Article posted Thursday, October 29, 2009 3:50pm

• A.D. Bajkov, a biologist for the Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries in Louisiana, witnessed an unusual event on October 23, 1947. During a rainstorm in Marksville, LA, fish began falling from the sky. They ranged from two to nine inches long and they were all over the place. Along main street, there was a fish every square yard or so, and the cashier of the local bank and two businessmen were struck by falling fish while walking to work. Bajkov reported the event in Science magazine. Can it really rain fish or frogs? All the evidence says that, under the proper circumstances (e.g., water spouts?), this can happen. (Dennis and Wolff, 1992, It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes)

• Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is associated with the accumulation in the brain of clusters of insoluble material called amyloid plaques. Researchers from two universities and the Florida AD Research Center claim that drinking two cups of strong coffee a day may help prevent AD and possibly enhance memory. The research was done in mice bred to develop AD, and caffeine produced a 50 percent reduction in amyloid plaques. Whether this is applicable to humans is theoretical. But if it is, and if you aren’t a coffee drinker, then 14 cups of tea or 20 caffeinated cola drinks may achieve the same effect. (The Week, July, 2009)

• In addition to bacteria, dung-eating insects play a major role in making feces of vertebrate animals disappear from the landscape. Consider what would happen in their absence.

• Everyone knows that someone in a “vegetative state” can be kept alive indefinitely. Should the plug be pulled on individuals who are “minimally conscious?” A study in BioMed Central Neurology gives pause when considering whether to allow such an individual to die. In the study, 44 individuals met the requirements to be classified as in a vegetative state. But a new set of criteria, called the “Coma Scale,” suggested that 18 of the 44 should be considered in a “minimally conscious state.” And as it turned out, four of the 44 patients ultimately recovered. The widespread application of the new Coma Scale may give some vegetative patients time to resume an active life. It’s still a tough call for physicians and families. (The Economist, July, 2009)

• Climate change? Hasn’t there always been climate fluctuations? Yes, and animal and plant life have always evolved to survive the change or else they went extinct. The problem today is the speed with which climate is changing, and the evidence points to human activities as enhancing rapid climate change.

• There is much research on trying to reverse program adult body cells into stem cells that can become specialized into kidney, liver, or brain cells. Theoretically, any cell of our body contains the same DNA “blueprint” from which another you might be produced. Two Chinese researchers have managed to clone a male mouse in this manner that went on to reproduce. The hope is that someday spare body parts can be cloned from your adult skin or liver cells that could be injected to replace ones you lost through disease or accident. This would eliminate the risk of tissue rejection, a major problem with transplants. (The Economist, July, 2009)