Random Samples

Science  26 Sep 2003:
Vol. 301, Issue 5641, pp. 1842
  1. It Takes a Village ...

    Prehistoric people launched into organized warfare almost from the moment they first settled down, suggest new findings from ancient Mexican villages.

    Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus, archaeologists at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, used new data from Mexico to test earlier claims by UM anthropologist Raymond Kelly. In his 2000 book, Warless Societies and the Origin of War, Kelly argued that organized warfare—as opposed to mutual raiding—was rare among hunter-gatherer societies, but that it increased as societies became more complex.

    The team used radiocarbon dating of burned timbers to trace the history of warfare in Mexico's Oaxaca Valley. The battles that Spanish explorers witnessed there in the 16th century had been raging for several thousand years, the team reports in a paper published online last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. At the 3600-year-old village of San José Mogote, for example, they found a house that was burned down 3500 years ago and a partially burnt defensive wooden palisade dated to around 3200 years. Evidence in other villages also points to chronic warfare. In one, the victors erected a wooden rack to display the skulls of 61 enemy soldiers slain in a battle about 2000 years ago.

    Harvard University archaeologist Steven LeBlanc praises the study as “one of the best worked out cases in the world of how warfare and social complexity evolved in lock step.” But he questions the researchers' distinction between warfare and tribal raids, noting that the latter were “just as real, deadly, and pervasive for noncomplex societies.”

  2. Mystery Fish Ensnares Ichthyologists

    Do you recognize this fish? The marbled, brown, eel-like creature with big canine teeth has had ichthyologists scratching their heads for 4 years. Paulo Petry, now at the Field Museum in Chicago, received the first specimen from a colleague who had netted it in the Brazilian rainforest near Manaus, living in leaf litter. Stumped by the 25-mm larva's odd pectoral fins and other anatomical quirks, Petry e-mailed pictures to fish experts and offered a six-pack of Guinness Stout to anyone who could make an ID. Nobody won the beer.

    CREDIT: PAULO PETRY

    Petry now thinks the mystery fish represents a new group within the ostariophysans, which include minnows, tetras, and catfishes, and his studies of 20 additional Brazilian specimens has provided more surprises. The new creature is one of only two fish species that can turn its head sideways. And in captivity it gulps air. Petry thinks it forces air bubbles into a multichambered sac that serves as a lung.

    Stanley Weitzman, curator of fishes at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., says that the fish's similarity to catfishes and tetras suggests it evolved from a primitive relative of both groups. “It's something that most of us wouldn't expect to be living today. It's like a coelacanth [a famous ‘living fossil’ fish] in a way.”

    Petry and colleagues hope to pin down the mystery fish's pedigree and to publish a formal description later this year.

  3. Woolly Chromosomes

    CREDIT: GINA GLOVER

    Photographer Gina Glover noticed that under the microscope, chromosomes look like stripy socks, so she collected 23 pairs for this photograph, which has won £500 for the best image about DNA in a contest run by Novartis Pharmaceuticals and The Daily Telegraph.

  4. Moss Bank

    British plant scientists are working on what they say is the world's first gene bank dedicated to the conservation of rare mosses, lichens, and ferns.

    The hospitable, moist environment of the English countryside is home to more than 1000 species of mosses, many of which are found only in the United Kingdom. Some varieties of lichen have been around since the last Ice Age but are now threatened with extinction due to pollution and urban sprawl. A project funded by English Nature, Scottish Natural Heritage, and the Countryside Council for Wales is trying to save them. Scientists at London's Kew Gardens have frozen small samples of mosses in liquid nitrogen at −196°C and successfully grown them in the laboratory. The frozen samples will be reintroduced in the wild at a new moss reserve at the Royal Botanic Gardens in West Sussex.

  5. Dogged data

    When his owner called, Shadow of Willow Glen responded. And now the 9-year-old standard poodle is a part of biomedical history.

    CREDIT: CRAIG VENTER;

    “He mostly thinks he's a human,” admits J. Craig Venter, who with his wife, Claire Fraser of The Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Maryland, cares for three poodles. The animals accompany their owners to work and play, including aboard their sailboat and on vacations.

    So it's no surprise that Venter, then with Celera Genomics in Rockville, turned to Shadow 3 years ago when he needed pooch DNA to feed into his sequencing machines. The results, from Venter, now head of the Center for the Advancement of Genomics, and his colleagues (not just from this new center), appear on page 1898. And although the data may be less thorough than for other organisms—Shadow's DNA was sequenced 1.5 times, compared to seven or more passes for humans—Venter says they should provide a useful comparison with the human genome, as well as with a boxer DNA sequencing project recently started with funding from the National Human Genome Research Institute at NIH.

  6. Awards

    Balzan prizes.An evolutionary geneticist, an infrared astronomer, and a social psychologist are among the winners of the 2003 Balzan awards. Each scientist receives $703,000 from the Zurich-based International Balzan Foundation, half of which is to be spent on research projects by young scientists.

    Li, Genzel, and Moscovici

    CREDIT: BALZAN PRIZE

    Wen-Hsiung Li, a professor at the University of Chicago, Illinois, wins for his work in molecular genetics, including the discovery that changes in DNA occur at a faster rate in species with shorter life spans. Astronomer Reinhard Genzel, director of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, receives the honor for developing instruments that helped find evidence of a black hole at the center of the Milky Way. And Romanian-born Serge Moscovici of the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme in Paris, France, wins for 3 decades of work that has yielded theories of social representation and social consensus.

    A fourth prize went to the Egyptian-born historian Eric Hobsbawm of the University of London, whom the committee chose for his analysis of the troubled history of twentieth century Europe.

  7. Jobs

    Homecoming. David Bolka, an acoustical engineer who spent 26 years in the U.S. Navy before joining Lucent Technologies' Bell Laboratories, returned to the government fold this month as the first director of the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency. He reports to his former Bell Labs' colleague, Charles McQueary, who is undersecretary of science and technology for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) (Science, 18 April, p. 406).

    Bolka will manage nearly half of the department's expected $800-million-a-year budget for antiterrorism research efforts at an agency modeled after the Pentagon's DARPA. “The appointment is a sign that the DHS is starting to pay closer attention to the technology component of homeland security,” says April Burke, a Washington lobbyist who pushed for the agency's creation last year.

  8. Money Matters

    Luring stars. Research councils from 15 European countries are offering up to $1.25 million to young scientists from anywhere in the world who want to work within their borders—as long as they can speak and write English.

    The new European Young Investigator Award program is being run by the European Science Foundation (ESF), and it covers all disciplines. ESF hopes to make up to 25, 5-year awards, based on proposals submitted by 15 December (http://www.esf.org/). But regardless of their nationality, the researchers must be comfortable using English. “If we opened it up to all languages, reviewing applications would be impossible,” says Jens Degett, an ESF spokesperson in Strasbourg, France. “English is really the language of science.”

  9. Sidelines

    Together in fantasyland. What do the newly appointed directors of the government's mental health and drug abuse institutes have in common? Apparently more than their interest in brains.

    CREDIT: NIDA, NIMH

    This month, at a meeting of the advisory council to the National Institute of Mental Health, which he heads, Thomas Insel (right) noted that he shares a love for modern Latin American literature with Nora Volkow (left), new director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This connection, which the two discovered 20 years ago on a flight, led Insel to quip: “Two young psychiatrists with a passion for magical realism probably should have known they would end up [in government].”

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