Archive for the ‘S is for Speciation’ Category

Happy Birthday Jacques Cousteau

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Jacques Cousteau’s Underworld Village in the Red Sea via BBC on YouTube

Legendary marine explorer, inventor, innovator, filmmaker and environmental activist Jacques Cousteau was born June 11, 1910 in Saint André de Cubzac, a small town in southwest France.

To mark the centennial of his birth, the Cousteau Society is launching a year-long celebration in Paris with Cousteau’s global legion of admirers, and welcomes proposals from around the world.

The re-launch and tour of Calypso, the ship aboard which Cousteau created many of the world’s first glimpses of deep-sea life, will highlight the end of the centennial in 2011.

Instantly recognizable by his red cap and gaunt silhouette, Cousteau was just 33 when he co-invented the aqualung that enabled divers to explore ocean depths for extended periods, opening a window to an entire world then virtually unknown to humankind.

He went on to pioneer many areas, including documenting the sonar-like capabilities of dolphins, public demonstrations to protect the oceans from radioactive dumping and over-exploitation, and mass communication of marine research through films and television.

In 1996, the year before his death at age 87, Cousteau’s historic Calypso was sunk and badly damaged when a barge in Singapore accidentally rammed it. Today the vessel is in the Brittany region of France being refurbished under the direction of the Cousteau Society and l’Equipe Cousteau, led by Francine Cousteau, widow of the late explorer.

Calypso will be re-purposed as a touring educational exhibition, to include the Cousteau-designed one- and two-person mini-submarines, the underwater scooters, aqualungs, diving suits, cameras and other emblematic equipment used during his expeditions, which earned him countless awards including Emmys, Oscars and the Palme d’Or of the Cannes Film Festival.

“In this year, the 100th anniversary of his birth, we owe it to his memory to ensure that the spirit of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his work inspires new generations,” says Pierre-Yves.

“The oceans occupy nearly 72% of our planet’s surface and they contain more than 97% of all our planet’s water. They are the place where life appeared 3.8 billion years ago and remain the largest living space in our known universe. Nevertheless, less than 20% has been explored by humans and we have already damaged most of it.” says Tarik Chekchak, the Cousteau Society’s Director, Science and Environment.

“Our research with UNESCO into how best to educate people and protect our oceans and indeed all our vital waterways is more necessary today than ever – as the tragic event unfolding this past month in Gulf of Mexico sadly demonstrates.”

Under Pierre-Yves’s leadership, the Cousteau Society is developing a monitoring program of the oceans, Cousteau Divers, which will involve the active participation of divers worldwide.

The public is invited to contribute to an online book of remembrances and appreciation at The Cousteau Society.

via The Cousteau Society

Top 10 New Species for 2010

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

Photo of Psychedelic Frogfish by David Hall /

The International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE) announced the top 10 New Species for 2010. Chaired by Dr. Janine Caira of the University of Connecticut, an international committee of taxon experts selected the Top 10 New Species from the thousands of species fully described and published in calendar year 2009. Nominations from the public were invited through the IISE Web site and were also generated by IISE staff and committee members themselves.

And the winners are:

Attenborough’s Pitcher

Bombardier Worm

Udderly Weird Yam

Bug-eating Slug

Far-out Frogfish

Uber Orb-weaver

Small Favor

Fanged Fish

Short-circuited Electric Fish

Killer Sponge

Nominations for 2011 Top 10 New Species is open. Anyone may nominate a species for consideration. The species must have been officially described as new during calendar year 2010. The closing date for nominations is March 15, 2011. There are no firm rules or guidelines for the selection of the top ten species and the final list shall be determined by a vote of an international committee of experts appointed by the IISE.

Obvious examples of criteria for selection include “records” (largest, smallest, etc.), “superlatives” (most, first, last, etc.), humorous or interesting names, surprising characters, properties or distributions, etc. Nominations should include a reference to the actual description in a journal or monograph, reference to a Web site or images of the species if they exist. If you would like to nominate a species, please visit IISE Species Nomination.

via Arizona State University

Orange-feathered Dinosaurs

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Photo via flickr by Aaron Gustafson

Scientists from China and the UK have the latest evidence to prove that feathers evolved in dinosaurs before birds adapted them for flight.

Using electron microscopy technology to analyze membranes in fossilized dinosaurs discovered in October 2009 in northeast China, the scientists were able to determine what color the feathers were—reddish orange.

“This is the first direct evidence of a certain color in a known dinosaur feather,” Patrick Orr, co-author of the study from Bristol University told CNN.

However, this isn’t the first discovery of feathers on dinosaurs. In 2002, palaeontologists from China and the United States wrote in the journal Nature that evidence from a fossil  they found in Northeastern China of a carnivorous dinosaur called a dromesaur, showed perhaps the first evidence that dinosaurs may at some point in their lives may have been covered with true feathers like those we see on modern birds, suggesting dinosaurs may have looked more like odd-shaped, large birds than huge, scaly lizards. Scientists have continued to debate this discovery.

In a 2002 discussion with Sputnik Observatory, theoretical physicist John A. Wheeler (1911 – 2008), put the debate into perspective, suggesting humans should question what faculty do we have but not put to use, as the dinosaurs and their feathers.

It’s fantastic that evolution should have ended up with us. What other kind of creature could it have been? You’ve probably followed these fantastic recent discoveries in China about the dinosaur having feathers to keep them warm, but then they learned how to use the feathers to fly. Do we have something, some faculty, that we haven’t put to use the way the dinosaurs hadn’t put to use these feathers of theirs until later?

Other new dinosaur findings:

During the October 2009 dig, scientists also found 20 fossilized pterodactyls dating back more than 160 million years.

In early January 2010, another group of scientists found the oldest fossilized footprints made by a four-legged creature. The discovery of the footprints in a former quarry in the Holy Cross Mountains in southeastern Poland are thought to be 395 million years old—18 million years older than the earliest tetrapod (a vertebrate with limbs rather than fins) body fossils. The footprints are also 10 million years older than the earliest known elpistostegids—creatures which displayed some animal characteristics but retained fins.
via CNN and BBC News

Wright Gets Social with Robots at The Stupid Fun Club

Saturday, August 1st, 2009

Photo via flickr by fragmented

In the recent Wired Magazine 17.08, contributing editor David Kushner lets the world know what to expect from Will Wright’s new species startup, Stupid Fun Club. It’s reported that Wright and his SFC pals have tinkered with everything from fighting automatons to AI experiments. “We taught the robots to be social,” Wright says. “They can converse, and it was fascinating to see their personalities interacting.” For Wright, playing geek Frankenstein goes hand in hand with making games. “Building robots is not that different from programming Sims,” he says. “On the other hand, a robot may crash into you.”

via Wired Magazine

S is for Speciation

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

In the natural world, speciation happens all the time. A species becomes isolated, no longer breeds with its kind, and a new species is born. In addition to symbiosis, speciation is one of the key evolutionary processes responsible for diversity of life on Earth. According to E.O. Wilson’s venture, Encyclopedia of Life, there are currently 1.8 million known species. However, reports estimate there are probably an additional 50-100 million others living on the planet. The cataloging of species has obvious direct benefits since insights gathered inform everything from the invention of new medicines and technologies to providing clues for coping with climate change and pollution. Typically when asked if humans will speciate, the response is “Definitely not!” However, when it comes to reprogenetics, off-planet living and artifical intelligence, all bets are off. Today, in vitro fertilization and sperm and egg donations are commonplace, as is prenatal genetic screening. The ability to understand how genes code personal characteristics such as physical and mental attributes through assisted reproduction techniques is slated to follow, as the desire of parents to have a perfect child could be attained by inserting new genes into babies to make them cuter, smarter or more successful. The potential Gattaca-ization of society, if the service is not free, could lead to the fact that haves and have-nots no longer reproduce, eventually leading to speciation. But, considering the educated consensus is that the planet is too small for two types of humans, and space habitation will occur by the recreation of biospheric conditions on various planets throughout the universe, surely a speciated human will be born sooner than later, somewhere. Now, with regards to the rise of sentient machines, posthumans, or the notion that people will choose to download their consciousness and ride into the Noosphere, well, let’s just ignore that for now and look up into the sky and see that the diversification of new forms of life, in many respects, is similar to the diversification of celestial species that surround us: galaxies, stars, planets, comets and dust clouds.