Tomorrow is Here

Life Sciences

Footprints Indicate Upright Walking 1.5m Years Ago

by on Mar.03, 2009, under Palaeontology

FootprintFossil footprints found in Kenya have revealed our ancestors were moving around much as we do today, over 1.5 million years ago.

Students from the Koobi Fora Field School excavated the footprints between 2006 and 2008. Along with the prints of many animals, they found three sets of human-like footprints. One was probably a child’s tracks.

The prints were made in fine sand on what was once a riverbank. The sand had been sandwiched between layers of volcanic ash. Scientists estimate the height of the adults to be about 5ft 9in from the stride length.

David Braun, an archaeologist from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, told Reuters:

“It was kind of creepy excavating these things to see all of a sudden something that looks so dramatically like something that you yourself could have made 20 minutes earlier in some kind of wet sediment just next to the site.

“These could quite easily have been made on the beach today.

An international team, led by Professor Matthew Bennett from Bournemouth University in England, has studied the footprints. They published their conclusions in Science last week.Professor Bennett says:

“Our findings from Ileret show that by 1.5 million years ago, these individuals had evolved an essentially modern human foot function and a style of two-footed locomotion that we would recognize today.

“Foot bones are rarely preserved because they are small, encased in flesh, and easily consumed by carnivores.

“Consequently, our knowledge of foot anatomy and function in our early ancestors is poor. Fossil footprints are rare but when they are found, they provide an invaluable line of evidence.

By finding the age of the surrounding ash layers, scientists were able to estimate the age of the footprints to about 1.51 million to 1.53 million years old. They conclude that the prints were likely to have been made by the early hominid Homo ergaster or early Homo erectus. Homo sapiens or modern man first appeared 200,000 years ago.

John Harris, a paleoanthropologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA is one or of the co-authors of the Science paper. He told the National Geographic:

The ancient footprints indicate a rounded heel, pronounced arch and a big toe parallel to the other toes just as modern humans have. The big toes of chimpanzees, by contrast, splay outward, which is useful for grasping branches.

“We’ve lost that, but what we’ve created is a platform from which we can step up on and balance ourselves on and push off on in bipedal locomotion.

Image courtesy of Matthew Bennett/Bournemouth University

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They Know Your Every Thought

by on Jan.02, 2009, under Medicine

Example of neuron readoutNew Scientist has reported on a technology is being developed that may eventually allow your dreams and thoughts to be recorded and played back.

Yukiyasu Kamitani at ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan is leading the development team. They use a scanner to record brain activity when a subject is shown a group of 10×10 dots. Software “learns” to associate different patterns of brain activity with different patterns.

In a paper published in the journal Neuron, Kamitani showed that by pooling the results from various volunteers it is possible to recreate the word “neuron” from the scans.

Kamitani says that higher quality images should be possible with improved brain scanners. He wants to find out if it is possible to create record images people are imagining rather than seeing.

It may eventually be possible to record dreams. This leads to all kinds of privacy and legal questions. Could such technology be used to eavesdrop on a person’s thoughts? Could your dreams become cause for divorce?

Big Brother is not only watching you, he is reading your mind ad well.

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The Cat that Glows in the Dark

by on Nov.04, 2008, under Genetic Engineering

Meet Mr Green Genes, under normal light – ginger tabby cat. Switch off the light and turn on the infrared and Mr Green

Glowing Cat

Genes glows green.

The six-month old cat has been genetically engineered by scientists at the Audubon Centre for Research of Endangered Species in New Orleans. They have taken a section of jelly fish DNA and inserted it into the cat’s genetic material or genome. Having DNA from another species in his genome makes Mr Green Genes a transgenic cat.

The DNA sequence or gene, which encodes the green fluorescent protein (GFP) was first isolated from a jellyfish (Aequorea victoria) in 1962 by Osamu Shimomura. Shimomura shared this year’s Nobel Prize for chemistry with Martin Chalfie, Roger Tsien and for work relating to GFP.

The reason a cat was used in this experiment was that feline genome is similar to the human one. The green glow in itself is not important, but when the GFP gene is linked with other genes, researchers can tell if the linked gene has been integrated into the target genome by looking for the green glow. Hopefully, Mr Green Genes is a step on the path to developing cures for diseases caused by genetic defects such as cystic fibrosis.

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