Science news roundup

Just some tidbits for your reading pleasure …

Evolution can happen quickly:

Evolution happens. But it can also stop and turn on a dime.

A new study of lizards in the Bahamas shows that the natural selection pressures that drive evolution can flip-flop faster than previously thought — even in months.

“Darwin was right about so many things,” said Jonathan Losos, a former Washington University biologist who led the study. “In this case he was wrong. He thought that evolution must occur slowly and gradually.”

Scientists say that, from a political perspective, the cases offer a vivid reminder of the continuous process that some people imagine proceeding only in fossilized fits and starts: first monkey, then man.

But for the scientists themselves, the cases show that evolutionary biology has, well, evolved into a predictive, experimental science like any other.

Lucy’s U.S. tour:

The trappings of her planned U.S. tour would befit a rock star — hype, controversy, strict security and the promise of huge crowds. However, the star of this tour has been dead for 3.2 million years and her appearance left a lot to be desired from a showbiz standpoint — an ape-like female only 3½ feet high, walking upright on two feet but retaining the ability to scamper through the treetops when necessary.

It is Lucy, whose partial skeleton was discovered in 1974 and who for about 20 years was the earliest known human ancestor, a member of a branch of hominids that lived 3 million to 4 million years ago known as Australopithecus afarensis.

A deal between the Ethiopian Natural History Museum and the Houston Museum of Natural Science would bring Lucy, accompanied by 190 other fossils and relics, to the United States next September for a six-year tour.

Some scientists oppose the trip, arguing that Lucy’s remains are irreplaceable and too fragile to be moved. But, as has been noted, other fragile and priceless artifacts — the King Tut exhibit and the Dead Sea scrolls, for example — have been safely transported and displayed, with a subsequent swell of public interest in archeology. Lucy would likely do the same for anthropology and paleontology.

And with assorted activists disputing evolution, Lucy’s appearance could hardly be more timely.

Plasmid’s gifts for geeks:

Remember the clocks that chimed a different birdcall each hour? The battery-powered, ion-spewing electric hair brushes? How about those personal air purifiers, foot massagers and devices that played the recorded sound of falling rain?

If there’s a geek in your life, you’ve probably made one of these costly holiday gift mistakes. If you find yourself considering another shake flashlight or Scrolling Message Center, you need Plasmid’s help.

You don’t have to spend a great deal of money to make a geek happy.

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