The Loom

Archives for April, 2005

Thanks to the various readers who have noticed the creationist Google ads that pop up on some of the Loom’s pages. Such are the hazards of letting robots handle ads. I will talk with the good people at Corante about this.

Hobbits Alive?

The feud over Homo floresiensis, the little people of Indonesia, centers on whether they were an extinct diminutive species that evolved from some ancient hominid, such as Homo erectus, or whether they were just pygmy humans, perhaps suffering from some disease. The leading skeptic, paleoanthropologist Teuku Jacob, has claimed that there are pygmies living not…

From time to time, scientists discover that a species that was once thought to have become extinct is actually surviving in some remote place. If the species is a salamander or a lemur, it gets a quick headline and then promptly goes back to its obscure, tenuous existence. But here’s one rediscovered creature that I…

Life Versus Squiggles

In the new issue of Smithsonian, I’ve got an article about life on Mars. I’m not writing about anything NASA has actually found, but instead about the difficulty of just recognizing life, even if the evidence is in your hand (or in your rover’s spectrometer). While the chances of life existing today on the surface…

Humanity’s Map

This morning the New York Times reported that the National Geographic Society has launched the Genographic Project, which will collect DNA in order to reconstruct the past 100,000 years of human history. I proceeded to shoot a good hour nosing around the site. The single best thing about it is an interactive map that allows…

“Blinding New Evidence!”

I have a weakness common to many bloggers–I like to check my site meter to see who’s coming to my blog, and from where. Often I wind up discovering intriguing sites run by people whose interests run along the same lines as mine, such as evolutionary biology. Today, however I was surprised to see a…

Trouble in Middle Earth?

I’ve been catching up on my online reading, and a couple days ago John Hawks offered this tantalizing hint that Homo floresiensis a k a the Hobbit may be a pathological specimen. Such claims have been made before based on the small skull of the hominid, but they’ve been pretty powerfully rebutted. But Hawks is…

Zap

I’ve got an article in tomorrow’s New York Times about a startling new way to control the nervous system of animals. Scientists at Yale have genetically engineered flies with neurons that grow light-sensitive triggers. Shine a UV laser at the flies, and the neurons switch on. In one experiment, the scientists were able to make…

Flesh on the Bone

Two of the most important stages in hominid evolution were the origin of the entire hominid branch some six to seven million years ago and the first movement of hominids out of their African birthplace. This week we now get a new look at both. On the cover of Nature, the editors splashed the first…

Doctor Venom

I’m guessing it’s only a matter of time before this guy gets a show on cable. Bryan Fry is a biologist at the University of Melbourne in Australia, and he spends a lot of his time doing this sort of thing–messing with animals you really really shouldn’t mess with. In addition to being telegenic, he…