Losing some genes may explain how vampire bats can live on blood


adaptation: (in biology) The development of new programs, processes, policies and structures to make communities and their inhabitants better able to head off — or at least withstand — the dangerous impacts of a warming climate. Those impacts may include drought, flooding, wildfires, extreme heat and extreme storms.

bat: A type of winged mammal comprising more than 1,100 separate species — or one in every four known species of mammal. (in sports) The usually wooden piece of athletic equipment that a player uses to forcefully swat at a ball. (v.) Or the act of swinging a machine-tooled stick or flat bat with hopes of hitting a ball.

behavior: The way something, often a person or other organism, acts towards others, or conducts itself.

birds: Warm-blooded animals with wings that first showed up during the time of the dinosaurs. Birds are jacketed in feathers and produce young from the eggs they deposit in some sort of nest. Most birds fly, but throughout history there have been the occasional species that don’t.

calorie: The amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. It is typically used as a measurement of the energy contained in some defined amount of food. The exception: when referring to the energy in food, the convention is to call a kilocalorie, or 1,000 of these calories, a “calorie.” Here, a food calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise 1 kilogram of water 1 degree C.

cell: (in biology) The smallest structural and functional unit of an organism. Typically too small to see with the unaided eye, it consists of a watery fluid surrounded by a membrane or wall. Depending on their size, animals are made of anywhere from thousands to trillions of cells.

compound: (often used as a synonym for chemical) A compound is a substance formed when two or more chemical elements unite (bond) in fixed proportions. For example, water is a compound made of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom. Its chemical symbol is H2O.

diet: (n.) The foods and liquids ingested by an animal to provide the nutrition it needs to grow and maintain health. Sometimes this is a specific food-intake plan. (v.) To adopt a specific food-intake plan.

DNA: (short for deoxyribonucleic acid) A long, double-stranded and spiral-shaped molecule inside most living cells that carries genetic instructions. It is built on a backbone of phosphorus, oxygen, and carbon atoms. In all living things, from plants and animals to microbes, these instructions tell cells which molecules to make.

evolve: (adj. evolutionary) To change gradually over generations, or a long period of time. In living organisms, such an evolution usually involves random changes to genes that will then be passed along to an individual’s offspring. These can lead to new traits, such as altered coloration, new susceptibility to disease or protection from it, or different shaped features (such as legs, antennae, toes or internal organs). Nonliving things may also be described as evolving if they change over time. For instance, the miniaturization of computers is sometimes described as these devices evolving to smaller, more complex devices.

excrete: To remove waste products from the body, such as in the urine.

family: A taxonomic group consisting of at least one genus of organisms.

gene: (adj. genetic) A segment of DNA that codes, or holds instructions, for a cell’s production of a protein. Offspring inherit genes from their parents. Genes influence how an organism looks and behaves.

genome: The complete set of genes or genetic material in a cell or an organism. The study of this genetic inheritance housed within cells is known as genomics.

gut: An informal term for the gastrointestinal tract, especially the intestines.

hormone: (in zoology and medicine) A chemical produced in a gland and then carried in the bloodstream to another part of the body. Hormones control many important body activities, such as growth. Hormones act by triggering or regulating chemical reactions in the body. (in botany) A chemical that serves as a signaling compound that tells cells of a plant when and how to develop, or when to grow old and die.

insulin: A hormone produced in the pancreas (an organ that is part of the digestive system) that helps the body use glucose as fuel.

iron: A metallic element that is common within minerals in Earth’s crust and in its hot core. This metal also is found in cosmic dust and in many meteorites.

mammal: A warm-blooded animal distinguished by the possession of hair or fur, the secretion of milk by females for feeding their young, and (typically) the bearing of live young.

mutation: (v. mutate) Some change that occurs to a gene in an organism’s DNA. Some mutations occur naturally. Others can be triggered by outside factors, such as pollution, radiation, medicines or something in the diet. A gene with this change is referred to as a mutant.

receptor: (in biology) A molecule in cells that serves as a docking station for another molecule. That second molecule can turn on some special activity by the cell.

social: (adj.) Relating to gatherings of people; a term for animals (or people) that prefer to exist in groups. (noun) A gathering of people, for instance those who belong to a club or other organization, for the purpose of enjoying each other’s company.

species: A group of similar organisms capable of producing offspring that can survive and reproduce.

strategy: A thoughtful and clever plan for achieving some difficult or challenging goal.

taste: One of the basic properties the body uses to sense its environment, especially foods, using receptors (taste buds) on the tongue (and some other organs).

toxic: Poisonous or able to harm or kill cells, tissues or whole organisms. The measure of risk posed by such a poison is its toxicity.

trait: A characteristic feature of something. (in genetics) A quality or characteristic that can be inherited.

unique: Something that is unlike anything else; the only one of its kind.


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