I can see that book-writing is going to trim my posting here for a while, and that’s as it should be, for the book has a deadline and is something I’ve been researching for several years. But, as Maru the cat says, “I do my best.”
Here are three science-related articles you might (i.e., should) want to peruse:
From the BBC news comes a report on a South American plant about to bloom in a Surrey greenhouse 15 years after it was planted. The plant, Puya chilensis, is called the “sheep-eating plant” because it supposedly esnares sheep and other animals and, after they die, using their rotten carcasses as fertilizer.
I don’t believe that for a minute, though the BBC reports on it without doubt:
In the Andes it uses its sharp spines to snare and trap sheep and other animals, which slowly starve to death.
The animals then decay at the base of the plant, acting as a fertiliser.
The RHS [Royal Horticultural Society] feeds its specimen on liquid fertiliser. . .
. . . I’m really pleased that we’ve finally coaxed our Puya chilensis into flower,” said horticulturalist Cara Smith.
“We keep it well fed with liquid fertiliser as feeding it on its natural diet might prove a bit problematic.
“It’s growing in the arid section of our glasshouse with its deadly spines well out of reach of both children and sheep alike.”
Well, that’s humorous, but not obviously a joke and therefore misleading to readers.
Matthew has found an article on the phylogenetic relationships of this plant, but nothing about its vampiric proclivities. I’m betting the whole “fertilizer” thing is a myth, but I may be wrong. Readers?
Here’s a picture of the plant about to bloom:
At National Geographic you should read ”The case of the missing ancestor,” about the Denisovans, a group (indeed, possibly a subspecies) of hominin that lived in Asia roughly 50,000-30,000 years ago. DNA from teeth and finger bones show that the group was not only distinct from both modern humans and Neanderthals, but that they’ve left traces in their DNA in modern humans: up to 5% of the DNA in native Australians and the inhabitants of New Guinea and Melanesia. (Modern humans also contain about 2.5% of Neanderthal DNA.)
The article discusses the possible evolutionary relationships between these three groups, and the questions that remain. Given that modern humans contain substantial fractions of both Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA, I’d say that these groups would be considered populations or subspecies rather than species, the reason being that there was obviously interbreeding where they met, and the “hybrid” offspring must have been fertile.” Interbreeding and fertile offspring in nature usually indicates that two populations belong to the same species.
Last week’s New York Times has an article on the post-television doings of Bill Nye, the Science Guy: ”Firebrand for science, and big man on campus“. It includes a nice three-minute video profile of Nye, who really impresses me, especially because he’s clearly made a huge difference in the lives of many kids. There are people who wouldn’t be scientists if they hadn’t watched his show.
The article includes quotes from Phil Plait and Neil deGrasse Tyson, and you may not know this about Nye’s background:
There was nothing in Mr. Nye’s early days that suggested he might be a firebrand for science. Born in Washington, D.C., he studied mechanical engineering at Cornell, where he got to know a professor named Carl Sagan. He moved out West to do engineering for Boeing, where he spent some three years designing a hydraulic tube for the 747 that served to dampen vibration in the steering mechanism. He refers to it lovingly as “my tube.”
He tried his hand at stand-up comedy — his first time onstage was during a Steve Martin look-alike competition, which he won. He would achieve escape velocity from Boeing with an idea for a television program that would teach science to children in a wacky way. The best-known version of “Bill Nye the Science Guy” ran from 1992 to 1996, and won 18 Emmys in five years.
h/t: Genghis, Grania, Matthew, John, Greg, and others.