Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Adaptation


Pedestrians regularly engage with their mobile phone whilst walking. The current study investigated how mobile phone use affects where people look (visual search behaviour) and how they negotiate a floor based hazard placed along the walking path. Whilst wearing a mobile eye tracker and motion analysis sensors, participants walked up to and negotiated a surface height change whilst writing a text, reading a text, talking on the phone, or without a phone. Differences in gait and visual search behaviour were found when using a mobile phone compared to when not using a phone. Using a phone resulted in looking less frequently and for less time at the surface height change, which led to adaptations in gait by negotiating it in a manner consistent with adopting an increasingly cautious stepping strategy. When using a mobile phone, writing a text whilst walking resulted in the greatest adaptions in gait and visual search behaviour compared to reading a text and talking on a mobile phone. Findings indicate that mobile phone users were able to adapt their visual search behaviour and gait to incorporate mobile phone use in a safe manner when negotiating floor based obstacles.

Concepts: Mobile phone, Walking, Adaptation, Locomotion, Automobile, Pedestrian, Walkability, Sustainable transport


We investigated the evolution and epidemiology of a novel livestock-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus strain, which colonizes and infects urban-dwelling Danes even without a Danish animal reservoir. Genetic evidence suggests both poultry and human adaptation, with poultry meat implicated as a probable source.

Concepts: Bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Meat, Livestock, Adaptation, Charles Darwin, Poultry


Genetic polymorphism is suggested to be associated with human physical performance. The angiotensin I-converting enzyme insertion/deletion (ACE I/D) polymorphism and the α-actinin-3 gene (ACTN3) R577X polymorphism have been most widely studied for such association analysis. However, the findings are frequently heterogeneous. We aim to summarize the associations of ACE I/D and ACTN3 R577X with sport performance by means of meta-analysis.

Concepts: Genetics, Allele, Chromosome, The Association, Polymorphism, Adaptation, Genetic polymorphism, Julian Huxley


Ever since Darwin, the role of natural selection in shaping the morphological, physiological, and behavioral adaptations of animals and plants across generations has been central to understanding life and its diversity. New discoveries have shown with increasing precision how genetic, molecular, and biochemical processes produce and express those organismal features during an individual’s lifetime. When it comes to microorganisms, however, understanding the role of natural selection in producing adaptive solutions has historically been, and sometimes continues to be, contentious. This tension is curious because microbes enable one to observe the power of adaptation by natural selection with exceptional rigor and clarity, as exemplified by the burgeoning field of experimental microbial evolution. I trace the development of this field, describe an experiment with Escherichia coli that has been running for almost 30 years, and highlight other experiments in which natural selection has led to interesting dynamics and adaptive changes in microbial populations.

Concepts: Genetics, Natural selection, Bacteria, Evolution, Biology, Organism, Adaptation, Charles Darwin


Understanding the physiology and genetics of human hypoxia tolerance has important medical implications, but this phenomenon has thus far only been investigated in high-altitude human populations. Another system, yet to be explored, is humans who engage in breath-hold diving. The indigenous Bajau people (“Sea Nomads”) of Southeast Asia live a subsistence lifestyle based on breath-hold diving and are renowned for their extraordinary breath-holding abilities. However, it is unknown whether this has a genetic basis. Using a comparative genomic study, we show that natural selection on genetic variants in the PDE10A gene have increased spleen size in the Bajau, providing them with a larger reservoir of oxygenated red blood cells. We also find evidence of strong selection specific to the Bajau on BDKRB2, a gene affecting the human diving reflex. Thus, the Bajau, and possibly other diving populations, provide a new opportunity to study human adaptation to hypoxia tolerance. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Natural selection, Evolution, Blood, Biology, Adaptation, Charles Darwin


With extremely short generation times and high mutability, many viruses can rapidly evolve and adapt to changing environments. This ability is generally beneficial to viruses as it allows them to evade host immune responses, evolve new behaviours, and exploit ecological niches. However, natural selection typically generates adaptation in response to the immediate selection pressures that a virus experiences in its current host. Consequently, we argue that some viruses, particularly those characterised by long durations of infection and ongoing replication, may be susceptible to short-sighted evolution, whereby a virus' adaptation to its current host will be detrimental to its onward transmission within the host population. Here we outline the concept of short-sighted viral evolution and provide examples of how it may negatively impact viral transmission among hosts. We also propose that viruses that are vulnerable to short-sighted evolution may exhibit strategies that minimise its effects. We speculate on the various mechanisms by which this may be achieved, including viral life history strategies that result in low rates of within-host evolution, or the establishment of a ‘germline’ lineage of viruses that avoids short-sighted evolution. These concepts provide a new perspective on the way in which some viruses have been able to establish and maintain global pandemics.

Concepts: Immune system, Natural selection, Bacteria, Evolution, Virus, Infection, Evolutionary biology, Adaptation


Human thermoregulation and acclimatization are core components of the human coping mechanism for withstanding variations in environmental heat exposure. Amidst growing recognition that curtailing global warming to less than two degrees is becoming increasing improbable, human survival will require increasing reliance on these mechanisms. The projected several fold increase in extreme heat events suggests we need to recalibrate health protection policies and ratchet up adaptation efforts. Climate researchers, epidemiologists, and policy makers engaged in climate change adaptation and health protection are not commonly drawn from heat physiology backgrounds. Injecting a scholarly consideration of physiological limitations to human heat tolerance into the adaptation and policy literature allows for a broader understanding of heat health risks to support effective human adaptation and adaptation planning. This paper details the physiological and external environmental factors that determine human thermoregulation and acclimatization. We present a model to illustrate the interrelationship between elements that modulate the physiological process of thermoregulation. Limitations inherent in these processes, and the constraints imposed by differing exposure levels, and thermal comfort seeking on achieving acclimatization, are then described. Combined, these limitations will restrict the likely contribution that acclimatization can play in future human adaptation to global warming. We postulate that behavioral and technological adaptations will need to become the dominant means for human individual and societal adaptations as global warming progresses.

Concepts: Natural selection, Physiology, Climate change, Policy, Adaptation, Charles Darwin, Global warming, Acclimatization


The collapse of some pre-historical and historical cultures, including Chinese dynasties were presumably linked to widespread droughts, on the basis of synchronicities of societal crises and proxy-based climate events. Here, we present a comparison of ancient inscriptions in Dayu Cave from Qinling Mountains, central China, which described accurate times and detailed impacts of seven drought events during the period of 1520-1920 CE, with high-resolution speleothem records from the same cave. The comparable results provide unique and robust tests on relationships among speleothem δ(18)O changes, drought events, and societal unrest. With direct historical evidences, our results suggest that droughts and even modest events interrupting otherwise wet intervals can cause serious social crises. Modeling results of speleothem δ(18)O series suggest that future precipitation in central China may be below the average of the past 500 years. As Qinling Mountain is the main recharge area of two large water transfer projects and habitats of many endangered species, it is imperative to explore an adaptive strategy for the decline in precipitation and/or drought events.

Concepts: Precipitation, Climate, China, Endangered species, Meteorology, Giant Panda, Adaptation, Drought


Habit formation is a behavioral adaptation that automates routine actions. Habitual behavior correlates with broad reconfigurations of dorsolateral striatal (DLS) circuit properties that increase gain and shift pathway timing. The mechanism(s) for these circuit adaptations are unknown and could be responsible for habitual behavior. Here we find that a single class of interneuron, fast-spiking interneurons (FSIs), modulates all of these habit-predictive properties. Consistent with a role in habits, FSIs are more excitable in habitual mice compared to goal-directed and acute chemogenetic inhibition of FSIs in DLS prevents the expression of habitual lever pressing. In vivo recordings further reveal a previously unappreciated selective modulation of SPNs based on their firing patterns; FSIs inhibit most SPNs but paradoxically promote the activity of a subset displaying high fractions of gamma-frequency spiking. These results establish a microcircuit mechanism for habits and provide a new example of how interneurons mediate experience-dependent behavior.

Concepts: Natural selection, Inhibitor, Modulation, Behavior, Human behavior, Adaptation


Venom systems have evolved on multiple occasions across the animal kingdom, and they can act as key adaptations to protect animals from predators [1]. Consequently, venomous animals serve as models for a rich source of mimicry types, as non-venomous species benefit from reductions in predation risk by mimicking the coloration, body shape, and/or movement of toxic counterparts [2-5]. The frequent evolution of such deceitful imitations provides notable examples of phenotypic convergence and are often invoked as classic exemplars of evolution by natural selection. Here, we investigate the evolution of fangs, venom, and mimetic relationships in reef fishes from the tribe Nemophini (fangblennies). Comparative morphological analyses reveal that enlarged canine teeth (fangs) originated at the base of the Nemophini radiation and have enabled a micropredatory feeding strategy in non-venomous Plagiotremus spp. Subsequently, the evolution of deep anterior grooves and their coupling to venom secretory tissue provide Meiacanthus spp. with toxic venom that they effectively employ for defense. We find that fangblenny venom contains a number of toxic components that have been independently recruited into other animal venoms, some of which cause toxicity via interactions with opioid receptors, and result in a multifunctional biochemical phenotype that exerts potent hypotensive effects. The evolution of fangblenny venom has seemingly led to phenotypic convergence via the formation of a diverse array of mimetic relationships that provide protective (Batesian mimicry) and predatory (aggressive mimicry) benefits to other fishes [2, 6]. Our results further our understanding of how novel morphological and biochemical adaptations stimulate ecological interactions in the natural world.

Concepts: Natural selection, Evolution, Predation, Mimicry, Toxin, Adaptation, Venom, Batesian mimicry