This is just a small link round-up on some interesting stuff that I’ve read about evolution in recent weeks.
Researchers at UNC Chapel Hill have discovered that some bacteria’s motility is entirely controlled by a single calcium atom, insofar as when a single spot on Pseudomonas aeruginosa (a soil, water and skin flora bacterium that is an opportunistic pathogen in humans) is blocked, it becomes completely immobile. Without this ability, it could not infect its host — so this discovery could lead to new forms of treatment. That a bacterium’s proteins involved in motility can be stopped up by a single atom gives us the ability to infer that these properties are emergent properties from simple genetic variation. While these bacteria are every bit as evolved as us (having the benefit of the same length of time to be subjected to natural selection), in bacteria, it seems as though the simpler the emergent property, the better, since their small size means they use less energy to carry on living.
An endogenous retrovirus (ERV) that still exists today, Bornavirus, has apparently been piggybacking in mammalian DNA for about 40 million years. This includes our own DNA. In other words, every species that has this specific DNA marker shares a common ancestor who, while in gamete form, was originally infected by this virus, which then managed to stably insert itself into its DNA. These ERV markers (and this is
by far Edit: far from the only one!) are among the stronger proofs of common descent. There’s more over at Wired, including a sweet 3D rendering of a Bornavirus.
Also, speciation has been directly observed in our lifetime a number of times, but since that requires accepting new bacteria species as something other than “microevolution” by those with a vested interest in denying the mountain of evidence before them, this is another excellent example: in the White Sands of New Mexico, where gypsum dunes formed a scant 6000 years ago, white lizards have evolved to camouflage themselves against the background to avoid predators. Not only that, but other lizards in the area have selected for those same adaptations to the point where they’ve speciated in an absurdly short (geological) time frame. Now, I understand these lizards didn’t evolve suddenly into dogs or elephants or crocoducks, but honestly, if they had, you’d have evidence for a creator, not common descent.
And finally, studies have shown that while acceptance of evolution has some weak correlation with intelligence (e.g. more intelligent = higher likelihood of understanding that it is well-evidenced science, as opposed to accepting it dogmatically), there’s actually a higher correlation with political ideology. The more-intelligent right-wingers’ views skew closer to the middle-intelligence left-wingers, so they’re more likely to accept evolution even if they don’t outright reject the religious dogma. There’s also indicators that it depends heavily on trust — e.g. whether you trust scientists and the scientific method, or whether you trust certain charismatic politicians and/or clergymen who tell you that evolution can’t possibly be true because it conflicts with their own teachings.