News to Note, January 31, 2009

A weekly feature examining news from the biblical viewpoint

Featured in News to Know

Darwin in the news, all agree it wasn’t the sponge, a fishy riddle, hobbits in the news, and more!

1. Darwin in the News

We’re less than two weeks away from Darwin’s birthday, and the news media isn’t forgetting.

2. Earth's First Animal

This just in: sea sponges are not the oldest animal around, according to a recent evolutionary analysis.

3. A Fishy Riddle

It’s a bit of a riddle: three fish are totally unlike one another, yet they’re all the same species. How can it be?

4. Is the Hobbit Human?

Remember the hobbit? It’s back in the news—again.

Anatomical researcher Karen Baab of Stony Brook University and anthropologist Kieran McNulty of the University of Minnesota have conducted a new analysis of the skull of Homo floresiensis, the so-called “hobbit” found on the Indonesian island of Flores.

5. New Scientist: “Wasp Inspires Brain-Boring Surgical Robot”

A wasp boring into the brain—it may sound painful, but it could be a key to gentler brain surgery.

Researchers studying female wood wasps have noted the ingenious apparatus the wasps use to bore into pine trees, where they lay their eggs. The needle-like egg-laying tube includes two dovetailed shafts that feature backward-facing teeth. The wasp rapidly oscillates each shaft backward and forward, with the teeth helping the needle-like tube move farther in. This tension created by the teeth keeps the shaft open. “It can insinuate itself into the tissue with the minimum amount of force,” notes Imperial College London’s Ferdinando Rodriguez y Baena, one of the researchers.

Rodriguez y Baena and his colleagues are working to replicate the wasp apparatus for surgical use. A prototype developed by the team places a silicon needle amid tiny fin-shaped teeth only 50 micrometers long. In contrast to existing “rigid” surgical probes, the new design is flexible enough to move through safer surgical routes. New Scientist’s David Robson explains that the flexibility allows the probe to bypass “high-risk areas of the brain during surgery” and “reduce the number of incisions needed to deliver cancer therapies.”

So while a brain-boring probe inspired by a needle-like wasp bore may sound quite painful, the technology may actually result in the opposite. It’s another marvelous design in nature that hadn’t yet dawned on human engineers.

6. MIT Technology Review: “A Virus That Rebuilds Damaged Nerves”

The common perception of viruses is entirely negative (for good reason), but a possible virus therapy could change popular opinion.

MIT’s Technology Review covers a potential breakthrough in treating those with spinal cord injuries: using genetically engineered viruses to help support the re-growth of spinal tissue.

University of California–Berkeley bioengineer Seung-Wuk Lee is hoping the viruses can serve to replace the tissue scaffolds that support vital body tissues and provide chemical signals to keep the tissue functioning correctly. Since viruses are self-replicating and self-assembling, they could replace the scaffolds once engineered to express the right characteristics.

Lee is working with a bacteriophage virus (one that infects bacteria but cannot infect animal cells) called M13 that is long and thin, similar to the protein fibers that compose the body’s natural scaffolding. In the lab, Lee and colleague Anna Merzlyak have injected M13 into a solution containing neural-progenitor cells. The viruses “align themselves like a liquid crystal,” creating fibrous strands similar to neurons. Magnetic fields can even help the virus spread into a more complex arrangement.

The next step for Lee is to test M13 in live animals, monitoring for their immune system reaction. If those tests succeed, M13 could eventually be the therapeutic backbone for regenerating damaged spinal cord tissue.

For more information:

And Don’t Miss . . .

  • Could dinosaurs survive cold temperatures? (See our response to similar reports last year in Polar Dinosaurs.)
  • We regret that David Attenborough has apparently received “hate mail” from creationists. (Or at least that’s what he told Radio Times; lovingly sharing the gospel with someone may include warnings of hellfire and God’s condemnation, but also includes the message of God’s love and salvation.) Attenborough, who claims “It never really occurred to me to believe in God,” made comments that show him unfamiliar with what creationists actually believe about “bad” design and the Curse in Genesis 3. Read our full response from AiG–UK’s Paul Taylor.
  • A DNA study has shown that birds from the family Zosteropidae are the fastest evolving species. Yet the study is based on evolutionary presuppositions (specifically, that differences in DNA must be the result of millions of years of mutations). Besides, these birds are only turning into, well, birds!
  • Similarly, evolutionists comparing human genes with the genes of other primates are presupposing human evolution when concluding that “biased gene conversion” is responsible for the fast evolution of human genes.
  • The old idea that Noah’s Flood was actually an exaggerated report of an ancient Black Sea flood took a hit this week when a study showed the purported Black Sea flood wasn’t as big as once thought.
  • “It’s an incredibly challenging field. We can’t observe planetary formation, but we know that planets form because we’re standing on one.” That’s the faith of one planetary evolutionist in the face of new data that goes against evolutionary models of planetary formation. We could just as well paraphrase, “We know that we evolved because we’re here”!

Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, New York Times or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us. If you didn’t catch last week’s News to Note, why not take a look at it now? See you next week!

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