Archive for June, 2008

Canine Tooth Strength Provides Clues To Early Human Ancestors

Monday, June 30th, 2008

The researchers at  Johns Hopkins School of Medicine reported on an initial examination of the function of the shape of canine teeth in primates.This is the first published comparative analysis of canine strength for primates.”Understanding more about the function of canine teeth can lead to new models for understanding human evolution” said Michael Plavcan,who has been studying primate teeth and skulls for 24 years and spent four years collecting dental data for this analysis.

Among anthropoid primates, it is well known that the canine teeth of males are up to four times as long as those of females. Hominids – the primate family that produced humans – retain body mass sexual dimorphism; that is, males typically have a greater body mass size than females. At the same time, the difference in size in canine teeth between males and females is lost.“This goes back to the earliest hominids,” Plavcan said. “In fact, one of the few diagnostic characteristics of hominid evolution is reduction in canine size dimorphism while maintaining strong body mass dimorphism.”

Sounds like a subject to sink your teeth into (If you pardon the Pun) :)

Worm, astronaut, meteoroid, creationism

Monday, June 30th, 2008

==> If you have the cash, you can have a bone-feeding worm named after you. This story is about raising money for scientific research by allowing folks to pay to have new species named after them.

At Scripps, before an animal is put up for sale, researchers run a background check in scientific journals and perform DNA tests to make sure it’s unique.

“We wouldn’t offer a species name unless we’re absolutely certain it’s never been described before,” said Scripps curator Greg Rouse, who had an Australian feather-duster worm — Pseudofabriciola rousei — named for him by a colleague.

Last year, the Florida Museum of Natural History netted $40,800 from an anonymous donor for a novel Mexican butterfly species. The insect was named after a deceased Ohio mother of three sons who fought in World War II.

==> Tomorrow is the deadling for all of you dreaming of becoming astronauts. You can apply with NASA for the class of 2009. There are some qualifications to meet, of course.

Applicants must meet physical standards and educational requirements, which include a bachelor’s degree in engineering, math or science and at least three years of experience in one of these fields. Teaching experience, including experience at the K-12 level, is considered to be qualifying experience; therefore, educators are encouraged to apply.

==> 100 years ago today: Tunguska.

“If you want to start a conversation with anyone in the asteroid business all you have to say is Tunguska,” said Don Yeomans, manager of the Near-Earth Object Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “It is the only entry of a large meteoroid we have in the modern era with first-hand accounts.”

==> Gotta love poorly-reasoned arguments from folks crying about creationism not getting a spot on the public school science lesson plans.

… why is it that your school system can teach only evolution and not teach creationism? Naturalistic processes have failed miserably to explain how non-living cells could somehow build themselves into the first living cell.

What’s lacking here is any proposal for how the letter writer proposes that creationism be taught in the science classroom. What scientific lesson plan would be offered that doesn’t simply bash evolution or other science?

==> Now, make a news headline out of the words in the post title. I’ll let y’all take the lead on this one.

Jindal Signs Louisiana Anti-Evolution Bill

Friday, June 27th, 2008

Jindal ignored those calling for a veto and this week signed the law that will allow Louisiana local school boards to approve supplemental materials for public school science classes as they discuss evolution.

Similar bills were prepared for the last session of the Florida legislature, but weren’t considered solely due to lack of time, NOT to lack of interest.I’m sure they will be on the docket in the fall, so lets not ignore this issue. “Hound your local politicians!” Spread the word to your community members and friends. This is not what we need for our Florida students.

Keep an eye on Louisiana Coalition for Science.

The Early Bird

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

This looks interesting: The Early Bird Project. Some University of Florida folks are partners in an effort to map the evolutionary relationships of birds. No, not just a few birds. A bunch of them.

For more than five years, the Early Bird Project has been examining DNA from all major living groups of birds. So far, scientists have built a dataset of more than 32 kilobases — a kilobase is a DNA fragment containing 1,000 base pairs — from 19 different locations on the DNA of each of 169 bird species. The result is equivalent to a small genome project.

The study’s results are so broad that the scientific names of dozens of birds will have to be changed, and biology textbooks and birdwatchers’ field guides will have to be revised.

Darwinmania, chocolate, extreme, sponge, lightning, martins

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

==> Darwinmania is almost here!

Perhaps most importantly, the “Origin” changed our view of ourselves. It made us as much a part of nature as hummingbirds and bumblebees (or humble-bees, as Darwin called them); we, too, acquired a family tree with a host of remarkable and distinguished ancestors.

==> Long live chocolate! A United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service facility in Miami will be participating in a project to sequence and analyze the entire cocoa genome. This is an interesting joint effort with IBM, Mars Inc. (the candy bar folks), and the U.S. government all having a hand in it.

==> “Extreme Planets,” a new show at the South Florida Museum, explores what makes a planet habitable in the first place, and takes you on a hypothetical journey to learn what these newly discovered worlds might be like. From water worlds to molten landscapes, inhabitable moons to planets with multiple suns, these exotic worlds may not be just science fiction after all.

==> The breadcrumb sponge wants to know: “Who am I?” The Census of Marine Life is trying to help the critter out. Also see MarineSpecies.org

==> Florida is number one! In lightning deaths. Here’s some safety tips. And here is some lightning research going on here.

==> I would hate to be under that cloud. Davie, Florida is a pit stop for thousands of purple martins.

Still, there are so many birds in the Davie roost now that the airways are dangerously over-crowded. Katz said RaceTrac employees find an average of three dead martins a day, felled by collisions with the roof over the gas pumps or with each other. When the birds take off in the morning before dawn, the flock can show up as a fast-moving dot on weather radar, Bryant said.

==> Take the words in the post title and make a news headline out of them. “Darwinmania 08-09: Chocolate martins love extreme sponge surfing during lightning storms.”

Another fossil find

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

Another fossil find by scientists doing that science thing … you know, being in the field, digging up old stuff, analyzing it in depth.

While an earlier discovery found a slightly older animal that was more fish than tetrapod, Ventastega is more tetrapod than fish. The fierce-looking creature probably swam through shallow brackish waters, measured about three or four feet long and ate other fish. It likely had stubby limbs with an unknown number of digits, scientists said.

Callaway leaves Board of Education

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

There are few other subjects that I know of that can rocket a state board of education (or local school board) member into the headlines like evolution. Such was the case with Donna Callaway. I’m not sure if she was all that well known before the issue of evolution in the new state science standards caught fire, but her vocal opposition to this single science subject gave her an explosive fifteen minutes of fame.

News reports say that she is now stepping down from her post.

School Zone blog post.  The Gradebook blog post. Dept. of Education release one and release two.

A Good Week for Science

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

A third of a loaf is better than nothing. That’s the feeling among the U.S. research community after the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly yesterday to boost the current budgets of four key science agencies by $337 million.  Arden Bement, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), applauding what he called the lawmakers’ “strong support for science.  The bill (HR 2642) contains $62.5 million each for NSF, NASA, and the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science and $150 million more for the National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Good news for science education in this bill :)

The House demonstrated its strong support for education by funneling two-thirds of the supplemental funding into NSF’s efforts to train science teachers. In addition to doubling the current $10 million budget for  the supplemental bill which pays savvy college graduates to earn master’s degrees and become  teachers in the public schools and also improves the skills of existing teachers