Saturday, September 23, 2006


Scientists find 2nd red panda fossil specimen (Tennessee)

Gray, Tennessee - Scientists uncovered a second fossil of a red panda species first discovered at the Gray Fossil Site two years ago. Researchers from East Tennessee State University found a lower jawbone from a red panda of the species Pristinailurus bristoli last week.

'The nice thing about it is that it's confirmation,' Dr. Steven Wallace (homepage), ETSU's lead paleontologist at the site, said Wednesday. 'You hate to have a one-shot wonder.'

The species was discovered in January 2004 when ETSU researchers found a panda tooth and other skeletal fragments. Only the second panda fossil found on the continent, the remains turned out to be a previously unknown species in the red panda family.
See ETSU's Red Panda page

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Richard Dawkins 'Foundation for Reason and Science' Website Opens

Richard Dawkins God Delusion Selfish Gene Blind Watchmaker Climbing Mount Improbable (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)The Richard Dawkins 'Foundation for Reason and Science - A Clear Thinking Oasis' website is now open.

Among the current entry page attractions are a 12 minute video ('Our Mission') and the article "Richard Dawkins explains his latest book":

I wanted to write The God Delusion (Amazon: UK | US) six years ago. American friends counselled against, and my New York literary agent was horrified. Perhaps in Britain you could sell a book that criticized religion, he said. But in the US, don't even think about it. He hated to admit it, for he was an atheist like most American intellectuals, but religion was off limits to ridicule. You had to respect religion even if you didn't subscribe to it. Wendy Kaminer was exaggerating only slightly when she remarked that making fun of religion is as risky as burning a flag in an American Legion Hall. Concentrate on science, my American friends advised. Hands off religion. Let the grandeur of science speak for itself, and religion will die a natural death by ignominious comparison. I gave way and wrote The Ancestor's Tale instead (Amazon UK | US).

I don't regret that decision, for The Ancestor's Tale is the nearest approach to a proud magnum opus that I am likely to achieve, and I could not wish it undone. But how different the cultural landscape looks today.

The rest of the article can be read here - UPDATE: I emailed the website because this link had stopped working and they said "Unfortunately we had to take it down temporarily. It will be back up after October 11." Come back then I guess!

See "The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (Upcoming New York Academy of Sciences Event)"

and "Extracts from Richard Dawkins' new book 'The God Delusion' (+Video)"

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

Books on Intelligent Design from the Science and Evolution Bookshop: UK | US

Books on 'Science and Religion' from the Science and Evolution Bookshop: UK | US

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Friday, September 22, 2006


Paleontologists Unable to Move Ceratopsian Dinosaur Skull in Utah (Video)

A short video (requiring IE 5.5 and above only) from KSL Television and Radio, Salt Lake City, Utah.


Paleontologists in Southern Utah are having a hard time getting their hands on their fossil find.

They uncovered the skull of a Ceratopsian dinosaur in Grand Staircase National Monument The skull is about 70- million years old. It's a relative, of the Triceratops.

But, when they tried to lift the fossil out with a helicopter ...

Sue Beardmore, Paleontologist: 'This is paleontology. A lot of waiting. A lot of things can go wrong, and it just too heavy.'

Too heavy! No word yet on what the next move will be. So for now, the skull stays." [Palaeontology]
UPDATE: News reports are beginning to appear such as the Salt Lake Tribune's "Monumental discoveries: Scientists unearth two 'new' dinosaurs in southern Utah" and MSNBC's "Scientists report dinosaur find in Utah"

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

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Flying sex pest silences the crickets (Hawaii - New Scientist)

New Scientist: What do you do when your only means of attracting members of the opposite sex also puts your life in jeopardy? For field crickets on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, shutting up seems to work.

According to a new study, rapid evolution in the Kauain population of the oceanic field cricket Teleogryllus oceanicus has rendered nine-tenths of the males there incapable of producing their iconic night-time call. The genetic mutation, which changes the shape of the male's wing to make it silent, means the crickets are better adapted to avoid a deadly parasite.

The finding dumbfounded biologist Marlene Zuk, at the University of California in Riverside, US, who first thought the dwindling population of crickets she was studying had gone extinct when she no longer heard their calls. [Hawaii]
Based on the Royal Society's 'Biology Letters' paper "Silent night: adaptive disappearance of a sexual signal in a parasitized population of field crickets" (Abstract)

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Fat, thin caterpillars are studied (Metabolic evolution)

A U.S.-led international team of scientists says there's no obesity epidemic among insects and the researchers believe they now know why.

Spencer Behmer, an entomologist with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, and colleagues conducted a series of experiments to determine whether caterpillars could adapt to extreme changes in their nutritional environment.

By manipulating the nutritional environment of diamond-back moth caterpillars, the researchers found the insects evolved different physiological mechanisms related to fat metabolism. Which mechanism was used depended on whether the caterpillars were given carbohydrate-rich or carbohydrate-poor food.

The scientists theorize caterpillars - and animals in general - can evolve metabolically to adjust to extreme nutritional environments. [Evolution, Entomology]
Based on the PNAS paper "Evolving resistance to obesity in an insect" (Abstract)

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Pregnant prehistoric fossil offers clues to past ('Ping Pong Ichthyosaur')

Maiaspondylus lindoei Platypterygius Holotype Ophthalmosaurs (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)

University of Alberta scientists have named a new species of ancient marine reptile, fondly called the Ping Pong Ichthyosaur for the spot the prehistoric creature called home for the last 25 years. Embryos found within the body of a pregnant fossil also mark the most recent record of a live birth and the physically smallest known ichthyosaur embryos.

"It was pretty amazing to realize this valuable discovery had sat under a ping pong table for 25 years," said Dr. Michael Caldwell, paleontologist at the U of A. "But I suppose that after 100 millions of years in the dirt, it's all relative."

A few decades ago graduate students and a technician from the Faculty of Science collected several ichthyosaur specimens - the marine animals resembled dolphins and fish - from the Loon River Formation at Hay River, NWT (Northwest Territories). Somehow the bones ended up in several boxes underneath a ping pong table in the science undergraduate lab...

...Working with Erin Maxwell, an undergraduate student at the U of A at the time, Caldwell soon learned the bones were from the Lower Cretaceous period, or about 100 million years old. [Paleontology, Embryo]
Based on the journal Palaeontology paper "A New Genus of Ichthyosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of Western Canada" (Abstract)

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

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

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Archaeopteryx: Ancient birds flew on all-fours

Bird flight evolved using front and hind limbs as wings, new fossil study argues:

The earliest known ancestor of modern-day birds took to the skies by gliding from trees using primitive feathered wings on their arms and legs, according to new research by a University of Calgary paleontologist. In a paper [1] published in the journal Paleobiology, Department of Biological Sciences PhD student Nick Longrich challenges the idea that birds began flying by taking off from the ground while running and shows that the dinosaur-like bird Archaeopteryx soared using wing-like feathers on all of its limbs.

"The discussions about the origins of avian flight have been dominated by the so-called 'ground up' and 'trees down' hypotheses," Longrich said. "This paper puts forward some of the strongest evidence yet that birds descended from arboreal parachuters and gliders, similar to modern flying squirrels."

The first fossil of the Jurassic-era dinosaur Archaeopteryx lithographica was discovered in Germany in 1861, two years after Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution in On The Origin of Species. Since then, eight additional specimens have been unearthed and Archaeopteryx is considered the best evidence that birds evolved from dinosaurs since it had both feathers and a bird-like wishbone, along with classic reptilian features of a long bony tail, claws and teeth.

Although scientists immediately noticed feather-like structures on the hind limbs, they were dismissed as insulating body feathers that didn't play a role in the animal's flight. It wasn't until several four-winged dinosaurs in China were described in 2002 that researchers began to re-examine Archaeopteryx's legs.

"The idea of a multi-winged Archaeopteryx has been around for more than a century, but it hasn't received much attention," Longrich said. "I believe one reason for this is that people tend to see what they want or expect to see. Everybody knows that birds don't have four wings, so we overlooked them even when they were right under our noses."

Under the supervision of professor Anthony Russell, Longrich examined Archaeopteryx fossils and determined that the dinosaur's leg feathers have an aerodynamic structure that imply its rear limbs likely acted as lift-generating "winglets" that played a significant role in flight.

Source: University of Calgary PR September 22 2006


[1] Based on the paper:

Structure and function of hindlimb feathers in Archaeopteryx lithographica

Nick Longrich

Paleobiology Volume 32, Issue 3 (September 2006)
Article: pp. 417-431

This study examines the morphology and function of hindlimb plumage in Archaeopteryx lithographica. Feathers cover the legs of the Berlin specimen, extending from the cranial surface of the tibia and the caudal margins of both tibia and femur. These feathers exhibit features of flight feathers rather than contour feathers, including vane asymmetry, curved shafts, and a self-stabilizing overlap pattern. Many of these features facilitate lift generation in the wings and tail of birds, suggesting that the hindlimbs acted as airfoils. A new reconstruction of Archaeopteryx is presented, in which the hindlimbs form approximately 12% of total airfoil area. Depending upon their orientation, the hindlimbs could have reduced stall speed by up to 6% and turning radius by up to 12%. Presence of the “four-winged” planform in both Archaeopteryx and basal Dromaeosauridae indicates that their common ancestor used fore- and hindlimbs to generate lift. This finding suggests that arboreal parachuting and gliding preceded the evolution of avian flight.


Related post:

"Microraptor gui: Dinosaur May Have Resembled the Biplane"

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Not in Our Classrooms: Book Review (National Center for Science Education)

Religious Beliefs Religion Monkey Controversy (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)

National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is pleased to announce the publication of Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design is Wrong for Our Schools (Beacon Press, 2006), edited by Eugenie C. Scott and Glenn Branch, NCSE's executive director and deputy director, respectively, and with contributions from Scott, Branch, Nicholas J. Matzke (also of NCSE) and Paul R. Gross, Martinez Hewlett and Ted Peters, Jay D. Wexler, and Brian Alters, and a foreword by the Reverend Barry W. Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Bill Nye the Science Guy writes, 'If you're concerned about scientific literacy, read this book. The authors of Not in Our Classrooms are authorities on the various battles fought over the teaching of evolution - biology's fundamental discovery.'

More than eighty years after the Scopes trial, creationism is alive and well. Through local school boards, sympathetic politicians, and well-funded organizations, a strong movement has developed to encourage the teaching of the latest incarnation of creationism - intelligent design - as a scientifically credible theory alongside evolution in science classes. Although intelligent design suffered a serious defeat in the recent Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, its proponents are bound to continue their assault on evolution education. [Review]
Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design is Wrong for Our Schools: Amazon UK | US

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Thursday, September 21, 2006


Intelligent design OK for science class, DeVos says (Michigan, US)

The Detroit Free Press (US): Republican candidate Dick DeVos said Michigan school districts should be allowed to teach intelligent design in science classes as a possible explanation of diverse life on Earth, injecting the national debate over evolution into the campaign.

'Lots of intelligent people can disagree about the origins of life. In the end, I believe in our system of local control,' he said in a news release Wednesday afternoon. 'Local school boards should have the opportunity to offer evolution and intelligent design in their curriculums.'

DeVos said exposing students to the concept of intelligent design - viewed by most scientists as a nonscientific, religion-based belief - would help them analyze competing theories.
UPDATE: See DeVos clarifies Intelligent Design comments: "DeVos said the AP reporter who wrote that he supported ID got it wrong."

"DeVos for Governor" website.

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Epigenetics: Environmental Toxin Causes Heritable Adult-Onset Diseases

A disease you are suffering today could be a result of your great-grandmother being exposed to an environmental toxin during pregnancy - and you may already have passed it along to your children.

That's the conclusion reached by researchers at Washington State University, who have found that exposure to an environmental toxin during embryonic development can cause an animal, and almost all of its descendents, to develop adult-onset illnesses such as cancer and kidney disease. Their discovery suggests that toxins may have played a role in the rapid increase in localized geographic areas of diseases that were previously thought to be caused primarily by genetic mutations.

"It's a new way to think about disease," said Michael K. Skinner, director of the Center for Reproductive Biology. [Epigenetics, WSU, Embryo]
Based on two open access papers from the journal Endocrinology:

"Transgenerational Epigenetic Imprinting of the Male Germ-Line by Endocrine Disruptor Exposure During Gonadal Sex Determination"

"Endocrine Disruptor Vinclozolin Induced Epigenetic Transgenerational Adult Onset Disease"

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006


The Cannibal Coelophysis: Dinosaur's reputation challenged

Chinle Formation Triassic Upper ghost ranch New Mexico (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)

BBC News UK: A US study has bruised the fearsome reputation of a popular dinosaur.

Coelophysis, a carnivore that lived more than 200 million years ago, has often been presented in books and museum exhibits as a cannibal.

The view is based on Coelophysis fossils that have preserved stomach contents interpreted as being the chewed up remains of its own kind.

But now a re-examination has suggested those contents may be crocodile, a Royal Society journal reports. [Evolution, bauri, Cannibal, Dinosaurs]
Based on the 'Biology Letters' open access paper "Prey choice and cannibalistic behaviour in the theropod Coelophysis" (pdf)

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

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Snake With Two Feet Appears in Shandong, China

Twin-Spotted Rat-snake, Chinese Cornsnake (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)The Epoch Times (New York): China - On September 11, 2006, Mr. Ma, a resident in Linyi city, Shandong province, displayed to the public a snake with two feet.

Ma caught the snake Sept. 10. It was about one meter long, as thick as an adult's thumb, and with a triangular shaped head. The strange thing about it was, it had two, one-centimeter-long five-toed feet on each side of its body about 30 centimeters from its head.

After seeing the snake, Professor Cao Shandong from the School of Life Science Linyi Normal University said, it was a twin-spotted rat-snake, but the feet and toes were extremely unusual. Professor Cao said it could be a case of atavism. [Evolution, LiYin]
Breaking news - the above is the entire news article.

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Scientists Find 'Lucy' Species Skeleton (3.3 million-year-old girl fossil)

Skull Bipedal Africa Morphology Taphonomy Hadar Formation (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)

From the Washington Post: New York - Scientists have discovered a remarkably complete skeleton of a 3-year-old female (Selam) from the ape-man species represented by 'Lucy.'

The discovery should fuel a contentious debate about whether this species, which walked upright, also climbed and moved through trees easily like an ape.

The remains are 3.3 million years old, making them the oldest known skeleton of such a youthful human ancestor.

"It's pretty unbelievable" to find such a complete fossil from that long ago, said scientist Fred Spoor. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime find."

Spoor, professor of evolutionary anatomy at University College London, describes the fossil in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature with Zeresenay Alemseged of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and other scientists.
In addition to the above Washington Post article, other reports include the journal Nature's "Little 'Lucy' fossil found", the National Geographic's "Lucy's Baby - World's Oldest Child - Found by Fossil Hunters", and the BBC News UK's "'Lucy's baby' found in Ethiopia"

The reports are based on two Nature papers:

"A juvenile early hominin skeleton from Dikika, Ethiopia" (Abstract)

"Geological and palaeontological context of a Pliocene juvenile hominin at Dikika, Ethiopia" (Abstract)

Also see "Selam - An exclusive interview with the man who discovered the oldest child in the world ('Lucy's Child')"

[Evolution, Paleontological, Hominid]

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

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Science And Salvation: E.O. Wilson's 'The Creation'

Cambridge, Massachusetts: It's hard to picture, if you know him only by his scientific reputation, but E.O. Wilson (brief bio) confesses it freely: He loves watching preachers on television.

Wilson is an internationally renowned biologist who has based his extraordinarily productive five-decade career at that great bastion of secular humanism, Harvard University. At 77, his work and his worldview are so thoroughly entwined with Darwinian theory that they're impossible to imagine without it. His reverence is for the wondrous creatures and intricate interconnections of the natural world, not for any supreme being.

So what's he doing tuning in those evangelical sermons from the megachurches? [Evolution, Review]

The above are the opening paragraphs of the Washington Post's 5-page article 'Science and Salvation' based on E.O. Wilson's new book "The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth" (Amazon UK | US)

Listen to Edward Osborn Wilson discuss his book on WBUR's 'On Point' program.

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What are the odds of a dead dinosaur becoming fossilized? (Scientific American)

Ribs Vertebrae Bio-organisms (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)

From Scientific American 'Ask the Experts':

What are the odds of a dead dinosaur becoming fossilized? - Paleontologist Gregory M. Erickson (homepage) of Florida State University (FSU) explains.

It is often stated in the paleontological literature that the chance an animal will become fossilized is 'one in a million.' This number is meant to be taken figuratively, the point being that the odds of surviving the rigors of deep time are extremely remote. Nevertheless, all field paleontologists know that the earth is biased when it comes to giving up its dead--the odds of an animal being preserved and consequently exhumed are much greater in some settings than others.

Studies by taphonomists (paleontologists who study the transition of animals from the biosphere to the lithosphere; taphonomy literally means 'burial laws') have shown that organisms that die on land in lush jungle locales are rarely fossilized. In these settings, there is little chance of being buried, scavenging vertebrates and insects are prevalent, bacteria that break down flesh and bones are abundant, and the soils are extremely acidic and tend to dissolve bones. As a result, remains of dinosaurs from such former surroundings are practically nonexistent. Conversely, dinosaurs are commonly found in areas that were once fluvial settings and in regions of extreme aridity. [Paleontology, Evolution, Palaeontology]

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

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Darwin on the Right - Why Christians and conservatives should accept evolution

A Scientific American article by Michael Shermer:

According to a 2005 Pew Research Center poll, 70 percent of evangelical Christians believe that living beings have always existed in their present form, compared with 32 percent of Protestants and 31 percent of Catholics. Politically, 60 percent of Republicans are creationists, whereas only 11 percent accept evolution, compared with 29 percent of Democrats who are creationists and 44 percent who accept evolution. A 2005 Harris Poll found that 63 percent of liberals but only 37 percent of conservatives believe that humans and apes have a common ancestry. What these figures confirm for us is that there are religious and political reasons for rejecting evolution. Can one be a conservative Christian and a Darwinian? Yes. Here's how...
Michael Shermer is author of "Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design" (Amazon UK | US)

See "The joys of life without God (Interview)" in this blog.

[Creationism, ID, Religion]

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006


From The Origin of Species to the origin of bacterial flagella (Nature)

Nature Reviews Microbiology:

From The Origin of Species to the origin of bacterial flagella
Mark J. Pallen and Nicholas J. Matzke

In the recent Dover trial, and elsewhere, the 'Intelligent Design' movement has championed the bacterial flagellum as an irreducibly complex system that, it is claimed, could not have evolved through natural selection. Here we explore the arguments in favour of viewing bacterial flagella as evolved, rather than designed, entities. We dismiss the need for any great conceptual leaps in creating a model of flagellar evolution and speculate as to how an experimental programme focused on this topic might look. [ID, Bacteria]
Full Text currently available from here - any problems then please email

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Bird moms manipulate birth order to protect sons (PNAS - Badyaev)

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Carpodacus mexicanus (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)

Protecting her kids from peril is the job of every good mom.

When marauding mites turn up in a house finch's nest, she shelters her sons from the blood-suckers by laying male eggs later than those containing their sturdier sisters, according to new research.

Making sure the vulnerable baby boys are exposed to mites for a shorter period allows both the sons and the daughters to survive long enough to leave the nest.

'Sons are more sensitive to the mites than daughters,' said Alexander V. Badyaev (homepage) of The University of Arizona in Tucson. 'Mothers minimize sons' exposure to mites by laying male eggs later than female eggs. As a result, the males are in the nest fewer days.'

Even so, the male chicks that grow up during mite season end up just as big as ones from the mite-free time of the year.

'We've found a mechanism by which duration of growth can be adjusted to a changing risk of mortality,' said Badyaev, a UA assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. He added that this is the first documentation that maternal manipulation of both ovulation and growth influences the duration of development in birds. [Evolution]
Based on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) paper "Sex-biased maternal effects reduce ectoparasite-induced mortality in a passerine bird" (Abstract)

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Monday, September 18, 2006


'Spectrum of empathy' found in the brain (Current Biology)

From New Scientist: Ever wondered how some people can "put themselves into another person's shoes" and some people cannot? Our ability to empathise with others seems to depend on the action of 'mirror neurons' in the brain, according to a new study.

Mirror neurons, known to exist in humans and in macaque monkeys, activate when an action is observed, and also when it is performed. Now new research reveals that there are mirror neurons in humans that fire when sounds are heard. In other words, if you hear the noise of someone eating an apple, some of the same neurons fire as when you eat the apple yourself.

So-called auditory mirror neurons were known only in macaques. To determine if they exist in humans Valeria Gazzola, at the school of behavioural and cognitive neuro-sciences neuro-imaging centre at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, and colleagues, put 16 volunteers into functional magnetic resonance imaging (f-MRI) scanners and observed their brains as they were played different noises. [Scanner, Empathy, Behavioral]
Based on the journal Current Biology paper "Empathy and the Somatotopic Auditory Mirror System in Humans" (Abstract)

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An Evolving Faith: Book Review of 'The Evolution Dialogues' (AAAS)

Darwin Intelligent Design ID Origin Species Creationism (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)

Angela Rawlett is a college student facing a personal dilemma. Wanting to be a veterinarian, she had planned to major in biology. But this will involve studying evolution, which seems to be in conflict with her Christian faith. Angela's father scoffed at the idea that whales are descended from land mammals that returned to the sea, and pointedly asked his daughter whether college was turning her away from God's word. And in biology lab, Angela is teased about her religion by her oafish fellow student, Lenny.

Angela is a fictional character whose story is interwoven through The Evolution Dialogues: Science, Christianity, and the Quest for Understanding (Amazon US). The book, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), is an unusual offering for a scientific society in its focus on religious issues. Targeted especially at Christian adult-education classes, The Evolution Dialogues contributes a thoughtful discussion to the highly charged debate about evolution and its implications. Written by Catherine Baker and edited by James B. Miller, the work was developed with input from scientists and theologians.

The book underscores that there is a substantial middle ground between the polar opposites that dominate much public discussion of evolution and religion. [Book Review]
Also see "AAAS book explores evolution and Christianity's response"

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Scientists Confirm Bird's Head Seascape Is Richest on Earth (Indonesia Papua - Video)

Coral Mark Erdmann Teluk Cenderawasih National Park (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)

Update: The Conservation International website link is proving slow/unreliable. If it doesn't work, try this Washington Post link instead.

From Conservation International (CI): Not far from the Foja Mountains, where a CI team recently discovered a 'lost world' of rare plants and animals, another CI-led expedition has found a new trove of extraordinary marine biodiversity in a region known as the Bird's Head Seascape.

Scientists recently surveyed two locations in the seascape and found more than 50 new species, including sharks, shrimp, and reef-building corals. The Missouri-sized marine region is home to more than 1,200 types of reef fishes and nearly 600 species of hard corals, plus whales, sea turtles, crocodiles, giant clams, manta rays, and dugongs - all confirming the Bird's Head as perhaps Earth's richest seascape (this article contains a video).
Reporting on the above, the Washington Post's 'Science Notebook' article New Sharks, Coral Found In Indonesian Province begins: "Researchers have discovered dozens of new marine species on the northwestern end of Indonesia's Papua province, including two new species of epaulette sharks, nicknamed 'walking sharks' because they propel themselves across the ocean floor on their pectoral fins.

A third species of the shark was originally identified in the 19th century."
Other news sources, such as the United Arab Emirates Gulf News, carry the syndicated Reuters report "Sharks among 52 new species discovered".

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MIT Team Describes Unique Desert Cloud Forest (Oman)

Dhofar Mountains Arabia Arabian Peninsula (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)

Trees that live in an odd desert forest in Oman have found an unusual way to water themselves by extracting moisture from low-lying clouds, Massachusett's Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists report.

In an area that is characterized mostly by desert, the trees have preserved an ecological niche because they exploit a wispy-thin source of water that only occurs seasonally, said Elfatih A.B. Eltahir, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and former MIT graduate student Anke Hildebrandt.

After studying the Oman site, they also expressed concern that the unusual forest could be driven into extinction if hungry camels continue eating too much of the foliage....

...A report on their research was published in a recent issue of Geophysical Research Letters. [Ecosystem]
Based on "Forest on the edge: Seasonal cloud forest in Oman creates its own ecological niche" (Abstract)

The original MIT press release can be found here.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006


Researchers watch seeds in 3-D and discover an unknown air path

 X-Ray Optically Opaque Object Circulation (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat)

Researchers from the CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), the UJF (University J. Fourier) of Grenoble and the ESRF (European Synchrotron Radiation Facility) have recently visualised a plant seed in 3-D using synchrotron light. This new view has revealed that there is a network of voids between the cells which may be used for oxygen storage that is needed for efficient germination. It is the first time that a living organism is studied using the holo-tomography technique at a third generation synchrotron source. The team behind the discovery publishes its results in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Embryonic photosynthesis leads to the production of seed-internal oxygen that is important for seed development and quality. In order to visualize seed-internal structures that could serve for oxygen storage conventional microscopic methods could not be used because they require the seed to be cut thus leading to air escape. By using holotomography at the ESRF, scientists could get the full picture of an arabidopsis seed without any structural modification.
Based on the PNAS Plant Biology paper "Quantitative phase tomography of Arabidopsis seeds reveals intercellular void network" (Abstract)

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