Friday, January 06, 2006

Alien microbes under the microscope!: "A paper to appear in a scientific journal claims a strange red rain might have dumped microbes from space onto Earth four years ago. But the report is meeting with a shower of skepticism from scientists who say extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof-and this one hasn't got it. The scientists agree on two points, though. The things look like cells, at least superficially. And no one is sure what they are. "These particles have much similarity with biological cells though they are devoid of DNA," wrote Godfrey Louis and A. Santhosh Kumar of Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, India, in the controversial paper. "Are these cell-like particles a kind of alternate life from space?" The mystery began when the scarlet showers containing the red specks hit parts of India in 2001. Researchers said the particles might be dust or a fungus, but it remained unclear. The new paper includes a chemical analysis of the particles, a description of their appearance under microscopes and a survey of where they fell. It assesses various explanations for them and concludes that the specks, which vaguely resemble red blood cells, might have come from a meteor. A peer-reviewed research journal, Astrophysics and Space Science, has agreed to publish the paper."

Napoleon's lousy defeat revealed: "The history books say that after reaching Moscow in 1812, Napoleon's army was laid low by the Russian winter and then finished off by hunger, battle wounds and low morale as it straggled back to France. The truth, say scientists, is more intriguing but rather less poetic: the biggest destroyer of the Grande Armee was Pediculus humanus -- the human louse. A team led by Didier Raoult of France's National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) examined the remains of Napoleon's soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, 800km west of Moscow. Samples of earth, cloth and teeth recovered from the site suggest that more than 30 percent of these troops were killed by bacterial fever transmitted by lice. The parasites caused relapsing fever, through the bacterium Borrelia recurrentis; trench fever, a condition well known in the Western Front of World War I, caused by the germ Bartonella quintana; and typhus, caused by the Rickettsia prowazeki bacterium.

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