Storm dragon

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Storm dragons (or storm wyrms) are dragonkin native to Skywall. Harnessing the elemental powers of the storm, these majestic beasts crackle like lightning and roar like thunder.

The mighty storm dragons are mysterious creatures that inhabit Skywall, the portion of the Elemental Plane that serves as the domain of air elementals. Their origin is unknown, as before the Shattering no one had seen them (or lived long enough to tell the story). Their draconic appearance however may not indicate their true nature. It appears they are quite tightly connected to the element of air, and serve Al'Akir, mostly found in Vortex Pinnacle. They also seem to be non-sentinent beings, as none of them so far can be seen using any kind of language, neither draconic nor kalimag, not even Auran. This may mean that they are in fact elementals similar to the phoenixes from the Firelands.

Brann Bronzebeard recently uncovered evidence, corroborated by reports from adventurers in Deepholm, that proto-dragons and dragons may have origins in these — and other — elemental drakes. The inhabitants of Deepholm, the Skywall, the Firelands, and the Abyssal Maw are less than talkative on these matters, however, and most of them were not around when the elemental prisons were created.

De-extinction: If we can save the white rhino, can we bring back the T-rex?

News that scientists have created hybrid white rhino embryos has given new hope to those who feared the northern white rhino was doomed to extinction.

But could scientists bring back other, longer-extinct species — and if so, should they?

The work to save the northern white rhino uses IVF technology, but that method is unlikely to work on an animal that has been extinct for thousands of years.

Swedish science journalist Torill Kornfeldt travelled the world researching "de-extinction" science for her book The Re-Origin Of Species.

She says Jurassic Park showed what the process is supposed to look like: scientists find an ancient mosquito trapped in amber, draw dinosaur blood from the perfectly preserved specimen, then use that DNA to clone the extinct reptile.

Except researchers have tried this and it doesn't work.

"They don't find any dinosaur DNA, they don't find any mosquito DNA either," says Kornfeldt, explaining that even well-preserved DNA degrades over time.

A mammoth task

So dinosaurs are probably out (as are Jurassic-era mosquitos) but what about something that died out a little more recently, like the woolly mammoth?

"The woolly mammoth is tricky," Kornfeldt says, predicting we could see a live mammoth in "either 15 years, or never".

"That research is still depending on a few scientific breakthroughs that haven't happened yet — but still might."

Even if those breakthroughs happen, the creature the scientists create won't be a cloned mammoth.

Cloning is only possible where there are tissue samples from a live animal, or "very recently dead" one.

Woolly mammoths have been extinct for thousands of years, so while there's still DNA in them, "it's really degraded".

Scientists can piece that DNA together in a computer by comparing it to a living relative, such as the Asian elephant.

"Kind of like looking at the lid when you do a jigsaw puzzle, you look at all the pieces and see where they're supposed to go," Kornfeldt says.

The next step is to identify the genetic differences between the elephant and the mammoth — genes that govern the animal's fur, for example — and then tweak the elephant's genes to make it more like a mammoth.
"You're basically mammothifying an elephant," Kornfeldt says.

Home sweet home

Once you have a herd of woolly mammoths, the next problem is where to put them.

Kornfeldt travelled to Siberia, where researchers are attempting to recreate a woolly-mammoth era habitat.

"This was a very rich ecosystem — in some ways it was comparable to the African savanna," she says.

"There were loads of animals on this grassland, and then when the Ice Age ended — and when humans came in — this ecosystem changed.

"A lot of animals, including the mammoth, disappeared ... and the grassland was replaced by forest," Kornfeldt says.

Without access to a live woolly mammoth, the researchers have wheeled in an unlikely substitute.
"They have this old, Soviet-era tank that they drive around and knock down trees with," Kornfeldt says.
"One of the functions of a mammoth, same as elephants, is to knock down trees so the grass has somewhere to go."

A genetic moonshot

Even if creating a woolly-mammoth-like creature were a possibility, why would we bother?

In selling the USA's original 1969 moonshot to the public, John F Kennedy famously talked up the benefits of taking on a massive challenge:
"We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills."
Kornfeldt says cloning the woolly mammoth could have similar benefits to the Apollo program.
"We didn't go to the Moon to collect gold or something, we did it just to go through the process — and in the same way, going through the process of figuring something like this out has a great value in itself," she says.

"It makes the researchers a lot more aware of how different genes work and what their functions are, what kind of genes you can change and what genes you can't change, and how it all sort of fits together."


Dinosaur Wars: Earthfall

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Star Wars meets Jurassic Park as dinosaurs return to earth from space. Action-packed adventure for all age groups.

"Solid science and pacing that never quits." --Kay Kenyon, Philip K. Dick Award nominated author of Maximum Ice

"Fills the void since Jurassic Park. And, Hopp's book may be better." --Steve Brusatte, DinoLand Review

It's taken me a while to write this review. After I read the book, I wasn't sure what to make of it. I then read the other reviews and found that I agreed completely with both the low and the high star reviews.

Yes, the plot is whacky, the science is at least half fantasy, as is the military reaction, and the characters' activities--not to mention the intelligent dinos waging war on humankind. But the book was a blast to read, fast paced with accessible, if somewhat one-dimensional characters.

I think what got me, besides the whole Jurassic Park meets War of the Worlds plot, is the way the author managed to weave a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor into his non-stop, dino action. For instance, when the paleontologist, one of the main characters in the book, is rounded up with some millitary men to be the intelligent dino's dinner, he thinks to himself, as the dinosaurs he's spent his whole life studying lean over him with their jaws ready to take a bite: "So this is what they mean when they say you're consumed by your work." How can you not like puns and dinosaurs in the same book???

And there are moments of real pathos, terror, anger...the author manages to get the reader to feel the whole spectrum. Yes, including, eyerolling "you've got to be kidding me" moments. There are a lot of those, it has to be admitted. And I thought the ending was the biggest eyeroller of them all, especially how the lone For Peace dino never has a moment of angst over the humans blowing away his home base where his beloved, pregnant wife was nesting. He's STILL bent on making peace with these tasty, so-called intelligent humans.

I do think that you will enjoy this book, as I did, if you park your modern outlook and knowledge of real science, and instead let yourself channel the days of Edgar Rice Burroughs and scienece fiction adventures from the pulp fiction days of yesteryear.