Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Recombination hotspots, interplanetary supply chains and political significance of discovering extraterrestrial intelligence

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. You may notice that this and future entries are shorter than usual; Career, family and book deal commitments have forced me to cut back some of my projects. Now, here’s today’s news:
g Life - USC College computational biologist Peter Calabrese has developed a new model to simulate the evolution of so-called recombination hotspots in the genome. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/0703
g Intelligence - Whether you get stung by a bee or simply watch as a friend gets stung, you might start to run and hide every time a bee buzzes across your path. A new study reveals why you do this: It turns out the brain areas that respond when fear is learned through personal experience are also triggered when we see someone else afraid. See http://www.livescience.com/humanbiology/070320_fear_learning.html.
g Cosmicus - Researchers have developed a software tool for modeling interplanetary supply chains in order to better understand the requirements for establishing human bases on the Moon and beyond. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.phpop=modload&
g Learning - High performance schools integrate the best in today's design strategies and building technologies. Even better, they make a difference in the way children learn. Research has shown that better buildings produce better student performance, reduce operating costs and increase average daily attendance. They also are more likely to maintain teacher satisfaction and retention and reduce liability exposure. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070319175809.htm.
g Imagining - A short entry on the early “Star Trek” alien Balok: Creatively speaking, this alien was a disappointment compared to the previously presented Alfa 117 canine and salt vampire. Balok only possesses two real visual differences from humans: He’s shorter and possesses more child-like features (teeth and facial). As to the first trait, of height, Balok may come from a planet with heavier gravity than Earth. Or perhaps there was shorter grass on the savanna (his hominid frame indicates a primate-styled path to intelligence), so height actually may be an evolutionary disadvantage on his world. Possibly his planet is slightly cooler, as that would encourage stockier traits, though the shapes of his nostrils don’t indicate his kind regularly breathes cold air, nor does the Enterprise crew note or physically show that they’re on a cold ship. As to the second trait, of child-like features, presumably it holds some evolutionary advantage (after all, adults even in smaller mammals appear much more angular in their faces than their infants), though not enough hints were provided to offer speculation. Any ideas out there?
g Aftermath - How might we characterize the political significance of any announcement of discovering extraterrestrial intelligence? How about using the Torino Scale, which characterizes asteroid impacts, as a model to assist the discussion and interpretation of any claimed discovery of ETI? See