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National Science Foundation funds research addressing enduring questions of life
Date:6/6/2008

Four new studies addressing basic questions about how life originated and has evolved will be supported by the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Environmental Biology (DEB). Ranging from nearly $530,000 to just over $1.3 million, NSF's awards for these studies will help resolve long-standing controversies about evolution and about fundamental biological responses to environmental changes, including climate change.

These four NSF-funded studies are "particularly exciting because they incorporate innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to advance our understanding of life in transition, which is the story of life on earth," says Robert Sterner, DEB director. In addition, "these studies address timely, important questions about how humans got here and have impacted our planet," says Sterner. Therefore, NSF expects these studies to generate broad public interest.

These four studies are as follows:

  1. How toothless giants feed: A team led by Annalisa Berta of San Diego State University will study the origins and evolution of the unique feeding method that supports some of the world's biggest eaters: baleen whales. Generally larger than toothed whales, toothless baleen whales include the blue whale, which is believed to be the largest animal that ever existed on Earth.

    As a filter feeder, each baleen whale strains sea water for plankton and other small creatures through its baleen--a comb-like structure that hangs from its upper jaw. By integrating anatomical studies of fossils and skeletons with genetic studies of baleen whales, the research team will help explain the molecular, structural and genetic changes involved in the evolution of the baleen whale's feeding method. In addition to improving our understanding of baleen whales, this research is expected to yield important insights about how species diverge from one another.

    (In addition to receiving support from DEB, this study is also receiv
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Contact: Lily Whiteman
lwhitema@nsf.gov
703-292-8310
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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