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New collection of insects found in prehistoric amber.

Amber deposits in a coal mine in India challenge assumptions about India’s evolution.

Hundreds of prehistoric insects and other creatures have been discovered in a large haul of amber excavated from a coalmine in western India. An international team of fossil hunters recovered 150kg of the dirty brown resin from Cambay Shale in Gujarat province, making it one of the largest amber collections on record. The tiny animals became entombed in the fossilised tree resin some 52m years ago, before the Indian subcontinent crunched into Asia to produce the Himalayan mountain range.

Jes Rust, a paleontologist at Bonn University, said the creatures, including ancient bees, spiders, termites, gnats, ants and flies, were in remarkably good condition considering their age. In total, the team has identified more than 700 arthropods, a group of animals that includes insects, crustaceans and arachnids.

“They are so well preserved. It’s like having the complete dinosaur, not just the bones. You can see all the surface details on their bodies and wings. It’s fantastic,” Rust told the Guardian. The remains of two praying mantises were also found.

More info here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/oct/25/prehistoric-creatures-indian-amber-haul

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What is happening to all the plastic we throw away?

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The amount of floating plastic trapped in a north Atlantic current system hasn’t got any bigger in 22 years, despite more and more plastic being thrown away.

Since 1986 students taking samples of plankton in the Atlantic and Caribbean Oceans have also noted when their nets caught plastic debris. Kara Lavender and colleagues at the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, analysed the data, and found that of 6136 samples recorded, more than 60 per cent included pieces of plastic, typically just millimetres across. The areas of highest plastic concentration are within the north Atlantic subtropical gyre, where currents gather the debris.
Lavender and her team were surprised to find that the amount of floating plastic had not increased in the gyre. Although it has been illegal since the 1970s for ships to throw plastic overboard, Lavender thinks that the overall rate of plastic rubbish reaching the ocean will have increased, given the fivefold increase in global production of plastic since 1976.

Further details here: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19340

What effect will the increasing global temperature have on plant life?

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Rising temperatures reducing ability of plants to absorb carbon, study warns – http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/aug/19/rising-temperatures-plants-carbon

Free water purification from trees

“A recipe for using “the world’s most useful tree” to purify water is being offered for free download, in the hope that this will help get clean drinking water to billions of poor folk around the world.”

More info here: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/03/04/moringa_tree_knowledge_is_free/

The Moringa oleifera (“oily moringa”) tree is cultivated for food across the tropical world. This link has the free instructions on how to purify water by grinding the seeds and mixing this with the dirty water: http://mrw.interscience.wiley.com/emrw/9780471729259/cp/cpmc/article/mc01g02/current/abstract

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Why is SETI unlikely to ever find ET?

 “A top alien-hunting boffin has said that current efforts seeking extraterrestrial intelligent life are unlikely ever to work – not because there couldn’t be any aliens out there, but because the methods themselves are wrong. He proposes several radical new means of finding out whether we really are alone in the universe.”

Currently we search for extraterestrial life with radio telescopes but have not found any reliable signals. The problem is that the leakage from our TV and radio broadcasts is in all directions and will be very weak (particularly now we are using digital transmissions).

Read what professor Paul Davies has to say here: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/03/03/aliens_aliens_aliens/

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Orangutan survival and the shopping trolley

Palm oil is the cheapest vegetable oil available and so is used in a vast number of products. Sadly the production of palm oil is leading to the extinction of the Orangutan as the rain forests of Borneo are illegally logged to create plantations.

For info on how palm oil is affecting our closest relative (Orangutan share 98% of our DNA) see this link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/front_page/newsid_8523000/8523999.stm

If you want to see what products in your shopping basket contain palm oil so you can make an informed choice check out this link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/front_page/newsid_8517000/8517093.stm

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Read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species online (first edition scans)

Some found it hard to accept the logical outcome of Darwin's ideas

Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection remains one of histories most important scientific publications. It laid out the Theory of Evolution in a new way by including Darwin’s idea of Natural Selection as an explanation of how evolution occured. Although his ideas have not always been popular, they opened the door for the modern theories surrounding evolution.

Darwin's first sketch of a "Tree of Life", the concept that all life emerged from a common ancester

According to the eminent late evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr, “Eliminating God from science made room for strictly scientific explanations of all natural phenomena; it gave rise to positivism; it produced a powerful intellectual and spiritual revolution, the effects of which have lasted to this day.”

Read a page-by-page scan of the first edition here:

http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?itemID=F373&viewtype=side&pageseq=1

Note: See this post to see that many still do not fully accept the ideas.

See this discussion from the Independant to see how important Darwin’s idea was.

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