Scientists Discover Link Between Malaria and Red Tides

1 06 2010

A team of scientists has discovered the common ancestor of two creatures that cause the world a considerable amount of trouble and suffering, the malaria parasite and the organism that causes red tides.  The missing link, the thing that connected the two, turned out to be little brown balls called Chromera.

The team, consisting of scientists from the University of British Columbia in Canada and the University of South Bohemia, in the Czech Republic, published their findings in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), an American publication.

Chromera is a symbiont found inside corals. While it has a compartment (called a plastid) used to perform photosynthesis like the dinoflalgellate algae that causes red tide (as well as photosynthesis in plants), Chromera is closely related to apicomplexan parasites, which include malaria.  This discovery, first published in the journal Nature in 2008, gave researchers the idea that the algae and the parasites might be related and that the Chromera was the connection.

The scientists sequenced the genome of Chromera and were able to show for the first time, how the two are connected evolutionarily.

In recent interviews, the scientists said that they hope the knowledge gained by their research will not only advance basic scientific knowledge, but will also open the way for treatments for diseases such as malaria.

The original PNAS article is available here.

Neanderthals in Britain 40,000 Earlier than Believed

1 06 2010

British Archeologists have determined that Neanderthals arrived in Britain approximately 40,000 years earlier than has been believed.

Working with funding by the UK Highways Agency, as part of a study commissioned by Oxford Archaeology, the University of Southampton’s Dr Francis Wenban-Smith discovered two ancient flints at the juncture of the M25 and A2 roads near Dartford, in Kent.  The flints were waste flakes from the manufacture of unknown tools, which would almost certainly have been used to cut up dead animals.  Tests on the sediments in which the flints were buried showed that they date from around 100,000 years ago, proving Neanderthals were living in Britain at the time, even though the country had been assumed by scientists to be uninhabited during that period.

The island was occupied by early pre-Neanderthals, who were there before the last ice age, but were forced south by glaciation sometime around 200,000 year ago.  When the climate warmed up again, between 130,000 and 110,000 years ago, they couldn’t return because, similar to the present day, the sea-level in the English Channel was raised, blocking their path, or so scientists believed.  This discovery shows that they somehow returned earlier than the 60,000 years ago, that previous evidence suggested.

This piece was derived from an article by the University of Southampton (2010, June 1). “Neanderthals walked into frozen Britain 40,000 years earlier than first thought, evidence shows.” ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 1, 2010, from the following URL:­/releases/2010/06/100601124124.htm.

New Late Cretaceous Hadrosaur Found in New Mexico

1 06 2010
A reconstruction of Jeyawati rugoculus

A reconstruction of Jeyawati rugoculus a basal Hadrosaur that lived 80 to 65 million years ago (Image Credit: Lukas Panzarin)

A team of scientists have identified bones unearthed in 1996, as a new species of Hadrosaur that lived between 80 and 65 million years ago.  Publishing their findings in the May edition of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, they have named their find Jeyawati rugoculus.  The name derives from two Zuni Indian words that mean grinding-mouth wrinkle-eye.

According to the researchers, J. rugoculus appears to be basal to the line of hadrosaurs.  Scientists believe that the animal walked mostly on all four legs, but that it could rear up on two legs when the need arose.

The bones are now located at the Arizona Museum of Natural History, where specimens of other dinosaurs uncovered in this region are also located.

Mendel’s Manuscript Mess

1 06 2010
Image of Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) the father of modern genetics

Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) the father of modern genetics

One of the most important manuscripts in modern science, long thought lost, has resurfaced in the middle of an ownership dispute.

The original manuscript of Gregor Mendel’s pea-breeding experiments, that allowed him to deduce the laws of heredity, thereby laying the foundations of modern genetics, has turned up in Germany after being missing for more than 50 years.

At the time it was published, Mendel was an Augustinian monk in the Abbey of St. Thomas, in the Austro-Hungarian city of Brünn, now Brno in the Czech Republic.

The importance of Mendel’s work was unrecognized by the international scientific community until 1900 (16 years after Mendel’s death).  The was due mostly to the fact that it was published in the rather obscure Journal of the Brünn Natural History Society.

Once discovered, however, it quickly became one of the most important articles in modern science.  This was because it was the first publised article to describe in detail how genetics operated, even though Mendel (and the rest of the world for that matter) knew nothing about DNA or other elements of genetics.  Indeed, it was Mendel’s paper that set the world on the road to discovering the whole of genetic theory.  In addition, Mendel’s experiment is often cited as one of the most elegant scientific experiments in history.

In an article published on Monday (June 31) in The New York Times, writer Nicholas Wade describes what happened to the orignal manuscript after it was published 1865.  According to Wade, the manuscript, the title of which translates into English as Experiments on Plant Hybridization, has been through a lot in the last 145 years.  It languished in the Brünn Natural History Society’s library until 1911, when it was discarded.  Saved from the trash by a local high school teacher, it was returned to the society’s files.  During World War II, a German botany professor (apparently part of the occupying force, who was in chage of the library) keep it in his briefcase.  Afterward, when Soviet forces occupied the area, it disappeared and was presumed destroyed.  Only in 1988 did it resurace, in the hands of a descendent of Mendel’s, who is also an Augustinian monk.  Since then, there have been competing claims to its ownership, with the monk’s order threatening to throw him out and even the German government getting involved.

For the complete story and the details of  the ownership controversy, please see the NY Times article, here.