Robert Hooke, 17th-Century Scientist Extraordinaire

He argued with Newton, and both were partially right. Introduction Groundbreaking discoveries in science often come with two iconic images, one representing the breakthrough and the other, the discoverer. For example, the page from Darwin’s notebook sketching the branching pattern of evolution often accompanies a portrait of Darwin in his early years when the notebook[…]

Rosalind Franklin: The Woman Who Discovered the Secret to Life

Franklin was born a century ago, and her X-ray crystallography work crucially contributed to determining the structure of DNA. Introduction What do coal, viruses and DNA have in common? The structures of each – the predominant power source of the early 20th century, one of the most remarkable forms of life on Earth and the[…]

Ditsong’s Dioramas: Putting a Body on a Fossil and a Fossil in a Narrative

Dioramas have a powerful explanatory power as tangible reconstructions. Introduction His eyes were vacant—glassy, even. Blood flowed from his head and his hands dragged next to him, fingers rolling lifelessly in the brown African dirt. His mouth was frozen open in terror, his head firmly clenched between a leopard’s jaws. The cat’s snarl was practically[…]

Evolution Is a Tree, Not a Straight Line

If you go by editorial cartoons and T-shirts, you might have the impression that evolution proceeds as an orderly march toward a preordained finish line. But that’s not right at all. Introduction Evolution doesn’t follow a preordained, straight path. Yet images abound that suggest otherwise. From museum displays to editorial cartoons, evolution is depicted as[…]

Victorian Biological Research in Western Equatorial Africa

By midcentury, Victorian natural historians seemed hungry for information from formerly inaccessible regions of Africa. With a groan that had something terribly human in it and yet was full of brutishness, he fell forward on his face. The body shook convulsively for a few minutes, the limbs moved about in a struggling way, and then[…]

The Science and Biology of Aristotle

Aristotle studied developing organisms, among other things, in ancient Greece, and his writings shaped Western philosophy and natural science for greater than two thousand years. By Dorothy Regan Haskett, Valerie Racine, and Joanna Yang Aristotle spent much of his life in Greece and studied with Plato at Plato’s Academy in Athens, where he later established[…]

What Neanderthal Teeth Tell Us about the Prehistoric World

Astonishing new research shows that fossil teeth, like trees, contain detailed records of the environments in which they grew. Increasingvariation in the climate has been implicated as a possible factor in the evolution of our species (Homo sapiens) 300,000 years ago, as well as the more recent demise of our enigmatic evolutionary cousins, the Neanderthals. But[…]

New Hominin Shakes the Family Tree—Again

What does the discovery of Homo luzonensis mean for our understanding of humanity’s history? This week, anthropologists working in the Philippines unveil new fossils that they say belong to a previously undiscovered speciesof human relatives. The fossils come from Callao Cave, on the northern island of Luzon, and are at least 50,000 years old. The[…]

Camera Obscura: Accuracy and Elegance in Cheselden’s Osteographia (1733)

With its novel vignettes and its use of a camera obscura in the production of the plates, William Cheselden’s Osteographia, is recognized as a landmark in the history of anatomical illustration. Monique Kornell looks at its unique blend of accuracy and elegance. By Dr. Monique KornellIndependent Scholar of Anatomical Illustration This article, Camera Obscura: Accuracy[…]

‘Micro Snails’ Help Unlock Details of Ancient Earth’s Biological Evolution

Using the family relationships between single-celled protists alive today, researchers hypothesized what their evolutionary ancestors looked like – and then looked in the fossil record for matches. Every step you take, you’re likely walking on a world of unseen and undescribed microbial diversity. And you don’t need to head out into nature to find these[…]

Jacques Labillardière’s Contribution to Botany in the 19th Century

Exploring the impact of Labillardière’s work following a voyage to Australasia. This article, Jacques Labillardière’s Contribution to Botany in the 19th Century, was originally published in The Public Domain Review under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. If you wish to reuse it please see: Jacques-Julien Houtou de Labillardière’s *Relation du voyage à la recherche de La[…]

The Life and Work of 17th-Century Botanist Nehemiah Grew

How Grew’s pioneering “mechanist” vision in relation to the floral world paved the way for the science of plant anatomy. This article, The Life and Work of 17th-Century Botanist Nehemiah Grew, was originally published in The Public Domain Review under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. If you wish to reuse it please see: In the 82[…]

A History of Biology in Medieval Islam

The history of biology, built upon the thoroughness and insight of Aristotle and Galen, passed onto the Islamic Scholars, who added information drawn from every corner of the known world. Introduction By the 8th Century, most of Europe was deep in the Dark Ages, with only the Byzantine Empire preserving a few fragments of the[…]

How Seeing Snakes in the Grass Helped Primates to Evolve

Vision is a window onto the world, its qualities determined by natural selection. Evolution has favoured the modification and expansion of primate vision. Compared with other mammals, primates have, for example, greater depth perception from having forward-facing eyes with extensively overlapping visual fields, sharper visual acuity, more areas in the brain that are involved with[…]

Lucy’s Shattered Bones: Our Ancestors Lived a Dangerous Life in Trees

Humans stand out among all the mammals as being the only species to totter about on two feet. We are the bipedal apes. A ground breaking study of the bones of a 3.2 million year old human ancestor (‘Lucy’) revealed that she died from the crushing impact of a fall from high in the trees. This exciting[…]

Sex Education with Andreas Vesalius in the Early Modern World

Looking beyond an initial impression to dissect what is happening beyond the surface in particular historical contexts. On the first day of my class, ‘Witches, Workers, & Wives,’ I showed students an image from Book 5 of Andreas Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica libri septem (On the fabric of the human body in seven books).At first glance, my students[…]

Plausibility of Current Models of Abiogenesis (Origin of Life)

Study has led to a much deeper understanding of what we mean when we speak of “life”. By Matt Brauer In my one post I mentioned in passing the feature article appearing in November’s issue of PLoS biology. In that paper, Richard Robinson describes some of the difficulties faced by researchers into the Origin of Life. The origin of replicating[…]

The Emotional Lives of Animals

Grief, friendship, gratitude, wonder, and other things we animals experience. Scientific research shows that many animals are very intelligent and have sensory and motor abilities that dwarf ours. Dogs are able to detect diseases such as cancer and diabetes and warn humans of impending heart attacks and strokes. Elephants, whales, hippopotamuses, giraffes, and alligators use[…]

Darling, I Love You … From the Bottom of My Brain

The irrelevance of the heart to love has been amply demonstrated by cardiac transplant surgeons. In William Shakespeare’s comedy Merchant of Venice, the play’s heroine Portia sings: Tell me where is fancy bred,Or in the heart or in the head. If you look at Valentine’s Day cards, it’s clear fancy is bred in the heart and not in[…]

What’s in a Name?: The Taxonomy and Phylogeny of Early Homo

Hominin systematics, encompassing both taxonomy and phylogeny, has significant implications for how the evolution of species and traits are understood and communicated. Abstract Hominin systematics, encompassing both taxonomy and phylogeny (Strait, 2013), has significant implications for how the evolution of species and traits are understood and communicated. Following a recent influx of fossils (e.g., Brown et[…]

Ancient DNA Changes Everything We Know about the Evolution of Elephants

DNA studies reveal that African elephants belong to a very successful and widespread family. For a long time, zoologists assumed that there were only two species of elephant: one Asian and one African. Then genetic analyses suggested that the African Elephant could be divided into two distinct species, the African Forest and African Savannah elephants. Now[…]