Wednesday, 18 February 2009

In the news today

Some sciencey stories that have caught my eye this week:

A paper in Genome Research describes the sequencing of the entire mitochodrial genome of the extinct thylacine or Tasmanian tiger. This probably deserves it's own post: it uses new methods and the results are surprisingly different from the sequences previously available. I'll try to review it in more depth later...

Scientific American reports on the discovery of two species of fly in Namibia which are members of a genus previously only known from the fossil record. This is pretty cool, especially given my personal soft spot for Namibia. Maybe I have unknowingly inhaled one of these flies! I am however a little disappointed that the good folk at Scientific American have described the flies as "living fossils". The term is not helpful. If a fly is alive it isn't a fossil. And where should the line be drawn? Many extant species have close relatives known from the fossil record. Are they all "living fossils"? How much divergence is required before they are no longer classed as "living fossils"? I think terms like this can really confuse people.

ABC news reports on the births of ten Tasmanian Devil pups on an island sanctuary. The pups are the offspring of devils chosen for captive breeding because of their good genetics. They have similar genetic profiles to the famous Cedric, a devil who raised, then dashed, the hopes of researchers by first showing immunity to the devastating Devil Facial Tumour Disease, only to later contract the cancer. Maybe these pups will show greater resilience to the disease?

And finally I can't resist posting a link to this: BBC footage of bears catching dead fish with their feet! Apparently they don't like to get their ears wet :-)

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