Category Archives: Environment

Earliest placental mammal

I stumbled over this neat article on BBC News:

The creature that gave rise to all the placental mammals – a huge group that includes whales, elephants, dogs, bats and us – has at last been pinpointed.

An international effort mapped out thousands of physical traits and genetic clues to trace the lineage.

Their results indicate that all placental mammals arose from a small, furry, insect-eating animal.
Earliest mammal

A report in Science resolves the debate as to when the creature lived; it came about after the demise of dinosaurs.

That had been a hotly debated question over years of research.

Placental mammals – as opposed to the kind that lay eggs, such as the platypus, or carry young in pouches, such as the kangaroo – are an extraordinarily diverse group of animals with more than 5,000 species today. They include examples that fly, swim and run, and range in weight from a couple of grams to hundreds of tonnes.

A wealth of fossil evidence had pointed to the notion that the group, or clade, grew in an “explosion” of species shortly after the dinosaurs’ end about 65 million years ago.

But a range of genetic studies that look for fairly regular changes in genetic makeup suggested that the group arose as long as 100 million years ago, with mammals such as early rodents sharing the Earth with the dinosaurs.

‘Tree of Life’

Deciphering the very distant past on the basis of fossils and animals that are around today is inherently a subjective business.

“Comparative anatomy” – in which, for example, the forelimbs of a number of fossils are compared to establish which are most closely related – was the entire toolbox for the earliest palaeontologists. The era of genetics ushered in a more incisive tool to compare similarities across species.

But the new work tackles the question of placental mammals in unprecedented detail, developing a database of physical and genetic data some 10 times larger than any used previously – and taking a decidedly modern take on it.

“Anatomy and research in palaeontology had a very 19th Century veneer to it – that we would sit in small groups in a lab with a fossil describing it,” said lead author of the study Maureen O’Leary of Stony Brook University in New York, US.

(Entire article at BBC News.)

EU Set to Ban Animal Testing for Cosmetics Forever

Found on the Goodnewsnetwork:

After over 20 years of campaigning, ethical beauty retailer The Body Shop and non-profit organization Cruelty Free International are finally celebrating the end to animal testing for cosmetics in Europe with the anticipated announcement that the import and sale of animal tested cosmetic products and ingredients is to be banned in the EU on March 11, 2013.

kittenThis ground breaking victory means that from 11th March onwards, anyone who wishes to sell new cosmetic products and ingredients in the EU must not test them on animals anywhere in the world. The ban affects all cosmetics including toiletries and beauty products from soap to toothpaste. The Body Shop is one of the few beauty brands who will not be affected by the ban, having always been Against Animal Testing.

The proposed ban sends a strong message worldwide in support of cruelty free beauty and in particular to countries such as China, who still demand animal testing for cosmetics, to also respond and ban testing on animals.

Cruelty Free International Chief Executive, Michelle Thew said: ‘This is truly an historic event and the culmination of over 20 years of campaigning. Now we will apply our determination and vision on a global stage to ensure that the rest of the world follows this lead.’

In 1991, the BUAV (founder of Cruelty Free International) established a European coalition of leading animal protection organizations across Europe (ECEAE) with the objective to end the use of animal testing for cosmetics. This set in motion a high-profile public and political campaign across Europe spanning over 20 years. In 1993, The Body Shop, the first beauty company to take action on animal testing for cosmetics, supported the campaign by enlisting the support of its consumers across Europe. Three years later in 1996, Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, joined members of the ECEAE and MEPs in presenting a petition containing 4 million signatures to the European Commission.

In 2012, the BUAV established Cruelty Free International, the first global organization dedicated to ending cosmetics animal testing worldwide. The Body Shop together with Cruelty Free International launched a new international campaign which has so far resulted in customers from 55 countries signing a global pledge supporting an end to animal testing for cosmetics forever.

There Are Whales Living Now That Were Born Before Moby Dick Was Written


There are Whales Living Now That Were Born Before Moby Dick Was Written

Recently the Smithsonian Magazine highlighted an interesting tidbit from this Alaska Dispatch article about the recovering bowhead whale population. Since bowheads live for over 200 years, that means the older whales amongst the current population were born before Moby Dick was written!

Not only that, but these bowhead whales also avoided being killed by a massively active whaling industry that reduced their numbers to a mere 1000. Spit your last breath at that, Ahab!

[News via The Smithsonian, Art via Arctic Whales]

Whales and harpoons

Are Some Whales More Valuable Than Others?


When nature is the enemy, the world rallies to save the whales from being trapped in ice or stranded on the beach. I am happy that people are so compassionate and so eager to lend their help. I am happy that the media covers the plight of the whales, like the orcas trapped in the ice in Canada or pilot whales stranded on the beach in New Zealand or a lost whale that wanders up the Thames River. I love whales and to see people rally to them to save and protect them fills my heart with joy and gives me hope for humanity. But what I don’t understand is why such passion and concern is displayed for 13 orcas in the ice off Quebec or the three Grey whales caught in the ice a few years back in Alaska yet the fact that Japan intends to kill 935 Minke whales and 50 endangered Fin whales and retains the option to slaughter 50 endangered Humpbacks and this elicits the response by many, not all, but many, of the people who rally to the trapped whales to turn a blind eye to the slaughter by the whalers. What is it that makes people accepting of the death of whales by harpoons yet so concerned about the threat of death by ice or stranding? Why are those who thankfully volunteer to go to the whales in the ice to help the whales lauded as heroes yet those who try to block the harpoons are called extremists. I am glad there are selfless people willing to rescue whales in trouble and they are indeed heroes but are we the lesser for trying to save whales from a horrific death by these savage harpoons. Is it that we humans like to display our compassion in the face of nature but we submit to the violence of our own kind when humans murder the whales. We are presently in the Southern Ocean trying to save the lives of 1035 whales and for this we are vilified, made to look like criminals and accused of being extremists and some of these accusations come from people who have expressed concern for the fate of the Orcas in the ice off Quebec. Thankfully it looks like the Orcas have been freed but in ten days the whaling fleet arrives with their harpoons to inflict an agonizing and brutally prolonged death to hundreds of whales. We are here to stop them and we will, but it is sad to think that our support base would be so much stronger if we were down here to rescue whales from being trapped in the ice and not from the harpoons of the Japanese whaling fleet.

(Original post on Facebook, courtesy of Capt. Paul Watson)

Life is old there, older than the trees…

No, this is not going to be a copy of John Denver’s song, but life apparently is quite old (unless you’re bible-strong).


The Washington Post wrote this:

Bacterial traces from 3.5 billion years ago are ‘oldest fossils,’ experts say

by Devin Powell, Published: December 31

Scientists analyzing Australian rocks have discovered traces of bacteria that lived a record-breaking 3.49 billion years ago, a mere billion years after Earth formed.If the find withstands the scrutiny that inevitably faces claims of fossils this old, it could move scientists one step closer to understanding the first chapters of life on Earth. The discovery could also spur the search for ancient life on other planets.These traces of bacteria “are the oldest fossils ever described. Those are our oldest ancestors,” said Nora Noffke, a biogeochemist at Old Dominion University in Norfolk who was part of the group that made the find and presented it last month at a meeting of the Geological Society of America.Unlike dinosaur bones, the newly identified fossils are not petrified body parts. They’re textures on the surfaces of sandstone thought to be sculpted by once-living organisms. Today, similar patterns decorate parts of Tunisia’s coast, created by thick mats of bacteria that trap and glue together sand particles. Sand that is stuck to the land beneath the mats and thus protected from erosion can over time turn into rock that can long outlast the living organisms above it.Finding the earliest remnants of this process required a long, hard look at some of the planet’s oldest rocks, located in Western Australia’s Pilbara region. This ancient landscape was once shoreline. Rocks made from sediment piled up billions of years ago are now exposed and available for examination. Relatively pristine in condition, such outcrops, along with others in South Africa, have long been a popular place to look for traces of life from the Archean eon, which ended 2.5 billion years ago.

(Read more on The Washington Post site.)

Heaven’s Gate Mountain. Zhangjiajie City, China

The elevation of Tianmen Mountains is 1518.6 meters (the highest one in Zhangjiajie); people may feel amazing that about 40 peaks inside the mountain area are over 1000 meters. Due to the high elevation of the mountain, the day time is longer than the night hours and the temperature on the mountains is about 10 degree centigrade lower than the Zhangjiajie city, the sunrise on the mountain is 30 minutes earlier and the sunset is 45 minutes later than it is in the city areas. Thus it is known as an endless sky without darkness.

The mountain is famous for its unique natural miracle – the Tianmen Cave; it was authorized as a national forest park in July, 1992. The door-alike cave was created after the cliff collapsing in ancient time. Tianmen Mountains is rich in Chinese culture; it is regarded as the Top 1 Heaven Mountain in the west part of Hunan province and the sprit of Wuling (an old name of the county here). This place has absorbed the essence from the nature for thousands years, therefore visiting the holy temple on the mountain – Tianmenshan Temple has become a popular way to pray for a safe and healthy life.

Human genes engineered into experimental GMO rice being grown in Kansas

(NaturalNews) Unless the rice you buy is certified organic, or comes specifically from a farm that tests its rice crops for genetically modified (GM) traits, you could be eating rice tainted with actual human genes. The only known GMO with inbred human traits in cultivation today, a GM rice product made by biotechnology company Ventria Bioscience is currently being grown on 3,200 acres in Junction City, Kansas — and possibly elsewhere — and most people have no idea about it.

Since about 2006, Ventria has been quietly cultivating rice that has been genetically modified (GM) with genes from the human liver for the purpose of taking the artificial proteins produced by this “Frankenrice” and using them in pharmaceuticals. With approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Ventria has taken one of the most widely cultivated grain crops in the world today, and essentially turned it into a catalyst for producing new drugs.

Originally, the cultivation of this GM rice, which comes in three approved varieties (, was limited to the laboratory setting. But in 2007, Ventria decided to bring the rice outdoors. The company initially tried to plant the crops in Missouri, but met resistance from Anheuser-Busch and others, which threatened to boycott all rice from the state in the event that Ventria began planting its rice within state borders (

So Ventria’s GM rice eventually ended up in Kansas, where it is presumably still being grown for the purpose of manufacturing drugs on 3,200 acres in Junction City. And while this GM rice with added human traits has never been approved for human consumption, it is now being cultivated in open fields where the potential for unrestrained contamination and spread of its unwanted, dangerous GM traits is virtually a given.

“This is not a product that everyone would want to consume,” said Jane Rissler from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) to the Washington Post back in 2007. “It is unwise to produce drugs in plants outdoors.”

Though receiving tens of thousands of public comments of opposition, many rightly concerned about the spread of GM traits, the USDA approved open cultivation of Ventria’s GM rice anyway. This, of course, occurred after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had refused approval for Ventria’s GM rice back in 2003 (

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