Friday, March 24, 2006


Tiny tunnels in Mars rock hint at life's traces

"A study of a meteorite that fell in Egypt nearly 95 years ago may offer clues in the search for possible life on Mars.

Researchers studying the meteorite that originated from Mars found a series of microscopic tunnels within the object that mimic the size, shape and distribution of tracks left on Earth rocks by the feeding frenzy of bacteria.

The discovery of the tiny burrows adds intrigue to the search for life beyond Earth. However, no DNA could be extracted from the meteorite, so it's not known if the tunnels are of biological origin. The scientists said the lack of DNA does not derail the prospect."

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Thursday, March 23, 2006


Ancient asexuals the boys are back in town

"The record-holders for the longest abstinence from sex may be about to lose their status, following a discovery on a Japanese island. Every specimen of darwinulid ostracod (a shrimp-like freshwater animal with a hinged shell) that has been examined over the past century has been a female, including fossil ones up to 208 million years old. That makes them the oldest multi-celled creatures to have survived without sex.

But now a team of scientists - Dr David Horne from Queen Mary, University of London, Dr Robin Smith from Lake Biwa Museum, and Dr Takahiro Kamiya from Kanazawa University, Japan - have been amazed to discover three specimens of a new species of darwinulid ostracod - which are males."

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Oceans are a major gene swap-meet for plankton

"New evidence from open sea experiments shows there's a constant shuffling of genetic endowments going on among tiny plankton, and the 'coinage' they use seems to be a flood of viruses, MIT scientists report.

The research, led by MIT Professor Sally W. Chisholm, is uncovering a challenging new facet of evolution, helping scientists see how photosynthesizing microbes manage to exploit changing conditions such as altered light, temperature and nutrients.

The work will be reported in two articles in the March 24 issue of Science.

As a result of the new findings, 'we are beginning to get a picture of gene diversity and gene flow in the most abundant photosynthetic cell on the planet, the Prochlorococcus group of planktonic microbes,' said Chisholm, the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies. "

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Methane-making microbes appeared early on Earth

"Climate-changing microbes that produced methane may have appeared on Earth 700 million years earlier than previously thought - perhaps helping the world to keep warm while life took hold.

These 'methanogens' could have helped regulate the early Earth's climate by providing greenhouse gases, helping to prevent freezing conditions that would have stifled the fragile development of life on Earth."

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Sinister secret of snail's escape

"Snails with left-handed shells can have a big advantage in life - predators may find it impossible to eat them.

That is the conclusion of research just published in the Royal Society's journal Biology Letters.

Scientists from the US examined whelks and cone shells preyed on by the crab Calappa flammea.

They found the crab is unable to open left-handed shells because it only has a tool for peeling them on its right claw; so it discards them.

'The crabs have a special tool on their claw, a tooth that's used like a can-opener,' said Gregory Dietl from Yale University.

'So, if you imagine trying to use a right-handed can-opener with your left hand - it's very hard to do,' he told the BBC News website."

[I wonder if this has anything to do with antisymmetry? - no time to check at the moment!]

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Newly Discovered Dinosaur Had Giant Neck, Air-Filled Bones

"Scientists say they have found the fossil of a new species of ungainly dinosaur that had special air sacs in some of its bones to help support its massively long neck.

Living more than 100 million years ago in what is now Mongolia (map), the dinosaur belonged to a group of gentle, plant-munching giants called sauropods, the biggest animals ever to have walked the Earth.

Experts say what's most impressive about the dinosaur isn't its huge bulk but its 24-foot-long (7.5-meter-long) neck."

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Monday, March 20, 2006


They seek him here, they seek him there...

Bigfoot:"...Once in a while, some fantastic discovery reminds us of how much we never knew. It happened in 1938 with the discovery of the 'living fossil' coelacanth, believed extinct for 65 million years, and in 1976 with not just a new species but a whole new family of deep-sea sharks. (And they were five-metre-long monsters dubbed 'Megamouths' — how on Earth had they remained completely unknown to science until the mid-1970s?)

About the same time..."

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Sunday, March 19, 2006


Scientific disciplines come together for genetic research

"What makes us human among the other creatures of the world? What makes us individuals within the human race?

The huge breakthroughs in biology in the past decade - including the decoding of the human genome in 2003 - have given us new pathways to find answers to those questions.

But the more we learn, the more complicated the answers, - and the questions - become.

'It's revolutionizing society in every way,' said Jennifer Frederick, an assistant professor of chemistry at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. 'It's leading us to the intersection of science, philosophy, theology and ethics.'

Frederick, who spoke recently at WestConn's Science at Night series, has a purely scientific area of research she's concentrating on - she's studying the chemical pathways in the body that lead to the sensation of pain.

But she's also a humanist and a believer in the value of a liberal arts education.

Together with her husband Stephen Healey, a professor of world religions at the University of Bridgeport, she hopes to form a group of like-minded colleagues to discuss how the disciplines of science, philosophy and theology can meet and where they diverge."

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We'll never resolve culture wars as long as extremists define debate

"THE PROBLEM with the culture wars is that its generals - even its first lieutenants - are so completely outside the mainstream.

I was reminded of this last week, when the State Board of Education voted to stick with its side in the culture clash with the Education Oversight Committee over the teaching of evolution in 10th-grade biology classes.

For those of you who have been ignoring this issue (as I would have been if it weren't my job to keep up with public education in South Carolina), the EOC wants to teach students to "critically analyze" Darwin. The Board of Education says that's code for introducing intelligent design or even creationism into the high school curriculum." [Evolution]

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