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'Missing link' fossil debated by science

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
Pittsburgh (UPI) Oct 11, 2010
The controversial question of whether a monkey-like fossil represents a "missing link" to humans got an airing at a Pittsburgh conference, researchers said.

Scientists at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists Sunday debated whether the complete primate fossil Darwinius masillae, nicknamed Ida, represent a "missing link" of early primates leading to great apes and humans or is nothing more than an ancient lemur whose line represents a fossil footnote, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

Philip Gingerich, a University of Michigan paleontologist, argued the intact 47 million-year-old fossil is from a line of early primates that broke away from lemurs down a course leading to monkeys, orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and, eventually, humans.

The Ida fossil received heavy publicity, including high-profile articles, a book, a Web site and a television documentary, but not everyone is convinced.

Christopher Beard, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, said a primate he discovered in 1994, Eosimias sinensis, more likely represents a link to humans, and Ida is nothing more than an ancient lemur.

Gingerich "has a long mountain to climb" to convince the majority of paleontologists that he's correct, Beard said.

Gingerich said he feels the tide's been turning in favor of Ida and was surprise at language Dr. Beard and others have used, including claims of "outrage."

Disagreements in paleontology are usually more polite, he said.

"Usually people are more levelheaded when they speak," he said. "I can only conclude that we have hit a nerve. But that is not my problem. Let's keep it in perspective. Humans came from apes, and apes came from monkeys, and there was something that came before them."

earlier related report
Japan warns on pace of biodiversity loss
Tokyo (AFP) Oct 11, 2010 - Japan warned Monday that the diversity of life on Earth was being lost at the fastest rate ever seen, at the opening of a UN conference on the safe use of modern biotechnology.

The five-day meeting in the central Japanese city of Nagoya comes ahead of a major international conference on biodiversity next week and was to consider how genetically modified organisms are threatening plant and animal species.

The talks, which include more than 190 countries and NGOs, are expected to agree that a country can seek compensation for damage to biodiversity caused by imports of genetically-modified organisms from other countries or companies.

"The loss of biodiversity is developing in the fastest pace ever," Japanese Farm Minister Michihiko Kano said at the opening of the talks.

"It is our responsibility to carry over a rich biodiversity to the next generation," he said.

The meeting comes ahead of a conference of the 193-nation Convention on Biological Diversity from October 18 in Nagoya due to discuss how to pay for the "equitable sharing" of the benefits from natural resources.

The biodiversity talks will also discuss a fresh target of preserving animal and plant species that are disappearing mostly as a result of human activity.

Species under threat include 21 percent of all known mammals, 30 percent of known amphibians and 12 percent of known birds, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Scientists warn that wildlife habitat destruction is destroying ecosystems that give humans "environmental services" such as clean water and air and are vital for climate control and food production.




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Study finds brain changes during sleep
Palo Alto, Calif. (UPI) Oct 7, 2010
The number of connections, or synapses, in a particular region of the brain varies between night and day and appears to be regulated by a gene, researchers say. Stanford University scientists have been studying what happens in the brain while you sleep and how the circadian clock and sleep affect neuron-to-neuron connections, a university release says. Why we need to sleep and ho ... read more

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