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Sunday, April 6, 2008

History of origin :Humans in North America earlier than thought

DNA from fossilized feces found in Oregon are dated at 14,300 years old — 1,200 years older than any previous evidence of humans in North America.

DNA from fossilized feces in Oregon provides evidence that humans inhabited the area 1,200 years sooner than theorized.
By Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
April 4, 2008
DNA from fossilized human feces found in an Oregon cave is 14,300 years old, at least 1,200 years older than previous evidence for humans in North America, researchers said Thursday.
The fossilized DNA "represents, to the best of my knowledge, the oldest human DNA obtained from the Americas," said geneticist Eske Willerslev of Denmark's University of Copenhagen, a co-author of the paper.

"If you are looking for the first people in North America, you are going to have to step back more than 1,000 years beyond Clovis to find them," added archaeologist Dennis L. Jenkins of the University of Oregon, the lead author of the report.

The find is "a smoking gun" for the pre-Clovis colonization of the Americas, said anthropologist Ripan Malhi of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who was not involved in the research.

In addition to changing ideas about when humans arrived here, the new research will also change ideas about how.

Archaeologists theorize that humans from Siberia and eastern Asia migrated to North America across the Bering land bridge when a global warming episode melted the glaciers that had blocked their progress and stranded them for thousands of years in the area known as Beringia.

If humans were on this continent 14,300 years ago -- at least 1,000 years before that melting episode -- they had to have come before the glacier blocked the route or by a different pathway, Willerslev said.

He argues that a strip of land along the western coast of North America was exposed during the Ice Age, allowing migration along the coast rather than by the favored inland route. Archaeological artifacts from that trek are now submerged under the Pacific Ocean, he said.

The feces fossils, technically called coprolites, were discovered by Jenkins in the summers of 2002 and 2003 in the Paisley Caves in the Summer Lake basin, about 220 miles southeast of Eugene. The eight caves are wave-cut shelters on the shoreline of Lake Chewaucan, whose levels rose and fell with changes in precipitation in the region.

In addition to the coprolites, Jenkins also found manufactured threads of sinew and plant fibers, hides, basketry, cordage, rope, wooden pegs, animal bones and a couple of projectile point fragments -- but not enough to link the cave's inhabitants to the Clovis people or any others.

The small number of artifacts in the cave suggests that whoever occupied it did so only for a short period, rather than using it as a long-term residence, Jenkins said.

Organic material from the coprolites was radiocarbon dated, and the oldest ones were found to be 14,300 years old.

Willerslev's lab analyzed mitochondrial DNA from the coprolites and concluded that it was similar to DNA from both Native Americans and the populations of Siberia and East Asia.

Fearing contamination of the samples, Willerslev also analyzed samples from all 55 people who visited the cave during the excavations, as well as from all 12 members of his laboratory and showed that none of them had similar DNA.

The coprolites also contained DNA similar to that of the red fox, coyote or wolf. Jenkins said the added DNA could have come from human ingestion of the animals or from the animals urinating on the feces.

Critics, such as anthropologist Gary Haynes of the University of Nevada, Reno, argued that the coprolites could be animal feces and that the human DNA was deposited when humans urinated on them much later.

But Jenkins said that the coprolites also contained human proteins in concentrations too high to have come from urine, as well as human hair.

"Whether the coprolites are human or canine is irrelevant, since for a canine to swallow human hair people had to be present in that environment," he told Science. "Anyway you cut the poop, people and dogs would have had to be at the site within days of each other 14,000 years ago."
The find provides the strongest evidence in an archaeological controversy about whether people of the Clovis culture, which manufactured distinctive stone tools and weapons, were the first to populate the Americas. The new evidence, reported online in the journal Science, indicates they were not.

Gates: Businesses need to embrace the poor

Bill Gates shakes hands with Hernan Rincon, Microsoft's vice president for Latin America, before speaking at the Government Leaders Forum in Miami.

MIAMI--In two separate speeches on Friday, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates made the case that businesses need to see serving the poor as part of their mission and that governments need to see private businesses as potential partners.

One of the big topics for both audiences was the notion of microfinance--improving the access to credit and banking to the poor.

"The idea of how they create loans for the poorest is part of it," he said at the Government Leaders Forum. But although today microfinance has focused on loans, there is more to it. "We need to get savings and even some insurance products."

Gates talked about how technology can play a role, noting that when payment is tied to the cell phone, it offers the potential for lower interest rates.

In every industry, Gates said, businesses need to start thinking about how they can use some of their energy and resources, say 6 percent, to expand their reach to poorer segments either in their own country, or globally. Food companies need to focus on micronutrients, while drug companies should devote some energy to diseases that affect largely the poor, such as malaria and tuberculosis.

Already, he said, there are examples of companies in each industry doing this.

"Cell phone companies, banks, energy companies, technology companies, food companies, we have a lot of good examples in each of those industries," he said at the Inter-American Development Bank meeting.

But while there are a few leaders who are onboard, Gates acknowledged that his notion of creative capitalism has not been uniformly embraced. "Many of the companies are skeptical," he noted. "As we have examples of success we can overcome that."

Education was another key topic, with one questioner at the Government Leaders Forum asking Gates about whether computer labs or one-to-one computing projects are the way to go.

"The costs of moving to a one computer per child are fairly high and yet in the long term that's what we recommend," Gates said. With computer labs, Gates said, the most enthusiastic students tend to gravitate to the machines, monopolizing their use, while students who need the practice the most fall behind and never catch up.

He noted that many countries have already set up pilot programs, with one region in Spain providing laptops to 10,000 students. At the same time, he said such projects require years of planning

He also talked up the potential of one of his favorite technologies--the Tablet PC.

"Today that machine is something like a $1,000 machine," he said. "Over the next three or four years that will become a $400 machine."

He noted that his daughter uses one instead of textbooks at her school, and can forward her homework to her dad.

"I can help her out on anything where she's confused," he said. Assignments are turned in electronically and returned by e-mail. "It's just so natural for her."

MySpace Music, Rival For iTunes?

The Thursday morning teleconference MySpace held with the press was anticlimactic since details about the service have been leaking for weeks.
Executives from MySpace officially announced the creation of MySpace Music, a service that will be jointly operated by News Corp.'s MySpace and, at least initially, three out of the four top record labels

The service will roll out gradually over the next three to four months and offer free streaming music, unprotected MP3 downloads, ringtones, and e-commerce offerings such as merchandise and ticket sales, said MySpace CEO Chris DeWolfe. The goal is to make MySpace a one-stop shop for everything music. Among the top four music companies, EMI was the lone holdout. A source with knowledge of the negotiations said that MySpace and EMI continue to seek a deal

It was bound to happen, eventually. MySpace, the biggest social-networking site, has announced its latest initiative, MySpace Music, a new service through which the News Corp.-owned website will offer music (and not only) to its users.

MySpace has signed deals with Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group Corp and Universal Music. One name is missing for now, EMI, but three seems to be the lucky number.

However, the new deal seems to be a win-win situation. MySpace will be able to generate a new stream of revenues from its huge audience, while the music companies will have a new way to compensate the declining CD sales.

Lately, the music studios are searching for new business models to sell their music to a new generation of consumers.

“We believe that one of the greatest growth opportunities for our industry is to develop new partnerships and models focused on unlocking the value of music in the online community space,” said Edgar Bronfman Jr., chairman/CEO of Warner Music Group, in a statement about the new partnership.

But MySpace is aiming to create something bigger than just a digital music store. According to Chris DeWolfe, chief executive of MySpace, the company wants for its newly announced MySpace Music to be a service through which people will be able to buy tickets, listen to free streaming music and share their playlists with their friends.

But MySpace is rather late to this game. In January, Last.Fm has signed a deal with all the four music giants to offer to its users free, global, on-demand access to the largest licensed catalogue of music. On all tracks can be streamed for free up to three times each. After that, the listener is invited to buy the song from iTunes, Amazon or 7 Digital. has 20 million unique monthly visitors and besides the music companies, has signed a similar deal with 150,000 independent labels and artists.

Last year, Universal Music signed a deal with Imeem, a social networking service launched in 2004, which claims to have over 19 million users every month. According to the terms of the agreement, Imeem users are able to listen to the free songs provided by the major music label. The users will only be able to store music on personal pages, but Imeem offers direct links to Apple’s iTunes store or for those who wish to download and store them on their computers or MP3 players.

As a digital music store, MySpace will have to face the strongest competitor on this emergent market, Apple’s iTunes, which was recently ranked as the biggest music retailer in the United States, according to The NPD Group.

On the other hand MySpace should pay attention to Amazon’s experience. Last year, the online retailer has launched Amazon MP3, the biggest collection of DRM-free tracks. Amazon has signed deals with all the four major music labels, and it has almost 4 million songs from more than 270,000 artists.

By selling unprotected songs, Amazon MP3 has tried to exploit a weakness of iTunes. The tracks downloaded from Amazon are compatible with all MP3 players currently on sale, including Apple's iPod and iPhone, Microsoft's Zune, Creative's Zen, SanDisk's Sansa or Toshiba's GigaBeat. Also Amazon MP3 is selling the songs at 89 cents, making the offer even more interesting for potential buyers, because iTunes sells tracks for 10 cents more.

However, despite its efforts Amazon MP3 didn’t manage to be a real threat for iTunes. According to the report released earlier this week by The NPD Group, Amazon MP3 has ranked fourth amongst the music retailers, behind Wal-Mart and BestBut.

The NPD’s report puts Apple's share of the music business at 19 percent, while Wal-Mart is at 15 percent, Best Buy is at 13, followed by Amazon at 6 percent.

It seems like the iPod + iTunes combo (and the newly iPhone + iTunes combo) is still unbeatable and no one has managed to find the right formula to compete with Apple.

Of course, MySpace Music adds into the equation the interaction between the music artists and their fans and between users themselves, but is hard to believe that this will be enough to beat iTunes.

However, MySpace did not offer too many details about its plans, so let us wait and see how this will play out.

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