In nearly every life, there is a moment when a person realizes, with a shudder, how easily she might never have come to be: how her parents nearly missed meeting, or how some other critical genealogical event almost didn't happen. \nIn the same way, evolutionary biologists have pondered one of their most intractable questions: how much of the living world is here by chance and might not evolve, if time were turned back and evolutionary history played out again? \nA few scientists have begun finding ways to test the repeatability of evolution and have found out that what they thought were the random vagaries of evolution are not so random at all. \n"There's a lot of phenomenal data coming out," said Loren Rieseberg, an evolutionary biologist at Indiana University. "There's clearly more to repeatability than we'd suspected a decade ago." \nRichard Lenski, an evolutionary biologist at Michigan State, said, "A lot of studies are finding quite a lot of surprising replicability of evolutionary outcomes." \nIt's a wonderful world \nStephen Jay Gould, the late Harvard paleontologist, crystallized the question in his book Wonderful Life. What would happen, he asked, if the tape of the history of life were rewound and replayed? For many, including Gould, the answer was clear. He wrote that "any replay of the tape would lead evolution down a pathway radically different from the road actually taken." \nIn fact, to many scientists, it would seem impossible to re-evolve anything like life on earth today, given how life has been shaped by accidents large and small. \nBut 12 flasks of bacteria in East Lansing, Michigan, are beginning to challenge such notions. In 1988, Lenski and his colleagues set up a dozen genetically identical populations of E coli bacteria in bottles of broth and have followed their evolutionary fates. \nNow, more than 30,000 bacterial generations later, Lenski and colleagues have what is becoming one of the most striking examples of repeatability yet. All 12 populations show the same patterns of improvement in their ability to compete in a bottle and increases in cell size. All 12 have also lost their ability to break down and use a sugar, called ribose. \nMore surprising, many genetic changes underlying these adaptations are very similar. Every population, for example, lost its ability to break down ribose by losing a long stretch of DNA from the same gene. \nOther scientists studying cichlid fish have observed how the same varieties of cichlids evolve anew every time they invade a new lake. And Rieseberg and colleagues have found evidence that evolution can repeatedly produce the same species. \nThese scientists found that one sunflower species on sand dunes has evolved independently three separate times. And each time one of the species newly evolves, genetically it appears to turn out much the same. "With these species, there seems to be only one way to do it," Rieseberg said. \nLife's solutions \nSome scientists, like Simon Conway Morris, a paleobiologist at the University of Cambridge and ardent critic of Gould's view, say the evidence for repeatability is rampant. He argues in his new book, Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe, that some features are so adaptive that they are essentially inevitable -- like the ability to see and, as his title suggests, the intelligence and self-awareness that are the hallmarks of humanity. \nStill, scientists say that experimental populations evolving in parallel are not identical. For example, the genetic changes underlying identical adaptations in different populations can differ, even if in minute detail. Are these the subtle differences that could send evolution down a different path? \nOnly the definitive experiment which remains beyond the scope of the National Science Foundation budget can say. \n"What we need are about 1,000 worlds to play evolution back correctly," Rieseberg said. "Then we can really find out what would happen."
British-American John Oliver roasted Chinese leader Xi Jinping (習近平) in 2018 and slammed China’s treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang last year. Now some want him to do a segment on Taiwan. More than 500 people have signed a petition launched last week asking Oliver to discuss Taiwan’s complex political situation and its international significance on his HBO show Last Week Tonight. Jenna Cody, an American teacher-trainer and prolific blogger who has lived in Taiwan for 15 years, says she created the petition during a night of insomnia. Cody’s blog is quick to dispel one-sided or misinformed Western reports of the country,
It’s a day ending in -y in Taiwan, so we all know what President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) satisfaction ratings must be doing: falling. Is that I Got You Babe playing on the radio? Another round of polls has triggered a furious outbreak of stenography in the local and international media. The Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation (TPOF) brought out a poll at the end of May which had Tsai’s satisfaction ratings hitting a 21-month low of 45.7 percent. This finding and its framing were widely reported in the media. Foundation Chairman Michael You (游盈隆) said that such a large change — an
Nearly half a century after he sowed fear along the 1970s “hippie trail” French serial killer Charles Sobhraj, the “Serpent” of the hit TV drama series, still haunts the lives of those who crossed his path. Now 77 and jailed in solitary confinement in Nepal since 2003, Sobhraj is suspected of involvement in at least a dozen murders around Asia in the 1970s. His modus operandi was to charm and befriend his victims — many of them starry-eyed Western backpackers on a quest for spirituality — before drugging, robbing and murdering them. The TV series, made jointly by the BBC and Netflix,
As we have come out of an era of silenced voices and confiscated photographs, we know the preciousness of those slivered shards of memory: the pieces of writing that were half-veiled critiques of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) authoritarian regime, trying to hide behind stock phrases that could not be construed as sedition, and yet bite; the faded and poorly-focused photographs were usually taken by amateurs, who yet were driven to capture the fleeting moment when a few foolhardy souls ventured to gather and join in protest. The negatives and pictures, fading and molding in Taiwan’s humid climate as they