Random Samples

Science  29 Sep 2006:
Vol. 313, Issue 5795, pp. 1863

    Only two relatively isolated indigenous tribes remain in the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal (Science, 7 July, p. 34). Now an Indian government report says that one group, the Jarawa, is being threatened by increasing contact with outsiders.

    Jarawa child.CREDIT: AP

    There are only 306 Jarawa hunter-gatherers who live on a 1028-km2 reserve. Geneticists are interested in them because they are closely related to the humans who first migrated to the islands 60,000 years ago (Science, 13 May 2005, p. 996). But the report says construction of a road into the Jarawa territory, and the outsiders it is bringing in, are having a “devastating” impact. It says sexual exploitation of girls by police and roadworkers is threatening both the health and the genetic integrity of the Jarawa, who have so far avoided contracting modern diseases. It also points to recent studies by Lalji Singh and colleagues at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, India, that indicate the Jarawa are unusually susceptible to the AIDS virus.

    The report recommends the creation of a Jarawa Tribal Development Authority that might help limit outside contact with the tribe. Survival International, a London-based group that works for the rights of indigenous communities, has submitted a petition signed by 50,000 people asking the government to close the controversial road.


    The Petrie Museum, one of the world's biggest collections of ancient Egyptian artifacts, has been “temporarily” housed at University College London (UCL) since 1953. But its 80,000 objects are finally going to have a permanent home. Groundbreaking began this month on a new building on UCL grounds, to open in 2010.

    The museum is named for Egyptologist William Flinders Petrie (1853–1942), whose excavations provided a wealth of objects from daily life such as pottery, lamps, and jewelry ranging from prehistoric times to the Islamic period. The $53 million project is good news to the archaeologists who now flock to the Petrie's cramped quarters to do research. Andreas Effland of the University of Hamburg in Germany says that the collection is “really fantastic” because it allowed him to fit together fragments of artifacts unearthed during recent German excavations at Abydos with pieces that Petrie found 100 years ago. Photographs from the collection are at www.petrie.ucl.ac.uk/index2.html.

    Ancient Egyptian mousetrap.CREDIT: PETRIE MUSEUM

    To the dismay of some longevity researchers, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) wants to stop supplying them with hungry old rodents. Citing waning demand and costs amounting to $800,000 a year, NIA announced this month that by 2013 it may close its long-running colony of mice and rats raised on a calorie-restricted diet.

    Rodent studies have shown that restricting calories can extend life span. “It's a real blow to development of knowledge in this area,” says Roger McCarter of Pennsylvania State University in State College, a former president of the American Aging Association. On the other hand, Roger McDonald of the University of California, Davis, says he and others now raise their own low-cal colonies in order to have more control over conditions.

    Orders for NIA's calorie-restricted rats dropped by half between 2001 and 2005, to 481, says Nancy Nadon, who oversees the colony. Ironically, due to “soar[ing]” demand, NIA says it is running short of elderly non-calorie-restricted rodents, of which it disburses about 30,000 a year.


    Scientists at the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) in West Sussex, U.K., have coaxed sprouts from South African seeds that have lain dormant for 2 centuries.

    The seeds were collected by a Dutch merchant en route home from China in 1803. He stored 40 small packets in a notebook, which was taken when the British navy seized his vessel. The seeds, from 32 species, were rediscovered this year in the National Archives in London by a visiting Dutch researcher.


    MSB researchers cut the seeds' hard outer shells and, because wildfires followed by rain are an important natural growth trigger, they soaked the seeds in water through which they had bubbled smoke. Most were duds, but bright green shoots erupted from three of them, the scientists announced last week. MSB ecologist Matthew Daws says DNA sequencing will help scientists locate mutations that may have spread through plant populations in South Africa over the past 200 years.

    Although plants have been grown from 1200-year-old sacred lotus seeds, biologist Jane Shen-Miller of the University of California, Los Angeles, says “very few other seeds are known to remain viable for more than a few decades.” Studying such time capsules, she adds, could reveal how seeds “overcome and repair cellular damage” incurred during their long hibernation.

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