More than a month has passed since an essay written by Rob Dunn, an assistant professor of biology at NC State, was published on Smithsonian.com. But it’s still the most popular story on the site — in terms of being the most viewed and the most commented on. The topic: The Top Ten Daily Consequences of Having Evolved.
In the piece, Dunn writes, “Our own bodies are worse off than most simply because of the many differences between the wilderness in which we evolved and the modern world in which we live. We feel the consequences every day.” Those consequences range from hiccups and choking to obesity and being cold in the winter. Here’s the first item on the list:
1. Our cells are weird chimeras
Perhaps a billion years ago, a single-celled organism arose that would ultimately give rise to all of the plants and animals on Earth, including us. This ancestor was the result of a merging: one cell swallowed, imperfectly, another cell. The predator provided the outsides, the nucleus and most of the rest of the chimera. The prey became the mitochondrion, the cellular organ that produces energy. Most of the time, this ancient symbiosis proceeds amicably. But every so often, our mitochondria and their surrounding cells fight. The result is diseases, such as mitochondrial myopathies (a range of muscle diseases) or Leigh’s disease (which affects the central nervous system).
Read the full list and his explanation for each item here.
You may remember that Dunn, author of Every Little Thing: Man’s Obsessive Quest to Catalog Life, From Nanobacteria to New Monkeys, wrote an essay for NC State magazine in 2009 about the thousands of tiny species at work around us that we often don’t notice. Read that essay below:
Read More >
The above photo is of an insect egg from a gallery produced by National Geographic Magazine that accompanies an essay written by Rob Dunn, an assistant professor of biology at NC State. In the Autumn 2009 issue of NC State magazine, Dunn wrote about the thousands of tiny species at work around us that we often don’t notice, even when those species are living on our own bodies and right under our noses. In this new essay for National Geographic Magazine, “The Beauty of Insects,” Dunn focuses in on insect eggs (and both the essay and the photos are fascinating):
They began simply, smooth and round, but over 300 million years, insect eggs have become as varied as the places where insects reign. Some eggs resemble dirt. Others resemble plants. When you find them, you might not know what you are seeing at first. The forms are unusual and embellished with ornaments and apparatuses. Some eggs breathe through long tubes that they extend up through water. Others dangle from silky stalks. Still others drift in the wind or ride on the backs of flies. They are as colorful as stones, shaded in turquoises, slates, and ambers. Spines are common, as are spots, helices, and stripes. More than biology, their designs suggest the work of an artist left to obsess among tiny forms. They are natural selection’s trillion masterpieces; inside each is an animal waiting for some cue to break free.
What you see in the accompanying photo gallery, Dunn writes,
are the eggs of a few small branches of the insect tree of life. Among them are those of some butterflies that face extraordinary travails to defend themselves against predators and, sometimes, against plants on which they are laid. Some passionflowers transform parts of their leaves into shapes that resemble butterfly eggs; mother butterflies, seeing the “eggs,” move on to other plants to deposit their babies. Such mimics are imperfect, but fortunately so is butterfly vision.
View the photo gallery and read all of Dunn’s essay here and here. Be sure to also check out this video in which the photographer explains how he got his shots of the insect eggs. And, you can read the essay that Dunn wrote for NC State magazine in Autumn 2009 here.
Read More >