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Dinosaurs breathed like birds

Dinosaurs’ hollow bones may have given them the puff to lead active lifestyles. A fossil find shows that the group of dinosaurs that included Velociraptor and Tyrannosaurus rex probably used the same super-efficient respiratory system that birds have today. The fossil, which is of a carnivorous dinosaur called Majungatholus atopus, shows that its bones included spaces for storing air. This would have allowed the species to have the quick metabolism necessary for an active predatory lifestyle.

Birds have fast metabolic rates thanks to their efficient way of extracting oxygen from the air. They have two lungs, as mammals do, but the airflow through them is controlled by a complex system of air sacs throughout the body. Most birds have nine such sacs, which also extend through their hollow bones. The fossil indicates that these animals had the potential for a high metabolic rate. “This study paints a clearer picture of how these organisms would have existed in their environment,” says O’Connor. “It indicates that these animals had the potential for a high metabolic rate.”

Birds are thought to be direct descendants of theropod dinosaurs, the group to which M. atopus belongs.
Palaeontologists already have evidence that the extinct creatures were similar to their descendants, with high growth rates, bird-like sleeping postures and even feathers. O’Connor compared the structure of air sacs in M. atopus’s vertebrae to those in more than 200 living birds. The structures were very similar, they report in Nature.”This study forms part of an increasingly robust story that says birds are essentially dinosaurs, but smaller,” says Paul Barrett, a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in London. “Using functional work in live animals is a nice addition, and perhaps now you could go as far as saying dinosaurs had a bird-like metabolism.” The study shows that the efficient breathing system of birds is older than previously thought, but Barrett thinks there is more to come: “To me it seems that a breathing system like this is of more ancient origin, from nearer the base of the dinosaur family tree.” He says that finding older dinosaur fossils would support this, and perhaps show that other bird-like characteristics are older than suspected.

Some palaeontologists still dispute that dinosaurs were closely related to birds, and have suggested that their breathing systems were more like those of crocodiles. “This work is another nail in the coffin for that competing theory,” says Barrett.

Nature
August 2, 2005

Original web page at Nature

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Notifying infectious animal diseases to the OIE

The OIE (Office International des Epizooties, World Organisation for Animal Health, headquartered in Paris, France) is an intergovernmental organisation created by an International Agreement in 1924. In May 2004, the OIE totaled 167 member Countries One of the main missions of the OIE is provide information on the world animal health situation in all transparency. In order to fulfill its mandate in this respect, the OIE manages the world animal health information system, based on the commitment of Member Countries to notify the OIE the occurrence of main animal diseases, including zoonoses. In May 2004, OIE member countries approved the creation of a single list of notifiable terrestrial animal diseases; previously, diseases notifiable to the OIE were classified into 2 lists, List A and List B, the former being of higher priority. It was agreed that the change will necessitate defining acceptable criteria for the inclusion of a disease in the OIE single list, as well as criteria for the degree of ‘urgency’ of each reporting.

OIE’s Director General, while announcing the decision, reiterated that the implementation of the changes will mean completely redesigning the existing animal health information system, which will need to take full advantage of all the possibilities offered by the latest information and communication technology, including mapping software. He convened an Ad hoc Group on Terrestrial Animal Disease/Pathogenic Agent Notification, comprised of international experts, to support the OIE Animal Health Information Department in defining criteria to determine whether a given disease should be included in the OIE list.

ProMed Mail
August 2, 2005

Original web page at ProMed Mail

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What the internet says about science

The Web has changed the way in which many researchers access scientific information, conduct research, communicate their findings, and share data. There is now a need to assess the impact of Web publication in order to promote wider and better use of this new medium. Recent attempts have been made to go beyond the strict use of bibliometric indicators. Shanghai Jiao Tong University has published a ranking of the top 500 universities, in which numbers of publications and citations were combined with other criteria such as institution size or the number of Nobel prizes awarded to alumni.

The Web offers advantages as institutions represent “natural units,” with their own institutional domains that mark their presence on the Internet. Since most institutions have a specific Internet domain or subdomain for all their Web pages, quantitative data can be extracted using specifically designed crawlers, or the robots of the major search engines.

The contents of these institutional Web sites might include not only final papers or preprints, but also valuable information on other aspects of their scientific activities. Raw data, teaching materials, slides produced for meetings or conferences, in-house software, graphs, media files, and even administrative information might be useful to pupils, colleagues, and partners worldwide. Since the Web is ubiquitous, a wider audience is possible when publication is electronic; this could include readers in developing countries whose access to scientific publications can be very restricted. The Web is cheaper than the printed word and can provide information that paper sources could never contain; for example, large amounts of data, complex and dynamic graphics, or even interactive systems. Finally, the Web is a hypertext-interlinked system, and although the motivations for linking far exceed traditional “citation for recognition,” careful use of citation analysis techniques may still be possible.

Web indicators are now becoming important in the quantitative analysis of science, but a global system involving the major universities and research institutions has yet to be developed. To fill this gap, we designed a combined assessment model for ranking the institutional domains of universities worldwide based on “Web presence” indicators. Three different features of these domains were assessed: the size of their Web presence (measured by the number of Web pages), visibility (reflected by the number of in-links from pages external to the domain), and the number of “rich” files available (the number of downloadable files in advanced formats such as Adobe Acrobat – pdf, PostScript – ps, MS Word – doc, MS PowerPoint – ppt, and MS Excel – xls).

While evaluations were made in absolute terms, the fact that research and other activities involve specific file types was taken into account. The number of in-links to these organizations’ Web sites was used to establish the visibility of their content to third parties, including other academic and scientific organizations, government authorities, and companies. Data were collected using the major search engines. The full results are available from “Ranking of World Universities in the Web” , where the first 1,000 universities are listed according to Web criteria.
Preliminary analysis shows that most productive research-oriented universities are among the leaders in the list.

A significant positive correlation was found between the Web list ranks and the Shanghai Jiao Tong University list. Moreover, a large number of technologically oriented institutions were well-positioned by the Webometric indicators. The universities of developing countries (especially of the larger nations) appeared in competitive positions with regard to those of the developed world.
There are still several technical and methodological problems to overcome, mostly related with the search engine bias. More relevant, there are several shortcomings and caveats related to the use of Web indicators for assessing visibility and impact. These are not yet developed enough to compare directly to bibliometric ones, but we intend to use non-Webometric indicators in our rankings to allow a direct comparison of the different approaches.

E-mail address The Scientist Daily
August 2, 2005

Original web page at The Scientist

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European Research Counsel (ERC) announced

European scientists have welcomed the announcement yesterday (July 18) of the first members of the scientific council of the European Research Council (ERC), a new science funding body due to begin operations in 2007. Leading researchers told The Scientist that the announcement was an important step in improving the provision of funds for science, but some expressed fears for the future of the council in light of troubled negotiations over EU spending.

The main tasks of the 22 members of the scientific council will be to oversee the broad scientific strategy of the ERC and to ensure that the best research projects get funding by a competitive peer review, said Antonia Mochan, spokesperson of the European research commission. Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, the former president of EUROHORCs (European Heads of Research Councils), and one of the many scientists who lobbied for the creation of an ERC, had strong praise for the members of the new scientific council. “The European Commission has named a number of outstanding scientists for the scientific council of the ERC,” he told The Scientist. “I hope that with their influence it will be possible to meet the high expectations scientists have for the council.”

Helga Nowotny, the head of the European Research Advisory Board, who has been appointed to the ERC scientific council, said the 22 named scientists reflected the full scope of European research. “It is a well-balanced group of persons with very good scientific credentials and with complementary backgrounds and experience,” she told The Scientist. Frank Gannon, director of the European Molecular Biology Organization, which helped coordinate a campaign by 50 science organizations to have a European research council established, applauded the European Commission for accepting the scientific community’s demand for an independent funding mechanism to encourage and support research.

“I’m delighted that commission has been so willing to listen to the scientists,” Gannon told The Scientist. “Really exciting cutting research needs special attention in Europe. The ERC will make research better in Europe, encourage scientists, and have a positive impact on the economy.” The committee that chose the scientific council was independent, made up of scientists, and chaired by Chris Patten, former governor of Hong Kong, and now Chancellor of Oxford and Newcastle upon Tyne universities.

Seven life scientists were appointed to the ERC scientific council, including Claudio Bordignon from the San Raffaele Institute in Milan, Italy; Carl-Henrik Heldin from the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Uppsala, Sweden; Fotis C. Kafatos from Imperial College in London, England; Oscar Marin Parra from the Institute of Neurosciences in Alicante, Spain; Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard from the Max-Planck-Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany; Leena Peltonen-Palotie from the University of Helsinki, Finland; and Rolf Zinkernagel from the Institute of Experimental Immunology, University Hospital Zürich, Switzerland.

However, scientists have reiterated their fears that the ERC might not be able to carry out its mission if talks to secure a doubling of the EU research budget fail. A Competitiveness Council discussed the budget for research at an informal meeting in Cardiff on July 11. “Unless there is more money in the system, there will be cuts,” Gannon said. “We hope that the cuts do not fall on the ERC. There is a general acceptance that the budget of the ERC should not be reduced dramatically. There is an awareness that giving substantial support to basic research at a European level is vital for the future of Europe.” His sentiments were echoed by Nowotny and Winnacker. Gannon said that in order to be effective, the ERC would need a budget of €1.5-2 billion a year to fund research proposals. He said the scientific council would have to decide whether the ERC has been allotted enough money or not to carry out its mission when its budget is finally announced.

E-mail address The Scientist Daily
August 2, 2005

Original web page at The scientist

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Artists and scientists conspire at conference

“We must do this more often” was the constant refrain at a gathering of scientists, artists, film makers, designers, writers, editors and art historians at a meeting in Los Angeles. They were there to explore the use of images in science, for both understanding data and communicating it to others. Image and Meaning 2, held from 23 to 25 June at the Getty art museum, was the successor to the first conference of this sort, staged in 2001 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston. The conference series is the brainchild of Felice Frankel, a science photographer working at MIT. Frankel helps scientists present their work using imagery that is both informative and striking. Her photographs have graced many covers of Nature and Science.

Frankel convened the meeting because, she says, “we have a serious problem. There is an assumption that in science our graphics communicate. But they often don’t.” Frankel argues that many scientists don’t see imagery as an integral part of the scientific process. This, she says, is doing the community a disservice. Many at the conference tackled the notion of how best to find patterns within their data.
Creating graphs or maps becomes more challenging as the data get more complicated. Some have turned results into animations to wring meaning from them, whereas others have displayed their work using virtual reality ‘rooms’. There is an assumption that in science our graphics communicate – but they don’t.
There is now a wealth of computer tools for generating sophisticated imagery. But scientists at the meeting complained that many of these programs never get beyond the computer-graphics community that develops them. The audience was impressed when David Salesin, a computer scientist at the University of Washington, presented the interactive visual tools that he is developing for Microsoft. Salesin showed software that can construct realistic-looking aerial photographs from maps after being trained with a few real photo/map combinations. He also had programs that could blend different faces, and automatically turn random objects into ‘Escher tiles’: these are shapes that can be rotated to fill a space without leaving any gaps.

Salesin’s methods got many researchers thinking about new ways of looking at their findings. But they also raised a host of questions about proper limits to the manipulation of images. “I had not realised how easy it is to make changes in images seamlessly,” says chemist George Whitesides of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. He says the community should work out rules for what is acceptable in ‘improving’ images for publication.

On the opposite side of the coin, many argued that low-tech imagery can have advantages over high-tech in communicating research. A very polished image, says Frankel, can discourage a viewer from engaging with and thinking about a work. “If something is raw, it gives the viewer permission to participate,” she says. Beautiful, computer-generated renderings can also mislead viewers, some argue, giving a false sense of certainty about the ideas they represent.
Cartoonist and self-described “lapsed mathematician” Larry Gonick argued that cartoons can be used to great effect in communicating science without having to turn to expensive or complicated techniques. “Cartooning’s graphic style has certain features conducive to explanation,” argues Gonick. “It invites the eye and draws the reader to the ‘main character’ of the illustration,” he says. It also comes with a widely understood visual language, he argues, that can convey motion or narrative.

“Even the biggest-brained scientists at this conference have confessed an inability to comprehend some complex diagrams,” says Gonick. Sometimes, he says, what one needs to understand a concept is a story.

Nature
July 19, 2005

Original web page at Nature

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Is evidence-based medicine relevant to the developing world?

Although there is still some resistance to the evidence-based medicine movement, evidence-based health care has now become widely accepted and adopted. Systematic reviews of the effectiveness of health care interventions are the engine room of evidence-based health care; much has been written about how these reviews should be conducted and what they can achieve. If the case for the use of systematic reviews is good in developed countries—and we think it is—then the case is even stronger in the developing world. Wherever health care is provided and used, it is essential to know which interventions work, which do not work, and which are likely to be harmful. This is especially important in situations where health problems are severe and the scarcity of resources makes it vital that they are not wasted.

But are the systematic reviews that have so far been published relevant and of practical use to those who provide health care in “the majority world” (i.e., in developing countries)? In our view, the relevance of systematic reviews to frontline health care workers in developing countries has so far been limited, for a number of reasons. Most of the reviews produced to date address health conditions that are priorities in the developed world. Many major health concerns in developing nations have yet to be made the subject of a review, although there are signs that this may be changing. The introductory discussions of most reviews focus on the impact of conditions in the United States and Western Europe. This may be an indication of the authors’ own priorities and experience, or it may be because they have made assumptions about the priorities of journal editors and readers.

Health care professionals in developing countries sometimes wonder whether their reliance on older, cheaper, “lower-tech” approaches has made their practice quite distinct from that of their colleagues in richer regions. Yet the authors of systematic reviews seem, by and large, to prefer to take on the task of assessing the evidence for more recent (and generally more expensive) technologies. This is not to say that reviewers should avoid high-tech interventions. Again, it is a question of setting priorities, and of recognising the urgent need for more reviews on interventions that are feasible in the majority world.

Systematic reviews are based largely on research that has been done in rich countries. One of the reasons for this is the relative lack of research in developing countries. However, even when research has been conducted in these countries, it might not be published—or if it is published, it might not be in a journal that is indexed in the widely used bibliographic databases such as MEDLINE and EMBASE. Thus, despite the best efforts of many reviewers, relevant studies may easily be missed. Excluding studies on the basis of language or region is generally not considered good practice in systematic reviewing, but the difficulties of identifying and assessing such studies can make finding them and including them in a review an unrealistic expectation.

Once studies have been found, they are assessed for quality by the reviewers. Only when the quality meets the criteria specified in the review protocol (in most cases, this specifies randomised controlled trials only) are they included in the analysis. The difficulties of conducting randomized controlled trials in resource-poor situations result in the exclusion of many developing country studies. Some have suggested that the “quality threshold” should be lowered, so that more studies from developing countries can be included in systematic reviews. This question is contentious, and indeed divides the authors of this essay, but it needs to be recognised and debated openly.

Practitioners in low-income countries have questioned the “transferability” of evidence derived from studies conducted in richer nations. The basis of their concern is their awareness that there can be many differences between patient populations and in the delivery of health care.
Forjuoh et al. have pointed out that some injury prevention interventions will have broad transferability, while others will not. They went on to make suggestions as to which intervention would be transferable, but they did so on theoretical grounds without any supporting data. There are also important differences in the way in which care is delivered in developing and developed countries. In developing countries, treatments that would be delivered by doctors elsewhere are often delivered by medical assistants or clinical officers. This may or may not have an impact on the effectiveness of the treatment. Similarly, legislation can be considered a health care intervention for the prevention of road traffic injury, but the “delivery” of such legislation (i.e., its enforcement) is often harder to achieve in developing countries for a multitude of reasons.

As a result of such differences, the most effective treatment in a randomised controlled trial may not be the most effective treatment when provided in the developing world. Some treatments will retain much of their effectiveness in a resource-poor context; others will not.
One recently updated Cochrane review on the primary repair of penetrating colon injuries is a case in point. The update involved the addition of data from one study, which had been completed since the original version of the review had been published. This addition introduced a much greater level of heterogeneity. The likely explanation for this, in the opinion of the reviewers, was that the new study was the only one in which the intervention had been applied in a developing country, which had imposed a number of limitations on its delivery.
Rather than implying that a review’s conclusions are globally applicable, perhaps this is one of those circumstances where it would be more appropriate if reviewers concluded with statements such as, “There is evidence for the effectiveness of this intervention in the countries and setting where the included studies were conducted, and in places that are similar in terms of the resources available.”

It is, of course, vital that more research of quality and relevance is conducted in developing countries, but the writers of systematic reviewers also have much to do. We need to find ways to make a good product better, and we must do more to make sure that people in the majority world are able to access the reviews that are published. In order for progress to be made, the following questions require more attention than they have received up to now.

How can we involve more people from developing countries in the writing and peer reviewing of systematic reviews? For example, how can we continue to build on progress made on international activity within the Cochrane Collaboration? Is this best done by circulating the reviews themselves, or are reviews merely a stage in the production of more accessible evidence-based health information materials? For example, the World Health Organization’s Reproductive Health Library, available on CD-ROM, includes selected Cochrane reviews but also summaries and commentaries that have been specially prepared to provide a developing world perspective. The BMJ’s Clinical Evidence produces other summaries of the evidence (for example, often integrating the findings of Cochrane Reviews into answers to clinical questions), and aims to prepare these in user-friendly formats and languages. Are more initiatives like these needed?

Research is needed on the impact of systematic reviews on practice in the developing world. We need to assess: What proportion of reviews are relevant to health care in low-resource settings? Are evidence-based sources used to set policy in different countries? How widely are the Cochrane Library and/or Cochrane reviews used by health care workers, and what are the barriers to use? How widely are these resources used by other people involved in decisions about health care, including patients, their carers, and policy makers? Has the use of Cochrane evidence influenced practice? What do these users and potential users think would make reviews more useful?

When so-called developing countries first gained freedom from their colonial oppressors, Ernst Schumacher pointed out that there was a need, not for the “best” technology, but for “appropriate” technology. When it comes to health care, practitioners and patients of these countries need and deserve nothing less than the most “appropriate evidence”.

PloS Medicine
July 19, 2005

Original web page at PloS Medicine

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Spanish science is in need of drastic and urgent reform

Spanish science is in need of drastic and urgent reform if it is to keep pace with its European neighbors, according to a report released this week by a group of societies representing tens of thousands of researchers. The report, released Monday, was commissioned by the Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies (COSCE), which represents some 30,000 scientists from 53 societies. “It’s the most important army ever mounted,” said COSCE president Joan Guinovart, a biochemist at the University of Barcelona. “The situation is critical,” Guinovart told The Scientist. “It is urgent that we take measures. Spain’s science is at a crossroads. If we take a step forward now, we can get to the level of our neighbors. If we don’t, we’ll lose a historic opportunity.” The report makes a total of 70 concrete proposals to make the scientific system more competitive. First, its authors urge the government to stick to its previous promise to increase R&D spending by 25% annually until 2008. “I am confident that they will respect this commitment. If money is there, then it’s possible to make reforms,” said Pere Puigdoménech, director of Barcelona’s Institute of Molecular Biology.

Responding to the report, the government reaffirmed its commitment to the extra spending. Salvador Barberá, state secretary of science policy at the Science and Education Ministry, told The Scientist that “not only will the government keep its promise, but also will devote more money to genuine science.” “I welcome the government plans to increase the science budget but wonder how they will distribute the funds,” said Enric Banda, director of the Catalan Research Foundation, and former secretary general of the European Science Foundation. A substantial amount of this year’s research budget increase was set aside for technological innovation, including military expenses.

A section of the report devoted to human resources points out that Spanish scientists are few in number and aging, mainly due to the difficulties to obtain stable jobs. “The Spanish research system is mainly based on a civil-servant career, which favors individualism against collective work,” the report claims. In addition to financial incentives and promotion of mobility, the authors ask the government to create a tenure-track system for young researchers. They also stress that Spain urgently needs to establish an agency or commission for evaluating and financing of research, similar to the United Kingdom’s Research Councils UK. This agency “must be autonomous and work with agility and impartiality,” the report’s authors say.

The idea of such an agency had been put forth by the current government before they won the general election last year. “We are now [after the report] encouraged more than ever to go ahead with the agency,” Barberá told The Scientist. The report also urges the government to undertake a deep reform of CSIC, (the Spanish Council for Scientific Research), the chief agency devoted to basic science in the country. “The CSIC is a post [Spanish Civil] war-devised structure that can’t be sustained longer,” says Guinovart. “It is indispensable to decentralize the CSIC authority and management capacity,” the report states. The report was made public just a few days before a meeting of the Interministerial Commission of Science and Technology (CICYT), and was delivered to María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, first vice president of the government and CICYT president, on June 20.

“During the meeting of CICYT this week, its president will make an institutional declaration in favor of science until 2010,” Barberá told The Scientist. “We have not had the time to take in consideration all the report’s conclusions but it will represent from now on an obligatory reference manual.” In the meantime, said Guinovart, “COSCE will monitor the government actions with regard to the report’s recommendations.”

E-mail address The Scientist Daily
July 19, 2005

Original web page at The Scientist

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Comparative pathology organizations collaborate to generate veterinary pathologists

To address the growing deficit of veterinary pathologists in industry, academia, and government, the American College of Veterinary Pathologists and the Society of Toxicologic Pathology have formed a coalition to increase the training opportunities in veterinary pathology. The goal of this initiative is to fund five new training positions in veterinary pathology during this inaugural year, and a total of 15 new positions by the end of 2007.

ACVP President R. Keith Harris, DVM, and STP President Colin G. Rousseaux, PhD, are requesting the assistance of private- and public-sector organizations in providing financial support for the new training positions. They also encourage institutions with veterinary pathology training programs to submit competitive applications for these new positions. Drs. Harris and Rousseaux believe that the success of this industry-academia-government collaborative effort is critical for serving the needs of the biomedical community. Moreover, this collaboration can serve as a model for other research-oriented specialties with similar shortages of highly qualified specialists.

In an informational article describing the coalition, Dr. Gary L. Cockerell, coalition director, and Dr. D. Reid Patterson, chair of the coalition’s board of governors, describe the magnitude of the pathologist shortage and how the coalition plans to create new training opportunities. A 2002 survey conducted by the ACVP and the STP, submitted for publication in the journal Veterinary Pathology, confirmed what employers and trainers of veterinary pathologists have experienced over the past decade—that not enough of these specialized biomedical scientists are being trained to meet the demand. Results of the survey indicated almost 150 open positions for veterinary anatomic or clinical pathologists at that time, about half of them in the industrial sector.

The deficit was projected to increase to more than 400 by 2007, resulting from a combination of increased demand and the impending retirement of a whole “generation” of pathologists. Neither the rate at which the academic programs are training new pathologists nor the number of currently enrolled trainees is sufficient to meet the demand. This conclusion is in keeping with results of a recent National Research Council workshop on the need for veterinarians with a range of advanced research training, especially as relates to their contributions within the pharmaceutical industry. According to Drs. Cockerell and Patterson, the continuing increase in the demand for veterinary pathologists—especially in industry—is understandable, considering the key roles they play in the discovery and development of modern biopharmaceuticals.

The most obvious reasons for the inability to meet the demand are the need to better inform high school, preveterinary, and veterinary students about rewarding career opportunities in veterinary pathology; attract more candidates who are highly qualified to pursue post-DVM training; attract and retain faculty to train residents and PhD-graduate students; and create additional training positions. The ACVP/STP Coalition for Veterinary Pathology Fellows is one step of a multifaceted approach needed to address the underlying causes of the problem. This partnership was formed in late 2004 to address the primary factor cited in the 2002 survey as being responsible for the limited number of training positions-lack of funding. Traditional funding to train veterinary pathologists, especially from federal government sources such as the National Institutes of Health-sponsored training grants and state funds granted to academic institutions, has been drastically reduced over the past decade. Industrial sponsors and professional organizations have attempted to replace those vanishing funds, but their efforts have not been coordinated. This coalition provides a unified mechanism to solicit and allocate funds to establish new positions to train veterinary anatomic and clinical pathologists by integrating the common interests of three entities—academic training institutions, industry, and the ACVP and STP.

The coalition will solicit financial support from pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and chemical companies; contract research organizations; private diagnostic laboratories; and philanthropic health and education foundations. Funding for new training positions will be awarded on the basis of competitive review of applications submitted by North American institutions that train veterinary pathologists as one of their primary functions.
Funds will support residency training in veterinary anatomic or clinical pathology, or PhD dissertation research, for a maximum of three years each. Stipends, tuition and medical benefits, travel, and miscellaneous educational supplies will be included.

Training will focus on core principles of diagnostic and experimental veterinary pathology common to the goals of ACVP and STP. A close interaction will be established among training institutions and industrial sponsors to enhance trainees’ programs and to cross-communicate programmatic goals. Trainees will be expected to successfully complete the ACVP examination and/or the PhD degree within two years of the end of funding, and to pursue careers as veterinary pathologists. They will have no other payback obligation.

JAVMA
July 5, 2005

Original web page at JAVMA

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Launch of BioMed Central Veterinary Research

BioMed Central (BMC) Veterinary Research, the new, Open Access, peer reviewed online journal, covering all areas of veterinary science and medicine is now accepting submissions.

BMC Veterinary Research publishes original research articles in all aspects of veterinary science and medicine, including the epidemiology, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of medical conditions of domestic, companion, farm and wild animals, as well as the biomedical processes that underlie their health. BMC Veterinary Research (ISSN 1746-6148) is indexed/tracked/covered by PubMed. We are pleased to announce the launch of BMC Veterinary Research, an Open Access journal covering all areas of veterinary science and medicine. The journal is now accepting submissions and we would like to invite you to submit your next manuscript to BMC Veterinary Research.

BMC Veterinary Research publishes original research articles in all aspects of veterinary science and medicine, including the epidemiology, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of medical conditions of domestic, companion, farm and wild animals, as well as the biomedical processes that underlie their health.

BMC Veterinary Research is the latest addition to the highly successful BMC-series of Open Access journals. Like the other journals in the series, BMC Veterinary Research publishes peer-reviewed research and methodology articles, all of which are immediately available without charge to any reader with internet access. From launch, all published articles will be included in PubMed, and copies of the articles will be deposited in PubMed Central and other internationally recognized Open Access repositories.

We are launching BMC Veterinary Research in response to many requests that we create an Open Access journal in which to publish veterinary papers. Our Editorial board is composed of leaders in the field who feel strongly that Open Access is crucial for veterinary researchers around the world. Professors Eckersall and Pfeiffer of the Editorial board explain why they support the launch of BMC Veterinary Research:

“BMC Veterinary Research will be greatly welcomed by the research community involved with advancing veterinary science and medicine. The benefits of Open Access publishing, which has proved so successful in human medicine and biological sciences, will now be available for the wide range of specialities that are encompassed in veterinary research. This will allow free and universal access via the internet to the latest results in important areas concerning animal health and welfare.” Professor David Eckersall, University of Glasgow, UK

“Open Access allows scientists and non-scientists from anywhere around the world access to information about the latest scientific developments. For developing countries it will have a very significant impact with respect to their ability to maintain an up-to-date scientific knowledge base, and therefore to implement state-of-the-art methodologies in livestock production in order to reduce poverty.” Professor Dirk Pfeiffer, Royal Veterinary College, London, UK

To enable the journal to make all of its content Open Access, BMC Veterinary Research will levy an article-processing charge for each manuscript accepted after peer review (payable on acceptance). The charge is £450 (approximately US$825), dependent on currency fluctuations. The fee will be payable by the authors unless their institution or society is a BioMed Central member, but can be waived in cases of genuine hardship. Authors belonging to the many institutions or societies that are members of BioMed Central do not have to pay the article-processing charge directly as it is covered by a payment from their institution or society.

Join over 40,000 pioneering authors who have published in BioMed Central’s 140 Open Access journals. Submit your manuscripts to BMC Veterinary Research and you will enjoy fast and thorough peer review, your article will be published immediately on acceptance, you’ll retain your copyright, your research will be immediately accessible to all veterinary researchers, and you will be able to see how many people have accessed it at any time.

We look forward to receiving submissions from you soon!

Peter Newmark Editor-in-Chief, BMC-series of journals
Theo Bloom Editorial Director, Biology, BioMed Central

BMC Veterinary Research homepage Submit your manuscript now! http://www.biomedcentral.com/bmcvetres/callforpapers

BioMed Central
June 21, 2005

Original web page at BioMed Central

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Italy has faced embryo referendum

Italian scientists were hoping that a referendum on possible amendments to a controversial assisted reproduction law will allow them to resume embryo research. The referendum centered on some key provisions of the much disputed “Law 40,” which was approved in 2003 to regulate the field of reproductive technology. The law bans any testing of embryos for research or experimental purposes, freezing embryos or embryo suppression. It forbids the use of stem cells from discarded embryos for scientific research as well as preimplantation diagnosis for preventing genetically transmitted diseases.

It also bans donor insemination, denies access to artificial reproductive techniques for single women, and rules that no more than three eggs may be fertilized in vitro and that they must be used simultaneously. Four million signatures of protest have led to the referendum. Participants will be asked to vote “Yes” or “No” to four questions. A “Yes” vote would delete the law provisions relating to embryo research, the attribution of rights to the embryo, the three embryo limit, and the ban on egg or sperm donation.

In advance of the referendum, more than 100 scientists and researchers, including Nobel Laureates Rita Levi Montalcini and Renato Dulbecco, wrote a statement in which they urged citizens to vote “Yes to life and freedom of research, Yes to the rights and hopes of sick people, Yes to infertile couples and couples with genetic diseases, Yes to a lay state.”

However the Vatican has also played a key role in the debate, which has raged since April when interior minister Giuseppe Pisanu announced that a date for the referendum had been set. Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the head of the Italian bishops’ conference and the Pope’s vicar for Rome, immediately asked Italians to abstain from voting. The Vatican strengthened its position on May 31, when Pope Benedict XVI, taking his first plunge into Italian politics, praised the bishops for “enlightening the choices of Catholics and all citizens in the upcoming referendum.”

The Vatican intervention was not welcomed by all politicians. “This is an unprecedented attack. I’m not saying the Vatican cannot have its opinion on this issue, but they should not be allowed to hold electoral campaigns in a country that is supposed to be sovereign,” said Daniele Capezzone, head of Italy’s Radical Party and promoter of the referendum. Along with more than 30 scientists and researchers, Capezzone is on a hunger strike to protest against the lack of information on the referendum.

“We are confident that citizens will vote to change this law. But should we lose because of a low turnout, we will not stop our battle. It won’t take long before a scientific breakthrough in embryo research shows how wrong this law is. Science will sweep them up,” Capezzone told The Scientist. Nino Guglielmino, head of the Hera Medical Centre, and a specialist in preimplantation genetic diagnosis, told The Scientist that focusing all the attention on the embryo can threaten the health of women. “I had to implant three embryos at once in women who could not bear them. The premature twin newborn died after a few weeks. It is a cruel law,” Guglielmino said.

Researchers are split over the referendum question, which could open up the way to embryo research. “They represent a very important and promising area of biological research, and we should not ignore them,” said oncologist and former health minister Umberto Veronesi. But according to supporters of the present regulation, the entire debate reflects the prevalence of distorted information. “A lot of confusion has been created around stem cells,” wrote Angelo Vescovi, codirector of the Stem Cell Research Institute at San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, and colleagues from other universities, in a document that supports Law 40.

The decision to schedule the referendum on a date when school holidays have begun and when many Italians go away for summer vacations has also been criticized. More than 50% of eligible voters must participate for the referendum to be considered valid. [ref.: Only around 25% did]

E-mail address The Scientist Daily
June 21, 2005

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How to fix peer review

Despite its importance as the ultimate gatekeeper of scientific publication and funding, peer review is known to engender bias, incompetence, excessive expense, ineffectiveness, and corruption. A surfeit of publications has documented the deficiencies of this system. In September, the fifth in a series of international congresses concerned with how peer review can be improved will convene in Chicago. Yet so far, in spite of the teeth gnashing, nothing is being chewed.

Investigation of the peer-review system has failed to provide validation for its use. In one study, previously published articles were altered to disguise their origin and resubmitted to the journals that had originally published the manuscripts. Most of these altered papers were not recognized and were rejected on supposed “scientific grounds.” Other investigators found that agreement among reviewers about whether specific manuscripts should be published was no greater than would be expected by chance alone.

Peer review subsumes two functions. First, peer reviewers attempt to improve manuscripts by offering constructive criticisms about concrete elements such as the application of a technique, the strength of results, or the cogency of an argument. The second function of peer review is to render a decision about the biological significance of the findings so that the manuscript can be prioritized for publication. I propose reforming peer review so that the two functions are independent.

Review of a manuscript would be solicited from colleagues by the authors. The first task of these reviewers would be to identify revisions that could be made to improve the manuscript. Second, the reviewers would be responsible for writing an evaluation of the revised work. This assessment would be mostly concerned with the significance of the findings, and the reviewers would sign it.

After receiving the final assessments from several different reviewers, the authors could decide to submit to a journal, sending the manuscript and the signed reviews together. The editors, carrying out the second function of peer review, would then decide to publish or not based solely on this material. The reviewers’ identities would be revealed in the publication.

I believe there would be several significant effects of this change in peer review. First, the authors would submit only positive assessments. Consequently, reviews would emphasize why a manuscript should be published instead of why it shouldn’t be. Second, investigators would be less likely to publish insignificant findings. They would have to ask colleagues to put their names on the manuscript; consequently, the tendency would be to ask for support for more complete and more compelling sets of findings.

Third, reviewers would be forced to account for their comments. They could not perform just a cursory look without the authors realizing the review was not insightful and did not represent an honest effort. Fourth, although it would be possible to have close friends and relatives review a manuscript, the editors would see who was supporting publication. In their deliberations, the editors would consider the breadth of the reviewers and their relationships to the authors and to the conceptualization promulgated in the manuscript.

Fifth, the editors would be free from adjudicating between authors and reviewers. They could concentrate on the specific arguments put forth for publication. Moreover, the process would be considerably streamlined, since there would be no need to send the manuscript out for review.

This revision of peer review would change the incentives for all involved. The authors would tend to publish results that represent more complete findings and be more satisfied with the outcome, because they could exert lots of control over the review process. The reviewers would tend to be more honest in their evaluations, not wanting to praise work they consider flawed, because their names would be attached to it. Reviewers would not give a cursory and willfully negative evaluation, because the authors could simply not forward their comments. It would be in the reviewers’ best interests to help improve manuscripts that have flaws but are potentially important.

The editors would emphasize publication of manuscripts that have the broadest support among scientists in the relevant community or that have the greatest potential to influence the community. Their jobs would be easier because the number of manuscripts submitted would be fewer, although of more substance. This tendency would be facilitated by editors’ publicizing the stringent acceptance requirements.
For example, editors could request manuscripts with support from reviewers from the same institution and from other institutions. They could request reviewers in the same field and reviewers in related fields.

Peer review is broken. It needs to be overhauled, not just tinkered with. The incentives should be changed so that: authors are more satisfied and more likely to produce better work, the reviewing is more transparent and honest, and journals do not have to manage an unwieldy and corrupt system that produces disaffection and misses out on innovation.
Source: David Kaplan

E-mail address The Scientist Daily
June 21, 2005

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Bird bones offer insights to dinosaur sexing

A type of bone that female birds use as a calcium reserve for making eggshell has been found inside the fossilised thigh bone of a Tyrannosaurus rex. This new forensic clue could be used to sort the bones of female predatory dinosaurs from those of the males. Discerning the sex of fossilised animals is notoriously difficult. The obvious differences are in soft tissue that is not preserved. Some sex-specific traits are preserved in bones, such as differences in size or skull adornment. But without having seen living animals it is hard to be certain which sex is which, and if those differences are between individuals, species or even between the sexes of a single species.

So far the only sure way of identifying a dinosaur’s sex has been to find unlaid eggs inside a female, and only a couple of such fossils have been discovered – a Sinosauropteryx and an oviraptor. Now a structure called medullary bone, previously found only inside the leg bones of living female birds, has been identified inside the same T. rex femur which seems to have preserved blood vessels for nearly 70 million years.

Densely mineralised and rich in blood vessels, medullary bone can be deposited quickly when females ovulate and can quickly release calcium when it is needed to form eggshell, says Mary Schweitzer at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, US, and one of the study team. The calcium reserves are critical for female birds because they have strong but lightly-structured bones. Without medullary bone deposited in their marrow cavities, the calcium used for egg shells would come from their bones, giving them avian osteoporosis. Forming the shells depletes medullary bone, which in living birds remains depleted during brooding and until their next ovulation.

Schweitzer recognised the distinctive structure of medullary bone under the microscope. In the study, she shows the T. rex medullary bone is similar to that found in living emus and ostriches – large animals which are close to the evolutionary roots of modern birds. The similarity bolsters the case that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs – two-legged predators such as Velociraptor and T. rex.

Living crocodiles do not have medullary bone, Schweitzer notes, and there is no evidence as yet that non-theropod dinosaurs did. “We have never seen anything like this in another dinosaur,” adds Jack Horner of Montana State University in Bozeman, US, and also on the team. Ancestral theropods were small animals with hollow bones, while other dinosaurs had very small marrow cavities with no room for such structures.

Journal reference: Science (vol 308, p 1456)

New Scientist
June 21, 2005

Original web page at New Scientist

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The most important thing in science is……

“Evolution, as truth, insofar as we can comprehend it at the moment; as a realistic assessment of our position in the universe; and as a joyous celebration of our potential future.” Sulston is one of more than 250 leading science practitioners, communicators, and educators who responded to the question posed by Alom Shaha, a former physics teacher. Shaha’s project, funded by Britain’s National Endowment for Science, Technology, and the Arts and assisted by the online magazine spiked (http://www.spiked-online.com), came to him during 2003 at a job at which he was surrounded by producers madly trying to come up with ideas to celebrate the centenary of Einstein’s annus mirabilis this year. It struck him that for all the focus on Einstein’s most famous theory, “it isn’t really important that people understand relativity.” For Shaha, science communication is too dominated by people who do not understand science deeply, such as nonscientist newspaper editors and television producers. “I think the most successful science communicators are those people who really understand science, and are really passionate about it,” he says. “And that’s often scientists.”

Sulston’s choice, evolution, was most popular, garnering 23 votes overall. Elsewhere there was less agreement. Some respondents, including molecular biologist Lee M Silver, make a firm distinction between science and faith, for example: “The discipline of science is as far removed from faith as anything can possibly be.” On the other hand, some seem to feel this distinction is wrong. Neurophysiolgist Mark Lythgoe says, “From the moment you are born, and sometimes before, you place blind faith in the scientific method.” Lythgoe is one of many respondents who talk about the scientific method. After the theory of evolution, it is the most popular survey response, with 20 of those who answered saying they would teach the world about the method itself, instead of a specific principle or discovery.
Exactly what the scientific method entails is not exactly defined in the responses, however. (And respondents variously credit Francis Bacon, Galileo Galilei, and Karl Popper for developing it.)

Politician Stephen Ladyman illustrates the scientific method by arguing, “It might not be possible to absolutely prove that greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming, but the evidence suggests that they do, and so wise governments act accordingly.” But climatologist Timothy Ball says that contemporary thinking about global warming reflects the fact that “the scientific method is effectively being blocked.” Overall, the results ended up being something of a jumble, ranging from physicist Deeph Chana’s suggestion that “energy cannot be created or destroyed,” to broadcaster (and former scientist) Vivienne Parry’s idea that “you do not have to be bright to do science.” But the jumble may not bother Shaha. The point of the survey, after all, was to show that “science is a human endeavor, not a magical method for finding the truth,” says Shaha. “Scientists are as interesting as artists, writers, poets … and I think people need to understand that.”

E-mail address The Scientist Daily
June 7, 2005

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Honking monkey discovered in Africa

To the ears of Trevor Jones, the calls made by geese and dogs will never sound the same again. Combining the two noises produces something similar to the unique ‘honk-bark’ of a monkey species discovered last year in Tanzania by two groups of wildlife biologists. Jones, who leads a team at the Udzungwa Mountains National Park in Tanzania, and Tim Davenport, a biologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society in Mbeya, discovered the species almost simultaneously on mountain ranges some 370 kilometres apart.

The researchers classified the animal as Lophocebus kipunji and gave it the common name ‘highland mangabey’. These medium-sized monkeys dwell in trees and have a black face with long whiskers. But what caught the scientists most off guard was the distinctive noise that they make. The two highland mangabey populations are separated by dry bush.
Because the monkeys can only move and thrive in forest environments, this is evidence that forest probably connected the two mountain areas in the past. “At some point the populations had a common ancestor in one site,” says Jones. The teams report their discovery in this week’s Science.

But the mangabeys are already threatened, says Davenport. Land development threatens the small remaining forest where highland mangabeys can survive. Davenport and his colleagues estimate that fewer than 1,000 of these monkeys exist and have recommended that the species be classified as critically endangered. “I would say that habitat loss is probably the major contributing factor,” he says. The chances of finding other, undiscovered populations of highland mangabeys are slim. “It’s possible, but personally I think it’s unlikely,” Jones admits. “Most of the mountain forest of southern Tanzania has already been surveyed.”

Because there are so few highland mangabeys left, the researchers have chosen not to capture any of them. But they do hope to obtain DNA samples in the wild to analyse how closely related the animals are to other mangabey species. Colin Groves, a taxonomist at the Australian National University in Canberra, stresses that more monkey species may yet be discovered. “The find indicates that there is a lot that we don’t know even about comparatively large mammals,” he says. There are already about 90 species of monkey known in Africa, the last discovery being the sun-tailed monkey, Cercopithecus solatus, found in Gabon in 1984.

Nature
June 7, 2005

Original web page at Nature

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Strange new rodent discovered as Asian snack

A weird species of rodent, totally new to science, has been discovered on sale in a southeast Asian food market. The rock rat – or kha-nyou as it is known in Laos – is unlike any rodent seen before by scientists. “It was for sale on a table next to some vegetables,” says conservation biologist Robert Timmins, “And I knew immediately it was something I had never seen before.” People in the Khammouan region of Laos know of the species, and prepare it by roasting it on a skewer, says Timmins, of the Wildlife Conservation Society, based in New York City, US.

Timmins and his team have subsequently trapped the animal with the help of local people, but have never seen it alive either in the wild or in the market. Relatively little is yet known of how it lives or the full extent of its habitats. The creature looks something like a cross between a large dark rat and a squirrel, but is actually more closely related to guinea pigs and chinchillas. The long-whiskered rodent has a thick, furry tail, large paws, stubby limbs and is around 40 centimeters from nose to tail. Initial evidence suggests it gives birth to a single young at a time. The discovery was reported in the journal Systematics and Biodiversity. What makes Laonastes aenigmamus so unusual is that it is not closely related to any other rodents. The researchers behind the find have had to create a whole new family, the Laonastidae, to accommodate it.

Although new rodents are discovered by scientists at the rate of about one a year, new mammal families are much rarer, Timmins told New Scientist. The last new mammal family was created in 1974 with the discovery of the bumblebee bat. “To find something so distinct in this day and age is just extraordinary,” he says. The species may be the primitive ancestor to a large group of mostly African and South American rodents known as the Hystricognathi.
This group includes mole rats, guinea pigs, capybaras, porcupines and chinchillas. Laonastes may have diverged from these species tens of millions of years ago, Timmins says. Today its closest living relatives are found in Africa. “The discovery is particularly interesting because it may throw new light on theories about the evolution and past distribution of Old and New World rodents,” says rodent expert and study co-author Paulina Jenkins of the Natural History Museum in London, UK.

The researchers have too little information on the population size and distribution of Laonastes to currently confirm whether or not it is an endangered species, says Jenkins. However, evidence suggests its habitat is confined to rocky limestone outcrops in and around the protected Khammouan National Biodiversity Conservation Area, and is therefore not likely to be very widespread.

New Scientist
June 7, 2005

Original web page at New Scientist

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Exceptional whale fossil found in Egyptian desert

An American paleontologist and a team of Egyptians have found the most nearly complete fossilized skeleton of the primitive whale Basilosaurus isis in Egypt’s Western Desert, a university spokesman said on Monday. Philip Gingerich of the University of Michigan excavated the well-preserved skeleton, which is about 40 million years old, in a desert valley known as Wadi Hitan (the Valley of the Whales) southwest of Cairo, spokesman Karl Bates told Reuters. “His feeling is that it’s the most complete — the whole skeleton from stem to stern,” said Bates. The skeleton, which is 50 feet long, could throw light on why there are so many fossilized remains of whales and other ancient sea animals in Wadi Hitan and possibly how the extinct animal swam, he said.

Basilosaurus isis is one of the primitive whales known as archaeocetes, which evolved from land mammals and later evolved into the two types of modern whale. But it looks like a giant sea snake and the paleontologists who found the first archaeocetes thought they were reptiles. Modern whales swim by moving their horizontal fluke up and down in the water, while fish swim by lateral undulations. “The research team will use the new skeleton to study how it lived and swam, and possibly to learn why it so abundant in Wadi Hitan,” Gingerich said in a statement. The statement said the skeleton will go to Michigan for preservation and replication. The original will then come back to Egypt for display.

Wadi Hitan is unusually rich in fossil remains from the period, trapped in a sandstone formation that then formed the sea bed. The fossils include five species of whale, three species of sea cow, two crocodiles, several turtles, a sea snake, and large numbers of fossilized sharks and bony fish.
It is a protected area to be developed as a national park under an Italian-Egyptian cooperative program and it has been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its natural beauty and scientific importance.

Yahoo
May 24, 2005

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Okay, we give up

From the April 2005 Issue of Scientific American. There’s no easy way to admit this. For years, helpful letter writers told us to stick to science. They pointed out that science and politics don’t mix. They said we should be more balanced in our presentation of such issues as creationism, missile defense and global warming. We resisted their advice and pretended not to be stung by the accusations that the magazine should be renamed Unscientific American, or Scientific Unamerican, or even Unscientific Unamerican. But spring is in the air, and all of nature is turning over a new leaf, so there’s no better time to say: you were right, and we were wrong.

In retrospect, this magazine’s coverage of so called evolution has been hideously one-sided. For decades, we published articles in every issue that endorsed the ideas of Charles Darwin and his cronies. True, the theory of common descent through natural selection has been called the unifying concept for all of biology and one of the greatest scientific ideas of all time, but that was no excuse to be fanatics about it. Where were the answering articles presenting the powerful case for Canyon? Blame the scientists. They dazzled us with their fancy fossils, their radiocarbon dating and their tens of thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles. As editors, we had no business being persuaded by mountains of evidence.

Moreover, we shamefully mistreated the Intelligent Design (ID) theorists by lumping them in with creationists. Creationists believe that God designed all life, and that’s a somewhat religious idea. But ID theorists think that at unspecified times some unnamed super powerful entity designed life, or maybe just some species, or maybe just some of the stuff in cells. That’s what makes ID a superior scientific theory: it doesn’t get bogged down in details.

Good journalism values balance above all else. We owe it to our readers to present everybody’s ideas equally and not to ignore or discredit theories simply because they lack scientifically credible arguments or facts. Nor should we succumb to the easy mistake of thinking that scientists understand their fields better than, say, U.S. senators or best-selling novelists do. Indeed, if politicians or special-interest groups say things that seem untrue or misleading, our duty as journalists is to quote them without comment or contradiction. To do otherwise would be elitist and therefore wrong. In that spirit, we will end the practice of expressing our own views in this space: an editorial page is no place for opinions.

Get ready for a new Scientific American. No more discussions of how science should inform policy. If the government commits blindly to building an anti-ICBM defense system that can’t work as promised, that will waste tens of billions of taxpayers’ dollars and imperil national security, you won’t hear about it from us. If studies suggest that the administration’s antipollution measures would actually increase the dangerous particulates that people breathe during the next two decades, that’s not our concern. No more discussions of how policies affect science either so what if the budget for the National Science Foundation is slashed? This magazine will be dedicated purely to science, fair and balanced science, and not just the science that scientists say is science. And it will start on April Fools’ Day.

Source: MATT COLLINS

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April 26, 2005

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Dinosaur eggs offer clues on reproduction

The rare discovery of eggs inside a dinosaur has given scientists new clues about the reproductive biology of the creatures and more support for the theory that birds came from dinosaurs. The pair of shelled eggs is the first of its kind found inside a dinosaur, said researchers who reported the discovery in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

Scientists found the dinosaur produced eggs in some ways like a crocodile and in other ways like a bird. Crocodiles and similar primitive reptiles have two ovaries enabling them to lay a clutch of eggs. Birds have a single ovary and can only lay one egg at a time. The dinosaur’s egg-producing capability lay somewhere in between, suggesting a link with the modern bird, researchers said. It could produce more than one egg, but only one from each ovary at a time.

The theory that birds came from dinosaurs has been supported by many researchers, said Tamaki Sato of the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. But this latest research helps advance it, she added, calling it “strong evidence.” There have been previous findings of round objects around dinosaur skeletons and scientists have suspected they might be eggs but because they did not have shells, there wasn’t certainty, Sato said. “You have egg shells with this one,” she said of the specimen at the National Museum of Natural Science in Taiwan that was excavated from China. “This is the first time for sure.”

The scientists studied a dinosaur from a group of dinosaurs called oviraptorosaurians. This type of dinosaur — probably 10 feet to 13 feet long — is a subgroup of the theropods, thought to have been the ancestors to modern birds. The remains of the shelled eggs looked like pineapple-sized potatoes. The similar size of the eggs suggests the creature’s two oviducts each produced a single, shelled egg at the same time, the report said. Matt Carrano, curator of dinosaurs at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, said the findings provide greater insights into the biology of the dinosaur and the evolution of birds. “It’s a window into a particular stage of evolution,” he said. “This particular dinosaur has characteristics that are birdlike but retains reptillian-like features.” “You have oviducts but they’re only doing one egg at time. Its biology is half way there between a bird and reptile.” Carrano also said it tells something about birds.

“The evolution of one egg at a time happened very early, before birds could fly, and then the evolution of only one oviduct happened later,” he said. “That might be related to the origin of flight,” he said, explaining that maybe birds wanted to lighten their body and so developed one oviduct.

Yahoo
April 26, 2005

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Blood vessels recovered from Tyrannosaurus rex bone

Palaeontologists have extracted soft, flexible structures that appear to be blood vessels from the bone of a Tyrannosaurus rex that died 68 million years ago. They also have found small red microstructures that resemble red blood cells. The discovery suggests biological information can be recovered from a wider range of fossil material than realised, which would greatly help the tracing of evolutionary relationships. The preservation found by the researchers is extraordinary – far better than traditionally expected in dinosaur bone. But that may be because researchers have not been looking hard enough at their finds. Mary Schweitzer at North Carolina State University, US, has also extracted similar soft structures from a few other dinosaur bones.

The leg bone came from a skeleton called B-rex found in a remote canyon in South Dakota, in 2000 by a member of Jack Horner’s research team at the Museum of the Rockies in Montana. The 107-centimetre-long femur – small for a T. rex – was intact when found, and its hollow interior had not been filled with minerals. That is unusual for a long-buried bone. However, with a protective plaster jacket built around it, the bone was too heavy for a helicopter to retrieve it from the remote site and it had to be broken in half. When Horner’s group split the bone, they carefully took samples for Schweitzer, then working at the Museum of the Rockies.

Bones are built by cells called osteocytes which are nourished by a rich fabric of blood vessels. The osteocytes secrete proteins which collect the calcium compounds that give bones their strength. To see what remained of this internal structure, Schweitzer soaked samples of the core of the bone in a solution that dissolved the calcium compounds. This left what she describes as “a flexible vascular tissue that demonstrates great elasticity and resilience”. For comparison, she then examined ostrich bones, as these birds are the largest and closest living relatives of T. rex. She found similar structures when she removed the calcium from the ostrich bones and treated the mixture with enzymes to break down collagen fibre in the bony matrix.

Other researchers have previously recovered traces of protein from dinosaur bones, and indeed just two weeks ago Schweitzer reported traces of protein in 70 million year old dinosaur eggs. “[The T. rex paper] suggests that biological and biochemical information might be recoverable from a wide range of fossil material,” says Angela Milner of the Natural History Museum, in London, UK, who has detected proteins in Iguanadon bone. “There certainly seem to be blood vessels,” she told New Scientist.

The next step will be to isolate proteins and try to sequence them. Comparing protein sequences could help trace relationships with other prehistoric beasts and with animals alive today. Schweitzer decline to discuss DNA because she does not work with it, but DNA is far less stable than proteins so is usually broken into fragments, even in tissue that has been frozen since the ice age.

Journal reference: Science (vol 307, p 1952)

New Scientist
April 12, 2005

Original web page at New Scientist

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Ancient crocodile found in Australia

A new species of crocodile which lived 40 million years ago has been discovered in tropical Australia, filling a gap in the evolution of the prehistoric-looking crocodile, researchers said on Thursday. Two nearly complete skulls and a lower jaw of a new species of crocodile that belonged to a group called Mekosuchinae were unearthed by miners in the northern state of Queensland, said Australia’s Monash University researcher Lucas Buchanan. “There is a big gap from about 30 to 60 million years ago of which we have no clue, except for these guys,” Buchanan told Reuters on Thursday.

Buchanan said the new species of crocodile was living in the early Tertiary period, from 65 million years ago until five million years ago, during which time climate change possibly had a major impact on the evolution of the modern-day crocodile. During the period, Australia and Antarctica broke apart and most of eastern Australia became warmer, leading to an increase in rainforests — an ideal environment for crocodiles. Buchanan said the new species of crocodile was very similar to the modern-day freshwater crocodile, suggesting the modern crocodile had changed little in millions of years of evolution.

“This croc would have looked much like a modern freshwater crocodile, which is the beautiful thing about crocodiles. They found something that works and stuck with it all through history,” he said. However, the ancient crocodile had sharper and laterally compressed teeth enabling it to sheer prey and an extra jaw muscle to give a stronger, more powerful bite. Buchanan said researchers were examining more crocodile fossils and hoped to add to the crocodile evolution puzzle. “It will also help us place this unique Australian group with the bigger picture of where they fit in with other lines of crocodiles,” he said.

Yahoo
March 15, 2005

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The oldest humans just got older — by 35,000 years

Two Homo sapiens skulls, originally dated as 130,000 years old when they were unearthed in Kibish, Ethiopia in 1967, then later put back to 160,000, have now been declared 195,000 years old based on geological evidence. “It pushes back the beginning of the anatomically modern humans,” said geologist Frank Brown, Dean of the University of Utah’s College of Mines and Earth Sciences and co-author of a new study into the skulls known as Omo I and Omo II.

The results of a study with New York’s Stony Brook University and the Australian National University were published in the science journal Nature. After looking at the volcanic ash where the skulls were found along the Omo river, the researchers not only dated the remains as the same age but pushed back the date of their existence, making them by far the oldest humans. “On this basis we suggest that hominid fossils Omo I and Omo II are relatively securely dated to 195 +/- 5 (thousand) years old … making Omo I and Omo II the oldest anatomically modern human fossils yet recovered,” the study concluded.

The new dating firmly underpins the “out of Africa” theory of the origin of modern humans. Brown said the redating was important culturally because it pushed back the known dawn of mankind, the record of which in most cases only starts 50,000 years ago. “Which would mean 150,000 years of Homo sapiens without cultural stuff such as evidence of eating fish, of harpoons, anything to do with music, needles, even tools,” he said. “This stuff all comes in very late except for stone knife blades, which appeared between 50,000 and 200,000 years ago, depending on whom you believe,” he added in a commentary.

The skulls were first discovered just 200 meters apart on the shores of what was formerly a lake by a team led by renowned fossil hunter and wildlife expert Richard Leakey. They bear cut marks made by stone tools which have been taken as evidence of prehistoric mortuary practices. Ever since the discovery of the fossil skulls, scientists have not only been locked in debate over the dating but also of the physical types because Omo I has more modern features than Omo II.

The new dating suggests that modern man and his older precursor existed side by side. “It dates the fossil record almost exactly concordant with the dates suggested by genetic studies for the origin of our species,” said Stony Brook anthropologist John Fleagle. “Second, it places the first appearance of modern Homo sapiens in Africa many more thousands of years before our species appears on any other continent. It lengthens the gap,” he added.

Yahoo
March 15, 2005

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The brain of Homo floresiensis

The brain of Homo floresiensis is assessed by comparing a virtual endocast from the type specimen (LB1) with endocasts from great apes, Homo erectus, Homo sapiens, a human pygmy, a human microcephalic, Sts 5 (Australopithecus africanus) and WT 17000 (Paranthropus aeithiopicus). Morphometric , allometric and shape data indicate that LB1 is not a microcephalic or pygmy. LB1’s brain size versus body size scales like an australopithecine, but its endocast shape resembles that of Homo erectus. LB1 has derived frontal and temporal lobes and a lunate sulcus in a derived position, which are consistent with capabilities for higher cognitive processing.

Science
March 15, 2005

Original web page at Science