Saturday, August 19, 2006


Has Schizophrenia Evolved Into Less Serious Illness?

Emil Kraepelin and forebears described a very high degree of phenotypic diversity in schizophrenia patients, with reproductive capacity varying inversely with phenotypic severity.

Is the schizophrenia typically seen by clinicians today milder than the disease described by Emil Kraepelin in the 19th century or even that commonly seen by clinicians in the middle of the 20th?

And might natural selection be at work, progressively thinning the population of the most sorely affected patients while allowing a less-severe form of disease to survive into our day?

That's the intriguing idea floated by Thomas McGlashan, M.D., in an editorial in the July Schizophrenia Bulletin titled "At Issue: Is Natural Selection Rendering Schizophrenia Less Severe?" (Extract).

In an interview with Psychiatric News, McGlashan acknowledged that the notion hardly occurs to clinicians busy treating a disease no one would describe as mild. And credible research comparing the disease as it presented 100 years ago with today's malady is nonexistent.

But McGlashan suggests it may be reasonable for contemporary researchers and clinicians to look up, so to speak, from their work and ponder why it is that "recovery" is advanced as an expectable goal for many patients today, when 60 years ago such a notion would never have been considered. [Evolution]

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Russian space general searches for life on Mars

Mars Moon Phobos (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)

In an anonymous compound next to a suburban Moscow shopping centre a retired Russian army general is planning his next galactic conquest.

Georgy Polishchuk, head of the Lavochkin Association, is preparing an unmanned mission to a moon of Mars (Phobos) that will search for signs of life on the red planet and try to unlock the universe's secrets.

"We have to find life and whether it can be sustained," Polishchuk said, his eyes glinting as his pen drew out the planned route during an interview this month at the installation.

The theory that there may be life on Mars, bolstered by signs that there has been or still is water on the planet, has fascinated scientists and space enthusiasts around the world for more than a century.

The three-year mission is the cornerstone of Russia's bid to reclaim a leading role in robotic planetary exploration after the long lull that followed the glory days of Soviet space exploration.


More info on the Lavochkin Association:

The Lavochkin Association is one of the leading Russian enterprises in the development and practical use of unmanned means of exploration of celestial bodies and space. Spacecraft developed by the Lavochkin Association are proven pioneers in their field. Lavochkin spacecraft were the first to execute soft landings on the Moon, Mars and Venus and the first to conduct automated lunar soil sampling and sample delivery to Earth.

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Show links Darwin, Hitler ideologies: Holocaust was fallout of evolution theory, says new production

Darwin's Deadly Legacy Hitler (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)

Charles Darwin should share with Hitler the blame for the 11 million or more lives lost in the Holocaust, a new television special explains. And, the program says, the more than 45 million American lives lost to abortion also can be blamed on that famous founder of evolutionary theory.

"This show basically is about the social effects of Darwinism, and shows this idea, which is scientifically bankrupt, has probably been responsible for more bloodshed than anything else in the history of humanity," Jerry Newcomb, one of two co-producers, told WorldNetDaily.

Author and Christian broadcaster D. James Kennedy said the new "Darwin's Deadly Legacy," is a ground-breaking inquiry into Darwin's "chilling" social impact, and it will air nationwide on Aug. 26-27 on "The Coral Ridge Hour" - more info here. [evolution, intelligent design, ministries]

A 5 minute (approx) preview of the program is also available: DSL | ISDN | MODEM

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New Source of Replacement Brain Cells Found

brain neural progenitor cells (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)

Scientists have found that a common type of human brain cell can transform into other cell types and reproduce indefinitely - tricks once thought exclusive to stem cells.

The mature human brain cells were extracted from epilepsy patients and coaxed into other types of brain cells in a lab. The human cells also transformed into different types of brain tissue when transplanted into the brains of mice.

The cells (shown above) were maintained for nearly a year without showing signs of aging or of mutations associated with cancer cells. The researchers predict that one cell could give rise to 10 quadrillion brain cells - enough to replace every cell in about 50 million adult brains.

'This is a completely new source of human brain cells that can potentially be used to fight Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, stroke and a host of other brain disorders,' said study leader Dennis Steindler of the McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Florida.

The study is detailed in an online edition of the journal Development. The article is open access:

"Derivation and large-scale expansion of multipotent astroglial neural progenitors from adult human brain"

Abstract | Full Text (pdf) [neural, progenitor]

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Friday, August 18, 2006


Why piglets shudder to keep warm

Pigs Uppsala Brown Fat Cold (Evolution Research)

Researchers at Uppsala University, Sweden, have uncovered a genetic reason why newborn piglets are less tolerant to cold than other newborn mammals. It turns out that the gene that codes for the protein UCP1 was inactivated some 20 million years ago in the evolutionary line that pigs belong to. These findings, available here, are presented in the latest issue of the scientific journal PloS Genetics.

Brown fat plays an important role in newborn mammals, including our own children, since this tissue helps the newborn to maintain its body temperature by burning fat, which converts into heat. The protein UCP1 (Uncoupling Protein 1) has a key role in this energy conversion, which takes place in the cell mitochondria.

Piglets are sensitive to cold and shudder in order to maintain their body heat. No brown fat or UCP1 protein has previously been found in domesticated pigs. In a new study, Frida Berg and her colleagues have been able to show that the UCP1 gene was shut down about 20 million years ago in an ancestor of the wild boar. [evolution]

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Ice-age tusk surfaces in clay of fossil-rich Saltville Valley

Ice-Age Mastodon (Evolution Research)

Saltville - What's grayish-brown, about 2 feet long, and recently discovered in the saltwater well fields here?

It's not a pile of salt or mud, although there's plenty of that. It's a tusk from a mammoth or mastodon - no one is sure which and it's the latest in a long series of ice-age fossil finds in this small Southwest Virginia town.

'They were thrilled when they found this tusk,' said Helen Barbrow, president of the Saltville Foundation. 'We don't have a tusk like that.'

The foundation oversees operation of the Museum of the Middle Appalachians, which sponsored this summer's dig in late July and early August.

A volunteer from a local archaeological club uncovered the tusk.

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Why doesn't America believe in evolution?

Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals: true or false? This simple question is splitting America apart, with a growing proportion thinking that we did not descend from an ancestral ape. A survey of 32 European countries, the US and Japan has revealed that only Turkey is less willing than the US to accept evolution as fact.

Religious fundamentalism, bitter partisan politics and poor science education have all contributed to this denial of evolution in the US, says Jon Miller of Michigan State University in East Lansing, who conducted the survey with his colleagues. 'The US is the only country in which [the teaching of evolution] has been politicised,' he says. 'Republicans have clearly adopted this as one of their wedge issues. In most of the world, this is a non-issue.'

Miller's report makes for grim reading for adherents of evolutionary theory. [intelligent design]


Millers study "Public Acceptance of Evolution": Summary

There is an earlier report (from a week ago) here.

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Biologists Uncover Mechanisms That Shape Cells for Better Or Worse

Fruit-Fly Drosophila Egg Cell Polarity (Evolution Research)

In a landmark study, biologists at Florida State University have uncovered a specific genetic and molecular mechanism that causes cell polarity -- the asymmetric shape or composition critical to a cell's proper functioning. Their findings in fruit fly eggs may help to clarify how muscular dystrophy and some cancers develop in humans.

That's because many of the genes involved in the cell-to-cell communication that triggers the development of cell polarity in Drosophila oocytes (unfertilized fruit fly eggs) also are known players in the pathogenesis of those diseases.

The research performed by FSU Assistant Professor Wu-Min Deng and doctoral student John S. Poulton in the department of biological science could foster a better overall understanding of polarity and how it develops - and why it doesn't, sometimes with dire consequences -- in other types of cells and organisms.

Results from the FSU study are described in the August 14 2006 online edition of the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) in the paper "Dystroglycan down-regulation links EGF receptor signaling and anterior-posterior polarity formation in the Drosophila oocyte" (Abstract). [Cancer]

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Scientist says dolphins are dimwits

Dolphin Brain Intelligence (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)Johannesburg, South Africa - Dolphins may have big brains, but a South African-based scientist says lab rats and even goldfish can outwit them.

Paul Manger of Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand says the super-sized brains of dolphins, whales and porpoises are a function of being warm-blooded in a cold water environment and not a sign of intelligence.

'We equate our big brain with intelligence. Over the years we have looked at these kinds of things and said the dolphins must be intelligent,' he said.

"The real flaw in this logic is that it suggests all brains are built the same ... When you look at the structure of the dolphin brain you see it is not built for complex information processing," he told Reuters in an interview.

A neuroethologist who looks at brain evolution, Manger's views are sure to cause a stir among a public which has long associated dolphins with intelligence, emotion and other humanlike qualities.

The above news release is based on "An examination of cetacean brain structure with a novel hypothesis correlating thermogenesis to the evolution of a big brain" (Abstract).

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Upcoming 'Epigenetics: DNA Methylation in Cancer' Webcast's next InFocus Webcast, "Epigenetics: DNA Methylation in Cancer" is scheduled for Monday, August 21 at 11am PDT (also featured on's current front page). Free to all registered users.

DNA methylation represents an epigenetic means of inheritance without associated DNA sequence alterations. Though the function of DNA methylation is still not completely understood, roles have been proposed for control of gene expression, chromosomal integrity, and recombinational events. DNA methylation is particularly important in CpG islands within promotor regions as methylation is associated with transcriptional repression of the associated gene. Though DNA methylation patterns change during embryogenesis and development, they are thought to be relatively stable in the adult.

Aberrant CpG island methylation has been associated with changes observed in aging and neoplastic cells. A growing list of genes, including known tumor-suppressor genes, have been shown to have aberrant CpG island methylation in cancer. This 1 hour webcast will address the growing evidence for a pivitoal role of DNA methylation in oncogenesis as well as the methods being employed in this field of research.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006


Criticism of Evolution Can't Be Silenced

Human Events Online: The liberal press is reporting that the seesaw battle for control of the Kansas Board of Education just teetered back to pro-evolutionists for the second time in five years. But to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of the movement to allow criticism of evolution are grossly exaggerated.

In its zeal to portray evolution critics in Kansas as dumb, rural fundamentalists, a New York Times Page 1 story misquoted Steve Abrams (the school board president who had steered Kansas toward allowing criticism of evolution) on a basic principle of science. The newspaper had to correct its error.

The issue in the Kansas controversy was not intelligent design and certainly not creationism...

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Research Reveals Inner Workings of Immune System 'Thermostat'

Providence, Rhode Island - When bacteria, viruses or parasites attack, immune system cells unleash the soldiers. These "hot" protein compounds kill invaders - but also trigger inflammation, which, if unchecked, can destroy tissue, induce shock and kill the host. So immune system cells let loose another protein compound to cool down the immune response.

Precisely how this immune system "thermostat" operates is unclear. The leading hypothesis is that these compounds - which act as furnace and air conditioner - battle it out over control of the system's inflammatory response.

But new research, led by George Yap of Brown University, shows that these cytokines don’t operate independently and in opposition. They operate in harmony and are controlled by the same master. In work published in the Journal of Immunology, Yap and his team show that the "cool" anti-inflammatory protein compound known as Interleukin 10 is activated by Interferon-gamma, a class of proteins secreted by a class of white blood cells known as T helper 1 cells. The team then traced secretion of Interferon-gamma indirectly to tyrosine kinase 2, or tyk2, the same protein that signals "hot" inflammatory cytokines Interleukin 12 and Interferon-alpha and Interferon-beta.

The above news release is based on the paper "Tyk2 Negatively Regulates Adaptive Th1 Immunity by Mediating IL-10 Signaling and Promoting IFN-gamma-Dependent IL-10 Reactivation" (Abstract).

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Backbone of prehistoric water lizard (mosasaur) unearthed in Bowman County, US

Mosasaur (Evolution Research)

Bismarck, North Dakota - A public fossil dig in southwestern North Dakota helped unearth what a paleontologist considers an important discovery - the backbone of a mosasaur, a prehistoric water lizard.

"This was a very nice specimen," said John Hoganson, state paleontologist with the North Dakota Geological Survey in Bismarck. "It was a significant find." [First Report]

NB: A BBC 'Science and Nature' factfile on the mosasaur can be found here (contains a video).

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Scientists Find Brain Evolution Gene

Chimpanzee NASA Gene Human Brain (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)Washington Post - Scientists believe they have found a key gene that helped the human brain evolve from our chimp-like ancestors. In just a few million years, one area of the human genome seems to have evolved about 70 times faster than the rest of our genetic code. It appears to have a role in a rapid tripling of the size of the brain's crucial cerebral cortex, according to an article published Thursday in the journal Nature.

Study co-author David Haussler, director of the Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said his team found strong but still circumstantial evidence that a certain gene, called HAR1F, may provide an important answer to the question: 'What makes humans brainier than other primates?' Human brains are triple the size of chimpanzee brains.

The Abstract of the Nature paper "An RNA gene expressed during cortical development evolved rapidly in humans" can be found here. [Evolution]

The Washington Post is also covering this topic in its 'Findings' section: Gene May Be Key To Brain Evolution and here

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006


With Few Factors, Adult Cells Take On Character Of Embryonic Stem Cells

With the introduction of just four factors, researchers have successfully induced differentiated cells taken from mouse embryos or adult mice to behave like embryonic stem cells. The researchers reported their findings in an immediate early publication of the journal Cell.

The cells - which the researchers designate 'induced pluripotent stem cells' (iPS) - exhibit the physical, growth, and genetic characteristics typical of embryonic stem cells, they reported. 'Pluripotent' refers to the ability to differentiate into most other cell types.

'Human embryonic stem cells might be used to treat a host of diseases, such as Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injury, and diabetes,' said Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan. 'However, there are ethical difficulties regarding the use of human embryos, as well as the problem of tissue rejection following transplantation into patients.'

Those problems could be circumvented if pluripotent cells could be obtained directly from the patients' own cells.


The above refers to the Cell paper "Induction of Pluripotent Stem Cells from Mouse Embryonic and Adult Fibroblast Cultures by Defined Factors": Abstract

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Breaks in hibernation help fight bugs

A habit in some animals to periodically wake up while hibernating may be an evolutionary mechanism to fight bacterial infection, according to researchers at Penn State. The finding could offer an insight into the spread and emergence of infectious disease in wildlife, and has potential implications for human health.

Many warm-blooded animals slip into an inert sleep-like state as part of a unique strategy to get past harsh winters when food supplies are low and the need for energy to stay warm is high. The immune system is in sleep mode as well.

'The production of antibodies, and white blood cells is stopped. Basically all cell reproduction shuts off,' says Angela Luis, a doctoral candidate in ecology at Penn State's Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics.

However, animals regularly snap out of their torpor, and become fully active. But such sudden breaks from slumber eat into much of the animal's stored energy reserves, and it is not fully clear why the animals need to wake up, and how often.

Some scientists think the answer lies in bacterial infections that could run rampant in the face of an immune system that is essentially asleep.

'Animals cannot tell when they need to wake up, or if they are infected,' says Luis. If the animals hibernate for long they risk serious infection, she says, while waking up frequently wastes precious energy, and could prove fatal as well.

In other words, animals with an optimal time of torpor will win out over others, says Luis, who presented her findings at the 91st annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Memphis, Tennessee.

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Ancient whale broke all the rules

fossil whale oligocene Janjucetus hunderi (Evolution Research)

ABC Australia: A bizarre whale fossil found on a beach in southern Australia suggests that baleen whales, the filter-feeding gentle giants of the sea, were not always gentle, or giants, a researcher says.

Erich Fitzgerald (homepage), a PhD student of Monash University in Melbourne and a research associate at Museum Victoria, describes the 25 million year old discovery in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Abstract).

The fossil, which includes a complete skull of a whale and other bones, was found in the late 1990s by teenage surfer Staumn Hunder, Fitzgerald explains.

'Luckily for science, he saw these dark brown slithers of fossilised bone,' protruding from a boulder on a beach near the town of Jan Juc in coastal Victoria. [Janjucetus hunderi]

The Sydney Morning Herald's article on this topic: "Discovered: Aussie T-rex of the deep" contains a link to a video (directly accessible here)

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Spineless tales provide strong backbone to human brain research

Cuttlefish (Evolution Research)

University of Oregon biologist Nathan Tublitz talked about moths, flies and cephalopods, telling an audience of scientists meeting in Australia this week that research on these spineless creatures is unveiling the mechanics of how the brain regulates behavior.

Among his tales of three invertebrates were details of his discoveries, published in two papers this year, that two specific brain chemicals (glutamate and FMRFamide-related peptides), residing in a specific location, allow a cuttlefish (cephalopod) to change skin color or skin patterns in less than a second. In a paper that appeared online July 25 ahead of regular publication in the journal Integrative and Comparative Biology (Abstract), Tublitz and colleagues announced that the quick-change machinery resides primarily in the posterior subesophageal mass of the cuttlefish brain.

Also see: "Color blindness and contrast perception in cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) determined by a visual sensorimotor assay"

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Hard-Wired for Belief: Evolution May Be Common Element in Religions

Almost every faith centers on a Supernatural Enforcer. An invisible power - a god, ancestral spirits or karma - rewards those who follow the rules and punishes those who don't.

Why do most religions have that in common? It's not inevitable, after all. A faith with a god who is indifferent toward people is simple to imagine. But it's much harder to find.

Believers will say their religion reflects divine will: that's the way God (or something) planned it.

But a less theological explanation finds support from an experiment conducted at a British college psychology department: Maybe that common element of modern religions was the product of Darwinian evolution.

Refreshments are sold on the honor system in the break room at the University of Newcastle - people who get a cup of coffee or tea are supposed to leave money. Researchers found that when they added a picture of eyes above the payment box, more than twice as much money was deposited, compared with weeks when the eyes were replaced by a picture of flowers.

People were subconsciously triggered into acting more honestly, as if they were actually being watched, even though they knew the eyeballs were mere paper and ink.

Those results, published last month in the journal Biology Letters ("Cues of being watched enhance cooperation in a real-world setting": Abstract), support a controversial theory that connects prehistoric humans to modern faiths. [subconscious]

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Mammoths may roam again after 27,000 years

Mammoth (Evolution Research)

The Times (UK): Bodies of extinct Ice Age mammals, such as woolly mammoths, that have been frozen in permafrost for thousands of years may contain viable sperm that could be used to bring them back from the dead, scientists said yesterday.

Research has indicated that mammalian sperm can survive being frozen for much longer than was previously thought, suggesting that it could potentially be recovered from species that have died out.

Several well-preserved mammoth carcasses have been found in the permafrost of Siberia, and scientists estimate that there could be millions more..

..With access to the mammoth's genetic code, and with frozen sperm recovered from testes, it may be possible to resurrect an animal that is very similar to a mammoth.

The above news report refers to the PNAS paper "Spermatozoa and spermatids retrieved from frozen reproductive organs or frozen whole bodies of male mice can produce normal offspring" which is open access: Abstract | Full Text (pdf)

Alternative news report from the Chicago Sun-Times

A related item from the journal Nature (published yesterday): Deep-freeze mice become dads

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How did we get here?

The Guardian (UK): Evolution is on the way out - more than 30% of students in the UK say they believe in creationism and intelligent design. Harriet Swain reports on a surprising new survey:

Chris Parker, a final-year English student at Hertford College, Oxford, believes God made the world..

..Kim Nicholas, who is studying to be a primary school teacher at the University of Hertfordshire, agrees..

..Annie Nawaz, a second-year law student at Hertfordshire, distinguishes between scientific and "natural" evidence written in stone in the holy books. "As a practising Muslim, the holy Qur'an - that's our proper evidence," she says..

..Such views are less unusual among UK students than you might think. In a survey last month, more than 12% questioned preferred creationism - the idea God created us within the past 10,000 years - to any other explanation of how we got here. Another 19% favoured the theory of intelligent design - that some features of living things are due to a supernatural being such as God. This means more than 30% believe our origins have more to do with God than with Darwin - evolution theory rang true for only 56%..

See the entry from 4 days ago: "Study: Evolution losing favor in US"

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Monday, August 14, 2006


Unravelling our cosmic ancestry

An international astronomy conference (see Cosmic Dust and Ancestry) will mark the retirement of a Cardiff University scientist who helped to challenge the theory that life originated on Earth and who will be the focus of a BBC Horizon programme.

The conference, 'Progress towards unravelling our cosmic ancestry' (September 5-9) will review progress in areas of astronomy pioneered by Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, who completes more than thirty years as Professor of Applied Mathematics and Astronomy at the University in September.

Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe's achievements include ... [influencing] the development of astrobiology internationally ... his theory of cosmic life, developed in collaboration with the late Sir Fred Hoyle...

Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe co-edited "Fred Hoyle's Universe: Proceedings of 'Fred Hoyle's Universe" Conference, 24-26 June, 2002'" (Amazon UK | US)

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Time of day tempers tadpoles' response to predators

Tadpoles Evolution Research

Ann Arbor, Michigan - To a tiny tadpole, life boils down to two basic missions: eat, and avoid being eaten. But there's a trade-off. The more a tadpole eats, the faster it grows big enough to transform into a frog; yet finding food requires being active, which ups the odds of becoming someone else's dinner.

Scientists have known that prey adjust their activity levels in response to predation risk, but new research by a University of Michigan graduate student shows that internal factors, such as biorhythms, temper their responses.

Michael Fraker, a doctoral student in the laboratory of ecology and evolutionary biology professor Earl Werner, presented his results Aug. 10 at a meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Memphis, Tennessee.

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When the Going Gets Tough, Slime Molds Start Synthesizing

In times of plenty, the uni-cellular slime mold Dictyostelium discoideum leads a solitary life munching on bacteria littering the forest floor. But these simple creatures can perform heroic developmental acts: when the bacterial food supply dries up, Dictyostelium amebas band together with their neighbors and form a multi-cellular tower designed to save the children.

...When slime molds starve, they collectively form a multicellular slug-like creature that locomotes en masse to a warm spot. There, in response to the DIF-1 signal, slugs literally stand up and their cells metamorphose into either a column of stalk cells or next-generation spore cells, which perch atop the column waiting for food supplies to be restored...

The above news release is based on "Biosynthesis of Dictyostelium discoideum differentiation-inducing factor by a hybrid type I fatty acid-type III polyketide synthase" (Abstract).

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Computational Analysis Shows That Plant Hormones Often Go It Alone

Unlike the Three Musketeers who lived by the motto 'All for one, one for all,' plant hormones prefer to do their own thing. For years, debate swirled around whether pathways activated by growth-regulating plant hormones converge on a central growth regulatory module. Now, the cooperation model is challenged by researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. They show that each hormone acts largely independently in the Aug. 11 issue of Cell (Abstract).

The Salk team found that specific plant hormones often activate different factors rather than a common target. "This result was completely unexpected because hormones with similar effects on plant growth seem to act on different gene sets," says the study's lead author Joanne Chory, Ph.D., a professor in the Plant Biology Laboratory and investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Plants rely on hormones, which act as chemical messengers to regulate every aspect of their biology. Growth, for example, is stimulated by multiple hormones -- brassinosteroids, auxins and gibberellins among them. The fact that these and several other hormones stimulate plant growth suggested to some investigators that eventually they all switch on the same growth-promoting genes.

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Sunday, August 13, 2006


Many Arkansas candidates say intelligent design in schools is OK

Little Rock - Many candidates for statewide office - including Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike Beebe - say information on intelligent design should be available to students alongside curriculum on evolution theory.

'I believe in intelligent design and I don't think intelligent design and evolution are mutually exclusive,' Beebe, the state's attorney general, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

...Most Republican candidates in Arkansas told the Kansas City Star that teachers shouldn't be required to teach intelligent design - but that "academic freedom" should allow instructors to address the subject in class....

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Support for chemical evolution

Milky Way Cobe Near-Infrared Evolution Research

The primordial kitchen for cooking the chemistry of life apparently included a well-stocked freezer.

For about 30 years, radio astronomers have poked around the Milky Way for the building blocks of life, usually in hot spots near stars.

The most recent search yields eight carbon-based molecules found in two cold giant clouds of gas and dust, from which stars and planets are eventually born and comets escape.

A two-year project using the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia identified the molecules by detecting the radiation they absorb and emit at specific, known frequencies as they tumble through space.

The discovery bolsters the theories that chemical evolution occurs routinely in space and that life on Earth could have been seeded by molecule-laced icy comets smashing into the planet.

The above news report is based on the Astrophysical Journal paper "Confirmation of Interstellar Methylcyanodiacetylene (CH3C5N)" (Abstract).

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Scientists gather for ant boot camp

Arid Lands Honey Ant Evolution Research

Scientists and students from around the world have descended on the north Queensland city of Cairns for an 'ant boot camp'.

The Ant Course is held in a different city in the world every year to teach entomologists to describe and classify ants and to further their knowledge of the insect's part in ecological biodiversity.

...It will be the first time the Ant Course has been held in Australia, said Ant Course organiser Dr Brian Fisher, curator of entomology at the California Academy of Sciences...

...Dr Fisher is planning an ant collecting expedition and will travel to South Australia in the hope of finding the dinosaur ant...

..."It is the icon of the ant world," Dr Fisher said.

The timid, nocturnal, golden-coloured dinosaur ants were discovered in 1977 at Poochera, near Streaky Bay on the Eyre Highway and are considered the world's most primitive living ant, he said.

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Kenya's human fossils disturb church

Kenya's National Museum, home to one of the world's greatest collections of human ancestral bones, is caught between religious fundamentalists and scientists.

The issue is evolution.

Bishop Bonifes Adoyo, head of Christ Is The Answer Ministries, the largest Pentecostal Church in the country, says his group has "grave concerns" about plans to reorganize the collection and prominently feature the fossils, The Telegraph reported.

The museum has received a large grant from the European Union to improve its facilities.

The full Telegraph article can be found here

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Hunt for Dinosaurs (Washington Post leisure article)

A 'get out and about' article from the Washington Post for those living locally:

Find any dinosaur fossils lately? Maybe you're not looking hard enough. After all, they're all around us. Prehistoric teeth, tracks, and to a lesser extent, bones are surprisingly common in parts of the District, Virginia and Maryland. The corridor between Washington and Baltimore, known among paleontologists as 'Dinosaur Alley,' produced the second dino fossil ever discovered on the East Coast.

If you can't hunt for these relics yourself, you can visit dinosaur exhibits in the area or tap the expertise of local paleontologists to learn about the legendary creatures that literally romped through our back yards and today enthrall parents and kids alike... (links to, and descriptions of, local attractions follow).

Another (and more general) article in the same edition (titled "Jurassic Park") was reported in this column yesterday.

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Artefacts support theory man came from Africa

Fragments of ostrich eggs, perforated beads and finely shaped arrowheads have provided the first firm archaeological evidence for the 'out of Africa' origins of the world's human population.

Scientists have found stark similarities in the ancient cultural artefacts made and used by Stone Age people who migrated out of Africa and into Asia more than 50,000 years ago.

It is the first time that archaeologists have been able to link African and Indian artefacts so closely together even though they were discovered 3,000 miles apart - suggesting they were made by the same people, albeit of different generations.

Until now the 'out of Africa' hypothesis, developed by physical anthropologists and geneticists, has relied almost entirely on the analysis of human skeletal remains or on DNA studies. But a comparative study of Stone Age artefacts found in Africa and India, carried out by Professor Paul Mellars, a Cambridge University archaeologist, has revealed remarkable cultural and technological similarities that suggest a common origin.

The above news report from The Independent (UK) is based on:

Going East: New Genetic and Archaeological Perspectives on the Modern Human Colonization of Eurasia
Paul Mellars

Science 11 August 2006:
Vol. 313. no. 5788, pp. 796 - 800
DOI: 10.1126/science.1128402


The pattern of dispersal of biologically and behaviorally modern human populations from their African origins to the rest of the occupied world between ~60,000 and 40,000 years ago is at present a topic of lively debate, centering principally on the issue of single versus multiple dispersals. Here I argue that the archaeological and genetic evidence points to a single successful dispersal event, which took genetically and culturally modern populations fairly rapidly across southern and southeastern Asia into Australasia, and with only a secondary and later dispersal into Europe.

Books on Human Origins from the Science and Evolution Bookshop: UK | US

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Evolution backers seek to influence Ohio elections

Columbus, Ohio - Supporters of teaching Darwin's theory of evolution to school children have launched a campaign aimed at unseating a state Board of Education member who has supported critical evaluation of the theory.

Help Ohio Public Education, a coalition of evolution proponents, on Friday announced an advocacy group headed up by Lawrence Krauss, director of the Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics at Case Western Reserve University.

'I think what you're seeing is grass-roots democracy at work. This is a referendum on intelligent design and creationism,' said G.R. Schloemer of Cincinnati, a Republican board member who supports the evolution theory and has the group's support. 'This issue has bogged down the board since I came on five years ago. We've got a very divided board. There is no trust among any of us.'

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