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

Friday, 31 October 2008

The unknown history

As you probably know, I'm very interested in alternative history. Or let's call it not alternative, but post-modern. Because alternative refers to something too crazy to be scientific, while I'm very hard on keeping the scientific approach. But the new discoveries require new thinking-something that is not always working that well or that quick in archeology.

For me we're overestimating the Semitism in history and we tend not to pay tribute to other branches of history, including other civilisations that surely existed on our Planet. An example of that is the Ind-Sarasvati culture that pre-date Sumeria. Or the Thracian culture that also pre-dates Sumeria. That's why, I'm eagerly looking for news that might shine some light into the puzzles of the Past.
Let's see what we have today:

  1. Ancient buckle may unlock mystery
  2. Archaeological find puts back settlement of Istanbul 6,000 years
  3. Mysterious Neolithic People Made Optical Art
  4. 'Devils' trails' are world's oldest human footprints
  5. Ancient bones show tuberculosis older than thought
  6. World's first dog lived 31,700 years ago, ate big
  7. Archaeologists Discover an Ancient Egyptian Temple near Pomorie
  8. Ancient Egypt had powerful Sudan rival, British Museum dig shows
Don't worry, most of them are only 2-3 paragraphs long. My comments are below them, as usual. I want to direct you to articles number 3., 4. and 7 and 8. They are the most interesting for me.

Ancient buckle may unlock mystery

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 08:56:50 GMT

An ancient belt buckle with a design of a sleeping two-hump camel has been unearthed in a 3,000-year-old cemetery in northern Iran.

Archeologists began a detailed study of the ancient buckle and its two-hump camel design soon after its discovery in the country's northern province of Mazandaran.

Since northern Iran has never been home to two-hump camels, the design on the ancient buckle suggests that the owner may not have been Iranian. It is possible that the buckle belonged to an immigrant from East Asia.

In previous excavations of the region, archeologists unearthed three skeletons with an ethnicity that differed from the native Iranian Arian race. source

My comment: It's nice to see that little by little the Arian mania is finally dissolving. I don't mind Arians since Bulgarians are thought to come from that place too (Bulg-Aria-the land of the Bulg). But as I said, I don't think one civilisation can explain all the data. And now, we see that people emigrated to Persia at some point, which means that there was another more or less equally developped society out there. Check out the last news for more.

Peru archaeologists find pre-Inca sacrificial tomb

Archaeologists in Peru say they have discovered the jawbone of a fetus among the remains of a sacrificed woman in a pre-Inca tomb, suggesting the Lambayeque culture practiced the atypical sacrifice of pregnant women and their children.

The remains of the woman and unborn child were found in a tomb with three other sacrificed women and several sacrificial llamas, lead archaeologist Carlos Wester La Torre told The Associated Press. In all, Wester La Torre’s team reported finding the remains of seven women in two tombs at the Chotuna Chornancap archaeological site, each showing signs of having been cut at the throat. The sacrifice of a pregnant woman “is very unusual” in the pre-Inca world, said respected Peruvian archaeologist Walter Alva, who was not involved in the discovery.

“The concept of fertility was well respected, so this could represent a sacrifice for a very important religious event,” he said Wednesday. Chotuna Chornancap is a sacred site of the Lambayeque culture, which flourished in northern Peru between 800 and 1350 AD.source

My comment:I also find it very weird. People usually considered pregnancy for the highest possible mistery and blessing so it's either a sacrifice for someone EXTREMELY important-which reminds me of the Bulgars tradition to sacrifice the more intelligent and beautiful people to Tangra-or we have a completely different motivation and a historical context that we clearly don't understand. In both cases, it's very curious.

Archaeological find puts back settlement of Istanbul 6,000 years

16:23 | 02/ 10/ 2008

ANKARA, October 2 (RIA Novosti) - Turkish archaeologists have found artifacts showing that Istanbul, earlier believed to be founded 2,700 years ago by the Greeks as Byzantium, is 8,500 years old, local media said.

The Al-Watan newspaper said the excavations in Istanbul, which have gone on for four years, have uncovered four skeletons, as well as wooden and ceramic pieces, shedding new light on the history of the Turkish city.

The discovery was made two months ago at a depth of six meters below sea level at the site of an ancient settlement. Ismail Karamut, who directs Istanbul's Archaeological Museum, said the finding would force historians to rewrite the country's history. source

My comment: I knew Istanbul is old, but not that old. I guess the geographic position always seemed very useful to people and from here the city. It's interesting that there are few extremely old sites in Turkey. Very very interesting. Especially if you connect them with the Thracian civilisation that can be found on a hundred km distance. And that dates in approximately the same date.

Mysterious Neolithic People Made Optical Art

Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News

Sept. 22, 2008 -- An egalitarian Neolithic Eden filled with unique, geometric art flourished some 7,000 years ago in Eastern Europe, according to hundreds of artifacts on display at the Vatican.

Little is known about these people -- even their name is wrapped in mystery.

Archaeologists have named them "Cucuteni-Trypillians" after the villages of Cucuteni, near Lasi, Romania and Trypillia, near Kiev, Ukraine, where the first discoveries of this ancient civilization were made more than 100 years ago.

The excavated treasures -- fired clay statuettes and op art-like pottery dating from 5000 to 3000 B.C. -- immediately posed a riddle to archaeologists.

"We do not know the meaning of those painted symbols, and what is the significance of those zoomorphic and anthropomorphic statuettes. Everything seems to be wrapped in mystery.

"Most of all, we do not know how these people treated their dead. Despite recent extensive excavations, no cemetery has ever been found," Lacramioara Stratulat, director of the Moldova National Museum Complex of Iasi, told reporters at a news conference recently at the Vatican.

Before their culture mysteriously faded, the Cucuteni-Trypillians had organized into large settlements. Predating the Sumerians and Egyptian settlements, these were basically proto-cities with buildings often arranged in concentric circles.

They extended over 350,000 square kilometers (135,000 square miles) in what is now Romania, Ukraine and Moldova.

The Neolithic buildings often featured walls and ceilings decorated with drawings painted in black and red. Inside, the houses were filled with pottery and statuettes whose quasi-modern design has become the Cucuteni-Trypillians's most identifiable trademark.

This unique artistic production, dominated by repeating lines, circles and spirals, amazingly echoes modern op art, also known as optical art, which is a genre of visual that makes use of geometric shapes and optical illusions. The unusual art offers the best glimpse into this mysterious civilization.

None of the enigmatic statuettes seem fearsome or fearful. The rare male statuettes have faces often covered by masks, while the abundant female statuettes are gracious and mask-free, with tattooed bodies and long feet.

There are no chained slaves or sacrificial figures -- a sign of a rather egalitarian culture, according to historians.

The pottery's obsessive spiral and circle patterns could also help explain another strange feature of this culture.

"We do not know why, but all of the 4,000 Cucuteni-Trypillians settlements were intentionally burned," said Sergiy Krolevets, director of the National History and Culture Museum of the Republic of Moldova.

One explanation is that the Cucuteni might have seen the world as cyclical -- a concept they might have expressed in the circles they painted on their pottery.

According to this hypothesis, every some 60-80 years they would sacrifice whole cities by intentionally burning thousands of their houses. Then they would move to create another settlement.

Whatever the reason behind it, the practice required an extremely well coordinated, centrally organized society.source

My comment: I find those guys very strange for many reasons. First, they date at the same time as the Thracians but they show completely different culture. While Thracians are known with their tombs and their gold crafts (very very beautiful artefacts, really, and stunningly sophisticated-I have seen them!), those guys don't have toms and are obsessed with spirals. Also the women are very weird-in the ancient world, most women were big, with fat legs and stomachs-they are symbols of fertility. Women with long thin legs are NO fertility related. And they don't have masks! That's very VERY strange. And notice-they lived in Romania-which is very close to Bulgarian Thracks and also from there the Bulgars came. How could there be two completely different civilisations in so close proximity?!

'Devils' trails' are world's oldest human footprints

  • 15:28 13 October 2008
  • news service
  • Catherine Brahic

It's official: the oldest human footprints ever found are 345,000 years old, give or take 6000. Known as the "devils' trails", they have been preserved in volcanic ash atop the Roccamonfina volcano in Italy.

The prints were first described to the world by Paolo Mietto and colleagues of the University of Padova in Italy in 2003 after amateur archaeologists pointed them out.

At the time, the team estimated that the prints were anywhere between 385,000 and 325,000 years old, based on when the volcano was thought to have last erupted.

Now, Stéphane Scaillet and colleagues at the Laboratory of Climatic and Environmental Sciences, France, have used argon dating techniques to verify the prints' age.

"Their more rigorous methods confirm that these are the oldest human footprints ever found," says Mietto. The new findings also confirm that the owners of the footprints were Homo heidelbergensis.

Mietto says that based on their stride, the people responsible were walking, not running. What's more, the prints are in both directions: leading to the volcano and away from it. Their owners were therefore not running away from a volcanic eruption and the prints must have been left some time after the event.

Dating experiments have not always confirmed suspicions. In 2003, a team discovered 40,000 year old footprints preserved in volcanic ash in southern Mexico. But when a separate group dated the Mexican prints using the argon technique used by Scaillet, they found that they were 1.3 million years old.

Since this was before modern humans evolved in Africa – the team concluded that they couldn't be human footsteps after all (see the very first Americans). source

My comment:Just check out the size of those footprints! They are HUGE! People claim it happens when you walk on some surfaces, like wet sand, but there is a limit in that-nothing can produce so big footprints, but a BIG foot. Very very suspicious.

Ancient bones show tuberculosis older than thought

LONDON (Reuters) – Scientists have discovered tuberculosis in 9,000 year-old human bones found submerged off Israel's coast -- evidence the disease is at least 3,000 years older than previously thought, researchers said on Wednesday.

The findings show how tuberculosis has evolved over thousands of years and provides a better understanding of ways it may change in the future, the researchers said.

"Examining ancient human remains for the markers of TB is very important because it helps to aid our understanding of prehistoric tuberculosis and how it evolved," said Mark Spigelman of University College, London, who worked on the study.

"This then helps us improve our understanding of modern TB and how we might develop more effective treatments." source

My comment: The important part is not so much about the TB, as much as for the people on who it evolved. Hmmm....

World's first dog lived 31,700 years ago, ate big

Discovery could push back the date for the earliest dog by 17,700 years

By Jennifer Viegas
updated 2:17 p.m. ET Oct. 17, 2008

An international team of scientists has just identified what they believe is the world's first known dog, which was a large and toothy canine that lived 31,700 years ago and subsisted on a diet of horse, musk ox and reindeer, according to a new study.

The discovery could push back the date for the earliest dog by 17,700 years, since the second oldest known dog, found in Russia, dates to 14,000 years ago.

Remains for the older prehistoric dog, which were excavated at Goyet Cave in Belgium, suggest to the researchers that the Aurignacian people of Europe from the Upper Paleolithic period first domesticated dogs. Fine jewelry and tools, often decorated with depictions of big game animals, characterize this culture.

If Paleolithic dogs still existed as a breed today, they would surely win best in show for strength and biting ability. source

My comment:Here you go, one more thing that is dated way into the past than thought.

Archaeologists Discover an Ancient Egyptian Temple near Pomorie

Published on: 16.10.2008, 11:34

Author: Diana Stoykova

Remains of a temple complex dedicated to the cult of Isis and Osiris were discovered in the Paleokastro region in Pomorie.

The temple dates back from the second century A.C., announced Burgasinfo

The building was built on the grounds of an ancient Thracian pagan temple, claim the archaeologists.

"There are many temples in Bulgaria, connected to Isis and Osiris, but this is the first temple complex, discovered through the means of archaeology", explains Sergey Torbanov, leader of the diggings.

During this season the main street in Anhialo was also discovered. The site of the diggings is put under security.

The artifacts, found during the working process, will be exhibited in Pomorie State Museum. source

My comment: The interesting part is that I read now a book that claims the Thracks wrote on an early Egyptian pictograms.And now we discover an Egyptian temple. It's very very odd.

Ancient Egypt had powerful Sudan rival, British Museum dig shows

The Second Kushite Kingdom controlled the whole Nile valley from Khartoum to the Mediterranean from 720BC to 660BC.

Now archaeologists have discovered that a region of northern Sudan once considered a forgotten backwater once actually "a real power-base".

They discovered a ruined pyramid containing fine gold jewellery dating from about 700BC on a remote un-navigable 100-mile stretch of the Nile known as the Fourth Cataract, plus pottery from as far away as Turkey.

Other finds included numerous examples of ancient rock art and 'musical' rocks that were tapped to create a melodic sound.

They only made the discoveries after being invited by the Sudanese authorities to help excavate part of the Merowe region, which is soon to be flooded by a large hydro-electric dam. More than 10,000 sites were found.

Historians had written off the area as being of little archaeological interest.

Dr Derek Welsby, of the British Museum, said: "We had no idea how rich the area was."

Remarkably well-preserved bodies, naturally mummified in the desert air, and a cow buried complete with eye ointment were also unearthed.

Dr Welsby said the finds revolutionised the history and geography of the Kushite kingdoms.

The First Kushite Kingdom rivalled Egypt for power between 2500BC and 1500BC, when many of Egypt's largest pyramids were built, he said.

"All our preconceptions about this being a relatively poor, inhospitable area were completely wrong," he remarked. We thought the first kingdom gradually grew over 1,000 years; now we know it happened right at the beginning, very rapidly.

"During the second kingdom we thought it was an area everybody bypassed. But finding the pyramid meant it was a real power-base. This was not a backwater, it was partaking in the major trade routes in the world."

The team was able to excavate hundreds of heavy items, including large blocks adorned with rock art and 390 stones that comprised the pyramid, with the help of trucks and cranes lent by Iveco and New Holland.

The Sudanese authorities gave 20 such blocks and musical 'rock gongs', plus pottery and jewellery to the British Museum. A selection will be put on display early next year. source

My comment: Hmm. I think that story will have to evolve more. Notice the music rocks-I never heard of something like this. That doesn't mean there weren't such rocks , just that it's weird.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Brain gadgets

In today's edition:

  1. The Mind-Controlled Cell Phone
  2. Brain Implants for the World's First Cyborg
  3. Army developing ‘synthetic telepathy’
Amazing new technologies. Just check what people are doing. For those of you that are scared of things reading your mind-don't. It won't happen at once and it will be as realistic as you want it. Just like internet-you can have dial-up, ADSL or LAN. Whatever suit your needs. So, don't worry. It's going to be all ok. And Big Brother is always watching anyway. Check the situation in UK. Then at least we should get the fun.

The Mind-Controlled Cell Phone

By Hiroki Yomogida / Source: Nikkei Business

NeuroSky Inc, a venture company based in San Jose, Calif, prototyped a system that reads brain waves with a sensor and uses them for mobile phone applications.

The company exhibited the system at CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment 2008, an exhibition running from Sept 10 to 12, 2008, in San Francisco, Calif. The headset-shaped system consists of a sensor to read brain waves, digital signal processing part and so forth. The sensor contacts with a point on user's forehead.

By reading brain waves such as a and ß waves, the system can roughly measure the degrees of brain's relaxation and concentration, NeuroSky said. The data of brain waves can be displayed on the screen of a mobile phone by using a visualizer or can be used to control the movement of a video game character.

The strength of NeuroSky lies in its sensor technologies for measuring brain waves and software algorithms that deduce the psychological states of users from the data collected. The company developed the new sensor technologies for commercial use based on those for medical use.

The digital signal processing part that measures brain waves is currently composed mainly of discrete parts. But, the company plans to integrate them into a chip (IC) in the near future, it said.

At the exhibition site, NeuroSky demonstrated its headset to operate a mobile phone. The company exhibited the same type of headset in the past. But, this time, it actually operated the headset for the first time. The headset was connected to Nokia Corp's handset via Bluetooth, and the data of the changes in user's brain waves was wirelessly transmitted.

The demonstrated applications include:

  • (1) an application to show the degree of brain's relaxation on the screen of a mobile phone by using a visualizer
  • (2) an application to show the degree of brain's tension in chronological order after a user solves about 10 arithmetical problems (addition, multiplication, etc) shown on the screen of a mobile phone
  • (3) a game application to move a video game character to an intended place as quickly as possible on the screen of a mobile phone. The more the degree of brain's concentration, the more quickly the character moves.

As for (1), when a user calms his or her mind on purpose, the curving lines drawn by the visualizer change to various colors. With regard to (2), if an appropriate application is developed, it will be possible to realize a brain training game in which the challenge level changes in real time in accordance with the degree of brain's tension. source

My comment:That's awesome. Application is the first step to creation. Or something like this. Imagine the usefulness of such device if it's combined with programs like i-doser that take you to different brain states. You can see on the screen whether you got where you wanted to go.

Brain Implants for the World's First Cyborg

By Pratima Harigunani / Source:

World's first ever Cyborg, Professor Kevin Warwick, Department of Cybernetics, University of Reading, is just six to eight years away from another implant, this time a brain implant.

This experiment would be in the area of bi-directional communication. Currently the investigation process is on for brain-computer links, in particular an implant into the brain, which acts bi-directionally.

As Warwick tells, "This probably will mean retraining neurons within the brain to alter their basic functioning. The main reason here would be for bi-directional communication. Clearly this is different to space projects. I believe it is far more important as it really changes what it means to be human."

In the year 1998, Professor Kevin Warwick and his team at the department of Cybernetics, University of Reading had underwent an operation to surgically implant a silicon chip transponder in his forearm that allowed a computer to monitor him as he moved through halls and offices of the Department of Cybernetics using a unique identifying signal emitted by the implanted chip and also allowed him to operate doors, lights, heaters and other computers without lifting a finger.

The second phase of the experiment Project Cyborg 2.0 got underway in March 2002 with an aim of studying how a new implant could send signals back and forth between Warwick's nervous system and a computer.

His team is presently busy with the rat brain project, a biological robot controlled by a blob of rat brain created by the scientists. The project is at an interesting turn as it moves on to study memories vis-à-vis brain.

"We are now about to investigate how memories manifest themselves in the brain – hopefully this will give us some leverage in dealing with Alzheimer's disease," shares Warwick.

The project entails a wheeled machine wirelessly linked to a bundle of neurons kept at body temperature in a sterile cabinet while signals from the "brain" allow the robot to steer left or right to avoid objects in its path.

Similar experiments about developing robots with living brains made from cultured cells are underway with other scientists across the world too like the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, US and the SymbioticA Fish And Chips project or the 'whiskered' rat robot project on touch technology by at multinational BIOTACT project, with research teams like Weizmann Institute of Science's Neurobiology Department.

Professor Kevin Warwick who pioneered the merging of biology and robotics by conducting the first "cyborg" experiments on him is upbeat about this one. "The rat brain project is presently extremely successful – we are able to grow a brain of 100,000 brain cells and we have it driving a robot around". source

My comment:Oh. Nice. It's so interesting I cannot say a word. I mean, the guys implanted himself with a chip! That's how progress happens. And the living brain for a robot is also nice, even if somewhat creepy.

Army developing ‘synthetic telepathy’

By Eric Bland
updated 10:52 a.m. ET Oct. 13, 2008

Vocal cords were overrated anyway. A new Army grant aims to create email or voice mail and send it by thought alone. No need to type an e-mail, dial a phone or even speak a word.

Known as synthetic telepathy, the technology is based on reading electrical activity in the brain using an electroencephalograph, or EEG. Similar technology is being marketed as a way to control video games by thought.

"I think that this will eventually become just another way of communicating," said Mike D'Zmura, from the University of California, Irvine and the lead scientist on the project.

The idea of communicating by thought alone is not a new one. In the 1960s, a researcher strapped an EEG to his head and, with some training, could stop and start his brain's alpha waves to compose Morse code messages.

The Army grant to researchers at University of California, Irvine, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Maryland has two objectives. The first is to compose a message using, as D'Zmura puts it, "that little voice in your head."

The second part is to send that message to a particular individual or object (like a radio), also just with the power of thought. Once the message reaches the recipient, it could be read as text or as a voice mail.

While the money may come from the Army and its first use could be for covert operations, D'Zmura thinks that thought-based communication will find more use in the civilian realm.

EEG-based gaming devices are large and fairly conspicuous, but D'Zmura thinks that eventually they could be incorporated into a baseball hat or a hood.

Another use for such a system is for patients with Lou Gehrig's disease, or ALS. As the disease progresses, patients have fully functional brains but slowly lose control over their muscles. Synthetic telepathy could be a way for these patients to communicate.

Commercial EEG headsets already exist that allow wearers to manipulate virtual objects by thought alone, noted Sajda, but thinking "move rock" is easier than, say, "Have everyone meet at Starbucks at 5:30."

One difficulty in composing specific messages is fundamental — EEGs are not very specific. They can only locate a signal to within about one to two centimeters. That's a large distance in the brain. In the brain's auditory cortex, for example, two centimeters is the difference between low notes and high notes, D'Zmura said.

Placing electrodes between the skull and the brain would offer more precise readings, but it is expensive and requires invasive surgery.

To work around this problem, the scientists need to gain a much better understanding of what words and phrases light up what brain sections. To create a detailed map of the brain scientists will also use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetoencephalography (MEG).

Each technology has its own strengths and weaknesses. EEGs detect brain activity only on the outer bulges of the brain's folds. MEGs read brain activity on the inner folds but are too large to put on your head. FMRIs detect brain activity more accurately than either but are heavy and expensive.

Of all three technologies EEG is the one currently cheap enough, light enough and fast enough for a mass market device.

The map generated by all three technologies will help the computer guess which word of phrase a person means when a part of the brain is lights up on the EEG. The idea is similar to how dictation software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking uses context to help determine which word you said.

Mapping the brain's response to most of the English language is a large task, and D'Zmura says that it will be 15-20 years before thought-based communication is reality. Sajda, who is on sabbatical in Japan to research using EEGs to scan images rapidly, sounded skeptical but excited.

"There are technical hurdles that need to be ovecome first, but then again, 20 years ago people would have thought that the two of us talking to each other half a world away over Skype (and Internet-based phone service) was crazy," said Sajda.

To those who might be nervous about thought-based communication turning into a sci-fi comedy of errors, D'Zmura says not to worry. Mind-message composition would take specific conscious thoughts and training to develop them. The device would also have a on/off switch.

© 2008 Discovery Channel source
My comment:I think that's rather far in the future, at least in that direction they chose. For me the break-trough won't come from EEG but rather from a new type of device that boost the signal from the brain and a better mapping of the brain itself, probably. However, if the army fund it, then it's probably closer than we think.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Evolution is not dead!

Yep, kisses for all the creationists around :) Seriously, I think people underestimate the power of evolution as a scientific method and theory. Now, you can see some of its strengths. It's about 3 experiments that led to very exciting information.
First, the sexual evolutions got confirmed (or it looks like it)-which means that some traits of our physiology may not be biologically useful-those that are sexually useful, but in strong competition, they are passed to the generation. Second, an intermediate brink of the evolution from the oceans gives new ideas on how life changed to accommodate the new environment. And third, and very very awesome, a new experiment proves that life is not so hard to create from "dead" matter. Enjoy the articles, they are soooooo exciting.

“Other half” of Darwin’s theory passes test

Oct. 13, 2008
World Science staff

Some flir­ta­tious yeast cells have con­firmed a part of Charles Dar­win’s the­o­ry of ev­o­lu­tion that was nev­er tested as suc­cess­fully as the rest of the the­o­ry, bi­ol­o­gists say.

This some­what spe­cial part of the the­o­ry is the con­cept of ev­o­lu­tion through “sex­ual se­lec­tion.”

In gen­er­al, ev­o­lu­tion­ary the­o­ry holds that spe­cies grad­u­ally change be­cause of cer­tain mu­ta­t­ions that spread through their po­p­u­la­t­ions. These mu­ta­t­ions spread if, and only if, they’re ben­e­fi­cial—so that in­di­vid­u­als pos­sess­ing them sur­vive long­er, re­pro­duce more or both. Thus the mu­tat­ed trait ap­pears in­creas­ingly of­ten in suc­ceed­ing genera­t­ions.

Ev­o­lu­tion has been ob­served in ac­tion nu­mer­ous times, be­cause in short-lived spe­cies, many forms of ev­o­lu­tion oc­cur fast enough for hu­mans to watch the changes oc­cur.

But one form of ev­o­lu­tion has not been di­rectly seen: ev­o­lu­tion through sex­u­al se­lec­tion, notes a pa­per in the Oct. 7 on­line is­sue of the re­search jour­nal Pro­ceed­ings of the Roy­al So­ci­e­ty B.

This va­ri­e­ty of ev­o­lu­tion is what bi­ol­o­gists be­lieve ac­counts for the ap­pear­ance of sex­u­al-advertising traits such as a pea­cock’s bright tail, or per­haps mu­si­cal abil­ity.

Such traits are be­lieved to evolve for much the same rea­son as oth­ers: those who have a cer­tain char­ac­ter­is­tic mate more, and thus spread the genes for that fea­ture. The chief dif­fer­ence be­tween this form of ev­o­lu­tion and oth­ers is that with sex­u­al se­lec­tion, the driv­ing fac­tor in the pro­cess is sex­u­al com­pe­ti­tion, rath­er than oth­er ex­i­gen­cies of sur­viv­al more gen­er­ally.

Sex­u­al se­lec­tion is an in­tri­guing as­pect of ev­o­lu­tion be­cause it drives the ev­o­lu­tion of traits that on their face, seem less than clearly ben­e­fi­cial, said Dun­can Greig of Uni­ver­s­ity Col­lege in Lon­don, one of the pa­per’s au­thors.

“For ex­am­ple a pea­cock’s tail might be con­spic­u­ous to preda­tors,” he not­ed in an e­mail. Or for a hu­man equiv­a­lent: “Fer­rari drivers might be more likely to end up splat­ted against a tree than Buick drivers.” For both ex­am­ples, “the sim­ple ex­plana­t­ion is that the cost is more than bal­anced by the ben­e­fit of ex­tra mat­ing.”

In the new pa­per, Greig, along with Da­vid W. Rog­ers of Im­pe­ri­al Col­lege in Lon­don, claim to have ob­served ev­o­lu­tion through sex­u­al se­lec­tion for the first time. “Our yeast sys­tem is a pow­er­ful tool for in­ves­ti­gat­ing the ge­net­ics of sex­u­al se­lec­tion,” they wrote.

Yeast cells oc­cur in two dif­fer­ent mat­ing types, some­what akin to male and fema­le. Each type sig­nals to po­ten­tial part­ners of the oth­er type by pro­duc­ing an at­trac­tive chem­i­cal, called a pher­o­mone. But cells vary widely in how strongly they can sig­nal; the dif­fer­ences are ge­net­ic.

Rog­ers and Greig en­gi­neered one of the “sex­es” of yeast cells, called MAT-alpha, to have ei­ther very high or very low sig­naling strength. They then mixed both types of cells with those of the op­po­site “sex” group, called MATa. This mix­ing was done in two dif­fer­ent ways: in one, the MAT-alpha cells were few, and so faced lit­tle com­pe­ti­tion among each oth­er; in the oth­er, they were many, so that they faced tough com­pe­ti­tion for mat­ing op­por­tun­i­ties.

Only un­der the high-com­pe­ti­tion situa­t­ion, the strong-sig­nalling gene var­i­ant spread quickly through the popula­t­ion at the ex­pense of the weak-sig­nalling var­i­ant, Rog­ers and Greig found. This matched the pre­dic­tions of sex­u­al se­lec­tion the­o­ry, they added. source

My comment: That is absolutely awesome! I mean they really have saw it! That's so unbelievable. And in such a simple way. Simply amazing. That's what science is about. Proving complicated things in elegant way.

Head skeleton sheds light on intermediate steps

October 15, 2008

New research has provided the first detailed look at the internal head skeleton of Tiktaalik roseae, the 375-million-year-old fossil animal that represents an important intermediate step in the evolutionary transition from fish to animals that walked on land.

Results of the study, published in this week's issue of the journal Nature, show that the transition from aquatic to terrestrial lifestyle involved complex changes not only to appendages (fins to limbs) but also to the internal head skeleton.

"Exquisite specimens of Tiktaalik roseae discovered several years ago continue to function as rosetta stones for understanding the emergence of quadripeds on land," said H. Richard Lane, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research.

A team co-led by scientist Ted Daeschler at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia discovered Tiktaalik roseae (tik-TAHL-ik RO-zay) in 2004, in Devonian-age rock on Ellesmere Island in Canada, more than 700 miles above the Arctic Circle.

The creature was a large aquatic predator with a flattened head and body.

The body plan and nature of the deposits where the fossils were found suggest an animal that lived on the bottom in shallow water, and perhaps out of the water for short periods.

Tiktaalik roseae has features of the skull, neck, ribs and appendages that are shared with the earliest limbed animals (tetrapods), as well as fishlike features such as scales and fin rays. This mosaic of features makes it a textbook example of a transitional fossil, say paleontologists.

Jason Downs, a scientist at the Academy of Natural Sciences and lead author of this week's paper, said the examination of the internal head skeleton further demonstrates the intermediacy of Tiktaalik roseae.

"The braincase, palate and gill arches of Tiktaalik help reveal the pattern of evolutionary change in this part of the skeleton," said Downs. "We see that cranial features once associated with land-living animals were in fact the first adaptations for life in shallow water."

"The gradual evolutionary transition from fish to tetrapod, and the transition from aquatic to terrestrial lifestyles required much more than the evolution of limbs," said Daeschler. "The head of these animals was becoming more solidly constructed and, at the same time, more mobile with respect to the body across this transition."

Trends in head shape include a flattening of the skull and a lengthening of the snout.

Using several well-preserved specimens of Tiktaalik roseae, the research helps document the relative timing of the particular skeletal changes associated with changes in head shape.

"We used to think of this transition of the neck and skull as a rapid event, largely because we lacked information about the intermediate animals," said Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago, who co-led the team that discovered Tiktaalik roseae. "Tiktaalik neatly fills this morphological gap, and helps to resolve the timing of this complex transition."

During this transition, interactions among the different parts of the head skeleton also were changing.

"Fish in deep water move and feed in three-dimensional space, and can easily orient their bodies in the direction of their prey," said Farish Jenkins, Jr., an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University and co-author of the paper. "A mobile neck is advantageous in settings where the body is relatively fixed, as is the case in shallow water and on land." source

My comment: Nice, nice, nice. I wonder what would a undersea human would look like. They claim fixed head is ok in 3D, but after all, it depends on the environment, more precisely the predators they have to evade. It's not so simple I guess. And if the "thing" has to live in water and on the Earth, then it gets even more complicated. But it's so nice to see they found that intermediate level. And that evolution still get some attention.

New Results from a 1953 Experiment Offer Hints to the Origin of Life

Vials holding the results of a famous chemistry experiment conducted 55 years ago have been discovered in dusty cardboard boxes, and a new analysis of their contents has revealed fresh insights into a big question: the origin of life on earth. In 1953, chemist Stanley Miller tried to duplicate the conditions present on the primordial earth in laboratory flasks, and while some of his results were published to great acclaim, other results were packed away and forgotten–until now.

Miller’s classic experiment involved putting atmospheric components thought to reflect those of the early Earth (ammonia, hydrogen, methane, and water) in a closed system and stimulating that mixture with an electric current to mimic the effects of lightning storms. He generated a small number of biochemically significant compounds, including amino acids, hydroxy acids, and urea, showing that conditions of primitive earth can create the building blocks of life [Ars Technica]. These results generated considerable excitement, but later researchers argued that Miller was wrong about the composition of the young earth’s atmosphere, and the experiment was written off as a novelty.

In the new study, published in Science , researchers analyzed vials of material that were produced by a slightly different process that Miller had viewed as a flop; in that process, the gases were also mixed with a jet of steam to replicate conditions around an erupting volcano. Using modern methods to analyze the samples, researchers found they contained a total of 22 amino acids (including some that Miller had never identified in any of his experiments), the most complex mix yet produced by Miller’s method.

Study coauthor Jeffrey Bada, who was a graduate student of Miller’s, says the findings suggest that life could have originated on earth in the fiery and turbulent regions around volcanoes. “The model is that you have these small pockets, volcanic hot spots,” explains Bada, in which a volatile reducing atmosphere, one in which chemicals are more likely to react with one another, may have produced amino acids. The team’s reanalysis makes it plausible that a shallow tide pool tucked into the side of a volcano and a fortuitous bolt of lightning could have led to an abundance of amino acids [Science News].

However, theories on the origin of life have moved on since the days of Miller’s original experiments, and have taken decidedly new directions. The discovery of amino acids in meteorites suggested that the building blocks of life came from space, eliminating the need for finding chemical processes that could produce them on Earth. Some scientists have since suggested places like the ocean bottom as most likely to be where the building blocks first came together as a living organism…. “My take on this is you want to consider everything,” Dr. Bada said. source

My comment:And my opinion is that life is obviously much more common than we think. If we can produce its building blocks with 2 different processes, how many more we're missing? And that's even without the clear understanding what life is.

The comment I left on the site:
If you can recreate building blocks of life with two different experiments, imagine how much Nature can do. On every planet, on all the different situations-volcano, particles emissions on the poles, earthquakes, lightnings- you name it.
For me, this experiment proves that life is much more common than we think. And probably that the whole theory that something brought "it" is wrong, because maybe it wasn't a single lucky even, but a multiplicity of events-from above, from below, from everywhere, that sparkled and spread over, some died away, some evolved and in the end-we had so much life, it simply flourished.
Why it doesn''t happen everywhere? Two possible reasons: A) it requires some basic elements and you can find it where they are present-unlikely since on Earth there are bacteria like everywhere. B) it is all around, we just can't see it so easily, because it's based on different building blocks or is on different scale-too big or too small.
In any case, Mars exploration is going on, Europa is also a good candidate for life, so sooner or later, we'll find out how common life in space is.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Mars unlimited

In today's edition:

  1. Underground ‘plumbing’ spotted on Mars
  2. Snow spotted falling from the Martian sky
  3. New Cost Overrun Bedevils Planned Mission to Mars
  4. Sensitive laser instrument could aid search for life on Mars
  5. Europe delays its ExoMars
  6. Martian weather satellite's first report
Very inderesting findings. It looks like the researches on Mars are going faster and faster. And the discoveries are following one after another. I suggest you read the articles or at least skim trough them. The water on Mars is no longer a myth, it looks like there were running water before for sure, and even now, we see a snow fall. Also the Arctic Martian winter isn't as cold as predicted, which is also a surprise. It looks like there is so much more to learn about Mars if only governments provide the funding for the planned missions. It's all so exciting!

Underground ‘plumbing’ spotted on Mars

Image: Cracks on Mars
NASA / JPL-Caltech / UA

Sept. 26, 2008

A NASA probe has spotted hundreds of small surface fractures near Mars' equator that may have acted as underground natural plumbing to channel ground water billions of years ago.

Geologists compare the fractures in the sandstone rock deposits on Mars to features called deformation bands on Earth, which can arise from the influence of ground water in the underground bedrock. The bands and faults have strong influences on groundwater movement on Earth, and seem to have played the same role on Mars. Other research has examined how surface water from rain or snow shaped the planet surface, but many agree that groundwater has an equally important influence.

"Groundwater often flows along fractures such as these, and knowing that these are deformation bands helps us understand how the underground plumbing may have worked within these layered deposits," said Chris Okubo, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Ariz., who headed up a new study of the Martian fractures.

The observations, made by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, showed how water has already changed the color and texture of the Martian sandstone along the fractures. Okubo's report on the finding is detailed online this month in the Geological Society of America Bulletin.

"This study provides a picture of not just surface water erosion, but true groundwater effects widely distributed over the planet," said Suzanne Smrekar, deputy project scientist for the MRO mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., who was not part of the study. "Groundwater movement has important implications for how the temperature and chemistry of the crust have changed over time, which in turn affects the potential for habitats for past life."

Okubo and his study co-authors looked to similar patterns in Utah sandstones on Earth, where fractures are typically a few yards (meters) wide and up to several miles long. Such cracks reveal themselves as the rock layers on top erode away.

MRO found similar fractures in a 43-mile-wide (70-kilometer-wide) crater that sits just slightly north of the Red Planet's equator. Discovery of the deformation bands within the crater prompted scientists to name it after the late Charles Capen, an astronomer who worked at observatories in Southern California and Flagstaff, Ariz.source

My comment: I like how we gather more and more information on Mars and see how similar it is to our own planet!

Snow spotted falling from the Martian sky

Phoenix's camera, equipment have shown clouds and fog forming

Even as its mission winds down, NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has spotted snow falling from the Martian sky.

Phoenix's camera and meteorological equipment have shown clouds and fog forming during the night as the air gets colder.

"This is now occurring every night," said Jim Whiteway of York University in Toronto and lead scientist for Phoenix's Meteorological Station.

A laser instrument that is pointed directly up into Mars' atmosphere has also detected snow from clouds about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) above the spacecraft's landing site. Data show the snow vaporizing before reaching the ground. There are no conventional photographs of the snowfall. Scientists knew from previous studies that it snows on Mars. But they've never seen it happening from the ground.

The craft has also seen new hints of the planet's watery past. Meanwhile, mission scientists are trying to squeeze in all the science they can before the Martian sun sets for the winter, including a surprise attempt to switch on Phoenix's as-yet unused microphone.

Mission scientists announced the plans for Phoenix's remaining weeks of activity at a press conference Monday.

They also revealed information that will help them to "begin rewriting the book of Martian chemistry," said Michael Hecht, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., and lead scientist for Phoenix's Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA).

Phoenix landed in the northern plains of Mars on May 25 and has been using its onboard instruments to analyze the Martian dirt and subsurface ice layer at its landing site above Mars' arctic circle. The mission, extended once by NASA through the end of September, was extended again earlier this month through the end of December.

But it's unlikely Phoenix will last that long since as winter approaches in the Northern hemisphere of Mars and the Sun will provide its solar panels with less and less energy.

As this happens, the Phoenix team is "trying to get the most out of these science instruments in the last few days," said Barry Goldstein, Phoenix project manager, also of JPL.

Scientists working on Phoenix's Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer are planning to attempt to fill the instrument's four (of eight total) remaining ovens with Martian dirt and ice samples. The team particularly wants to get a pure-ice or ice-rich sample, said TEGA lead scientist William Boynton of the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Phoenix will also look for signs of organics in the samples delivered to TEGA, by comparing them to a blank brought to rule out any contamination brought from Earth. While they would be a thrilling find, organics would not necessarily indicate life — they could be deposited by comets and preserved in the ice, said Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith, also of the University of Arizona.

The lander will also look at the different isotopes (or types of an element with different numbers of neutrons) in the subsurface ice and the water vapor in the Martian air to see whether the two water sources interact, Smith said.

As a bonus, mission scientists are going to try to switch on the microphone that was originally installed on Phoenix to be used during the lander's descent. While that use was scrapped, the Phoenix scientists have to decided now to "try and listen to Mars for the first time," Smith said.

Phoenix will also try to sample the dirt underneath a rock, dubbed "Headless," that it successfully moved with its 7.7 foot-long (2.4 meter-long) robotic arm last week. Images have already shown some color differences in the dirt under the rock.

New Martian chemistry
So far, the chemistry of the surface layers near Phoenix's landing site has been a bit different that anticipated.

TEGA has identified several minerals that suggest that the surface there has interacted with water sometime in the Martian past. These include silicates similar in structure to mica, only softer, and calcium carbonate. Examples of carbonates on Earth are chalk and antacid tablets.

The suite of MECA instruments have shown that the pH of the soil near Phoenix is approximate 8.3 — or slightly basic — "almost exactly the pH of ocean water on Earth," Hecht said.

MECA has also found evidence of perchlorates, which could act as an energy source for any potential past Martian microbes and could have a significant impact on Mars' water chemistry.

For one thing, they could help explain why Phoenix's fork-like probe has found that "the soil in our little corner of Mars is very, very dry," Hecht said. Perchlorate could be soaking up any water in the soil above the ice layer, he explained.

NASA's Phoenix spacecraft has discovered two minerals on Mars that suggest water was there in the past.

Scientists reported Monday that the minerals — calcium carbonate and sheet silicate — don't usually form without the presence of liquid water.

Phoenix landed in the Martian arctic plains in May on a three-month mission to study whether the environment could be friendly to microbial life. One of its main goals is to probe whether the ice ever melted.source

My comment:This is all so exciting. I mean seriously-there were water on Mars and even now there probably is some-that's already sure. Isn't it fascinating to find a planet that once was habitable so close to Earth? And the microphone thing? Awesome, I just want them to release whatever they capture on Youtube so that we can all listen to Mars for a while.

New Cost Overrun Bedevils Planned Mission to Mars


Published: October 9, 2008

NASA’s next big mission is ambitious, perhaps too ambitious.

A prototype of the Mars Science Laboratory, which, resources permitting, is to be launched in 2009. The program, already over budget, may need $100 million more to remain on schedule.

The goal is to send a robotic rover the size of a small S.U.V. to Mars. The rover, called the Mars Science Laboratory, would be powered by a nuclear battery and be able to roam far and wide, gathering information with a suite of powerful instruments, including a laser to vaporize rocks.

But the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is in charge of building the spacecraft, now believes it needs perhaps an additional $100 million, on top of previous budget increases, to meet the current schedule of launching in September or October next year.

With its overall budget tight, NASA has no easy choices. It could keep the current timeline, making up the budget shortfall by delaying or canceling other planetary missions. Or it could delay the Mars Science Laboratory by one or two years, which would ease the short-term budget strain but, the agency says, ultimately add $300 million or more to the price tag.

Or NASA could decide that enough is enough and cancel the mission. That, however, would waste the $1.5 billion already spent on it and deflate the agency’s Mars exploration program.

A decision could come as soon as Friday, when officials from NASA’s science mission directorate meet with the agency’s administrator, Michael D. Griffin. A news conference on the mission is planned for Friday afternoon.

Even before the latest financial snag, the mission had gone over cost by at least $200 million, raising the total to $1.7 billion, and NASA had been forced to juggle its finances for this year to cover overruns in the program.

Last week NASA officials gave an update on the Mars Science Laboratory to the subcommittee, which provides feedback from scientists to NASA in the planning of planetary missions. The officials, Dr. Solomon said, did not give details of why the mission’s costs had swelled again.

The Mars Science Laboratory aims high, both in its technological requirements and in its science goals. It would weigh about 1,800 pounds, or more than four times as much as either the Opportunity or Spirit rover, both currently on Mars. Pellets of decaying plutonium rather than solar panels would provide sufficient power for larger and more sophisticated instruments in its 140-pound scientific payload.

But the laboratory is too big and heavy to employ the bouncing cocoon of airbags that cushioned the landings of Spirit and Opportunity. Instead, engineers devised a completely new landing scheme. After parachutes slow the spacecraft’s descent through the atmosphere, rocket thrusters are to fire, enabling the craft to slow to a stop and hover in midair. The rover would then be lowered via a winch to the surface. (The hovering part of the spacecraft would fly away and crash.)

In his presentation to the planetary science subcommittee, James L. Green, director of NASA’s planetary science division, said that to make up for the new overrun, the agency could delay or cancel missions like Grail and Ladee, which are to visit the Moon, or Juno, a return to Jupiter and its moons. But such a step could start a domino effect that would disrupt the entire solar system program.

Another option is to delay the Mars Science Laboratory’s launching by a year and then park the spacecraft in orbit around the Sun for a year, until Mars and Earth are again in close alignment. That option, in which the craft would arrive at Mars two years later than planned, would add $300 million.

Yet another option — adding tens of millions of dollars beyond that one, Dr. Green said in his presentation — would be a two-year delay in launching.

Dr. Solomon said there was no support on his subcommittee for the most drastic choice: cancellation. “We didn’t think it was a good use of NASA’s funds invested already,” he said.

Another member of the subcommittee, Kip V. Hodges, a professor of earth and space exploration at Arizona State University, said: “One of the things they wanted our opinion on is, is this a critically important mission? And the answer to that is absolutely yes.”source

My comment: I hope they continue the program, because it offers so much freedom compared to previous missions. The little big guy will be able to roam almost freely and will have an independent energy source. That provides so many opportunities to explore the planet. I think the next gadget they should send is something that can fly and drive at the same time. This way they can check much bigger patch of the surface and we'll have even more data to enjoy!And yeah, I also think this program is crucial-because it will stimulate the technology, it will take down the expenses for next possible missions and it will gather so much valuable information.

Sensitive laser instrument could aid search for life on Mars

Minuscule traces of cells can be detected in a mineral likely present on Mars, a new study shows. The results, obtained using a technique developed at the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory, could help mission scientists choose Martian surface samples with the most promise for yielding signs of life.

INL's instrument blasts off tiny bits of mineral and looks for chemical signatures of molecules commonly found in cells. While other methods require extensive sample handling, this analysis relies on a "point-and-shoot" laser technique that preserves more of the rock and reduces contamination risk. In the current online issue of the peer-reviewed Geomicrobiology Journal, the researchers report they could detect biomolecules at concentrations as low as 3 parts per trillion.

High sensitivity is crucial for NASA's search for life on Mars, says INL scientist Jill Scott, whose team collaborated with researchers at the University of Montana-Missoula on the study.

While other techniques also have achieved parts-per-trillion sensitivity, they often require scientists to first extract the organic cell remnants from the mineral. This type of preparation can use up large amounts of sample and potentially introduce contamination.

INL's method is based on a technique called laser desorption mass spectroscopy. By focusing a laser beam on a spot less than one-hundredth the width of a pencil point, the researchers can knock microscopic fragments off the mineral. Those fragments react with organic molecules to form detectable charged particles called ions. The team can then study the ion patterns for signatures that might be specific to biomolecules.

Typically, this method would require the organic molecules to be embedded in a synthetic matrix that encourages ion formation. But the INL team simply relies on the rock to act as the matrix, eliminating the need for sample preparation.

With funding from NASA's Astrobiology program, the researchers have done previous studies showing that minerals like halite and jarosite yield distinct ion patterns when organic molecules are present. This time, they tried thenardite, a compound thought to be part of the Martian surface. Because thenardite is left behind when lakes dry up, its presence could signify the past existence of water -- and hence life.

The team tested thenardite samples taken from the evaporated Searles Lake bed in California. They also created artificial thenardite samples that contained traces of stearic acid, which is left behind by dead cells, and glycine, the simplest amino acid used by organisms on Earth. In all cases, the researchers found a distinct ion pattern that did not appear for thenardite alone, suggesting they had detected a signature for the biomolecules.

The team also measured the sensitivity of its instrument for the first time. By testing more and more dilute artificial samples, they found they could detect the stearic acid signature at levels as low as 3 parts per trillion. In fact, the signatures became even more distinct as concentration dropped, presumably because more ion-producing matrix surrounded each biomolecule.

While the instrument is too big to send into space, it could potentially be used for analysis if NASA brings Martian samples back to Earth. The INL study also could help determine which samples should be collected, based on how likely they are to show signs of life. Thenardite and jarosite look the most promising, Scott says, while hematite -- an iron-based compound common on the Martian surface -- has yielded poor results so far.

The team's next step is to improve the laser on its machine. Right now, the instrument is ionizing only about 10 percent of the available biomolecules in the sample. If the remaining biomolecules could be ionized with a better laser, Scott says, the detection level could increase tenfold. source

My comment: It's a very smart test. If you get bored with the details, sorry. But it's interesting how much a good idea is worth. And even more, how with present technologies and not so big budget we can do so much. The only problem now is how to get Martian sample back to Earth.

Europe delays its ExoMars mission

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News

Europe is delaying its flagship space mission to Mars by more than two years.

The ExoMars rover, which will search for signs of life on the Red Planet, will not now launch until 2016 because of the high cost of the project.

The 1.2bn-euro price tag is deemed to be too high by governments, and space officials have been asked to find ways to reduce it.

One option may be to try to get greater involvement - financial and technical - from the Americans and the Russians.

"This way we could retain the full splendour of the mission and not reduce its scientific capability," European Space Agency (Esa) spokesman Franco Bonacina told BBC News.

This is the second big delay for ExoMars. Esa had already pushed back the launch from 2011 to late 2013 as engineers grappled with the early stages of the mission's design.

It started as a fairly small venture costing no more than 650m euros. But as the project developed, it was decided the endeavour should be upgraded, to provide a bigger, more capable vehicle; and one that could carry a much broader range of science instruments.

However, the design boost also meant a huge jump in cost. The prime contractor, Thales Alenia Space, estimated the final price tag would be 1.2bn euros.

Italy, the lead nation on ExoMars, made it clear recently that it was not going to put any more cash into the mission; and with no other nations offering to make up the large shortfall in the budget, a delay became inevitable.

Because Red Planet missions are only launched when Earth and Mars are favourably aligned, the November 2013 departure must now slip to a January or February 2016 opportunity.

It is down to Europe's space ministers to take the final decision on ExoMars' future. They will meet in The Hague at the end of November to set out Europe's space policy.

The decision to delay ExoMars will come as a bitter blow to Europe's scientists. It is the biggest, most expensive robotic mission in the current timeline; and is the flagship venture of Esa's Aurora programme, its roadmap to explore the Solar System.

In one sense, scientists and engineers will at least be pleased that the need for a larger mission has been recognised. And for those Esa member states that are very keen on ExoMars but are troubled by the high cost, such the UK, the delay gives them more time to sort their financing.

Europe's only attempt to date to land on Mars, the Beagle 2 robot, was lost on entry to the Martian atmosphere in 2003. Europe's Mars Express satellite, which carried Beagle 2 to the planet, continues to return exceptional pictures and other remote-sensing data. source

My comment:That's bad. Especially with the current financial situation, I'm kind of sure EC will decide to pass for the moment. Too bad they got so good excuse in such a crucial time. And if you think carefully, it will be wrong to postpone the project and not provide financing because it's against the priorities of EU and against the logic since it provides job for so many people. Sucky situation. But at least, if we're going to wait, I'd like to see a BIG vehicle.

Martian weather satellite's first report

( -- Scientists now have a ‘Martian weather satellite’ to observe the weather on Mars in the same way as they monitor Earth’s weather. Its first ‘weather report’ has been given by a team including Oxford University scientists.
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter went into orbit around the Red Planet two years ago but the first results from its observations are published in Nature Geoscience this week. And they reveal a surprise: during the freezing Martian winter the atmosphere above the planet’s South Pole is considerably warmer than predicted.

The Mars Climate Sounder instrument has enabled an international team, including scientists from Oxford University, to examine the Martian atmosphere in unprecedented detail. Studying the Martian climate is important as it helps us understand how a planet that was originally similar to Earth turned out so very different.

The team discovered that even in the depths of the Martian winter, when the planet’s South Pole is frozen and in total darkness, at an altitude of 30-80km the atmosphere is being heated to 180 Kelvin - that’s 10-20 Kelvin warmer than expected.

‘Winter at the Martian South Pole is severe even by the standards of our Antarctic,’ said Professor Taylor. ‘The Pole is shrouded in total darkness for many months and the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere freezes, creating blizzards and causing a thick layer of carbon dioxide ice to form across the surface. Yet what we’ve found is that 30 kilometres above the surface conditions are very different.’

The team, which also included Oxford physicists Dr Pat Irwin and Dr Simon Calcutt, believe that a vigorous circulation of the atmosphere – from the Martian equator to the Pole – is compressing the gas and causing the heating effect.

Professor Taylor said: ‘What we think we are observing is that the ‘engine’ of the Martian climate – this atmospheric circulation – is running as much as 50 per cent faster than our models predicted, resulting in this warming of the South Pole.’
These are just the first results from what the scientists hope will be many more years of study. In the long-term they hope to shed light on climate change on Mars, what controls it and what lessons can be drawn for climate change on Earth. source

My comment: That's unexpected result. Hmmm. I wonder when someone will make a decent model of the air circulation on Mars. Still, it's too cold, but then who knows...

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Thinking about human genome and nephilims

An interesting point of view.

I have few remarks here to make.

First, if I got it correct, the guy thinks that there is not such thing as common gene causing a disease and that if you want to work genetically on certain problem you have to make a personal genome-reading for everyone. And that a problem is caused rarely by just one defect gene but more often by multiple factors. That's not so weird to believe and it makes sense. We all represent different genetic heritage, live in not so similar conditions but we get the same health problems. That means that either those problems are in the common parts of the genome or that they represent a common weakness in our body.

I also doubt that the evolution didn't eliminate certain diseases just for the fun of it (my interpretation of "because it was after the reproductive years") . If you ask me, diseases are not so much genetic predispositions (except for the purely genetic ones) as much as results of our failure to live the "right" life. Which doesn't mean "healthy", it means that there is an optimal life for which we evolved-we're drastically changing it in the past 1500 years, so it's normal to see evolution in action-our bodies won't work perfectly but with time they will perfect. But in order to do that, they must have the "mark" of the problem and you can interpretate that mark either as causing the illness or as remembering it. I personally start realising that the human genome is not only a matrix for growing a body, but also is a memory card for all that happened to that form of the body. If you think about it, we get more from our parents than merely the eyes or the hair. We take their illnesses, their characters, sometimes even their food preferences. While people can always argue on this, I have reasons to believe it's true. And if it's true, then there is only one way to get to that-the DNA. Then the DNA has stored all our choices and our morals that mattered for the physical survival. And we have it in us. I have no idea how it can be used, it's just fun to know it.

Another remark is on the Jews history. While I'm getting more and more sick of the Semitic hysteria (like how people tend to think Greece was the origin of Western civilization and Semits, mostly Jews-although arabs also fall in that place- were the origin of mankind. That's absolutely not truth! The history already knows about the Great civilisation of India-about the same time as Sumer in Mesopotamia, about the Egypt that has nothing to do with semits and dates weirdly, about Bulgarian and Thracian history that has NOTHING to do with semits and is much closer to Persia and in the case of the Thracian gold treasure pre-dates Sumer). It's just so one-pointed. Somebody should know about the other directions of history, about the other lessons we learnt in our past. Anyway, my point was that he dated a Jews specific marker to 3000 years ago. And that is sooooooo soon. Anybody pays attention?

Btw, I may have to clarify-the reason why I mention the other civilisations is not to say semit one didn't matter. But we see only the very specific Jew's mythology while there is more to mythology than that. And while Egypt seemed to share their mythology, if you look at the ancient Bulgarian religion-like tangrism or in Dao/Tao or even shamanism-you see another religion that is clear of all the mythologies. Why? I think we simply had different deities, which brings us back on the question of nephilims and was they common for Earth or did they chose specific tribes, how many tribes of aliens there was and so on. And this is important to know.

A Dissenting Voice as the Genome Is Sifted to Fight Disease

Published: September 15, 2008

The principal rationale for the $3 billion spent to decode the human genome was that it would enable the discovery of the variant genes that predispose people to common diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s. A major expectation was that these variants had not been eliminated by natural selection because they harm people only later in life after their reproductive years are over, and hence that they would be common.

This idea, called the common disease/common variant hypothesis, drove major developments in biology over the last five years. Washington financed the HapMap, a catalog of common genetic variation in the human population. Companies like Affymetrix and Illumina developed powerful gene chips for scanning the human genome.

But David B. Goldstein of Duke University, a leading young population geneticist known partly for his research into the genetic roots of Jewish ancestry, says the effort to nail down the genetics of most common diseases is not working.

In his view, this prodigious labor has produced just a handful of genes that account for very little of the overall genetic risk.

“After doing comprehensive studies for common diseases, we can explain only a few percent of the genetic component of most of these traits,” he said. “For schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, we get almost nothing; for Type 2 diabetes, 20 variants, but they explain only 2 to 3 percent of familial clustering, and so on.”

The reason for this disappointing outcome, in his view, is that natural selection has been far more efficient than many researchers expected at screening out disease-causing variants. The common disease/common variant idea is largely wrong. What has happened is that a multitude of rare variants lie at the root of most common diseases, being rigorously pruned away as soon as any starts to become widespread.

It takes large, expensive trials with hundreds of patients in different countries to find even common variants behind a disease. Rare variants lie beyond present reach. “It’s an astounding thing,” Dr. Goldstein said, “that we have cracked open the human genome and can look at the entire complement of common genetic variants, and what do we find? Almost nothing. That is absolutely beyond belief.”

Researchers hunting for disease genes strongly disagree. They say genomewide association studies with larger numbers of patients will bring more disease-promoting variants to light.

Dr. Kari Stefansson, chief executive of the Icelandic gene-hunting company Decode Genetics, says it does not matter whether disease-causing variants are common or rare as long as they yield insights into the biochemical pathways by which disease develops, and which will provide targets for drugs.

The HapMap project was started amid much skepticism but has proved a technical success, even if it has brought to light fewer common disease variants than hoped.

Dr. Goldstein does not shy away from unpopular positions or research. In a new book, “Jacob’s Legacy” (Yale University Press), he recounts how he delved into the genetic history of Jews.

Given the abuses of the past, geneticists approach with caution research in the genetics of racial or ethnic groups. But genetics can provide powerful insights into history. Because some Jewish communities, for instance, have for centuries married only within their religion, they have developed certain distinctive genetic profiles. One is a genetic signature on the Y chromosome of the hereditary Jewish priests known as cohens. Dr. Goldstein, as he describes in his book, found a set of DNA variations in the signature that allowed him to estimate when that signature first appeared — about 3,000 years ago. The date fit nicely with the presumed date of King Solomon’s reign and supported the claim that cohens were indeed descended from a high priest of around that time, even if that priest may not have been Aaron, as tradition holds.

He gleaned an even deeper insight into Jewish origins from analysis of mitochondrial DNA taken from Jewish communities around the world. In 2000, a team led by Dr. Michael Hammer of the University of Arizona found that men from Jewish communities all carry a certain lineage of Y chromosomes, one that is shared by many Near Eastern peoples.

Two years later, a team led by Dr. Goldstein found out that the mitochondrial DNA of many Jewish communities looks as if it was derived, a long time ago, from the population of the host community. Jewish communities may therefore have been founded by Jewish men, arriving perhaps as traders, who took local wives, converted them to Judaism, and thereafter married only within the religion.

Another pursuit that interests him, one of high promise for reconstructing human evolutionary history, is that of discovering which genes bear the mark of recent natural selection. When a new version of a gene becomes more common, it leaves a pattern of changes that geneticists can detect with various statistical tests. Many of these selected genes reflect new diets or defenses against disease or adaptations to new climates. But they tend to differ from one race to another because each human population, after the dispersal from Africa some 50,000 years ago, has had to adapt to different circumstances.

This newish finding has raised fears that other, more significant differences might emerge among races, spurring a resurrection of racist doctrines.

He says he thinks that no significant genetic differences will be found between races because of his belief in the efficiency of natural selection. Just as selection turns out to have pruned away most disease-causing variants, it has also maximized human cognitive capacities because these are so critical to survival.

As part of a project on schizophrenia, Dr. Goldstein has done a genomewide association study on 2,000 volunteers of all races who were put through cognitive tests. “We have looked at the effect of common variation on cognition, and there is nothing,” Dr. Goldstein said, meaning that he can find no common genetic variants that affect intelligence. His view is that intelligence was developed early in human evolutionary history and was then standardized.source