Random Samples

Science  17 Nov 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5802, pp. 1057

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    NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, last week revealed this dazzling image that combines data from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope, its infrared-seeing cousin. It's an in-depth view of the Orion Nebula centered on the Trapezium, the four massive stars at its heart.

    The raw data for the image were a series of numbers indicating where on the electromagnetic spectrum the light occurs. Spitzer astrophysicist Robert Hurt and his colleagues shifted the infrared wavelengths detected by Spitzer into the channels of the visible spectrum, making shorter wavelengths bluer and longer ones redder. The blues and greens in the image are from Hubble's ultraviolet and visible-light data; they show heated and ionized hydrogen and sulfur gas. The reds, oranges, and yellows are from organic molecules sensed by Spitzer. “The public is still bothered by the term ‘false color,’ as if there's something not quite kosher about it,” says Hurt. “The colors are real; they're just beyond the perception of the human eye because they're outside the visible spectrum.”


    The capture last month of a dolphin with a pair of rarely seen hind fins has electrified marine mammal researchers worldwide. “This gives us a peek at what these animals might have looked like tens of millions of years ago,” says Seiji Ohsumi, a marine mammal specialist at the Tokyo-based Institute for Cetacean Research. The find, netted by Japanese dolphin hunters, may bolster theories that marine mammals returned to the sea after adapting to life on land.


    Hans Thewissen, a cetacean evolution expert at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine in Rootstown, says that such limbs are rare and have previously been sighted only on dead animals: “It's a monster in some respects, but it is exciting as we've all thought the genetic programming [for such limbs] is there but switched off.” Dolphin embryos have hind limbs that ordinarily disappear before birth. He says the living specimen provides unique opportunities for experiments that might help clarify evolutionary processes.

    Ohsumi is collaborating with the Taiji Whale Museum in Japan on further research with the animal, which is currently in a netted enclosure in Taiji Bay, about 400 kilometers west of Tokyo.


    Evidence for an ancient latrine in Qumran, a settlement on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea in Israel, has bolstered the idea that Qumran was occupied by the Essenes, a strict, all-male Jewish sect linked to the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    Some years ago James Tabor, a scholar of early Christianity at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, spotted what appeared to be the remains of ancient toilet stalls behind a bluff about 1000 meters northwest of the Qumran camp. Recent soil samples turned up intestinal parasites specific to humans.

    The find supports the notion that the Essenes did in fact inhabit Qumran from around 150 B.C.E. to 70 C.E., Tabor reports in the forthcoming issue of the journal Revue de Qumran. The men apparently followed toiletry practices prescribed in the scrolls, which included placement of latrines out of sight of camp and burial of feces.

    Alleged latrine is behind rocks at upper left.CREDIT: JOE ZIAS

    The latrine may also help explain why more than 90% of the men interred in a Qumran graveyard died before age 40. Burial of feces meant that intestinal parasites survived rather than being dried up in the sun, says Tabor. The men evidently tracked the pathogens into a pool they were required to immerse themselves in on returning to camp. “In effect, the pool becomes a toxic waste pool,” he says.

    “There is a great deal of debate among scholars about how [Qumran] functioned and who lived there,” says historian Joan Branham of Providence College in Rhode Island. “The discovery of a possible latrine could be an important piece of the overall puzzle.”

  4. NETWATCH: Cancer Gene Cache

    The first project to share cancer-promoting genes found by scanning the entire human genome has posted its initial results. The Cancer Genetic Markers of Susceptibility program, sponsored by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, evaluated DNA samples from some 1100 prostate cancer patients and an equal number of healthy men. Researchers tested more than 300,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to determine which ones boost the risk for the cancer. The data, released on 19 October, include the association values for each SNP. Scientists can break down the results to discover, say, how common a particular DNA variation is among patients with fast-spreading tumors. A whole-genome analysis of breast cancer genes will follow early next year.