Science  20 Feb 2004:
Vol. 303, Issue 5661, pp. 1115

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  1. EDUCATION: Avert an Organic Breakdown

    A grueling semester of organic chemistry has sent many a premed student fleeing to the humanities. This pair of sites might spark a different reaction. Offering to help students “eMediately” is this graphics-rich site from Thomas Poon of Claremont McKenna College in California and Bradford Mundy of Colby College in Waterville, Maine. The page provides virtual flash cards to help students memorize hairy reactions like the Ziegler-Natta polymerization and the Kolbe synthesis. More than a dozen animated tutorials cover everything from drawing chemical structures, to the basics of mass spectrometry, to the reactions of aldehydes and ketones. Using the site requires the free Shockwave plug-in. This comprehensive organic chemistry Web text from William Reusch of Michigan State University in East Lansing can enlighten not only students but also working chemists who need a refresher on the details of a particular reaction.

  2. RESOURCES: Molecular Outtakes

    In a human cell, a cadre of molecules snips and splices a would-be messenger RNA to make a functional version. But in many organisms, unwanted RNA segments can remove themselves. These so-called group II introns, which occur in bacteria and archaea and in the chloroplasts and mitochondria of some eukaryotes, chop themselves out of an RNA molecule and help reseal the severed strand. Researchers looking for more information on these self-editing segments should check out this newly revised site, created by molecular biologist Steven Zimmerly's lab at the University of Calgary in Canada.

    The nimble RNA segments could be the ancestors of the noncoding regions in the genes of animals and plants. Because many researchers don't recognize them, Zimmerly compiled a table that lists all the group II introns that have turned up in sequenced bacterial genomes—more than 100 so far. Users can nab data such as the intron's sequence and structure and the sequence of adjacent segments. Some group II introns code for proteins that help them slip into a strand of DNA, and the table also provides information on these proteins.

  3. EDUCATION: Inviting Darwin Into the Classroom

    Teachers looking for an up-to-date synthesis of what evolutionary theory does and doesn't say should check out Understanding Evolution, a new primer from the University of California Museum of Paleontology. The Evolution 101 section helps readers brush up on the basics, from genetic drift (when random events drive population evolution) to punctuated equilibrium (the idea that evolution occurs in bursts followed by long periods of stability). Instructions for more than 50 activities let grade school through high school students explore, for example, the evolution of body proportions in Caribbean anole lizards.

    The site also includes plenty of advice on how to teach evolution. For those who meet resistance to including the subject in class, the site provides background on creationist organizations and a rundown of court rulings that have upheld the teaching of evolution.

  4. EXHIBIT: Where the Furry Things Are

    Take a hike in the Chiricahua Mountains of southern Arizona, and you might spot a procession of white-nosed coatis (Nasua narica) trooping across the trail. Ranging from South America into the southwestern United States, these nosy cousins of the raccoon feast on fruit and small animals. For more on the coati and over 400 other species, from bats to whales, scurry over to North American Mammals. The new Web site from the Smithsonian Institution melds graphics with the hallmarks of a traditional field guide, such as range maps, drawings, photos, and species descriptions. For example, the virtual reality feature lets you twist and turn some species' skulls. Click on the interactive map to pinpoint the mammals inhabiting a particular locale. Or search by conservation status to find endangered species and ones that have gone extinct in the wild, such as the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes).