The September 1995 issue of Discover magazine has several interesting articles. I am still fascinated by anthropology and an article by James Shreeve on the Neanderthals offers a theory I had not previously seen. Relatively recent discoveries are extending forward the time period during which the Neanderthals survived in Europe and the Near East, while the entry of Homo Sapiens, the ancestor of modern humans, into the same regions is being pushed backward in time. Yet, the two hominids do not seem to have interbred. The author suggests that since all modern humans can and do interbreed, it is difficult to account for how two apparently quite similar groups could live in a relatively small region (in present day Israel where their remains are being excavated) and avoid both interbreeding and war in which one group would enslave and/or destroy the other. Shreeve’s solution to the first part of the puzzle is that the Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens were anatomically sufficiently different to make interbreeding impossible. In light of the current murderous ethnic and religious genocide being practiced in the world, he has no solution to the puzzle of how two such potential rivals could live so near each other in apparent peace.
Lori Oliwenstein offers another interesting article in the same issue of Discover with an unspoken moral parallel. She writes: “Most people think of bacteria as selfish individualists. But in many microbial colonies, some bugs gladly sacrifice themselves for the greater good of bugkind.” She describes how a common soil bacterium divides by binary fission which produces two equal individuals from one original one. But when the food supply is scarce, the dividing septum (wall) is not in the center of the entity. The larger of the two unequal resulting cells is called the mother cell. It engulfs its smaller sibling and in about ten hours, it uses most of its energy to create a protein coat around the smaller cell. The latter becomes one of the hardiest creatures on the planet, able to survive extreme conditions for hundreds of years, after which the mother dies, her membranes split open, and her spores are set free to seek more life-friendly regions. Microbiologists are discovering that many varieties of bacteria are connected into colonies rather than being single-celled individuals as previously assumed. Different individuals in such colonies are specialized to perform different jobs, including suicide when needed to protect other cells. The scientists are looking for the ways in which the cells communicate and how the sacrificial ones are selected. When, how, and at what price do they cooperate and could humans learn something about competition versus cooperation?
The September 1995 issue of Vanity Fair has an insightful article on Newt Gingrich by Gail Sheehy. She interviewed relatives, friends, and Newt himself to try to discover what was driving him. She pictures an emotionally difficult childhood with an angry father and stepfather, both of whom were adopted and insecure, and a manic-depressive mother. To give you the flavor of the article, she quotes Newt as saying: “I was a 50-year old at 9, I had imprinted John Wayne in his mid-40s as my model of behavior.” p. 149. In another quote, Newt says “I found a way to immerse my insecurities in a cause large enough to justify whatever I wanted it to.” P. 154 Sheehy ends the article with: “But what happens to the country while Newt Gingrich immerses his insecurities in a cause meant only to justify himself?” p. 222
The same issue of Vanity Fair also includes revealing articles on Michael Jackson, the O.J. case, Oliver Stone’s coming movie on Nixon, and much more.
There have been many interesting articles in recent issues of the weekly science magazine, Science News. In the July 15, 1995 issue, information was reported from two teams of Japanese scientists on precursors to the Kobe earthquake. Tsunogai and Wakita studied water samples from an aquifer near the quake’s epicenter. From mid-1993 to mid-1994, concentrations of chloride and sulfate ions remained constant, but five months before the quake, the concentrations started climbing. They peaked in late February after the jolt. Igarashi and colleagues found changes in the concentration of dissolved radon gas. Radon readings began rising slowly in October 1994 but they jumped dramatically 9 days before the quake and then dropped abruptly after it. The changes are theoretically a result of changes in the ground as stress builds, producing new cracks and sealing others which change the underground water flows. Though groundwater changes may not precede all quakes, their occurrence provides another possible warning signal of a coming quake.
Another article in the same July 15, 1995 issue describes an association between nicotine and SID (sudden infant death). Studies in North Carolina found that rats exposed to nicotine as fetuses were born without the ability to adjust to periods of oxygen deprivation. When the newborn rat pups were exposed to low oxygen concentrations similar to sleep apnea, the common brief cessation of breathing during sleep, one-third of the pups exposed to nicotine before birth died, while all of the control pups survived.
The July 29, 1995 issue of Science News describes a new hormone which corrects the extreme obesity in mice with a mutated gene. When the hormone was injected into normal mice who lacked the mutated gene and who were not obese, they also lost fat. A lot of obese humans are eagerly waiting for additional research which could lead to the long awaited “magic” pill for weight loss.
The August 12, 1995 issue of Science News also has an article on genes and obesity. In this case, the mutated gene turned up in the Pima Indians, many of whom become obese and develop diabetes at younger ages than average. In this case, it is a mutated protein that should convert fat into body heat which falls down on the job. Researchers claim that roughly half of all Pimas carry the mutated form of the receptor as well as about 25 percent of African Americans and Mexican Americans and about 12 percent of Caucasians. However, another researcher pointed out that Pima Indians in Mexico who still eat a traditional diet suffer no excess obesity or diabetes.
The same August 12, 1995 issue carries an article about the newly discovered comet which was, as usual, named for its discoverers—Hale-Bopp. Alan Hale of Cloudcroft, NM and Thomas Bopp of Glendale, AZ are both amateur astronomers, and the comet they spotted is said to be the most distant one ever found by amateurs. Though the professionals are being cautious about predicting a spectacular show, especially after Kahoutek fizzled in 1973, they admit that Hale-Bopp could be as spectacular as the great comet of 1811. Marsden, of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, MA, has tentatively calculated an orbit of about 3,000 years for Hale-Bopp. Its orbit is still being checked, but an April 27, 1993 photographic plate looks increasingly like an early photo of it and its brightness two years ago supports the likelihood that it will put on a good show when it comes close to the Sun in April of 1997.
The August 19, 1995 issue of Science News describes a new hominid species which was recently found in Kenya and dated between 4.2 and 3.9 million years ago. The fossil remains show a species with humanlike limbs which apparently walked upright, but with relatively apelike jaws and teeth. The discoverers include Meave Leakey of the famous Leakey family. They suggest that the new hominids which they have named Australopithecus anamensis may be the ancestors of A afarensis, including the famous “Lucy”.
Science News normally stays strictly within the limits of standard materialistic science, but occasionally they venture into controversial regions. The August 5, 1995 issue includes an article on dousing with statements from both sides—scientists who have demonstrated some validity in the field and others who are quite sure that it could not happen. Dieter Betz of the University of Munich carried out experiments under different conditions and found that while most of his subjects produced chance results, an engineer named Hans Schroter was successful in locating a pipe that was moved between each trial. Schroter’s odds against his results being due to chance were 1 in 1,700. The skeptics, of course, were sure that if they had been present at the experiments, they could have found a flaw to invalidate the results.