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Researchers Show Evolutionary Theory Adds Up

From bugs to trilobite to you and me - and all from a world that got taken over by bugs...
Calgary - Jan 15, 2004
All living plants and animals are likely derived from two primitive species of bacteria, a mathematics professor at the University of Alberta has shown. Dr. Peter Antonelli and a former post-doctoral student of his, Dr. Solange Rutz, used an original mathematical modeling system and software program to evaluate and compare the two main theories of biological evolution.

One theory, put forward by Dr. Lynn Margulis of the University of Massachusetts, proposes that a "mother" bacteria (Bdellavibrio) and a "father" bacteria (Thermoplasma acidophilum) "exchanged energy" in a stable, dependable, and consistent way about 3.2 billion years ago to form all subsequent multicellular organisms, Antonelli explained.

Another theory, put forward by Dr. Carl Woese of the University of Illinois, proposes multicellular organisms developed from many different bacteria interacting in many different ways 3.2 billion years ago.

Antonelli and Rutz's research showed that Woese's theory does not account for stability in the chemical exchange processes of many bacteria interacting, whereas Margulis's theory holds up under the scrutiny of Antonelli's modeling system. The study is published in the latest edition of Nonlinear Analysis: Real World Applications.

"We showed that the chemical production necessary to support Woese's theory is not dependable and not conducive to the formation of multicellular organisms, but Margulis's theory proves to be reliable," Antonelli said.

Antonelli decided to test the two theories after reading an article on the subject in the New York Times about three years ago. "I try to solve scientific problems with mathematics, and when I read this article, I thought, 'Hey, this is a problem I can solve.'"

Antonelli has also solved other problems with the 'Volterra-Hamilton' mathematical model that he developed. He has solved the mystery of succession in the crown of thorns population of the Great Barrier Reef. He is now working to define the succession of the Amazon Rain Forest to its current climax state. He is also seeking a unified theory of ecological evolution, and he feels he can achieve this in the not too distant future.

"I haven't always been trying to develop a unified theory, but as we have been putting pieces together, study by study, I can see now that's it's possible," said Antonelli, who has mentored more than 35 post-doctoral students and sits as an editor for eight journals.

Antonelli uses differential equations to explain social interactions and biological behaviours, and he laments that more biologists aren't attuned to this type of research.

"What we do is new and not a lot of people understand it yet," he said. "I've published in biology journals before, but most biologists don't read these articles because of the mathematics involved. We've got to convince [biologists] that it's worth the effort to learn the mathematics."

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Astrobiologist Helps NASA Search For Life On Other Planets
Tucson - Jan 12, 2004
One of the tough parts about finding life on other planets is knowing where to look. A University of Arizona researcher has made a list of 17,000 stars that might be orbited by habitable planets. Starting in 2015, NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) will look at the top 30 stars from her list.



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