Random Samples

Science  19 Mar 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5972, pp. 1433

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  1. Elephant Camp Swept Away


    Earlier this month, a flash flood from the Ewaso Ng'iro River sent a wall of water through the Save the Elephants research camp in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya. The camp, founded in 1996 by elephant expert Iain Douglas-Hamilton, is known for its studies of elephant behavior and cognition. “We expect it will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars” to replace tents, roofing, and computers as well as electrical and plumbing systems, says camp operations manager Lucy King, a graduate student from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. The scientists have launched a fundraising campaign (see www.savetheelephants.org). But money won't make up for the loss of their field notebooks with their penciled records about individual elephants. “These are irreplaceable,” says King. No elephants were hurt; they all took to the hills when the rains began.

  2. Big Prize for Gene Sequencers

    The 10th annual Albany Medical Center Prize—the United States's biggest prize in biomedicine—will go to three scientists who conceptualized the Human Genome Project: Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH); Eric Lander, founding director of the Broad Institute of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and David Botstein, director of Princeton University's Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics. The three share the $500,000 prize. At the announcement last week, Collins said he was declining the cash for conflict-of-interest reasons—”so you could say I'm a cheap date, but I'm having a great time.” NIH had no information on what will be done with Collins's share of the money.

  3. Isles of Abundance


    Britain has taken another step toward designating the world's largest marine reserve around the Chagos Islands, a group of 55 coral protrusions in the Indian Ocean. The government announced the end of a 4-month public comment period on 5 March and is expected to reach a final decision by May.

    The Chagos contain half of the Indian Ocean's remaining healthy reefs. The waters are said to be among the cleanest on Earth, allowing corals to grow in deep water less vulnerable to global warming. The islands are located in the equatorial “tuna belt,” which hosts what a Royal Zoological Society of London report called one of the “most exploited, badly enforced fisheries in the world.”

    A total ban on fishing in the 544,000-square-kilometer zone, an area the size of France, would make it an even larger protected area than the current record-holder, the 360,000-km2 Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The Pew Environment Group has spearheaded a 3-year campaign for creation of a Chagos reserve. It would be “literally an island of abundance in a sea of depletion,” says Pew's Jay Nelson.

    The islands are uninhabited except for the U.S. Navy base on Diego Garcia. Some 1500 Chagossians were deported to Mauritius in the 1970s for military security.

  4. Three Q's


    Museumgoers outside China will get their first look at early European and western Asian migrants to China on 27 March, when the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California, opens a major exhibit, Secrets of the Silk Road. It features naturally preserved Caucasoid mummies, one as old as 3800 years, and 150 artifacts discovered in the arid Tarim Basin. Sinologist Victor Mair, left, of the University of Pennsylvania has studied the finds for nearly 20 years.


    Q:Where did these Bronze Age migrants come from?

    I think from somewhere in the steppes north of the Black Sea and southwest of the Ural Mountains in Russia. … These early people were buried with little baskets of wheat, and they were also cattle herders and sheep and goat herders. They were very good at making woolen clothing. … I think that special kind of agropastoralist culture is related to the steppes.

    Q:How did they survive in one of the most arid places on Earth?

    There were rivers extending out in the desert, and there's evidence of old poplar groves near some sites. So there would have been little strips of pasture for the animals.

    Q:How did the opening of the Silk Road 2200 years ago change the population?

    More people started coming from Southwest Asia or even the Mediterranean. Yingpan Man [almost 200 centimeters tall] (right) is the only mummy whose limbs were wrapped in cloth, similar to the Egyptian practice. He has this elaborate caftan with classical Greek and Roman motifs. I think he was probably a wealthy trader from around Samarkand in Uzbekistan.

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