Random Samples

Science  17 Apr 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5925, pp. 317

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    The University of Cambridge's zoology museum has come across a long-forgotten egg that Charles Darwin collected during his famous voyage on the Beagle. The 4.7-centimeter-long egg, from a partridgelike bird, is cracked: “The great man put it into too small a box, and hence its unhappy state,” according to records found with it.

    “It's the only egg that we know for sure was collected by Darwin,” even though he collected eggs and nests from at least 16 types of birds on his travels, says museum director Michael Akam.

    A volunteer rediscovered the egg while cataloging the museum's egg collection, which had lain uninventoried for a century. It was in a collection belonging to Alfred Newton, a zoologist and friend of Darwin's, who noted in his journal: “One egg, received through [Darwin's son] Frank Darwin, having been sent to me by his father who said he got it at Maldonado [now in Uruguay] and that it belonged to the Common Tinamou [now the spotted nothura] of those parts.”

    “This is an extremely interesting and significant ornithological find,” says Douglas Russell, bird curator at the Natural History Museum in London. It should encourage other researchers “looking for famous missing specimens.”


    Officials at the University of California, San Diego, have withdrawn a request to the federal government to rebury 10,000-year-old skeletal remains unearthed on UCSD property.

    The bones were found in 1976 near the chancellor's house in San Diego, and they're even “older and better preserved” than Kennewick Man, says UCSD anthropologist Margaret Schoeninger. In 2006, the local American Indian group, the Kumeyaay nation, requested the bones for reburial. Two university committees ruled against the request, saying there is no evidence of cultural affiliation with living groups, as the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) requires. Nonetheless, UCSD officials decided to hand over the bones.

    The chancellor's house double burial. CREDIT: JAN AUSTIN

    Now they've withdrawn that request—not because of loud protests that came from anthropologists but because the Kumeyaay don't like the wording, according to a UCSD statement. Kumeyaay leaders objected last week to UCSD's calling the remains culturally unidentifiable—an acknowledgment that could hurt their cause in this and future cases before the NAGPRA review committee, which meets in Seattle, Washington, in May.

    Schoeninger, co-director of the UCSD Working Group that reviewed the original request, reported at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Chicago, Illinois, last week that her lab's analysis of the bones indicated a marine diet, suggesting the bones were from coastal inhabitants rather than from the desert-dwelling Kumeyaay. Besides, she says, other evidence suggests the Kumeyaay moved into the region just 2000 years ago.


    Defective spermatozoa can be covered by product liability law, a Pennsylvania federal district judge has ruled. A 13-year-old girl with fragile × syndrome has gotten the go-ahead to sue the New York sperm bank that supplied her mother with the wherewithal to conceive her, The Legal Intelligencer reported this month. New York state has a “blood shield statute” prohibiting liability suits on blood products, but it doesn't cover sperm, the judge ruled.


    Tony Chan, formerly dean of physical sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and currently in charge of mathematical and physical sciences at the U.S. National Science Foundation, is joining Asia's reverse brain drain: After almost 40 years in California, he's returning to his hometown to take on the presidency of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). “He is really an ideal president for HKUST,” says Ping Sheng, a physicist at the school.

    Founded in 1991, HKUST aspires to become the Massachusetts Institute of Technology of Asia. So far, it's relatively small, with 5868 undergraduates, 3259 grad students, and 461 faculty members. “Its culture and tradition are still being developed,” says Chan, and it has yet to attract the top high school graduates.

    A mathematician and computer scientist, Chan, 57, has his work cut out for him. The faculty will have to grow as all Hong Kong universities move from a 3-year to a 4-year undergraduate curriculum in 2012. He also has to bring HKUST's new Institute for Advanced Study, which aims to be a “premier intellectual center in Asia,” up to speed. As yet, it has no resident scholars, and construction of a home for it won't start until later this year. “The most immediate task is to recruit a visionary director,” says Chan.


    Chan, whose 5-year contract starts in September, says his return to Hong Kong may be permanent, but he'll retain professor emeritus status at UCLA.