Random Samples

Science  29 Jun 2007:
Vol. 316, Issue 5833, pp. 1821
  1. NETWATCH: Avoid a Sticky Situation

    Biologists deploy antibodies to track wandering proteins, to fish enzymes out of molecular mixtures, and to perform a slew of other lab tasks. But to scientists' frustration, commercially available antibodies don't work in every situation. Find out which antibodies researchers have become attached to by visiting this Web site created by postdoc Guobin He of the University of California, San Diego. Opened last fall, the site collects experts' ratings of some 250 antibodies, including ones that target the androgen receptor and the cancer-fighting protein p53. So far, He and his colleagues have provided most of the evaluations, but users can also record their praise for—or gripes about—particular products.



    This 3.7-cm-long mammoth (below), carved from mammoth ivory, was unearthed last summer in Germany. At a press conference last week, University of Tübingen archaeologist Nicholas Conard said it is the first complete carving discovered in the Swabian Jura, a cave-riddled limestone plateau in southwestern Germany that has been a hotbed of research on Europe's earliest anatomically modern humans.


    In the re-excavated backfill of a 1931 dig, Conard's team also found fragments of four other sculptures and shards of two flutes. Although direct radiocarbon dating would have damaged the objects, tests on nearby objects put them at between 29,000 and 36,000 years old.

    Conard, whose report was published last week in Archäologische Ausgrabungen Baden-Württemberg, says the finds bolster his belief that southwestern Germany offers the earliest evidence for a shift in human behavior in Europe about 30,000 years ago. “These people dealt with figurative representation in ordinary life and routinely created music. … From my point of view, it's overwhelming evidence” of mental sophistication far surpassing that evidenced by artifacts such as shell beads, Conard says.

    Others demur. Archaeologist Francesco d'Errico of the University of Bordeaux in France says there are many examples of sophisticated art and decoration from tens of thousands of years earlier in Africa. “The variability of human culture is so big that it's difficult to say one society is more behaviorally modern than another just because it's carving objects,” he says.



    New species of orchids discovered in Western Australia have evolved a potent trick for getting insects to spread their pollen: seduction.

    The orchids, of the genus Drakaea, resemble female wasps and emit a pheromonelike chemical that entices males to try to mate with them. When a suitor tries to fly away, a hinge mechanism jams it against the pollen-covered anther and stigma. The insect then moves on and gets fooled by another orchid, where some of the pollen rubs off it.

    Stephen Hopper, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London, and Andrew Brown of the Western Australia Department of Environment and Conservation report the finds in the 22 June edition of the journal Australian Systematic Botany. Other plants mimic food sources, Hopper says, but “it's the epitome of evolution when you get into sexual deception.”


    Artist's rendition of Mars outpost. CREDIT: ESA

    “Wanted: Volunteers for 520 days in cramped Russian container. Monotony, bad food, low pay, little contact with outside world.”

    Of course, the European Space Agency (ESA) phrased things differently in its 19 June call for candidates for a simulated flight to Mars. Working with the Institute for Biomedical Problems in Moscow, ESA wants to get a real-life idea of physical and mental issues that may arise when four adults spend months in an oversized soda can, getting on one another's nerves, and suffering 40-minute communication delays with Earth.

    Eight ordinary men and women will be paid €120 a day to endure two 100-day trial runs next year. Four others will undergo a full 17-month simulation in the 200-square-meter space—with no private rooms—starting in early 2008. Volunteers will be screened like real astronauts, with emphasis on stability and ability to get along with others. They'll have to solve all their own problems in various psychological and medical experiments.

    ESA scientist Marc Heppener says the simulation will be almost as demanding as a real 17-month round trip to the Red Planet. “I wouldn't want to go myself,” he says. Nonetheless, ESA received more than 300 applications within a day of the announcement. No actual flight to Mars would occur before 2025.

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