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Dec. 28, 2010 at 5:57 PM
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'Living pigment' in rock art discovered

BRISBANE, Australia, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Some examples of ancient rock art in Western Australia maintain their vivid colors because they are alive, researchers have found.

Scientists at the University of Queensland have discovered that colorful bacteria and fungi have colonized the rock paintings, the BBC reported Monday.

Researcher Jack Pettigrew and his colleagues studied 80 rock artworks in 16 locations in Western Australia's Kimberley region.

They found some of the oldest examples showed signs of life, but no paint.

The team dubbed the phenomenon "living pigments."

"'Living pigments' is a metaphorical device to refer to the fact that the pigments of the original paint have been replaced by pigmented micro-organisms," Pettigrew said.

"These organisms are alive and could have replenished themselves over endless millennia to explain the freshness of the paintings' appearance."

These "living pigments" may explain why attempts to date some rock art have shown inconsistent results, Pettigrew says, because although the paintings may be ancient, the life that fills their outlines is quite recent.


Giant Saturn storm snapped by spacecraft

BOULDER, Colo., Dec. 28 (UPI) -- NASA's Cassini spacecraft in orbit around Saturn has captured an image of a huge storm previously reported by amateur astronomers, the space agency said.

The storm, in the southern hemisphere of the ringed planet, was photographed by Cassini last week and the image was released Monday, SPACE.com reported.

"This storm had been sighted by the amateurs in recent weeks, but Cassini was finally in a position to take a splendid series of pictures of it," Cassini imaging team leader Carolyn Porco said from the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. "And what a storm it is!"

Storms are common on the gas giant planet, researchers say.

Cassini, launched in 1997, has been imaging Saturn ever since its arrival at the planet in 2004.


Pioneer Texas anthropologist Story dies

AUSTIN, Texas, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Pioneer anthropologist Dee Ann Story, noted for her work on the Caddo Indian culture of East Texas, has died of lung cancer, her family said. She was 79.

Story entered the field when there were few women in the profession and was one of the first to do on-site research work alongside male colleagues, the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman reported.

Story, raised in Houston, attended what is now Texas Woman's University in Denton and received bachelor's and master's degrees in anthropology.

In 1963 she became the first woman to receive a doctorate from the anthropology program at UCLA.

"She was one of the giants in Texas archaeology, and we're sorry to lose her," said Elton Prewitt, a retired archaeologist who was a student of hers in the early 1960s. "She was a driving force in Texas archaeology and was one of the most consummate researchers one could hope to work with."

A memorial service was planned for the spring at an archaeological site in the Texas Hill Country, family members said.


Study: Human error spreads GM crops

TUCSON, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Careless handling of the seeds of genetically modified crops may be the key reason for their unintended spread, U.S. researchers say.

The finding by researchers at the University of Arizona challenges the long-held belief that the main source of GM contamination is the transfer of pollen by bees, Britain's The Guardian reported Wednesday.

Entomologist Shannon Heuberger and her colleagues measured the movement of genes between different populations of Bacillus thuringiensis cotton, a widely-planted GM crop, in 15 fields in Arizona.

Gene flow via the transmission of pollen by bees was rare, they found. Fewer than 1 percent of seeds produced by ordinary cotton plants contained genes from Bt cotton that had been transmitted in this way, they said.

But poor seed sorting resulted in some seed bags intended for planting in non-GM fields containing as much as 20 percent GM seed, they discovered.

And one non-GM field was found to have a large number of GM plants due to human error in planting, they said.

"Our most important result is that growers can minimize gene flow by screening the seed before planting it in seed-production fields and by being more cautious in their planting process," Heuberger said.

"In comparison, designing strategies to minimize bee pollination between fields can be quite difficult because insect behavior is hard to predict," she said.

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