Peter’s odd and curious world

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Homo Sapiens: our uniqueness and how, over millions of years we became what we are today.


LAST September, ‘Scientific American’ published a series of authoritative articles about US, Homo Sapiens: our uniqueness and how, over millions of years we became what we are today.

But the ending surprised and depressed me. It was entitled ‘Why we are probably the only intelligent life in the Galaxy’. What has happened to Carl Sagan’s entreaty ”Where is everybody”. Well, in the experts’ opinion ‘there isn’t anybody’: we may very well be alone in our Milky Way Galaxy and possibly in the entire Universe.

A chain of improbable coincidences started with the ‘big bang’. Our rocky planet’s position relative to our sun and far from the dangerous centre of the galaxy; the metals in its composition; our liquid water and a climate suitable for life and our magnetic field, source of the ‘auroras’ repels harmful radiation. A combination not found in the thousands of already discovered exo-planets. Over four billion years passed before multi-cellular life culminated in the ‘Cambrian Explosion’ of life forms roughly half a billion years ago.

When several species of early Hominids began walking out of Africa some seven or eight million years ago, there was no clue to which one would eventually win to over-run the planet and become us. Many faced extinction from the climate and DNA evidence shows  that sometimes the earth’s population was reduced just a few thousand. From these hardy people (the last being the Neanderthals’) we, Homo Sapiens, are all descended and to whom we owe our cognitive brains, skills to adapt, morals and technological know-how.          
John Gribbin, of Sussex University, writes – ‘ Is another civilization likely to exist today? Almost certainly NO.’ If this is true, we must redouble our efforts to preserve our beautiful planet and our way of life for future generations. We have been most profligate without realising the harm we have done to it.

Another mass extinction? Five mass extinctions over the last 542 million years, caused by an excess of carbon in the seas resulted in the loss of over 75% of all marine life. Experts believe that another crisis point may be reached by 2040, indicating another marine extinction before the end of this century. The last one caused the demise of the dinosaurs so we have no idea if we could survive with lifeless oceans. A Marine Science expert from Calpe, DR. Jose Rafael Garcia, thought it unlikely!

A FEW ODDITIES                      

Sleeping Frogs

Found in Myanmar,(Burma), four tiny frog fossils preserved in amber since the age of the dinosaurs

100 million years ago. Frogs and toads were just evolving in the rain forests at this time.

A spinal breakthrough?

Scientists at king’s College, London have used gene therapy to repair damage to the spinal cord of rats. They are hopeful that the same treatment could help humans.

Bring it on!

Scientists have determined that a single one of all our genes is responsible for whether we age gracefully or not. Perhaps it could be on prescription one day!

ET!

I liked the story of the six inch (15cm) mummified skeleton of a girl found in a pouch in the abandoned nitrate mining town of La Noria in Chile. It ended up in a private collection in Spain.

Missing one set of ribs and with an elongated conical head, speculation arose that it was an alien.

Modern testing confirmed it was a new-born human but with multiple gene defects.       

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