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From the College of Natural Sciences
Computer Scientists Find Mass Extinctions Can Accelerate Evolution

Computer Scientists Find Mass Extinctions Can Accelerate Evolution

At the start of the simulation, a biped robot controlled by a computationally evolved brain stands upright on a 16 meter by 16 meter surface. The simulation proceeds until the robot falls or until 15 seconds have elapsed. Image credit: Joel Lehman.

A computer science team at The University of Texas at Austin has found that robots evolve more quickly and efficiently after a virtual mass extinction modeled after real-life disasters such as the one that killed off the dinosaurs. Beyond its implications for artificial intelligence, the research supports the idea that mass extinctions actually speed up evolution by unleashing new creativity in adaptations.

How Longhorns Got Their Long Horns

How Longhorns Got Their Long Horns

Evolutionary biologist David Hillis, a professor in the Department of Integrative Biology, is featured in an in-depth Q-and-A piece in the New York Times

Corals Are Already Adapting to Global Warming, Scientists Say

Corals Are Already Adapting to Global Warming, Scientists Say

Some coral populations already have genetic variants necessary to tolerate warm ocean waters, and humans can help to spread these genes, a team of scientists from The University of Texas at Austin, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and Oregon State University has found.

Researchers Discover First Sensor of Earth’s Magnetic Field in an Animal

Researchers Discover First Sensor of Earth’s Magnetic Field in an Animal

A team of scientists and engineers at The University of Texas at Austin has identified the first sensor of the Earth’s magnetic field in an animal, finding in the brain of a tiny worm a big clue to a long-held mystery about how animals’ internal compasses work.

Partly Human Yeast Show A Common Ancestor’s Lasting Legacy

Partly Human Yeast Show A Common Ancestor’s Lasting Legacy

Humanized Yeast illustrationDespite a billion years of evolution separating humans from the baker’s yeast in their refrigerators, hundreds of genes from an ancestor that the two species have in common live on nearly unchanged in them both, say biologists at The University of Texas at Austin. The team created thriving strains of genetically engineered yeast using human genes and found that certain groups of genes are surprisingly stable over evolutionary time.

Supercomputing Helps Deepen Understanding of Life

Supercomputing Helps Deepen Understanding of Life

Making sense out of unprecedented quantities of digital information is the focus of today's Big Data in Biology Symposium at The University of Texas.

Amphibians Join the Genomic Revolution

Amphibians Join the Genomic Revolution

The dramatic drop in cost and time needed to sequence the genomes of animals over the past decade has revolutionized the study of evolutionary relationships. But for scientists who study amphibians, it feels like the genomics revolution has passed them by. More than 100 complete vertebrate genomes have been sequenced and released—including about 40 mammals, 13 fish, 9 birds and 9 reptiles. But amphibians? Just one.

Supercomputing the Evolution of a Model Flower

Supercomputing the Evolution of a Model Flower

Following is an except from an article that originally appeared on the website of the Texas Advanced Computing Center on January 28, 2015:

Always and Forever: A Microscopic Love Story

Always and Forever: A Microscopic Love Story

In the world of living things, surely one of the oddest relationships is the one between certain insects and the bacteria they can't seem to live without. Such bacteria, called obligate symbionts live inside the host's cells. They're distinct organisms -- they have their own DNA separate from that of the host. And yet, if you try to remove the bacteria, the host dies. And vice versa.

Cyanobacterium Found in UT Algae Collection Holds Biotech Promise

Cyanobacterium Found in UT Algae Collection Holds Biotech Promise

A fast-growing bacterial strain found on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin in the 1950s might ultimately prove useful for carbon sequestration, biofuel production, biosynthesis of valuable chemicals and the search for novel pharmaceuticals, scientists announced in newly published paper.