First Lizard Genome Sequenced


10:39:12 PM, Thursday, September 01, 2011

"The green anole lizard is an agile and active creature, and so are elements of its genome. This genomic agility and other new clues have emerged from the full sequencing of the lizard’s genome and may offer insights into how the genomes of humans, mammals, and their reptilian counterparts have evolved since mammals and reptiles parted ways 320 million years ago.

Researchers in Harvard’s Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB) and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT who completed this sequencing project reported their findings online today in the journal Nature.

The green anole lizard (Anolis carolinensis) — a native of the Southeastern United States — is the first nonbird species of reptile to have its genome sequenced and assembled. Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers at the Broad have assembled and analyzed more than 20 mammalian genomes — including those of some of our closest relatives — but the genetic landscape of reptiles remains relatively unexplored.

“Sometimes you need to be at a certain distance in order to learn about how the human genome evolved,” said Jessica Alföldi, a Broad research scientists who is co-first author of the paper and a member of the Broad’s vertebrate genome biology group. “You have to look out further than you were looking previously.”

Lizards are more closely related to birds — which are also reptiles — than to any of the other organisms whose genomes have been sequenced in full. Like mammals, birds and lizards are amniotes, meaning that they are not restricted to laying eggs in water. “People have been sequencing animals from different parts of the vertebrate tree, but lizards had not been previously sampled,” said Kerstin Lindblad-Toh, scientific director of vertebrate genome biology at the Broad and senior author of the Nature paper. “This was an important branch to look at.”

Four hundred species of anole lizards have fanned out across the islands of the Caribbean, North America, Central America, and South America, making them an appealing model for studying evolution. Although much is known about their biology and behavior, genomic information may be a critical missing piece for understanding how the lizards have become so diverse..."

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Laser Advances in Nuclear Fuel Stir Terror Fear

10:33:29 PM, Thursday, September 01, 2011

"Scientists have long sought easier ways to make the costly material known as enriched uranium — the fuel of nuclear reactors and bombs, now produced only in giant industrial plants.

One idea, a half-century old, has been to do it with nothing more substantial than lasers and their rays of concentrated light. This futuristic approach has always proved too expensive and difficult for anything but laboratory experimentation.

Until now.

In a little-known effort, General Electric has successfully tested laser enrichment for two years and is seeking federal permission to build a $1 billion plant that would make reactor fuel by the ton.

That might be good news for the nuclear industry. But critics fear that if the work succeeds and the secret gets out, rogue states and terrorists could make bomb fuel in much smaller plants that are difficult to detect.

Iran has already succeeded with laser enrichment in the lab, and nuclear experts worry that G.E.’s accomplishment might inspire Tehran to build a plant easily hidden from the world’s eyes.

Backers of the laser plan call those fears unwarranted and praise the technology as a windfall for a world increasingly leery of fossil fuels that produce greenhouse gases.

But critics want a detailed risk assessment. Recently, they petitioned Washington for a formal evaluation of whether the laser initiative could backfire and speed the global spread of nuclear arms..."

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Earliest Signs of Advanced Tools Found

8:58:29 PM, Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"One hallmark of Homo erectus, a forerunner of modern humans, was his stone tools, an advanced technology reflecting a good deal of forethought and dexterity. Up to now, however, scientists have been unable to pin a firm date on the earliest known evidence of his stone tool-making.

A new geological study, being reported Thursday in the journal Nature, showed that tools from a site near Lake Turkana in Kenya were made about 1.76 million years ago, the earliest of their ilk found so far. Previous dates were estimates ranging from 1.4 million to 1.6 million years ago.

Although no erectus fossils were found with the Turkana tools, a skull of that species was excavated last year in the same sediment level across the lake. This suggests that Homo erectus was responsible for these particular tools, which were made with what scientists refer to as Acheulean technology. The term connotes the type of oval and pear-shaped hand axes and other implements that were a specialty of early humans.

American researchers at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of Columbia University, established the age of the Turkana tools by dating the surrounding mudstone with a paleomagnetic technique. When layers of silt and clay hardened into stone, this preserved the orientation of Earth’s magnetic field at the time, and an analysis of the periodic polarity reversals and other records yielded the age of the site known as Kokiselei.

“I was taken aback when I realized that the geological data indicated it was the oldest Acheulean site in the world,” said the lead author of the report, Christopher J. Lepre, a researcher at Lamont-Doherty who also teaches geology at Rutgers University..."

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Humpback Whale Shows AMAZING Appreciation After Being Freed From Nets

8:50:10 PM, Wednesday, August 31, 2011
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Saudi Arabia Discovers 9,000 Year-Old Civilization

2:24:47 PM, Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"(Reuters) - Saudi Arabia is excavating a new archaeological site that will show horses were domesticated 9,000 years ago in the Arabian peninsula, the country's antiquities expert said on Wednesday.

The discovery of the civilization, named al-Maqar after the site's location, will challenge the theory that the domestication of animals took place 5,500 years ago in Central Asia, said Ali al-Ghabban, Vice-President of Antiquities and Museums at the Saudi Commission for Tourism & Antiquities.

"This discovery will change our knowledge concerning the domestication of horses and the evolution of culture in the late Neolithic period," Ghabban told a news conference in the Red Sea port of Jeddah.

"The Maqar Civilization is a very advanced civilization of the Neolithic period. This site shows us clearly, the roots of the domestication of horses 9,000 years ago."

The site also includes remains of mummified skeletons, arrowheads, scrapers, grain grinders, tools for spinning and weaving, and other tools that are evidence of a civilization that is skilled in handicrafts.

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, is trying to diversify its economy away from oil and hopes to increase its tourism..."

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The Star That Should Not Exist

2:12:04 PM, Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"A team of European astronomers has used ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) to track down a star in the Milky Way that many thought was impossible. They discovered that this star is composed almost entirely of hydrogen and helium, with only remarkably small amounts of other chemical elements in it. This intriguing composition places it in the “forbidden zone” of a widely accepted theory of star formation, meaning that it should never have come into existence in the first place. The results will appear in the 1 September 2011 issue of the journal Nature.

A faint star in the constellation of Leo (The Lion), called SDSS J102915+172927 [1], has been found to have the lowest amount of elements heavier than helium (what astronomers call “metals”) of all stars yet studied. It has a mass smaller than that of the Sun and is probably more than 13 billion years old.

“A widely accepted theory predicts that stars like this, with low mass and extremely low quantities of metals, shouldn’t exist because the clouds of material from which they formed could never have condensed,” [2] said Elisabetta Caffau (Zentrum für Astronomie der Universität Heidelberg, Germany and Observatoire de Paris, France), lead author of the paper. “It was surprising to find, for the first time, a star in this ‘forbidden zone’, and it means we may have to revisit some of the star formation models.”

The team analysed the properties of the star using the X-shooter and UVES instruments on the VLT [3]. This allowed them to measure how abundant the various chemical elements were in the star. They found that the proportion of metals in SDSS J102915+172927 is more than 20 000 times smaller than that of the Sun [4][5].

“The star is faint, and so metal-poor that we could only detect the signature of one element heavier than helium — calcium — in our first observations,” said Piercarlo Bonifacio (Observatoire de Paris, France), who supervised the project. “We had to ask for additional telescope time from ESO’s Director General to study the star’s light in even more detail, and with a long exposure time, to try to find other metals.”

Cosmologists believe that the lightest chemical elements — hydrogen and helium — were created shortly after the Big Bang, together with some lithium [6], while almost all other elements were formed later in stars. Supernova explosions spread the stellar material into the interstellar medium, making it richer in metals. New stars form from this enriched medium so they have higher amounts of metals in their composition than the older stars. Therefore, the proportion of metals in a star tells us how old it is..."

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Why Math Works: Is Math Invented Or Discovered?

2:00:54 PM, Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"Most of us take it for granted that math works—that scientists can devise formulas to describe subatomic events or that engineers can calculate paths for space­craft. We accept the view, initially espoused by Galileo, that mathematics is the language of science and expect that its grammar explains experimental results and even predicts novel phenomena. The power of mathematics, though, is nothing short of astonishing. Consider, for example, Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell​’s famed equations: not only do these four expressions summarize all that was known of electromagnetism in the 1860s, they also anticipated the existence of radio waves two decades before German physicist Heinrich Hertz detected them. Very few languages are as effective, able to articulate volumes’ worth of material so succinctly and with such precision. Albert Einstein​ pondered, “How is it possible that mathematics, a product of human thought that is independent of experience, fits so excellently the objects of physical reality?”

As a working theoretical astrophysicist, I encounter the seemingly “unreasonable effectiveness of math­ematics,” as Nobel laureate physicist Eugene Wigner called it in 1960, in every step of my job. Whether I am struggling to understand which progenitor systems produce the stellar explosions known as type Ia supernovae or calculating the fate of Earth when our sun ultimately becomes a red giant, the tools I use and the models I develop are mathematical. The uncanny way that math captures the natural world has fascinated me throughout my career, and about 10 years ago I resolved to look into the issue more deeply..."

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In Massive Tahitian Waves, The Most Incredible Day Of Surfing Ever?

1:28:17 PM, Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"Kelly Slater this week won a major surf competition in large waves at a notoriously treacherous venue in Tahiti. But the buzz around the Billabong Pro still is mostly about what transpired during an off day in the middle of the event, when more than a dozen tow surfers took over in gargantuan surf and participated in what some observers described as the most incredible and intense big-wave session ever recorded.

Waves at Teahupoo, which break over an extremely shallow reef, were peaking at 25-plus feet. The ASP World Tour had declared a "code red" situation because the swells were too large and breaking too swiftly too be safely caught by paddle power. Slater mentioned how they're more like tsunamis because of the force with which the fast-moving swells shove against the reef. "They reach a point where they don't get any taller. They just get thicker," he said.

Tow surfers enjoy the benefit of skiing onto building waves behind personal watercraft, then letting go of the rope and surfing on customized boards. Many expert tow surfers, who had arrived in anticipation of the giant swell, eagerly took to the lineup, although this was no carefree day of surfing..."

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Boy Throwing Rocks From Overpass Shot By Crossbow

11:05:34 AM, Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"SAN DIEGO -- San Diego police say a boy throwing rocks at vehicles was struck in the abdomen by a crossbow bolt fired by a passenger in small sport utility vehicle.

Officer Dino Delimitros says the boy and a friend were throwing rocks in the Linda Vista neighborhood Monday afternoon when a passenger in a black Toyota RAV4 pulled out a crossbow and fired.

The boy was shot in the abdomen and was taken to a hospital. The San Diego Union-Tribune says his injuries are not life-threatening.

His name and age weren't released.

Nobody has been arrested."

-- Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

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Hugh Laurie - You Don't Know My Mind

12:08:09 AM, Wednesday, August 31, 2011
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Io Ricordo Con Rabbia by Riccardo Pittaluga

12:03:06 AM, Wednesday, August 31, 2011
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James Holden - Solstice

11:41:15 PM, Tuesday, August 30, 2011
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Göbekli Tepe: Older Than Stonehenge, Pyramids, Anything

11:19:10 PM, Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"When people think of ancient temples, they often think of Stonehenge, which most archaeologists agree was built about 5,000 years ago. But Stonehenge is actually trumped handily by a little-known site in modern-day Turkey called Göbekli Tepe, which is 11,500 years old. The site is composed of circular rings and T-shaped monoliths, many with carvings of animals on them.

Although Göbekli Tepe (which means “potbelly hill”) got a bit of press in 2008 when The Guardian and Smithsonian Magazine ran articles about its newly realized importance, it didn’t really receive the wider public acclaim and notice that it deserved. According to many archaeologists, this is one of the most exciting finds ever unearthed, a real game-changer in terms of our understanding of civilization, settlement, agriculture, and religion.

Previously, it was generally believed that humans settled, started farming, and built residential buildings before they built temples. That assumption is now being turned on its head, as it appears that Göbekli Tepe was built by hunter-gatherers as a place of worship, the world’s first temple. The Smithsonian article states:

"Scholars have long believed that only after people learned to farm and live in settled communities did they have the time, organization and resources to construct temples and support complicated social structures. But [excavation leader] Schmidt argues it was the other way around: the extensive, coordinated effort to build the monoliths literally laid the groundwork for the development of complex societies."

Ian Hodder, Stanford University professor of anthropology, elaborates:

"Everybody used to think only complex, hierarchical civilisations could build such monumental sites, and that they only came about with the invention of agriculture. Gobekli changes everything. It's elaborate, it's complex and it is pre-agricultural. That alone makes the site one of the most important archaeological finds in a very long time."

To put it in context, Göbekli Tepe “predates pottery, metallurgy, and the invention of writing or the wheel,” as well as the Pyramids, the walls of Jericho, and just about every other ancient building found so far. Hodder continues, "Many people think that it changes everything … It overturns the whole apple cart. All our theories were wrong."

The exact function of the megalithic complex remains under investigation, as the excavation is ongoing and could take many more years. Klaus Schmidt, the German archaeologist leading the effort, believes that Göbekli Tepe was used by a death cult. Others suggest that it represents the beginning of cultivation of plants, especially grains..."

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Pentagon Quake Nightmare: Fukushima on the Mississippi

11:05:05 PM, Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"In May, the federal government simulated an earthquake so massive, it killed 100,000 Midwesterners instantly, and forced more than 7 million people out of their homes. At the time, National Level Exercise 11 went largely unnoticed; the scenario seemed too far-fetched — states like Illinois and Missouri are in the middle of a tectonic plate, not at the edge of one. A major quake happens there once every several generations.

But Tuesday’s earthquake along the East Coast is a reminder that disasters can hit where they’re least expected. And if the nightmare scenario comes, government officials worry that state and federal authorities won’t be able to handle the “cascading failures” that follow. The results of May’s disaster exercise won’t be released to the public. But privately, these government officials say they’re glad that this earthquake was just a drill — and not the big one. Especially because there are so many nuclear power plants in the fault zone.

“A couple of things keep me up at night,” Paul Stockton, the Defense Department’s senior homeland security official, told the Aspen Security Forum last month. A quake, like the one simulated in National Level Exercise 11, is chief among the sleep-takers. “It’s so much bigger than anything we’ve faced — way beyond Hurricane Katrina.”

National Level Exercise 11, or NLE 11, was, in essence, a replay of a disaster that happened 200 years earlier. On Dec. 16, 1811, a magnitude 7.7 earthquake hit the New Madrid fault line, which lies on the border region of Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. It’s by far the largest earthquake ever to strike the United States east of the Rockies. Up to 129,000 square kilometers [50,000 square miles] were hit with “raised or sunken lands, fissures, sinks, sand blows, and large landslides,” according to the U.S. Geological Service. “Huge waves on the Mississippi River overwhelmed many boats and washed others high onto the shore. High banks caved and collapsed into the river; sand bars and points of islands gave way; whole islands disappeared.” People as far away as New York City were awakened by the shaking..."

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Andreea Banica - Love in Brasil

10:47:21 PM, Tuesday, August 30, 2011

-- Brazilian, Romanian, Serbian? I don't know, but I think some might classify this music clip as soft-core pornography.

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