Random Samples

Science  29 Aug 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5893, pp. 1139

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    Seventeen years after emerging from an Alpine glacier, the 5300-year-old frozen mummy known as Ötzi the Iceman continues to reveal new secrets. Scientists reported last week that analyses of single hairs show that his clothes were made from the hides of domesticated animals. His coat and leggings were probably sheepskin, and his moccasins were cowhide.

    In the past, the garments were thought to have been from goat or deer skins. Geochemist Wolfgang Müller of the Royal Holloway University of London, who has studied the Iceman for years but did not take part in the work, says the new data support the theory that Ötzi took livestock on seasonal migrations to grazing grounds.

    Chemist Klaus Hollemeyer of Saarland University in Saabrücken, Germany, and colleagues applied a newly developed method called MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry to take peptides from hair proteins and sort them by molecular weight to form a species-specific pattern. The scientists matched the patterns with those in a database of reference species, they report in the journal Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry.

    Ancient-DNA researcher Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark says the method “may be important for future work on ancient hair” because it requires far less material than is needed for DNA sequencing, there is less risk of contamination, and proteins are more stable than DNA molecules. DNA, he notes, still offers higher resolution in species identification—such as the geographic origin or sex of the animal.



    A new Web exhibit called Evidence, from the Exploratorium in San Francisco, California, aims to give students a realistic look at how science works.

    The site provides a case study of how researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, are piecing together human evolution. In more than a dozen video clips, scientists discuss matters such as chimp tool technology and the use of CT scans and computer models to reconstruct incomplete fossils. Interactive features let users follow the procedure for extracting DNA from Neandertal fossils or zoom in on a tooth cross section (above) to learn what scientists can deduce from its microscopic growth lines. Age, disease, and nutrition all leave their marks on teeth.



    “Suicidal Textiles” is designer Carole Collet's name for her creations inspired by John Sulston's Nobel Prize-winning research on cell development in the worm Caenorhabditis elegans. Collet took apoptosis—cell death that enables development to take place—as the key theme for her furniture that combines natural and synthetic materials. Like C. elegans, this knitted ottoman will organically change over time, as natural materials degrade to reveal the final, synthetic form. It's part of the Nobel Textiles project, a collaboration among five Nobel laureates and five professional designers on display from 14 to 21 September at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.

    Close-up of Collet's pouf. CREDIT: MRC

    While all other developed nations have sharply reduced population growth, patterns in the United States appear to be taking after those of the world's poor countries, according to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB). At its annual briefing last week in Washington, D.C., officials reported that the U.S. Census Bureau this month revised its population projection from 420 million to 439 million in 2050. A record 4.3 million births were registered in 2007.


    PRB says efforts to reduce birthrates have stalled in many of the world's poorest countries, including most of sub-Saharan Africa. But there's a lag in public perception of the problem, which is still shaped by lowered population projections in the 1980s, said demographer Carl Haub of PRB. “Now you will absolutely see raised projections,” he said.