Stories tagged Darwin


Missing Link - Not

Darwinius masillae
Darwinius masillaeCourtesy University of Oslo
Perhaps taking advantage of the Darwin publicity last year (200th birthday), a scientific paper was published revealing Ida, a 47 million year old fossil classified Darwinius masillae.
The study's lead author, Jørn Hurum of the University of Oslo, variously called the fossil the holy grail of paleontology and the lost ark of archeology. A two-hour documentary called "The Link" was on the History Channel and a book with the same title hit bookstores.

One million dollars

How big money became mixed with science is described in the Guardian post titled Deal in Hamburg bar led scientist to Ida fossil, the 'eighth wonder of the world'.
Now that money has been made, it is time for the scientific process (peer review).

John Fleagle, a professor at Stony Brook University, in New York state, who reviewed the paper for the journal, agrees that the fossil is not a lemur. But Ida's full significance would not be known until other scientists had seen the paper. "That will be sorted out, or at least debated extensively, in the coming years."

Confirmed: Fossil Ida is not a human ancestor

In a paper in the Journal of Human Evolution, Chris Kirk strongly argue(d) that Darwinius is not one of our ancestors. Science blogger, Brian Switek, also explains why ... That "Ida" is Not Our Great-Great-Great-Great-Etc. Grandmother. Dissenting scientists are awaiting a response from Jørn Hurum.

How science should be done

I am reminded of another case where the media was used to hype a story before it was properly reviewed by others. I wrote about it here: Jesus and family found in tomb? What moral is to be learned here?

Don't announce discoveries through the media, but through the tried and tested peer-review process.


What have I done: I've killed him, KILLED HIM!! **insert sobbing noises here**
What have I done: I've killed him, KILLED HIM!! **insert sobbing noises here**Courtesy Women's Day
A few weeks ago I received the cutest little basil plant as a gift. I made sure to quench his thirst everyday as he sat on my windowsill enjoying the sun. But, silly me, I left town for a weekend and forgot to get someone to water him. Arriving home, I saw that his leaves were shriveled and he was inches from death. What was I to do to bring my lil’ guy back to life?

Well, according to a new experiment by the Royal Horticultural Society, women’s voices make plants grow faster. Over the course of one month, scientists at RHS found that tomato plants group up to two inches taller if women chatted them up verses men.

After a round of open auditions, ten voices were chosen to play to ten tomato plants. Every plant heard their respective voice through a set of headphones that was connected to the plant pot. There were also two control plants that grew in silence. The results showed that on average, women’s plants grew an inch higher than their male counterparts. Some men’s plants grew less than the plants that were left alone.

“We just don’t know why,” Colin Grosbie from RHS said of the results. “It could be that they have a greater range of pitch and tone that affects the sound waves that hit the plant. Sound waves are an environmental effect just like rain or light."

Interestingly, the great-great granddaughter of Charles Darwin (you remember this guy, right?) had the most effective “discussions” with her plants. Sarah Darwin read passages from the On the Origin of Species, to which her plant grew two inches taller than the best performing male and half an inch higher than the nearest female competitor.

She responds, "I'm not sure if it's my dulcet tones or the text that I read from On the Origin of Species that made the plant sit up and listen, but either way I think it is great fun and I'm proud of my new title."

So maybe reading my physical chemistry book won’t necessarily bring my basil plant back from the dead, but I’m sure it couldn’t hurt.

If you're free, consider this:

LIFE: A Journey Through Time
North American Premiere /Darwin Day Opening Event

Thursday, February 12, 2009, 7 to 9 p.m.
Bell Museum Auditorium
$10/ free to museum members and University students

Celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birthday with a special preview of LIFE: A Journey Through Time. The event will feature top University biologists using Lanting's photographs as a springboard to deliver a rapid-fire presentations relating their research on evolution to the images. From the big bang to the human genome, hear the newest theories on how life evolved and enjoy the North American premiere of one the world's most celebrated photography exhibits. Think speed-dating - Darwin-style!

The Exhibit:
LIFE: A Journey Through Time
February 14 - April 12, 2009

The University of Minnesota Bell Museum of Natural History is proud to host the North American premiere of this internationally acclaimed exhibit. LIFE: A Journey Through Time, interprets the evolution of life on Earth through photographer Frans Lanting. Lanting's lyrical photos trace Earth's history from the beginnings of primordial life to the ascent of mammals through otherworldly landscapes and breathtakingly intimate portraits of animals and plants engaged in million-year-old rituals. Many of the exhibit's 62 photographs are matched with real animal, fossil, and plant specimens from the Bell Museum's collection. Born in the Netherlands, Lanting serves on the National Council of the World Wildlife Fund and is a columnist for Outdoor Photographer and has received the BBC Wildlife Magazine's Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award and the Sierra Club's Ansel Adams Award for Conservation Photography.


Tortoise at Como Park: Photo by Art Oglesby  You can see this tortoise at Como Park Zoo.
Tortoise at Como Park: Photo by Art Oglesby You can see this tortoise at Como Park Zoo.

Giant Galapagos tortoise Harriet has died of a suspected heart attack.

At 176, Harriet was recognised as the world's oldest living chelonian - a reptile with a shell or bony plates.
It is believed Harriet was one of three animals naturalist Charles Darwin brought back from his trip to the Galapagos Islands in 1835 and which led to his theories of evolution and natural selection.
There is a bit of a dispute about whether (Harriet) was actually part of Darwin’s collection or not,” Colin McCarthy, collection manager of reptiles, amphibians and fish at the Natural History Museum, said.
What is not in doubt is Harriet’s age. The US research on tortoise DNA “baselines” showed big changes in tortoise DNA on Santa Cruz island after a terrible cull there. Harriet’s DNA predates the cull, making her at least 170.
Harriet was mistaken for a male for at least the first 124 years of her life. There are thought to be barely a dozen of her sub-species left alive.
Sources: Times Online;