Archive for December, 2010

Devonian die-off teaches grim lesson

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: December 30, 2010   View Article

A long, long time ago — between 378 million and 375 million years ago — about half of all species on the planet vanished. The trigger for this mass extinction, one of five known in Earth’s history, was a lethal combination of sea level rise and invasive species, according to a new study.

“The basic processes that normally result in new species forming were blocked,” study author Alycia Stigall, a paleobiologist at Ohio University, told me today.

‘Weird life’ reveals science at work

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: December 29, 2010   View Article

The continuing controversy surrounding the announcement of strange bacteria deep in a California lake that can apparently survive on arsenic and even incorporate the element into its DNA is being held up as a shining example for how the scientific process works.

The latest to point this out are the folks at Real Climate, a blog on climate science — a discipline that is no stranger to controversy.

“Chilling” Child Sacrifices Found at Prehistoric Site

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: December 23, 2010   View Article

The skeletons of dozens of children killed as part of a ritual bloodletting sacrifice a thousand years ago have been discovered in northern Peru, a new study says.

The remains are the earliest evidence of ritualized blood sacrifice and mutilation of children that has so far been seen in the South American Andes, according to study leader Haagen Klaus.

Seeds of a paralytic and hallucinogenic plant called Nectandra, which also prevents blood clotting, were found with the skeletons, suggesting the children were drugged before their throats were slit and their chests cut open.

The physics behind the movie magic

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: December 23, 2010   View Article

Remember the Na’vi – the blue-stripped humanoid species with pointy ears and a powerful bond with nature in last year’s biggest sci-fi epic, “Avatar”? They were created in a physics lab.

In fact, the entire movie “stands out for the amount of physics that was involved,” Robert Bridson, a computer scientist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, told me in an e-mail. “A lot of the environments, and of course the characters, were completely computer-generated.”

The physics behind the movie magic

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: December 23, 2010   View Article

Remember the Na’vi – the blue-stripped humanoid species with pointy ears and a powerful bond with nature in last year’s biggest sci-fi epic, “Avatar”? They were created in a physics lab.

In fact, the entire movie “stands out for the amount of physics that was involved,” Robert Brisdon, a computer scientist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, told me in an e-mail. “A lot of the environments, and of course the characters, were completely computer-generated.”

3-billion-year-old genetic fossil traced

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: December 20, 2010   View Article

The collective genome of all life on Earth today went through a rapid growth spurt between 3.3 billion and 2.8 billion years ago, according to scientists who used computer algorithms to reconstruct the evolutionary history of thousands of genes.

The growth spurt coincides with the advent of a biochemical pathway known as electron transport that is “integral for photosynthesis as well as for respiration,” Lawrence David, a computational biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told me.

Microbe makes hydrogen out of air

Publication: Cosmic Log on MSNBC.com   Date: December 15, 2010   View Article

An ocean microbe may open a new frontier in the search for clean, renewable energy: In a sense, it makes hydrogen — a clean-burning fuel — out of the air.

The bug, a cyanobacterium called Cyanothece 51142, performs photosynthesis during the day and fixes nitrogen at night. Hydrogen is a byproduct of the nitrogen fixation process. And when you burn hydrogen, the main byproduct is water.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach