasko Rakic, a professor of neurobiology and neurology at the Yale School of Medicine. Rakic has spent most of his career investigating the development of the cerebral cortex of man…

Synapse proteomics & brain evolution

When it comes to human brain evolution, it is often said that size matters. The human cerebral cortex is much larger than that of other primates, and therefore its expansion must have been a vital feature of human evolution. Researchers have therefore emphasized the importance of encephalization, the process by which brain mass increased dramatically…

70 million amazing rare things

One of the events organized for Bora’s visit to London was a fantastic behind-the-scenes tour of the Darwin Centre, a newly built section of the Natural History Museum which houses the museum’s researchers and contains a vast collection of around 70 million bottled animal specimens. The Darwin Centre’s tank room is a most remarkable place.…