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Author: BobR    Date: 02/24/2010 13:43:45

Every once in a while, we like to deviate from the "politics as usual" here on FourFreedomsBlog, and get our science geek on. Today is one of those days, with some very interesting science-related stories appearing online. The inspiration for today's blog was an article I read in yesterday's WaPo as I was riding the bus to work.

The article discussed the earthquake in Haiti, and showed which other cities in the world are susceptible to deadly devastation due to an earthquake. Within the U.S., the most vulnerable areas are along the entire west coast (no surprises there). But it also looked at most stressed fault lines, combined with percentage of buildings not built to withstand an earthquake (which is to say: most of them). It also included a very nice graphic, too large and detailed to post here. The other areas besides the west coast of the Americas that are most vulnerable are most of the Middle East and southern Asia, including Iran, India, China, and Japan. Reading the details of the risks in Mexico City are chilling:

Another seismic bull's-eye is Mexico City, which sits on the worst possible soil, a drained lake bed that will intensify seismic waves. The city also is in a basin in the mountains, which essentially traps the seismic waves. The devastating earthquake of 1985, which killed about 10,000 people, was centered hundreds of miles away but managed to ring Mexico City like a bell.

The article makes one ponder - why aren't all buildings constructed to withstand earthquakes and hurricanes? Cost is likely a major factor, but also is the Pollyanna-ish thought that "it won't happen here".

From the "wow - that's cool!" file, we find that one of Saturn's moons - Enceladus - is covered with geysers spewing icy fluids. The images are amazing:


Closer to home, scientists have been mapping the genome of a 4000 year old man found frozen in Greenland, and have made some interesting discoveries. The analysis sheds some light on Asian migration to America, long before Columbus set foot on our soil:
An analysis of differences, or mutations, at single base pairs on the ancient Greenlander’s nuclear genome indicates that his father’s ancestors came from northeastern Siberia, report geneticist Morten Rasmussen of the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen and his colleagues in the Feb. 11 Nature. Three modern hunter-gatherer groups in that region — the Nganasans, Koryaks and Chukchis — display a closer genetic link to the Greenland individual than do Native American groups living in cold northern areas of North America, Rasmussen says.

A largely complete mitochondrial DNA sequence from the ancient man’s hair, extracted by the same researchers in 2008, places his maternal ancestry in northeastern Asia as well.
His remains were found at a site from the Saqqaq culture, the earliest known people to have inhabited Greenland. Saqqaq people lived in Greenland from around 4,750 to 2,500 years ago. One popular hypothesis traces Saqqaq ancestry to Native American groups that had settled Arctic parts of Alaska and Canada by 11,000 years ago.

Inuk’s strong genetic ties to Siberian populations raise a different scenario. “We've shown that this ancient individual was not related to Native Americans but derived from an expansion of northeastern Asians into the New World and across to Greenland"

There's a lot of detail in the article, way too much to post here. Fascinating...

Finally - there's a new study that might bring some hope to stroke victims. It seems that when a stroke damages the part of the brain that controls speech, we can be taught to repurpose the part of our brain that controls singing and use it for speech. Yes, they are two different parts:
Teaching stroke patients to sing "rewires" their brains, helping them recover their speech, say scientists.

By singing, patients use a different area of the brain from the area involved in speech.

If a person's "speech centre" is damaged by a stroke, they can learn to use their "singing centre" instead.
An ongoing clinical trial, they said, has shown how the brain responds to this "melodic intonation therapy".

Again - read the article. It's amazing.

To toss a little politics into this, I'll just say I am glad we have a president that supports science. Perhaps that general positive reinforcement will lead the kids of today to become the scientists of tomorrow that will discover new treatments, and study past civilizations or the outer limits of our solar system to find ways to make our lives and our planet better.

53 comments (Latest Comment: 02/25/2010 03:04:23 by livingonli)
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