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Zoo Wants You in the Cage

Visitors to the Zagreb Zoo get to walk through displays detailing the ways in which humans “contribute to the destruction of wildlife and the environment,” and then spend a little time in a cage that was deemed unsuitable for the foxes and martens who were its previous inhabitants.  The zoo calls humans “the most dangerous […]

Mars and Moons Shed Cocoons

With so many spacecraft touring our solar system, there’s almost too much news to process.  Here are a few highlights, starting with Mars, then comets, asteroids, a Titanic puzzle, and what Cassini found mini moons ago. Mars Ice Age:  Mars Express may have found evidence for deep ice deposits on Mars around the equator in […]

“Beautifully Engineered”: Giant Pterosaur Compared to Aircraft

Imagine an “aircraft engineer trying to convert a Eurofighter into a jumbo jet while it was still flying.”  That’s how David Martill (U of Portsmouth, UK) described the abilities of a baby pterosaur growing into a large adult, a BBC News story says.  Evidence suggests that pterosaurs were capable of flying soon after hatching.  Some […]

Are Brains Evolving Bigger, or Fatter?

Two papers in Science Sept. 9 claimed that human brains may still be evolving.  According to the authors, two genes related to brain size appear to be under “positive selection” in certain people groups.  One team said their variant occurred the same time as the emergence of art, music, religious practices and sophisticated tool use, […]

Comet Theories Vanish in Puff of Powder

They were supposed to be dirty snowballs, those comets, pristine relics from the primordial solar system.  They were supposed to be blasting volatile ices from their interiors as they approached the sun.  What are they doing with aromatic hydrocarbons, olivine, iron, clays and carbonates?  When the Deep Impact probe hit its target July 4, it […]

Do You Belong in the Zoo?

People are gawking at people in the London Zoo, each probably wondering what side of the cage they belong on.  In one of the primate exhibits, eight scantily clad white people are on display, reports AP (see MSNBC and Yahoo).  Wearing fig leaves pinned onto their swimsuits, they play, they scratch, they groom each other, […]

History Channel Documentary on Human Ancestry: History or Fiction?

The History Channel aired a program called “Ape to Man” Monday evening August 7, alleging that modern science had finally pieced together the solution to the puzzle of human evolution.  Although it included debunking episodes of Piltdown (11/18/2003) and Java Man (02/27/2003), the flavor of the show was that the picture of human origins has […]

Tailpipe Soot: Can It Live?

Better stay clear of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).  They come out of your tailpipe and furnace, line your chimney, and generally are products of unhealthy processes like industrial waste and cigarette smoke.  According to Environment Canada, “PAHs are a concern because some of them can cause cancers in humans and are harmful to fish and […]

Life on Mars – and Titan?

Life has not been found on Mars, but some scientists, according to National Geographic News, are worried that we are contaminating the planet with Earth germs that will make the search for Martians more difficult.  Speaking of Mars, a report in Science Now claims that Mars rarely got above freezing in its entire history.   […]

Do Butterflies Evolve Via Team Stripes?

A BBC News story is claiming that butterflies split into competing teams when differences in their wing patterns emerge.  Based on a paper in Nature,1 this is supposed to be an example of a rarely-observed mechanism for speciation, called reinforcement: in this case, “These wing colours apparently evolved as a sort of ‘team strip’, allowing […]

Has Anti-Semitism Been Good for Jewish Evolution?

National Geographic News gave favorable coverage to a controversial theory by anthropologists at University of Utah that anti-semitism was a form of natural selection.  The racism against Jews in Europe, while selecting for higher intelligence, also selected for certain types of diseases.  Reporter James Owen did point out that not all anthropologists agree with the […]

Something from Nothing Dept.

How do you get optimization by chance?  In a Concepts piece in Nature this week,1 William J. Sutherland (U. of East Anglia, UK) suggested that the constraints of the environment will drive living systems toward optimal solutions.  He thinks that’s how “selective forces” shaped your teeth and jaw, for instance.  Economists and engineers use optimization […]

Dinosaur Fossilized in the Act of Laying Eggs

Two eggs, with shell material still attached, were found inside the oviducts of a theropod dinosaur, a Chinese team reported in Science.1  This first-time discovery of intact eggs in the body of the female “suggests that theropod dinosaurs had two functional oviducts (like crocodiles) but that each oviduct produced only one egg at a time […]

Cellular UPS Gets Right Packages to Chloroplasts

If all your packages were sent correctly over the holidays, consider the job a plant cell has getting 3000 proteins into a chloroplast.  Mistakes are not just inconvenient.  They can be deadly, or at least bring photosynthesis to a halt.  To guarantee proper delivery of components, plant cells have a remarkable shipping system, described in […]

Paleoanthropologists Fight Tooth and Nail

Ann Gibbons, reporter for Science, seems to enjoy watching the fights about human ancestry.  At Science Now, she began a news item about an alleged fossil human ancestor with a joke: How many paleoanthropologists does it take to locate a molar on the correct side of a fossil jawbone?  The short answer to this joke, […]
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