Humans might split into two species, getting a bear drunk makes him easier to shoot, and hot professors are good professors.

Master Race, Disaster Race
Someone’s been getting a little too excited about his science fiction. London School of Economics evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry has said that HG Wells’s classic work The Time Machine may be a good description of our future as a species. The Bravo Evolution Report, which the British men’s television station Bravo commissioned of Curry for its 21st anniversary, predicts that in 100,000 years, selective mating may have split our species into two sub-species. One will be “tall, thin, symmetrical, clean, healthy, intelligent, and creative;” and the other will be “short, stocky, asymmetrical, grubby, unhealthy and less intelligent.” These poles bear a shocking resemblance to Wells’s graceful and intelligent Eloi and his robust, savage, underground-dwelling Morlocks. But biologists don’t seem to buy Curry’s theory. They say that major gene flow between all populations of humans will prevent us from subspeciating. Also, they say, we cannot predict which traits will afford greatest reproductive success in our future, since it’s still unclear what traits are associated with favorable outcomes. Curry fully admits that the Bravo Evolution Report was a “think piece,” not a scientific study, and that its main goal was to introduce some basic evolutionary principles to a popular audience, not to foretell our ultimate fate.

Blood, Sweets, and Tears
Mosquitoes are learning the lesson that Hansel and Gretel learned generations ago: beware of that sweet tooth. Scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have exploited the poor blood-sucking insects’ taste for all things sweet and sprayed acacia trees with a sucrose solution spiked with Spinosad, an oral insecticide. By spraying in an oasis of trees that flower throughout the year, the team managed to eliminate almost the entire mosquito population. The results are published in the International Journal for Parasitology. Luckily for us human fruit-lovers, the insecticide has low toxicity to birds and mammals, so the researchers say it can be safely used to wipe out the insects. They suggest that sugar-coated poison could also be useful in sub-Saharan Africa, where the technique might halt the spread of malaria and save lives.

Hip To Waste
In the name of all that is right and good, don’t drink the water. The U.K. is experiencing a long-term shortage of drinking water, and the Institution of Civil Engineers has bit the bullet, suggesting the nation turn to the water-source-that-must-not-be-named: treated sewage. In a report issued on Oct. 17, the ICE said that, among other solutions, Britain should pursue relatively untapped sources of water, such as “effluent reuse.” And though recycled water may seem a far cry from Evian, the company Essex & Suffolk Water has been following the maxim “what goes out must go in” since 2003. Sewage is clarified, filtered and disinfected before it is returned to rivers, where it is further purified before it comes out of your tap. While the stuff is totally safe, some people, um, pooh-pooh the idea—Australians are protesting the measure in their own country. So the U.K.‘s Consumer Council for Water has said that the country should probably fix its leaking pipes before they resort to stuffing them with lots of crap.

Threat Down
During an August trip to Russia, his majesty Juan Carlos I of Spain reportedly slew a bear named Mitrofan with a single bullet. While we might normally gaze with admiration at the Spanish king’s manliness, Russia’s Vologda region has begun an inquiry into reports that hunt organizers provided a bear that was both tame and drunk on classic Russian vodka. By allegedly feeding the bear vodka-soaked honey and forcing it out of its cage, the organizers assured that the king would feel like he was shooting fish in a barrel. Enormous, sharp-toothed, furry fish in a barrel. The king’s spokeswoman fully denies the incident. Hm, I know a few bears who might have some advice for the king of Spain.

In further bear and monarch news, PETA has begun protesting the use of bearskin in the traditional Busby military headdress of the British Queen’s Guard. Members of the organization protested last week, using such catchy slogans as “Bare Skin, not Bear Skin!” and “Wie viele Brunos sterben für Queen’s Guard Mützen?” which translates as ““How many Brunos have to die for those traditional helmets of the British Queen’s Guard.” OK, that one, which refers to a brown bear shot in Germany last June, is not all that catchy. In keeping with the “bare skin” theme, the PETA crew protested in their skivvies and fake bear headdresses. Yes, PETA, I’m sure some day you’ll have the excuse to go “buck naked” or “in the buff-alo.” Can’t wait for the pictures.

Deep Blue Nothing
Get over yourselves, chess computers. MAYA-II is a new machine that dominates at the world’s greatest game of creative logic: tic-tac-toe. The computer uses DNA logic gates to calculate where it should strategically place its Xs and Os. A human places a DNA sequence in any of the eight wells representing the outer squares of the board. The well has between 14 and 18 DNA logic gates, which consist of a strand of DNA that bonds to an input sequence allowing another end of the DNA strand to act as an enzyme. This enzyme changes another sequence into an output. Eventually, after the human input and the reactions, MAYA-II will glow green in the square it has chosen for its next move. While the researchers involved report that MAYA-II has mastered the game, they also said that the computer must go first in every game, filling in the center square.

Hot for Teacher
A good professor is clear, challenging, enthusiastic, hard-working, and totally snoggable. So reports a January study led by Medaille College professor of hotness (and psychology) Todd Riniolo. Using the data freely available on ratemyprofessors.com, Riniolo and colleagues found a correlation between professors’ overall ratings as teachers and whether or not they had a chili pepper, indicating physical attractiveness, next to their names. Studly profs were rated an average of 0.8 points higher on a 5 point scale than reportedly average-looking folks. “Results indicated that professors perceived as attractive received higher student evaluations than did nonattractive controls that were matched for both department and gender,” the authors write. It is unclear whether they believe this is actually causal, or whether students may just deny chili pepper status to those sons-of-jackals who can’t speak clearly and assign too much work and don’t care whether their students are confused, goddammit! As Marc Abrahams points out, Riniolo has a rating of 4.8 out of five, and a pepper sits proudly next to his name. He also has a fairly high “easiness” rating. Hot and easy? What more could anyone desire?

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Originally published October 24, 2006

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