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02-07-2009, 20:58   #1
gvn
 
Join Date: Nov 2007
Posts: 4,368
Two interesting stories

I've come across two pretty interesting stories from today that I thought I'd share.

The first story is about scientists in Australia and New Zealand who have "rebuilt" a bird, the giant Moa (it measured up to 2.5 metres tall), which went extinct around 1280 AD. DNA was recovered from 2500 year old fossilized feathers and analysed, allowing the scientists to discover - by comparison to modern day birds' DNA - what the Moa's feathers would have looked like. It's an amazing achievement considering the sheer age of the DNA. It's a somewhat similar story to the one posted here yesterday about the ibex, except, obviously, that this bird wasn't brought to life.

Links:
-Article outlining the story.
-Official scientific paper (released in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B).


The second story is about astronomers, who at the University of Hawaii, have discovered a binary star system where both stars are surrounded by individual protoplanetary disks (the precursors to planetary formation). There is nothing particulary special about binary stars (the majority of stars are binary), nor is there anything special about protoplanetary disks (many have been discovered); what's special is that this is the first known instance of the two occuring together. It would be quite a sight to live on a planet with two Suns (although it is theorised that life could not develop in a binary system).

Links:
-Article outlining the discovery.
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03-07-2009, 19:03   #2
darjeeling
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Join Date: Dec 2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by -JammyDodger- View Post
I've come across two pretty interesting stories from today that I thought I'd share.

The first story is about scientists in Australia and New Zealand who have "rebuilt" a bird, the giant Moa (it measured up to 2.5 metres tall), which went extinct around 1280 AD. DNA was recovered from 2500 year old fossilized feathers and analysed, allowing the scientists to discover - by comparison to modern day birds' DNA - what the Moa's feathers would have looked like. It's an amazing achievement considering the sheer age of the DNA. It's a somewhat similar story to the one posted here yesterday about the ibex, except, obviously, that this bird wasn't brought to life.

Links:
-Article outlining the story.
-Official scientific paper (released in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B).
It's a nice enough story, but not quite as exciting as the Science Daily article makes out ('Giant Moa Rebuilt Using Ancient DNA From Prehistoric Feathers').

The paper shows that these researchers took some sub-fossil feathers, and from them amplified up a few hundred bases of the high copy-number mitochondrial DNA. They discovered what they'd amplified was moa by comparing it to - yes - a database of previously-obtained moa sequences (620 in Genbank as of today). They then assigned their DNA sequences - and hence the feathers from which they came - to individual moa species, and by looking at the feather pigments, made some deductions about what colour the species were.

This sort of work is becoming more and more routine - which is remarkable. Scientists have been getting very large amounts of DNA sequence from very long-dead creatures like woolly mammoths and even our relatives the Neanderthals. By piggy-backing on existing genome projects, they can assemble the very short, fragmented bits of ancient DNA sequence into long stretches - rather like doing a jigsaw puzzle with a near-matching picture as a guide. The final assembled DNA sequence only exists in the computer, though, and we're a very long way off synthesising the genomes of these long-extinct animals and then cloning them.
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