Science  21 Nov 2003:
Vol. 302, Issue 5649, pp. 1305
  1. DATABASE: Fire Spotting

    A century from now, experts scrutinizing tree rings from southern California forests might see traces of 2003's ruinous blazes around Los Angeles and San Diego. Today's researchers can find out when and where past wildfires toasted the landscape from the International Multiproxy Paleofire Database, a new archive hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Based on tree rings and soil charcoal in samples up to 900 years old, the records provide fire history for some 150 locales in North America. Scientists can add their data sets to the site, which is designed to help researchers explore how fires shape ecosystems and how to predict future fires.

    To keep tabs on current burns or locate recent ones, check out GeoMac, a fire-mapping tool sponsored by a federal consortium. Aimed mainly at land managers, the site pinpoints U.S. wildfires for 2002 and 2003 using satellite data and on-the-ground reports. You can delineate the boundaries of large blazes, such as the recent Cedar fire near San Diego, or display a chronology of the amount of area burned.

  2. EDUCATION: The World of DNA

    DNA—it's not just for molecular biologists anymore. The double helix can help free the wrongfully convicted, trace the wanderings of our globetrotting species, and clarify our evolutionary kinship with the apes. Hosted by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, DNA Interactive is a snazzy primer on the structure, function, and uses of DNA designed for high school and lower-level college students.

    The site uses plentiful graphics to draw students in. The timeline of key discoveries, for example, features minibiographies of DNA virtuosos jazzed up with animations and video interviews. The applications section explores topics such as how understanding cell division helped researchers design the antileukemia drug Gleevec. Students can also learn how DNA testing clarified the fate of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his family, who were executed by a Bolshevik firing squad in 1918. In the 1990s, DNA fingerprinting debunked a woman's claim to be Anastasia, the tsar's youngest daughter, and established that bones discovered in Siberia belonged to members of the family.

  3. DATABASE: A Map of Human Variation

    A project to map how humankind varies genetically has unveiled its Web site, along with a first batch of data. The International HapMap Project is making a “haplotype map” of common patterns of variation by examining mutations in the DNA of 270 people of European, Nigerian, Japanese, and Chinese descent (Science, 1 November 2002, p. 941). The public data should be a boon to researchers looking for genes that make people susceptible to disease or side effects from drugs.

    A year into the 3-year project, the HapMap Project on 1 November released over 13 million genotypes from 145,554 mutations, known as SNPs. You can browse alleles for mutation frequencies, or get genotype data for individuals by registering and agreeing to conditions, such as not patenting the data. In the coming months, the site will add material to explain the HapMap to the public.

  4. EXHIBITS: An Inordinate Fondness for Orchids

    For the Victorians, who ardently collected everything from conch shells to colonies, orchids were among the most coveted prizes. Grower and artist John Day (1824–88) sketched or painted about 3000 of the ornate flowers, often providing the world with its first glimpse of new specimens. You can browse highlights of Day's scrapbooks at this exhibit from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, U.K. The exhibit features more than 70 of Day's best paintings of plants growing in his own collection or shipped to England from Asia, Africa, and the Americas. This Euanthe sanderiana previously known as Vanda sanderiana, which Day depicted in 1883, hailed from the island of Mindanao in the Philippines.

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