Science  21 Jan 2005:
Vol. 307, Issue 5708, pp. 329

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  1. IMAGES: Sketching Out Past Worlds

    For more than 200 years, drawings of fossils and extinct plants and animals have helped paleontologists share their findings with other scientists and the public. A new site from illustrator Mary Parrish of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., explores this corner of paleobiology. An online gallery displays examples, such as Triceratops from the dinosaur collection of late-19th-century paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh. The site's primer on techniques describes how drawings provide what photos can't: reconstructing a jumble of fossilized bones, putting flesh on a skeleton, or illustrating an ancient landscape. A third section discusses the museum's efforts to preserve its 3500 illustrations, launched in 1995 after staffers discovered a crumbling cache of ink drawings.

  2. DATABASES: Decoding the Noncode

    Researchers once paid little attention to RNA that doesn't code for or help manufacture proteins, but they now realize that strands of untranslated RNA perform all kinds of tasks that keep a cell humming. A new database called NONCODE, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, documents more than 5000 noncoding RNA sequences from hundreds of organisms. Curators pull sequences from GenBank and other sources, then annotate them by consulting the literature. Categories include disease and function, such as DNA repair or protein transport. NONCODE debuted this month in the annual database issue of open-access Nucleic Acids Research, which lists 719 databases of note on everything from immune system genes to the silkworm genome.

  3. TOOLS: Map-o-Matic

    Earth's lithospheric plates (black) meet at geologically active zones in this strain rate map of the world. Red and magenta mark regions with the highest deformation rate, such as south of Sumatra, where a magnitude 9.0 eruption spawned the 26 December tsunami. The image was created with a handy mapping tool from UNAVCO Inc., a nonprofit earth science organization in Boulder, Colorado. After developing the tool 5 years ago for geophysicists, software developer Lou Estey realized it would be a snap to pull in public data sets on the planets, Earth's vegetation, and much more. Users can zoom in, pan out, or download high-resolution maps for printing. A junior version now used by some teachers makes it even easier to create a map of active volcanoes, say, or the world lit up at night. “I've sat down and showed 8-year-olds, and in 5 minutes they're having a blast,” says Estey.

  4. RESOURCES: Growth Spurt at Tree of Life

    The Tree of Life made a big splash when it debuted in 1994 in the Web's early days. But like many sites, it soon entered a dormant phase. Now the online phylogeny project has gotten new funding and a new educational mission and is seeking more contributors.

    The revamped site retains the core of the original tree—now some 3000 pages on beetles, cephalopods, fish, flatworms, and other organisms—but it's now database-driven. That allows visitors to create custom pages on the fly that include, say, an online glossary or more images, notes co-creator David Maddison of the University of Arizona in Tucson. And the tree now invites visitors of all stripes to contribute material linked to the core scientific pages. This supplemental information might include a fruit fly geneticist's data, shots from a professional photographer, or “treehouses” created by children.

    The tree's species pages have been sprouting new shoots, too, on groups such as angiosperms and fungi. Other sections—such as those on mammals and birds—are still mostly blank. But with revisions to the site's architecture and tools now complete, says managing editor Katja Schulz, “this is the year we hope the content takes off.”