Courtesy steev-oIt’s Friday (T.G.I.F.), Buzzketeers, and you all know what that means. That’s right, it’s time for the Science Buzz Friday Relationship Extravaganza! (S.B.F.R.E.)
I know how much y’all like relationships, and how much you like talking about them, so it’s only natural that you clicked on the S.B.F.R.E. so quickly. But that’s not all! See, here at the S.B.F.R.E., “relationship” is also a code word for… S-E-X! Oh, naughtiest of naughties! It’s a red-letter day! Relationships and S-E-X-ual science… y’all had better sit down.
Seriously, sit down. Make yourselves comfortable. Now, I want y’all to know that this is a safe space, and we should be free to say whatever we’re feeling. Good, good… I think we’re about ready to start.
So… I understand that you feel like he has some real problems in communicating his feelings?
Why do you think that is?
No, I’m sorry, let’s let him finish—we’ll all have a chance to talk, and it’s his turn right now.
OK. I think I see what you’re saying. How do you want him to communicate? What do you wish he would say to you?
And how does that make you feel? Is that something you can do? OK… Why do you think you’re not being listened to?
Well, let’s look at it this way: at least y’all aren’t anglerfish. You know anglerfish, right, Buzzketeers? Anglerfish include those awful deep sea fish, with the big eyes, and teeth all over the place, and a glowing spike sticking out of their awful, lumpy heads. You know what I’m talking about. You saw those pictures, and then learned that they were only a few inches long, but were still kind of grossed out. And maybe some holier-than-thou biologist type pointed out to you that they weren’t gross, they were just fish that had made some spectacular adaptations to their environment, and were just living their lives like every other animal.
Well, don’t worry, you were right in the first place: angler fish really are awful and gross.
See, when they first discovered these creepy anglerfish, scientists were only finding female specimens. No males at all. So where’s the relationship relationship?
Well, eventually they did find some males, and some remarkable observations were made. The male anglerfish were pretty normal in their youth, but once they reached sexual maturity, their digestive systems degenerate. So they are unable to feed themselves. Naturally, what a mature male needs to do at that point is find a sugar momma. And fast (because, again, they’re starving to death). When the male tracks down a female anglerfish, he bites her, latching on to her body with his teeth. Enzymes in the male then break down its own mouth, as well as the female’s body, so that the two fish fuse together, to the point where they even share blood vessels. A source of sustenance now secured, the male kind of “lets itself go,” if you will. But instead of gaining weight and watching too much TV, the body of the male anglerfish, still fused with the female, degenerates, eventually becoming just a pair of gonads that hang off the female. When the first female anglerfish were discovered, scientists thought that they had parasites hanging off of them. Nope. Those were the remains of male anglerfish.
When the female is ready to release eggs, the gonads sense the change in hormone levels in the blood that still flows to them, and they release sperm, so that the eggs can be fertilized, and more horrible anglerfish can be created.
I don’t know who has it worse here—the female that has to nourish a pair of parasitic testicles (or multiple pairs), or the male, who has to latch on to a female to survive, and then becomes a pair of parasitic testicles. Either way, though, I think you’ll agree that your own messed up relationship seems pretty ideal right now, doesn’t it?
So remember, until the next Science Buzz Friday Relationship Extravaganza, keep your emotions bottled up, and if you’re ever feeling bummed out about things, just think of the never-lonely anglerfish.
Courtesy Mark RyanDespite recent defeats in the courts, opponents of evolution continue to resort to some of their old tricks, namely attempting to add controversy to the theory where there really is none. It’s an old tactic used by the creationism movement since before the Scopes trial in the 1920’s.
Fortunately, not everyone is falling for it, and progress in the fight is being made. Last week in Texas, the state school board there eliminated restoration of a long-standing rule requiring high school science teachers to teach both “the weaknesses and strengths” of evolution to their pupils. This is good news for evolution, which despite some efforts to discredit it is a strong and well-documented scientific theory with - to date - no viable scientific alternatives.
Many people in Texas, including 800 scientists who signed a petition
against the wording’s inclusion, saw the rule as an attack against a well-founded scientific theory that would open the door for creationism to be taught in the public schools. The vote to restore the rule failed by a narrow 7-7 tie.
"Its removal is a huge step forward," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, Scott leads the fight for teaching evolution in schools, and was present at the board meetings last week in Austin.
Proponents of the “weakness” language tried to make the best of its defeat by pointing to other amendments passed by the board later in the day. The creationist faction again hoped to stir up controversy where there was none by tacking on language that added doubt and debate to such subjects as transitional fossils and common descent, both of which have been well-documented in the fossil record and scientific literature. Hopefully, the additional amendments can be removed when the board meets to finalize the draft text in late March.
Next door, in Louisiana, the legislature enacted a new law for the state Board of Education to “assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories.” The language hints that it covers many scientific theories, but pointedly specifies evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning. Known as the Science Education Act, the measure was signed into law by Governor Bobby Jindal - a creationism supporter - last October.
Another state over, in Mississippi, new legislation introduced by representative Gary Chism uses a larger hammer to pound his anti-evolution point home. It would require textbooks that mention evolution to carry a 200-word disclaimer about the theory being controversial. Here’s some of the text:
"Scientific theories are based on both observations of the natural world and assumptions about the natural world. They are always subject to change in view of new and confirmed observations."
It also states:
"The word ‘theory’ has many meanings, including: systematically organized knowledge; abstract reasoning; a speculative idea or plan; or a systematic statement of principles,” the opening paragraph of the bill states.”
(Of course, Chism fails to point out which meaning is actually being used.)
"This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things. No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life’s origins should be considered a theory,"
Again, it’s the same old “add controversy where none exists” tactic. Presently, the bill is heading through two committees, and it’d be a shame if such an anti-science law gets passed, because it will only be detrimental to the development of any students who want to make science their career choice.
Back in 1973, evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky titled an essay “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.”
I think he hit the nail right on the head.
Courtesy abmiller99There’s an expression that I like… it describes a certain kind of broad, smug, and possibly insincere smile, but one of the words in it is altogether naughty. I am, if nothing else, sensitive to the delicate sensibilities of Buzz’s readers, and I hold the image of the Science Museum of Minnesota in the highest regard. And even though I do not write as a representative of the museum*, it would be a true blow to my childlike heart to see profanity on one of its webpages. (Especially if I were the one to put that profanity there in the first place.)
And so we will tiptoe around this expression, carefully, carefully… like careful cats.
The expression rhymes with “Spit-sleating gin.” Or “kit-beating kin.” Or maybe “wit meeting sin.”
Oh, what’s a good, inoffensive way to put it? Hmm. It has to do with the sort of expression of happiness you might wear if you had just finished eating a pile of poop, especially if you think someone else wanted some of that poop but didn’t get any before you polished it off, or maybe if you didn’t want anyone to know you had eaten the poop in the first place, and so were perhaps overcompensating in trying to look like your normal, smiley self.
Was that good? I think that was perfect.
Anyway, this expression was originally invented to describe the way dung beetles look pretty much constantly. Dung beetles eat poop all the time—some of them eat only poop—and for some reason they have the idea stuck in their heads that it’s a tremendously valuable commodity (little do they know, eh?), so they always have this big ol’ “look what I got, son” smile on their faces. You have to use a magnifying glass to see it, but the smile is there.
While this expression has since fallen into broader use, it seems that its original application is … decaying, if you will. It seems that not all dung beetles eat dung! Ah! Dogs and cats, living together!
That’s right—in the depths of the Amazon jungle, there’s a recently discovered species of dung beetle that has traded its hilarious culinary habits for something a little more awesome: hunting, maiming, decapitating, and eating big, toxic millipedes.
Researchers baited traps in the jungle with a whole variety of dung beetle foods—dung beetles love dung, so that was there, obviously, but some species will also snack on other items, like rotting fruit, fungus, dead animals, and, occasionally, millipedes. The scientists caught 132 species of dung beetles in the traps, but only one exclusively ate the millipedes. No poop for these beetles, or even dead millipedes—they were hunters.
The researchers closely examined the peculiar beetles, and noticed a couple tiny, yet important differences from similar looking species: the hunting beetles had elongated hind legs (trading their dung-rolling function for something a little more suited to grappling with prey), and modified jaws and teeth, for chewing open millipede exoskeletons.
The scientists think that the no-dung dung beetles have undergone speciation. That is, they have evolved into a new species in adapting to the pressures of their environment. See, it seems that dung really is a little scarce on the floor of the Amazon jungle, and some dung beetles moved on to different food sources (millipedes), to the point where they only ate that new food, and became distinct (albeit in small ways) from their old kin. So, while there is one less creature that can truly wear a zit-heating pin, I guess that the Amazonian dung beetles that still eat dung have a little more to grin about these days. It kind of balances out, doesn’t it?
*No, really, I don’t write as a museum representative. Watch: I kind of enjoyed Waterworld. Does the museum think that? Nope. Nobody thinks that, and my writing it doesn’t change the fact.
Courtesy Photograph settings by Gabriele Gentile, photo shot by an assistantA pink lizard that eluded Charles Darwin when he visited the Galapagos Islands nearly 175 years ago has been recognized as a new species of land iguana. Conolophus rosada is found only in the region of Volcan Wolf volcano on the island of Isabela.
"That Darwin might have missed this form is not surprising, because he stayed in the Galápagos only five weeks, and he did not visit Volcan Wolf [volcano], which to our knowledge is the only place on the archipelago where the pink form occurs," said lead researcher Gabriele Gentile of the University Tor Vergata in Rome, Italy. "What is surprising is that several other scientists visited in the last century Volcan Wolf and missed this form."
Two genera of iguana populate the Galapagos – land iguanas (Conolophus) and marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus). The two branches split off from a common ancestor about 8-10 million years ago while still on the mainland. The pink iguana, which branched off the Colonophus line, can reach a length of more than 3 feet, and weigh up to 15 pounds. Park rangers first stumbled upon it in 1986 but not until now has it been recognized as a new, separate species.
Darwin spent only five weeks exploring the Galapagos when the HMS Beagle stopped at the archipelago to gather food for the voyage back to England. He investigated the island of Isabela but not around the Volcan Wolf volcano, the only area where rosada has been found. Overall, the naturalist wasn’t too impressed by the land iguanas he encountered on the Galapagos, He described them as “ugly animals, of a yellowish orange beneath, and of a brownish-red color above: from their low facial angle they have a singularly stupid appearance."
Good looks aside, the pink iguana presents other problems for modern scientists. Recent genetic analysis shows the rosada species diverged from other lines of land iguana about 5.7 million years ago. The trouble with that is the island of Isabela is only about one million years old and the oldest extant island in the chain, Espanola, is only 3-4 million years old. That means the split must have taken place somewhere else. But rosada hasn’t been found anywhere else in the Galapagos. How can this be?
One possibility is the split took place on the mainland before iguanas arrived on the islands, possibly floating there on rafts of vegetation. That would have been a long, miserable trip over 600 miles of open water. More likely rosada developed on an earlier island in the chain that no longer exists above sea level. Plate tectonics provide an explanation for this. Ocean crusts spread out from mid-ocean ridges located along the edges of plates moving away from each other. The Galapagos are part of the Nazca plate which is moving east-southeast (at about 7 cm/year) toward the continent of South America. The island chain was created (and is still being created) as the plate moved over a hotspot where a mantle plume is pushing up into the lithosphere and crust. Magma from the plume forms undersea volcanoes that build and sometimes break the ocean’s surface as islands. The Hawaiian Islands were created the same way but on a plate moving in a north-northwest direction.
As it moves toward the South American coastline, the heavier Nazca plate sinks beneath the lighter continental plate in a process called subduction. This means the earliest formed islands in the chain also sink and there is evidence of underwater seamounts between the archipelago and South America. Some of these have been dated to as much as 11 million years old, which means the pink iguanas could have split off from the land iguana line when older, earlier islands were still above sea level.
"This event is one of the oldest events of diversification among species in the Galápagos overall," Gentile said. "The Darwin finches are thought to have differentiated later than the split between the pink and yellow iguana lineages."
Despite rosada's evolutionary ranking, fewer than 100 pink iguanas are known to exist today and the species could be in danger of extinction.
It is, however, fitting that news of the pink iguana comes now. 2009 has been proclaimed the Year of Darwin marking the 200th anniversary of his birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his most famous work On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.
Courtesy VasilisI can’t say whether that confusion is on the part of the Chinese state media, AFP news, or my own brain.
Apparently a massive deposit of dinosaur bones (the world’s largest in terms of area) has been found in China. Excavations at the site have unearthed about 7,600 individual bones from the late Cretaceous. The remains include examples of armored anklyosaurs, our favorite tyrannosaurs, and some spectacular hadrosaurs.
The aforementioned confusion arises with the hadrosaurs, I think. According to the article about the find (and I say “the article” because every science news site is running more or less an identical piece), “included in the find was the world’s largest ‘platypus’—or ‘duck-billed dinosaur’ in Chinese—ever discovered measuring 9 meters high with a wingspan of over 16 meters.”
Say what? I… think… something awesome is hidden in there, but someone here is confused: at least me, and perhaps China and/or AFP.
It turns out that our friend the platypus did indeed live during the cretaceous, alongside the dinosaurs, but I don’t think that’s what they’re referring to. “Wingspan” further complicates things, as neither platypuses nor duck-billed dinosaurs (hadrosaurs) really have the body type associated with a wingspan (you probably wouldn’t give the limb length of a beaver or a cow in terms of “wingspan,” right?)
Also “‘duck-billed dinosaur’ in Chinese”? I’m pretty sure that all of those words are, in fact, English. Yes, yes they are.
I have the feeling that someone involved in this story was really struggling with a second language, and the other person wasn’t helping at all.
Anyway… nobody cares about that, am I right? You clicked on this post because it said “dinosaur,” and I ruined it, didn’t I? Well, I’m sorry, but that was bothering me. I mean, “platypus”? Whatever.
But, yeah, this is pretty cool. China is a freaking dinosaur factory, and I’m into it. And this 9 meter high hadrosaur sounds neat. From what I could find, this guy, the shantungosaurus, is more or less the largest hadrosaur so far, and it measures about 50 feet long and maybe 7 meters tall (sorry to switch from imperial to metric there, but that’s how I roll). The shantungosaurus was also found in Cretaceous strata in China, so it might be reasonable to assume that it was similarly proportioned to this new dinosaur, and if that’s the case, this thing would be… about 19.3 meters long? Does that sound right? That’s about 63 feet long! That’s… huge!
Long-necked sauropods, like diplodocus or apatosaurus, reached lengths like that all the time, but for a two-legged hadrosaur 63 feet is massive. The T. rex, for comparison, maxed out at about 45 feet in length (I know, I know, apples and oranges, but we’re looking for some reference, aren’t we?)
The information on the site seems pretty bare-bones at this point, but it’ll be interesting to see what else comes out of the find.
Courtesy PoodlefaceWell, Buzzketeers, we’re in the thick of the holiday season now—wading through that sticky caramel center of winter festivities, thigh-deep in a swamp of sweater clad relatives, up to our necks in mixed metaphors…
And, you know what? I hope you dig it. That’s my gift to y’all: the honest wish that you are all enjoying your elbow to elbow time with your closest kin. There’s your non-denominational seasonal gift, everyone, I hope you like it. (Personally I celebrate “Wintermania,” during which my family falls into a Wham!-induced frenzy, and then sacrifices anything to our winter deities. We come out of it with a lot fewer pets and household appliances, but it’s an exciting and high-spirited occasion. But I won’t force my beliefs on you.)
There’s some extra thought behind my gift, though. I mean, I know you’ll like it anyway, but it’s practical too! See, it just might happen that, someday, you’ll be bumping more than elbows with your cousins, and working your way up to that may start with the holiday conviviality. So you’re welcome for my making your life easier.
“What?” you say. “I’m not doing… that… with my cousin!”
Nor should you, sensitive Buzzketeer, nor should you. Necessarily.
But you could. Generally not legally, of course. But it turns out that, genetically, the whole “kissin’ cousins” thing might not be as problematic as you have been lead to believe. So says a new article on population genetics in the journal PLoS Biology.
See, the thing about serious inbreeding with close relatives is that it drains your gene pool—it reduces the variety of genes in your offspring. There are a couple reasons to have a nice assortment of genetic traits in a population. If everyone is the same genetically, then they all have the same genetic vulnerabilities, and something like a specialized disease or an abrupt change in the environment could wipe out the whole group. Also, and here’s the kissin’ cousins problem, a lot of genetic disorders result from having two recessive genes matched up in your DNA. If you just have one recessive gene for a disorder, you won’t develop the disorder, but you could pass that gene on to your kid, and if the kid got another copy of that recessive gene from his or her other parent, the kid would develop the disorder. People get disorders caused by matched recessive genes even when their parents aren’t related at all, but if a recessive gene for a particular disorder runs in a family, the chances that a kid in that family will get the gene from both parents is greatly increased if those parents are related.
That’s the idea, anyway. The folks who published this new article, however, say that, in reality, the chances that the offspring of two cousins will have birth defects (caused by recessive genes pairing up) really isn’t as great as most of us think. Specifically, the odds that two cousins would produce a child with congenital defects are only 1-2% greater than those for the rest of the un-related, child-producing population. Women over 40 have a similar risk of having children with congenital defects, the researchers point out, and there are no laws prohibiting them from having kids, whereas 31 states have laws against cousins being married. Laws like these, they say, aren’t based in solid science and reflect “outmoded prejudices about immigrants and the rural poor.”
So there. Do with your present what you will. Try it on for size, or give it to someone else—you won’t hurt my feelings. Merry Wintermania!
Karl Pha feels like he is in prison—he has been confined to an Eau Clair Hospital. Mr. Pha has active TB and refuses to take his medicine. The medication causes extreme itching. I understand his unhappiness, but he has 5 young children. If he doesn’t care about his own life he should at least worry about his kids. TB is a serious disease. Public health officials are not only concerned about Mr. Pha’s health and his family’s health but also the development of an antibiotic resistant strain.
This case brings up a few questions:
Courtesy Wikimedia CommonsAhoy, Buzznauts, the goodship Friendventure has set sail once again. We’ll be traveling through the treacherous waters of the horn (some horn or other—I’m not sure which), where many a young scientist have been sent to their frigid, watery dooms, like so many Leonardo DiCaprios. So set your wills straight, harden your hearts, and focus on the wealth of knowledge at journey’s end!
Let’s see here… what random questions from the science museum are hiding in Lieutenant JGordon’s Random Question Bag? Here we go…
Q) Why aren’t the insides of sweet potatoes white? —Angela
A) Good Q), Angela, but I’m afraid that I might not have a great A) for you. But we’ll see. First of all, sweet potatoes aren’t white like potatoes because they aren’t potatoes. Sweet potatoes are related to “normal” potatoes, but only distantly so—sweet potatoes and potatoes belong to the same order, but different families, genera, and species. That means that sweet potatoes and potatoes are about as closely related as humans are to howler monkeys. And while humans and howler monkeys are probably more or less the same color on the inside, the same doesn’t necessarily apply to plants.
So… sweet potatoes are, in fact, the edible root of a plant very similar to the morning glory flower. They get their color from the compounds in their flesh, compounds that regular potatoes might not have much of. Orange sweet potatoes, for instance, are high in the vitamin beta carotene, the darker they are, the more beta carotene they have. Red, purple, and blue shades of sweet potatoes get their color from anthocycanins, healthy flavonoid molecules that seem to be beneficial in combating cancer, aging, inflammation, diabetes, and bacterial infections. How about that?
Man, that was a great A)! I can’t believe I ever doubted myself.
Q) When did the dinersors die? And why?
A) I appreciate your spelling of “dinosaurs,” friend. Very rich and earthy. Well, sir, when the dinersors died is something we can answer with some certainty—the last of the dinersors died off about 65 million years ago. It was a very sad period for the planet, because dinersors were the most awesome. Let’s put that time (65 million years ago) into perspective: your mom was born about 35 years ago; the cotton gin was invented 215 years ago; the last wooly mammoth croaked about 3700 years ago (don’t argue! We’re talking pygmy mammoths on Wrangel Island); cheese was invented between 10,000 and 5,000 years ago; modern humans evolved about 200,000 years ago; hairy cave people probably figured out how to control fire around 1 million years ago; the Rocky Mountains finished growing about 40 million years ago; and the last dinosaur thought “Wait a second… I haven’t had to wait in line for months!” about 65 million years ago. No dinosaur fossils appear from after that time.
The “why” is trickier, especially if you mean it in a philosophical way. It’s pretty well agreed upon that a six-mile-wide meteorite hit the Earth near where Mexico is today and made life very difficult (impossible) for the dinersors. This doesn’t mean that every dinosaur was literally crushed to death by the meteorite—something that big would certainly have killed a lot of animals immediately, but it would have also thrown so much dust and smoke into the air that temperatures around the planet would drop significantly. It’s like the whole planet was made a little bit shadier for a long time. Even a small change in temperature can have huge effects for some animals—if a lot of plants died from the change in temperature, plant-eating dinosaurs would also die, and then meat-eating dinosaurs would die. Something like that.
There are also some scientists who think that something else entirely, or a combination of things, could have caused the dinersors to all die. One of the main alternative theories is that a series of huge volcanic eruptions in an area of India called the Deccan Traps, finished off the dinosaurs. The eruptions occurred at around the same time as the meteorite impact, and lasted for about 30,000 years. The volcanoes would have had what is scientifically referred to as a “double-whammy” effect on the world of the dinersors: dust from the eruptions would have blocked sunlight, killing off plants, and the massive amounts of volcanic gas released could have contributed to rapid (geologically speaking) global warming on a dramatic scale. Just like with global cooling, an increase in temperature that occurs too quickly can cause extinction for slow-adapting organisms.
Q) Why do turtles have shells?
Q) Can any fish breathe air?
A) A nautically themed question! Yes! And, yes, some fish can breathe air.
All fish breath oxygen, but most do it by absorbing gas that is dissolved in water through their gills. The fish that breath air air, if you follow, do it in different ways. Some eels can absorb oxygen right through their skin. Some catfish can gulp air, and absorb it through their digestive tracts. Lungfish and bichirs actually have a pair of lungs, similar to mammals.
Some air-breathing fish will only do so if there is too little oxygen in the water for their gills to work, but some are “obligate air breathers”—they need to breath air occasionally, or they will suffocate. The electric eel is, of course, my favorite obligate air breather. 80% of the oxygen used by electric eels is obtained through breathing air.
And that’s all we have time for right now. Answering random questions is serious business, but then again so is sailing.
I readily acknowledge the fact that I haven’t lived my life quite up to Otzi standards—I don’t have any tattoos (that I know of), I’ve never killed anybody (that I know of), I don’t own a cape…the list goes on—but I hope that when hikers find my frozen corpse, thousands of years in the future, they’ll be as thrilled with it as they are with Otzi. Honestly, every millimeter of our leathery friend is getting the once over and the double take.
Scientists figured out what Otzi’s last meal was years ago (they practically dove into his stomach), but they’re still going over the most minute of minutia of the iceman’s guts. And, you know what? I’m into it.
Archaeobotanists and moss-experts are the last to have taken a swing at Otzi. They have found trace remains of six different kinds of moss in Otzi’s intestines, and were able to identify them under a microscope. None of those moss varieties, interestingly, are the kinds of moss that you’d eat (if there are any kinds of moss you’d eat). They do, nonetheless, add to the details of Otzi’s life.
One of the kinds of moss, the scientists guess, was used to wrap one of Otzi’s last meals (sort of a fuzzy saran wrap, I guess), another probably got into his water, and another was most likely used as a dressing for a wound (he probably chewed it up and swallowed a little). At least one of the mosses, however it got into him, isn’t known to grow in the region where Otzi was found, adding another location to Otzi’s travel diary. So cross that off your bucket list, little dude.
None of this information is insulating my attic, or buying me dinner, but I still think it’s pretty cool. The same sort of forensic techniques we might use to solve a murder today are being used to learn about the life of a guy who died 53 centuries ago. I like it.
Courtesy redskunkScientists are another step closer to making Jurassic Park a reality. Well, not quite Jurassic Park, but certainly Pleistocene Park.
Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have decoded 80 percent of the DNA for the woolly mammoth, an elephant ancestor that went extinct about 10,000 years ago. The results of their study appear in the journal Nature.
The DNA was extracted from actual mammoth hair found preserved in the permafrost of Siberia. Hair encapsulates DNA, providing a purer source of the genetic material than that found in fossil bones that are vulnerable to contamination by bacteria and other creatures involved in decomposition. We covered this in a previous post.
About six million years of evolution separate the wooly mammoth from its modern descendents the Indian and African elephants. And so far they appear genetically to be very similar, although a complete assessment of differences won’t be available until the complete genomes of mammoths and modern elephants are mapped. The data sets for each is comprised of about 4 billion DNA bases.
But even then you don’t have to worry about rogue mammoths running amok on the interstates (have you ever hit a moose? Multiply that experience by about 15). Science is still decades away from cloning an actual specimen – or even a hybrid with a living elephant - from the genetic material. The technology just isn’t there yet. But that’s not the only thing in the way.
"It could be done,” said co-author Stephan Schuster, a biochemistry professor at Penn State. “The question is, just because we might be able to do it one day, should we do it?"
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