Sunday, July 30, 2006

Forward and Reverse Evolution

Gina Kolata, ace health writer for The New York Times, has a fascinating story on Sunday's front page that reports how people in the industrialized world today are bigger, healthier and smarter than our ancestors a century ago. In "So Big and Healthy Nowadays, Grandpa Wouldn't Know You," Kolata synthesizes the latest studies to explain "what may be one of the most striking shifts in human existence -- a change from small, relatively weak and sickly people to humans who are so big and robust that their ancestors seem almost unrecognizable." Using wonderful examples from real families, she makes the maze of scientific data easily understandable and interesting to science-challenged readers like me.

For another well-written and important science story, check out "A Primeval Tide of Toxins" by Kenneth R. Weiss in Sunday's Los Angeles Times. Weiss vividly describes how pollution is altering the chemistry of the oceans, allowing primitive "slime" to spread and threatening more advanced forms of ocean life such as marine mammals, fish and coral. As a result, he writes, the oceans are experiencing a kind of evolution in reverse. This story is the start of what promises to be an exciting "Altered Oceans" series by Weiss, writer Usha Lee McFarling and photographer Rick Loomis.


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