Science: Update

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
SCIENCE: THE EMERGENCE of birds and flowering plants appears to have happened more recently than was thought. Fossils of the first feathered dinosaurs and flowering plants, unearthed in the Liaoning province in China, are not as old as scientists first estimated. The animal remains, found in ancient lake beds in Liaoning province, were thought to date from the late Jurassic period - about 140 million years ago. But the science journal Nature reports that new analysis of the sediment dates them in the Cretaceous period, 20 million years closer to the present day. The research sheds new light on plant and animal evolution.

AFTER THE British government's stalling on allowing cloning of embryonic stem cells last week, in the US a coalition of religious experts, doctors, scientists and politicians called such research "unethical and scientifically questionable". They called on the US Congress to keep legislation outlawing the use of human embryos, thought to be the best source of the cells which give rise to all other cell types in the body.

EARTH MAY have a "twin" capable of supporting life somewhere lost in deep space, according to a theory put forward by David Stevenson of the California Institute of Technology. He suggests that when the solar system was forming, the Earth may have had one or more siblings - but that they were thrown out by gravity when they came too close to other larger planets. Though that idea is not new, Stevenson, writing in Nature, suggests that these Earth-like planets might be able to support life despite being in the black void: a dense hydrogen atmosphere and volcanoes could do the job of warming oceans, and nourish life. "It's really a very logical conclusion from what we know about planet formation," commented Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, one of the leaders in the search for other solar systems.

THE INDEPENDENT'S Science page was the source of the winning article in this year's Glaxo Wellcome ABSW Science Writers' Awards. The article "Aliens beneath the ice", about why scientists would rather get under Europa's icy crust than Mars or the Sun, won "Best feature on a science subject in a national or regional newspaper" at the awards, announced this week. Our congratulations to Dr David Whitehouse, science editor of BBC News Online, who wrote the piece.