Wednesday, October 29, 2014

first paper published!

my first paper (based on my thesis work) was just published in the journal of foraminiferal research!

assateague island

nor'easter heading in.

i win. you lose. 


fox burrow.

sunset over tom's cove.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Ancient Viruses Lurk In Frozen Caribou Poo

A careful examination of frozen caribou poop has turned up two never-before-seen viruses.

The viruses are hundreds of years old: One of them probably infected plants the caribous ate. The other may have infected insects that buzzed around the animals.

The findings prove viruses can survive for surprisingly long periods of time in a cold environment, according to Eric Delwart, a researcher at Blood Systems Research Institute in San Francisco.

"The DNA of viruses is preserved extremely well under cold conditions," he says.

Delwart's day job at Blood Systems is to find new viruses that could contaminate the blood supply. But he enjoys looking in odd places too. He got interested in ice cores from high mountain regions, after reading about all the interesting old things the ice contained.

"Things like old shoes and arrowheads," he says, "and then I realized this is nature's freezer, which should also contain organic remains."

Delwart had one particular type of organic remains in mind: caribou poop. Just about everything an animal eats can be infected with a virus. And that makes animals, including humans, virus vacuums that suck up every virus in their path.

"I mean we're constantly shoving viruses down our throat and if you look at poo samples from humans and from animals you will find a lot of viruses," he says.

Caribous hang out on ice, so these pristine ice cores are actually full of poo. And as scientists go through layer after layer of ice, the poo gets older and older.

Delwart examined poop from northern Canada that was 700 years old. The result, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the discovery of these two viruses. npr

Thursday, October 23, 2014

old world language families

medusa fish and eggyolk jellyfish

The medusafish, Icichthys lockingtoni, is found in oceanic waters form the surface to many hundred meters deep. They are often associated with jellyfish. This one is living with an eggyolk jellyfishPhacellophora camtschatica, which provides it with protection from predators and opportunities to scavenge the remains of the jellyfishes’ meals.

anatomical diagram of a giant scallop

Anatomical diagram of a giant scallop, family Pectinidae.
Colors are close to those in an actual animal, though shown with greater than natural contrast for emphasis. Not shown are the left gill, the veins on the left side of the body, and the left shell or “valve”. The hinge line corresponds to the animal’s dorsal side, though when living it usually rests “sideways”, on its right. The giant scallop is equilateral and very nearly equivalved (having left and right valves close to the same size and shape), though this is not true of all, or even most, members of its family.
The scallop’s nervous system is centered around the visceral ganglia, which constitute a kind of molluscan “brain”. The head-to-tail longitudinal axis reaches from the anterior ear to the middle of the adductor muscle, making only a very small portion of the animal morphologically the “front” and the rest corresponding to its “back”. The final loop of the intestine goes directly through the ventricle of the heart before it reaches its u-shaped terminus.
Diagram: K.D. Schroeder

albert beirstadt

A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie is an oil painting on canvas completed byAlbert Bierstadt in 1866 and now held by the Brooklyn Museum. Inspired by sketches of theSouthern Rocky Mountains, it depicts Native American hunter/gatherers hunting deer in the foreground, as the Rockies tower above them; some are cast in sun, while others are covered in clouds. Mount Evans, depicted in the painting, was at the time unnamed; Bierstadt christened it Mount Rosalie, for his friend’s wife Rosalie Osborne.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Giant kangaroos 'walked on two feet'

According to new research, the extinct "sthenurine" family of giant kangaroos, up to three times larger than living roos, was able to walk on two feet.
Today's kangaroos can only hop or use all fours, but their extinct cousins' bones suggest a two-legged gait.
The biggest members of the family may not have been able to hop at all.
The study, published in the journal Plos One, is a detailed comparison between the size and shape of the bones found in living kangaroo species and those of the sthenurines, which died out some 30,000 years ago. bbc

why early humans reshaped their children's skulls

It doesn't take a degree in human anatomy to realise that there is something unusual about the Cohuna skull. With its flat, sloping forehead and prominent brow ridge, it looks distinctly primitive.

For decades, the prehistoric Cohuna skull and others like it have occupied a central and contentious role in answering one of the most important questions in human evolutionary studies: where did our species, Homo sapiens, come from?

Most anthropologists now agree that the skulls don't demand a rewrite of the human evolution text books, but this, paradoxically, has made them all the more intriguing. It confirms that they owe their strange appearance not to the blind hand of evolution but to the guiding hand of humanity. Australia's ancient inhabitants were among the first in the world to deliberately transform the shape of their own skulls - and their motives for doing were probably not as strange as they might at first appear.
The skull was a source of controversy from almost the moment it was ploughed up in a field near the town of Cohuna in Victoria, Australia, in 1925. Some researchers enthusiastically proclaimed its strange shape and the generous coating of minerals encrusted around it showed that it predated all then known human skulls, and must therefore have belonged to one of our earliest ancestors. 

Sceptics, who pointed out it was found in geologically recent soil not far below the surface, were just as certain it did not. They soon won the argument. Genuinely primitive and ancient human skulls were discovered in Africa around this time, and over time anthropologists came to accept that it was there, rather than in Australia, that humanity had evolved long ago. The Cohuna skull was clearly unusual and its anomalous shape was difficult to explain, but it was quietly forgotten….

By now it was possible to estimate the age of fossils using carbon dating: the Kow Swamp specimens were about 9,000 to 13,000 years old, while the Nacurrie skull was about 11,000 years old. The Coobol Creek remains were about 14,000 years old. This makes the fossils prehistoric, just as the enthusiasts in the 1920s had suspected. But the sceptics had been correct too as human fossils found in Africa were dated at between 3 and 4 million years old. Even our species, Homo sapiens, comfortably predates the strange Australians, as skulls with all the features of modern humans are found in rocks as old as 160,000 years.

The age of the Australian skulls did raise a question, though. Their distinctive sloping foreheads and prominent brow ridges are very like those of an ancient human species called Homo erectus, that lived between 2 million and 140,000 years ago. Why did the Australian skulls look so eerily like this long-dead species? bbc

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mercury's hidden water-ice revealed

A Nasa spacecraft has provided the first optical images of ice within shadowed craters on Mercury.
It might seem curious that the closest planet to the Sun - where temperatures soar above 400C - could host water-ice.
But some of the craters on this hothouse world are always shadowed from the Sun, turning them into cold traps.
Using very low levels of light scattered off crater walls, scientists were able to build up a picture of what these frozen deposits look like.
The work, by researchers involved with Nasa's Mercury Messenger mission, has been published in the journal Geology.
Scientists suggested decades ago that water ice might be trapped in shadowed areas near the planet's poles. Then, in the 1990s, data from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico revealed areas that strongly reflect radar - a characteristic of ice.
Many of these corresponded to the locations of large impact craters mapped by the US spacecraft Mariner 10 in the 1970s.
After the Messenger probe entered orbit around the planet in March 2011, it deployed a range of techniques to show that there are probably several billion tonnes of water ice locked up at the north pole.
In the latest study, Dr Nancy Chabot and colleagues studied an impact crater called Prokofiev, the largest such depression at the planet's north pole.
The uniform surface texture of presumed water-ice areas in Prokofiev crater suggest the deposits arrived relatively recently.
In other areas, water-ice is covered by a thin layer of dark material rich in organic molecules. These dark deposits display sharp boundaries.
"This result was a little surprising, because sharp boundaries indicate that the volatile deposits at Mercury's poles are geologically young," said Dr Chabot. bbc

In 2014, U.S. Budget Deficit Falls To Pre-Recession Level

As tax revenues increased and spending cuts took effect, the 2014 budget deficit dropped to the lowest level in six years.

In a statement, the Treasury Department hailed the news by pointing out a few key figures:

— "The deficit in FY 2014 fell to $483 billion, $197 billion less than the FY 2013 deficit and $165 billion less than forecast in President Obama's FY 2015 Budget."

— As a percentage of GDP, the deficit fell to 2.8 percent, "the lowest level since 2007 and less than the average of the last 40 years."

— In terms of dollars, the 2014 deficit is the lowest it has been since 2008.

"The President's policies and a strengthening U.S. economy have resulted in a reduction of the U.S. budget deficit of approximately two-thirds — the fastest sustained deficit reduction since World War II," Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said in a statement. npr

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

cc rider

Embryonic Stem Cells Restore Vision In Preliminary Human Test

Scientists are reporting the first strong evidence that human embryonic stem cells may be helping patients.
The cells appear to have improved the vision in more than half of the 18 patients who had become legally blind because of two progressive, currently incurable eye diseases.
The researchers stress that the findings must be considered preliminary because the number of patients treated was relatively small and they have only been followed for an average of less than two years.
But the findings are quite promising. The patients had lost so much vision that there was no expectation that they could benefit, the researchers say.
"I'm astonished that this is working in the way that it is — or seems to be working," says Steven Schwartz, a UCLA eye specialist who led the study, which was published Tuesday in the British medical journal The Lancet. "I'm very excited about it."
Other researchers agreed the work is preliminary, but also highly promising.

"It really does show for the very first time that patients can, in fact, benefit from the therapy," says Dr. Anthony Atala, a surgeon and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University.

five amazing fossil finds that will make you want to be a fossil hunter


1.    A giant prehistoric turtle that could chomp crocodiles!

Paleontologists were astounded when they found a turtle the size of a smart car with a head roughly the size of a regulation NFL football. Named Carbonemys cofrinii, after the Colombian coal mine where it was found, the giant turtle lived 5 million years after the dinosaurs vanished. This was a period when giant varieties of many different reptiles—including Titanoboa cerrejonensis, the largest snake ever discovered lived—in this part of South America. Read more...

2.    Details of an ancient shark attack preserved in fossil whale bone.

Three-to-four million years ago during the Pliocene a whale was attacked, most likely by a mega-toothed shark Carcharocles megalodon. Paleontologists found evidence of this animal behavior in a fragment of whale rib dug up in a North Carolina. Three tooth marks on the rib indicate the whale was severely bitten by a large predator, with 6-centimeter (2.4-inch) spacing between the tooth marks. Scientists know the whale survived because “most of the fossil fragment is covered with a type of bone known as woven bone, which forms rapidly in response to localized infection.” Read more

3. A new species of large, feathered dinosaur that looked like a giant scary chicken.

Sometimes paleontologists find amazing new species not by sifting through dirt, but by digging around in the drawers of museums. That’s what happened with Anzu wyliei, a strange, bird-like creature that has a bony crest on top of a beaky head and a long lizard-like tail. Scientists from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the University of Utah discovered the species in 2014 and named it after a feathered demon from ancient Mesopotamian mythology. Read more...

4. Blood molecules preserved for millions of years in the abdomen of a fossil mosquito.

It sounds like the beginning of Jurassic Park. A mosquito ate its last blood meal 46 million years ago before it was fossilized at the bottom of an ancient pond. Scientists from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History discovered blood molecules from the mosquito’s last supper very much intact inside the fossil, the first clear evidence that some organic molecules can be preserved in a fossil of this age. What else can we find from these fossilized mosquitoes? Read more...

5. A new fossil whale species that makes us question why narwhals and belugas live only in cold water today.

When scientists from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and Howard University found a new species of toothed whale that lived some 3-4 million years ago, it raised some questions. A nearly complete skull of the new species, Bohaskaia monodontoides, was found in 1969 in a mine near Hampton, Va. Only after the researchers looked at the skull in 2010 did they realize not only was it a different species to the narwhals and belugas that live today, but unlike modern whales it lived in temperate and tropical regions. Read more…

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

North Carolina And Alaska Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

Same-sex couples in Alaska and North Carolina are receiving marriage licenses, after courts in those states recently overturned bans on gay marriage. The two states are part of the cascading effects of the Supreme Court's refusal to review any appeals in same-sex marriage cases in its current term.

Some couples say they're rushing to marry out of concern that future rulings could go against them; others are merely pouncing on an opportunity they had long awaited.

In North Carolina, a few counties began issuing the licenses to same-sex couples late Friday, after a federal judge in Asheville struck down the state's ban. Member station WUNC has been reporting on the weddings that followed.

By the time the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds opened at 8 a.m. this morning in Charlotte, about 20 couples were already waiting in line, according to member station WFAE.

In Alaska, a federal judge overturned the state's ban Sunday, clearing the way for couples to get their licenses this week. npr

Celebrating Single Cells Shaping Small Shells: Foraminifera

Thursday, October 9, 2014

MIA ripped off The Clash

i was listening to the clash on my iPod at work today when i heard something painfully familiar from rather recently. check it.

Indonesian Cave Paintings As Old As Europe's Ancient Art

Prehistoric cave paintings of animals and human hands in Indonesia are as ancient as similar paintings found in Western Europe, according to a new study that suggests humans may have carried this art tradition with them when they migrated out of Africa.

"Until now, we've always believed that cave painting was part of a suite of complex symbolic behavior that humans invented in Europe," says archaeologist Alistair Pike of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom. "This is actually showing that it's highly unlikely that the origin of painting caves was in Europe."

For decades, Indonesian researchers have known about rock art in limestone caves and rock shelters on an island called Sulawesi. The hand stencils and images of local animals, such as the "pig-deer," or babirusa, were assumed to be less than 10,000 years old, because scientists thought that the humid tropical environment would have destroyed anything older.

"The truth of it was, no one had really tried to date it," says Matt Tocheri of the Human Origins Program of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. "It's not easy to date rock art."

Now, though, in the journal Nature, a group of researchers from Indonesia and Australia, led by Maxime Aubert and Adam Brumm, have analyzed mineral deposits that formed on top of these paintings in seven caves.

Their analysis shows that one hand stencil is at least 39,900 years old and a painting of a babirusa is at least 35,400 years old.

Those ages are comparable to the age of a painted rhinoceros from the famous Chauvet Cave in France, which has been dated to 35,300 to 38,827 years ago. The oldest known cave painting is a red disk found on the wall of a Spanish cave that's at least 40,800 years old. npr