Random Samples

Science  12 Feb 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5967, pp. 765

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  1. Care for a Virtual Wishbone?


      Birds' adaptations for flight are more than feather deep. Hollow, lightweight bones and a keeled sternum that anchors flight muscles also help them take to the skies. Now you can get a close look at bird skeletal specializations with Aves 3D, headed by evolutionary biologists Leon Claessens of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and Scott Edwards of Harvard University.

      The new database houses three-dimensional laser scans of bones from almost 100 living and extinct species. Rotate and zoom in on the breastbone of an American flamingo, the wishbone of a king penguin, or the skull of the defunct dodo (above). Register for free to download some models for further analysis at www.aves3D.org.

    1. Harbors on the Move


        More supersize ships are plying the high seas these days, and many ports are too shallow to handle them. So scientists at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have come up with an alternative to expensive dredging operations: a mobile harbor.

        Instead of deepening a port, “why shouldn't they send a harbor to the ship?” says KAIST Professor Kwak Byung Man. Last year, KAIST put $22 million into designing the world's first seagoing harbor. The 77-meter platform would use a robotic arm to join with a container ship anchored offshore and then offload cargo containers with a crane tipped with a “spreader” that stretches or shrinks in response to wave movements. “We thought of our hands that can reach out and grab an object even when we are in a rocking boat,” says Kwak.

        Kwak says a new shipping lane at the Panama Canal, to be completed in 2014, and mobile harbors will enable supersize ships to deliver containers to hitherto inaccessible ports, allowing shippers to bypass rails and trucks. Avoiding congested harbors such as Singapore's and risks of terrorism could also inspire buyers, says Kim Yong-Im, manager of project development at KAIST.

        Last December, KAIST simulated the operation in a test pool (above). KAIST expects to be able to produce customized mobile harbors, priced between $40 million and $50 million, sometime in 2012.

      1. Tangled Turkey Tale


          Mesoamericans have been credited with introducing domesticated turkeys to North America sometime after 200 B.C.E. But a genetic study suggests that people in what is now the southwestern United States tamed turkeys on their own.

          The history of the turkey, one of the few animals to be domesticated in the New World, has been complicated by wars, diseases, Spanish turkey traffic, and even 20th century wild turkey–release programs.

          To untangle the turkey story, Brian Kemp, a molecular anthropologist at Washington State University, Pullman, and colleagues tested turkey DNA from a variety of sources: 38 southwestern archaeological sites dated from 200 B.C.E. to 1800 C.E., 10 museum specimens of extinct Mesoamerican wild turkeys, 12 grocery store turkeys, and almost 300 turkey sequences in the GenBank database.

          The southwestern turkeys were only distantly related to the Mesoamerican birds, suggesting that the Puebloans didn't inherit their domesticated turkeys from the Mesoamericans, the team reported online last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Furthermore, the Puebloans didn't go after local birds to tame, but preferred those from the eastern and midwestern United States—perhaps because of their superior feathers.

          The finding validates a 1980 proposal by ethnozoologist Charmion McKusick of the former Southwest Bird Laboratory in Globe, Arizona, who based her analysis on turkey skeletal features. “We could not replicate [McKusick's] measurement studies, … so we weren't persuaded” at the time, says Robin Lyle, a turkey researcher with the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, Colorado. But now “it's all beginning to make sense.”

        1. Moon Over the Ruhr


            The “largest moon on Earth” is attracting record numbers of visitors to Gasometer Oberhausen in Germany's Ruhr Valley. The 25-meter-diameter moon is suspended in the Gasometer's unusual exhibition space: a 100-meter-high tank that was built to store the gas produced by the region's iron and coke processing plants. The sculpture, created by photographer Wolfgang Volz, is based on high-resolution satellite images and mimics the moon's phases in a 5-minute show. The exhibition runs through the end of the year.