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June 26, 2013 | By Geoffrey Mohan
Researchers have unraveled the genetic code of a wild horse that loped across the frozen Yukon about 700,000 years ago, making it the oldest creature by far to reveal its DNA to modern science. Until recently, experts believed it was impossible to recover useful amounts of DNA from fossils that old. The previous record holder for oldest genome belonged to a polar bear that lived more than 110,000 years ago. The horse sequence, described Wednesday in the journal Nature, amounts to a dramatic increase in how far back scientists can peer into the biochemical history of advanced life.
June 6, 2013 | By Geoffrey Mohan, Los Angeles Times
A 55-million-year-old fossil of a mouse-sized primate has been identified as a crucial evolutionary link in the chain that led to apes and humans. Four inches long, with a 5-inch tail and protruding eyes, Archicebus achilles probably thrived for millions of years during a warm period of Earth's history, feasting on insects and leaping around in canopies of trees that surrounded a tropical lake in what now is China, according to a report published online Wednesday by the journal Nature.
June 5, 2013 | By Geoffrey Mohan
It's not the missing link between man and apes. But a mouse-sized tarsier that devoured insects in ancient China 55 million years ago could be a long-lost cousin who scampered in the treetops of tropical forests around the time the first primates arose in Asia, according to scientists. A team of paleontolgists carefully peeled apart layers of sedimentary rock containing the fossil, found in China 10 years ago. Then they took the two complementary sections, each of which had parts of the fossilized primate, and subjected them to a sophisticated X-ray technique at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France.
May 15, 2013 | By Geoffrey Mohan
Scientists have added two species of ape and monkey to the evolutionary tree, filling in a 10-million-year gap in the fossil record from a period when apes and Old World monkeys diverged. Fossil specimens of jaws and teeth, collected by Ohio University researchers in the Rukwa Rift Basin of Tanzania, date the primates to about 25.2 million years ago. Each was probably  evolving separately by then, according to the scientists, whose work was published in the journal Nature. Rukwapithecus fleaglei was identified as a hominoid predecessor to the modern ape or chimpanzee, and Nsungwepithecus gunnelli was believed to be an early cercopithecoid, or Old World monkey, similar to a baboon or macaque.
May 7, 2013 | By Amina Khan
Would Ice Age man understand us? It may depend on the words we choose. Digging through languages in Eurasia for "fossil" words that have escaped erosion over time, researchers say they have identified an ancestral language that existed as far as 15,000 years ago. This ancient language, described in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may have given rise to several different language groups - including Indo-European, which boasts roughly...
April 17, 2013 | By Eryn Brown
They're big, they're furtive, they're weird-looking. You almost certainly wouldn't want to dine on one, since they're endangered and are said to cause digestive distress in people who eat them. But the African coelacanth is extremely useful in at least one way, said Jessica Alfoldi, a research scientist at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass.  Because it resembles ancient marine ancestors, it's a beloved subject for biologists trying to figure out how land vertebrates' fish forebears first climbed out from oceans, some 400 million years ago. On Wednesday the fish became even more valuable for researchers, as Alfoldi and an international team of collaborators published a draft of the coelocanth's genome in the journal Nature . The genome, a record of the 2.86 billion DNA letter pairs that make up the strange beast's genetic blueprint, could help scientists answer a host of questions about land creatures' evolution -- for instance, how fins became limbs, or how animals developed placentas.
April 10, 2013 | By Amina Khan
Scientists have discovered some of the oldest dinosaur embryos ever found - a rare collection of delicate fossils that offer an unprecedented look into the remarkably speedy early development of these enormous animals. The bed of Lufengosaurus bones and smashed eggshell, described in Thursday's edition of the journal Nature , may also provide some insight into the growth of birds and other dinosaur relatives. “There's nothing like this that has been discovered before,” said Luis Chiappe, a dinosaur paleontologist at the Natural History Museum of L.A. County, who was not involved in the study.
April 5, 2013 | By Amina Khan
Like the offset eyes on a Picasso portrait, the volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io seem to be strangely shifted, according to a study by NASA and ESA scientists. Io's clustered volcanoes seem to be lying 30 to 60 degrees eastward of where they were expected, according to a paper published this year in Earth and Planetary Science Letters. The study could shed light on the internal dynamics of Jupiter's volcano-pocked moon. Io's internal heat comes from the kneading it gets from Jupiter and its fellow moons.
March 26, 2013 | By Amina Khan
Will scientists soon be able to revive the long-extinct woolly mammoth? What about the dodo, the Chinese river dolphin or the saber-toothed cat? With the great technological leaps forward over the past decade, bringing back dead-and-gone species using DNA preserved in fossils might be possible in the near future, researchers said this month at a TEDx event in Washington, D.C. That doesn't mean Jurassic Park will ever become a reality; ...
March 19, 2013 | By Ronald D. White
A new National Research Council report says the U.S. may be able to reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 in light-duty cars and trucks. The highly ambitious goal could be reached, the report says, through a combination of more efficient vehicles and the use of gasoline and diesel alternatives such as bio-fuels, electricity and hydrogen. "To reach the 2050 goals for reducing petroleum use and greenhouse gases, vehicles must become dramatically more efficient, regardless of how they are powered," said Douglas M. Chapin, principal of MPR Associates and chairman of the committee that wrote the report.
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