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News and Trends
April 19, 2010


What a 4,000-Year-Old Bad Hair Day Tells Us
'Thumb Tribe' Heroes
The Octopus & The Coconut
Canada Takes a Left
A Message in 12,000 Bottles
Screen Tests

What a 4,000-Year-Old Bad Hair Day Tells Us
All that remained of the ancient Greenlander were a few clumps of hair, so thick that it was first thought to be from a bear. But well-preserved DNA in the 4,000-year-old hair has enabled scientists at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark to decode the man's genome, or genetic information. It's the first time that the entire genome of an ancient human has been analyzed. The researchers now have a good idea of what Inuk, as they call him, looked like and where he came from: His closest genetic relatives lived on the eastern tip of Siberia, which points to a previously unknown migration of people across North America, from Siberia to Greenland, 5,500 years ago. The scientists say Inuk's DNA reveals that he had brown eyes, as well as the East Asian version of a gene that gives people hair coarser than that of most Europeans and Africans. The hair was found on the west coast of Greenland along with other 4,000-year-old waste, leading scientists to speculate that Inuk had gotten a haircut. He might not have needed too many haircuts, however: According to his genome, Inuk also had the gene for baldness.

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'Thumb Tribe' Heroes
Two South Korean teens recently conquered the world with their thumbs: Ha Mok-min, 16, and Bae Yeong-ho, 17, won an international texting competition held in New York in January. The first Mobile World Cup, hosted by the South Korean cellphone maker LG Electronics, matched two-person teams from 13 countries. (The U.S. team came in second; Argentina was third.) They had to copy phrases streaming across a monitor as accurately and as quickly as possible. Bae and Ha—who both type at the rate of six or seven characters a second—received $50,000 each in prize money. They are now heroes to what South Koreans call the "thumb tribe"—teens who feel more comfortable texting than talking. Bae trained by copying billboards and anything else that came into view; Ha copied titles on her bookshelf for five minutes every night.
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The Octopus & The Coconut
Scientists recently discovered an octopus near Indonesia that uses coconut shells as shelter—the first evidence of tool use by an invertebrate animal. Researchers filmed the veined octopus, or Amphioctopus marginatus, grabbing up halved coconut shells from the ocean floor, emptying them out, dragging them to another location, and reassembling two half-shells to make a hideout. "It's that collecting it to use it later that is unusual," Julian Finn, a scientist at Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, told the Associated Press. "I've seen a lot of octopuses hiding in shells, but I've never seen one that grabs it up and jogs across the sea floor." James Robson of James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, isn't surprised: "Octopuses have always stood out as appearing to be particularly intelligent invertebrates."

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Canada Takes a Left
It's a mystery, but most Canadian hockey players shoot left-handed, while most American players shoot right-handed. No one knows why, since most Canadians, like most Americans, are naturally right-handed. Easton, a California sporting-goods company, says 60 percent of the sticks it sells in Canada are for left-handed shots, while 60 percent sold in the U.S. are for right-handed shots. (Adding to the puzzle is British Columbia, where right-handers rule.) There's also a left-right divide in golf: Proportionally, more Canadian golfers play lefty than in any other nation, but that's less of a mystery: By the time hockey-obsessed Canadians take up golf, they've already been imprinted on the left from their time on the ice.

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A Message in 12,000 Bottles
It may be the only boat that you could redeem at your supermarket: The eco-friendly Plastiki is made from thousands of plastic bottles. Its creator, English banking heir David de Rothschild, 31, plans to sail it on an 11,000-mile journey from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia, this spring. De Rothschild wants to show that waste can be put to good use: Thousands of bottles were melted down to build the 60-foot-long boat, with empty two-liter bottles encasing the hull to absorb some of the impact from waves. De Rothschild and his five-member crew plan to entertain themselves on the three-month voyage with sunbathing, chess, dominoes, and live blogging.

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Screen Tests
There are videos showing off card tricks, DJ skills, rap songs, even horsemanship. This year, for the first time, Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, invited students to submit a one-minute YouTube video "that says something about you" along with their applications. About 1,000 of this year's 15,000 applicants took Tufts up on its offer, and some of the videos have attracted a following on YouTube. For example, Amelia Downs of Charlotte, N.C., has received more than 78,000 views for her video combining "two of my favorite things: being a nerd and dancing," in which she performs "math dances" like a bar graph and a pie chart. Admissions officials at other colleges say a growing number of students are submitting videos with their applications even without prompting. "We have a lot of information about applicants," says Lee Coffin, the undergraduate admissions dean at Tufts, "but the video lets them share their voice."

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