Sunday, January 31, 2016

One of the most opulent foods is abandoning its luxury roots and going casual

Business Insider
Lobster dinner is more expensive
(flickr/Benson Kua) Lobster is becoming much more than a delicacy reserved for special occasions.
The newest trend in fast-casual dining may come from the bottom of the ocean. Lobster, the delicious crustacean synonymous with bowls of butter and outrageous prices, is showing up in the fast-casual food sector.
Menu items with lobster have doubled in the past 12 months at limited-service restaurants, according to Fast Casual Magazine.
The price point for the lobster roll, the most common of the items offered, hovers around $17 at most of the chains. And the number of chains dedicated to celebrating this delectable seafood is growing.
Luke's Lobster, started in 2009 in New York City, has seen tremendous growth. The chain has reached seven states and Washington, DC and continues to expand with another location opening this year in Miami, Florida.
Another NYC-based lobster joint, Red Hook Lobster Pound, has spread to several locations in the city as well as Long Island and DC.
The East Hampton Sandwich Co., out of Dallas, now offers lobster rolls, while larger chains like Panera Bread and Hale and Hearty often offer lobster-themed dishes seasonally.
So how is such a prized and pricey food item making its way into the realm of fast–casual dining?
The much sought-after Millennial demographic may have something to do with it.
Seafood, including lobster, fits neatly into several larger trends that Millennials — Gen Y, Gen Z, whichever catch-all buzzword fits — highly value.
Exotic and adventurous flavors are important to this group of consumers, and seafood fits the bill nicely. Whether it's a spicy fish taco, mahi mahi fillets, or even an Asian take on the lobster roll, seafood is wildly versatile.
Plus, fish and lobster are healthy and protein-rich in comparison to fast-food alternatives. Health and quality are at the forefront of the millennials' collective conscience, so burgers and Fillet-O-Fishes won't cut it anymore.

Lobster boat
(AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach) Nearly 85% of lobsters caught in the US are from Maine - the numbers are growing.
And perhaps most importantly, the lobster industry has an ironclad focus on sustainability and responsible fishing – a key factor in marketing food to millennials. 
Thanks to a slightly mysterious jump in the lobster population off the coasts of Maine, the number one supplier of lobster in the US, lobster is plentiful — meaning prices are more palatable to diners.
All of this comes together to create the perfect storm for the fast-casual sector to embrace the lobster — it's trendy, sustainable, and at a decent price point for consumers. 

This Curious Sea Lion Climbed 145 Steps to Browse a Gift Shop

Inside Edition
A sea lion with an apparent love of retail managed to climb over 100 stairs to reach a beachside gift shop this month.
Just around closing time, the sea mammal reached The Cave Store in La Jolla, which sits at the top of stairs that usually allow visitors to descend a cliff to reach idyllic Sunny Jim Sea Cave.
But the enterprising sea lion ascended the 145 steps and even managed to get the trip to pay off in the form of a seafood meal.

Sea lion visits Cave Store Check out the security camera footage of our sea lion customer!
Posted by The Cave Store on Thursday, January 21, 2016
Read: Police Officer Whose Dog Died Saving His Life Meets His New Partner
In store security footage, the sea lion can be seen ambling into frame just as a flummoxed woman in a wheelchair enters the store.
“It was shocking,” store manager Rachel Agosti told NBC San Diego.
The flippered visitor's curiosity quickly turned to fear and confusion, but witnesses managed to stay calm.
Read: 9-Year-Old Woman Wakes to Find Exotic Animal on Her Chest
Thanks to some salmon the store had on hand to feed a cat, the witnesses managed to lure the sea lion out of the store an back into his natural environs after a few minutes, according to a post on the store's Facebook page.
"He wandered around the store for nearly 10 minutes, confused and scared before I got him out the back door, through the garden gate, and heading back to the ocean," the post reads.
Though it happened over a week ago, footage of the strange visit is now making its way around Facebook, leading the store to post yesterday: "Our whiskery young sea lion visitor sure is getting famous!"

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Here's The Real Story Of Whether You Could Outrun T. Rex

Rare footprints indicate a pace of just 3 to 5 miles per hour, but the dinosaur that made them wasn't in a hurry.

01/27/2016 10:47 am ET
Lida Xing
A Tyrannosaurus rex left footprints while walking on muddy ground, but it could have moved faster if it wanted to.
Let's say you travel back in time to the Cretaceous Period and find yourself face to face with a hungry tyrannosaur. Can you outrun the beast?
If you believe the headline atop an article describing new research on a set of dinosaur footprints in present-day Wyoming, maybe so. It reads "You could probably have outrun a T. rex."
But one of the scientists who conducted the research says not so fast, and for good reason.
The spacing of the rare footprints -- each measuring about 18 inches in length -- suggests a gait of 4.5 to 8 kilometers per hour (2.8 to 5 miles per hour), according to a paper describing the research. That is slower than the average human, who can run about 11 miles per hour over short distances.
But "the tyrannosaur that made the footprints was just walking, and it was walking over muddy, mucky ground," said the scientist, Scott Persons, a graduate student in paleontology at the University of Alberta. "And it was clearly a walk and not a run because of how the feet were positioned" -- offset, indicating a sort of "bowlegged" gait.
(Story continues below photo.)
  Sean Smith
One of the footprints in Wyoming.
The series of three footprints in sandstone dating back 66 million years are believed to have been made by a young T. rex (or possibly a smaller tyrannosaur known as Nanotyrannus lancensis). The stride length and hip height were plugged into a standard equation to arrive at the estimate of the dinosaur's gait speed.
The finding "discounts previous speculation that tyrannosaur walking speeds were notably slower than those of other large theropods," Persons and his co-authors wrote in the paper, which was published in the June 2016 issue of the journal Cretaceous Research. But it says little about tyrannosaurs' maximum speed.
So just how fast could a T. rex go? Persons said there's no scientific consensus even after decades of debate. Some say it could manage no more than about 10 miles per hour, others that it could run 45 miles per hour.
No matter what, it's probably not something you'd want to find out firsthand.

A Bioengineered Tree Could Revive America's Once-Vast Chestnut Forests
A Bioengineered Tree Could Revive America's Once-Vast Chestnut Forests
A Bioengineered Tree Could Revive America's Once-Vast Chestnut Forests
A century ago, towering forests of chestnut trees blanketed the East Coast of the United States. Then a fungus that hitched a ride on imported Asian chestnut trees began to infect entire woodlands.
The result: Where 4 billion chestnut trees once stretched from Georgia to Maine, only about 400 million remain today. Now scientists aim to bring back the American chestnut by bioengineering a tree to contain a gene that can withstand the Cryphonectria parasitica fungus. If they succeed, new forests of chestnuts could rise across the U.S. in the decades to come, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and providing food and shelter for wildlife.
“The fungus took out a quarter of all our eastern forests,” said William Powell, codirector of the American Chestnut Research and Restoration Project, who envisions restoring vast Eastern chestnut forests by reclaiming mining lands and other barren areas.
He began working to bring back the chestnut 26 years ago. He and project codirector Charles Maynard combed through more than 30 plant genes to find one that would help stop the blight. They settled on a gene from a cultivated wheat species that produces an enzyme called oxalate oxidase. (Powell points out that the gene has nothing to do with gluten, and the chestnuts will stay gluten-free.) The gene is also found in strawberries and bananas.
RELATED: The Planet Has 3 Trillion Trees, but They Could Be Gone in 300 Years
The enzyme detoxifies the oxalate that the fungus uses to form deadly cankers on chestnut stems. “The best thing about this gene is that it does not harm the fungus at all,” said Powell. “The fungus can still survive, but oxalate oxidase takes the weapon away from the fungus.”
Having the fungus survive is important for the safety of both species. Powell explained that the scientists don’t want to put selective pressure on the pathogen to overcome the resistance. “Since the fungus can still grow on the bark of the tree, we’re changing the lifestyle of the fungus,” he said.
Powell, Maynard, and a group of researchers from the State University of New York have published papers on the blight-resistant nature of the transgenic tree and are awaiting approval from the federal government to plant the trees.
The restoration project hopes to grow 10,000 seedlings when it receives government approval. In three to five years, those trees will be available to the public to buy at cost and plant.
Powell cautioned that reviving chestnut forests will take time. “This is a tree that can live a hundred years, not a weed that spreads quickly,” he said. “It’s going to take some time to get them established.”

Monday, January 25, 2016

Chinese scientists created genetically modified monkeys, and it could reveal some fascinating insights about autism

Business Insider
transgenic monkeys
(Yan-Hong Nie) Autism, a complex set of brain disorders of social interaction and communication, has been widely studied in lab animals — but most of the research has been in mice, whose brains are very different from those of people. Now, for the first time, a team of scientists in China has created monkeys whose DNA has been genetically altered to make them develop an autism-like disorder.
These "transgenic" monkeys could be a good model for studying human brain disorders, since their brain circuitry is much closer to that of our own, the authors reported in a study published Monday in the journal Nature.
Autism often involves repetitive behaviors and problems with social interaction. In Rett Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes many of the symptoms of autism, about 90% of patients have a mutation in a gene called MeCP2, which codes for a protein involved in regulating how DNA gets processed to make other proteins. Duplicate copies of this gene produce an autism-like disorder known as MeCP2 duplication syndrome.
Scientists have previously studied this syndrome in mice, and while these animals show many of the developmental and behavioral problems as humans with Rett Syndrome, it's been harder to study autistic behaviors in rodents, since their brains are so much simpler than a human's.

Genetically modified monkeys

In the new study, scientists at China's Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences attempted to mimic this disorder in monkeys, which could be a major step toward understanding and treating it in people.
"Once we know the brain circuits responsible, we can start intervening" in these disorders, for example, using noninvasive brain stimulation or gene therapy (a treatment that involves replacing missing or defective genes), study author Zilong Qiu said in a conference in a conference call with reporters last Thursday.
To create the transgenic monkeys, Qiu and his colleagues injected a virus containing multiple copies of the MeCP2 gene into the undeveloped eggs of macaque monkeys, fertilized the eggs, and implanted the 53 resulting embryos into 18 female surrogate monkeys. Nine of the animals got pregnant and three males and five females were born live. Four were stillborn. All of the babies had the duplicate MeCP2 gene.

transgenic monkey
(Yan-Hong Nie) In a second experiment, they injected 105 embryos into 36 surrogate mothers. Just seven monkeys ended up giving birth to nine babies, but only two survived.
The transgenic monkeys engaged in repetitive motions such as walking in circles, spent less time than normal sitting and interacting with the other monkeys, and showed signs of anxiety — all behaviors that are hallmarks of autistic disorders.
The modified primates didn't appear to be less intelligent compared with the unmodified animals, but they did show some abnormalities, such as a preference for reaching toward one side when presented with a reward.
To see if the transgenic monkeys could pass on the genetic defect to their offspring, the researchers used sperm from one of the transgenic monkeys to fertilize eggs and implant them into 22 surrogate females. All five monkeys that were born (including one stillborn) carried the MeCP2 mutation, and showed the same deficits in social interaction as their transgenic parent.
The study demonstrated that genetically engineered monkeys can be an effective model for studying autism related disorders and other psychiatric illnesses that are difficult to mimic in simpler animals.

The limits of primate models

Huda Zoghbi, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine who was not involved with the study but who has studied the MeCP2 duplication syndrome in mice, told Business Insider we should be cautious about calling these transgenic monkeys a true model for the disorder, however, because the genes they modified didn't exactly mirror the effects of the human version of the disease, such as cognitive problems and seizures.
"We need to develop criteria before generating a non-human primate model so that the model is as optimal as possible and it can be useful for preclinical research," Zoghbi said in an email.
What's more, monkeys don't come cheap.
The study researchers said it was hard to give an exact cost figure, since these experiments require hundreds of monkeys across multiple institutions. But raising one monkey in China costs about $3000, and maintaining a monkey facility costs between $500,000 and $1 million per year, they said.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Your Neanderthal DNA may help you fight disease, and give you allergies

If you sneeze when flowers bloom in the spring and tear up in the presence of a cat, your Neanderthal DNA may be to blame.
About 2% of the DNA in most people alive today came from trysts between ancient humans and their Neanderthal neighbors tens of thousands of years ago, recent studies have shown. Now, scientists are trying to determine what, if any, impact that Neanderthal genetic legacy has on our contemporary lives.
In a pair of papers published this week in the American Journal of Human Genetics, two research teams report that in many people, a group of genes that govern the first line of defense against pathogens was probably inherited from Neanderthals.
These same genes appear to play a role in some people’s allergic reaction to things like pollen and pet fur as well, the scientists said.
See the most-read stories in Science this hour >>
“It's a bit speculative, but perhaps this is some kind of trade-off,” said Janet Kelso, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and senior author of one of the new studies. “Increased resistance to bacterial infection was advantageous, but may have resulted in some increased sensitivity to non-pathogenic allergens.”
About 50,000 years ago, the modern humans who left Africa encountered Neanderthal settlements somewhere in the Middle East, scientists believe. On some occasions, these meetings led to couplings whose legacy is apparent in the genomes of people with ancestors from Europe and Asia.
Not everyone with Neanderthal DNA inherited the same genes. But the immunity genes appear to be more popular than others.
Among some Asian and European populations, the researchers found that these particular Neanderthal genes can be found in 50% of people.
“That's huge,” said Lluis Quintana-Murci, an evolutionary geneticist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and senior author of the other study. “It came as a big surprise to us.”
The findings imply that these Neanderthal genes must have served our ancestors well if they are still hanging out in our genome today, and especially at such high frequency, said Peter Parham, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford School of Medicine. If the DNA weren’t valuable, it would have been flushed out of the human gene pool.
“It suggests there was a benefit for the migrating modern human and the archaic human to get together,” said Parham, who wasn’t involved in the research. “What has survived is a hybridization of those populations.”
Both of the research groups report on a cluster of three genes — known collectively as TLR6-TLR1-TLR10 — that make up part of the body's innate immune response to invading bacteria and viruses.
The innate immune response is different from the acquired immune response that we get through exposure to pathogens, either through vaccines or simply getting sick. Innate immunity kicks in first, and if it’s successful, it can destroy a pathogen in a few hours, before we even know we are sick.
Because this innate immune response is so useful, it has been a strong site of positive selection over time, Quintana-Murci said.
Though both groups of researchers came to the same conclusion that Neanderthal DNA plays an important role in immunity, the teams were asking different questions at the outset of their studies.
Quintana-Murci's group is trying to understand how microscopic pathogens have influenced the human genome as our species has evolved.
Because infectious diseases have killed so many people throughout human history, it makes sense that genes involved in immunity would spread through natural selection.
For their new study, Quintana-Murci and his colleagues examined 1,500 innate immunity genes in people and matched them up with a previously published map of the Neanderthal DNA in the human genome.
The team calculated the percentage of Neanderthal DNA in innate immunity genes as well as in other genes. When they compared them, they saw that innate immunity genes had much higher proportions of Neanderthal sequences.
Kelso's group, on the other hand, is interested in ancient genomes like those of Neanderthals. In particular, her team aims to uncover the functional consequences of long-ago interbreeding between modern humans and Neanderthals.
The Max Planck Institute scientists analyzed the genomes of thousands of present-day people from all over the world, looking for evidence of extended regions with high similarity to the DNA of Neanderthals. Then they checked how often they saw those Neanderthal-like DNA sequences in humans alive today.
“What emerged was this region containing three genes involved in the innate immune system,” she said.
Both research groups said there is still much work to be done to determine exactly how this Neanderthal DNA helped humans survive.
However, they are already certain that interbreeding with Neanderthals aided early humans as they faced new dangers after leaving Africa.
“The things we have inherited from Neanderthals are largely things that have allowed us to adapt to our environment,” Kelso said. “This is perhaps not completely surprising.”
Because Neanderthals had lived in Europe and western Asia for about 200,000 years before modern humans got there, they were probably already well adapted to the local climate, foods and pathogens.
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“By interbreeding with these archaic people, modern humans could then acquire some of these adaptations,” Kelso said.
Parham of Stanford said the results are convincing, especially since they were made by two independent groups that essentially confirmed each other.
The results add to a growing body of work that highlights our debt to our Neanderthal relatives.
“We're right in the beginning,” Parham said. “This type of work has really lit a fire beneath archaeologists to try to find more and more samples of Neanderthals so geneticists can do more population studies.”

Tiny Quantum Dots May Spell Doom For Deadly Superbug Infections

Scientists say the light-activated nanoparticles wipe out infectious bacteria without harming healthy cells

01/20/2016 02:49 pm ET
iLexx via Getty Images 
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a bacterium responsible for several difficult-to-treat infections in humans.
Does nanotechnology hold the key to stopping antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the deadly infections they cause?
Scientists in Colorado think it just might. They've developed light-activated nanoparticles -- each roughly 20,000 times smaller than the thickness of a single human hair -- and shown in lab tests that these "quantum dots" are more than 90 percent effective at wiping out antibiotic-resistant germs like Salmonella, E. coli and Staphylococcus.
"In our study, we tailored these quantum dots so they can selectively kill these 'superbugs' without affecting other host mammalian cells (or human cells)," Dr. Prashant Nagpal, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder and a leader of the research, told The Huffington Post in an email. "This means, after more careful clinical trials, we can simply administer these dots to patients with infections and it can cure the infection without potential effects (or side effects) for healthy host cells."
If Nagpal is right, that would be a very big deal.
Antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, fueled in part by doctors' improper use of common antibiotics, represent an enormous public health problem. In the U.S. alone, infections caused by germs that can't be eradicated with antibiotics sicken 2 million people and cause at least 23,000 deaths a year. And new, more effective antibiotics have proven very hard to develop.
(Story continues below image.)
courtesy Dr. Prashant Nagpal
High-resolution electron micrograph of a cadmium telluride nanoparticle. Scale bar is 2 nanometers.
Previous research on nanoparticles showed that those made of metals like gold and silver can be harmful to healthy tissue as well as the target bacteria, according to a written statement released by the university.
But that kind of collateral damage doesn't seem to be a problem with the new quantum dots.
Made of semiconducting materials like cadmium telluride instead of metal, they can be tailored to specific infections, slipping inside the disease-causing germs and, when activated by light, triggering chemical reactions that destroy them.
"We don't use any special light, and a typical weak light source (a lamp, well-lighted room, sunlight, etc.) is enough to activate these quantum dots," Nagpal said in the email.
Nagpal foresees several applications for quantum dots, depending on the nature of the infection. Infected cuts might simply be covered with nanoparticle-impregnated bandages. Patients with systemic infections might receive injections of quantum dots.
In addition, hospital rooms and medical instruments might be treated with a dot-containing disinfectant in order to reduce the risk of spreading infections from patient to patient.
But more research, including clinical trials, will be needed to develop quantum dot therapy and prove its safety and effectiveness in humans. Nagpal said he was seeking funding from federal agencies or private donors to make that happen.
Once tested, there is a chance that bacteria might adapt to the therapy. But even so, Nagpal said, it should be easy to then tune nanoparticles to "keep up in this evolutionary race" between bacteria and measures to eradicate them.
A paper describing the research was published online on Monday in the journal Nature Materials

Monday, January 18, 2016

Six-Legged Giant Finds Secret Hideaway, Hides For 80 Years

NPR logo

No, this isn't a make-believe place. It's real.
They call it "Ball's Pyramid." It's what's left of an old volcano that emerged from the sea about 7 million years ago. A British naval officer named Ball was the first European to see it in 1788. It sits off Australia, in the South Pacific. It is extremely narrow, 1,844 feet high, and it sits alone.
What's more, for years this place had a secret. At 225 feet above sea level, hanging on the rock surface, there is a small, spindly little bush, and under that bush, a few years ago, two climbers, working in the dark, found something totally improbable hiding in the soil below. How it got there, we still don't know.
A satellite view of Ball's Pyramid in the Tasman Sea off the eastern coast of Australia.
A satellite view of Ball's Pyramid in the Tasman Sea off the eastern coast of Australia.
Google Maps
Here's the story: About 13 miles from this spindle of rock, there's a bigger island, called Lord Howe Island.
On Lord Howe, there used to be an insect, famous for being big. It's a stick insect, a critter that masquerades as a piece of wood, and the Lord Howe Island version was so large — as big as a human hand — that the Europeans labeled it a "tree lobster" because of its size and hard, lobsterlike exoskeleton. It was 12 centimeters long and the heaviest flightless stick insect in the world. Local fishermen used to put them on fishing hooks and use them as bait.
Then one day in 1918, a supply ship, the S.S. Makambo from Britain, ran aground at Lord Howe Island and had to be evacuated. One passenger drowned. The rest were put ashore. It took nine days to repair the Makambo, and during that time, some black rats managed to get from the ship to the island, where they instantly discovered a delicious new rat food: giant stick insects. Two years later, the rats were everywhere and the tree lobsters were gone.
Totally gone. After 1920, there wasn't a single sighting. By 1960, the Lord Howe stick insect, Dryococelus australis, was presumed extinct.
There was a rumor, though.
Map of Lord Howe Island
Some climbers scaling Ball's Pyramid in the 1960s said they'd seen a few stick insect corpses lying on the rocks that looked "recently dead." But the species is nocturnal, and nobody wanted to scale the spire hunting for bugs in the dark.
Climbing The Pyramid
Fast forward to 2001, when two Australian scientists, David Priddel and Nicholas Carlile, with two assistants, decided to take a closer look. From the water, they'd seen a few patches of vegetation that just might support walking sticks. So, they boated over. ("Swimming would have been much easier," Carlile said, "but there are too many sharks.") They crawled up the vertical rock face to about 500 feet, where they found a few crickets, nothing special. But on their way down, on a precarious, unstable rock surface, they saw a single melaleuca bush peeping out of a crack and, underneath, what looked like fresh droppings of some large insect.
Where, they wondered, did that poop come from?
The only thing to do was to go back up after dark, with flashlights and cameras, to see if the pooper would be out taking a nighttime walk. Nick Carlile and a local ranger, Dean Hiscox, agreed to make the climb. And with flashlights, they scaled the wall till they reached the plant, and there, spread out on the bushy surface, were two enormous, shiny, black-looking bodies. And below those two, slithering into the muck, were more, and more ... 24 in all. All gathered near this one plant.
They were alive and, to Nick Carlile's eye, enormous. Looking at them, he said, "It felt like stepping back into the Jurassic age, when insects ruled the world."
The Lord Howe Island stick insect, Dryococelus australis, once believed to be extinct, was found living under a small shrub high up Ball's Pyramid in 2001.
Patrick Honan
They were Dryococelus australis. A search the next morning, and two years later, concluded these are the only ones on Ball's Pyramid, the last ones. They live there, and, as best we know, nowhere else.
How they got there is a mystery. Maybe they hitchhiked on birds, or traveled with fishermen, and how they survived for so long on just a single patch of plants, nobody knows either. The important thing, the scientists thought, was to get a few of these insects protected and into a breeding program.
That wasn't so easy. The Australian government didn't know if the animals on Ball's Pyramid could or should be moved. There were meetings, studies, two years passed, and finally officials agreed to allow four animals to be retrieved. Just four.
Nick Carlile, seen here with the Lord Howe Island stick insect, discovered the thought-to-be extinct phasmid in 2001 on Ball's Pyramid.
Patrick Honan/Nick Carlile
When the team went back to collect them, it turned out there had been a rock slide on the mountain, and at first they feared that the whole population had been wiped out. But when they got back up to the site, on Valentine's Day 2003, the animals were still there, sitting on and around their bush.
The plan was to take one pair and give it to a man who was very familiar with mainland walking stick insects, a private breeder living in Sydney. He got his pair, but within two weeks, they died.
Adam And Eve And Patrick
That left the other two. They were named "Adam" and "Eve," taken to the Melbourne Zoo and placed with Patrick Honan, of the zoo's invertebrate conservation breeding group. At first, everything went well. Eve began laying little pea-shaped eggs, exactly as hoped. But then she got sick. According to biologist Jane Goodall, writing for Discover Magazine:
"Eve became very, very sick. Patrick ... worked every night for a month desperately trying to cure her. ... Eventually, based on gut instinct, Patrick concocted a mixture that included calcium and nectar and fed it to his patient, drop by drop, as she lay curled up in his hand."
Her recovery was almost instant. Patrick told the Australian Broadcasting Company, "She went from being on her back curled up in my hand, almost as good as dead, to being up and walking around within a couple of hours."
Eve's eggs were harvested, incubated (though it turns out only the first 30 were fertile) and became the foundation of the zoo's new population of walking sticks.
When Jane Goodall visited in 2008, Patrick showed her rows and rows of incubating eggs: 11,376 at that time, with about 700 adults in the captive population. Lord Howe Island walking sticks seem to pair off — an unusual insect behavior — and Goodall says Patrick "showed me photos of how they sleep at night, in pairs, the male with three of his legs protectively over the female beside him."
Now comes the question that bedevils all such conservation rescue stories. Once a rare animal is safe at the zoo, when can we release it back to the wild?
On Lord Howe Island, their former habitat, the great-great-great-grandkids of those original black rats are still out and about, presumably hungry and still a problem. Step one, therefore, would be to mount an intensive (and expensive) rat annihilation program. Residents would, no doubt, be happy to go rat-free, but not every Lord Howe islander wants to make the neighborhood safe for gigantic, hard-shell crawling insects. So the Melbourne Museum is mulling over a public relations campaign to make these insects more ... well, adorable, or noble, or whatever it takes.
They recently made a video, with strumming guitars, featuring a brand new baby emerging from its egg. The newborn is emerald green, squirmy and so long, it just keeps coming and coming from an impossibly small container. Will this soften the hearts of Lord Howe islanders? I dunno. It's so ... so ... big.
But, hey, why don't you look for yourself?
What happens next? The story is simple: A bunch of black rats almost wiped out a bunch of gigantic bugs on a little island far, far away from most of us. A few dedicated scientists, passionate about biological diversity, risked their lives to keep the bugs going. For the bugs to get their homes and their future back doesn't depend on scientists anymore. They've done their job. Now it's up to the folks on Lord Howe Island.
Will ordinary Janes and Joes, going about their days, agree to spend a little extra effort and money to preserve an animal that isn't what most of us would call beautiful? Its main attraction is that it has lived on the planet for a long time, and we have the power to keep it around. I don't know if it will work, but in the end, that's the walking stick's best argument:
I'm still here. Don't let me go.

The Big Search to Find Out Where Dogs Come From

The New York Times

An ancient canine skull at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural
Sciences. Scientists are still debating exactly when and wher
the ancient human-canine bond originated. Credit Andrew
Testa for The New York Times
OXFORD, England — Before humans milked cows, herded goats or raised hogs, before they invented agriculture, or written language, before they had permanent homes, and most certainly before they had cats, they had dogs.
Or dogs had them, depending on how you view the human-canine arrangement. But scientists are still debating exactly when and where the ancient bond originated. And a large new study being run out of the University of Oxford here, with collaborators around the world, may soon provide some answers.
Scientists have come up with a broad picture of the origins of dogs. First off, researchers agree that they evolved from ancient wolves. Scientists once thought that some visionary hunter-gatherer nabbed a wolf puppy from its den one day and started raising tamer and tamer wolves, taking the first steps on the long road to leashes and flea collars. This is oversimplified, of course, but the essence of the idea is that people actively bred wolves to become dogs just the way they now breed dogs to be tiny or large, or to herd sheep.
Greger Larson, a biologist in the archeology department at the
 University of Oxford, hopes a large database of ancient DNA 
will help determine where and when the domestication of dogs 
occurred. Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times
The prevailing scientific opinion now, however, is that this origin story does not pass muster. Wolves are hard to tame, even as puppies, and many researchers find it much more plausible that dogs, in effect, invented themselves.
Imagine that some ancient wolves were slightly less timid around nomadic hunters and scavenged regularly from their kills and camps, and gradually evolved to become tamer and tamer, producing lots of offspring because of the relatively easy pickings. At some point, they became the tail-wagging beggar now celebrated as man’s best friend.
Some researchers question whether dogs experience feelings like love and loyalty, or whether their winning ways are just a matter of instincts that evolved because being a hanger-on is an easier way to make a living than running down elk. Raymond Coppinger, a professor emeritus of biology at Hampshire College, noted in his landmark 2001 book, “Dogs,” that “best friend” is not an “ecological definition.” And he suggested that “the domestic house dog may have evolved into a parasite.”
Researchers also point out that of the estimated one billion dogs in the world, only a quarter of them are pets. The vast majority of dogs run free in villages, scavenge food at dumps, cadge the odd handout and cause tens of thousands of human deaths each year from rabies. They are sometimes friendly, but not really friends.
Modern dogs are different from modern wolves in numerous ways. They eat comfortably in the presence of people, whereas wolves do not. Their skulls are wider and snouts shorter. They do not live in pack structures when they are on their own, and so some scientists scoff at dog-training approaches that require the human to act as pack leader.
Wolves mate for the long haul and wolf dads help with the young, while dogs are completely promiscuous and the males pay no attention to their offspring. Still, dogs and wolves interbreed easily and some scientists are not convinced that the two are even different species, a skepticism that reflects broader debates in science about how to define a species, and how much the category is a fact of nature as opposed to an arbitrary line drawn by humans.

Tracing the Origins

If current divisions between species are murky, the past lies in deep darkness. Scientists generally agree that there is good evidence that dogs were domesticated around 15,000 years ago. By 14,000 years ago, people were burying dogs, sometimes along with humans. But some biologists argue, based on DNA evidence and the shape of ancient skulls, that dog domestication occurred well over 30,000 years ago.
And as to where the process occurred, researchers studying dog and wolf DNA — most of it modern but some from ancient sources — have argued in recent years that dogs originated in East Asia, Mongolia, Siberia, Europe and Africa.
One reason for the conflicting theories, according to Greger Larson, a biologist in the archaeology department at the University of Oxford, is that dog genetics are a mess. In an interview at his office here in November, he noted that most dog breeds were invented in the 19th century during a period of dog obsession that he called “the giant whirlwind blender of the European crazy Victorian dog-breeding frenzy.”
That blender, as well as random breeding by dogs themselves, and interbreeding with wolves at different times over at least the last 15,000 years, created a “tomato soup” of dog genetics, for which the ingredients are very hard to identify, Dr. Larson said.
The way to find the recipe, Dr. Larson is convinced, is to create a large database of ancient DNA to add to the soup of modern canine genetics. And with a colleague, Keith Dobney at the University of Aberdeen, he has persuaded the Who’s Who of dog researchers to join a broad project, with about $2.5 million in funding from the Natural Environment Research Council in England and the European Research Council, to analyze ancient bones and their DNA.
Jawbone and teeth fragments housed at the Oxford Museum 
of Natural History. Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times
Robert Wayne, an evolutionary biologist at U.C.L.A. who studies the origin of dogs and is part of the research, said, “There’s hardly a person working in canine genetics that’s not working on that project.”
That is something of a triumph, given the many competing theories in this field. “Almost every group has a different origination hypothesis,” he said.
But Dr. Larson has sold them all on the simple notion that the more data they have, the more cooperative the effort is, the better the answers are going to be. His personality has been crucial to promoting the team effort, said Dr. Wayne, who described Dr. Larson as “very outgoing, gregarious.” Also, Dr. Wayne added, “He has managed not to alienate anyone.”
Scientists at museums and universities who are part of the project are opening up their collections. So to gather data, Dr. Larson and his team at Oxford have traveled the world, collecting tiny samples of bone and measurements of teeth, jaws and occasionally nearly complete skulls from old and recent dogs, wolves and canids that could fall into either category. The collection phase is almost done, said Dr. Larson, who expects to end up with DNA from about 1,500 samples, and photographs and detailed measurements of several thousand.
Scientific papers will start to emerge this year from the work, some originating in Oxford, and some from other institutions, all the work of many collaborators.
Dr. Larson is gambling that the project will be able to determine whether the domestication process occurred closer to 15,000 or 30,000 years ago, and in what region it took place. That’s not quite the date, GPS location and name of the ancient hunter that some dog lovers might hope for.
But it would be a major achievement in the world of canine science, and a landmark in the analysis of ancient DNA to show evolution, migrations and descent, much as studies of ancient hominid DNA have shown how ancient humans populated the globe and interbred with Neanderthals.
And why care about the domestication of dogs, beyond the obsessive interest so many people have in their pets? The emergence of dogs may have been a watershed.
“Maybe dog domestication on some level kicks off this whole change in the way that humans are involved and responding to and interacting with their environment,” he added. “I don’t think that’s outlandish.”

Shepherding the Research

Dr. Larson is no stranger to widely varying points of view. He is an American, but recently became a British citizen as well. His parents are American and he visited the United States often as a child, but he was born in Bahrain and grew up in Turkey and Japan, places where his parents were teaching in schools on American military bases.
He graduated from Claremont McKenna College in California and received his Ph.D. at Oxford. In between college and graduate studies, he spent a year searching for the bed of an ancient river in Turkmenistan, and another couple of years setting up an environmental consulting office in Azerbaijan. He had an interest in science as an undergraduate, and some background from a college major in environment, economics and politics, but no set career plans. Instead, his career grew out of intense curiosity, a knack for making friends and a willingness to jump at an opportunity, like the time he managed to tag along on an archaeological dig.
Ardern Hulme-Beaman cuts a piece from an ancient dog skull
 for DNA testing at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural 
Sciences in Brussels. Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times
He was staying in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, and a local man who had helped him rent an old Soviet truck to explore the desert told him some Westerners were arriving to go on a dig, so he wangled his way onto one of the trucks.
“I think everybody there thought I was with somebody else,” Dr. Larson said.
By the time the group stopped to rest and someone asked him who he was, it was too late to question whether he really belonged. “I was a complete stowaway,” he said.
But he could move dirt and speak Russian, and he had some recently acquired expertise — in college drinking games — that he said was in great demand at night. By luck, he said, the researchers on the dig turned out to be “the great and the good of British neolithic archaeology.” One of them was Chris Gosden, the chairman of European Archaeology at Oxford, who later invited him to do a one-year master's degree in archaeology at Oxford. That eventually led to a Ph.D. program after he spent some time in graduate school in the United States.
The current project began when he became fed up with the lack of ancient DNA evidence in papers about the origin of dogs. He called Dr. Dobney, of the University of Aberdeen in 2011, and said, “We’re doing dogs.”
After receiving the grant from the council in England, he and Dr. Dobney organized a conference in Aberdeen, Scotland, to gather as many people involved in researching dog origins as they could. His pitch to the group was that despite their different points of view, everyone was interested in the best possible evidence, no matter where it led.
“If we have to eat crow, we eat crow,” he said. “It’s science.”

A 32,000-Year-Old Skull

Mietje Germonpré, a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, is one of the many scientists participating in the dog project. She was one of a number of authors on a 2013 paper in Science that identified a skull about 32,000 years old from a Belgian cave in Goyet as an early dog. Dr. Wayne at U.C.L.A. was the senior author on the paper and Olaf Thalmann from the University of Turku in Finland was the first author.
It is typical of Dr. Larson’s dog project that although he disagreed with the findings of the paper, arguing that the evidence just wasn’t there to call the Goyet skull a dog, all of the authors of the paper are working on the larger project with him.
In November in Brussels, holding the priceless fossil, Dr. Germonpré pointed out the wide skull, crowded teeth and short snout of the ancient skull — all indicators to her that it was not a wolf.
“To me, it’s a dog,” she said. Studies of mitochondrial DNA, passed down from females only, also indicated the skull was not a wolf, according to the 2013 paper.
A wolf on display at the Oxford Museum of Natural History. 
Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times
Dr. Germonpré said she thinks dogs were domesticated some time before this animal died, and she leans toward the idea that humans intentionally bred them from wolves.
She holds up another piece of evidence, a reconstruction of a 30,000-year-old canid skull found near Predmostí, in the Czech Republic, with a bone in its mouth. She reported in 2014 that this was a dog. And she says the bone is part of evidence the animal was buried with care. “We think it was deliberately put there,” she said.
But she recognizes these claims are controversial and is willing, like the rest of the world of canine science, to risk damage to the fossils themselves to get more information on not just the mitochondrial DNA but also the nuclear DNA.
To minimize that risk, she talked with Ardern Hulme-Beaman, a postdoctoral researcher with the Oxford team, about where to cut into it. He was nearing the end of months of traveling to Russia, Turkey, the United States and all over Europe to take samples of canid jaws and skulls.
He and Allowyn Evin, now with the National Center for Scientific Research in Montpelier, France, also took many photographs of each jaw and skull to do geometric morphometrics. Software processes detailed photographs from every angle into 3-D recreations that provide much more information on the shape of a bone than length and width measurements.
Dr. Germonpré and Dr. Hulme-Beaman agreed on a spot in the interior of the skull to cut. In the laboratory, he used a small electric drill with a cutting blade to remove a chunk the size of a bit of chopped walnut. An acrid, burning smell indicated that organic material was intact within the bone — a good sign for the potential retrieval of DNA.
Back in Oxford, researchers will attempt to use the most current techniques to get as much DNA as possible out of the sample. There is no stretch of code that says “wolf” or “dog,” any more than there is a single skull feature that defines a category. What geneticists try to establish is how different the DNA of one animal is from another. Adding ancient DNA gives many more points of reference over a long time span.
Dr. Larson hopes that he and his collaborators will be able to identify a section of DNA in some ancient wolves that was passed on to more doglike descendants and eventually to modern dogs. And he hopes they will be able to identify changes in the skulls or jaws of those wolves that show shifts to more doglike shapes, helping to narrow the origins of domestication.
The usual assumption about domestic animals is that the process of taming and breeding them happened once. But that’s not necessarily so. Dr. Larson and Dr. Dobney showed that pigs were domesticated twice, once in Anatolia and once in China. The same could be true of dogs.

Only the Beginning

Although the gathering of old bones is almost done, Dr. Larson is still negotiating with Chinese researchers for samples from that part of the world, which he says are necessary. But he hopes they will come.
If all goes well, said Dr. Larson, the project will publish a flagship paper from all of the participants describing their general findings. And over the next couple of years, researchers, all using the common data, will continue to publish separate findings.
Other large collaborative efforts are brewing, as well. Dr. Wayne, at U.C.L.A., said that a group in China was forming with the goal of sequencing 10,000 dog genomes. He and Dr. Larson are part of that group.
Last fall, Dr. Larson was becoming more excited with each new bit of data, but not yet ready to tip his hand about what conclusions the data may warrant, or how significant they will be.
But he is growing increasingly confident that they will find what they want, and come close to settling the thorny question of when and where the tearing power of a wolf jaw first gave way to the persuasive force of a nudge from a dog’s cold nose.
“I’m starting to drink my own Kool-Aid,” he said.