Tag: science in the news

Ghosts in the Genome: Identification of an Unknown Fossil Hominid Through DNA Sequencing

By Chris Mooney | June 17, 2010 11:36 am

This is a guest post from a member of Science in the News (SITN), an organization of PhD students at Harvard University whose mission is to bring the newest and most relevant science to a general audience. For over a decade, SITN has been presenting a fall lecture series at Harvard Medical School, with talks on a diversity of current and newsworthy topics, such as stem cell biology and climate change. SITN also publishes the Flash, an online newsletter written by graduate students at Harvard, which presents current scientific discoveries and emerging fields in an accessible and entertaining manner. SITN engages in additional outreach activities such as “Science by the Pint”, and hopes students at other institutions will also make the commitment to strengthen science communication.

The following post is from Harvard graduate student Amanda Nottke.

How Do We Identify Extinct Species?

Paleontologists have always differentiated between extinct species by comparative anatomy of their fossil remains. Those scientists who study living organisms have an additional technique available – the comparison of DNA sequences between specimens. More recently, due to rapid advances in the efficiency and reduced cost of DNA sequencing, it has become possible to sequence DNA extracted from the remains of extinct species as well. This technology has been used on frozen mammoths recovered from ice, and from the bones of Neanderthals and ancient humans. Recently, the first complete Neanderthal genome was published, opening the way for multiple studies comparing us to our closest extinct relatives and shedding light on the fact that many modern humans carry 1-4% Neanderthal DNA; the result of ancient interbreeding events.

These sequencing experiments have contributed much to our understanding of recent evolution, but until now they have been used as a support to the overwhelming fossil evidence, as opposed to a primary determinant of species identification. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Guest Posts

Megadroughts: What Causes, and What Solutions?

By Chris Mooney | June 16, 2010 10:20 am

This is a guest post from a member of Science in the News (SITN), an organization of PhD students at Harvard University whose mission is to bring the newest and most relevant science to a general audience. For over a decade, SITN has been presenting a fall lecture series at Harvard Medical School, with talks on a diversity of current and newsworthy topics, such as stem cell biology and climate change. SITN also publishes the Flash, an online newsletter written by graduate students at Harvard, which presents current scientific discoveries and emerging fields in an accessible and entertaining manner. SITN engages in additional outreach activities such as “Science by the Pint”, and hopes students at other institutions will also make the commitment to strengthen science communication.

The following post is from Harvard graduate student Atreyee Bhattacharya.

As devastating drought threatens sub-Saharan Africa, and millions are faced with starvation and socio-political conflict, a question might loom large on the minds of policy makers: “How do we prepare for a potentially several decade-spanning drought, in a region where survival of our population depends mainly on rain-fed agriculture?”

Research has shown that dry spells spanning several decades, also known as megadroughts, have been regular feature of sub-Saharan life for thousands of years. Most recently, droughts in the late 18th century and 1870s, both much longer and more severe than the American 1930s Dust Bowl and the West African Sahel drought of 1968-73, caused millions to perish. And these severe droughts occurred before pervasive European colonization, at a time when the native population still maintained a nomadic lifestyle that allowed them to move their herds in search of greener pastures.  With agricultural stability came a new hazard- dependence of food production on rainwater, in a region where its availability is linked to a fragile climate balance;  and a balance that increasingly tips to the wrong side. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Guest Posts

Improving Communication Between Scientists and the Public: Start Younger, Try Harder?

By Chris Mooney | June 15, 2010 8:13 am

This is a guest post from a member of Science in the News (SITN), an organization of PhD students at Harvard University whose mission is to bring the newest and most relevant science to a general audience. For over a decade, SITN has been presenting a fall lecture series at Harvard Medical School, with talks on a diversity of current and newsworthy topics, such as stem cell biology and climate change. SITN also publishes the Flash, an online newsletter written by graduate students at Harvard, which presents current scientific discoveries and emerging fields in an accessible and entertaining manner. SITN engages in additional outreach activities such as “Science by the Pint”, and hopes students at other institutions will also make the commitment to strengthen science communication.

The following post is from Harvard graduate student Rou-Jia Sung.

I recently attended an event entitled “Standing up for Science,” which was held as part of the Cambridge Science Festival and organized by the UK-based group “Sense about Science.”

The event was organized as a forum to bring people together to discuss the issue of science and the media: how these two entities perceive one another, and how the public perceives them in turn.

From my perspective as a graduate student, the bulk of science is not as black and white as the public might perceive it to be, but is made up of shades of gray; as you set up your experiments to address a particular question, you realize that it is extremely difficult to produce widely general rules and definite conclusions, simply because not everything is known. Read More

Science in the News: Making the Latest Science Available to All


By Chris Mooney | June 14, 2010 7:28 am

This week at the Intersection, in addition to our regular postings we’re also going to carry a series of guest posts from Science in the News (SITN), a group of Harvard Ph.D. students whose communication attempts we greatly admire. This is the first post, and merely intended to let SITN introduce itself. One hope is that by featuring the group here, we will inspire the growth of similar organizations at other campuses.

So, here they go:

Science in the News (SITN) is an organization of PhD students at Harvard University, and our mission is to bring the newest and most relevant science to a general audience.

At SITN, we strive to share our enthusiasm for science without over-hyping the promise of new discoveries, and to wade through the technical jargon to make science more accessible.

For over a decade, we’ve been presenting a fall lecture series at Harvard Medical School. The lectures focus on a diversity of current and newsworthy topics, such as stem cell biology and climate change. Read More

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