December 26, 2005


A mammoth task: New technology sequences part of the genome of an extinct behemoth, and promises to help unravel other ancient DNA (Byron Spice, December 26, 2005, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

A week ago, an international team including Dr. Schuster and Penn State colleague Webb Miller, announced they had recovered DNA from a woolly mammoth that had been preserved in the permafrost of northern Siberia for 27,000 years and used a new gene sequencing technology to unravel a portion of its genetic code.

"I'm convinced we'll be able to sequence the entire genome," said Hendrik N. Poinar, a molecular evolutionary geneticist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, and lead author of last week's report in the journal Science.

That will enable researchers to compare and contrast the extinct behemoth's genome, which is almost as large as a human's, with that of the African elephant. And that will allow scientists to get a better idea of what evolutionary changes occurred that caused woolly mammoths and African elephants to diverge 5 million to 6 million years ago, Dr. Poinar said, as well as to better understand why the elephant survived while the mammoth went extinct.

Of course, we know how they became extinct: we hunted them to extinction. And elephants are an excellent example of how little divergence matters, as we can crossbreed Asian and African elephants and will undoubtedly be able to crossbreed them with mammoths as well.

Global Polio Largely Fading: Stronger Vaccine Is Playing Key Role (David Brown, December 26, 2005, Washington Post)

The 17-year effort to eradicate polio from the world appears to be back on track after nearly unraveling in the past three years.

A new strategy of using a vaccine targeting the dominant strain of the virus appears to have eliminated polio from Egypt, one of six countries where it was freely circulating. That approach is on the verge of doing the same in India. Twenty-five years ago, India had 200,000 cases of paralytic polio a year. A decade ago, it was still seeing 75,000 cases annually. Through November this year, it recorded 52.

Such dramatic successes, many the result of a more potent formulation of polio vaccine, have once again made eradication of the paralyzing viral disease a realistic goal. Only one human disease -- smallpox -- has ever been wiped out, and that was almost three decades ago.

Intensive immunization campaigns targeting tens of millions of children in Africa have suppressed polio transmission in countries where it reappeared after the continent's most populous nation, Nigeria, halted universal polio vaccination in 2003. [...]

Since the vaccine went into use in Egypt this spring, polio has disappeared there. UNICEF has ordered 600 million doses and plans to use it throughout much of Africa.

Next year, India may be free of polio. One former hotbed -- Bombay -- already is.

Since April, no polio virus has been detected in that city's sewage. That is indirect evidence the virus is no longer carried by any of its 12.7 million residents -- undoubtedly for the first time in history.

Once again, intelligent design.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 26, 2005 8:40 AM

...we hunted them to extinction.

There weren't that many humans around 20,000 years ago.
We no doubt ate all of the ones that hung out where we did, but how many humans were living in Canada and Siberia before the 18th century ?
A few tens of thousands, in all of that territory ?

As recently as the 19th century, the relatively populous American Indians hadn't managed to hunt the buffalo to extinction.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 26, 2005 9:19 AM


Whites were able. Nor did it require many humans to hunt the large animals of Australia to extinction.

Posted by: oj at December 26, 2005 9:28 AM

Yes, where humans and animals mingle, we hunt the big, slow-reproducing ones to extinction, but human ranges and mammoth ranges didn't completely overlap.
How far is a hunting group going to travel to face mortal danger, and too much meat to haul back if successful, when they could just bag a couple of deer, elk, squirrels, etc. nearby ?

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 26, 2005 9:51 AM

Put a big truck and a little one on the floor and your son will ignore the little one.

Posted by: oj at December 26, 2005 9:54 AM

"Because they're there", huh ?

Well, maybe so.
It's certainly a more heartwarming way of perceiving the Ancients.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 26, 2005 10:02 AM

Cave paintings show the pride they took in taking them down.

Posted by: oj at December 26, 2005 10:06 AM

Maybe they slept inside them like Taun-Tauns?

Posted by: RC at December 26, 2005 1:00 PM

...will undoubtedly be able to crossbreed them with mammoths as well.

Exactly what mammoths are you talking about? They're all dead.

Posted by: Brandon at December 26, 2005 3:56 PM


exactly what is the point you are trying to make by showing examples of "intelligent design" when they do not contradict the theory of evolution and you yourself have claimed to be skeptical of "Intelligent Design"?

Posted by: creeper at December 28, 2005 1:30 AM

As a wise man once said: It has to do with one group of intelligent agents hunting another group of intelligent agents.

Posted by: oj at December 28, 2005 7:56 AM