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News continues to be dire on the condition of Barbaro, the injured race horse whose good left rear...

News continues to be dire on the condition of Barbaro, the injured race horse whose good left rear leg is now ailing following surgery on the shatttered right one. The Chronicle's Sabin Russell provides a much-needed explanation of laminitis. Ditto for Jennie Rees at the Louisville Courier-Journal. Laminitis is inflamation at the root of the hoof and is now the ailing champion's primary peril. The ailment is not only exceedingly painful for the horse, it can cause the hoof support structure to disintegrate. After reading these, one knows why it is that vets and horse owners often put an animal down when the case gets serious. And this appears to be a serious case.

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SF Chronicle...

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A report by the Insitute of Medicine--an arm of the National Academy of Sciences--says the rate of premature births in the US is up 30 percent in just 25 years. It is now one in eight babies...

A report by the Insitute of Medicine--an arm of the National Academy of Sciences--says the rate of premature births in the US is up 30 percent in just 25 years. It is now one in eight babies. The full explanation appears unclear. One changing factor, the report says, is the use of fertility treatments and the multiple births that often result. But poverty, uneven access to health care, drug use, and the rising age at which women have babies may be involved. The report, "Preterm Birth: Causes, Consequences, and Prevention," is a 570-page book. While such studies are usually reviews of literature, not the result of fresh research, they can bring considerable new weight to issues. Most of the press reports are of modest length, rich in stats and a few quotes. AP's Lauran Neergaard has one of its authors lamenting that happy stories in the...

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Plenty of baby animals clearly learn from watching other animals including their parents, but scientists don't often find mommies and daddies providing formal instruction. Thus Science magazine sees merit in a...

Plenty of baby animals clearly learn from watching other animals including their parents, but scientists don't often find mommies and daddies providing formal instruction. Thus Science magazine sees merit in a report from Cambridge researchers this week that meerkats, in South Africa, provide deliberate classes for their young. They show the pups how to eat insects by starting with dead ones and working their way up through injured to healthy ones, how to take the stingers from scorpions, and who knows, perhaps how to RSVP to a meerkat coffee klatsch (Well, they are very social). As the students master skills, such as controlling a grasshopper, writes the Telegraph's Roger Highfield, the parents move on to tougher assignments. Often, they even teach others' youngsters in the colony. But Highfield also throws in that the supposedly lovable meerkats are...

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Charles Darwin listed the species of finches on the Galapagos Islands, with their clear common heritage but wide range of physical features and habits, as a particularly obvious example of recent, ongoing evolution. In Science...

Charles Darwin listed the species of finches on the Galapagos Islands, with their clear common heritage but wide range of physical features and habits, as a particularly obvious example of recent, ongoing evolution. In Science magazine this week Peter and Rosemary Grant, researchers from Princeton University, reveal yet another example of fast evolution among the birds. Their work gained wide exposure in the popular book The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner some years ago. In this latest case, an existing species rapidly shifted its beak size to take advantage of different foods after a competitor bird showed up. (Of course the Creationist crowd will just say this is merely microevolution, not real evolution, but picky, picky, picky.) AP's Randolph E. Schmid writes it to broad pickup.

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A controversial test of a blood substitute in ambulances has run into problems. A closed-door federal meeeting to discuss use of Hemopure, made by the Cambridge-based company Biopure, has been put on hold. Patient advocacy...

A controversial test of a blood substitute in ambulances has run into problems. A closed-door federal meeeting to discuss use of Hemopure, made by the Cambridge-based company Biopure, has been put on hold. Patient advocacy groups had objected that some people might be getting the fluid, derived from cow blood, without consent. Apparently the company, and the test's sponsor, the US Navy, did not sign waivers to have the closed-door meeting opened to the public in response to lawsuits from outside groups. In the meantime, tests of another product, called Polyheme from Northfield Laboratories, are nearing completion but under similar attack from critics concerned that many patients are getting it in ambulances and the like without knowing it. The protocols, it says here, say the substitutes are to be given only when appropriate blood types are not on hand.

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National Cancer Institute researchers say a seaweed extract "floored" them with its ability to kill HPV, the virus that causes genital warts and is the main cause of cervical cancer. The...

National Cancer Institute researchers say a seaweed extract "floored" them with its ability to kill HPV, the virus that causes genital warts and is the main cause of cervical cancer. The discovery was made during a systematic screening review of materials already in use against other infectious agents. And as it happens, the material is already in some sexual lubricants as an HIV preventive. It is a commercial product called carrageenan, isolated from red seaweed. Aside from some applications for anti-HIV qualities, it is mostly used in processed foods as an emulsifier and thickener. The researchers say it could be an additional bulwark against cervical cancer beyond the recently-approved HPV vaccine. The innoculation works against most of the primary variants of the virus, but not all. Further work is needed to learn whether the substance is effective against...

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This is a nice enough story but is also a chance for The Tracker to be grumpy. Not that it matters deeply but the lede in this story by the Herald's...

This is a nice enough story but is also a chance for The Tracker to be grumpy. Not that it matters deeply but the lede in this story by the Herald's Phil Long reflects some common, muddled thinking about so-called living fossils, evolution, and ancestry. The event is a webcast of loggerhead turtles laying eggs at a wildlife refuge. This story presumably reflects a general assignment reporter at work, doing a cheerful and generally conscientious job. But it also is an example why newspapers need specialty beats including science reporting. So much for the rant. The lede is "Tonight, ancestors of some of the planet's oldest and most beloved creatures will come face-to-face with some of the world's newest technology." That bit of illogic may be inspired from one of the quotes that "sea turtles are basically...

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The Star's Bill Graham reports that zebra mussels, among the most iconic of invasive alien species in the US, have cropped up in a small lake at...

The Star's Bill Graham reports that zebra mussels, among the most iconic of invasive alien species in the US, have cropped up in a small lake at Offutt Air Force Base south of Omaha. This is their first appearance north of Kansas City and is not far from the Missouri River. The lake drains into the river, it says here. State officials may treat the lake chemically. They hope for no gullywashers in the meantime.

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Charlie Petit
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In Australia Andrew Darby of the Sydney Morning Herald reports worry over Russian plans to punch into Lake Vostok, long sealed under miles of ice, over the next two summers. A drill bit has...

In Australia Andrew Darby of the Sydney Morning Herald reports worry over Russian plans to punch into Lake Vostok, long sealed under miles of ice, over the next two summers. A drill bit has already penetrated the ice to within a few hundred meters of the lake's liquid surface. Other scientists and enviros, at a meeting in Hobart, want them to take it easy. This issue has been surfacing in the press occasionally lately. Again in this instance, critics fear not enough is being done to prevent contamination of the lake, a 14,000-square-kilometer (5400 square mile) body of water sealed for many millenia some 3650 meters, or more than two miles, under the east Antarctic ice sheet. There could be exotic tube worms or who knows what down there. One wonders how to study such a place without wrecking it. The Russians say they will be careful.

...

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A paper in Nature on one man's success at controlling a computer cursor, a robot arm, and by some reports even playing Pong thanks to an implanted brain sensor and a lot of computers is getting plenty of press...

A paper in Nature on one man's success at controlling a computer cursor, a robot arm, and by some reports even playing Pong thanks to an implanted brain sensor and a lot of computers is getting plenty of press today. The man, who has since had the sensor removed after its effect faded, is a quadriplegic due to a knife in the neck during a beach brawl. His story of his test of the brain-reading machine has been told before, sometimes at feature length. The company that is working on the so-called BrainGate system has previously disclosed bits of progress too. But a cover story in Nature summons a crowd. Authors are from Harvard, Brown, and from Cyberkinetics, the company the makes the gadget and in which several university authors are deeply involved.

Many reporters went with the info in the journal and most recent releases by reporting just two patients tested so far --...

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The AP and Reuters both have stories out, without byline, saying that University of New South Wales paleontologists have found the fossils of some creatures, dead for 10 to 20+ million years now, that would send any pre-teen monster...

The AP and Reuters both have stories out, without byline, saying that University of New South Wales paleontologists have found the fossils of some creatures, dead for 10 to 20+ million years now, that would send any pre-teen monster fan (and adults who used to fall into that category) into shivers of delight. AP says they found one bone set that translates to a ten-foot-tall, 881-pound bird now dubbed the "demon duck of doom."

881 pounds? That's completely ridiculous.  Look, Associated Press editors, that comes out to almost exactly 400 kilograms and that sends The Tracker into a frenzy. Why in the world would any sane person translate 400 kg, which looks suspiciously like a round-number guess made in metrically-persuaded Australia, into exactly 881 pounds? "Nearly 900 pounds" okay, but 881?! Sheesh. Also included are galloping, saber-toothed carnivorous kangaroos. The story apparently arises...

Charlie Petit
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Here's a nice bit of enterprise reporting. At least, The Tracker smells no press release involvement in the report on otoliths by the Dispatch's Poh Si Teng. And how often does...

Here's a nice bit of enterprise reporting. At least, The Tracker smells no press release involvement in the report on otoliths by the Dispatch's Poh Si Teng. And how often does one see a pic of a dissected fish in the paper? He (or she?) goes out on Lake Erie with Bowling Green State University researchers and into their labs while they catch perch and walleye and then extract their ear stones, or otoliths. Lake chemistry often varies consistently from place to place. Thus the trace minerals in these slow-growing concretions reveal, in tree-ring-like arrays, where they were at various times in their lives. From this may come more info on their migrations, spawning locations, and other habits that could lead to better management of the lakes' fisheries. Teng says the results are like a fish-focussed MapQuest of the lake.

...

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In another ten years or so, American pig breeders will probably use cloned boars up to half the time, reports the Monitor's Gregory M. Lamb. He has a roundup on the history of animal cloning since Dolly the Sheep ten years ago and a look at its prospects. His sources forecast no duplicated people,...

In another ten years or so, American pig breeders will probably use cloned boars up to half the time, reports the Monitor's Gregory M. Lamb. He has a roundup on the history of animal cloning since Dolly the Sheep ten years ago and a look at its prospects. His sources forecast no duplicated people, but do see not only more cloned hogs but other livestock. Clones, he notes, are expensive so will probably seldom be created for slaughter. But rather than exhaust some champion bull by harvesting its semen for wide distribution, it appears, cloning the big guy so it can share the load with a few doppelgangers might make sense. So far, it says here, 15 mammals have been cloned. He also quotes an authority who says the process still needs work as most clones are genetically defective in some way.

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The Tracker started following this horse's course back when it had heroic surgery and should stick with it, so here's more and it's not such good news. Vets...

The Tracker started following this horse's course back when it had heroic surgery and should stick with it, so here's more and it's not such good news. Vets tell the Baltimore Sun's Paul McMullen that the Kentucky Derby champ has "catastrophic" laminitis in his left hind foot, away from the side that shattered in the Preakness. McMullen reports a decision to put the horse down could come within a day. The USA Today's blog-type update page says that's just wild speculation. AP has the horse fighting for his life.

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Baltimore Sun Paul McMullen; AP...

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The emerald ash borer has been taking out ash trees across much of the upper midwest and southern Ontario. The Beacon Journal's Bob Downing reports that a coalition of scientists...

The emerald ash borer has been taking out ash trees across much of the upper midwest and southern Ontario. The Beacon Journal's Bob Downing reports that a coalition of scientists and resource managers says present policies in Ohio to contain the beetle, including quarantine and removal of all ash trees within a half mile of an infestation, won't work and only hurt forests. Some 280,000 trees have been cut down in the state, he reports. Downing also writes that he obtained a copy of the group's position paper and had to work from that as he could not reach anybody with the group to explain it further.

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See also earlier posts: 6/26...

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