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Wild cats were tamed with strokes and treats, genetic analysis suggests

Richard Gray

Cat owners will recognise the purr of pleasure from their pets when they are tickled behind the ears, but a new analysis comparing the domestic cat’s genome with that of its wild relatives suggests this may also have been key to taming the animals in the first place.

The analysis has identified some of the crucial changes in feline DNA that have occurred as the animals were domesticated over the past 9,000 years. Among the main differences are changes in genes associated with the growth of brain cells involved in feelings of reward and pleasure.

This suggests that humans first began domesticating these notoriously solitary creatures by appealing to their desire for treats and stroking. Those that responded were then more likely to be bred, leading to increasingly docile animals as time went on.

“You can imagine wild cats picking up scraps of food from near to human settlements initially and gradually becoming more accustomed to human presence,” said Dr Bronwen Aken, one of those involved in the research at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge. “They would have moved in closer to the point where they were being fed. The food would probably have been the primary reward and petting would have come later.”



Drought Is Taking California Back to the Wild, Wild West

November 10, 2014 Mary Madden feels paranoid.

Last fall Madden noticed something suspicious. The water filling the tanks outside her veterinary clinic in Los Gatos, Calif., was disappearing at an alarming rate. Madden checked for leaks but found none. Then she realized: Someone was stealing her water.

"I just couldn't believe it," she said. "You never imagine anyone would do something like that but there it was, vanishing right before our eyes."

Madden decided to act. She installed security cameras. Then she put locks on the tanks. She even strung a chain across her driveway to keep out unwanted visitors. The theft stopped after the locks went on. But Madden never caught the thief, and she can't stop thinking about who did it.

"This is a really small community, so you sit here and start going through everyone you know and wondering if it was them," she said.

Madden is not alone. Water theft has become increasingly common in California as the state suffers through its worst drought on record. There's no reliable tracking of just how much water has gone missing. But reports of theft rose dramatically in the past year. Officials say a black market set up to peddle water is thriving as wells run dry. And law enforcement is scrambling to respond.



The most exciting discovery in physics could come about thanks to telecoms satellites.

Watching a rocket as it slowly starts to heave itself out of Earth’s deep gravity well and then streaks up into the blue, you suddenly grasp on a visceral level the energies involved in space exploration. One minute that huge cylinder is sitting quietly on its launching pad; the next, its engines fire up with a brilliant burst of light. Clouds of exhaust fill the sky, and the waves of body-shaking thunder never seem to end.

To get anywhere in space, you have to travel astounding distances. Even the Moon is about 400,000 km away. And yet the hardest part – energy-wise, anyway – is just getting off the ground. Clear that hurdle, slip the bonds of Earth, and you’re off. Gravity’s influence falls away and suddenly, travel becomes a lot cheaper.

So it might be surprising to hear that the most exciting new frontier in space exploration starts a mere 2,000 km above the terrestrial surface. We aren’t talking about manned missions, automatic rovers or even probes. We’re talking about satellites. Even more prosaically, we’re talking about communications satellites, in low Earth orbit. Yes, they’ll be fitted with precision laser equipment that sends and receives particles of light – photons – in their fundamental quantum states. But the missions will be an essentially commercial proposition, paid for, in all probability, by banks eager to protect themselves against fraud.

Perhaps that doesn’t sound very romantic. So consider this: those satellites could change the way we see our Universe as much as any space mission to date. For the first time, we will be able to test quantum physics in space. We’ll get our best chance yet to see how it meshes with that other great physical theory, relativity. And at this point, we have very little idea what happens next.


A day I never look forward too

By Robert Bateman on November 11, 2014

He was 22 the last day I saw him, eager and concerned at the same time. Would he measure up?

He was 54 the last day I saw him. He had never been in a combat zone and wanted to know the score since he was going to the exact place I just came from.

He was 47 the last day I saw him, distressed about some moral issues that one must wrestle with when dealing with allies who might not have the same agendas.

She was 36 the last day I saw her, concerned about getting her kids to America. She was heading out of Assassin’s Gate.

He was 26 the last day I saw him, as I handed off command of my unit in a peacetime Army.

He was 22 the last day I saw him, saluting me as we passed each other, each on our way.

This list goes on, and I do not feel like reliving it right now. I do not claim many rights, but I believe I may claim this one. Sometimes I want to forget.



Tad Devine signs on to work with Bernie Sanders on potential 2016 run

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has spent months fishing for a strategist to guide his potential 2016 presidential campaign. On Monday, he hooked a big one: Tad Devine, one of the Democratic Party’s leading consultants and a former high-level campaign aide to Al Gore, John Kerry, and Michael Dukakis.

“If he runs, I’m going to help him,” Devine said in an interview. “He is not only a longtime client but a friend. I believe he could deliver an enormously powerful message that the country is waiting to hear right now and do it in a way that succeeds.”

Devine and Sanders, who first worked together on Sanders's campaigns in the 1990s, have been huddling in recent weeks, mapping out how the brusque progressive senator could navigate a primary and present a formidable challenge to Hillary Rodham Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Devine previously served as a senior adviser to the Kerry-Edwards campaign in 2004 and the Gore-Lieberman campaign in 2000. In 1992, he was campaign manager for then-Nebraska senator Bob Kerrey’s presidential bid.



Quite a record of success there

Traces of radiation from Fukushima detected off California

The first faint traces of radioactivity in the ocean from the Fukushima nuclear disaster have been detected 100 miles off Eureka, a scientist who has been monitoring radiation levels across the Pacific reported Monday.

The levels of the radioactive element Cesium-134 were far lower than any radiation that would pose a threat to human or marine life, said Ken Buesseler, a nuclear chemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod.

The radioactivity was detected in samples of ocean water volunteers aboard a research vessel from the Moss Landing Marine Laboratory in Monterey County collected last August. The samples were sent for analysis to Buesseler’s lab at Woods Hole.

Buesserler’s findings confirmed a report last February by Canadian scientists who found similar faint traces of radioactivity in the ocean off British Columbia.



Tuesday Toon Roundup 4: The Rest









Tuesday Toon Roundup 3: War

Tuesday Toon Roundup 2: The knee-jerk party

Tuesday Toon Roundup 1: Veteran's day

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