Biology news

Life from Space

At www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110808220659.htm ... the headline reads, 'DNA building blocks can be made in space, NASA evidence suggests' while at www.physorg.com/print232030474.html it is 'Meteorites Tool kits for creating life on earth' and the same story appears all over the blogosphere, even at http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/08/10/seeds-of-life-on-earth-may-have-or... - which has some interesting comments including one that simply says this is a bit more information to confirm an already existing hypothesis.

Pandemics from Space

Mike Baillie's book, 'New Light on the Black Death: The Cosmic Connection', Tempus:2006, drew on the Hoyle and Wickramasinghe theory of Panspermia to make the astonishing claim that the 14th century plague outbreak that struck the medieval world came from space. This idea had merit in so far as peoples, separated by long distances, fell victim at roughly the same time, even where the rat population was minimal.

Jumping Genes

At www.physorg.com/print229856609.html ... Murdoch University researchers have gathered evidence on jumping genes - why some species adapt and others fail. Jumping genes are sequences of DNA that can move to a new position within the genome of a cell. Such movement can result in mutations.

Nematodes

At www.physorg.com/print229686718.html is a story about worms, or nematodes, living two and a half miles beneath the surface of the earth, according to a paper in Nature (June 2nd). Speculation is now that life may exist even deeper within the crust and this raises the possibility that such life may exist elsewhere in the solar system - or beyond.

Mammoths, Gray whales ... and Polar bears.

Beneath an alpine meadow in the Colorado Rockies a huge fossil bed has been foudn - exactly how and when it was laid down is yet to be worked out. It is some 35 feet deep and is choc a bloc with Ice Age mammals (see www.nytimes.com/2011/07/05/science/05dig.html ). What is now a meadow environment was formerly a lake and previous to that, a glacier - but where do the animals come from?

Problems with ancient DNA

Recent DNA tests on the mummies of Tutankhamon and his close relatives came up with the odd, if not  too likely finding that they had origins in western Europe. Now it is thought the DNA sampling procedure was open to contamination. The mummies have been handled by a lot of European archaeologists and scientists - so that is not surprising. See www.nature.com/news/2011/110427/full/472404a.html for an idea of the limitations of DNA research and the inhouse controversies about the way it is applied in practise - and an expectation it might get better in the future.

And Electric Brains ...

At www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110428143155.htm ... biologists have found that electrical oscillations in the brain are more important than they imagined as they play a role in organising cognitive functions such as memory and are particularly important as they allow the brain to store information that in turn allows us to navigate around the physical environment - a sort of inbuilt GPS system inside our heads. The paper describing it all can be found in Science of April 29th (2011).

Electric Microbes ?

At www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/ April 25th (Physics blog) 'How Bacteria could generate radio waves' (or go to www.technologyreview.com and click on blogs along the top menu, then click on the Physics blog which is usually the first one to pop up). arxiv.org/abs/1104.3113 'Eelctromagnetic signals from bacterial DNA' ... natural sources for radio waves include lightning, stars and pulsars and artificial sources include radar, mobile phones and computers etc.

Giant Rabbits

At www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/72081/title/Supersized_superbunny/ ... this is another example of Mediterranean islands becoming home to dwarfism and gigantism. See earlier posts on this subject - such as dwarf mammoths, dwarf elephants surviving on islands in the Mediterranean as sea levels changed. In this case it is gigantism - a larger than normal rabbit. A few million years ago such a rabbit lived on the island of Minorca (see March issue of Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology). It was six times the size of modern wild rabbits.

Buttercups and Dinosaurs

A fossil member of the Ranunculae flowering plant family, which includes buttercups, marsh marigolds and water crowfoot, among others, has been found in volcanic ash beds of an ancient lake in China. The plant, when it was alive, was probably growing in a marsh habitat - or at the least, in moist conditions. It is said to date back 125 million years ago (see www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110331142217.htm ).