Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition! I already did.
It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Thursday, 27 March 2008

New way to fight muscle fatigue

As you can see from below, a new insight on how muscle worked led to a medicine that removes muscle fatigue. I really like the ending-if you remove the fatigue, it's possible to run until you die. Very insightful. And useful! It could easily lead to supper-soldier or super-athlete- you take the pill and run and run and eventually you die.
But on the serious side, it just shows what a good job Nature did with our bodies. This was we can abuse our physical powers only to the point its safe. And another thing occurs to me- we all know situations in which we don't feel fatigue-in extreme danger and shock. So maybe there really is a way to limit that feeling chemically. Just we have to make it safe.

Finding May Solve Riddle of Fatigue in Muscles

One of the great unanswered questions in physiology is why muscles get tired. The experience is universal, common to creatures that have muscles, but the answer has been elusive until now.

Scientists at Columbia say they have not only come up with an answer, but have also devised, for mice, an experimental drug that can revive the animals and let them keep running long after they would normally flop down in exhaustion.

For decades, muscle fatigue had been largely ignored or misunderstood. Leading physiology textbooks did not even try to offer a mechanism, said Dr. Andrew Marks, principal investigator of the new study. A popular theory, that muscles become tired because they release lactic acid, was discredited not long ago.

In a report published Monday in an early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Marks says the problem is calcium flow inside muscle cells. Ordinarily, ebbs and flows of calcium in cells control muscle contractions. But when muscles grow tired, the investigators report, tiny channels in them start leaking calcium, and that weakens contractions. At the same time, the leaked calcium stimulates an enzyme that eats into muscle fibers, contributing to the muscle exhaustion.

In recent years, says George Brooks of the University of California, Berkeley, muscle researchers have had more or less continuous discussions about why muscles fatigue. It was his work that largely discredited the lactic-acid hypothesis, but that left a void.

The new work in mice, Dr. Brooks said, “is exciting and provocative.” It is a finding that came unexpectedly from a very different line of research. Dr. Marks, a cardiologist, wanted to discover better ways to treat people with congestive heart failure, a chronic and debilitating condition that affects an estimated 4.8 million Americans.

Its hallmark is a damaged heart, usually from a heart attack or high blood pressure. Struggling to pump blood, the heart grows, sometimes becoming so large that it fills a patient’s chest. As the disease progresses, the lungs fill with fluid. Eventually, with congested lungs and a heart that can barely pump, patients become so short of breath that they cannot walk across a room. Half die within five years.

In his efforts to understand why the heart muscle weakened, Dr. Marks focused on the molecular events in the heart. He knew the sequence of events. As the damaged heart tries to deal with the body’s demands for blood, the nervous system floods the heart with the fight or flight hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine, that make the heart muscle cells contract harder.

The intensified contractions, Dr. Marks and his colleagues discovered, occurred because the hormones caused calcium to be released into the heart muscle cells’ channels.

But eventually the epinephrine and norepinephrine cannot stimulate the heart enough to meet the demands for blood. The brain responds by releasing more and more of those fight or flight hormones until it is releasing them all the time. At that point, the calcium channels in heart muscle are overstimulated and start to leak.

When they understood the mechanisms, the researchers developed a class of experimental drugs that block the leaks in calcium channels in the heart muscle. The drugs were originally created to block cells’ calcium channels, a way of lowering blood pressure.

Dr. Marks and his colleagues altered the drugs to make them less toxic and to rid them of their ability to block calcium channels. They were left with drugs that stopped calcium leaks. The investigators called the drugs rycals, because they attach to the ryanodine receptor/calcium release channel in heart muscle cells. The investigators tested rycals in mice and found that they could prevent heart failure and arrhythmias in the animals. Columbia obtained a patent for the drugs and licensed them to a start-up company, Armgo Pharma of New York. Dr. Marks is a consultant to the company.

Dr. Marks wondered whether the mechanism he discovered might apply to skeletal muscle as well as heart muscle. Skeletal muscle is similar to heart muscle, he noted, and has the same calcium channel system. And heart failure patients complain that their muscles are extremely weak.

“If you go to the hospital and ask heart failure patients what is bothering them, they don’t say their heart is weak,” Dr. Marks said. “They say they are weak.”

So he and his colleagues looked at making mice exercise to exhaustion, swimming and then running on a treadmill. The calcium channels in their skeletal muscles became leaky, the investigators found. And when they gave the mice their experimental drug, the animals could run 10 to 20 percent longer.

Then, collaborating with David Nieman, an exercise scientist at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., the investigators asked whether the human skeletal muscles grew tired for the same reason, calcium leaks.

Highly trained bicyclists rode stationary bikes at intense levels of exertion for three hours a day three days in a row. For comparison, other cyclists sat in the room but did not exercise.

Dr. Nieman removed snips of thigh muscle from all the athletes after the third day and sent them to Columbia, where Dr. Marks’s group analyzed them without knowing which samples were from the exercisers and which were not.The results, Dr. Marks said, were clear. The calcium channels in the exercisers leaked. A few days later, the channels had repaired themselves. The athletes were back to normal.

Of course, even though Dr. Marks wants to develop the drug to help people with congestive heart failure, hoping to alleviate their fatigue and improve their heart functions, athletes might also be tempted to use it if it eventually goes to the market.

The odds are against this particular drug being approved, though, cautions Dr. W. Robb McClellan, a heart disease researcher at U.C.L.A.

“Maybe this is a protective mechanism,” he said. “Maybe fatigue is saying that you are getting ready to go into a danger zone. So it is cutting you off. If you could will yourself to run as fast and as long as you could, some people would run until they keeled over and died.” source

Monday, 24 March 2008

Science-in search for reality or in search for publicity

Today, I want to share my sincere resentment of a trend I see more and more often. This is the desire of some people to turn science into popularity contest. I first encountered it in an argument why the colonisation of Moon shouldn't be paid with the money of theoretical sciences, because it's a technological challenge, not a scientific one. I was amazed by the incapability of that person to get that science can't be made on charity. When I told him that if they pay for the Moon with the money for theoretical physics, I can't make my study, because no private investor will be interested in numerical simulation of the central engine of a Gamma-Ray Burst, he told me "you should then try to convince the society your studies are important"! I abandoned the discussion.

Below I'm offering you some interesting articles that triggered me to talk about that again.
To those that will read them and will find me somewhat arrogant, let me explain why I am not. Science is a tool to understand the Universe. It's not only for the fun of the scientist, it gives the society knowledge and technology that open the doors of the imagination. Science is USEFUL!
But science requires devotion and insight. Sometimes-even blind faith. Not always a project can be financially justified. Not every project can be put in simple words that will translate the fire burning in the scientist. Not every project can be put in time-limit. Sometimes one project can last for years and years with ups and downs, with frustration and hope. I'm not saying scientist should apply for money and try to attract as much money and interest as they can. They should. But the society shouldn't expect to judge every project by the show it makes. There must be a socially-justified projects, but also scientifically-justified. There should be not only public judgment and interest, but also peer-approved projects and University sponsored fundamental science on risky projects. There should be independent judgment of the value of certain research. INDEPENDENT! Based on science, not on public opinion. In the last article, that is actually mine, you can read my response to a letter in which some european bureaucrat explained how scientific article should be with less terms. So that she, with her 3 years knowledge in high-school physics can understand what I write with my 5 years and going university physics. I'm not being arrogant. But behind every term stands an idea, a proof, a theory. When I meet a new term, sometimes I have to read 2-3 pages to understand completely what stands behind a word. A WORD. Single word. It's not always the case (and it's not speaking very well about my scientific knowledge :) ), but sometimes it is. For example, now I have to read 136 pages from a textbook to get what stands behind a name of ONE function. To say it simple- terms allows us, scientists, to say with one word, something that we had to study for days. Thus if we have to explain in simple words every term, an article from 10 pages will become probably 100 pages. And people that know all those terms and have had the similar education will be bored as hell. That's why terms are important. That's why in scientific journal, we use terms. In popular magazine, I don't mind explaining every single word, like when I speak to school students. But that can't be the rule. This is the exception.

Now, about the two articles. In the first one, you can wonder, what's so important about the future of the Planet after 7 billion years. What about after 1 billion? Can you imagine 100 years? Can you imagine 1000? What about 10 000? Because that's even more! Much more! Unimaginable more. And mind you-there's nothing new for the science in this article. It's a well-known fact. Then why it should be published in a respected magazine/newspaper as NY Times? Is it a NEWS? Because if it is, I'm very surprised. Why I publish it here? Because I'm shocked. I'm shocked that someone can make a sensation by a fact about something that will happen after 7 billion years. Utterly shocked! So please, science fans and scientist, don't fall for cheap sensation and popularity tricks. And check the absurd project about moving Earth from it's orbit!!! For something that will happen after 1 billion years! To move the Earth to another orbit. As much as I like sci fi, this is an absurdity for our current situation. Please, read it. It's cool!

Kissing the Earth Goodbye in About 7.59 Billion Years

Published: March 11, 2008

If nature is left to its own devices, about 7.59 billion years from now Earth will be dragged from its orbit by an engorged red Sun and spiral to a rapid vaporous death. That is the forecast according to new calculations by a pair of astronomers, Klaus-Peter Schroeder of the University of Guanajuato in Mexico and Robert Connon Smith of the University of Sussex in England.

Their report, to be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, is the latest and gloomiest installment yet in a long-running debate about the ultimate fate of our planet. Only last year, the discovery of a giant planet orbiting the faint burned-out cinder of a star in Pegasus had suggested that Earth could survive the Sun’s death.

Dr. Smith called the new result “a touch depressing” in a series of e-mail messages. But “looked at another way,” he added, “it is an incentive to do something about finding ways to leave our planet and colonize other areas in the galaxy.”

As for sentimental attachment to any of the geographic features we might have come to know and love, Dr. Smith said, “I should add that the Himalayas are a passing thought anyway. They didn’t even exist until India smashed into Asia less than 60 million years ago — the blink of an eye compared with the billions of years we are discussing.”

“So,” he said, “I would be surprised if anyone were able to rescue the Earth again in a future paper.”

Earth’s basic problem is that the Sun will gradually get larger and more luminous as it goes through life, according to widely held theories of stellar evolution. In its first 4.5 billion years, according to the models, the Sun has already grown about 40 percent brighter.

Over the coming eons, life on Earth will become muggier and more uncomfortable and finally impossible.

“Even if the Earth were to marginally escape being engulfed,” said Mario Livio, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, “it would still be scorched, and life on Earth would be destroyed.”

About a billion years from now, the Sun will be 10 percent brighter. Oceans on Earth will boil away. The Sun will run out of hydrogen fuel in its core about 5.5 billion years from now and start burning hydrogen in the surrounding layers. As a result, the core will shrink and the outer layers will rapidly expand as the Sun transforms itself into a red giant.

The heat from this death rattle will transform the solar system; it will briefly be springtime in the Kuiper Belt out beyond Neptune. Mercury and Venus will surely be swallowed, but the Earth’s fate has always been more uncertain.

The reason is that in the course of ballooning outward, the Sun will blow off a substantial share of its mass. Thus, the Sun’s gravitational grip on its planets will be weakened, and they will retreat to more distant orbits. The Earth will wind up about where Mars is now, “on the border line between being engulfed or escaping engulfment,” as Dr. Livio put it.

Whether or not the Earth is engulfed depends on which of two effects wins out. At the same time that the Earth is retreating to a safer position, tidal forces between it and the expanding Sun will try to drag the planet inward and downward.

According to Dr. Smith and Dr. Schroeder, that chance is nil. One key to their work is a new way of calculating how much mass the Sun loses during its cataclysmic expansion, and, thus, how big it gets and how far the Earth eventually moves outward. The more mass lost, paradoxically, the bigger the Sun swells, like a balloon whose elastic weakens when it is stretched. Using a new technique, developed by Dr. Schroeder and Manfred Cuntz of the University of Texas in Arlington, the authors calculated that the lost mass would amount to a third of the Sun’s original mass, compared with previous estimates of a quarter.

As a result, the red giant version of the Sun — at its maximum — will be 256 times as big across as the star is today and 2,730 times as luminous.

Skimming over the flame tops of this giant, the bare, burned Earth would produce a bulge in the Sun. But friction would cause the bulge to lag as it tried to follow the Earth. The gravitational tug from the bulge would slow the Earth and would cause it to spiral inward, where friction from gases in the Sun’s expanded atmosphere would slow it even more.

Then it would go down./sorry, it's sooooooo dramatic!/

After a period of burning helium and shrinking and expanding and then finally shrinking again, the Sun will wind up as tiny cinder known as a white dwarf, fading away for the rest of time.

Is there any way out of this fiery end for the robots or cockroaches or whoever will be running the Earth in a billion years?

One option is to leave for another planet or another star system.
Another option, Dr. Smith said, is to engage in some large-scale high-stakes engineering.
In the same way that space probes can get a trajectory boost by playing gravitational billiards with Venus or Jupiter to gain speed and get farther out in space, so the Earth could engineer regular encounters with a comet or asteroid, thus raising its orbit and getting farther from the Sun, according to a paper in 2001 by Don Korycansky and Gregory Laughlin of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Fred Adams of the University of Michigan.

Anyway, such a maneuver would prolong the viability of the Earth for only a few billion years. After that, the planet would be stranded in the cold and dim. source

Now, a short story about a priest cosmologist that gets the Million on science. For what? For asking "Does the universe need to have a cause?" Cool. Very cool. On the verge of absurd, I'd say. So, there are not any deserving scientists that made discovery that could or would change our life for ever, there was only a philosopher to give it. As much as I respect the person because I feel we have some common views, I'm mad they gave it him. Not because they could give it to me, not yet :P. But because they are so many people that really deserve it. And that need it. As a sign that society appreciates their work and devotion. Unfortunately, not the case.And mind the nationality of the guy. Hmmm, what about the Pope?

Priest-Cosmologist Wins $1.6 Million Templeton Prize

Published: March 13, 2008

The $1.6 million Templeton Prize, the richest award made to an individual by a philanthropic organization, was given Wednesday to Michael Heller, 72, a Roman Catholic priest, cosmologist and philosopher who has spent his life asking, and perhaps more impressively answering, questions like “Does the universe need to have a cause?”

Michael Heller, 72, winner of this year’s prize. He says science and religion “are prerequisites of the decent existence.”

The John Templeton Foundation, which awards grants to encourage scientific discovery on the “big questions” in science and philosophy, commended Professor Heller, who is from Poland, for his extensive writings that have “evoked new and important consideration of some of humankind’s most profound concepts.”

Much of Professor Heller’s career has been dedicated to reconciling the known scientific world with the unknowable dimensions of God.

In doing so, he has argued against a “God of the gaps” strategy for relating science and religion, a view that uses God to explain what science cannot.

Professor Heller said he believed, for example, that the religious objection to teaching evolution “is one of the greatest misunderstandings” because it “introduces a contradiction or opposition between God and chance.”

In a telephone interview, Professor Heller explained his affinity for the two fields: “I always wanted to do the most important things, and what can be more important than science and religion? Science gives us knowledge, and religion gives us meaning. Both are prerequisites of the decent existence.”

Professor Heller said he planned to use his prize to create a center for the study of science and theology as a joint venture between the Jagiellonian University and the Pontifical Academy of Theology, in Krakow, Poland, where he is a faculty member.

The prize will be officially awarded in London by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, in a private ceremony on May 7 at Buckingham Palace. source

Technical terms 'an important part of science' - Denitsa Staicova, University of Sofia

Published: Wednesday 9 January 2008

Sir,

Regarding 'Interview: 'We need a revolution in science culture'':

In my opinion as a scientist, Marie-Claude Roland's assertion that new technologies have made research very technical and keywords-based, with researchers failing to consider the wider relevance of their subject or spend enough time formulating questions and reformulating problems is outrageous and very dangerous.

Technical terms are an important part of science. You must have a common language with like-minded people and colleagues with whom you discuss your research. Science is very complex. It requires devotion and sometimes asocialisation, but this does not undermine its worth.

Some scientists do science and others do "show". I am not critical of "show" as it gives people a taste of what we are doing, which is for our common benefit. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to join science. I will not argue against simplicity, just that it should be in popular magazines and certainly not scientific magazines and journals, which serve a different purpose.

Europe is trying to apply the US style to science, which is wrong. Everybody benefits from the connection between researchers and industry, but science is not always technology-oriented.

Sometimes one must work on an issue with no immediate profit or benefit, and the stepping stones to great discoveries are paved with years of dirty and unpopular work.

Some scientific fields can be quite far-fetched and abstract, but this does not decrease their value. All research may lead to something important that was unexpected or unpredicted. The results of research in one field may be unexpectedly applied with great success in another, which is the reason why we should not follow the American model.

It is widely known that science in the USA gets more money and makes more practical discoveries than in the EU, while European scientists have better results in time-consuming theoretical fields.

We have to try to create a new model, including better connections between universities and industry as well as diverse mechanisms for funding and supporting unpopular research that has a potential impact upon science as a whole. However, we should certainly not depend on industry, because the priorities of science and industry are very different.

We need a mechanism to encourage scientists to present and discuss their research with the public, perhaps by provoking more media coverage or funding for social work.

We can have science that is both independent and understandable. We just have to find a way that does not harm anybody's interests. source

Denitsa Staicova,Physicist,University of Sofiaexternal,Bulgaria



Saturday, 22 March 2008

Worm-killing foods

New Food Formula: Tastes Fine, Kills Worms

February 5, 2008

Kraft Foods, the conglomerate built on macaroni and cheese, is working on a new and unusual product line — food that is not only tasty, but kills intestinal worms.

It is not intended for sale in the United States, but is aimed at rural Asia, Africa and Latin America, where worms leave millions of children lethargic, dangerously anemic and, sometimes, passing blood.

The food is in the early development stage, and a spokeswoman said the company was not ready to say whether it would be a cheese, a pasta, a granola bar or something else. But it will incorporate deworming chemicals developed by TyraTech, a company in Melbourne, Fla., that makes safe pesticides.

The pesticides, explained R. Douglas Armstrong, chief executive of TyraTech, are derived from plant oils. He would not name the plants, but compared the idea to the power of citronella to repel mosquitoes.

The oils attach to three olfactory and central nervous system receptors found only in invertebrates. When overstimulated, Dr. Armstrong said, those receptors produce unstoppable cascades of impulses in the nervous systems of insects or worms, repelling or killing them.

Dr. Armstrong compared it to ringing a doorbell so incessantly that it finally triggers a heart attack. Because vertebrates, including humans, lack these receptors, the oils are harmless to them.

They have been tested on mice, which are also vertebrates. Five days of treatment cleared them of dwarf tapeworms, TyraTech said. Tests on humans have not been done, so it is not clear what the prospective delicacies will taste like, said Sarah Delea, a spokeswoman for Kraft.

Dr. Armstrong said that different blends would work and that taste could be removed, masked with food flavors or coated with microencapsulization, as is done with medicine.

Plant oils’ killing power was discovered by accident, he added.

Essam Enan, a biochemist who is now the chief scientific officer for TyraTech, was formerly a cancer researcher studying the oils at the University of California, Davis, which is in the hot Sacramento Valley, when there was a power failure.

“Pretty soon, the other labs in the building began to close down for the day,” Dr. Armstrong said. “They had opened their windows. But there were too many flies and bugs, and it was too hot to close them.”

“But there were no bugs in Essam’s lab,” he continued. “Then he found some dead flies. That’s when he began to appreciate the potency.”

Dr. Frank O. Richards Jr., a parasitologist at the Carter Center in Atlanta, said he found the idea of a worm-killing food “interesting but not convincing yet.”

He would want to see proof, he said, that it worked on roundworms, which are metabolically different from tapeworms and much more common. And he would want proof that it killed worms, rather than just irritating them enough to make them migrate to other organs.

“We’re always interested in new worm drugs, because there isn’t a lot of research into them,” he said. “But a lot in this remains to be looked at.”

Although worm killing is a new angle for Kraft, Ms. Delea said, the manufacturer does reformulate some foods to be used in poor countries to improve health.

For example, she said, the Tang drink it sells in Asia and Latin America has extra vitamins. And the Eden brand cheese it sells in the Philippines is fortified with iodine. Iodine deficiency is the leading preventable cause of mental retardation, and it also leads to stunting and goiters.source

My comment:Mhm, I somewhat prefer not to eat such food, but from the other point of view, some people don't have the luxury of general practitioner and clean water. So I think this is a cheap way to improve their lives. The key moment for me is first to guarantee the safety of that food for the whole body and second, to make sure it's labeled. Because not everyone should or would eat that.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Biofuels today

Biofuels Deemed a Greenhouse Threat

Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account, two studies being published Thursday have concluded.

The benefits of biofuels have come under increasing attack in recent months, as scientists took a closer look at the global environmental cost of their production. These latest studies, published in the prestigious journal Science, are likely to add to the controversy.

These studies for the first time take a detailed, comprehensive look at the emissions effects of the huge amount of natural land that is being converted to cropland globally to support biofuels development.

The destruction of natural ecosystems — whether rain forest in the tropics or grasslands in South America — not only releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when they are burned and plowed, but also deprives the planet of natural sponges to absorb carbon emissions. Cropland also absorbs far less carbon than the rain forests or even scrubland that it replaces.

Together the two studies offer sweeping conclusions: It does not matter if it is rain forest or scrubland that is cleared, the greenhouse gas contribution is significant. More important, they discovered that, taken globally, the production of almost all biofuels resulted, directly or indirectly, intentionally or not, in new lands being cleared, either for food or fuel.

“When you take this into account, most of the biofuel that people are using or planning to use would probably increase greenhouse gasses substantially,” said Timothy Searchinger, lead author of one of the studies and a researcher in environment and economics at Princeton University. “Previously there’s been an accounting error: land use change has been left out of prior analysis.”

These plant-based fuels were originally billed as better than fossil fuels because the carbon released when they were burned was balanced by the carbon absorbed when the plants grew. But even that equation proved overly simplistic because the process of turning plants into fuels causes its own emissions — for refining and transport, for example.

The clearance of grassland releases 93 times the amount of greenhouse gas that would be saved by the fuel made annually on that land, said Joseph Fargione, lead author of the second paper, and a scientist at the Nature Conservancy. “So for the next 93 years you’re making climate change worse, just at the time when we need to be bringing down carbon emissions.”

The Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change has said that the world has to reverse the increase of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to avert disastrous environment consequences.

The European Union and a number of European countries have recently tried to address the land use issue with proposals stipulating that imported biofuels cannot come from land that was previously rain forest.

But even with such restrictions in place, Dr. Searchinger’s study shows, the purchase of biofuels in Europe and the United States leads indirectly to the destruction of natural habitats far afield.

For instance, if vegetable oil prices go up globally, as they have because of increased demand for biofuel crops, more new land is inevitably cleared as farmers in developing countries try to get in on the profits. So crops from old plantations go to Europe for biofuels, while new fields are cleared to feed people at home.

The benefits of biofuels have come under increasing attack in recent months, as scientists took a closer look at the global environmental cost of their production. These latest studies, published in the prestigious journal Science, are likely to add to the controversy.

These studies for the first time take a detailed, comprehensive look at the emissions effects of the huge amount of natural land that is being converted to cropland globally to support biofuels development.

The destruction of natural ecosystems — whether rain forest in the tropics or grasslands in South America — not only releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when they are burned and plowed, but also deprives the planet of natural sponges to absorb carbon emissions. Cropland also absorbs far less carbon than the rain forests or even scrubland that it replaces.

Together the two studies offer sweeping conclusions: It does not matter if it is rain forest or scrubland that is cleared, the greenhouse gas contribution is significant. More important, they discovered that, taken globally, the production of almost all biofuels resulted, directly or indirectly, intentionally or not, in new lands being cleared, either for food or fuel.

“When you take this into account, most of the biofuel that people are using or planning to use would probably increase greenhouse gasses substantially,” said Timothy Searchinger, lead author of one of the studies and a researcher in environment and economics at Princeton University. “Previously there’s been an accounting error: land use change has been left out of prior analysis.”

These plant-based fuels were originally billed as better than fossil fuels because the carbon released when they were burned was balanced by the carbon absorbed when the plants grew. But even that equation proved overly simplistic because the process of turning plants into fuels causes its own emissions — for refining and transport, for example.

The clearance of grassland releases 93 times the amount of greenhouse gas that would be saved by the fuel made annually on that land, said Joseph Fargione, lead author of the second paper, and a scientist at the Nature Conservancy. “So for the next 93 years you’re making climate change worse, just at the time when we need to be bringing down carbon emissions.”

The Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change has said that the world has to reverse the increase of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to avert disastrous environment consequences.

In the wake of the new studies, a group of 10 of the United States’s most eminent ecologists and environmental biologists today sent a letter to President Bush and the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, urging a reform of biofuels policies. “We write to call your attention to recent research indicating that many anticipated biofuels will actually exacerbate global warming,” the letter said.

The European Union and a number of European countries have recently tried to address the land use issue with proposals stipulating that imported biofuels cannot come from land that was previously rain forest.

But even with such restrictions in place, Dr. Searchinger’s study shows, the purchase of biofuels in Europe and the United States leads indirectly to the destruction of natural habitats far afield.

For instance, if vegetable oil prices go up globally, as they have because of increased demand for biofuel crops, more new land is inevitably cleared as farmers in developing countries try to get in on the profits. So crops from old plantations go to Europe for biofuels, while new fields are cleared to feed people at home. source

Banning 'bad' biofuels and becoming better consumers

31 January 2008

The Commission's recent proposal to ban "bad" biofuels as part of its climate and energy package may benefit all parties and even the industry itself by "restoring some faith" in the much-critisised product, according to a January analysis from the Worldwatch Institute.

The proposed legislation rules out using biofuels produced on highly-biodiverse grasslands, deforested land or lands with a high carbon stock such as wetlands and grasslands, outline the authors.

"A ban on some biofuels is good because there is a natural tendency to take advantage of a bull market", the authors claim, referring to a tendency to expand production into new territories to cope with growing demand. "Rising demand for biofuels is encouraging farmers across the world to expand their cropland as much as the law and the market tolerate," the analysis elaborates.

The authors refer to South America, where soybean farmers and ranchers are "encroaching on the Amazon" and south-east Asia, where palm oil plantations are "continuing an alarming expansion across larger swathes of virgin forests and peatlands".

By realising that it is not growers but consumers who are most important in today's "raging biofuels market", sustainability standards gain crucial importance, the authors believe.

"People are interested in biofuels because they want to do something good for the planet – and if they realise that some of these fuels are linked to alarming social and environmental practices, the demand will dry up," according to Worldwatch.

Biofuels have many benefits, the paper says, such as reducing dependence on oil, keeping money and jobs in the local economy and reducing greenhouse gas impacts. However, it warns that the various benefits of biofuels vary "wildly" depending on the feedstock.

For example, US biodiesel produced from locally-grown soybeans is much more efficient and climate friendly than corn ethanol, the authors explain. What's more, sugar cane grown in Brazil brings "far higher" energy and climate benefits.

Next-generation biofuel crops produced with little water or fertiliser on dry or easily erodable soils may actually improve degraded soils and bring "far superior benefits" to even the best sugarcane ethanol, the authors state.

However, they warn that if such production does not aim to maximise social and environmental benefits, "they will have no more value than the dirtiest corn ethanol," the authors conclude.

If the differences between various biofuel crops are not recognised by the market then "there is no reason for a producer not to convert more land and throw more chemicals and water at the crop to make it grow," the analysis concludes. source

My comment:I wrote before on that. All I can say is that it's very good people are finally considering the consequences of their actions. Curious thing about the first article, however, is that the claim production of bio-diesel (when it's not connected with any ecological hazard) is 95 times more CO2 emitting than oil. I find this estimate ridiculous. Yes, if you take the CO2 exhaled by the owners, probably, but as a whole this is absurd. Because no one ever does the same estimations for fossil fuel which have to be drilled (ecological effect, also CO2 from the machines), conserved, transported and sold. It's absolutely ridiculous.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Microbes' style

Reporting in the journal Science, Dr. J. Craig Venter and his colleagues at the J. Craig Venter Institute said they had fabricated the entire DNA chain of a microbial parasite called Mycoplasma genitalium, exceeding previous records of sustained DNA synthesis by some 18-fold. Any day now, the researchers say, they will pop that manufactured mortal coil into a cellular shell, where the genomic code will “boot up,” as Dr. Venter puts it, and the entire construct will begin acting like a natural-born M. genitalium — minus the capacity, the researchers promise, to infect the delicate tissues that explain the parasite’s surname.

Scientists who seek to imitate living cells say they can’t help but be perpetually dazzled by the genuine articles, their flexibility, their versatility, their childlike grandiosity. No matter what outrageous or fattening things we may ask our synthetic cells to do, scientists say, it’s nothing compared with what cells already have done of their own accord, usually in the format of bacteria. Microbes have been found to survive and even thrive in places where if they had any sense they would freeze, melt, explode, disintegrate, starve, suffocate, or at the very least file a very poor customer review.

“We have micro-organisms that live in such strong acid or base solutions that if you put your finger in, the skin would dissolve almost instantly,” Dr. Venter said in an interview. “There’s another organism that can take three million rads of radiation and not be killed.” How can a microbe withstand a blast of radioactivity that is a good 1,500 times greater than what would kill any of us virtually on the spot? “Its chromosome gets blown apart,” Dr. Venter said, “but it stitches everything back together and just starts replicating again.”

Given the wealth of biological and metabolic templates that nature has invented over nearly four billion years of evolutionary tinkering, scientists say, any sane program to synthesize new life forms must go hand in hand with a sustained sampling of the old. “My view is that we know less than 1 percent of what’s out there in the biological universe,” Dr. Venter said.

Last year, he and his colleagues went prospecting for new organisms in the deep midocean, long thought to be one of earth’s least animate regions. Sure, life evolved in the seas, but shallow seas, where sunlight can penetrate, were considered the preferred site for biodiversity. Even with the startling discovery in the 1980s of life on the ocean floor, around the hydrothermal vents, the midocean waters couldn’t shake their reputation as an impoverished piece of real estate: too far down for solar energy, too high up for its geothermal equivalent.

Yet when the Venter team began sampling the waters for the most basic evidence of life, the presence of genetic material, they found themselves practically awash in novel DNA. “From our random sequencing in the ocean, we uncovered six million new genes,” he said, genes, that is, unlike any yet seen in any of the mammals, reptiles, worms, fish, insects, fungi, microbes or narcissists that have been genetically analyzed so far. With just that first-pass act of nautical sequencing, Dr. Venter said, “we doubled the number of all genes characterized to date.”

Researchers assume that most of the novel DNA is microbial in origin, but they have yet to identify the organisms or see what they can do, because most microbes are notoriously difficult to cultivate in the lab. Bacteria may happily swim through toxic waste, but when it comes to confinement on an agar plate, thank you, they’d rather be dead.

Technical challenges notwithstanding, scientists have made some progress in investigating preposterous life forms and tallying the biochemical tools that such extremophiles use. Thermophilic microbes, for example, which can withstand temperatures of 238 degrees Fahrenheit, well above the boiling point of water, have stiffening agents in their membranes, to keep them from melting away, and they build their cell proteins with a different assortment of amino acids than our cells do, allowing the construction of strongly bonded protein chains that won’t collapse in the heat.

By contrast, said Steven K. Schmidt, a microbiologist at the University of Colorado in Boulder, when you look at organisms that thrive in subzero conditions, “their membranes are really loosey-goosey, very fluid,” and so resist stiffening and freezing. It turns out there are a lot of these loosey-gooses around. Dr. Schmidt and his colleagues study the fridgophile life forms that make their home in glacial debris high in the Andes Mountains, 20,000 feet above sea level, where the scene may look bleak, beyond posthumous, but where, he said, “we’ve been pretty amazed at the extreme diversity of things we’ve found.” The complexity of the Andean microbial ecosystem, he said, “is greater than what you’d find in your garden.”

Microbes were here first, and they’ve done everything first, and synthetic lifers are happy to scavenge for parts and ideas. Drew Endy, an assistant professor in the biological engineering department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his colleagues are putting together a registry of standardized biological parts, which they call BioBrick parts. The registry consists of the DNA code for different biological modules, interchangeable protein parts that they hope may someday be pieced together into a wide variety of biological devices to perform any task a bioengineer may have in mind, rather like the way nuts, bolts, gears, pulleys, circuits and the like are assembled into the machines of our civilization. Numbering some 2,000 parts and growing, the registry contains many recipes for clever protein modules invented by bacteria.
source

My comment: Nature Rules! It does! And I absolutely overwhelmed by the power of bacterias. Check the article, to see what they are capable of sustaining. Absolute craziness. One can't help but wonder how we survived at all, this hostile planet of ours. As for the actual engineering well, it's good people try to learn from Nature itself, I'm just always little skeptical to big discovery announcements. I know what it takes to make a discovery and it seems to me people are little too eager to get to the media.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Newsbits

I'm totally unsure if I already posted this, but anyway, in this edition:


Teenage smokers risk badly wired brains

Parents may now have another reason to worry about their children smoking. Nicotine may cause the teenage brain to develop abnormally, resulting in changes to the structure of white matter - the neural tissue through which signals are relayed. Teenagers who smoke, or whose mothers smoked during pregnancy, are also more likely to suffer from auditory attention deficits, meaning they find it harder to concentrate on what is being said when other things are happening at the same time.

Leslie Jacobsen of Yale University School of Medicine and colleagues used diffusion tensor imaging, which measures how water diffuses through brain tissue, to study the brains of 33 teenagers whose mothers had smoked during pregnancy. Twenty-five of the teens were daily smokers. The team also studied 34 teens whose mothers had not smoked, of whom 14 were daily smokers. source

Macaque monkeys 'pay' for sex

SEX has probably been a commodity for as long as human society has existed, and perhaps even longer. The "oldest profession" seemingly has pre-human evolutionary roots. "When the opportunity arises, male macaque monkeys groom females to 'pay' for sex," says Michael Gumert of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Gumert looked at research on a 50-strong group of long-tailed macaques in Kalimantan Tengah, Indonesia, that covered a 20-month period. He found there was an increase in sexual activity after bouts of male-to-female grooming. On average, females had sex 1.5 times per hour, but immediately after being groomed by a male partner, this rate jumped to 3.5 times per hour. After grooming, the female was also less likely to offer herself to males other than her grooming partner (Animal Behaviour, DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2007.03.009).
source

Removing lead from petrol was supposed to prevent damage to children's mental development. Now it seems that traffic fumes may still be impairing their learning - because of the soot particles it contains.

When Shakira Franco Suglia at Harvard University and her colleagues studied 200 children in nearby Boston they found that scores on verbal reasoning, visual learning and other tests were lower in those exposed to more traffic fumes. The IQ of children from areas of the city with above-average pollution levels was 3 points below those in cleaner areas, even after controlling for socio-economic factors (American Journal of Epidemiology, DOI: 10.1093/aje/kwm308).

That puts the impact of soot on a par with lead and other toxic substances that damage brain development, says Franco Suglia. source

Monday, 10 March 2008

An altar of god pre-dating Zeus-possible sign of nefilims

An Altar Beyond Olympus for a Deity Predating Zeus


Before Zeus hurled his first thunderbolt from Olympus, the pre-Greek people occupying the land presumably paid homage and offered sacrifices to their own gods and goddesses, whose nature and identities are unknown to scholars today.

But archaeologists say they have now found the ashes, bones and other evidence of animal sacrifices to some pre-Zeus deity on the summit of Mount Lykaion, in the region of Greece known as Arcadia. The remains were uncovered last summer at an altar later devoted to Zeus.

Fragments of a coarse, undecorated pottery in the debris indicated that the sacrifices might have been made as early as 3000 B.C., the archaeologists concluded. That was about 900 years before Greek-speaking people arrived, probably from the north in the Balkans, and brought their religion with them./Greek speaking people came from North in the Balkans??? What that makes them, trakians? Hmmmm, that's very funny, though I believe wrong/

The excavators were astonished. They were digging in a sanctuary to Zeus, in Greek mythology the father of gods and goddesses. From texts in Linear B, an ancient form of Greek writing, Zeus is attested as a pre-eminent god as early as 1400 B.C. By some accounts, the birthplace of Zeus was on the heights of Lykaion.

After reviewing the findings of pottery experts, geologists and other archaeologists, David Gilman Romano of the University of Pennsylvania concluded that material at the Lykaion altar “suggests that the tradition of devotion to some divinity on that spot is very ancient” and “very likely predates the introduction of Zeus in the Greek world.” /yeah, I wonder who they deityfied/

Other archaeologists familiar with the discovery tended to agree with Dr. Romano’s interpretation, though they said that continuing excavations this summer and next should reach a more definitive understanding of the altar’s possible pre-Greek use.

“We certainly know that Zeus and a female version of Zeus were worshiped in prehistoric times,” Dr. Davis continued in an e-mail message. “The trick will be in defining the precise nature of the site itself before historical times.”

Ken Dowden, director of the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity at the University of Birmingham, in England, who was not involved in the research, said that it was not surprising to find the migrating Greeks adapting a sanctuary dedicated to gods of an earlier religion for the worship of their own gods. “Even Christians would on occasion reuse a pagan sanctuary in order to transfer allegiance from the preceding religion to Christianity,” he noted.

The affinities of Roman gods and goddesses to earlier Greek ones are well known. Jupiter, for example, is a virtual stand-in for Zeus. In antiquity it was perhaps no heresy to have different names for the same deity. The place of Mount Lykaion in practices venerating Zeus is documented in literature and previous archaeological research.

The Greek traveler Pausanias, writing in the second century A.D., described the sanctuary of Zeus on the mountain, 4,500 feet above the rural countryside.

“On the highest point of the mountain is a mound of earth, forming an altar of Zeus Lykaios, and from it most of the Peloponnesus can be seen,” Pausanias wrote. “Before the altar on the east stand two pillars, on which there were once gilded eagles. On this altar they sacrifice in secret to Lykaion Zeus. I was reluctant to pry into the details of the sacrifice; let them be as they are and were from the beginning.”

Bones, mostly goats and sheep, were collected. A few bronze artifacts were recovered. Also a seal stone with an image of a bull, suggesting influence at one time from Minoan Crete. Altar stones were burned and cracked from the sacrificial fires.

A geological survey by George Davis of the University of Arizona revealed an ancient fault bordering the altar site on three sides. Could this fault be related to the selection of the site? The region is prone to earthquakes.

Dr. Voyatzis said the potsherds were the most telling finds. Their undecorated style, gray color, the feel of the clay and the way it was fired, she said, were diagnostic of pottery 5,000 years ago.

In an e-mail message last week, Dr. Nordquist, who has visited the site but was not a team member, said that the potsherds “may have belonged to vessels found in graves by people in later times and given to the gods as offerings.” Or they could be remains from an early Bronze Age settlement, although she, too, said “it would be a very inconvenient place to live.”

Dr. Nordquist said that she preferred the explanation that the Lykaion site was indeed used as a cult sanctuary in the time before Zeus. Little is known of the pre-Greek inhabitants, but some scholars think they originated in what is now western Turkey.
source

My comment: First of all, western Turkey simply was part of Vizantian Empire, so it's pretty obvious there were greek there before Turkey. That doesn't mean they come from there. It's nonsense. Second, there were already findings from these times in Bulgaria (which is northern than Greek), that include quite sophisticated golden jewels and pottery. And third of all, how Greece allowed those guys to dig its soil? It's very weird. But then, if they pay, why not. They will dig the site and then Greece will win money from showing it. Maybe one day people will come to Bulgaria too.

On the nephilim part, well, it's pretty obvious. We have a prehistoric cult on a place from where you could see the whole region. If I was a ruler of the province, I'd surely put someone there to watch over. Just like that Taro card where a guy is watching over its dominion. Ok, it's far fetched, I know that. But what really impressed me when I was in the national historic museum here, in Sofia, was an armor that included golden disk on the place of the solar plexus. And it dated I think from 5000 years ago. Also the sophisticated golden stuff-first, what's that obsession with gold from a tribe that early in human history and second-the technique required to produce such details is unbelievably. Thus I don't have any doubts there is more to our history than what we know today.

Or, now remembering that it was on three faults, could it be that it was a good place to observe for earthquakes? Why not...

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Global warming and endengered species

The Preservation Predicament

By CORNELIA DEAN
29, 2008

Conservation organizations that work to preserve biologically rich landscapes are confronting a painful realization: In an era of climate change, many of their efforts may be insufficient or beside the point.

Some scientists say efforts to re-establish or maintain salmon runs in Pacific Northwest streams will be of limited long-term benefit to the fish if warming makes the streams inhospitable. Others worry about efforts to restore the fresh water flow of the Everglades, given that much of it will be under water as sea level rises. Some geologists say it may be advisable to abandon efforts to preserve some fragile coastal barrier islands and focus instead on allowing coastal marshes to migrate inland, as sea level rises.

And everywhere, ecologists and conservation biologists wonder how landscapes already under preservation will change with the climate.

“We have over a 100-year investment nationally in a large suite of protected areas that may no longer protect the target ecosystems for which they were formed,” said Healy Hamilton, director of the California Academy of Sciences, who attended a workshop on the subject in November in Berkeley, Calif. “New species will move in, and the target species will move out.”

As a result, more and more conservationists believe they must do more than identify biologically important landscapes and raise money to protect them. They must peer into an uncertain future, guess which sites will be important 50 or 100 years from now, and then try to balance these guesses against the pressing needs of the present.

No one is suggesting that land conservation done so far has been a wasted effort. Many argue that preserved areas will contribute immensely to ecosystem resilience as the climate changes. For example, environmentally intact salmon streams will undoubtedly be useful if new species move into them. And even if much of the Everglades is lost to a rise in sea level, preserving the rest will be crucial for maintaining fresh water supplies in South Florida, said Dan Kimball, superintendent of Everglades National Park.

Mr. Kimball said that if the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was right, and sea levels rose as much as two feet by the end of the century, up to 50 percent of the Everglades’s fresh water marsh “would be transformed into a salt water system.” But, he said, restoring the fresh water flow might “create a fresh water barrier, hopefully, and keep the rising seas at bay.”

The Everglades ecosystem is full of uncertainties, Mr. Kimball said, explaining that “we don’t know the rates of change.” If seas rise faster than the climate panel predicted in its report last year, which many scientists regard as likely, mangroves crucial to the health of the glades could be submerged. But “if it’s slow,” he said, “the mangroves could gather sediment and actually build landform” — something that he said happened after Hurricane Wilma washed over the vast wetland in 2005.

This kind of uncertainty is widespread. For example, Dr. Hamilton said that on the Northern California coast, fog has an influence on natural systems. But “none of our climate models can tell us what is going to happen with fog,” she said. “So we are facing profound uncertainties about how our coastal ecosystems are going to look.”

“It’s a real dilemma,” said David S. Wilcove, a conservation biologist at Princeton. “What you are trying to do is balance the urgent needs of the present — the ongoing destruction of habitats that species need now — with the urgent needs of the future — places where they may end up if they are able to move in response to changing climate.”

Mr. Stanley said that to cope, the Nature Conservancy was adopting new strategies, which include identifying for preservation potential refuges against changing climate, landscapes that have had relatively stable vegetation over thousands of years, and removing or reducing other stresses on the landscape, particularly activities by people.

Other plans are to search for resilient species or subspecies that can cope with a warming trend. For example, conservancy scientists looked at which reefs did best when Caribbean waters warmed in an El Niño event in the late 1990s. Resilient strains could be used to restore damaged reefs.

Some scientists say it may be necessary one day to move plants and animals into new areas and are working to devise theoretical frameworks for deciding when, how or whether to act.

“What you are basically doing is moving species to places where they do not occur but where you think they will be suitable. But we often get into trouble translocating species for all kinds of unexpected reasons that come up.”

Coastal ecosystems are likely to be the first to pose difficult conservation problems, as sea level rise inundates protected areas or makes them more vulnerable to damage in storms.

For example, Asbury H. Sallenger, an oceanographer at the United States Geological Survey and an expert on coastal hazards, said conservationists had been considering massive sand-pumping efforts in hopes of restoring a bird habitat on the Chandeleur Islands, barrier strands off the coast of Louisiana that were severely damaged in Hurricane Katrina and other storms. But with sea level rise accelerating, Dr. Sallenger said in an e-mail message, “there is reason to believe these islands may disappear much more quickly than we thought just a few years ago.”

As a result, Dr. Sallenger said, the agency was working to estimate the projected lifespan of the islands, should they be rebuilt to their configuration of the late 1990s. “In other words,” he said, “will the time gained be worth it.”

But while many realize that ocean beaches are threatened by climate-related sea level rise, they do not understand that coastal wetlands — crucial nurseries for fish and shellfish — are at least as vulnerable, much less likely to be preserved and, in many areas, penned in by development and unable to migrate inland, as they would naturally as seas rise.

Some conservationists advocate triage, accepting that some ecosystems, like coral reefs, may not survive in a warmer world, and putting their efforts elsewhere. Others, like Mr. Stanley at the Nature Conservancy, are not ready to give ground. “I don’t think those analyses take into account the resilience,” he said. “We are less focused on triage and more focused on resilience.”(source)

My comment: I know this one is pretty long, but I found it interesting to see what people are doing to preserve endangered species. And there are many specific stories that opponents of Global Warming like to ignore.

And here's one very interesting blog I found on New Scientist which compare the arguments against abolition of slavery in the 19th century with those against Global Warming. Funny and enlightening...The link

What are the comments and how similar are they really? I'll let you judge for yourself. The full text of the paper is available here, though you may have to pay to access it.

Here is a sample:

On the uncertain benefits of the abolition of slavery:

"...the course of [the abolitionists] whose precipitate and ignorant zeal would overturn the fundamental institutions of society, uproar its peace and endanger its security, in pursuit of a distant and shadowy good, of which they themselves have formed no definite conception."
(in: Simms 1852, p 98)
Davidson compares this to the words of current US congressmen who mention the "inconclusive and often contradictory" nature of climate science. On the cost of change:
"Their [the slaves'] value, at $400, average, (and they are now worth more than that,) would amount to upwards of 900 millions. The value of their annual increase, alone is 24 millions of dollars; so that to free them in 100 years, without the expense of taking them from the country, would require an annual appropriation of between 33 and 34 millions of dollars. The thing is physically impossible."
(James Henry Hammond, senator of South Carolina, 1836)
Davidson compares this to the often cited concerns that limiting greenhouse gas emissions will harm the US economy. The crux of Davidson's argument is that the US economy now relies on oil in much the same way as the economy of the Southern States relied on slaves 200 years ago – as a key source of energy.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Couple of suspicious facts-nephilims related or no...

After today's session with New Scientist, here are few articles that attracted my attention. They are mostly about the origin of man-kind. Like missing ancestors, booted ancestors and weird palm that turned up in a place it wasn't supposed to be. I won't draw any conclusions as obviously they may be quite questionable, all I'm saying is that these might be part of the puzzle of our past. Or might not.

Ancient bones suggest cavemen wore boots

Toe bones from a cave in China suggest people were wearing shoes at least 40,000 years ago.

Erik Trinkaus and Hong Shang, from Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, measured the shape and density of toe bones from a 40,000-year-old skeleton found in Tianyuan cave near Beijing. They compared these bones with those from 20th century urban Americans, late-prehistoric Inuits and other late-prehistoric Native Americans.

Shoes alter the way a person walks. With a rigid sole the toes curl far less than when barefoot and less force is passed through the bones, leading to obvious differences in the three recent populations. Barefoot native Americans have strong, large toes, while modern Americans have little toes. Shoe-wearing Inuits lie somewhere in between.

Trinkaus and Shang found that the Tianyuan toe bones were most similar to the Inuits', indicating that this person regularly wore shoes (Journal of Archaeological Science, DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2007.12.002). (source)

My comment: Could that mean that at that time we already had more of a society that we admit? Or someone simply put shoes on our ancestors?

The strange anatomy of the brain

HUMAN curiosity about the workings of the brain dates back at least 46 centuries. The first appearance of the word "brain" is on the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, an Egyptian manuscript dating from around 1600 BC but thought to have been copied from the writings of Imhotep, an engineer, architect and physician who lived 1000 years earlier. The papyrus is the earliest known work on trauma medicine, and among other things it describes head injuries.

We do not know whether those injuries were suffered during the carnage of war or in the chaos of an ancient building site, but they make sobering reading: men who are paralysed, men who can only crouch and mumble, and men whose skulls are split open to reveal the "skull offal" inside, convoluted like "the corrugations... in molten copper". The author marvels at the opportunity to study this most mysterious of organs, and ...(source)

My comment: Here you can read more about this papyrus and the brain.

Prehistoric palaeontologists

PALAEONTOLOGISTS, according to an item in Science & Consciousness Review that Richard Valentin has alerted us to, started searching for fossils of the great apes'ancestors long before the great apes came into existence: "Genetic studies suggest that humans and great apes split from a common ancestor about 8 million years ago, but palaeontologists have struggled to find fossils for the ancestors of modern African great apes for the past 13 million years." (source)

Giant Madagascan palm 'flowers itself to death'

An enormous new palm tree that flowers itself to death has been discovered in a remote area of north-western Madagascar.

Towering more than 18 metres above the forest floor with fan-shaped leaves 5 m in diameter, the evolutionarily distinct tree represents a new genus of palm. It is the largest palm ever found in Madagascar and one of the world’s biggest flowering plants.

Named Tahina spectabilis, the plant is the only Madagascan member of a family of palm trees found scattered across the Arabian Peninsula, Thailand, and China.

Baker says 95% of the world's palms flower at a steady rate throughout their lives making this newly discovered plant’s explosive end-of-life reproduction all the more unusual.

The giant palm was first found by Xavier Metz, a local cashew plantation manager who stumbled upon one of the trees while picnicking with his family, and was struck by the massive candelabra of flowers sprouting from its top.

Photos Metz took of the tree soon reached Baker and colleagues at Kew who later confirmed the plant's unique lineage through DNA testing.

Madagascar has 170 known species of palms, however, most of that diversity occurs along the island's eastern rainforest belt, where botanists have focused their search for new organisms in recent decades.

Raven says he is unsure how the plant ended up in Madagascar, which was connected to both Africa and India in its geologic past.

He notes, however, that most of the country’s flora and fauna reached the island via dispersal over or through the water from continental Africa, a distance of roughly 400 kilometres.

The newfound palm is limited to a relatively small area at the foot of a limestone outcrop and researchers estimate that only about 100 individuals exist.

Journal reference: Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society (vol 156, p 79) (source)

My comment: This palm blossoms just before it dies. Very weird, eh?