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On Sunday, the tree of life lost another member: Lonesome George, the famed last survivor of the Pinta Island tortoises (Chelonoidis abingdoni). Director of the Museum’s Center for Biodiveristy and Conservation Eleanor Sterling has been in the Galápagos for the past few days. She recently answered a few questions about Lonesome George’s passing and legacy.
What are you doing in the Galápagos?
Eleanor Sterling: The Galápagos National Park Service and the Galápagos Conservancy called together a meeting of experts on public participation in monitoring and conservation and I was invited as a specialist.
Who was Lonesome George?
Sterling: Lonesome George was a giant tortoise who was close to a century old and who was quite famous for being the last known representative of his species. And with his death, the whole species that was found on Pinta Island in the Galápagos is now extinct. There are other individuals who have some of the genes of Pinta Island tortoises, but he was last known individual to have the full genome of this species.
What role did humans play in the decline of his species?
Sterling: Seafaring individuals stopped by the Galápagos and collected tens of thousands of tortoises over the years. They packed their hulls with tortoises to use as food as they traveled around rest of world, because tortoises could last a long time without dying. Humans also introduced species such as rats to the islands where tortoises live, and those introduced species compete with tortoises for food or depredate on their young and eggs.
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Fear can take many forms, from minor phobias to life-altering conditions such as PTSD. Now, new research is shedding light on how these so-called fear memories could be changed. At the final SciCafe of the season on Wednesday, June 6,neuroscientist Daniela Schiller will discuss her work on the neural mechanisms of emotional control and potential ways to modify or “erase” fear memories. Schiller recently answered a few questions about how memories are created and lost.
How did you first become interested in studying emotional memories?
It wasn’t an explicit decision. I started with philosophy and psychology, and I was interested in the brain and the mind. And the combination is the neural basis of behavior, and within behavior, emotion is fascinating because it’s the least willful process we have. We think emotions just happen to us, but they don’t just pop out of the blue. It’s interesting to look at the mechanism and see that it’s a very distinct process in the brain that you can observe and counteract and modulate.
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This Mother’s Day weekend, travel from the shores of Africa to the deep-sea habitats of bioluminescent creatures with a live puppet theater production that makes its New York premiere.Luna’s Sea tells the story of a girl named Luna on a magical journey through the world’s oceans using dance, puppetry, optical illusions, and black-light theater. Luna’s Sea will hold performances at the Museum on Saturday, May 12, and Sunday, May 13. The show’s creator, Linda Wingerter, recently shared the history of Luna's Sea as well as some of the details about how the production’s spectacular puppets are made.
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Chili peppers, a spicy fruit featured in cuisines around the world, were used in Mexico long before going global, as was the agave-derived distilled drink tequila. This week, the Museum’s Adventures in the Global Kitchen series presents Tequila and Chilies, which will include a conversation with Juan Carlos Aguirre, the executive director of Mano a Mano: Mexican Culture Without Borders. Aguirre, who will be providing samplings of chili-based dishes from across Mexico alongside tequila from Richard Sandoval Restaurants, recently offered a quick history lesson about the ubiquitous chili pepper.
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Skin is the body’s largest organ, and one with a complex cultural and evolutionary past. At the upcoming SciCafe on Wednesday, May 2, biological anthropologist Nina Jablonski will discuss how human skin evolved, particularly as an adaptation to ultraviolet radiation. She recently answered a few questions about skin and its role in our lives.
When did you decide to study the history of human skin?
Nina Jablonski: By accident. About 23 years ago, a colleague asked me to give a lecture to his class about skin because he was going to be out of town for a conference. I obliged. In preparing for the lecture, I realized just how little had been written about the evolution and meaning of human skin.