• 14/07/2006

round salt: In what may be a boon to consumers and industry, a group of chemists in India has reported a method to make round salt. Scientists have been striving for years to smoothen the shape of common salt, which forms as cube-shaped crystals, to make it free flowing. Pushpito K Ghosh, P Dastidar and their colleagues from the Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, say a bigger market (than domestic consumption) may be industries that store and use sodium chloride in bulk to make everything from chemicals to dyes, fertilisers, paper and pharmaceuticals.

figs leaf: The dawn of agriculture may have come with the domestication of fig trees in West Asia some 11,400 years ago, roughly a thousand years before such staples as wheat, barley, and legumes were domesticated in the region, according to Ofer Bar-Yosef of Harvard University in the US and Mordechai E. Kislev and Anat Hartmann of Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

The discovery dates domesticated figs to a period some 5,000 years earlier than previously thought, making the fruit trees the oldest known domesticated crop.

aquatic origin: Fossils of a near-modern bird (Gansus yumenensis) found in the Gansu Province of China show that it is possible that early birds evolved in an aquatic environment. The five fossils dating back to 105-115 million years suggest that the early modern birds were much like the ducks or loons found today.

The study was co-authored by Peter Dodson of the University of Pennsylvania and his former students, Hai-lu You of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, Jerald Harris of Dixie State College of Utah and Matthew Lamanna of the Carnegie Natural History Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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