After seven years, judge orders release of Guantanamo prisoners


This video from the USA is called TORTURE: From Guantanamo to Chicago Interrogation Rooms.

From Reuters:

WASHINGTON, Nov 20- Five of six Algerians must be released after nearly seven years of captivity at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, a federal judge ruled on Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled from the bench after holding the first hearings under a landmark Supreme Court ruling in June that gave Guantanamo prisoners the legal right to challenge their continued confinement.

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has promised to close the prison camp after he takes office in January. Meanwhile, U.S. judges in Washington are moving ahead with case-by-case reviews of detainee legal challenges.

See also here. And here.

9/11 guilty pleas expose Guantánamo kangaroo court: here.

Giant mono-cellular discoveries


This video from Texas, USA, is called Invertebrate Fossils – Lesson 16 – Part 2 of 7.

From the University of Texas at Austin in the USA:

Discovery of giant roaming deep sea protist provides new perspective on animal evolution

AUSTIN, Texas—Groove-like tracks on the ocean floor made by giant deep-sea single-celled organisms could lead to new insights into the evolutionary origin of animals, says biologist Mikhail “Misha” Matz from The University of Texas at Austin.

Matz and his colleagues recently discovered the grape-sized protists and their complex tracks on the ocean floor near the Bahamas. This is the first time a single-celled organism has been shown to make such animal-like traces.

The finding is significant, because similar fossil grooves and furrows found from the Precambrian era, as early as 1.8 billion years ago, have always been attributed to early evolving multicellular animals.

“If our giant protists were alive 600 million years ago and the track was fossilized, a paleontologist unearthing it today would without a shade of doubt attribute it to a kind of large, multicellular, bilaterally symmetrical animal,” says Matz, an assistant professor of integrative biology. “We now have to rethink the fossil record.”

The team’s discovery was published online today in Current Biology and will appear in a subsequent print issue.

Most animals, from humans to insects, are bilaterally symmetrical, meaning that they can be roughly divided into halves that are mirror images.

The bilateral animals, or “Bilateria,” appeared in the fossil record in the early Cambrian about 542 million years ago, quickly diversifying into all of the major animal groups, or phyla, still alive today. This rapid diversification, known as the Cambrian explosion, puzzled Charles Darwin and remains one of the biggest questions in animal evolution to this day.

Very few fossils exist of organisms that could be the Precambrian ancestors of bilateral animals, and even those are highly controversial. Fossil traces are the most accepted evidence of the existence of these proto-animals.

“We used to think that it takes bilateral symmetry to move in one direction across the seafloor and thereby leave a track,” explains Matz. “You have to have a belly and a backside and a front and back end. Now, we show that protists can leave traces of comparable complexity and with a very similar profile.”

“I personally think now that the whole Precambrian may have been exclusively the reign of protists,” says Matz. “Our observations open up this possible way of interpreting the Precambrian fossil record.”

He says the appearance of all the animal body plans during the Cambrian explosion might not just be an artifact of the fossil record. There are likely other mechanisms that explain the burst-like origin of diverse multicellular life forms.

DNA analysis confirmed that the giant protist found by Matz and his colleagues in the Bahamas is Gromia sphaerica, a species previously known only from the Arabian Sea.

They did not observe the giant protists in action, and Matz says they likely move very slowly. The sediments on the ocean floor at their particular location are very stable and there is no current—perfect conditions for the preservation of tracks.

Matz says the protists probably move by sending leg-like extensions, called pseudopodia, out of their cells in all directions. The pseudopodia then grab onto mud in one direction and the organism rolls that way, leaving a track.

He aims to return to the location in the future to observe their movement and investigate other tracks in the area.

Matz says the giant protists’ bubble-like body design is probably one of the planet’s oldest macroscopic body designs, which may have existed for 1.8 billion years.

“Our guys may be the ultimate living fossils of the macroscopic world,” he says.

See also here.

Pre-palaeozoic rocks: here.

Pre-Cambrian plants: here.

Pre-Cambrian animal evolution: here.

Early Palaeozoic Ice Age: here.

Fresh clues hint at how the first living organisms arose from inanimate matter: here.

Palaeontologists have discovered a new fossil species called Cloudina carinata, a small fossil with a tubular appearance and one of the first animals that developed an external skeleton between 550 and 543 million years ago. The discovery is documented in Precambrian Research: here.

2-billion-year-old fossilised blobs could be oldest known multicellular life: here.

Why complex life probably evolved only once – and why it’s unlikely to exist elsewhere: here.

Oceans may have poisoned early animals: Add sulfur, subtract oxygen, and a deadly brew results: here.

The discovery of leaf-thin, seaweed-like fossils in China nudges back the moment when ancient life went from microscopic to merely tiny. At 600 million years old, the new fossils—called the Lantian Formation—are 27 million years older than the so-called Avalon fossils found in Canada and England, which, until now, were the earliest known fossil assemblage of multicellular life: here.

Pools of water on land were a lot livelier 1 billion years ago than previously thought: here.

Animals living more than 550 million years ago could have survived inhospitable oceans by associating with dense mounds of cyanobacteria called microbial mats, an international team of researchers argues in a new study. Such clumps of oxygen-producing gunk could have supplied the first mobile animals with food to eat and air to breathe, the group reports online May 15 in Nature Geoscience: here.

“The origin of life is not just asteroids and comets”: here.

For centuries scholars sought to determine the earth’s age, but the answer had to wait for careful geologic observation, isotopic analyses of the elements and an understanding of radioactive decay: here.

British police in missionary child abuse scandal in Albania


Dino Christodoulou, one of three Britons on trial in the orphanage scandal From British daily The Guardian:

UK police withheld details of sex abuse at orphanage from Albanian authorities

• Tirana court jails British charity worker for 20 years
• Two more Britons still on trial over allegations

* Paul Lewis in Tirana
* Thursday November 20 2008

British police helped cover up a horrific sex abuse scandal at a Christian missionary orphanage in Albania, a Guardian investigation has found.

Senior officers agreed to keep details of abuse secret from their counterparts in Albania after the British director of the orphanage, David Brown, persuaded them that while children had been sexually abused in his care, he had played no part in it.

Brown, 57, an evangelical charity worker who founded the His Children orphanage seven years ago, was yesterday found guilty of “sexual relations” with minors. …

Ten children, aged between four and 13, told Albanian police they had been sexually abused by Brown and the two Britons. In some cases the children claim to have been bound to a balcony, gagged and raped.

But an investigation has revealed that Britain’s National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) received details about abuse at the home 18 months earlier, in December 2004, and failed to tell their Albanian counterparts. …

There were no attempts to rescue the Gypsy [mainly Muslim in Albania] children at the orphanage, where Brown slept with boys in his bed.

“A lot of us were uncomfortable about what was going on in there,” said a pastor who agreed not to inform Albanian police about the shelter. ” But we believed David was a good man. And we didn’t want all the good work our churches were doing to be associated with David’s orphanage.” …

Brown described [his associates] Christodoulou and Arnold, whom he blamed for the abuse, as “wolves in sheep’s clothing”. He described his trial as “my day on the cross”. “I am the father of these children and I have a duty under God to defend them,” he said.

See also here. And here.

Apparently, there also is a For His Children Orphanage, with United States connections, in Quito, Ecuador. I do not know whether there is any connection to “Mr” Brown’s organization in Albania, or that just the names happen to be similar.

New Fascism Hunts Roma: here.

Once it had to rely on persuasion rather than intimidation, the story of British Christianity came to an end. Some 63 percent of us are non-believers, while 82 percent say religion is a cause of harmful division: here.

Swimming turtles in the age of dinosaurs


This is a video about leatherback turtle research.

From ScienceDaily:

Jurassic Turtles Could Swim

(Nov. 19, 2008) — Around 164 million years ago the earliest aquatic turtles lived in lakes and lagoons on the Isle of Skye, Scotland, according to new research.

Recent scientific fieldwork led by researchers from UCL and the Natural History Museum on Skye, an island off the north-western coast of Scotland, discovered a block of rock containing fossils that have been recognised as a new species of primitive turtle Eileanchelys waldmani.

Months of work at the Natural History Museum freed these skeletons from the rock, revealing four well-preserved turtles and the remnants of at least two others. These remains, and a beautiful skull found nearby, represent the most complete Middle Jurassic turtle described to date, offering substantial new insights into the early evolution of turtles and how they diversified into the varied forms we see today.

Investigation into the palaeoecology of the area – the relationship between these ancient turtles and their environment – shows that these turtles lived in conditions that were very different to modern-day Skye. The turtles were found alongside fossils of other aquatic species such as sharks and salamanders that would have lived in a landscape made up of low-salinity lagoons and freshwater floodplain lakes and pools.

The research team was led by Dr Susan Evans from UCL Cell and Developmental Biology (CDB) and Dr Paul Barrett (of the Natural History Museum and an honorary member of the CDB). …

“Although the majority of modern turtles are aquatic forms, it has been convincingly demonstrated that the most primitive turtles from the Triassic period, around 210 million years ago, were exclusively terrestrial. Until the discovery of Eileanchelys we thought that adaptation to aquatic habitat might have appeared among primitive turtles, but we had no fossil evidence of that. Now we know for sure that there were aquatic turtles in the Jurassic period, around 164 million years ago. This discovery also demonstrates that turtles were more ecologically diverse early in their history than had been suspected before.”

See also here. And here. And here.