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January 13, 2009

Hunting and harvesting forcing animals to evolve much faster

Super-Predators: Humans Force Rapid Evolution of Animals | LiveScience

Hunting and fishing by individual sportsmen as well as large-scale commercial fishing are also outpacing other human influences, such as pollution, in effects on the animal kingdom. The changes are dramatic and may put the survival of some species in question.

In a review of 34 studies that tracked 29 species across 40 different geographic systems, harvested and hunted populations are on average 20 percent smaller in body size than previous generations, and the age at which they first reproduce is on average 25 percent earlier.

"Harvested organisms are the fastest-changing organisms of their kind in the wild, likely because we take such high proportions of a population and target the largest," said lead researcher Chris Darimont of the University of California, Santa Cruz. "It's an ideal recipe for rapid trait change."

January 12, 2009

Third hand smoke is still dangerous

What is third-hand smoke? Is it hazardous?: Scientific American

Ever take a whiff of a smoker's hair and feel faint from the pungent scent of cigarette smoke? Or perhaps you have stepped into an elevator and wondered why it smells like someone has lit up when there is not a smoker in sight. Welcome to the world of third-hand smoke.

"Third-hand smoke is tobacco smoke contamination that remains after the cigarette has been extinguished," says Jonathan Winickoff, a pediatrician at the Dana–Farber/Harvard Cancer Center in Boston and author of a study on the new phenomenon published in the journal Pediatrics. According to the study, a large number of people, particularly smokers, have no idea that third-hand smoke—the cocktail of toxins that linger in carpets, sofas, clothes and other materials hours or even days after a cigarette is put out—is a health hazard for infants and children. Of the 1,500 smokers and nonsmokers Winickoff surveyed, the vast majority agreed that second-hand smoke is dangerous. But when asked whether they agreed with the statement, "Breathing air in a room today where people smoked yesterday can harm the health of infants and children," only 65 percent of nonsmokers and 43 percent of smokers answered "yes."

January 09, 2009

Mojonauts, We Compel You to TAKE ACTION!

Our distinguished colleagues at the Annals of Improbable Research weblog...

January 01, 2009

DNA evidence is not foolproof

The danger of DNA: It isn't foolproof forensics - The Boston Globe

"Through DNA, we put a face to the killer of Jane Durrua, and that face belongs to Jerry Bellamy," prosecutor John Kaye said.

The killer, however, turned out to be someone else.

Two years after Bellamy's arrest, investigators discovered that evidence from the murder scene had been contaminated by DNA from Bellamy, whose genetic sample was being tested at the same lab in an unrelated case. He was freed. Another man ultimately was arrested.

*Thanks, Sarah!*

December 27, 2008

Coal Ash Is More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste

Coal Ash Is More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste: Scientific American

Fly ash uranium sometimes leaches into the soil and water surrounding a coal plant, affecting cropland and, in turn, food. People living within a "stack shadow"—the area within a half- to one-mile (0.8- to 1.6-kilometer) radius of a coal plant's smokestacks—might then ingest small amounts of radiation. Fly ash is also disposed of in landfills and abandoned mines and quarries, posing a potential risk to people living around those areas.

In a 1978 paper for Science, J. P. McBride at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and his colleagues looked at the uranium and thorium content of fly ash from coal-fired power plants in Tennessee and Alabama. To answer the question of just how harmful leaching could be, the scientists estimated radiation exposure around the coal plants and compared it with exposure levels around boiling-water reactor and pressurized-water nuclear power plants.

The result: estimated radiation doses ingested by people living near the coal plants were equal to or higher than doses for people living around the nuclear facilities. At one extreme, the scientists estimated fly ash radiation in individuals' bones at around 18 millirems (thousandths of a rem, a unit for measuring doses of ionizing radiation) a year. Doses for the two nuclear plants, by contrast, ranged from between three and six millirems for the same period. And when all food was grown in the area, radiation doses were 50 to 200 percent higher around the coal plants.

December 26, 2008

Squids are weird, weird perverts

Bizarre Squid Sex Techniques Revealed

Hoving's findings suggest males of the bioluminescent species Taningia danae use their beaks and sharp claws to slice two-inch-deep (five-centimeter-deep) wounds into their partners.

Sperm packets, or spermatophores, are then inserted into the female's cuts using a penis-like appendage, according to Hoving.

Meanwhile, males of the species Moroteuthis ingens were found to have sperm packets that, once deposited onto a female, burrow into the body.

"The spermatophores penetrate the skin independently," Hoving said. "They probably do that with the help of an enzyme-like substance that dissolves tissue."