Sunday, August 14, 2005

ZPD: More fun that shows how full of shit "W" is

Experimental Hybrid Cars Get Up to 250 Mpg

By TIM MOLLOY, Associated Press Writer Sat Aug 13, 7:08 PM ET
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Graphic explains the Toyota Prius and talks about how some people are modifing their cars for even better gas milage. (AP Graphic)

Politicians and automakers say a car that can both reduce greenhouse gases and free America from its reliance on foreign oil is years or even decades away. Ron Gremban says such a car is parked in his garage.
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It looks like a typical Toyota Prius hybrid, but in the trunk sits an 80-miles-per-gallon secret — a stack of 18 brick-sized batteries that boosts the car's high mileage with an extra electrical charge so it can burn even less fuel.

Gremban, an electrical engineer and committed environmentalist, spent several months and $3,000 tinkering with his car.

Like all hybrids, his Prius increases fuel efficiency by harnessing small amounts of electricity generated during braking and coasting. The extra batteries let him store extra power by plugging the car into a wall outlet at his home in this San Francisco suburb — all for about a quarter.

He's part of a small but growing movement. "Plug-in" hybrids aren't yet cost-efficient, but some of the dozen known experimental models have gotten up to 250 mpg.

They have support not only from environmentalists but also from conservative foreign policy hawks who insist Americans fuel terrorism through their gas guzzling.

And while the technology has existed for three decades, automakers are beginning to take notice, too.

So far, DaimlerChrysler AG is the only company that has committed to building its own plug-in hybrids, quietly pledging to make up to 40 vans for U.S. companies. But Toyota Motor Corp. officials who initially frowned on people altering their cars now say they may be able to learn from them.

"They're like the hot rodders of yesterday who did everything to soup up their cars. It was all about horsepower and bling-bling, lots of chrome and accessories," said Cindy Knight, a Toyota spokeswoman. "Maybe the hot rodders of tomorrow are the people who want to get in there and see what they can do about increasing fuel economy."

The extra batteries let Gremban drive for 20 miles with a 50-50 mix of gas and electricity. Even after the car runs out of power from the batteries and switches to the standard hybrid mode, it gets the typical Prius fuel efficiency of around 45 mpg. As long as Gremban doesn't drive too far in a day, he says, he gets 80 mpg.

"The value of plug-in hybrids is they can dramatically reduce gasoline usage for the first few miles every day," Gremban said. "The average for people's usage of a car is somewhere around 30 to 40 miles per day. During that kind of driving, the plug-in hybrid can make a dramatic difference."

Backers of plug-in hybrids acknowledge that the electricity to boost their cars generally comes from fossil fuels that create greenhouse gases, but they say that process still produces far less pollution than oil. They also note that electricity could be generated cleanly from solar power.

Gremban rigged his car to promote the nonprofit CalCars Initiative, a San Francisco Bay area-based volunteer effort that argues automakers could mass produce plug-in hybrids at a reasonable price.

But Toyota and other car companies say they are worried about the cost, convenience and safety of plug-in hybrids — and note that consumers haven't embraced all-electric cars because of the inconvenience of recharging them like giant cell phones.

Automakers have spent millions of dollars telling motorists that hybrids don't need to be plugged in, and don't want to confuse the message.

Nonetheless, plug-in hybrids are starting to get the backing of prominent hawks like former CIA director James Woolsey and Frank Gaffney, President Reagan's undersecretary of defense. They have joined Set America Free, a group that wants the government to spend $12 billion over four years on plug-in hybrids, alternative fuels and other measures to reduce foreign oil dependence.

Gaffney, who heads the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Security Policy, said Americans would embrace plug-ins if they understood arguments from him and others who say gasoline contributes to oil-rich Middle Eastern governments that support terrorism.

"The more we are consuming oil that either comes from places that are bent on our destruction or helping those who are ... the more we are enabling those who are trying to kill us," Gaffney said.

DaimlerChrysler spokesman Nick Cappa said plug-in hybrids are ideal for companies with fleets of vehicles that can be recharged at a central location at night. He declined to name the companies buying the vehicles and said he did not know the vehicles' mileage or cost, or when they would be available.

Others are modifying hybrids, too.

Monrovia-based Energy CS has converted two Priuses to get up to 230 mpg by using powerful lithium ion batteries. It is forming a new company, EDrive Systems, that will convert hybrids to plug-ins for about $12,000 starting next year, company vice president Greg Hanssen said.

University of California, Davis engineering professor Andy Frank built a plug-in hybrid from the ground up in 1972 and has since built seven others, one of which gets up to 250 mpg. They were converted from non-hybrids, including a Ford Taurus and Chevrolet Suburban.

Frank has spent $150,000 to $250,000 in research costs on each car, but believes automakers could mass-produce them by adding just $6,000 to each vehicle's price tag.

Instead, Frank said, automakers promise hydrogen-powered vehicles hailed by President Bush and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, even though hydrogen's backers acknowledge the cars won't be widely available for years and would require a vast infrastructure of new fueling stations.

"They'd rather work on something that won't be in their lifetime, and that's this hydrogen economy stuff," Frank said. "They pick this kind of target to get the public off their back, essentially."


On the Net: CalCars Initiative:


SDSU team of about 15 students and faculty built Enigma hybrid car.SDSU team of about 15 students and faculty built Enigma hybrid car.
Summer's almost here and the open road calls. But with the average national gas price peaking at $2.28 per gallon last month - a 50 cent surge since last year as reported by the American Automobile Association, - motorists this summer won't be hitting the road this season without apprehension.

Owners of hybrid technology vehicles might be facing a slightly brighter scenario. With the gas situation showing no signs of letting up, alternative fuel sources are offering an increasingly popular substitute to conventional gasoline-run automobiles.

Asfaw Beyene, assistant mechanical engineering professor, said alternative fuels include electricity, ethanol, natural gas, propane, methanol, hydrogen and biodiesel, as stipulated in the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 1992.

"According to Shell, an oil company that has a reason to be optimistic, oil will deplete in about 40 years, gas in about 60 years and coal in about 200 years," Beyene said. "The world's oil reservoir has only decades - four or five - before depletion."

While electric-powered cars have received the most public attention, the United States, Japan and the European Union have taken the lead in developing a medley of other alternative-fuel vehicles, Beyene said.

These include light-duty vehicles, which operate on compressed natural gas; propane; E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline; biodiesel, an agricultural derivative from plant oils or animal fats; and electricity. Another form, flexible-fuel vehicles, allows for alternate re-fueling with either gasoline or E85.

"The fuels power the car the same way your normal fuel does," Beyene said.

Biodiesel in particular, he said, can be used in any diesel engine without modification, and is widely available in the United States including at a fueling station in San Diego on El Cajon Boulevard that is owned by Pierson Ford.

"(Alternative fuel vehicles) are a long-term option," Beyene said. "More than a million FFVs (have) already been sold in the United States."

But despite progress being made in clean automobile technology, the gasoline crisis shows no signs of short-term resolution.

According to, President Bush's bill permitting oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, fossil fuel conservation and promotion of alternative energy sources have stalled in Congress for the fourth year. Similarly, plans to tap the 600-million barrel Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which would lower the average national gas price by 20 cents per gallon, have encountered opposition from politicians who say the reserves should be kept for emergencies.

Despite battles on Capitol Hill, proactive attempts at furthering the alternative fuel cause have reached universities across the nation.

SDSU is one of 20 college campuses participating in "Challenge X," a nation-wide project sponsored by General Motors that promotes the development of alternative fuel vehicles. GM funds up to $10,000 dollars to select universities across the nation, which compete to convert a stock sport utility vehicle into the most efficient hybrid possible.

SDSU is also home to the "Enigma," a 260-horse power, hybrid sports car developed by a team of about 15 students and faculty in the mechanical engineering department.

Headed by James Burns, assistant professor and director of Facility for Applied Manufacturing Enterprise, the Lotus look-alike Enigma boasts a mileage of up to 80 miles per gallon and is capable of 0 to 60 mph in seven seconds.

"We'll be driving the Enigma cross-country on one tank of gas, from San Diego to Daytona Beach, Florida in August," physics senior Mitch Zafer, a member of the Enigma team, said.

The result of a seven-year project, Enigma is an example of how alternative fuel sources can power vehicles of the future.

With the prospect of a depleted fossil fuel reserve nearing, a tangible network of alternative fuel sources is emerging.

Beyene said the U.S. Department of Energy has created the Clean Cities Program, which seeks the cooperation of federal agencies, state and local governments, businesses, industries and environmental and community organizations in building networks of alternative fuel stations.

Today, compressed natural gas is available in almost every state, electric recharging facilities are available in about 25 states and E85 stations are expanding from their Midwestern base, Beyene said.

"With the end of the fossil years in sight and with depressing news of exploring exotic parks such as that in Alaska, I think the next generation's transportation needs would be very familiar with, if not entirely dependent on, alternative fuels," he said.

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Dr. Jim Burns (in front of) and then seated in the L3 Enigma, with San Diego State University team members. The L3 is powered by a 200 HP AC Propulsion electric drive and VW 1.2L TDi diesel engine burning 100% soybeam oil. It can do zero-to-sixty in under five seconds and has a 20 mile electric only range. Burn's goal is to drive the car coast-to-coast on just 33 gallons of B100 fuel.

SDSU Competes Against the Best to Develop a Greener SUV
Jim Burns
Jim Burns

Students and faculty from SDSU's Department of Mechanical Engineering have been chosen to participate in a high-profile three-year competition to develop a more environmentally friendly sport utility vehicle.

The competition, called Challenge X: Crossover to Sustainable Mobility, is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and General Motors. The 17 selected universities, announced at a press conference last week in Washington, D.C., will re-engineer a 2005 Chevrolet Equinox, a new compact SUV. The competitors have three basic goals: reduce energy consumption; decrease emissions; and maintain the performance and utility features of the stock model.

Jim Burns, associate professor of mechanical engineering, who will direct the SDSU team, said all of the participating universities have leading-edge programs that will provide intense competition. Settling for second, though, is not in his thoughts.

“We intend to build the best new hybrid-electric SUV powertrain – period,” said Burns, who has worked with students in recent years to develop the L3 Enigma, an award-winning, high-performance, hybrid-electric sports car.

“Many of the lessons we learned from building the L3 Enigma will be used in this new vehicle. We also have some new tricks up our sleeve that are going to continue to surprise and please both the driving public and the program sponsors.”

The first year of the competition will focus on modeling, simulation and testing of the powertrain and vehicle subsystems. The most promising approaches will receive funding and hardware in the second and third year to incorporate the advanced designs into the Equinox.

Students will use General Motors’ real-world methodology for managing, designing, building and testing their Challenge X vehicle. They will have a hands-on opportunity to work with the latest automotive propulsion and emission control technologies, fuels and materials. The competition will be managed and evaluated by the Argonne National Laboratory, a DOE research and development facility.

“This is a wonderful way to get our students involved in solving real problems,” said David Hayhurst, dean of SDSU’s College of Engineering. “They’ve been given an opportunity to work with some very elite people and institutions. The experience they will gain from this project will be tremendously valuable as they head into industry.”

Burns expects several dozen students per year will have the opportunity to work on the Challenge X project. “Work has already begun on the conceptual design,” he said.

David Garman, acting undersecretary for the Department of Energy and the DOE’s assistant secretary of energy efficiency and renewable energy, said the efforts of the Challenge X students may one day pay huge dividends for the country.

“Advanced vehicle technology competitions such as Challenge X demonstrate pathways which ultimately could help reduce our dependence on oil,” Garman said. “Reducing petroleum use is vital to our nation’s long-term energy security.”

Other teams participating in the competition are: Michigan Technological University; Mississippi State University; Ohio State University; Pennsylvania State University; Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology; Texas Tech University; University of Akron; University of California, Davis; University of Michigan; University of Tennessee; University of Texas at Austin; University of Tulsa; University of Waterloo; University of Wisconsin, Madison; Virginia Tech; and West Virginia University.

More information on Challenge X is available at

Saturday, August 13, 2005

ZPD: Christopher Walken 2008

Christopher Walken for president?

Actor running low-key campaign, says 'official website' — but may be a cruel prank upon a nation that needs actual leadership ...

The big question, of course: Is "Walken for President" for real? According to one source, the entire campaign, including registration of multiple Web domain names, is an elaborate hoax being perpetrated by members of the General Mayhem forums, one of the largest message boards on the Internet. Some site highlights:

Christopher Walken 2008

"Our great country is in a terrible downward spiral. We're outsourcing jobs, bankrupting social security, and losing lives at war. We need to focus on what's important-- paying attention to our children, our citizens, our future. We need to think about improving our failing educational system, making better use of our resources, and helping to promote a stable, safe, and tolerant global society. It's time to be smart about our politics. It's time to get America back on track."

The Official Homepage of the Walken 2008 Campaign
“... Now, more active than ever, Christopher Walken has realized that the state of his country is in dismay, and the politicians in charge care less for the citizens they serve and more about fattening their resumes and campaign chests. Having residences both in rural Connecticut and upper-west Manhattan, he sees that all walks of life are becoming disgruntled and apathetic towards the American government, and feels a duty, as a child of the American public, to restore the peace, prosperity, and greatness of the United States. ”
Christopher Walken announces his intention to run for President of the United States! Read the full press release below.
09 August, 2005

Actor Christopher Walken to run as Candidate in 2008 Presidential Race
For Immediate Release

New York - Early today, actor Christopher Walken, 62, held a private conference at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York in which he announced his intentions to run for the Presidency of the United States in the 2008 Election.

Said the Queens native, “I have always been a follower of politics. My father was friends with the mayor of Schodack (NY) back in the 1940’s. We would walk the streets of Schodack and the people, they would wave to him. The children adored him. That is what I love to be, a man of respect and love.”

From a statement by Walken's agent, Toni Howard: “Mr. Walken has greatly admired the celebrities who have entered politics and he wants to be able to give a good name and reputation to the acting community as well as the political community. As for going national with this news we have not made any plans for the immediate future."

Because Mr. Walken is currently contracted for more than one film production, the Walken campaign manager Michael Hansee admitted that there would be relatively minimal publicity at this early stage. "[Mr. Walken] has a full plate right now, acting in a number of different films, and can't start any personal campaign work until these obligations are fulfilled," he commented. "We're looking to spread the word and build a little support base with our website, in preparation for a full campaign in early 2007."

The campaign website is patriotic-themed, with the tag-line "To Get America Back on Track." Hansee stated that the campaign is hoping to drum up early support through their online presence, much like Howard Dean did in the 2004 race.

Maybe there's hope yet ... - ZPD

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

ZPD: This from the man who mistakes a horse for a cow ...

Inspiration for Doubters of Darwin
  • Bush appears to give moral support to the 'intelligent design' camp by again backing public schools' teaching of an alternative to evolution.

  • WASHINGTON — Advocates of an alternative to the theory of evolution took heart Tuesday from President Bush's remarks that "both sides ought to be properly taught" in public schools.

    In an interview with several Texas newspapers Monday, Bush was asked about the growing debate over the idea of "intelligent design," which holds that intelligent causes are responsible for the origin of the universe and of life. "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought," Bush said. "And I'm not suggesting — you're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes."

    The remarks were in keeping with what Bush has said in the past. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush or his aides said several times that local school boards should decide questions about teaching evolution and its alternatives; at times, they said that both evolution and creationism should be taught.

    "I think it's an interesting part of knowledge [to have] a theory of evolution and a theory of creationism. People should be exposed to different points of view," Bush said during one 1999 appearance, according to a news account at the time. "I personally believe God created the Earth," he said.

    Proponents of teaching evolution — the theory that holds that existing animals and plants developed gradually from previous forms through natural selection — have said that an increasing number of school boards seek to diminish its use in science classes or promote alternatives.

    Bush's comments Monday appeared to give moral support to groups that back teaching intelligent design.

    "What the president's remarks do is heighten public interest in the issue," said John H. Calvert, managing director of the Intelligent Design Network, a Kansas advocacy organization.

    Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, an Oakland group, said initiatives to counter the teaching of Charles Darwin's theory had been launched this year in 28 states and communities. On Tuesday, a group of Kansas educators said that proposed science standards written by the State Board of Education promoted intelligent design and had "no scientific credibility." The educators had been appointed by the state board to review the standards.

    Branch read little into Bush's Monday remarks. "The question was presented to him as a fairness issue," he said. "For a politician, that's like opposing fairness or apple pie."

    Still, Branch said, he was sure the president's comments "would no doubt prove inspirational to creationists."

    Creationists believe that God created the Earth and its inhabitants as described in the Bible's Book of Genesis, and that evolution played no role. For decades, some creationists have pressed school boards to teach creationism in schools.

    Intelligent design, which started to gain notice about 10 years ago, holds that evolution alone does not adequately explain some complex biological mechanisms, suggesting that a plan by an intelligent force is behind changes in species.

    "Creationism and intelligent design are often confused," said Jay W. Richards, vice president for research at Discovery Institute, a Seattle research and advocacy group for intelligent design. "Both have in common the idea that the universe exists for a purpose." Where intelligent design parts company with creationism, he said, is that it is neutral on Darwin's claim of common ancestry among species while challenging his theory that species change over time because of natural selection.

    But critics say intelligent design is a form of creationism, stripped of references to the Bible to make the contention more palatable to skeptics.

    "They are striving to maintain a big tent," said Branch, the evolution advocate. He said intelligent design supporters duck questions — such as the age of the Earth — that could alienate traditional creationists.

    The debate over intelligent design grows louder. In a March letter to members, the National Academy of Sciences warned of "a growing threat to the teaching of science through the inclusion of non-scientifically based 'alternatives' in sciences courses throughout the country."

    Bush's science advisor, John H. Marburger III, seemed to differ with the president at a February appearance before the National Assn. of Science Writers. Marburger said that "intelligent design is not a scientific theory."

    Asked about Bush's comments, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the president had said nothing new Monday. Bush believes "that local school districts should make the decisions about their curriculum," McClellan said. "But it's long been his belief that students ought to be exposed to different ideas."
    Evolution: A Primer (as it is what informs us about medicene and the like)

    In the life sciences, evolution is a change in the traits of living organisms over generations, including the emergence of new species. Since the development of modern genetics in the 1940s, evolution has been defined more specifically as a change in the frequency of alleles in a population from one generation to the next. In other fields evolution is used more generally to refer to any process of change over time.

    One of the first coherent theories of biological evolution was proposed in the early 19th century by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, though it did not meet with widespread approval. With the publication of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace's joint paper in 1858 followed by Darwin's book Origin of Species in 1859, the theory of evolution by natural selection became firmly established within the scientific community and rapidly caught the public imagination. In the 1930s, work by a number of scientists combined Darwinian natural selection with the re-discovered theory of heredity proposed by Gregor Mendel to create the modern evolutionary synthesis. In the modern synthesis, "evolution" means a change in the frequency of an allele within a gene pool. This change may be caused by a number of different mechanisms: natural selection, genetic drift or changes in population structure (gene flow).

    In common parlance the word "evolution" is often used as shorthand for the modern synthesis of evolution, including the theory that all extant species share a common ancestor. It also is often used to describe the mechanisms which act to change populations over time.

    Scientific theory

    The theory underlying the modern synthesis has three major aspects:

    1. The common descent of all organisms from a single ancestor.
    2. The origin of novel traits in a lineage.
    3. The mechanisms that cause some traits to persist while others perish.

    The modern synthesis, like its Mendelian and Darwinian antecedents, is a scientific theory. In plain English, people use the word "theory" to signify "conjecture", "speculation", or "opinion". In contrast, a scientific theory is a model of the world (or some portion of it) from which falsifiable hypotheses can be generated and be verified through empirical observation. In this sense, "theory" and "fact" do not stand in opposition, but rather exist in a reciprocal relationship — for example, it is a "fact" that an apple dropped on earth will fall towards the center of the planet in a straight line, and the "theory" which explains it is the current theory of gravitation. Currently, the modern synthesis is the most powerful theory explaining variation and speciation, and within the science of biology, it has completely replaced earlier accepted explanations for the origin of species, including creationism and Lamarckism.

    Ancestry of organisms

    Pre-Cambrian stromatolites in the Siyeh Formation, Glacier National Park. In 2002, William Schopf of UCLA published a controversial paper in the journal Nature arguing that formations such as this possess 3.5 billion year old fossilized algae microbes. [1] If true, they would be the earliest known life on earth.

    Pre-Cambrian stromatolites in the Siyeh Formation, Glacier National Park. In 2002, William Schopf of UCLA published a controversial paper in the journal Nature arguing that formations such as this possess 3.5 billion year old fossilized algae microbes. [1] If true, they would be the earliest known life on earth.
    A phylogenetic tree of all living things, based on rRNA gene data, showing the separation of the three domains bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes as described initially by Carl Woese. Trees constructed with other genes are generally similar, although they may place some early branching groups very differently, presumably owing to rapid rRNA evolution. The exact relationships of the three domains are still being debated.

    A phylogenetic tree of all living things, based on rRNA gene data, showing the separation of the three domains bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes as described initially by Carl Woese. Trees constructed with other genes are generally similar, although they may place some early branching groups very differently, presumably owing to rapid rRNA evolution. The exact relationships of the three domains are still being debated.
    Genetic testing has shown that humans and chimpanzees have most of their DNA in common. In a study of 90,000 base pairs, Wayne State University's Morris Goodman found humans and chimpanzees share 99.4% of their DNA.[2] [3].

    Genetic testing has shown that humans and chimpanzees have most of their DNA in common. We know most chimps are smarter than the Bush Junta II puppet boy king. In a study of 90,000 base pairs, Wayne State University's Morris Goodman found humans and chimpanzees share 99.4% of their DNA.[2] [3].
    This is a NASA recreation of the famous Miller-Urey experiment. In 1953, Stanley Miller and Harold Urey sealed the chemical precursors to life in a closed environment, and subjected them to conditions similar to primordial earth. The results of the experiment suggest that the chemicals necessary for life did tend to arise under those circumstances, supporting the theories of Abiogenesis

    This is a NASA recreation of the famous Miller-Urey experiment. In 1953, Stanley Miller and Harold Urey sealed the chemical precursors to life in a closed environment, and subjected them to conditions similar to primordial earth. The results of the experiment suggest that the chemicals necessary for life did tend to arise under those circumstances, supporting the theories of Abiogenesis
    Main article: Common descent

    A group of organisms is said to have common descent if they have a common ancestor. In biology, the theory of universal common descent proposes that all organisms on Earth are descended from a common ancestor or ancestral gene pool.

    Evidence for common descent may be found in traits shared between all living organisms. In Darwin's day, the evidence of shared traits was based solely on visible observation of morphologic similarities, such as the fact that all birds — even those which do not fly — have wings. Today, the theory of evolution has been strongly confirmed by the science of DNA genetics. For example, every living thing makes use of nucleic acids as its genetic material, and uses the same twenty amino acids as the building blocks for proteins. All organisms use the same genetic code (with some extremely rare and minor deviations) to translate nucleic acid sequences into proteins. Because the selection of these traits is somewhat arbitrary, their universality strongly suggests common ancestry.

    In addition, abiogenesis — the generation of life from non-living matter — has never been observed, indicating that the origin of life from non-life is either extremely rare or only happens under conditions very unlike those of modern Earth. The 1953 Miller-Urey experiment suggests that conditions on the ancient earth may have permitted abiogenesis.

    Since abiogenesis is rare or impossible under modern conditions and the evolutionary process is exceedingly slow, the diversity and complexity of modern life requires that the Earth be very old, on the order of billions of years. This is compatible with geological evidence that the Earth is approximately 4.6 billion years old. (See Timeline of evolution.)

    Information about the early development of life includes input from the fields of geology and planetary science. These sciences provide information about the history of the Earth and the changes produced by life. A great deal of information about the early Earth has been destroyed by geological processes over the course of time.

    Evidence of evolution

    Main article: Evidence of evolution

    Morphological evidence

    Fossils are important for estimating when various lineages developed. As fossilization is an uncommon occurrence, usually requiring hard parts (like bone) and death near a site where sediments are being deposited, the fossil record only provides sparse and intermittent information about the evolution of life. Fossil evidence of early life is sparse before the evolution of organisms with hard body parts, such as shell, bone, and teeth, but exists in the form of ancient microfossils and the fossilization of ancient burrows and a few soft-bodied organisms.

    Nevertheless, fossil evidence of prehistoric organisms has been found all over the Earth. The age of fossils can often be deduced from the geologic context in which they are found; and their absolute age can be verified with radiometric dating. Some fossils bear a resemblance to organisms alive today, while others are radically different. Fossils have been used to determine at what time a lineage developed, and can be used to demonstrate the continuity between two different lineages through transitional fossils. Paleontologists investigate evolution largely through analysis of fossils.

    Phylogeny, the study of the ancestry of species, has revealed that structures with similar internal organization may perform divergent functions. Vertebrate limbs are a common example of such homologous structures. A vestigial organ or structure may exist with little or no purpose in one organism, though they have a clear purpose in others. The human wisdom teeth and appendix are common examples.

    Genetic sequence evidence

    Comparison of the genetic sequence of organisms reveals that organisms that are phylogenetically close have a higher degree of sequence similarity than organisms that are phylogenetically distant. For example, neutral human DNA sequences are approximately 1.2% divergent (based on substitutions) from those of their nearest genetic relative, the chimpanzee, 1.6% from gorillas [4], and 6.6% from baboons[5]. Sequence comparison is considered such a robust measure that it is sometimes used to correct mistakes in the phylogenetic tree, in instances where other evidence is scarce.

    Further evidence for common descent comes from genetic detritus such as pseudogenes, regions of DNA which are orthologous to a gene in a related organism, but are no longer active and appear to be undergoing a steady process of degeneration[6].

    Since metabolic processes do not leave fossils, research into the evolution of the basic cellular processes is also done largely by comparison of existing organisms. Many lineages diverged at different stages of development, so it is theoretically possible to determine when certain metabolic processes appeared by comparing the traits of the descendants of a common ancestor.

    Origin of life

    Main article: Origin of life

    Not much is known about the earliest development of life. However, all existing organisms share certain traits, including the cellular structure, and the genetic code. Most scientists interpret this to mean all existing organisms share a common ancestor, which had already developed the most fundamental cellular processes, but there is no scientific consensus on the relationship of the three domains of life (Archea, Bacteria, Eukaryota) or the origin of life. Attempts to shed light on the earliest history of life generally focus on the behavior of macromolecules, particularly RNA, and the behavior of complex systems.

    History of life

    Main article: Timeline of evolution

    Though the origins of life are murky, other milestones in the evolutionary history of life are well-known. The emergence of oxygenic photosynthesis (around 3 billion years ago) and the subsequent emergence of an oxygen-rich, non-reducing atmosphere can be traced through the formation of banded iron deposits, and later red beds of iron oxides. This was a necessary prerequisite for the development of aerobic cellular respiration, believed to have emerged around 2 billion years ago. In the last billion years, simple multicellular plants and animals began to appear in the oceans. Soon after the emergence of the first animals the Cambrian explosion (a period of unrivaled and remarkable, but brief, organismal diversity documented in the fossils found at the Burgess Shale) saw the creation of all the major body plans, or phyla, of modern animals; this event is now believed to have been triggered by the development of Hox genes. About 500 million years ago, plants and fungi colonized the land, and were soon followed by arthropods and other animals, leading to the development of land ecosystems with which we are familiar.

    Emergence of novel traits

    Mechanisms of inheritance

    In Darwin's time, scientists did not share broad agreement on how traits were inherited. Today most inherited traits are traced to discrete, persistent entities called genes, encoded in linear molecules called DNA. Though by and large faithfully maintained, DNA is both variable across individuals and subject to a process of change or mutation (described below).

    However, other non-DNA based forms of heritable variation exist. The processes that produce these variations leave the genetic information intact and are often reversible. This is called epigenetic inheritance and may include phenomena such as DNA methylation, prions, and structural inheritance. Investigations continue into whether these mechanisms allow for the production of specific beneficial heritable variation in response to environmental signals. If this is shown to be the case, then some instances of evolution would lie outside of the typically Darwinian framework, which avoided any connection between environmental signals and the production of heritable variation.


    Main article: Mutation

    Darwin did not know the source of variations in individual organisms, but observed that it seemed to be by chance. Later work pinned much of this variation onto mutations. Mutations are permanent, transmissible changes to the genetic material (usually DNA or RNA) of a cell, and can be caused by "copying errors" in the genetic material during cell division and by exposure to radiation, chemicals, or viruses, or can occur deliberately under cellular control during processes such as meiosis or hypermutation. In multicellular organisms, mutations can be subdivided into germline mutations, which can be passed on to progeny and somatic mutations, which (when accidental) often lead to the malfunction or death of a cell and can cause cancer.

    Mutations introduce new genetic variation, without which evolution cannot proceed. Neutral mutations do not affect the organism's chances of survival in its natural environment and can accumulate over time, which might result in what is known as punctuated equilibrium, the modern interpretation of classic evolutionary theory.

    Differential survival of traits

    While mutation can create new alleles, other factors influence the frequency of existing alleles. These factors mean that some characteristics will become more frequent while others diminish or are lost entirely. There are three known processes that affect the survival of a characteristic; or, more specifically, the frequency of an allele:

    Natural selection

    Main article: Natural selection

    Natural selection is based on differential survival and reproduction rates as a result of the environment. Differential mortality is the survival rate of individuals before their reproductive age. If they survive, they are then selected further by differential fertility — that is, their total genetic contribution to the next generation.

    Natural selection can be subdivided into two categories:

    • Ecological selection occurs when organisms which survive and reproduce increase the frequency of their genes in the gene pool over those which do not survive.
    • Sexual selection occurs when organisms which are more attractive to the opposite sex because of their features reproduce more and thus increase the frequency of those features in the gene pool.

    Natural selection also operates on mutations in several different ways:

    The central role of natural selection in evolutionary theory has given rise to a strong connection between that field and the study of ecology.

    Mutations that are not affected by natural selection are called neutral mutations. Their frequency in the population is governed entirely by genetic drift and gene flow. It is understood that an organism's DNA sequence, in the absence of selection, undergoes a steady accumulation of neutral mutations. The probable mutation effect is the proposition that a gene that is not under selection will be destroyed by accumulated mutations. This is an aspect of genome degradation.

    • Baldwinian evolution refers to the way human beings, as cultured animals capable of symbolic (extrasomatic) learning, can change their environment, or the environment of any species, in such a way as to result in new selective forces.

    Genetic drift

    Main article: Genetic drift

    Genetic drift describes changes in allele frequency from one generation to the next due to sampling variance. The frequency of an allele in the offspring generation will vary according to a probability distribution of the frequency of the allele in the parent generation.

    Many aspects of genetic drift depend on the size of the population (generally abbreviated as N). This is especially important in small mating populations, where chance fluctuations from generation to generation can be large. Such fluctuations in allele frequency between successive generations may result in some alleles disappearing from the population. Two separate populations that begin with the same allele frequency might, therefore, "drift" by random fluctuation into two divergent populations with different allele sets (for example, alleles that are present in one have been lost in the other).

    The relative importance of natural selection and genetic drift in determining the fate of new mutations also depends on the population size and the strength of selection: when N times s (population size times strength of selection) is small, genetic drift predominates. When N times s is large, selection predominates. Thus natural selection is 'more efficient' in large populations, or equivalently, genetic drift is stronger in small populations. Finally, the time for an allele to become fixed in the population by genetic drift (that is, for all individuals in the population to carry that allele) depends on population size, with smaller populations requiring a shorter time to fixation.


    Through the process of natural selection, species become better adapted to their environments. Adaptation is any evolutionary process that increases the fitness of the individual, or sometimes the trait that confers increased fitness, e.g. a stronger prehensile tail or greater visual acuity. Note that adaptation is context-sensitive; a trait that increases fitness in one environment may decrease it in another.

    Most biologists believe that adaptation occurs through the accumulation of many mutations of small effect. However, macromutation is an alternative process for adaptation which involves a single, very large scale mutation.

    Evolutionary biology

    Evolutionary biology is a subfield of biology concerned with the origin and descent of species, as well as their change over time. Evolutionary biology is a kind of meta field because it includes scientists from many traditional taxonomically oriented disciplines. For example, it generally includes scientists who may have a specialist training in particular organisms such as mammalogy, ornithology, or herpetology but use those organisms as systems to answer general questions in evolution.

    Evolutionary biology as an academic discipline in its own right emerged as a result of the modern evolutionary synthesis in the 1930s and 1940s. It was not until the 1970s and 1980s, however, that a significant number of universities had departments that specifically included the term evolutionary biology in their titles.

    Evolutionary Developmental Biology

    Evolutionary developmental biology is an emergent subfield of evolutionary biology that looks at genes of related and unrelated organisms. By comparing the explicit nucleotide sequences of [Deoxyribonucleic_acid|DNA]/[RNA], it is possible to experimentally determine and trace timelines of species development. For example, gene sequences support the conclusion that chimpanzees are the closest primate ancestor to humans, and that arthropods (e.g., insects) and vertebrates (e.g., humans) have a common biological ancestor.

    History of evolutionary thought

    The 1859 edition of On the Origin of Species

    The 1859 edition of On the Origin of Species
    Stephen Jay Gould, who, along with Niles Eldredge proposed the theory of punctuated equilibrium in 1972

    Stephen Jay Gould, who, along with Niles Eldredge proposed the theory of punctuated equilibrium in 1972
    Main article: History of evolutionary thought

    The idea of biological evolution has existed since ancient times, notably among Hellenists such as Epicurus, but the modern theory was not established until the 18th and 19th centuries, by scientists such as Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Charles Darwin. While transmutation of species was accepted by a sizeable number of scientists before 1859, it was the publication of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species which provided the first cogent mechanism by which evolutionary change could persist: his theory of natural selection. Darwin was motivated to publish his work on evolution after receiving a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace, in which Wallace revealed his own discovery of natural selection. As such, Wallace is sometimes given shared credit for the theory of evolution.

    Darwin's theory, though it succeeded in profoundly shaking scientific opinion regarding the development of life (and indeed resulted in a small social revolution), could not explain the source of variation in traits within a species, and Darwin's proposal of a hereditary mechanism (pangenesis) was not compelling to most biologists. It was not until the late 19th and early 20th centuries that these mechanisms were established.

    When Gregor Mendel's work regarding the nature of inheritance in the late 19th century was "rediscovered" in 1900, it led to a storm of conflict between Mendelians (Charles Benedict Davenport) and biometricians (Walter Frank Raphael Weldon and Karl Pearson), who insisted that the great majority of traits important to evolution must show continuous variation that was not explainable by Mendelian analysis. Eventually, the two models were reconciled and merged, primarily through the work of the biologist and statistician R.A. Fisher. This combined approach, applying a rigorous statistical model to Mendel's theories of inheritance via genes, became known in the 1930s and 1940s as the modern evolutionary synthesis.

    In the 1940s, following up on Griffith's experiment, Avery, McCleod and McCarty definitively identified deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) as the "transforming principle" responsible for transmitting genetic information. In 1953, Francis Crick and James Watson published their famous paper on the structure of DNA, based on the research of Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins. These developments ignited the era of molecular biology and transformed the understanding of evolution into a molecular process: the mutation of segments of DNA (see molecular evolution).

    George C. Williams' 1966 Adaptation and natural selection: A Critique of some Current Evolutionary Thought marked a departure from the idea of group selection towards the modern notion of the gene as the unit of selection.

    In the mid-1970s, Motoo Kimura formulated the neutral theory of molecular evolution, firmly establishing the importance of genetic drift as a major mechanism of evolution.

    Debates have continued within the field. One of the most prominent public debates was over the theory of punctuated equilibrium, a theory propounded by Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould to explain the paucity of transitional forms between phyla.

    Impact of the theory of evolution

    Main article: Social implications of the theory of evolution

    Clarence Darrow and William Bryan chat during the 1925 Scopes Trial where
    J.Scopes was fined for teaching the theory of evolution.

    As the scientific explanation of life's diversity has developed, it has often displaced alternative, sometimes very widely held, explanations. Because the theory of evolution includes an explanation of humanity's origins, it has had a profound impact on human societies. Some have vigorously opposed acceptance of the scientific explanation due to its perceived religious implications (e.g., its implied rejection of the special creation of humans described in the Bible). In the United States this has led to a vigorous conflict between creation and evolution in public education, though this appears to be largely a local phenomenon.

    Evolution and ethical systems

    The theory of evolution by natural selection has also been adopted as a foundation for various ethical and social systems, such as social Darwinism, which holds that "the survival of the fittest" explains and justifies differences in wealth and success among societies and people. Another ethical theory is eugenics, which claims that human civilization is subverting natural selection by allowing the "less fit" to survive and "out-breed" the "more fit". After the atrocities of the Holocaust became linked with eugenics, it greatly fell out of favor with public and scientific opinion (though it was never universally accepted by either).

    The notion that humans share ancestors with other animals has also affected how some people view the relationship between humans and other species. Many proponents of animal rights hold that if animals and humans are of the same nature, then rights should not be restricted to humans. The theory has also been incorporated into other fields of knowledge, creating hybrids such as evolutionary psychology and sociobiology.

    Evolution and religion

    Main article: Creation-evolution controversy

    Before the serious study of geology as a science began, early in the 19th century, Abrahamic religions almost unanimously discounted or condemned any claims that life is the result of an evolutionary process, as did nearly all scientists. However, as geological evidence began to accumulate throughout the world, a number of scientists began to question whether a literal interpretation of the creation account in the Judeo-Christian Bible could be reconciled with their findings (and their implications). Certain religious geologists like Dean William Buckland in England, Edward Hitchcock in America and Hugh Miller in Scotland continued to explain the evidence in terms of a universal deluge, but after Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, scientific opinion began to quickly swing away from literal interpretations of the Bible. This early debate about the literal validity of the Bible was not conducted behind closed doors and it unsettled educated opinion in both continents. Eventually it instigated a "counter-reformation" that took the form of a religious revival in both continents in 1857–1860.

    Some groups, most prominently in the US, interpret Scripture to mean that a supreme being directly created humans and other animals as separate species. This view is commonly referred to as creationism, and continues to be defended by some religious groups, particularly among American Protestants.

    In response to the wide scientific acceptance of the theory of evolution, many religions have formally or informally synthesized the scientific and religious viewpoints. Some religions have adopted a theistic evolution viewpoint, where the god provides a divine spark that ignited the process of evolution, and (or) where the god has guided the course of evolution.

    For example, the Roman Catholic Church, beginning in 1950 with Pope Pius XII's encyclical Humani Generis, took up a neutral position with regard to evolution. "The Church does not forbid that...research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter." [7]. In an October 22, 1996, address to the Pontifical Academy of Science, Pope John Paul II updated the Church's position, recognizing that Evolution is "more than a hypothesis" [8]. (For more see: evolution and the Roman Catholic Church).

    On July 7, 2005, an op-ed essay appeared in the New York Times by Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, archbishop of Vienna, claiming to clarify the position of the Roman Catholic Church on evolution. In particular, the archbishop appeared to minimize the significance of Pope John Paul II's oft-quoted remark that evolution is "more than a hypothesis." The former pope's comment was "rather vague and unimportant," said Schonborn , "Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense -- an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection -- is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science." These comments from Schonborn have been interpreted by some to come indirectly from the new Pope Benedict, signalling the Catholic Church may be moving toward Intelligent Design. [9], [10]

    The mythologies of some Eastern religions, on the other hand, bear striking resemblances to the theory of Evolution. Many claim that the ten avatars of Vishnu in Hinduism represent the evolution of life and of mankind. Matsya, the fish, represents life in water. Kurma, the tortoise, represents the next stage, amphibianism. The third animal, the boar Varaha, symbolizes life on land. Narasimha, the Man-Lion, symbolizes the commencement development of man. Vamana, the dwarf, symbolizes this incomplete development. Then, Parashurama, the forest-dweller, connotes completion of the basic development of humankind. The King Rama signals man's ability to govern nations. Krishna, an expert in the sixty-four fields of science and art according to Hinduism, indicates man's advancement to cultural concerns. Buddha, the Enlightened one, symbolizes the enlightenment and spiritual advancement of man. Note that the time of the avatars does not necessarily indicate much; kings ruled long before Rama and science was pursued long before Krishna. The avatars represent the order, and not the time, of these occurrences, according to certain Hindus.


    • Darwin, Charles November 24, 1859. On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street. 502 pages. Reprinted: Gramercy (May 22, 1995). ISBN 0517123207
    • Zimmer, Carl. Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea. Perennial (October 1, 2002). ISBN 0060958502
    • Larson, Edward J. Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory (Modern Library Chronicles). Modern Library (May 4, 2004). ISBN 0679642889
    • Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. Basic Books (October, 2002). ISBN 0465044263
    • Gigerenzer, Gerd, et al., The empire of chance: how probability changed science and everyday life (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989).
    • Williams, G.C. (1966). Adaptation and Natural Selection: A Critique of some Current Evolutionary Thought. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
    • Sean B. Carroll, 2005, Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom, W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0393060160

    See also

    External links

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    Basic topics in evolutionary biology
    Processes of evolution: evidence - macroevolution - microevolution - speciation
    Mechanisms: selection - genetic drift - gene flow - mutation
    Modes: anagenesis - catagenesis - cladogenesis
    History: History of evolutionary thought - Charles Darwin - The Origin of Species - modern evolutionary synthesis
    Subfields: population genetics - ecological genetics - human evolution - molecular evolution - phylogenetics - systematics - evo-devo
    List of evolutionary biology topics | Timeline of evolution
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