Random Samples

Science  13 Apr 2007:
Vol. 316, Issue 5822, pp. 179
  1. NETWATCH: Picturing the Cell

    In an early Drosophila embryo, the cell nuclei twirl and divide with the impeccable synchrony of dancers in a Hollywood musical. A lengthwise cut through two sperm tails shows mitochondria lined up like kernels in an ear of corn. Those are a couple of the highlights from this gallery hosted by the American Society for Cell Biology in Bethesda, Maryland.

    The videos and electron micrographs have all been peer-reviewed to make sure they are scientifically valuable. Included are descriptions of what they illustrate and how they were taken. The gallery boasts a slew of historic shots from society founders such as the Romanian-American scientist George Palade, now 94, who shared a 1974 Nobel Prize for helping to reveal the internal structure and workings of the cell. Curator David Ennist encourages other biologists to contribute footage and images.



    It's been a good week for Italian whales—the ancient, fossilized kind, that is. First, researchers discovered a 4-million-year-old whale skeleton near Pisa. Then amateur paleontologists unearthed the 10-meter-long skeleton of an ancient whale under the vineyards of Castello Banfi, some 55 kilometers from the coast of Tuscany. Analysis of surrounding rocks by Michelangelo Bisconti of the Museum of Natural History of the Mediterranean in Livorno suggests that the latest fossil (below) is about 5 million years old. If carbon-14 dating confirms the age, says paleontologist Lorenzo Rook of the University of Florence, the whale “could cast light on a still-mysterious period” known as the Messinian salinity crisis—6 million years ago—when the Mediterranean Sea largely dried up and then reflooded as water poured back through the Strait of Gibraltar. All of Tuscany was underwater until 2.5 million years ago, when complex geologic forces raised the Apennine mountains and squeezed the region out of the sea.



    Close to 95% of leatherback turtles in the Pacific have disappeared in the past 2 decades. The Costa Rica population has decreased to fewer than 100.

    To raise support for the critically endangered beasts, several conservation organizations have created The Great Turtle Race. From 16 through 29 April, 11 turtles will be tracked as they migrate from their nesting areas in Costa Rica to south of the Galápagos Islands off Ecuador. The racers are equipped with satellite tags so their locations can be tracked online. The data will provide a nearly real-time, turtle's-eye perspective on the ocean, including measurements of water temperature and depth.

    To pick your turtle, visit http://www.greatturtlerace.com/.


    A French architect says he has uncovered the secret to the construction of Egypt's Great Pyramid of Cheops 4500 years ago: Workers hauled the stones up an internal spiral ramp.

    Jean-Pierre Houdin has been working on his insight for 8 years, and late last month in Paris, he unveiled it along with a video made using new 3D-visualization software.

    Houdin says the usual theories of how pyramids were constructed are impractical: A giant ramp would use more stones than the pyramid itself, and a ramp spiraling up the outside would make it hard for engineers to get the geometry right. But a 2-meter-wide inner ramp solves all the problems, he says. Corners of the pyramid would have been left open, allowing workers to maneuver 2-ton blocks around them (see illustration). Houdin is negotiating with Egyptian authorities to allow noninvasive testing of his idea using microgravimetry and infrared and acoustic sensing.


    The work was done in consultation with Egyptologist Robert Brier of the C. W. Post Campus of Long Island University in Brookville, New York, who says, “it's a radical new theory, [but] almost all the Egyptology experts say it should be tested.” At least one native Egyptian has reservations about it, however: Farouk El-Baz, head of Boston University's Center for Remote Sensing, says, “No engineer would ask workers in ancient Egypt” to haul stones up the dim inner ramps. “These are people that live all their lives in the sun, and most are afraid of the dark.”

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