Science Questions from 10 year olds part 4 #IASUK

They keep coming

Question: Why does evolution occur?

When DNA copies itself it never does it perfectly, there are always new mutations being added to the population. So in each new generation there are a ton of new mutations all fighting for a place in the population, almost all of these mutations are what we call “neutral”, which means they don’t do anything. But occasionally, a mutation that is helpful enters the population and the individual that has it has a leg up on everyone else and will be more likely to live and have babies, who in turn will be better at surviving and having babies, etc.

So take for example humans. We all come from Eastern Africa (near Ethiopia) about 70,000 years ago and each baby born since then has added between 75-150 new mutations into the human population. Nearly all of these are neutral and most of them have disappeared, but occasionally something useful appears like the ability to drink milk as an adult. Now this is only useful if you have domestic animals to get milk from and other food sources are scare for part of the year.

Did you know it is a mutation that some adults can drink milk without farting? There is a sugar in milk called Lactose, babies have a special enzyme in their stomach that breaks lactose in half which allows it to be digested. All mammals are like this, babies drink their mother’s milk when they are born, however since mammals stop drinking milk after being babies the body shuts off the enzyme and the mammal can no longer digest lactose. This causes the lactose to be passed into the rest of the digestive track (the intestines) where bacteria eat the lactose and give off gas as a response giving the adult smelly farts.

But in Europe, one person 15,000 years ago or so mutated so that they continued to produce the enzyme as an adult and could digest lactose. This gave them an additional source of food during the winter which helped them to survive the cold winters of Europe before there were Tescos to buy food at. So from this one person now 95% of Northern and Western Europe all have this mutation. Pretty crazy, right? Everyone in Europe that can drink milk as an adult is descended from this one person!

Going into the future other features that help humans will continue to spread through the population just like the ability to drink milk did. I personally think that most of our future evolution will revolve around fighting diseases.

Question: is it true that the TREX evolved into the chicken

Unfortunately this isn’t true, but what is true is that the chicken is believed to be the closest living relative to the T-Rex! The cousins of the T-Rex are those that evolved into birds and then became chickens, but it is because the ancestors of the chickens were so closely related to the T-Rex that people believe this.

Question: why did you join this project, have you met any new people, what project are you planning to do next and when do you think natural resources will run out such as wood?

I joined this project because I love talking about what I do and I want to show everyone how awesome it is. When I was your age I had no idea about any of this stuff so I didn’t have any clue as to how awesome science is. I want to bring to you and the other students my love of science so that you can think about becoming a scientist or even if you don’t want to do that you will understand how much fun science can be.

I have met a few adults and many students so far! It has been great fun, I even got involved in another project exploring how science and religion can work together to help describe and understand the universe and reality. I am really enjoying that as well.

My next project for talking to students or for my work? My next project for talking to students is part of that project I just mentioned, I will be putting together a website to discuss the scientific history of the universe and evolution but also talking about religion at the same time. I want to provide a website that kids can go to when they have questions about what something means in the bigger sense than just here is science and here is religion and never the two shall meet.

My next work project is a long way away but once I am done working with humans I am going to look at the evolutionary past of Chimpanzees and Mice.

If we run out of natural resources it will be because we have wasted them and our ability to adapt to new situations. Wood can be farmed and if taken care of correctly it can even help to combat climate change. With other resources like gas, coal, and oil. These are finite, but we need to do everything we can now to stop using them and switch to renewable sources of energy. If instead we harness the wind, the waves, and the sun for our power then we will never run out of power. The sun gives us so much energy we could power the world just from a large enough solar array in Africa.

Question: is a komodo dragon a evolved form of a lizard dinosaur

Komodo Dragons are really neat aren’t they? I believe they are the largest lizard in the world and they have a type of poison bite!

So where did they come from? Komodo Dragons are a type of lizard, which is distinct from dinosaurs (I know that sucks) but they do share a common ancestor way back in the past millions and millions of years ago. So the Komodo Dragon is more closely related to the dinosaurs than we are.

If you want to see the last survivors of the dinosaurs you need to look no further than modern birds. Birds descend from a particular type of dinosaur and I always love thinking about that when I am eating chicken nuggets. Chicken nuggets are dinosaur nuggets.

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