What We’re Reading: Ancient Fossils, Opossums, and Bones

Photo by Flickr user Alice Chaos 

Ancient Fossils Have Evolution’s First Shells

This story details a process called biomineralization, and the first known evidence of the phenomenon, found in 750 million-year-old, spectacularly preserved fossils. Biomineralization is the ability to convert minerals into hard, physical structures — the process that allows for bones, shells, teeth and hair, Wired’s Brandon Keim explains. It also strives to tackle the question ofwhy — after 3 billion years without them — did bones evolve at all? (Brandeim Keim, Wired Science)

A Fast Life and Success that Starts in the Pouch

Natalie Angier writes here on what she deems “our own private Australia,” the opossum.  The opossum is the United States’ only living example of a marsupial animal — one that gestates its young in its pouch. Scientists, she reports, say that the earliest living marsupials probably closely resembled these animals, and that all other marsupials were derived from them. A fascinating look at an animal with 50 teeth and a “casually relentless adaptability” that we don’t often think about. (Natalie Angier, New York Times)

Storms Brewing

Elizabeth Kolbert’s latest piece in the New Yorker’s Talk of the Town takes a sweeping look at weather related disasters worldwide — including the tornados in Joplin, Missouri, the Mississippi River flooding, drought along China’s Yangtze River and excessive rainfall in Colombia — and presents a harsh look at the administration’s climate policies. “Since the midterm elections, Obama has barely mentioned climate change, and just about every decision that his administration has made on energy and the environment has been wrong,” she writes.  The story ends with a warning. Worth reading. (Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker)   

'Alzheimer's' in the Down Syndrome Brain

Scientists have found amyloid plaques and tau tangles — well-known markers of Alzheimer’s disease — in the brains of adult patients with Down Syndrome.  This may helps explain why older people with Down Syndrome develop a form of dementia that’s similar to Alzheimer’s.  But the brain region where the plaques and tangles are found is different, Science reports. (Sarah C.P. Williams, Science NOW)

 Photo by Flickr user Alice Chaos

(Source: newshour.pbs.org)