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The World Conservation Union published the 2004 Red List of Threatened Species and said that 15,568 species, an increase of 3,300 since last year, are threatened with extinction. Half of all freshwater turtles, one third of amphibians, a quarter of known mammals, and one in eight birds were listed. Paleoanthropologists announced the discovery of a species of hobbit-like humans on Flores, an island 370 miles east of Bali. The adult hobbits, who lived as recently as 13,000 years ago, were about the size of a three-year-old modern human child, and they hunted pygmy elephants and Komodo dragons for food. Biologists concluded that humans are remarkably well adapted for long-distance running and speculated that this ability gave early humans an evolutionary advantage. Geologists discovered a 5,000-square-kilometer meteor impact field under the sands of the Sahara desert; the field comprises about 100 craters, which appear to have been created simultaneously about 50 million years ago. Conservation biologists warned that collapsing fisheries along the African coast were endangering land species, which are being eaten instead of fish. Italian researchers found that women who eat large amounts of chocolate have good sex lives.

A recount of the human genome resulted in a revised estimate of the number of human genes to between 20,000 and 25,000; in 2001 that number was thought to be 30,000 and previously was estimated at 100,000. French researchers reported that the spotted green pufferfish possesses about 25,000 genes. Researchers at Yale successfully grew human testicular tissue in mice, and it was discovered that the stem cell lines approved for federally funded research in the United States are tainted with mouse characteristics. Tissue transplants using retinal cells harvested from aborted fetuses were used to heal the blind. A new study found that the children of older fathers have a greater risk of going crazy later in life, and researchers at the California Institute of Technology have developed a brain implant, called an "autonomous microdrive," that moves electrons around in the brain as it searches for strong neuronal signals. Scientists in California successfully implanted a brain prosthesis in a dish of rat brain slices, and a similar array of rat brain cells was able to fly a virtual F-22 fighter jet. A rancher in Texas was developing a system that will permit hunters to kill animals by remote control via a website. New research found that it is better to be bullied for the first time as a young child than as an adolescent.

Astronomers were surprised to discover that Uranus, previously thought to be somewhat boring, is actually quite stormy. "We have never seen such vigorous convective activity in the southern hemisphere before," said one. "Whatever is happening," said another, "has to be well lubricated; it has to be a low-friction environment." It was also discovered that the rings around Uranus are composed of chunks, Evidence of an intermediate-mass black hole was detected near the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way; the smaller hole contains the mass of about 1,300 suns, whereas the supermassive hole contains roughly 3 million solar masses. Australian researchers used gene-silencing techniques to prevent poppy plants from producing morphine, and a study of wheat prices suggested that sunspots influence crop success. Coyotes were seen lurking in Washington, D.C., and wild elephants, often drunk on rice beer, were terrorizing villagers in India.
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Publication:Harper's Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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