Posts Tagged “Biology”

05w03:2 Popeye Said Dope was for Dopes

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2005 week 3 number 2 (Popeye said dope was for dopes)

Both these readings are from the December 2004 issue of Scientific American. – Timothy


Current restrictions on marijuana research are absurd | Scientific American
“The human brain naturally produces and processes compounds closely related to those found in Cannabis sativa, better known as marijuana. These compounds are called endogenous cannabinoids or endocannabinoids. As the journal Nature Medicine put it in 2003, ‘the endocannabinoid system has an important role in nearly every paradigm of pain, in memory, in neurodegeneration and in inflammation.’ The journal goes on to note that cannabinoids’ ‘clinical potential is enormous.’ That potential may include treatments for pain, nerve injury, the nausea associated with chemotherapy, the wasting related to AIDS and more. Yet outdated regulations and attitudes thwart legitimate research with marijuana. Indeed, American biomedical researchers can more easily acquire and investigate cocaine.”

The Brain’s Own Marijuana | Roger A. Nicoll and Bradley N. Alger
“Marijuana and its various alter egos, such as bhang and hashish, are among the most widely used psychoactive drugs in the world. How the plant has been used varies by culture […] Marijuana gained a following in the U.S. only relatively recently. […] Its psychoactive power comes from its action in the cerebral cortex. […] Marijuana clearly does so much because it acts everywhere. […] In 1992, 28 years after he identified THC, Mechoulam discovered a small fatty acid produced in the brain that binds to CB1 and that mimics all the activities of marijuana. He named it anandamide, after the Sanskrit word ananda, ‘bliss.’ Subsequently, Daniele Piomelli and Nephi Stella of the University of California at Irvine discovered that another lipid, 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG), is even more abundant in certain brain regions than anandamide is. Together the two compounds are considered the major endogenous cannabinoids, or endocannabinoids. […] The two cannabinoid receptors clearly evolved along with endocannabinoids as part of natural cellular communication systems. Marijuana happens to resemble the endocannabinoids enough to activate cannabinoid receptors. […] The results indicate that endocannabinoids are important in extinguishing the bad feelings and pain triggered by reminders of past experiences. The discoveries raise the possibility that abnormally low numbers of cannabinoid receptors or the faulty release of endogenous cannabinoids are involved in post-traumatic stress syndrome, phobias and certain forms of chronic pain. This suggestion fits with the fact that some people smoke marijuana to decrease their anxiety. It is also conceivable, though far from proved, that chemical mimics of these natural substances could allow us to put the past behind us when signals that we have learned to associate with certain dangers no longer have meaning in the real world.”

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emailed by Timothy on Thursday 20 January 2005 @ 2:43 PM

04w45:2 Why We Sleep

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2004 week 45 number 2 (why we sleep)


Why We Sleep | Jerome M. Siegel
“Various studies indicate that a constant release of monoamines can desensitize the neurotransmitters’ receptors. The interruption of monoamine release during REM sleep thus may allow the receptor systems to ‘rest’ and regain full sensitivity. And this restored sensitivity may be crucial during waking for mood regulation, which depends on the efficient collaboration of neurotransmitters and their receptors. […] Michel Jouvet, the pioneering sleep researcher who discovered four decades ago that the brain stem generates REM sleep, has a provocative suggestion for the large amounts of REM in immature animals. REM sleep’s intense neuronal activity and energy expenditure, Jouvet believes, have a role early in life in establishing the genetically programmed neuronal connections that make so-called instinctive behavior possible. Before birth, or in animals that have delayed sensory development, REM sleep may act as a substitute for the external stimulation that prompts neuronal development in creatures that are mature at birth. Work by Howard Roffwarg, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and his colleagues support this idea. Roffwarg found that preventing REM sleep in cats during this early period can lead to abnormalities in the development of the visual system.”
PDF file: 327K

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emailed by Timothy on Saturday 06 November 2004 @ 5:26 PM

04w44:2 Homo Floresiensis

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2004 week 44 number 2 (Homo Floresiensis)


Homo Floresiensis has been discovered | Matt Webb
“Oh yes, other thing about H. floresiensis, the exciting bit: Even more intriguing is the fact that Flores’ inhabitants have incredibly detailed legends about the existence of little people on the island they call Ebu Gogo. The islanders describe Ebu Gogo as being about one metre tall, hairy and prone to ‘murmuring’ to each other in some form of language. They were also able to repeat what islanders said to them in a parrot-like fashion. ‘There have always been myths about small people – Ireland has its leprechauns and Australia has the Yowies. I suppose there’s some feeling that this is an oral history going back to the survival of these small people into recent times,’ said co-discoverer Peter Brown, an associate professor of archaeology at New England. […] The myths say Ebu Gogo were alive when Dutch explorers arrived a few hundred years ago and the very last legend featuring the mythical creatures dates to 100 years ago. But Henry Gee, senior editor at Nature magazine, goes further. He speculates that species like H.floresiensis might still exist, somewhere in the unexplored tropical forest of Indonesia.'”

From 18,000 years ago… | Tim Radford,12243,1337735,00.html
“The new creature, officially titled Homo floresiensis but nicknamed ‘the hobbit’ by some researchers, upsets the orthodox view of human evolution. It means that researchers will now start looking for unexpected human remains in other isolated regions of the world. It also confirms the belief that modern humans – the only survivors of the genus Homo – are an evolutionary exception. For most of the seven million years of the human story, there were a number of co-existing species of humans. ‘We now have the remains of at least seven hobbit-sized individuals at the cave site, so the 18,000-year-old skeleton cannot be some kind of freak that we just happened to stumble across first,’ said Bert Roberts, of the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, one of the authors. “

New Species Revealed: Tiny Cousins of Humans | Nicholas Wade
“Once upon a time, but not so long ago, on a tropical island midway between Asia and Australia, there lived a race of little people, whose adults stood just three and a half feet high. Despite their stature, they were mighty hunters. They made stone tools with which they speared giant rats, clubbed sleeping dragons and hunted the packs of pygmy elephants that roamed their lost world.”

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emailed by Timothy on Saturday 30 October 2004 @ 8:12 PM

04w44:1 The Status of Sex

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2004 week 44 number 1 (the status of sex)


Roughgarden Interview | The Current
“It’s a rite of passage between parent and child. For generations, the story of the birds and the bees has been an efficient way to answer complicated questions, such as ‘where do babies come from?’ And why do males and females get together to make them? Now some scientists are arguing that we’ve only been telling a part of the story. In her new book Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender and Sexuality in Nature and People, Joan Roughgarden argues that the animal and human world is way more sexually complex than we thought it was—especially when it comes to orientation and gender. She’s a biology professor at Stanford University, who has also discovered that, in fact, homosexuality is common in 3-hundred species—-from lesbian lizards to bisexual Bonobo chimpanzees. Joan Roughgarden was in San Francisco, California. ” Real Audio file (20:06min)

Glad to be asexual | Sylvia Pagan Westphal
“Discovering our sexuality, we are told, is a perfectly normal process that must be celebrated[…]co ncepts such as celibacy or abstinence work on the implicit assumption that we are deliberately rejecting sexuality. Doctors tell us that if we lose interest in sex we must seek help with the problem. Unsurprisingly, one of the hardest things about being asexual is convincing other people that there is nothing wrong with you. Tell someone on the street that you are asexual and they’ll stare at you in disbelief, says Jay. The immediate supposition is that you’re just a late bloomer, he adds. “

Survival of genetic homosexual traits explained | Andy Coghlan
“The researchers discovered that women tend to have more children when they inherit the same – as yet unidentified – genetic factors linked to homosexuality in men. This fertility boost more than compensates for the lack of offspring fathered by gay men, and keeps the ‘gay’ genetic factors in circulation. The findings represent the best explanation yet for the Darwinian paradox presented by homosexuality: it is a genetic dead-end, yet the trait persists generation after generation. “

Platypus sex is XXXXX-rated | Rachel Nowak
“In most mammals, including humans, sex is decided by the X and Y chromosomes: two Xs create a female, while XY creates a male. In birds, the system is similar: ZW makes for a female, while ZZ makes for a male. But in platypuses, XXXXXXXXXX creates a female, while XYXYXYXYXY creates a male. In other words, rather than a single chromosome pair, platypuses have a set of ten-chromosomes that determine their sex”

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emailed by Timothy on Monday 25 October 2004 @ 5:02 PM

04w43:3 Life Molecular

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2004 week 43 number 3 (life molecular )


Human Gene Total Falls Below 25,000 | Nicholas Wade
“Coincidentally, French researchers are reporting in the same issue of Nature that they have decoded the genome of a biologically important fish, the spotted green pufferfish. They say it has 20,000 to 25,000 genes, the identical range now estimated for humans. How can it be that humans, seen by some as the apotheosis of creation, have the same numb er of genes? The question is the more pressing because genes are subject to a rigorous ‘use it or lose it’ rule. Those not vital to an organism are quickly rendered useless by mutations. Also, the human brain seems particularly dependent on genetic complexity, because about half of all human genes are active in brain tissue.”

How do you persist when your molecules don’t? | John McCrone
“Do you know the half-life of a microtubule, the protein filaments that form the internal scaffolding a cell? Just ten minutes. That’s an average of ten minutes between assembly and destruction. Now the brain is supposed to be some sort of computer. It is an intricate network of some 1,000 trillion synaptic connections, each of these synapses having been lovingly crafted by experience to have a particular shape, a particular neurochemistry. It is of course the information represented at these junctions that makes us who we are. But how the heck do these synapses retain a stable identity when the chemistry of cells is almost on the boil, with large molecules falling apart nearly as soon as they are made?”

The Hidden Genetic Program of Complex Organisms | John S. Mattick
PDF File 518K

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emailed by Timothy on Saturday 23 October 2004 @ 6:55 PM

04w23:1 Bacteria

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2004 week 23 number 2 (bacteria)

Autopoiesis and the Grand Scheme | Greg Bear
“…bacteria engage in sex for the sheer desperate necessary joy of it – sex is their visit to the community library, the communal cookbook. They wriggle themselves through seas of recipes, little circular bits of DNA called plasmids. […] In the very beginning, for bacteria, this was sex. This was how sex began, as a visit to the great extended library. I call this data sex. No bacterium can exist for long without touching base with its colleagues, its peers. […] In the Library of Congress, every single book, every item, began with an act of reproductive sex, allowing the author to get born and eventually to write a book. That book now acts as a kind of plasmid, reaching into your mind to alter your memory, which is the con-template — my word: the template, through cognition , of behavior. The medium of course is language. Sex is language, and language is sex, whatever form it takes. […] Like the bacteria, as social animals, we engage in communal sharing of information. We call it education, and the result is culture. The shape of our society relies on spoken and written language, the language of signs, the next level of language above the molecular. […] Culture from very early times was as much a factor in human survival as biology, and today, culture has subsumed biology. The language of signs inherent in science and mathematics has co-opted the power of molecular language. […] Unfortunately, in the ocean of empty space, we have yet to receive packets of data from other planetary cells. We are like a single bacterium squirming through a primordial sea, hoping to find others like itself, or at least find recipes and clues about what to do next. […] We send out spaceships between the planets, the stars, containing our own little recipes, our own clues, like hopeful plasmids.”

The Bacteria Whisperer | Steve Silberman
“The notion that microbes have anything to say to each other is surprisingly new. For more than a century, bacterial cells were regarded as single-minded opportunists, little more than efficient machines for self-replication. Flourishing in plant and animal tissue, in volcanic vents and polar ice, thriving on gasoline additives and radiation, they were supremely adaptive, but their lives seemed, well, boring. The ‘sole ambition’ of a bacterium, wrote geneticist François Jacob in 1973, is ‘to produce two bacteria.’ New research suggests, however, that microbial life is much richer: highly social, intricately networked, and teeming with interactions. Bassler and other researchers have determined that bacteria communicate using molecules comparable to pheromones. By tapping into this cell-to-cell network, microbes are able to collectively track changes in their environment, conspire with their own species, build mutually beneficial alliances with other types of bacteria, gain advantages over competitors, and communicate with their hosts – the sort of collective strategizing typically ascribed to bees, ants, and people, not to bacteria.” Article Date: April 2003 | This is a followup to a profile on Bonnie Bassler published in Scientific American earlier this year and that was part of Goodreads posting 04w3:2

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emailed by Timothy on Tuesday 01 June 2004 @ 4:32 PM (

04w22:2 Fat

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Highly recommended code red.

The first one’s title is coloured red today because I’m trying out a new rating system. I’ll admit that some of these good reads have only really been interesting, while others are “must reads” since they’re so educational and enlightening. How do I distinguish them from the rest? Well, today I’ll try colouring their titles red. The first article to be so endowed comes to us from Harvard magazine; so we know that it’s intellectually nutritious, beyond it’s subject matter, tracing America’s – and humanity’s – relationship to food and the current obesity issue. This one had a startling breadth of coverage, explaining not only why the waistlines are expanding but why our wisdom teeth are impacting and I can’t recommend it highly enough. In keeping with the concept of this posting and it’s amazing bites, it is quoted a bit more heavily that usual. – Timothy


The Way We Eat Now | Craig Lambert
“Many foreigners already view Americans as rich, greedy over-consumers, stuffing themselves with far more than their share of the planet’s resources, and obese American travelers waddling through international airports and hotel lobbies only reinforce that image. Yet our fat problem is becoming a global one as food corporations export our sugary, salty, fatty diet: Beijing has more than a hundred McDonald’s franchises […] Personal responsibility surely does play a role, but we also live in a ‘toxic environment’ that in many ways discourages healthy eating […] you’d want to make healthful foods widely available, inexpensive, and convenient, and unhealthful foods relatively less so. Instead, we’ve done the opposite.’ Never in human experience has food been available in the staggering profusion seen in North America today. We are awash in edibles shipped in from around the planet; seasonality has largely disappeared. Food obtrudes itself constantly, seductively, into our lives?on sidewalks, in airplanes, at gas stations and movie theaters. ‘Caloric intake is directly related to gross national product per capita,’ says Moore professor of biological anthropology Richard Wrangham. […] This represents a drastic change from the 1950s, when people ate far more of their meals at home, with their families, and at a leisurely pace. The 1950s were also an era in which the kitchen?not the television room?was the heart of the home. […] The old order Amish of Ontario, Canada, have escaped much of that advertising, and the TV viewing as well. They have an obesity rate of 4 percent, less than one-seventh the U.S. norm. Yet the Amish eat heartily, and not all health food: pancakes, ham, cake, and milk?but also ample amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables. It seems that the secret to the ‘Amish paradox’ is their low-technology lifestyle, which entails vastly more physical activity than its modern correlate. […] ‘The Amish are not freaks,’ says professor of anthropology Daniel Lieberman, a skeletal biologist. ‘They are just anachronisms. Human beings are adapted for endurance exercise. We evolved to be long-distance runners?running a marathon is not a freak activity. We can outrun just about any other creature.’ “

The Starving Criminal | Theodore Dalrymple
“From the dietary point of view, freedom has the same effect upon them as a concentration camp; incarceration restores them to nutritional health. This is a new phenomenon, at least on the scale on which I now see it. Last week, for example, I treated in my hospital a skeletal man who had been released from prison only two months before and had in that short time lost 44 pounds. A recidivist, he had served many short sentences for theft, and his weight went up and down according to whether he was in prison or at liberty. This is a common enough pattern of weight gain and weight loss among the males of my city?s underclass. It has a meaning quite alien to those who believe that modern malnutrition is merely a symptom of poverty and inequality. […] Not all the malnourished are drug-takers, however. It is when you inquire into eating habits, not just recent but throughout entire lifetimes, that all this malnutrition begins to make sense. The trail is a short one between modern malnutrition and modern family […] In fact, he told me that he had never once eaten at a table with others in the last 15 years. Eating was for him a solitary vice, something done almost furtively, with no pleasure attached to it and certainly not as a social event. The street was his principal dining room, as well as his trash can: and as far as food was concerned, he was more a hunter-gatherer than a man living in a highly evolved society.”

When Real Food Isn’t an Option | Donald G. McNeil Jr.
“In a world where the rich spend millions on ways to avoid carbohydrates and the United Nations declares obesity a global health threat, the cruel reality is that far more people struggle each day just to get enough calories. In Malawi, children stand on the roadsides selling skewers of roasted mice. In Mozambique, when grasshoppers eat the crops, people turn the tables and eat them, calling the fishy-tasting bugs ‘flying shrimp.’ In Liberia during the 1989 civil war, every animal in the national zoo was devoured but a one-eyed lion. Dogs and cats disappeared from the streets of the capital. ” NOTE: The New York Times requires registration; but if you’ve looked at NYT content before and haven’t deleted your cookies, that may not be necessary. However if prompted, use the following username: goodreader100 and password: goodreads (courtesy of

The big fat con story | Paul Campos,3605,1200549,00.html
“In 1853, an upper-class Englishman could be quite unselfconscious about the fact that the mere sight of the urban proletariat disgusted him. In 2003, any upper-class white American liberal would be horrified to imagine that the sight of, say, a lower-class Mexican-American woman going into a Wal-Mart might somehow elicit feelings of disgust in his otherwise properly sensitised soul. But the sight of a fat woman – make that an ‘obese’ – better yet a ‘morbidly [sic] obese’ woman going into Wal-Mart… ah, that is something else again. ”

‘Soft flesh feels very, very good’ | R.M. Vaughan
“Anti-fat hysteria is everywhere. A Canadian chain of health clubs has a catchy radio jingle that features the mean-spirited lyrics, ‘Don’t wanna be a fat guy, a fat guy — jiggly, wiggly, Jello-y fat guy!’ Even more staid institutions, such as the Canadian Paediatric Society, have joined the anti-feeding frenzy, releasing a shrill, overwrought report last fall that called childhood obesity an ‘epidemic.’ The report was endorsed, not surprisingly, by various physical-education lobby groups — the same folks who tortured you with chin-ups and ‘shirts v. skins’ games in Grade 7. Large folks looking for relief from the ostensibly more open-minded art world have found little to comfort them on the gallery walls. When not presenting fat people as grotesques, the Western art world tends to represent body fat as a metaphor for all that is wrong and decadent in our affluent society. ”

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emailed by Timothy on Thursday 27 May 2004 @ 2:26 PM

04w07:4 Happy Valentine's Day

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This is your brain in love | Carlene Bauer
“So here are the basic characteristics: You lose a sense of self, your edges become porous — this person almost invades, but it’s a very pleasant invasion. Then there are mood swings — real giddiness and ecstasy when things are going well, but if you don’t hear from him via e-mail or phone, there’s despair. But the main characteristic for me is obsessively thinking about the person. When I was interviewing people to put into the fMRI machine, the first thing I asked them was how long they’d been in love, because I wanted them really crazy — I wanted them in the beginning stages, because these machines are expensive, they’re time-consuming for everybody. So they had to be absolutely nuts…”

I get a kick out of you | The Economist
“[…] Understanding the neurochemical pathways that regulate social attachments may help to deal with defects in people’s ability to form relationships. All relationships, […] rely on an ability to create and maintain social ties. Defects can be disabling, and become apparent as disorders such as autism and schizophrenia—and, indeed, as the serious depression that can result from rejection in love. […] For a start, a relatively small area of the human brain is active in love, compared with that involved in, say, ordinary friendship. ‘It is fascinating to reflect’, the pair conclude, ‘that the face that launched a thousand ships should have done so through such a limited expanse of cortex.’ […] Parts of the brain that are love-bitten include the one responsible for gut feelings, and the ones which generate the euphoria induced by drugs such as cocaine. So the brains of people deeply in love do not look like those of people experiencing strong emotions, but instead like those of people snorting coke. ”

Good Vibrations | Judith Warner
An article about Love and Hope, reviewing the work of Helen Fischer, described in the articles above, and Jerome Groopman’s The Anatomy of Hope : ” ‘There is an authentic biology of hope,’ Groopman writes. ‘Researchers are learning that a change in mind-set has the power to alter neurochemistry. Belief and expectation — the key elements of hope — can block pain by releasing the brain’s endorphins and enkephalins, mimicking the effects of morphine. In some cases, hope can also have important effects on fundamental physiological processes like respiration, circulation, and motor function. During the course of an illness, then, hope can be imagined as a domino effect, a chain reaction in which each link makes improvement more likely. It changes us profoundly in spirit and in body.’ NOTE: This article requires registration. Use login: ‘’ password: ‘access’ (courtesy of”

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emailed by Timothy on Saturday 14 February 2004 @ 3:42 PM

04w07:2 Homosexuality

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A Love That Dared To Speak Its Name | John Loughery
“Graham Robb, who teaches at Oxford and has written three excellent biographies of 19th century French writers (Balzac, Hugo, Rimbaud), obviously thinks there is. Strangers is the interesting but sometimes quirky result of his broad quest for traces of ‘homosexual love’ in the years spanning Napoleon’s rise to Queen Victoria’s death. Not surprisingly, this readable book, mercifully unburdened by academic jargon, is bound to be instructive for anyone with a serious interest in 19th century European society”

Nuances of gay identities reflected in new language | Rona Marech
“With the universe of gender and sexual identities expanding, a gay youth culture emerging, acceptance of gays rising and label loyalty falling, the gay lexicon has exploded with scores of new words and blended phrases that delineate every conceivable stop on the identity spectrum — at least for this week”

Universities heed the call for genderless washrooms | Caroline Alphonso
“Under a new initiative to provide equitable services, student unions of at least two Canadian universities — Concordia and Simon Fraser — are in talks with their administrations about where to build special washrooms this fall for the transgender population on campus. And at McGill University, a gender-neutral washroom is being designed for the first floor of the student centre. […] …student unions say they have felt increased pressure from transgender students to build specific gender-neutral washrooms on university grounds. Being transgender is defined as having personal characteristics that go beyond traditional gender boundaries and sexual norms. Some transgender people may have undergone surgery to become a member of the opposite sex. ”

Love That Dare Not Squeak Its Name | Dinitia Smith
“Among birds, for instance, studies show that 10 to 15 percent of female western gulls in some populations in the wild are homosexual. […] Among mammals, male and female bottlenose dolphins frequently engage in homosexual activity, both in captivity and in the wild. Homosexuality is particularly common among young male dolphin calves. […] Male and female rhesus macaques, a type of monkey, also exhibit homosexuality in captivity and in the wild.”
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The first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard | C.W. Moeliker
“On 5 June 1995 an adult male mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) collided with the glass fa�ade of the Natuurmuseum Rotterdam and died. An other drake mallard raped the corpse almost continuously for 75 minutes. Then the author disturbed the scene and secured the dead duck. Dissection showed that the rape-victim indeed was of the male sex. It is concluded that the mallards were engaged in an �Attempted Rape Flight� that resulted in the first described case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard.” (Winner of the 2003 Ig Nobel Award for Biology).

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emailed by Timothy on Tuesday 10 February 2004 @ 1:21 PM

04w06:2 Dogs vs. Cats

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A Potpourri of Pooches | Peter Tyson
“Dogs are diverse largely because of artificial rather than natural selection, because of us rather than nature. But just how much of their variety can be laid at our feet versus Mother Nature’s remains unclear. Charles Darwin suggested that one reason dogs are so variable is that they must have arisen not just from wolves but from other canids like jackals and coyotes as well. But recent genetic studies conducted by evolutionary biologist Robert Wayne and colleagues at the University of California at Los Angeles revealed that the mitochondrial DNA of dogs and wolves is very similar, while that of jackals and coyotes is distinctly different. Astounding as it seems, all 400 or so recognized breeds today descend directly from the wolf. ”

Infected rats make easy cat snacks | Matt McGrath
“A parasitic infection in some rats alters their natural behaviour and makes them easy prey for cats, research shows[…] ‘None of the other parasites I’ve ever looked at have had any of these effects upon behaviour,’she said. The parasite is also widespread in human brains, but does not cause a problem unless the immune system is compromised. (Article date: 25 July 2000)

Dangerrrr: cats could alter your personality | Jonathan Leake,,8122-826557,00.html
“They may look like lovable pets but Britain’s estimated 9m domestic cats are being blamed by scientists for infecting up to half the population with a parasite that can alter people’s personalities […] Infected men, suggests one new study, tend to become more aggressive, scruffy, antisocial and are less attractive. Women, on the other hand, appear to exhibit the ‘sex kitten’ effect, becoming less trustworthy, more desirable, fun-loving and possibly more promiscuous.”

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emailed by Timothy on Tuesday 03 February 2004 @ 2:46 PM