The battle over evolution in Dover ends, the climate change argument intensifies and the Hwang Woo-suk saga continues.

In with the Evo, out with the ID

Evolution triumphed over intelligent design as the verdict in the Dover, PA, school board trial was announced Tuesday morning. Judge John E. Jones III wrote in his 139-page decision, “As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.” He went on to note that ID had not gained favor within the scientific community, and that ID could be interpreted as an espousal of a religious agenda, thereby violating the First Amendment if it were to be taught in schools.

A new study is underway to document menopause in gorillas. This biological occurrence challenges the “grandmother hypothesis”—the notion that women undergo menopause so that they can help raise their grandchildren rather than continuing to bear offspring. Seventeen zoos are involved in the research of the primates—who unlike humans—relocate after their kids are grown and don’t generally interact with their grandchildren.

Change, change, change

The Department of Energy released a report Monday that noted a 2% increase in greenhouse gas emissions in the US from 2003 to 2004. The number of metric tons of the gases responsible for global warming that were expelled into the atmosphere rose from 6.98 billion to 7.12 billion.

Scientists at government agencies in both the UK and US are suggesting that smog caused by cars and manufacturing plants could be slowing global warming. According to the researchersÕ findings, the air pollution is scattering and absorbing sunlight before it reaches and warms the ground temperature.

New research shows that the USÕs trade agreements with countries like China may be increasing carbon dioxide emissions. A group at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO, says that following the Kyoto Protocol would shift more carbon-intensive production to developing nations, and that the countries would be utilizing less efficient methods with more CO2 being produced in the process.

While the US as a whole has still not committed to any Kyoto Protocol-styled commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, seven individual states are giving it a shot. Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Vermont formed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, pledging to begin making cuts on carbon dioxide emissions in 2009.

On Tuesday, the EPA unveiled a campaign for stricter limits on the daily emission of soot from tailpipes and smokestacks nationwide. The new guidelines on air pollution would affect everything coast-to-coast from coal-based power to diesel engines.

Disinfection products, copper, barium, chloroform, and arsenic are all in our nation’s drinking water, in addition to H2O and flouride, says a survey by the Environmental Working Group. The study found in the water supply a total of 141 unregulated chemicals and another 119 on which the EPA has already set limits.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was awarded the presitigous Zayed Prize for his contributions to environmental policy. The award, named after former United Arab Emirates leader Sheikh Zayed, comes with a prize award of $1 million, which Annan will share with activists in Trinidad and Indonesia as well as the nearly 1,500 scientists involved with the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.


Stop the drilling!

Republicans fell four votes short of passing a bill which included a provision for drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. The measure was tacked onto a bill focused on defense spending, but a Democrat-led filibuster stopped the piece of legislation on the Senate floor. The Bush Administration estimates that there are over 10 billion barrels of crude oil in the refuge, home to 45 types of land and marine mammals. The defense bill did pass after the Alaska provision was dropped.

Tai Shan, the five-month-old panda cub at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., emerged from his indoor habitat for the first time Thursday to explore the entire panda enclosure. The little panda spent about two hours bounding about outdoors before returning to the warmth inside.

If you are looking for a stand-in for a woolly mammoth, best to use an Asian rather than an African elephant. Research published in Nature this week found, by sequencing a portion of the ancient beastÕs DNA found in a piece of bone about the size of a dust particle, that the wooly mammoth was more closely related to Asian elephants. The 5,000-base section was genetic material found in the animalÕs mitochondria.

In more research on animals long-extinct, German scientists have discovered that at least one dinosaur, Plateosaurus engelhardt, had variable sizes, and that its growth could stop anywhere between its early-teens and its late-20s. This finding challenges the idea that all dinosaurs descended from warm-blooded bi-peds.

Somewhere out there

Uranus has picked up two more rings orbiting outside its 11 previously known rings, bringing its total to 13. Astronomers happened upon the subtle bands of dust—the first additions to the planet’s ring count since 1986—using the Hubble Telescope.

Using images of a crater on Mars sent back by NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor, Colin Pillinger, the scientist who lead the team behind the $120 million Beagle 2 probe in 2003, thinks he may have found his missing craft. The probe, which disappeared about two years ago, appears to have crashed into the surface of the Red Planet.


Clone away

Last Friday, South Korean cloning pioneer Hwang Woo-suk defended himself against allegations that heÕd faked data for a study in which he claimed to create 11 new lines of patient-specific stem cells. Hwang acknowledged six of the lines had been contaminated and that a switch had been made whereby his lines, created from adults, were switched with embryonic stem cells. He asked that he be given 10 days to demonstrate that he had Òthe core technologiesÓ to recreate the experiment.

Iran’s science and technology hopes are tied to an animal that goes “bah.” In two months, researchers are hoping to welcome a cloned sheep into the world. The country’s cloning program has split Iran’s religious leaders via Shiite and Sunni camps. The former have advocated animal cloning, but not human cloning, while the latter is against all cloning efforts.


A Little About Us

While searching for a genetic mechanism to treat skin cancer, scientists at Penn State University instead stumbled upon the gene that controls skin pigmentation, which had previously been a biological mystery. By using zebrafish as a model, the researchers found that SLC24A5 controls the release of a protein that determines the depth of one’s skin color.

Researchers from Oxford University warn that the avian flu virus, which has killed 70 people in Southeast Asia, could be building up a resistance to Tamiflu, the most common drug used in fighting infection. Two men in Vietnam succumbed to the illness despite being put on Tamiflu regimens.

Finally É a Rutgers University research group studied 183 dancers in Jamaica to figure out if having the right moves makes someone more attractive to a potential mate. The team found that the best dancers were often the most symmetrical shakers. Symmetry has been found to be a key component of attractiveness, as evidenced by the face of one Denzel Washington.

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Originally published December 23, 2005

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