Sometimes the creation-evolution news comes in too fast. Here’s a baker’s dozen from the October shelf, lest they go stale; time to start a new batch for November.
- Charity begins at worldview: David Cyranoski in Nature (450, 24-25, 10/31/2007) investigated why the level of charitable giving in prosperous Japan is a tenth of that in America. It’s not just due to economic realities, regulatory policies and taxes. The behavior is consistent from rich to poor, from corporate to private. The most intractable problem, he wrote, was “a culture in which individuals, rich or not, do not generally donate.” Cyranoski interviewed a patient advocate and a scientist who are trying to change the culture. “People think the government is going to do everything for them,” explained a leader of a philanthropic organization in Tokyo. The author did not delve into possible religious reasons for the disparity between Japanese and American attitudes about charitable giving – Japan is less than 1% Christian, while America is nominally 75% or more – but did refer to societal belief in the collective rather than the individual. Is this a problem science can fix?
- Dino adventure: Alison Abbott in Nature (450, 18-20, 10/31/2007) wrote up an adventure story about attempts to excavate dinosaur bones along the Colville River, Alaska. The ill-fated expedition was full of troubles, woes, infighting and only partial success, but spoke of this “whole trove of dinosaur fossils – mostly fragmented skulls and bones belonging to hadrosaurs” as quite remarkable, a “home to diverse species of polar dinosaurs.” Unfossilized bone has reputedly been found in this 200 km bone bed, which displays evidence of a watery catastrophe, says creationist writer Margaret Helder. Remember the tracks found at the south pole? (See article on EurekAlert and the 10/18/2007 entry).
- No room for error: Biophysicists constructed their own protein loops, reported a team from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and found them to be delicate. Tiny changes in the amino acid order produced large changes in the loops. Writing in PNAS, they said, “These results suggest that the high-resolution design of protein loops is possible; however, they also highlight how small changes in protein energetics can dramatically perturb the low free energy structure of a protein.”
- How the sherpas do it: Tibetans live at high altitude and carry heavy loads with ease in conditions that would quickly exhaust most flatlanders (see 06/17/2005). How do they do it? A mostly-American team found that they have more nitric oxide (NO) in their bloodstream, which increases blood flow. “This suggests that NO production is increased and that metabolic pathways controlling formation of NO products are regulated differently among Tibetans,” they found. “These findings shift attention from the traditional focus on pulmonary and hematological systems to vascular factors contributing to adaptation to high-altitude hypoxia,” they concluded. This seems to suggest that a simple change in a regulatory factor, rather than substantive physiological changes, allowed these people to adapt to their unique environment.
- Spanish tiger tusks: Large mammal bones in abundance have been found in a “vast fossil hoard” near Granada, Spain, reported the BBC News. “Giant hyenas, sabretoothed cats, giraffes and zebras lived side by side in Europe 1.8 million years ago.” About 4,000 fossils have been found so far. They say this place, near a crossroads of ecological zones, was a hyena den, where hyenas feasted and left the bones. Must have been some hyenas to feast on mammoths and sabretooth cats.
- Lava vs meteor: Chixculub didn’t do in the dinosaurs, Gerta Keller is still arguing. Despite the nearly weekly matter-of-fact statements about the meteor that made the dinosaurs go extinct, a press release from the Geological Society of America discussed Keller’s view that supervolcanism in India was responsible. Not only was the impact event too early, it produced one tenth of the deadly gases that came from India’s Deccan traps, she calculated.
- Dino tracks in China: Parallel trackways of “raptor” dinosaurs have been found in China, reported Science Daily, suggesting that this species did hunt, or at least hike, in groups.
- Reptile tracks in Canada: News@Nature reported a discovery of reptile tracks from Canada claimed to be 315 million years old – “1 million and 3 million years older than the previous find” (and a kilometer lower in the rock strata).
- Western science: Science magazine (11/02/2007, Vol. 318. no. 5851, p. 733) gave a portrait of Xu Guangqi, the Renaissance man of China (b. 1562). He brought science and geometry to the East. Where did he get it? From the West. He learned it from Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci, and spread its influence across the land. Xu Guangqi brought calendar reform, improvements to irrigation, and Euclid’s Elements to China, along with other Western ideas. “For his achievements, he has been compared to Leonardo da Vinci and Francis Bacon” (provided he reference his sources).
- Eastern stem cells: China and Australia are collaborating on stem cell research – with adult stem cells, that is: see ScienceScope Oct. 26 in Science. The $1 million Australia-China Centre for Excellence in Stem Cells will be “using adult mesenchymal stem cells to treat cancer and diseases of the lung and liver,” then combining the research with immunology to “push the field forward,” the paragraph said.
- Make like a lemur: We’re all related to flying lemurs, reported National Geographic based on a phylogenetic study in Science (11/02/2007, Vol. 318. no. 5851, pp. 792-794). Look before you leap.
- Ringmoons: More small embedded moonlets have been found in Saturn’s A ring, reported Science Daily. They seem confined to a narrow belt. Scientists think they are relatively recent, not related to the initial origin of the rings. Even so, explaining the apparently youthful age of the entire ring system remains a challenge.
- Convergent design: Elaborate tri-cusped molars evolved separately more than once, if a story in National Geographic is credible. A new species of Jurassic mammal found fossilized in China had the same molars, “very advanced in terms of its tooth structure,” that unrelated mammals also had.““since Pseudotribos robustus belongs to a different and long-lost lineage, it must have evolved the cut-and-grind tooth independently,” the article said matter-of-factly. “This is an example of a process known as convergent evolution.” The National Geographic Society partially funded the research that was published in Nature (11/01/2007, 450, 93-97).
Encore: A letter in last week’s Science by two molecular biologists recommended that we should be “borrowing from biology.” They were particularly struck by the efficient way plants extract all the energy from sunlight in their photosynthetic reaction centers. “Perhaps we should study biology more often and more directly for solutions to our pressing ‘modern’ problems.”
These are just a few examples of the dozens of articles that pass before our editorial eyes in an attempt to inform our readers of noteworthy discoveries relating to origins. Your letters keep this service going. Write here if you have a comment.