Monday, 7 January 2008

It’s the little things…

I was getting myself all geared up for an analysis of the Dark Lord’s speech in London today on the ‘future’ of the NHS.

The speech dealt with health screening shifting emphasis onto prevention rather than cure, from the secondary to the primary sector and all the NHS ‘personal to you stuff’ that he trotted out at the Labour Party conference last year.

Oddly enough a lot of this is a rehash as much of this is already part of existing policy so it’s all rather more of a rehash than a brave new vision (again).

But I thought no, because I found something that (to my mind) was more interesting instead…and lots of political bloggers will probably have a bit of fun with the speech anyway.

In a piece by James Randerson in today’s Guardian a new thoery is discussed over the cause of the extinction of the Dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

The popular theory that the dinosaurs were killed off by a meteorite impact which changed the global climate in tandem with other catastrophic events has been challenged by George and Roberta Poinar. George Poinar is a professor of zoology at Oregon State University.

The Poinar’s suggest that the downfall of the dinosaurs was more likely to have come as a result of an explosion in the diversity of insects rather than one caused by a meteorite collision.

It is suggested that these insects spread disease and contributed to a transformation of vegetation to which the plant-eating reptiles failed to adapt.

George Poinar explained "We can't say for certain that insects are the smoking gun, but we believe they were an extremely significant force in the decline of the dinosaurs,"

"Our research with amber shows that there were evolving, disease-carrying vectors in the Cretaceous and that at least some of the pathogens they carried infected reptiles. This clearly fills in some gaps regarding dinosaur extinctions."

In the gut of one biting insect preserved in amber, the team has found the pathogens that causes the parasitic disease leishmaniasis, and in another they found a type of malaria parasite that infects birds and lizards. By inspecting fossilised dinosaur faeces, the team also found parasitic microbes that are carried by insects.

In addition to spreading disease, the insects were busy pollinating flowering plants which were gradually taking over from seed ferns, cycads and gingkoes. If the herbivorous dinosaurs could not adapt to this new diet they would have starved and with them their predator species.

Poinar accepts that the catastrophic events didn’t exactly help the dinosaurs survival prospects but suggests they still fall short of a total explaination for the extinction as that process could still have taken a very long time, perhaps millions of years.

Apparently the little things are important but in this case possibly a lot more than we would have thought.

Which of course brings us back to where we started.

The Dark Lord may take lots of big hits, but we insects out here in Blogdom do have a part to play too. Munch munch!


Mrs Smallprint said...

Your post has got me buzzing!

The extinction of the dinosaurs theory has been accepted truth for a very long time, where does that leave the trendy global warming thingy...... tee hee.

Mrs S.

Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

George Poinar explained "We can't say for certain that insects are the smoking gun, but we believe they were an extremely significant force in the decline of the dinosaurs,"

vital point as we slip into the new feudalism.


Phil A said...

It has to be said that species can adapt relatively quickly to disease and parasites. Take the sickle cell adaptation in humans to the malaria parasite as a single example.

Are we really to suppose that dinosaurs didn’t have sufficient genetic variability that they couldn’t cope with evolving insects and diseases they may have been vectors for?

Insects that had as an order been around, to the best of my recollection (from school, I wasn’t there) since well before the dinosaurs became so dominant…

Liz said...

Doesn't it just astound you that scientists can discover so much detailed information from dinosaur faeces millions of years old!
I am regularly stunned by what can be done - but then I am amazed by television, the telephone, the internet ...

jmb said...

Well that's a very big leap from the facts to the conclusion. But still that's how science advances. I wonder how many will hop on board or try to find evidence of same elsewhere.

jams o donnell said...

It's an intruiging hypothesis and certainly within the bounds of possibility. I doubt it could ever be proved absolutely though.

As one persone reminded me when I posted an item about this, it cannot explain the extinction of marine anuimals at the time.

Phil A said...

Frankly I suspect if it has any validity at all it can only be in the capacity of a spear carrying role. Jams' comment simply reinforces mine.