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No peak in sight for evolving bacteria

Nov. 14, 2013 — There's no peak in sight ­- fitness peak, that is -- for the bacteria in Richard Lenski's Michigan State University lab.

Lenski, MSU Hannah Distinguished Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, has been running his evolutionary bacteria experiment for 25 years, generating more than 50,000 generations. In a paper published in the current issue of Science, Michael Wiser, lead author and MSU graduate student in Lenski's lab, compares it to hiking.

"When hiking, it's easy to start climbing toward what seems to be a peak, only to discover that the real peak is far off in the distance," Wiser said. "Now imagine you've been climbing for 25 years, and you're still nowhere near the peak."

Only the peaks aren't mountains. They are what biologists call fitness peaks -- when a population finds just the right set of mutations, so it can't get any better. Any new mutation that comes along will send things downhill.

The bacteria in Lenski's lab are still becoming more fit even after a quarter century, living in the same, simple environment.

Biologists have known that organisms keep evolving if the environment keeps changing, but they've previously thought that adaptation would eventually grind to a halt if the environment stayed constant for a long time.

Wiser pulled hundreds of samples from the deep freezer that contains a frozen fossil record -- bacteria all the way back to generation 0 in Lenski's 25-year experiment. And these fossils, unlike dinosaurs, are alive. So they can be competed against samples from different generations to measure the trajectory -- the path -- of the bacteria as they climbed for 50,000 generations toward the fitness peaks.

"There doesn't seem to be any end in sight," Lenski said. "We used to think the bacteria's fitness was leveling off, but now we see it's slowing down but not really leveling off."

Wiser found that the trajectories matched a type of mathematical function called a power law. Although the slope of the power-law function gets less and less steep over time, it never reaches a peak.

Noah Ribeck, co-author and MSU postdoctoral researcher, built a model using a few well-understood principles.

"It was surprising to me that a simple theory can describe the entirety of a long evolutionary trajectory that includes initially fast and furious adaptation that later slowed to a crawl," Ribeck said. "It's encouraging that despite all the complications inherent to biological systems, they are governed by general principles that can be described quantitatively."

When will it end?

"I call this the experiment that keeps on giving," Lenski said. "Even after 25 years, it's still generating new and exciting discoveries. From the models, we can predict how things will evolve -- how fit the bacteria will become -- if future generations of scientists continue the experiment long after I'm gone."

Lenski hopes that an endowment could be secured to keep the experiment going forever, he added.

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Dogs likely originated in Europe more than 18,000 years ago, biologists report

Nov. 14, 2013 — Wolves likely were domesticated by European hunter-gatherers more than 18,000 years ago and gradually evolved into dogs that became household pets, UCLA life scientists report.

"We found that instead of recent wolves being closest to domestic dogs, ancient European wolves were directly related to them," said Robert Wayne, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology in UCLA's College of Letters and Science and senior author of the research. "This brings the genetic record into agreement with the archaeological record. Europe is where the oldest dogs are found."

The UCLA researchers' genetic analysis is published Nov. 15 in the journal Science and featured on the journal's cover.

In related research last May, Wayne and his colleagues reported at the Biology of Genomes meeting in New York the results of their comparison of the complete nuclear genomes of three recent wolf breeds (from the Middle East, East Asia and Europe), two ancient dog breeds and the boxer dog breed.

"We analyzed those six genomes with cutting-edge approaches and found that none of those wolf populations seemed to be closest to domestic dogs," Wayne said. "We thought one of them would be, because they represent wolves from the three possible centers of dog domestication, but none was. All the wolves formed their own group, and all the dogs formed another group."

The UCLA biologists also hypothesized at that conference that a now-extinct population of wolves was more directly related to dogs.

For the current study in Science, the researchers studied 10 ancient "wolf-like" animals and eight "dog-like" animals, mostly from Europe. These animals were all more than 1,000 years old, most were thousands of years old, and two were more than 30,000 years old.

The biologists studied the mitochondrial DNA of the animals, which is abundant in ancient remains. (Mitochondria are tiny sub-cellular structures with their own small genome.) By comparing this ancient mitochondrial DNA with the modern mitochondrial genomes of 77 domestic dogs, 49 wolves and four coyotes, the researchers determined that the domestic dogs were genetically grouped with ancient wolves or dogs from Europe -- not with wolves found anywhere else in the world or even with modern European wolves. Dogs, they concluded, derived from ancient wolves that inhabited Europe and are now extinct.

Wayne said that that the domestication of predatory wolves likely occurred among ancient hunter-gatherer groups rather than as part of humans' development of sedentary, agricultural-based communities.

"The wolf is the first domesticated species and the only large carnivore humans ever domesticated," Wayne said. "This always seemed odd to me. Other wild species were domesticated in association with the development of agriculture and then needed to exist in close proximity to humans. This would be a difficult position for a large, aggressive predator. But if domestication occurred in association with hunter-gatherers, one can imagine wolves first taking advantage of the carcasses that humans left behind -- a natural role for any large carnivore -- and then over time moving more closely into the human niche through a co-evolutionary process."

The idea of wolves following hunter-gatherers also helps to explain the eventual genetic divergence that led to the appearance of dogs, he said. Wolves following the migratory patterns of these early human groups would have given up their territoriality and would have been less likely to reproduce with resident territorial wolves. Wayne noted that a group of modern wolves illustrates this process.

"We have an analog of this process today, in the only migratory population of wolves known existing in the tundra and boreal forest of North America," he said. "This population follows the barren-ground caribou during their thousand-kilometer migration. When these wolves return from the tundra to the boreal forest during the winter, they do not reproduce with resident wolves there that never migrate. We feel this is a model for domestication and the reproductive divergence of the earliest dogs from wild wolves.

"We know also that there were distinct wolf populations existing ten of thousands of years ago," Wayne added. "One such wolf, which we call the megafaunal wolf, preyed on large game such as horses, bison and perhaps very young mammoths. Isotope data show that they ate these species, and the dog may have been derived from a wolf similar to these ancient wolves in the late Pleistocene of Europe."

In research published in the journal nature in 2010, Wayne and colleagues reported that dogs seem to share more genetic similarity with living Middle Eastern gray wolves than with any other wolf population, which suggested a Middle East origin for modern dogs. The new genetic data have convinced him otherwise.

"When we previously found some similarity between Middle Eastern wolves and domestic dogs, that similarity, we are now able to show, likely was the result of interbreeding between dog and wolves during dog history. It does not necessarily suggest an origin in the Middle East," Wayne said. "This alternative hypothesis, in retrospect, is one that we should have considered more closely. As hunter-gatherers moved around the globe, their dogs trailing behind probably interbred with wolves."

Wayne considers the new genetic data "persuasive" but said they need to be confirmed with an analysis of genetic sequences from the nucleus of the cell (roughly 2 billion base pairs) -- a significantly larger sample than that found in mitochondrial DNA (approximately 20,000 base pairs). This is challenging because the nuclear DNA of ancient remains tends to become degraded.

While Wayne plans to pursue this follow-up research, he said he does not expect a nuclear genome analysis to change the central finding. However, he said, it will fill in more of the details.

"This is not the end-story in the debate about dog domestication, but I think it is a powerful argument opposing other hypotheses of origin," he said.

There is a scientific debate over when dogs were domesticated and whether it was linked with the development of agriculture fewer than 10,000 years ago, or whether it occurred much earlier. In the new Science research, Wayne and his colleagues estimate that dogs were domesticated between 18,000 and 32,000 years ago.

The research was federally funded by the National Science Foundation.

Co-authors on the Science paper include Olaf Thalmann, a former postdoctoral scholar in Wayne's laboratory who is currently the Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at Finland's University of Turku; Daniel Greenfield, a former technician in Wayne's laboratory; Francesc López-Giráldez, a former graduate student in Wayne's laboratory who is currently a postdoctoral scholar at Yale University; Adam Freedman, a former postdoctoral scholar in Wayne's laboratory; Rena Schweizer, a current UCLA graduate student in Wayne's laboratory; Klaus Koepfli, a former postdoctoral scholar in Wayne's laboratory; and Jennifer Leonard, who earned her doctorate from UCLA.

Approximately 80 percent of dog breeds are modern breeds that evolved in the last few hundred years, Wayne said. But some dog breeds have ancient histories that go back thousands of years.

Wolves have been in the Old World for hundreds of thousands of years. The oldest dogs from the archaeological record come from Europe and Western Russia. A dog from Belgium dates back approximately 36,000 years, and a group of dogs from Western Russia is approximately 15,000 years old, Wayne said.

Latest Technology

Street View floats into Venice

Venice was once described as “undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man,” and from these pictures it’s hard to disagree. You can now explore panoramic imagery of one of the most romantic spots in the world, captured with our Street View Trekker technology.

It was impossible for us to collect images of Venice with a Street View car or trike—blame the picturesque canals and narrow cobbled walkways—but our team of backpackers took to the streets to give Google Maps a truly Shakespearean backdrop. And not just the streets—we also loaded the Trekker onto a boat and floated by the famous gondolas to give you the best experience of Venice short of being there.

Our Trekker operator taking a well-earned rest while the gondolier does the hard work

The beautiful Piazza San Marco, where you can discover Doge's Palace, St. Marks' Cathedral, the bell tower, the Marciana National Library and the clocktower

We covered a lot of ground—about 265 miles on foot and 114 miles by boat—capturing not only iconic landmarks but several hidden gems, such as the Synagogue of the first Jewish Ghetto, the Devil’s Bridge in Torcello island, a mask to scare the same Devil off the church of Santa Maria Formosa and the place where the typographer Manutius created the Italics font. Unfortunately, Street View can’t serve you a cicchetto (local appetizer) in a classic bacaro (a typical Venetian bar), though we can show you how to get there.
The Devil’s Bridge in Torcello Island

Once you’ve explored the city streets of today, you can immerse yourself in the beauty of Venice’s past by diving deep in to the artworks of the Museo Correr, which has joined the Google Cultural Institute along with Museo del Vetro and Ca’ Pesaro - International Gallery of Modern Art.
Click on a pin under "Take a tour" to compare the modern streets with paintings of the same spots by artists such as Carpaccio and Cesare Vecellio

Or delve into historical maps of Venice, like this one showing the Frari Church, built in 1396


Finally, take a look behind the scenes showing how we captured our Street View imagery in Venice.

The Floating City is steeped in culture; it’s easy to see why it’s retained a unique fascination and romance for artists, filmmakers, musicians, playwrights and pilgrims through the centuries—and now, we hope, for Street View tourists too.

Posted by Daniele Rizzetto, Street View Operations Manager (and proud Venetian!)

Google, Latest Technology

A new look for the Gmail app on iPad

Posted by Carmen Wilkinson, Gmail Software Engineer

(Cross-posted on the Gmail blog.)

Tablets are great because the large screen not only gives you a more immersive experience but also extra room for serious multitasking. And with today’s update to the Gmail iOS app, you’ll be able to do even more with your iPad.

If you hold your iPad in landscape mode, you’ll immediately notice the new left hand navigation bar, which allows you to quickly switch between multiple accounts, or between inbox categories, with a single tap. To help you get through your email faster, you’ll also see a new message counter for each category.
For those preferring a more focused immersive experience, hold your iPad in portrait mode to get a full screen view of individual messages.
In addition to improvements to scrolling performance, there’ll also be extra room to compose your messages in full screen.
Lastly you’ll notice several iOS 7 visual updates on both iPad and iPhone. You can download the app right now from the App Store.


Latest Technology

BBM for Android and iPhone updates now available

Originally published on the Inside BlackBerry Help Blog A new update to BBM is rolling out for Android and iPhone users. In addition to several new features, bug fixes and performance improvements, we are also proud to deliver something you’ve been asking for: support for iPod and iPads! Here’s a quick overview of what’s new […]
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A million plus reasons why we love Twitter

It launched in 2006 and was nearly called Smssy, Throbber and Friendstalker. Now, the far more aptly named, Twitter has more than 200 million active users worldwide. It...
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Android tablet revenue temporarily inches ahead of iPad

Android pretty much rules smartphones in terms of market share, but Apple held a firm grasp on tablets. In the third quarter this year things changed though and Android tablets surpassed iPads in revenue for the first time ever.

According to an analyst from Morgan Stanley, Android-powered tablets raked in 46.2% of the revenue, while iPads took 45.6% home.

In terms of units, Android tablets grabbed two third of the market in Q3, up from 58.5% a year ago, driven by Samsung and Lenovo. Apple’s iPads accounted for 29.7% of the market, a sizable drop from 40.2% a year ago, according to IDC.

This lull will probably last only a little while though, since Apple had no new tablets to show in Q3, the new iPad Air and iPad mini 2 have only recently hit the shelves. IDC expects iPad shipments to bounce back, analysts from KGI expect Apple to move 23 million iPads in the next quarter.

Source | Via

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Solar in California and Arizona: More of a good thing

You’d think the thrill might wear off this whole renewable energy investing thing after a while. Nope—we’re still as into it as ever, which is why we’re so pleased to announce our 14th investment: We’re partnering with global investment firm KKR to invest in six utility-scale solar facilities in California and Arizona. Developed by leading solar developer Recurrent Energy, the projects have a combined capacity of 106MW and will generate enough electricity to power over 17,000 U.S. homes. Google will make an approximately $80 million investment into these facilities.

The 17.5 MWac/22 MWp Victor Phelan project (pictured), located in San Bernardino, Calif., is part of six Recurrent Energy developed projects acquired by Google and KKR. The six-project portfolio is expected to operational by early 2014 and will generate enough clean electricity to power more than 17,000 U.S. homes.


This investment is similar to one we made back in 2011, when we teamed up with KKR and invested $94 million in four solar facilities developed by Recurrent. Those facilities have since started generating electricity, and we’ve committed hundreds of millions more—more than $1 billion in total—to renewable energy projects around the world.

These investments are all part of our drive toward a clean energy future—where renewable energy is abundant, accessible and affordable. By continuing to invest in renewable energy projects, purchasing clean energy for our operations and working with our utility partners to create new options for ourselves and for other companies interest in buying renewable energy, we’re working hard to make that future a reality.

Posted by Kojo Ako-Asare, Head of Corporate Finance

Gaming Technology, Latest Technology

PlayStation 4 early adopters reporting bricked consoles

IGN is reporting that several publications and end users who received the next-generation PlayStation 4 console ahead of its launch in the US on Friday, via special contest or promotions, have received consoles that were either bricked when they arrived, or soon developed a fault that stopped them from displaying correctly.

In many cases, the issue was identified as a faulty HDMI jack, and Sony will replace the units under the standard  twelve-month warranty. The issue is not too worrying, but it does set a bad trend ahead of the launch, with the units in question likely being the first units in the full-fledged retail wave. Sony has reportedly been quite helpful to the major media houses that reported their consoles' displays were broken, replacing the units shortly.

However, few regular users who struck gold are apparently not being treated too well, as in some cases, Sony's replacement units would only arrive by launch day, negating the benefits of winning a contest that gave them early access to the PS4.  In another case, IGN reported Arogon (Reddit name), who also received a bricked console, followed up persistently with Sony's support service, and because of his non-central location in Maryland, was not helped as actively by the company, which said it would take 5-6 days for a replacement unit to arrive.

IGN does admit that early runs of console hardware do often experience minor issues, with the myriad interactions between "hardware, software and user behaviour" resulting in some use scenarios that were not adequately tested for, with only the gauntlet of actual full-scale public adoption serving to help the manufacturer remove all bugs.  

Early US adopters who are experiencing trouble are encouraged to contact Sony support at 1-800-345-SONY.