The coelacanth was considered to have been extinct for approximately 65 million years until a specimen was caught off the coast of Africa in 1938. Evidence of how far science has progressed was demonstrated Wednesday when biologists announced they had unraveled the rare fish’s DNA.
Scientists are hopeful that the genetic blueprint of the coelacanth, called the “living fossil” fish, can shed light on how life in the sea crept onto land hundreds of millions of years ago, according to Agence France-Presse.
Analysis of the coelacanth genome shows three billion “letters” of DNA code, making it roughly the same size as a human’s, biologists said.
“The genetic blueprint appears to have changed astonishingly little over the eons, pointing to one of the most successful species ever investigated,” according to the wire service.
“We found that the genes overall are evolving significantly slower than in every other fish and land vertebrate that we looked at,” said Jessica Alfoeldi of the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard.
Coelacanths are an exceedingly rare order of fish – only 308 have ever been caught – that include two living species: the West Indian Ocean coelacanth and the Indonesian coelacanth
Nigeria represents for many both the great potential and the great frustration of Africa.
The nation’s oil reserves, among the largest in the world, have flooded the country’s coffers. Yet Nigeria has long been dogged by high levels of crime, poverty and violence, and government corruption has been a serious problem for decades.
Evidence that little oil revenue makes its way to the nation’s 170 million citizens can be seen in the fact that in more than one instance in recent years, hundreds of Nigerians scavenging petroleum products from punctured pipelines have been killed when puddles of fallen fuel ignited.
If government corruption and endemic poverty weren’t enough, the nation is divided between Muslims, who are concentrated mostly in the north, and Christians, who mostly live in the South.
In recent years, efforts by Islamists to establish sharia law have resulted in armed conflict with government forces, particularly in the north, though the clashes pale in comparison to the Nigerian Civil War of the 1960s that claimed as many as 3 million lives.
Yet, not all the news from Africa’s most populous nation is bad. The railway linking Nigeria’s capital city Lagos, in the south, with Kano, the second-largest city, located in the north, has reopened after more than a decade.
It cost more than $150 million to rehabilitate the line, according to the state-owned Nigeria Railway Corporation.
At one point last week, the African nation of Zimbabwe had just $217 left in its public coffers.
Welcome to the club, guys; I feel your pain.
The Atlantic eloquently summed up the country financial situation: ”Zimbabwe, the country that’s home to some of the world’s largest plutonium and diamond reserves, literally has the same financial standing as a 14-year-old girl after a really good birthday party.”
Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister Tendai Biti admitted that Tuesday when he said his nation had all but depleted its financial reserves after paying civil servants last Thursday.
By the following day, though, some $30 million of revenue had flowed in the country’s accounts, he told journalists in the capital city of Harare.
Biti has been struggling to balance the nation’s budget, which is hampered by a low tax base, an underperforming economy and public sector wages which take up 73 percent of the total budget, according to the publication New Zimbabwe (look for it at your newsstand).
“We’re in a challenging position, we’re a small economy and we’ve got huge things to be done …” Biti told the BBC.
At some point in the past week, this blog rather inexplicably went over the half-million-view mark.
It took a little less than four years to reach that point, but lest I get too big for my britches I need only remind myself that the Huffington Post racks up the same amount of traffic in just six hours.
On the other hand, the Cotton Boll Conspiracy is absolutely crushing both the Build Your Own Fire-Ant Farm blog and the Musings on Neo-Pelagianism blog in terms of unique visits.
So what I have I learned over these past four years? Judging from the semi-literate scribblings, the obvious contempt for copyright laws in regard to the use of images, and the willy-nilly selection of topics, one might suspect very little.
And one would be right.
Of the many giants of the 19th century, few were as accomplished as Sir Richard Francis Burton.
Relatively unknown today, Burton was a fascinating character who could speak more than two dozen languages, was the first European to see Lake Tanganyika and served as a British diplomat in several countries.
But the above hardly does justice to Burton’s accomplishments. Born in 1821, he was a British geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, poet and fencer, in addition to being a linguist, explorer and diplomat.
Burton was a prolific and erudite author, and wrote numerous books and scholarly articles about copious subjects, including human behavior, travel, falconry, fencing, sexual practices and ethnography.
He was known for his travels and explorations within Asia, Africa and the Americas, as well as his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures.
Burton’s best-known achievements include traveling in disguise to Mecca, a feat he accomplished in the early 1850s.
In the category of things that would never fly in a republic, South Africa’s Zulu king is asking the government to lay out $700,000 to build a palace for his sixth wife.
King Goodwill Zwelithini is asking for appropriation because Queen Zola Mafu, the king’s youngest wife, is sharing a palace with one of his other wives.
In addition, the king wants $1.4 million to upgrade the place of Queen MaMchiza, his fifth wife.
Not surprisingly, this isn’t sitting well with everyone, as the KwaZulu Natal government, one of nine provincial administrations, has already budgeted about $6.9 million for the royal family this year, according to the BBC.
“Opposition parties have previously accused the king, his wives and more than 25 children of lavish spending,” it added.
The protection of endangered species is a noble and worthwhile goal, but in parts of the world where scratching out a living is the best many individuals can manage, preserving flora and fauna often takes a back seat.
In Madagascar thousands have flocked to the African island nation’s newest national park hoping to strike it rich on a recently discovered seam of sapphires.
The 941,000 acres of virgin rain forest of the Ankeniheny-Zahamena corridor, set aside to protect nation’s famed lemurs and dozens of other rare species, officially became a protected area late last year.
Then in April, sapphires were found, according to Agence France-Presse.
“We had an invasion of illegal miners in this park, which is our most recent protected area,” said Angelo Francois Randriambeloson of Madagascar’s ministry of environment.
The park has 2,043 identified species of plants; 85 percent are found nowhere else in the world. In addition, there are 15 species of lemurs, 30 other mammals, 89 types of birds and 129 kinds of amphibians. And that’s just what’s been discovered so far, according to the wire service.
It hasn’t been an easy first 12 months, but citizens of South Sudan took to the streets Monday to celebrate their first year of independence.
Despite dire warnings about the fledgling nation’s stability and economic viability, South Sudanese danced and sang throughout the capital of Juba, amid the honking of car horns, according to Agence France-Presse.
Yet, the world’s newest county has had anything but an easy go of it since separating from Sudan.
South Sudan has spent the past year wracked by border wars with Sudan, as well as internal violence and the shutdown of its vital oil production in a bitter dispute with Khartoum, according to the wire service.
The lack of schools, health facilities, roads and jobs is a direct result of years of conflict and underdevelopment, added The Guardian.
“The absence of opportunities for young people, combined with the ready availability of guns, another damaging legacy of the war years, has fueled a series of deadly inter-ethnic clashes,” the British publication wrote.
Strife is nothing new for South Sudan. The region spent much period from when Sudan achieved independence in 1956 until 2005 fighting Khartoum.
Give the Islamic militants credit: They don’t discriminate when it comes to wanton destruction.
Monday in the west African nation of Mali, radical Islamists destroyed the “sacred” door of one of Timbuktu’s three ancient mosques after smashing seven tombs of Muslim saints over the weekend, witnesses said.
“The Islamists have just destroyed the door to the entrance of the Sidi Yahya mosque … they tore the sacred door off which we never open,” said a resident of the town.
A former tour guide in the once-popular tourist destination added, “They came with pick-axes, they cried ‘Allah’ and broke the door. It is very serious. Some of the people watching began crying.”
The Sidi Yahya mosque was completed in 1440, and was named for its first imam. It is one of Timbuktu’s three great mosques.
The action by Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) was the latest in a three-day rampage that involved destroying cultural treasures in the historic city.
Africa had but two independent countries a century ago; today, just one colony remains – an area along the Atlantic Ocean that borders Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania called Western Sahara.
Since the mid-1970s, control of Western Sahara has been disputed between the Polisario movement, liberation-oriented entity working for independence with the support of Algeria, and the Moroccan government, which has offered autonomy.
And for more than 30 years, the United Nations has been working to broker a deal to end the dispute.
Its latest bid is scheduled for Nov. 8-9, when representatives of the Moroccan government and the Polisario will meet at the UN’s offices in New York, along with officials from Algeria and Mauritania, to try to find a solution.
If they fail – as usual – the bad blood could get worse. The UN’s latest envoy, Christopher Ross, says the status quo is “unsustainable,” reports The Economist.
“The row has been going on since November 1975, when Morocco’s Hassan II “encouraged” 350,000 of his people to mass on its southern border, in order to bully Spain, which had controlled the territory since the late 19th century, into ceding the territory,” according to the publication.
Spain, in the midst of a sea change following the death of dictator Francisco Franco and a slow return to Republican government, duly did so. The following month, the Moroccan army marched in, prompting a 16-year war with Polisario fighters backed by neighboring Algeria, according to The Economist.