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How ancient whales lost their legs, got sleek and conquered the oceans
EurekAlert (AAAS) ^ | 22 May 2006 | Staff

Posted on 05/23/2006 4:08:38 AM PDT by PatrickHenry

When ancient whales finally parted company with the last remnants of their legs about 35 million years ago, a relatively sudden genetic event may have crowned an eons-long shrinking process.

An international group of scientists led by Hans Thewissen, Ph.D., a professor of anatomy at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, has used developmental data from contemporary spotted dolphins and fossils of ancient whales to try to pinpoint the genetic changes that could have caused whales, dolphins and porpoises to lose their hind limbs.

More than 50 million years ago the ancestors of whales and dolphins were four-footed land animals, not unlike large dogs. They became the sleek swimmers we recognize today during the next 15 million years, losing their hind limbs in a dramatic example of evolutionary change.

"We can see from fossils that whales clearly lived on land - they actually share a common ancestor with hippos, camels and deer," said team member Martin Cohn, Ph.D., a developmental biologist and associate professor with the UF departments of zoology and anatomy and cell biology and a member of the UF Genetics Institute. "Their transition to an aquatic lifestyle occurred long before they eliminated their hind limbs. During the transition, their limbs became smaller, but they kept the same number and arrangement of hind limb bones as their terrestrial ancestors."

In findings to be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists say the gradual shrinkage of the whales' hind limbs over 15 million years was the result of slowly accumulated genetic changes that influenced the size of the limbs and that these changes happened sometime late in development, during the fetal period.

However, the actual loss of the hind limb occurred much further along in the evolutionary process, when a drastic change occurred to inactivate a gene essential for limb development. This gene - called Sonic hedgehog - functions during the first quarter of gestation in the embryonic period of the animals' development, before the fetal period.

In all limbed vertebrates, Sonic hedgehog is required for normal limbs to develop beyond the knee and elbow joints. Because ancient whales' hind limbs remained perfectly formed all the way to the toes even as they became smaller suggests that Sonic hedgehog was still functioning to pattern the limb skeleton.

The new research shows that, near the end of 15 million years, with the hind limbs of ancient whales nonfunctional and all but gone, lack of Sonic hedgehog clearly comes into play. While the animals still may have developed embryonic hind limb buds, as happens in today's spotted dolphins, they didn't have the Sonic hedgehog required to grow a complete or even partial limb, although it is active elsewhere in the embryo.

The team also showed why Sonic hedgehog became inactive and all traces of hind limbs vanished at the end of this stage of whale evolution, said Cohn. A gene called Hand2, which normally functions as a switch to turn on Sonic hedgehog, was shown to be inactive in the hind limb buds of dolphins. Without it, limb development grinds to a halt.

"By integrating data from fossils with developmental data from embryonic dolphins, we were able to trace these genetic changes to the point in time when they happened," Thewissen said.

"Studies on swimming in mammals show that a sleek body is necessary for efficient swimming, because projecting organs such as rudimentary hind limbs cause a lot of drag, and slow a swimmer down," said Thewissen, who spends about a month every year in Pakistan and India collecting fossils that document the land-to-water transition of whales.

Researchers say the findings tend to support traditional evolutionary theory, a la Charles Darwin, that says minor changes over vast expanses of time add up to big changes. And while Sonic hedgehog's role in the evolution of hind limbs in ancient whales is becoming apparent, it is still not fully defined.

"It's clear when ancient whales lost all vestiges of the limb it was probably triggered by loss of Sonic hedgehog," said Clifford Tabin, Ph.D., a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the research. "But it's hard to say for certain because you're looking at events long after they occurred. As they suggest, there could have been a continual decrease in Sonic as the limbs reduced until the modern version of the animal arrived."

The study itself, combining fossil and developmental data, is notable, Tabin said.

"Whales went through this remarkable transformation to become more like the ancestral fish," Tabin said. "Convergence of evolutionary studies and developmental genetics give us another piece in this growing tapestry of how genetic changes lead to morphological change. It is a remarkable process that was achieved simply and led to profound consequences in how whales were able to survive. Only now in the last five years are we developing this understanding of how the world of evolution is controlled genetically."

###

In addition to UF and Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, scientists from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the Indian Institute of Technology were involved in the research. Financial support was provided by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Indian Department of Science and Technology, New Delhi.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: crevolist; junk; pavlovian
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Everyone be nice.
1 posted on 05/23/2006 4:08:40 AM PDT by PatrickHenry
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To: VadeRetro; Junior; longshadow; RadioAstronomer; Doctor Stochastic; js1138; Shryke; RightWhale; ...
Evolution Ping

The List-O-Links
A conservative, pro-evolution science list, now with over 370 names.
See the list's explanation, then FReepmail to be added or dropped.
To assist beginners: But it's "just a theory", Evo-Troll's Toolkit,
and How to argue against a scientific theory.

2 posted on 05/23/2006 4:10:06 AM PDT by PatrickHenry (Unresponsive to trolls, lunatics, fanatics, retards, scolds, & incurable ignoramuses.)
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To: PatrickHenry
"By integrating data from fossils with developmental data from embryonic dolphins, we were able to trace these genetic changes to the point in time when they happened," Thewissen said.

I'm sorry, but this can't possibly be true. Everyone knows that Haeckel guy was a fraud, so therefore embryology can never, ever, ever tell us anything at all about evolution. Or something.

3 posted on 05/23/2006 4:17:52 AM PDT by Senator Bedfellow
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To: PatrickHenry

LOL


4 posted on 05/23/2006 4:24:23 AM PDT by exnavy (God bless America)
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To: PatrickHenry
This gene - called Sonic hedgehog - functions during the first quarter of gestation in the embryonic period of the animals' development, before the fetal period.

Separated at birth?


(Bonus points if you can identify the whale--the ship is a BIG hint)
5 posted on 05/23/2006 4:26:16 AM PDT by sittnick (There is no salvation in politics.)
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To: PatrickHenry

"scientists say the gradual shrinkage of the whales' hind limbs over 15 million years was the result of slowly accumulated genetic changes that influenced the size of the limbs and that these changes happened sometime late in development, during the fetal period."

Then, the whales decided to make disingenuous films about guns at Columbine and leftist propaganda about 9/11.


6 posted on 05/23/2006 4:26:35 AM PDT by Son Of The Godfather
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To: PatrickHenry

A bunch of wristwatch parts tumbled in a clothes dryer for 35,000,000 years won't put themselves together into a wristwatch; not even if you run it for 100,000,000 years.

I don't believe it.


7 posted on 05/23/2006 4:30:22 AM PDT by RoadTest (For the love of money is the root of all evil - I Timothy 6:10)
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To: RoadTest
"A bunch of wristwatch parts tumbled in a clothes dryer for 35,000,000 years won't put themselves together into a wristwatch; not even if you run it for 100,000,000 years.

I don't believe it."

Nor does anybody else. Nice strawman though.
8 posted on 05/23/2006 4:37:45 AM PDT by CarolinaGuitarman ("There is grandeur in this view of life....")
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To: RoadTest
Of course you don't.

Now, I'm sure you know ABSOLUTLEY NOTHING about evolutionary theory - what it ACTUALLY is, how it works, the science behind it....or you wouldn't throw out the old stupid teleological argument.....which has been addressed hundreds of times.

No, you prefer to cling to your ignorance in hopes that it will buy you eternal salvation.

Hint: God doesn't like people who deny his wonders (Evolution being one of them).

I'm ALWAYS amazed when these folks think that MAN knows better than GOD. God set it up this way, all we have to do is live by the rules. Figuring out those rules is what science does. To deny obvious truths spread about you by the creator is blasphemous!

9 posted on 05/23/2006 4:38:47 AM PDT by KeepUSfree (WOSD = fascism pure and simple.)
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To: PatrickHenry
I have a couple questions.

If certain genes turn off (or on) to effect some of these changes, isn't it reasonable to assume that there would be the occasional "throwback" that exhibited the properties of an earlier version?

Are they inferring that a creature's habits cause it to "evolve" to meet the preferred environment (whales lost their legs because they swam and legs were a hindrance) instead of having the changes occur, which would require the creature to either adapt or perish (whales lost their legs and had to become full-time swimmers because they couldn't get around on land)?

This evolution stuff gets so confusing sometimes - it seems that it can follow either the nature or nurture path and all findings are good because they give more credence to evolution even (or perhaps especially) if they seem to contradict the theory.

10 posted on 05/23/2006 4:41:26 AM PDT by trebb ("I am the way... no one comes to the Father, but by me..." - Jesus in John 14:6 (RSV))
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To: CarolinaGuitarman

Must be a new creationist comic book being left at all the laundromats around the trailer parks. The old edition was "tornado in a junkyard." Now it's "wristwatch parts tumbled in a clothes dryer." Most impressive. It's good to see that the creationists are keeping up with the latest research.


11 posted on 05/23/2006 4:42:54 AM PDT by PatrickHenry (Unresponsive to trolls, lunatics, fanatics, retards, scolds, & incurable ignoramuses.)
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To: PatrickHenry
What I've noticed over the last 10-15 years is that programs/articles about prehistory have dropped, "scientists believe/think...", and have subtly substituted it with, "20 million years ago this occurred...".
12 posted on 05/23/2006 4:45:11 AM PDT by canalabamian (Durka durka...Muhammad FUBAR!)
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To: PatrickHenry

"It's good to see that the creationists are keeping up with the latest research."

It's an excellent example of descent with modification.


13 posted on 05/23/2006 8:22:08 AM PDT by CarolinaGuitarman ("There is grandeur in this view of life....")
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To: PatrickHenry

I don't understand why, if whales evolved, we still have Sonic the Hedgehog today? < /luddite>


14 posted on 05/23/2006 8:30:31 AM PDT by LibertarianSchmoe ("...yeah, but, that's different!" - mating call of the North American Ten-Toed Hypocrite)
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To: trebb
If certain genes turn off (or on) to effect some of these changes, isn't it reasonable to assume that there would be the occasional "throwback" that exhibited the properties of an earlier version?

Depending on the mechanism of the gene regulation, it's possible. This is why humans are sometimes born with little tails.

Are they inferring that a creature's habits cause it to "evolve" to meet the preferred environment (whales lost their legs because they swam and legs were a hindrance) instead of having the changes occur, which would require the creature to either adapt or perish (whales lost their legs and had to become full-time swimmers because they couldn't get around on land)?

No, it is never accurate to say that a change occurred because the creature needed it. Evolution is not prescient. If a necessary beneficial mutation does not occur, the species simply goes extinct. The same mutation that caused these legs not to develop could happen in a land-dwelling whale ancestor as well. The difference is the land-dwelling ancestor can't manage without hind legs and would die, while the ocean-dwelling whale does better without its legs. By the time this change occurred, whales were already obligate marine creatures, with vestigial legs whose only utility is possibly as claspers (similar to sharks' claspers) for aid in mating. If the complete absence of hind legs is more beneficial, eventually that phenotype is likely to become the prominent phenotype.

15 posted on 05/23/2006 8:30:49 AM PDT by ahayes (Yes, I have a devious plot. No, you may not know what it is.)
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To: trebb
Are they inferring that a creature's habits cause it to "evolve" to meet the preferred environment (whales lost their legs because they swam and legs were a hindrance) instead of having the changes occur, which would require the creature to either adapt or perish (whales lost their legs and had to become full-time swimmers because they couldn't get around on land)?

It's more a question of, if you don't use your legs, does it matter if if you have a birth defect that causes them not to grow.

There are birth defects in humans where their limbs don't develop that's similar to what happened to the thalidomide babies in the '50's. If we were aquatic, we wouldn't need legs. And it would allow us to swim faster and easier, so it would likely be passed on to our offspring. No one would want to mate with the slowskys.

16 posted on 05/23/2006 8:34:21 AM PDT by <1/1,000,000th%
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To: RoadTest

Yet you still have no alternate explanation.


17 posted on 05/23/2006 8:36:17 AM PDT by <1/1,000,000th%
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To: RoadTest
I don't believe it.

Neither do I believe the Darwinists subjective nonsense. I would rather walk with the Lord than to follow their atheistic belief system.
18 posted on 05/23/2006 8:38:35 AM PDT by GarySpFc (Jesus on Immigration, John 10:1)
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To: Xenalyte
This gene - called Sonic hedgehog - functions during the first quarter of gestation

I don't know if Sonic Hedgehog is a great name for a band, or an ice cream treat one would have with a SuperSONIC® Jalapeño Cheeseburger.

19 posted on 05/23/2006 8:39:55 AM PDT by Flyer (Xenalyte is having a Hoop Skirt Hullabaloo all week!)
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To: PatrickHenry

"tornado in a junkyard" was coined by Hoyle, and
Wickram(xxxx)...sorry I cannot remember how to spell
his name.
Both of them purported that they felt life was seeded
to earth from another extraterrestrial source, cuz of the "tornado in a junkyard making a 747" scenario
was unacceptable...Neither of them are creationists, they felt (from what I understood) that life had evolved on a different planet under different conditions than that found on earth.


20 posted on 05/23/2006 8:41:25 AM PDT by Getready
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To: PatrickHenry

Right on! I was raised with "a monkey at the type writer will never recreate the Webster dictionary even over the course of millions of years”. Or was is encyclopedia Britannica?

Glad I could put that time behind me…

It has always fascinated me how people often pick and choose what biblical passages should be interpreted literally and which ones should be interpreted symbolically.


21 posted on 05/23/2006 8:41:41 AM PDT by spookadelic
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To: ahayes

You should read Bloom, Global Brain. Not only does he argue that changes are aaptive, but they are the result of conscious group problem solving even at the microbial level.


22 posted on 05/23/2006 8:42:44 AM PDT by ClaireSolt (.)
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To: GarySpFc

"I would rather walk with the Lord than to follow their atheistic belief system."

Evolution isn't atheistic.


23 posted on 05/23/2006 8:42:46 AM PDT by CarolinaGuitarman ("There is grandeur in this view of life....")
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To: GarySpFc
It's actually pretty easy to believe in God and evolution at the same time.
24 posted on 05/23/2006 8:43:07 AM PDT by Psycho_Bunny (ISLAM: The Other Psychosis)
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To: Senator Bedfellow

Sweet, I can't wait to see the fossils.


25 posted on 05/23/2006 8:44:06 AM PDT by russdawg
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To: spookadelic

I hope the final judgment of mankind by God is
allegorical and just reflects entropys "final
sigh" instead.


26 posted on 05/23/2006 8:44:55 AM PDT by Getready
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To: KeepUSfree

Psst. Let me tell you a secret.

Remember those people who wore aluminum foil or tin foil hats to protect themselves from Martians? You couldn't argue with them either.

Don't even ATTEMPT to use logic and science to convince somebody who thinks something purely on the basis of his/her own faith.

Its wasted breath. I tried.

Just read the article, absorb the information and have a conversation about it with somebody intelligent enough to believe it.


27 posted on 05/23/2006 8:47:23 AM PDT by ZULU (Non nobis, non nobis, Domine, sed nomini tuo da gloriam. God, guts, and guns made America great.)
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To: PatrickHenry
... a relatively sudden genetic event may have crowned an eons-long shrinking process.

Sounds like a line from "Fletch."

28 posted on 05/23/2006 8:47:44 AM PDT by Doctor Stochastic (Vegetabilisch = chaotisch ist der Charakter der Modernen. - Friedrich Schlegel)
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To: PatrickHenry

Buffalo Wings...


29 posted on 05/23/2006 8:50:25 AM PDT by Redcitizen (When you have to shoot, shoot, don't talk. -Tuco)
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===> Placemarker <===
30 posted on 05/23/2006 8:52:55 AM PDT by Coyoteman (Stupidity is the only universal capital crime; the sentence is death--Heinlein)
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To: Flyer

I could swear there already was a band called Sonic Hedgehog. Must research.

And fyi, my Hoop Skirt Hullabaloo will go on far longer than a mere week!


31 posted on 05/23/2006 8:53:21 AM PDT by Xenalyte (Anything is possible when you don't understand how anything happens.)
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To: PatrickHenry

"How ancient whales lost their legs, got sleek and conquered the oceans"

uh huh, and if my grandmother had wheels, she'd be a wagon.


32 posted on 05/23/2006 8:54:31 AM PDT by Leatherneck_MT (An honest man can feel no pleasure in the exercise of power over his fellow citizens.)
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To: PatrickHenry
Sonic Hedgehog? Why would you call it that? It makes it seem like a joke.

I never thought of dolphins or porpoises that way before, that they evolved back into the oceans too just like whales.
33 posted on 05/23/2006 8:56:35 AM PDT by OmegaMan
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To: Doctor Stochastic

My theory is that the shrinkage occurred from being in the water too long : )


34 posted on 05/23/2006 8:57:10 AM PDT by waverna
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To: Son Of The Godfather
Please do not post such speciast insults.
Michael Moore is unfortunately, from a branch of the human family, not the cetaceans. Whales, manatees and dolphins have shapes suited for living in water, and insulation to prevent heat loss.
Michael Mooore is just a big fat greedy s*ck*ss human being.
I was jetskiing offshore this weekend and had the good luck to observe some dolphins, please don't even associate them with Michael Moore. They have dignity and intelligence, another two things he lacks. (Waverunner steps off of soapbox)
35 posted on 05/23/2006 8:57:22 AM PDT by Waverunner
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To: PatrickHenry

There are some old (half century or more) models of self-reproducing machines that work just like described. There's a bag of parts; if no parts are assembled, the shaking does nothing. If two (or more) parts happen to latch on to each other, the whole bag becomes full of that configuration.


36 posted on 05/23/2006 8:58:47 AM PDT by Doctor Stochastic (Vegetabilisch = chaotisch ist der Charakter der Modernen. - Friedrich Schlegel)
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To: Leatherneck_MT

"How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life" this sounds familiar and about as credible


37 posted on 05/23/2006 8:58:48 AM PDT by russdawg
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To: RoadTest

I don't believe that a wristwatch would either. Too bad your analogy has not a dang thing to do with Evolution.


38 posted on 05/23/2006 9:00:38 AM PDT by trashcanbred (Anti-social and anti-socialist)
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To: Waverunner

Duly noted. My apologies to whales and dolphins everywhere!


39 posted on 05/23/2006 9:03:03 AM PDT by Son Of The Godfather
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To: OmegaMan

Molecular biologists. They have to name all genes/gene products cute names. TIM, TOM, Jordan (a jumping transposon, ha-hah).

It's called hedgehog because a mutation in a related gene in fruit flies causes them to develop these little spikes all over, thus "hedgehog." I'm not sure where the "sonic" in this particular gene comes from, although it's obviously a pop culture reference as well.


40 posted on 05/23/2006 9:08:52 AM PDT by ahayes (Yes, I have a devious plot. No, you may not know what it is.)
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To: Doctor Stochastic
If two (or more) parts happen to latch on to each other, the whole bag becomes full of that configuration.

And in organic chemistry, they can't help doing so. The oceans quickly fill with sub-assemblies of organic molecules.

41 posted on 05/23/2006 9:09:46 AM PDT by PatrickHenry (Unresponsive to trolls, lunatics, fanatics, retards, scolds, & incurable ignoramuses.)
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To: sittnick

Wilma?


42 posted on 05/23/2006 9:13:34 AM PDT by js1138 (Well I say there are some things we don't want to know! Important things!")
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To: RoadTest
I don't believe it.

I should hope not. Wristwatch parts don't replicate.

43 posted on 05/23/2006 9:16:42 AM PDT by shuckmaster (An oak tree is an acorns way of making more acorns)
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To: trebb
isn't it reasonable to assume that there would be the occasional "throwback" that exhibited the properties of an earlier version?Sure. That's where hen's teeth and horses toes come from.
44 posted on 05/23/2006 9:21:48 AM PDT by shuckmaster (An oak tree is an acorns way of making more acorns)
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To: shuckmaster
Wristwatch parts don't replicate.

These, however, do.


45 posted on 05/23/2006 9:23:06 AM PDT by ahayes (Yes, I have a devious plot. No, you may not know what it is.)
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To: PatrickHenry
Amazing (not). Now if they could just explain how half of a whale/dolphin brain falls asleep at a time so the creature doesn't drown we might be on to something. Hint: it really is a big deal, because each hemisphere must have the necessary tracts and nucleii for full function. That's something that isn't present in human brains, btw.

There's a great deal about science that members of the Darwin fan club won't - or perhaps can't - understand.
46 posted on 05/23/2006 9:25:09 AM PDT by Old_Mil (http://www.constitutionparty.org - Forging a Rebirth of Freedom.)
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To: ahayes

Scary. What do you call that thing?


47 posted on 05/23/2006 9:28:59 AM PDT by shuckmaster (An oak tree is an acorns way of making more acorns)
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To: Senator Bedfellow
"By integrating data from fossils with developmental data from embryonic dolphins, we were able to trace these genetic changes to the point in time when they happened," Thewissen said.

I'm sorry, but this can't possibly be true. Everyone knows that Haeckel guy was a fraud, so therefore embryology can never, ever, ever tell us anything at all about evolution. Or something.

What's more Intelligent Denial proponents assure us that "Darwinists" NEVER conduct studies into the actual history of genetic/molecular changes, so obviously none of this article can be true.

48 posted on 05/23/2006 9:31:00 AM PDT by Stultis (I don't worry about the war turning into "Vietnam" in Iraq; I worry about it doing so in Congress.)
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To: ahayes

Then it is based on the game, I thought that was just a coincidence. I see now, its biologists just having a little fun. Those molecular biologists are wild and crazy guys lol.


49 posted on 05/23/2006 9:31:11 AM PDT by OmegaMan
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To: All
Evolution at sea bump:


50 posted on 05/23/2006 9:32:53 AM PDT by The Iguana
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