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Survival of the cooperative

Bacteria defy Darwin by sacrificing for community


Survival of the cooperative

Scientists at the University of Copenhagen discovered that bacteria survive by sacrificing to benefit the entire community. The finding contradicts Darwinian evolution’s dog-eat-dog view of the world, in which individuals compete against each other and only the strongest survive to pass on their DNA to the next generation.

In the study, published in The ISME Journal, researchers found that bacteria make space for one another and unite against external threats such as antibiotics to ensure the welfare of the community.

“In the classic Darwinian mindset, competition is the name of the game,” said Søren Johannes Sørensen, one of the researchers. “The best-suited survive and outcompete those less well-suited. However, when it comes to microorganisms like bacteria, our findings reveal the most cooperative ones survive.”

The scientists studied bacteria from a small corn husk where the microorganisms had to fight for space. Instead of the strongest pushing out the others, the bacteria created space for the weakest to grow stronger and bigger. They also distributed their labor by dividing tasks and helping their neighbors.

The researchers further observed that the bacteria seemed to bring out the best in each other. When they acted as a community, the microbes suddenly exhibited completely new attributes that remained dormant when they were alone.

Jonathan Wells, a molecular biologist and senior fellow at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, said Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution hinges on competition and survival, but “from an intelligent design perspective we aren’t limited to that.”

The site of where archaeologists found an ancient road in Jerusalem

The site of where archaeologists found an ancient road in Jerusalem Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University

A Roman road

Archaeologists from Tel Aviv University in Israel recently uncovered a 2,000-year-old street in Jerusalem commissioned by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea who sentenced Jesus to death. The scientists unearthed more than 100 coins dated between A.D. 17 and 31 trapped beneath the paving stones, meaning Jesus almost certainly walked the street during His earthly ministry.

The 26-foot-wide and one-third-mile-long street ascends from the Pool of Siloam, where Jesus cured a blind man, to the Temple Mount. Like many Roman roads, the street was paved with large stone slabs. The researchers, whose study appeared in the Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University on Monday, estimated the builders used about 10,000 tons of quarried limestone rock. The finely carved stones and ornate furnishings, like a podium with steps, displayed a high level of skill.

The street connects two of Jerusalem’s most important spots, the Siloam Pool and the Temple. “If this was a simple walkway connecting point A to point B, there would be no need to build such a grand street,” Joe Uziel and Moran Hagbi, archaeologists at the Israel Antiquities Authority and co-authors of the study, said in a statement.

The archaeologists found the street’s paving stones hidden beneath layers of rubble, likely left when the Romans captured and destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70. —J.B.

The site of where archaeologists found an ancient road in Jerusalem

The site of where archaeologists found an ancient road in Jerusalem Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University

Not counting sheep

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, just identified a genetic mutation that causes people to need less sleep.

In the study, published Oct. 16 in Science Translational Medicine, scientists studied a father and son who carry the mutation and feel fully rested after four to six hours of sleep. The duo does not suffer the health consequences or short-term memory impairment often associated with decreased sleep. Like most people with the mutation, they also tend to be more active, optimistic, and better at multitasking, researchers Ying-Hui Fu told Scientific American.

When the researchers modified mice to have the mutation, the mice performed well on memory tests and showed no ill effects despite lack of sleep.

The discovery likely will not lead to pharmaceutical breakthroughs to treat sleep deprivation. Jamie Zeitzer, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, told Scientific American such a drug could pose negative social consequences such as employers pressuring employees to take it so they could work longer. —J.B.

Fungal connection

New York University researchers just discovered that some types of fungi can travel from the gut to the pancreas, where they trigger a deadly form of cancer that usually claims the lives of its victims within two years.

In the study, published online in Nature on Oct. 2, the researchers also found that giving a potent anti-fungal drug to mice with the cancer decreased the weight of their tumors by 20 to 40 percent within 30 weeks. They hope their findings can help identify anti-fungal medications that can slow pancreatic tumor growth in humans. —J.B.

Julie Borg

Julie is a WORLD contributor who covers science and intelligent design. A clinical psychologist and a World Journalism Institute graduate, Julie resides in Dayton, Ohio.

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