Links that won't waste your time, Oct. 29 edition29 Oct 2007
Am I really going to wait a week to write about the red-haired Neandertals? No, not quite -- but I'm taking some time to add detail to the story. Meanwhile, here are some of the things I've been reading this weekend around the web:
Some Ebola phylogeography
I've written about Ebola in gorillas and chimpanzees a few times here. Now, Tara Smith describes how genetic analyses of the strains that have killed these primates are adding to our knowledge of the disease's biology and spread:
Over a 5 year time period, researchers found 47 dead animals in the Gabon/Republic of Congo region--17 of these were determined to be infected with Ebola-Zaire. Using the polymerase chain reaction, they were able to amplify portions of the glycoprotein gene (GP) from 6 gorillas and a chimpanzee, and compare the sequences to those previously identified in humans. When they compared the sequence to other EBO-Z GP sequences published to date, they found that these new genes were divergent enough to constitute a new group within the EBO-Z subtype--and that recent human cases from the Republic of Congo during the same time frame also fit into this new group (designated group B; the previous identified groups were group A, which included sequences from the 1976 outbreak and several outbreaks in the mid-1990s, and group R, from outbreaks between 2001-3).
A long post with a review of the recent literature and a lot of details about the virus. Animal-human (zoonotic) pathogen transfer is one of Smith's research topics, and she covers the bases very well.
Nature Conservancy and the Adirondacks
The New York Times has an article discussing the recent purchase of a 161,000-acre tract of the Adirondacks by the Nature Conservancy. The details of the purchase require continued low-intensity logging to supply a paper mill, and the organization will have to sell some parcels to finance the deal.
Naturally, there are conflicting opinions about what should be done with the land.
[T]he most intense pressure is coming from local communities, environmental organizations and special interest groups, all clamoring to stake their interest in the property. Mr. Carr's list of petitioners is long: raft guides, float plane pilots, hunting clubs, loggers, hikers, school superintendents, buffalo ranchers and municipal golf course operators looking to expand. "Mike Carr has created a five-year nightmare for himself in trying to decide how to unload this property," said John Sheehan, spokesman for the Adirondack Council, a nonprofit environmental organization. The impact of those decisions on the Adirondacks and the people who live, work and play there, he said, will be immeasurable.
I have a soft spot for the Nature Conservancy because of their role in preserving tallgrass prairie, but the organization has a lot of critics because of its accommodation to economic pressures. This is an even discussion of the economic and social conflicts facing the organization now that this deal has gone through.
We've been enjoying some of the autumn colors here during the last couple of weeks. Every year around this time, you see stories about why leaves turn colors. I'll point you to Larry Moran's relatively short explanation, which keys in on both the mechanisms that time leaf senescence and, in this passage, its biochemical consequences:
It has to do with senescence. In the autumn the leaves of deciduous trees fall off the tree to prepare for winter. As the leaves die, the tree attempts to salvage as much nitrogen and carbohydrate as it can. While the photosynthetic apparatus is winding down it is more likely to produce free radicals and oxidative damage. To prevent excess damage the leaves produce pigment molecules that block some of the light and reduce levels of photosynthesis. Red pigments, such as anthocyanins are especially effective (Feild et al. 2002).
He also notes that the availability of nitrogen in the soil influences coloration, which along with species abundances helps to explain why some forests are especially gorgeous this time of year.
Sell your DNA?
If you're interested in DNA patents, biomedical research, and privacy interests, you could do worse than reading this post at Eye on DNA.
Shellfish and ochre
Julien Riel-Salvatore considers some thoughts emerging from the Pinnacle Point paper by Curtis Marean and colleagues:
By and large, what most strikes me about the paper is the discussion of a "behavioral package" that comprises coastal living, shellfish exploitation, ochre use and bladelet production. These elements are unquestionably all there at PP13B, but their varying representation across the LC-MSA stratigraphy strongly suggests that they were far from indissociable in evolutionary time, and this even at a single locale. Interestingly, this very fact emphasizes how dynamic the MSA appears to have been as a form of behavioral adaptation, even in its comparatively early phases. This contrasts with some views of the MSA as a single 'thing' across space and time. That said, it also raises the issue of whether we are, in fact dealing with a discrete "package" and of what elements are its essential features, for lack of a better term. I think that we still have some way to go in highlighting what the advantages provided by each of these different behaviors was, especially in different situational contexts, but it is very intriguing to first find them in association when the coast first appears to become more or less permanently occupied.
This is the missing element in a lot of the Neandertal coverage of the past couple of weeks. As we discover elements of the ancient European genetic package that compare with modern humans in various ways, we are left to consider exactly what is different or unique about the MSA African behavioral evidence.
Tim Jones at Remote Central comes up with a more critical view of the behavioral evidence, noting that much of the habitable coastline of the world more than 150,000 years old is now underwater.
I have been formulating some of my own thoughts (believe it or not, the MSA paper has occupied a lot more of my attention than the Neandertal ones!), and I'll see if I can get them out in the next few days.
In the meantime, read Julien's take, and his previous post may be worthwhile for Tom Tomorrow fans.
More on charities
Dave and Greta at Cognitive Daily polled their readers to find out which charity fundraising methods are most effective. (They're trying to raise money for the Donor Choose campaign). Matching funds work the best to motivate potential donors, according to their polling. Then there's this:
We asked respondents to report their income, so we could then correlate income with the various incentives for giving. We found no significant correlations except in two areas. There was a moderate positive correlation (r=.27) between income and the amount a person donates the first time they give to a charity. There was a small negative correlation (r=-.16) between income and the amount people would pay for candy in charity fundraisers. Apparently you'd be better off selling candy bars for charity in a lower-income neighborhood than in a wealthy neighborhood.
This reminds me of the Arthur, where they're all selling candy bars for their school band, and Buster eats them all himself in a fit of crazed chocoholism. By the way, Googling "Chocolate Fundraiser" is a scary, scary experience. Not as scary as Ebola, but scary.