Evolution


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Astronomy Biology Biotechnology Chemistry Complexity Computing and artificial intelligence Cosmology Deep time Earth science and climate Ecology and environmental sciences Engineering Evolution Genetics History of science Human evolution Human reproduction Illness and disease Mathematics Medicine Oceans and water Palaeontology Physics Quantum theory Space exploration

An Orca called Morgan in the Dolphinarium in Harderwijk, the Netherlands, September 2011. Morgan was subsequently transferred to the Loro Parque zoo in Tenerife, Spain. Photo by Marten Van Dijl/AFP/Getty

Essay/
Oceans and water
They are prisoners

Captive orcas are tormented by boredom and family separation, but they cannot be simply released. What’s the solution?

Lori Marino

A northern gannet (Morus bassanus) breeding colony on Heligoland, Germany. Photo by Brais Seara/Getty

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Evolution
Evolution’s engineers

Organisms do not evolve blindly under forces beyond their control, but shape and influence the evolutionary environment itself

Kevin Laland & Lynn Chiu

A deadly coral snake moves across fallen pine needles in a woodland in central Florida. Photo by Kristian Bell/Getty

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Evolution
Eyes in the dark

From cobra to caterpillar, warning signals are a rich natural vocabulary shaped by the communicative dance of predator and prey

David Kikuchi

Water lilies in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Photo © Frans Lanting/Lanting.com

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Biology
Is the Earth an organism?

The Gaia hypothesis states that our biosphere is evolving. Once sceptical, some prominent biologists are beginning to agree

W Ford Doolittle

All photos courtesy Marrioth Ling

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Illness and disease
Beautiful monsters

Cancer is part of multicellular life. Now the riotous growth of crested cacti show how humans might adapt to live with it

Athena Aktipis

Close-up detail of the Papilio demoleus malayanus, the lime butterfly. Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic

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Philosophy of science
Cognition all the way down

Biology’s next great horizon is to understand cells, tissues and organisms as agents with agendas (even if unthinking ones)

Michael Levin & Daniel C Dennett

The snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus). Photo by Robbie George/The National Geographic Image Collection

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Ecology and environmental sciences
Being eaten

The fear of becoming a meal is a powerful evolutionary force that shapes brains, behaviour and entire ecosystems

Lesley Evans Ogden

A red deer stag in autumn mist. Photo by Arterra/Sven-Erik Arndt/Getty

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Biology
Sex is real

Yes, there are just two biological sexes. No, this doesn’t mean every living thing is either one or the other

Paul Griffiths

Detail of Sunrise III (1936-37), by Arthur Garfield Dove. Gift of Katherine S Dreier to the Collection Société Anonyme/Yale University Art Gallery

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Evolution
Origin story

Perched on the cusp between biology and chemistry, the start of life on Earth is an event horizon we struggle to see beyond

Natalie Elliot

Illustration by Richard Wilkinson

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Evolution
Catastrophes and calms

Evolution is extraordinarily creative in the wake of a cataclysm. How does life keep steadily ticking over in between?

Renée A Duckworth

Coloured scanning electron microscope (SEM) of a water bear (Paramacrobiotus craterlaki) in moss. Photo by Eye of Science/Science Photo Library

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Evolution
Life is tough

Human life is fragile but tardigrades and other extremophiles show that life itself is in little danger of disappearing

David P Barash

Detail of White Cat (1935-38), by Gertrude Abercrombie. Courtesy the Smithsonian American Art Museum

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Biology
Life ≠ alive

A cat is alive, a sofa is not: that much we know. But a sofa is also part of life. Information theory tells us why

Michael Lachmann & Sara Walker

Crowds wait outside the entrance to the Académie Française for Henri Bergson to appear. Paris, 24 January 1918. From the Excelsior newspaper. Photo by Roger Violet/Topfoto

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Thinkers and theories
Henri Bergson, celebrity

Women loved Bergson’s philosophy of creativity, change and freedom, but their enthusiasm fuelled a backlash against him

Emily Herring

An exhibit depicts the life of a Neanderthal family in the new Neanderthal Museum in the northern town of Krapina, Croatia. 25 February 2010. Photo by Nikola Solic/Reuters

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Human evolution
The Neanderthal renaissance

Handprints on a cave wall, crumbs from a meal: the new science of Neanderthals radically recasts the meaning of humanity

Rebecca Wragg Sykes