Saturday, March 26, 2005

Tyrannosaurus Cells and Elephant Mimicry

Since I barely know anyone who actually uses or even has e-mail, most of my e-mail comes from Nature Publishing Group. (You know, as in Nature, that major scientific journal that’s been publishing scientific papers for over 150 years?).
` Unsurprisingly, as I was going through my mail, which I never really finished doing because something about plant genetics was so weird I had to take a break, I found some stuff I hope you find interesting!

Cells of the Tyrant Lizard King!

Tyrannosaurus Stretch!

A Very Special Fossil from Montana has come to my attention: it's called MOR 1125! Also known as B-rex, a team led by Mary Schweitzer found that this Tyrannosaurus is more than just dead stone! After soaking its femur in a mineral-dissolving fluid, the material remaining was… stretchy! (Kinda like what happens when you pickle a chicken bone in vinegar.) Not only that, but antibodies which recognize collagen reacted to its chemical extracts!

When the team turned a microscope on this tissue - which had once lined the marrow cavity - they discovered that there are blood veins in it which branch in a similar manner to an ostrich’s. Also ostrich-like are its osteocytes, which had flexible waste-exchange extensions on the on the cell membranes and oval-shaped putative nuclei.

There are also protein fragments; if these can be sequenced, it would shed some light onto what T. rex was like and how it was related to extant species. In addition, there are reddish-brown dots – possibly the remains of endothelial cell nuclei.

Besides specimens like ‘Sue’ and the hunk of scaly skin impressions, this is about the most impressively-preserved T. rex specimen I’ve ever heard about!

Dammit! Butter Cookies just Summoned Clippy again! I don’t even know how to do that! (Perhaps the trick is to stand on the keyboard, meowing…)

Parroting Elephants?

First, Elephants Wielding Paintbrushes – Now This!

It was just discovered that, like parrots and other birds, our Proboscidean Friends can think to mimic what they hear! For example, a male African Elephant named Calimero, who lives in Switzerland with two female Asian elephants, mimics his companions’ calls!
` Asian Elephants have a certain characteristic ‘chirp’ in their vocabulary, which is not heard in African Elephants – except him. (And probably others like him!) In other words; he has adopted some kind of Inter-Species Communications.

Meanwhile in Tsavo, Kenya, a female African Elephant named Mlaika imitates the sounds of trucks, which she grew up within earshot of.

UPDATE! I just went to the news@nature website to check out the weird thing with plant genetics, and I found that they also had an article on these elephants. (Elephants do impressions by Michael Hopkin.) Not only that, but it actually has a recording of Mlaika making a 'truck-call' - If I didn't know better, I'd say it was just a truck starting up!

But I doubt they'll have it up for long. The article also mentioned why this might be: Elephants, like many other species (most of them birds), may not have a fixed set of calls, but learn their calls from their parents, or even humans or trucks. (Parrots, after all, learn human speech in order to bond with their owners, just as they would learn other parrot calls to bond with other parrots.)

It is also well-known that family groups of some animals, like cetaceans, can be identified by their distinctive dialects - a type of cultural trait.
` Orcas, for example, have many cultural traits: Some pods stay put in one territory, mostly hunting fish.
` Others travel around the world as ocean nomads and specialize on prey like sea lions and seals - some of which have in turn learned to tell the difference between the distinctive calls of nomad pods (which will actually slide up on the beach after them!) and the fish-eating local orcas.
` Orcas apparently teach each other to use their sonar to stun fish, as well as how to pop a penguin out of its skin, depending on their particular lifestyle!

` Frankly, it would not surprise me if elephants, which seem to have a good understanding of friendship, social order, and even death, also learn various skills from each other.

In other, older news, Kanzi the Bonobo taught himself to verbally communicate, though no one took notice until they played back videos of him making odd grunting sounds... He is also getting better at making flint blades. I will probably wite about him in the future. Now, I need to go to bed.

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