1. BBC News: “Windpipe Transplant Breakthrough”

It’s a substantial victory in stem cell research—and a reminder that we don’t need to sacrifice life in pursuit of successful therapies.

Surgeons have, for the first time, successfully transplanted an entire organ grown using the patient’s own stem cells. Claudia Castillo, a 30-year-old Colombian who had tuberculosis, received the windpipe transplant in June and is in “perfect health.”

The project began when doctors acquired a windpipe from a recently deceased donor. Using strong chemicals and enzymes, they “washed away” the donor’s own cells, leaving a “tissue scaffold made of the fibrous protein collagen.”

They then used cells from Castillo’s original (injured) windpipe, along with stem cells from her bone marrow, to “coat” the donated windpipe scaffold. By the time the organic “construction” was done, the windpipe appeared and acted just like any other healthy windpipe.

Follow-up tests after the surgery showed the lab-grown windpipe to be virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding airways. It had also developed its own blood supply.

“We are terribly excited by these results,” said the surgeon, Paolo Macchiarini. Particularly inspiring is that the surgery required no anti-rejection drugs, and there are no signs of rejection even several months after the surgery.

Martin Birchall, a surgery professor at the University of Bristol who helped with the project, emphasized, “Surgeons can now start to see and understand the potential for adult stem cells and tissue engineering to radically improve their ability to treat patients with serious diseases.” Birchall added that within two decades, most organ transplants could be produced in the same manner.

This exciting success is a reminder that the medical promise of stem cell research does not require the harvesting and destruction of human embryos—the impression given by some proponents of embryonic stem cell research.

2. ScienceNOW: “Astronomers See Exoplanets for First Time”

Considering all the conclusions astronomers have drawn about exoplanets, it’s surprising that they’ve never actually seen them. That is, until now.

For years the search for extrasolar planets has relied on indirect methods, such as watching as stars “wobble” because of the gravitational tug of their planets or looking for regular decreases in stars’ brightness as their planets pass in front of them. Through these methods, astronomers have inferred the size and, to some extent, the composition of these planets.

Now, researchers have taken the first step in directly observing exoplanets. A team led by Christian Marois of the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics (part of Canada’s National Research Council) used large telescopes with equipment that blocked out most of the parent star’s light. This allowed the team to detect the reflected light from three planets orbiting a star known as HR 8799, in the constellation Pegasus. Separately, a team led by Paul Kalas of the University of California–Berkeley identified a single exoplanet orbiting a star known as Fomalhaut.

That’s all the more impressive considering that the challenge of directly observing planets is like trying to spot a lit match next to a floodlight at a distance of a mile, BBC News reports.

So far, nearly all of the exoplanets detected have been distinctly un-earthlike—a reminder of how unique our world really is. Nevertheless, secular astronomers hope their new ability to see exoplanets will augment the search for alien life indicated, e.g., by this article’s “teaser” line on ScienceNOW: “Direct detection is the latest step toward discovering other, possibly inhabited, Earths.”

3. LiveScience: “Our Ancestors Had Floppy, Flexible Feet”

The flip-flops of the past weren’t footwear, but rather feet. That’s 99 percent evolutionary spin and 1 percent imagination.

Okay, perhaps those percentages aren’t quite balanced properly; nonetheless, the connection between our ancestors’ feet and gibbon feet isn’t found in the fossil record.

Rather, it’s the idea of the University of Liverpool’s Evie Vereecke, who believes our supposed “ape-like ancestors might have walked like today’s gibbons,” reports LiveScience.

The origin of Vereecke’s idea is actually a striking admission on the part of evolutionists: how could our “mostly tree-climbing ancestors” walk upright, given they lacked “specialized walking feet”? Vereecke, noting that gibbons walk upright more than a tenth of the time, video-recorded gibbons walking at a zoo in Belgium. She developed a computer model using the recordings and determined that—like ballerinas, LiveScience notes—gibbons land on their toes before their heels hit the ground. They then begin their next step by lifting the heels first, then push their feet off the ground using their toes.

According to LiveScience, the motion is actually quite the opposite of the way humans walk:

Unlike gibbons’ flat feet, we have arched feet with an elastic band along the sole. . . . In essence, our feet go from an arched or upside-down “U” shape to flat when walking, while gibbons’ feet change from flat to “U” shaped.

In her research, which was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, Vereecke concluded that “even if you have these flat, flexible feet, you can walk upright quite efficiently . . . it doesn’t restrict or limit your abilities even though you don’t have this specialized foot structure as modern humans.”

The question is, how does this connect human ancestors to “walking” apes? The research actually is strong evidence for the opposite: apes, when walking upright for short periods of time, do it quite differently than humans!

But Vereecke, referencing Lucy, stated, “We have some fossil remains of hominin feet, and those indicate that our early ancestors had floppy, flexible feet.” Or could it be that those “flexibly footed” fossils aren’t human ancestors at all?

4. AP: “Big Hop Forward: Scientists Map Kangaroo’s DNA”

Is there a spring in your step? Maybe our (supposed) ancestors weren’t apemen, but rather kangaroomen!

Scientists from Australia’s Centre of Excellence for Kangaroo Genomics have sequenced the DNA of a kangaroo named Matilda—and found it’s more similar to the human genome that was first suspected.

The sequencing occurred last year, and scientists have just now finished completing the genetic map. “We’ve been surprised at how similar the [kangaroo and human] genomes are,” said project director Jenny Graves. “Great chunks of the genome are virtually identical.”

For evolutionists, genome similarity is as much (or more) a reflection of common ancestry than it is indicative of anatomical similarity, so no wonder they’re surprised—they believe the last common ancestor of humans and kangaroos lived 150 million years ago, long before evolutionists believe the dinosaurs went extinct and mammals began to dominate the landscape.

Creationists, on the other hand, understand that anatomical similarity explains genetic similarity, although we also have some genes in common with fruit—but that doesn’t make us all bananas!

Geneticists also continue to discover additional elements that distinguish species from one another, such as so-called “junk DNA” that is increasingly found to be functional. But ultimately, the difference between humankind and animal kinds originates not in the genome, but in Genesis: humans were made “in the image of God” (1:26–27), and animals weren’t. No matter how “similar” our genomes or our anatomies are, that is the most fundamental distinction.

5. BBC News: “Human Ancestors Born Big Brained”

It’s yet another human ancestor—but, once again, with a larger brain than us.

A new fossil, classified as Homo erectus and found in northern Ethiopia, is surprising archaeologists with its unusually wide pelvis—proportionally wider than those of “modern” human females. According to scientists, that suggests H. erectus babies may have been large-brained, able to become independent more quickly. In contrast, such alleged apeman fossils as australopithecine “Lucy” have much narrower pelvic openings.

Although considered by evolutionists to be an apeman—albeit “close” to modern humans—paleontologist Scott Simpson of Case Western Reserve University points out that H. erectus was much more similar to today’s humans than to chimpanzees. “Homo erectus was the first hominid species that left Africa; they were technologically sophisticated with stone tools; they hunted animals. Many behaviors we consider unique to [modern, BBC News adds] humans were present in Homo erectus.” Simpson was on the team that discovered the new fossil. H. erectus also “may also have been the first to control fire,” BBC News notes.

As with Neanderthals, the evidence strongly suggests that fossils dubbed H. erectus are normal, “modern” humans—at least, modern in the sense that they are not an evolutionary lineage; rather, they likely represent some of the original variability in the human form, some of which remains even today.

Also, while Neanderthal craniums are larger than other humans’, in this case it’s still conjecture about how large H. erectus baby brains may have been. And it’s an even more speculative idea since it’s based on a single fossil, which is only thought to be Homo erectus, and may not even be typical. Nonetheless, what remains is that even evolutionists identify H. erectus as displaying modern human behaviors, yet still won’t consider its skeletal differences as within the paradigm of human variability.

6. ScienceNOW: “Earth’s Minerals Evolved, Too”

The earth’s mineral composition has changed over the years. Of course, in today’s scientific climate, we refer to that as “evolution.”

According to a team led by Carnegie Institution geochemist Robert Hazen, the early earth may have contained the natural elements from the periodic table, but it wouldn’t have had many of the minerals we find today. That’s because, according to the team, most minerals are a product of life-forms, and thus mineral “evolution” is connected to biological evolution that Hazen’s team accepts.

Specifically, the team looked at almost 3,000 common minerals, connecting them back to about a dozen “ancient” minerals that organisms used to produce the rest. According to Hazen, “We argue that there are literally thousands of different minerals that formed only because life produced an oxygen-rich atmosphere.”

One such life-formed mineral is hazenite—yes, named after that Hazen—that forms from a phosphate produced by a microorganism in California’s Mono Lake, an alkaline environment.

According to Penn State University mineralogist Peter Heaney, the research offers “a novel way of considering minerals in the context of Earth’s history.” Of course, this new treatment of mineralogy is steeped in the preexisting evolutionary paradigm. And while it is interesting to understand the connection between God’s created life-forms and minerals, this instead sounds like a way to further expand evolutionary dogma throughout science, rather than concentrating on the actual science of the composition and potential usefulness of the minerals themselves.

7. ScienceNOW: “Prehistoric Family Values”

The family—how far back does it go?

“Many anthropologists have assumed, based on observations of sometimes polygamous modern-day hunter-gatherers, that the basic social unit of early humans was the band or tribe rather than the family,” ScienceNOW’s Michael Balter explains as he reports on an intriguing find.

Scientists have conducted genetic testing on individuals buried in four graves in Germany. The inhabitants of two of the graves were particularly well preserved. In one, an adult male and an adult female lay on their sides, each facing a (different) young boy, with their arms intertwined. In the other grave, one adult woman was buried facing away from three children—two girls and a boy.

A team led by geneticist Wolfgang Haak of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA extracted mitochondrial and nuclear DNA from the skeletons and determined that, in the first grave, the two adults were the parents of the two children. In the second grave, the three children were likely siblings, while the adult was not a parent. The researchers suggest she may have been an aunt or stepmother instead. However, other researchers, such as University of Sheffield archaeologist Marek Zvelebil, note that identifying relationships based on DNA may be a stretch, because the genetic markers the Haak’s used are very common in Europe.

These findings, along with similar multi-party burials found elsewhere, line up with the Bible’s presentation of the family as the original organizing unit of humankind. Obviously, some civilizations have abandoned God’s model for family along the way; thankfully, the nuclear family is still around as an example of Genesis 1:28 & 2:24.

8. AP: “Woolly Mammoth Task: Extinct Critter’s DNA Mapped”

The genetic code of the woolly mammoth has finally been (mostly) mapped, and the question on (almost) everyone’s mind is: can we bring one back?

A study published this week in the journal Nature details the million-dollar project so far, which has mapped about 80 percent of the mammoth genome. The sources for the DNA are about 20 frozen mammoth “hairballs” found in Siberia, which are, surprisingly, better specimens to work with than mammoth bones; the DNA in bones had been contaminated much more due to the intrusion of microbes.

As for whether mammoths could be coming back anytime soon, Penn State University biochemist Stephan Schuster, one of the coauthors of the study, said, “It could be done. The question is, just because we might be able to do it one day, should we do it?”

The Associated Press report notes that even if scientists don’t bring back a woolly mammoth, they could still engineer a mammoth–elephant hybrid—a “hairy elephant,” the report puts it—for zoos.

Unsurprisingly, the report contains an evolutionary spin: “The more practical side of what this new research will do is point out better the evolutionary differences between mammoths and elephants and even humans and chimps.” It adds that while elephants and mammoths (allegedly) diverged around the same time chimps and humans did, there are “twice as many differences” between chimp and human genomes as between elephants and mammoths.

Not that many will listen, but might we suggest the similarity between the elephant genome and the mammoth genome is actually because the animals are, well, quite similar anatomically! In fact, woolly mammoths are probably part of the same created kind as elephants. On the other hand, chimps and humans have significant differences, not only anatomically, but also in behavior and intelligence. So of course our genomes are less similar!

9. ScienceDaily: “Gamma-Ray Evidence Suggests Ancient Mars Had Massive Oceans”

Thanks to the Mars Odyssey orbiter, there’s another drop of evidence that part of Mars was once covered in water.

Scientists looked at data gathered with Odyssey’s Gamma Ray Spectrometer from what is believed to be an ancient shoreline on Mars. The hypothesis was that the ancient shorelines—if they indeed were shorelines—would show higher levels of the elements potassium, thorium, and iron than would higher areas. This is because the water cycle would have carried such elements “downstream” until they eventually precipitated near the shore.

Indeed, scientists found areas enriched with the minerals, which they consider evidence of such ancient shorelines. In particular, it appears there was one ocean about 10 times larger than the Mediterranean Sea, along with another about twice as large as the first that would have covered a third of Mars by itself.

One problem inherent in the study is that scientists can’t be sure exactly where shorelines would have been, since Martian oceans would have been different than those on Earth—they likely would have lacked tides (because of Mars’s smaller moons) and perhaps waves (because they may have been ice-covered).

As we’ve frequently pointed out, it is curious that secular scientists are quite ready to believe Mars was once covered with surface water, despite the lack of liquid water there today; yet they refuse to accept evidence for a global flood on Earth, which is mostly covered with water to this day. But a sentence in the press release for this news story gives us one clue for the disparity: “Scientists are driven to understand how and when water existed on Mars because water is critical to life.” Thus, as we already knew, evolution is the linchpin behind the continuing search for water—past or present—on Mars.

10. BBC News: “Ancient Turtle Discovered on Skye”

For the second time in two months, a turtle “missing link” is in the news.

In this case, it’s actually missing links (plural): four complete and two incomplete turtle fossils found embedded in rock on a beach on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. (In October, we reported on an alleged turtle missing link found in New Mexico.)

According to BBC News, these fossils, from a species dubbed Eileanchelys waldmani, are “a missing link between ancient terrestrial turtles and their modern, aquatic descendants.” Why is that?

Paleontologist Jérémy Anquetin of London’s Natural History Museum explains E. waldmani would look like a modern freshwater turtle, “like the ones you can buy in the pet shop.” But there are small “but very important” differences in the cranial anatomy. Furthermore, the remains of other aquatic species—including sharks and salamanders—were found in the same location, while terrestrial species—such as lizards and dinosaurs—were rare. Thus, the team concludes E. waldmani must have been aquatic. But what makes it a missing link, as opposed to simply a new species of turtle?

BBC News provides us with what we think is the answer through its quotation of Yale University turtle evolution expert Walter Joyce:

“Keep in mind that a 65 million year gap used to exist in the fossil record between the oldest known turtles from the Late Triassic and basically modern turtles in the Late Jurassic.”

Could it be that scientists are motivated to “find” a missing link, whether it really is a missing link or not? Thus, a fossil that is otherwise similar to modern turtles is hailed as filling in a gap evolutionists need to fill. The evolution didn’t occur in the fossil; rather, evolutionary dogma in scientists’ minds colors their interpretation of this otherwise ordinary fossil find.

11. LiveScience: “God and Evolution Can Co-exist, Scientist Says”

God and evolution didn’t coexist, our scientists say. So who are you to believe?

LiveScience reports on Eastern Nazarene College physicist Karl Giberson, an increasingly well-known Christian who embraces evolution. Giberson even debated Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham on the website Beliefnet.com last month—see Creation vs. Evolution.

Giberson is the author of Saving Darwin, which he discussed recently at the Harvard Club with skeptic Michael Shermer. (The event was sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation.) Giberson’s stirring defense of theism was that “the mystery of God’s existence is a more satisfying mystery than the mystery of how can all this arise out of a particle” and that “I was raised believing in God, so . . . the onus would be on someone to stop me from believing.”

It’s not that we completely disagree with Giberson on those statements (although we would on others he made in the article); rather, these answers are strangely weak for someone who claims a plain reading of Genesis “robs it of everything that is interesting.” By stepping off the foundation of Scripture, Giberson can’t point to fundamental truth, but rather ends up claiming that religious mysteries are vaguely “more satisfying” than irreligious ones. That’s what happens when you try to “leave the Bible out of it”!

Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us. If you didn’t catch last week’s News to Note, why not take a look at it now? See you next week!

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