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How Darwin Won the Evolution Race

from the Guardian(UK)

In early 1858, on Ternate in Malaysia, a young specimen collector was tracking the island's elusive birds of paradise when he was struck by malaria. 'Every day, during the cold and succeeding hot fits, I had to lie down during which time I had nothing to do but to think over any subjects then particularly interesting me,' [Alfred Russel Wallace] later recalled.

... He began thinking about disease and famine; about how they kept human populations in check; and about recent discoveries indicating that the earth's age was vast. How might these waves of death, repeated over aeons, influence the make-up of different species, he wondered?

Then the fever subsided - and inspiration struck. Fittest variations will survive longest and will eventually evolve into new species, he realised. Thus the theory of natural selection appeared, fever-like, in the mind of one of our greatest naturalists.

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Black Flies Surge in Maine's Clean Rivers

from the Boston Globe (Registration Required)

MILLINOCKET, Maine - Mainers call the black fly the state bird.

Residents and tourists have long steeled themselves against the flies' annual warm-weather onslaught, sometimes duct-taping pant legs and wearing screened hoods to keep the deceptively small bugs from delivering bloody bites or crawling into seemingly every body crevice.

But there are now more black flies in more places in Maine, and the reason may be surprising: It's the success of the environmental movement.

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Deals Transfer Water from Northern Washington Counties

from the San Francisco Examiner

TONASKET, Wash. (Associated Press) - Ray Colbert wanted out after five decades of growing apples, but his son didn't want the farm in northern Washington. No one else did either.

So, Colbert sold the last big piece of his operation, an 80-acre parcel, to a buyer far downstate who wanted what came with the land: water from the Okanogan River.

State regulators signed off on the buyer's request to transfer the rights to the water and let it flow hundreds of miles down river, figuring the deal was good for fish and wouldn't hurt anyone else's water supply. Local officials, however, fear such deals will dry out their rural farming community.

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Barrier Reef 'No-Take' Zones See Leap in Fish Numbers

from New Scientist

A controversial decision to halt commercial and recreational fishing across vast areas of the Great Barrier Reef has proven remarkably effective for reviving coral trout numbers. "Everyone is a little surprised," admits Garry Russ, a marine biologist at James Cook University in Townsville.

"We've seen a consistent pattern of recovery of coral trout from just north of Cairns to as far south as Heron Island," he says. "It's an extraordinarily large area."

In mid 2004, the Australian government rezoned the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to create the world's largest network of marine "no-take" zones.

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'Neanderthal Tools' Found at Dig

from the BBC News Online

Dozens of tools thought to have belonged to Neanderthals have been dug up at an archaeological site called Beedings in West Sussex.

Dr. Matthew Pope, of University College London, said the discovery provided new insights into the life of a thriving community of hunters at the site. The tools could have been used to hunt horses, mammoth and woolly rhinoceros.

The archaeologists, funded by English Heritage, have been carrying out their investigations over the last few weeks. It is the first modern scientific investigation of the site since it was discovered in 1900. "It's exciting to think that there's a real possibility these were left by some of the last Neanderthal hunting groups to occupy northern Europe," said Dr. Pope.

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Ice Core Reveals How Quickly Climate Can Change

from the Scientific American

Roughly 14,700 years ago the weather patterns that bring snow to Greenland shifted from one year to the next - a pattern of abrupt change that was repeated 12,900 years ago and 11,700 years ago when the earth's climate became the one enjoyed today - according to records preserved in an ice core taken from the northern island.

These speedy changes - transitions from warming to cooling and back again - in the absence of changes in greenhouse gas could presage abrupt, catastrophic climate change in our future.

"What made these abrupt climate changes were circulation changes, and these changes took place from one year to the next more or less," says glaciologist Sune Olander Rasmussen of the Centre for Ice and Climate at the University of Copenhagen ...

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Sea of Trash

from the New York Times Magazine (Registration Required)

Off Gore Point, where tide rips collide, the rolling swells rear up and steepen into whitecaps. Quiet with concentration, Chris Pallister decelerates from 15 knots to 8, strains to peer through a windshield blurry with spray, tightens his grip on the wheel and, like a skier negotiating moguls, coaxes his home-built boat ... through the chaos of waves.

... A 55-year-old lawyer with a ... private law practice in Anchorage, Pallister spends most of his time directing a nonprofit group called the Gulf of Alaska Keeper, or GoAK (pronounced GO-ay-kay).

... In practice, the group has, since Pallister and a few like-minded buddies founded it in 2005, done little else besides clean trash from beaches. All along Alaska's outer coast, Chris Pallister will tell you, there are shores strewn with marine debris, as man-made flotsam and jetsam is officially known. Most of that debris is plastic, and much of it crosses the Gulf of Alaska or even the Pacific Ocean to arrive there.

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Catching Your Breath

from Science News

Scientists would like to take your breath away. Literally. Exhaled vapor holds clues to your health, revealing much more than just what you ate for lunch.

In recent years, researchers have been scrutinizing the misty mixture of molecules with fervor, seeking evidence of conditions ranging from sleep apnea to cancer.

Breath can also reveal exposure to pollutants such as benzene and chloroform, providing a measure of internal dose that is missed by sampling polluted air.

http://snipurl.com/2mxkl

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In the Face of Fear, a Protective Trait

from the Los Angeles Times (Registration Required)

The look of fear is unmistakable: wide eyes, raised brows, a dropped jaw. But is it more than a social signal?

In [last] week's journal Nature Neuroscience, University of Toronto researchers reported that fearful expressions evolved to heighten the senses and improve detection of physical threats.

Scientists asked 20 college students to assume fearful and neutral faces and measured their field of vision each time. Fearful expressions enlarged the vision field by 7.6 percent compared with a neutral expression, presumably making it easier to spot an attacker.

http://snipurl.com/2mxc8

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Measles Doesn't Work in the Way We Thought

from Nature News

The infectious romp that the measles virus takes through the body doesn't need to involve the airways, as was previously thought. Instead, the virus prefers to replicate in immune cells.

This finding potentially paves the way for new and better cancer treatments that use a modified version of the measles virus to focus on the immune system.

Measles was thought to spread by first infecting the cells that line the airways before going on to attack the immune cells. An alternative suggestion, that the virus is carried primarily by lymphatic immune cells, was tested by Roberto Cattaneo at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and colleagues.

http://snipurl.com/2mxn4

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Report on Climate Predicts Extremes

from the Washington Post (Registration Required)

As greenhouse-gas emissions rise, North America is likely to experience more droughts and excessive heat in some regions even as intense downpours and hurricanes pound others more often, according to a report issued [last week] by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program.

The 162-page study, which was led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, provides the most comprehensive assessment yet of how global warming has helped to transform the climate of the United States and Canada over the past 50 years -- and how it may do so in the future.

Coming at a time when record flooding is ravaging the Midwest, the new report paints a grim scenario in which severe weather will exact a heavy toll. The report warned that extreme weather events "are among the most serious challenges to society in coping with a changing climate."

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Earth Will Survive After All, Physicists Say

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

That black hole that was going to eat the Earth? Forget about it, and keep making the mortgage payments - those of you who still have them.

A new particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider scheduled to go into operation this fall outside Geneva, is no threat to the Earth or the universe, according to a new safety review approved Friday by the governing council of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or Cern, which is building the collider.

"There is no basis for any concerns about the consequences of new particles or forms of matter that could possibly be produced by the LHC," four physicists who comprised the safety assessment group wrote in their report.

http://snipurl.com/2mcvb

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"Uncontacted" Amazon Tribe Actually Known for Decades

from National Geographic News

Recent photos of an uncontacted tribe firing arrows at a plane briefly made these Amazon Indians the world's least understood media darlings.

Contrary to many news stories, the isolated group has actually been monitored from a distance for decades, past and current Brazilian government officials say.

No one, however, is known to have had a face-to-face meeting with the nomadic tribe, which lives along the Peru-Brazil border. And no one knows how much, if anything, these rain forest people know about the outside world.

http://snipurl.com/2mcmd

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Dearth of Ships Delays Drilling of Offshore Oil

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

As President Bush calls for repealing a ban on drilling off most of the coast of the United States, a shortage of ships used for deep-water offshore drilling promises to impede any rapid turnaround in oil exploration and supply.

In recent years, this global shortage of drill-ships has created a critical bottleneck, frustrating energy company executives and constraining their ability to exploit known reserves or find new ones.

Slow growth in oil supplies, at a time of soaring demand, has been a major factor in the spike of oil and gasoline prices.

http://snipurl.com/2l8lz

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Study: Moving Virus Research Could Be Costly

from the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (Associated Press) - An outbreak of one of the most contagious animal diseases from any of five locations the White House is considering for a new high-security research laboratory would be more devastating to the U.S. economy than from the isolated island laboratory where such research is now conducted, says a new report published Friday.

The 1,005-page Homeland Security Department report said chances of such an outbreak - with estimated loses of more than $4.2 billion - would be "extremely low" if the research lab were designed, constructed and operated according to government safety standards.

Still, it calculated that economic losses in an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease could surpass $4 billion if the lab were built near livestock herds in Kansas or Texas, two options the Bush administration is considering.

http://snipurl.com/2ngk2

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Key Ocean Mission Goes into Orbit

from BBC News Online

A space mission that will be critical to our understanding of climate change has launched from California.

The Jason-2 satellite will become the primary means of measuring the shape of the world's oceans, taking readings with an accuracy of better than 4cm. Its data will track not only sea level rise but reveal how the great mass of waters are moving around the globe.

This information will be fundamental in helping weather and climate agencies make better forecasts. The satellite left Earth at 0746 GMT atop a Delta-2 rocket from the Vandenberg Air Force Base.

http://snipurl.com/2lwdk

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New Clue to Alzheimer's Found

from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Registration Required)

Researchers have uncovered a new clue to the cause of Alzheimer's disease.

The brains of people with the memory-robbing form of dementia are cluttered with a plaque made up of beta-amyloid, a sticky protein. But there long has been a question whether this is a cause of the disease or a side effect.

... Now, researchers have caused Alzheimer's symptoms in rats by injecting them with one particular form of beta-amyloid. Injections with other forms of beta-amyloid did not cause illness, which may explain why some people have beta-amyloid plaque in their brains but do not show disease symptoms.

http://snipurl.com/2ndnb

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Survey Suggests Research Misconduct Is Common

from ScienceDaily

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Research misconduct at U.S. institutions may be more common than previously suspected, with 9 percent of scientists saying in a new survey that they personally had seen fabrication, falsification or plagiarism. ...

The survey of 2,212 mainly biomedical scientists at 605 universities and other research institutions, published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, also showed that researchers are very reluctant to report bad conduct.

Thirty-seven percent of cases of suspected misconduct were never reported to the institution involved for investigation, perhaps due to fear of reprisals for turning in a colleague or a desire to protect the flow of research money.

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White Patches Found in Mars Trench Are Ice, Scientists Say

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

After a decade of shouting, "Follow the water!" in its exploration of Mars, NASA can finally say that one of its spacecraft has reached out, touched water ice and scooped it up. ...

Now, scientists will be able to tackle the main question they hope to answer: Did the ice ever melt and turn Mars into a habitable place? In a photograph released Thursday evening of a trench that the Phoenix Mars lander has dug into the Martian soil, some white patches that were seen earlier in the week have shrunk, and eight small chunks have disappeared.

Until now, scientists were not sure if the white material was ice or some kind of salt. When exposed to air, water ice can change into water vapor, a process known as sublimation. Salt, on the other hand, is not capable of such a vanishing act.

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Robots: Nothing to Lose But Their Chains

from the Economist

Titan is a bit of a hulk. It can lift a BMW into the air with just one arm, swing it around and then set it down again in exactly the same spot with barely a quiver. Moving cars is a piece of cake for the world's strongest robot. ...

... At just 1.4 metres in height, Partner Robot is a wimp - but its talent is versatility, not strength. Made by Toyota, Partner Robot is humanoid. Rather than being bolted to the floor like Titan, it can walk on two articulated legs.

... As different as these two machines are, they share a common ancestor: the industrial robot. The first factory robots appeared in the 1960s. They could do only simple, monotonous and mundane things, like moving objects from one production line to another - they were drudges, like the slaves Karel Capek described in 1920 in the play that coined the term from the Czech word robota, or "forced labour."

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'Oldest' Computer Music Unveiled

from the BBC News Online

A scratchy recording of Baa Baa Black Sheep and a truncated version of In the Mood are thought to be the oldest known recordings of computer generated music. The songs were captured by the BBC in the Autumn of 1951 during a visit to the University of Manchester. ...

The recording has been unveiled as part of the 60th Anniversary of "Baby", the forerunner of all modern computers. The tunes were played on a Ferranti Mark 1 computer, a commercial version of the Baby Machine.

"I think it's historically significant," Paul Doornbusch, a computer music composer and historian at the New Zealand School of Music, told BBC News. "As far as I know it's the earliest recording of a computer playing music in the world, probably by quite a wide margin."

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Gastric Bypass Surgery Cuts Cancer Risk, Researchers Say

from the Los Angeles Times (Registration required)

Gastric bypass surgery -- a treatment for obesity that is already known to reduce heart disease and diabetes -- decreases the incidence of cancer by 80 percent over the five years following the procedure, Canadian researchers reported Wednesday. ...

The incidence of two of the most common tumors, breast and colon, was reduced by 85 percent and 70 percent, respectively, Dr. Nicolas Christou of McGill University in Montreal said.

The study confirms the findings of two papers issued in August that showed the surgery reduced overall deaths from cancer. The new study goes a step further by showing reductions in the incidence of several specific types of cancer ...

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Meteorology: Taming the sky

from Nature News

China wants everything to be under control at the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games on 8 August - even the weather. The chance of rain that day is 47 percent, according to the Beijing Meteorological Bureau. ...

The iconic 91,000-seat main stadium, nicknamed the 'bird's nest' because of its interlacing steel beams, has no roof. So Chinese meteorologists will use weather-modification technologies to try to stop rain from spoiling the party.

Beijing's plan for the games is the most conspicuous example of the country's massive weather-modification efforts. Most of the time, the focus is not on keeping things dry, but on making it rain in places that desperately need the water.

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Fastest-Ever Flashgun Captures Image of Light Wave

from New Scientist

However hard you stare, you would still miss it. Researchers have found a way to generate the shortest-ever flash of light - 80 attoseconds (billionths of a billionth of a second) long. ...

Such flashes have already been used to capture an image of a laser pulse too short to be "photographed" before. The light pulses are produced by firing longer, but still very short laser pulses into a cloud of neon gas. The laser gives a kick of energy to the neon atoms, which then release this energy in the form of brief pulses of extreme ultraviolet light.

The trigger pulses fired at the neon cloud are themselves only 2.5 femtoseconds, billionths of a millionth of a second, long, says team member Eleftherios Goulielmakis at the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany.

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Arctic Sea Ice Melt 'Even Faster'

from the BBC News Online

Arctic sea ice is melting even faster than last year, despite a cold winter.

Data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) shows that the year began with ice covering a larger area than at the beginning of 2007. But now it is down to levels seen last June, at the beginning of a summer that broke records for sea ice loss.

Scientists on the project say much of the ice is so thin as to melt easily, and the Arctic seas may be ice-free in summer within five to 10 years.

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Inside the Solar Hydrogen House: No More Power Bills - Ever

from the Scientific American

EAST AMWELL, N.J. - Mike Strizki has not paid an electric, oil or gas bill - nor has he spent a nickel to fill up his Mercury Sable - in nearly two years.

Instead, the 51-year-old civil engineer makes all the fuel he needs using a system he built in the capacious garage of his home, which employs photovoltaic (PV) panels to turn sunlight into electricity that is harnessed in turn to extract hydrogen from tap water.

Although the device cost $500,000 to construct, and it is unlikely it will ever pay off financially ..., the civil engineer says it is priceless in terms of what it does buy: freedom from ever paying another heating or electric bill, not to mention keeping a lid on pollution, because water is its only by-product.

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Genetically Modified Mosquitoes May Combat Malaria

from the San Francisco Examiner

LONDON (Associated Press) - In a cramped, humid laboratory in London, mosquitoes swarming in stacked, net-covered cages are being scrutinized for keys to controlling malaria.

Scientists have genetically modified hundreds of them, hoping to stop them from spreading the killer disease. Faced with a losing battle against malaria, scientists are increasingly exploring new avenues that might have seemed far-fetched just a few years ago.

"We don't have things we can rely on," said Andrea Crisanti, the malaria expert in charge of genetically modifying mosquitoes at London's Imperial College. "It's time to try something else."

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Scientists Fighting Disease with Climate Forecasts

from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Registration Required)

WASHINGTON (Associated Press) - A cyclone wrecks coastal Myanmar, spawning outbreaks of malaria, cholera and dengue fever. Flooding inundates Iowa, raising an array of public health concerns. With climate change comes new threats to life, and scientists hope to be able to better predict them as they forecast the weather.

"Everything is connected in our earth system," Conrad C. Lautenbacher, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said at a panel on "Changing Climate: Changing Health Patterns."

The key is bringing all types of data together—health, weather, human behavior, disasters and others—"it's science without borders," Lautenbacher said. He said 73 countries and more than 50 international organizations are currently participating in the Global Earth Observation System of Systems and more are expected to join.

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Chimp's Sex Calls May Reflect Calculation

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

Intricate as the mating dance may be among people, for other primates like chimpanzees and baboons it is even more complicated. This is evident from the work of researchers who report that the distinctive calls made by female chimpanzees during sex are part of a sophisticated social calculation.

Biologists have long been puzzled by these copulation calls, which can betray the caller's whereabouts to predators. To compensate for this hazard, the calls must confer a significant evolutionary advantage, but what?

... [The] study, by Simon Townsend, Tobias Deschner and Klaus Zuberbühler, shows that in making calls or not, the females take the social situation into account.

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Promising Alzheimer's Drug Approved for Late-Stage Trials

from USA Today

An experimental drug for Alzheimer's disease patients showed promise in Phase II clinical trials and is moving into final-stage trials, Wyeth and Elan, the makers of bapineuzumab, announced Tuesday.

Bapineuzumab is designed to fight beta amyloid, a toxic protein that clumps together in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

In the early studies, conducted around the USA, 240 people with early- to moderate-stage Alzheimer's disease were either assigned bapineuzumab or a placebo. Researchers reported that non-carriers of a gene considered to be a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, called ApoE4, showed "clinically meaningful benefits" in a battery of tests used to track the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

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