December 10, 2013

La Dolfina's Adolfo Cambiaso hits the ball during the 119th Argentine Polo Championship final match against Ellerstina in Buenos Aires.     Photo: Associated Press

Game of Clones

Argentine polo player rides cloned horse to win national championship.

On Saturday, polo superstar Adolfo Cambiaso rode a cloned horse in the championship match of the Argentine National Open—a first in equestrian sports.

With the score 11-9 in the game’s backstretch, Cambiaso saddled up Show Me, his not-so-secret deadly weapon. The duo scored two goals (Cambiaso finished with nine goals in the match), helping his team win 16-11.

The victory brought Cambiaso one-step closer to his dream of playing an entire polo match on clones.

Alan Meeker, Cambiaso’s business partner and founder of Crestview Genetics, compared cloned polo to NASCAR: “all of the players would have the same vehicle, and then the player’s skill would be what is most important.” 

Experts say that Show Me heralds a new era in polo breeding. The mare is a genetic copy of an American thoroughbred, Sage, that was awarded “best playing polo pony” at the 1997 International Gold Cup. Sage version 2.0 has already played two seasons in the Palm Beach polo season, the sport’s minor league. But Argentina, home to 34 of the world’s top 50 polo players, was Show Me’s call up to the bigs. By helping Cambiaso’s team win the national championship, she answered critics who wondered if a clone could compete at the same elite level as the original.

Cambiaso’s clones perform as well on the pitch as they do at auction. In 2010, a copy of Cuartetera -- two-time winner of the Copa Lady Susan Townley, an MVP award for horses—sold for $800,000.

“She’s the best I’ve ridden in my life,” Cambiaso says. “She has everything: power, mouth, acceleration and velocity.”

“For a polo player to ride an extremely talented horse, like Show Me or Cuartetera, would be like for a soccer player to wear Maradona’s feet,” one expert told Argentine television.

The win has far-reaching implications beyond the world of polo. In June 2012, the Fédération Equestre Internationale lifted a ban on cloned horses, making them eligible for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Polo isn’t an Olympic event, but dressage, jumping and eventing are—sports with clones in training.

As of September, Cambiaso had 56 young clones in his string. With this many future ringers, the only thing stopping Cambiaso could be his own age, 38, leading some to wonder if Cambiaso’s next move is to clone himself.

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A hermit crab     Photo: Zoonar/P.Malyshev/Thinkstock.com

When Age Doesn't Mean Mortality

46 species show diverse aging strategies

The hermit crab seems unusual in its maintenance of near-constant levels of fertility and mortality. In fact, it undermines the notion that deterioration necessarily follows age.

The hydra—a freshwater microorganism—abides by the same ever-youthful aging strategy. But whereas the hermit crab typically lives 10 to 30 years, the hydra can sustain itself for centuries. This disparity is observed in a study released by Nature that defines the aging process as a non-standard phenomenon, possibly altering our view of evolution.

The research compared the aging patterns of 46 species and found no association between the length of life and the degree of senescence—or deterioration of mortality and fertility—with age.

Rather, life ages on a continuum, with mammals grouped on one end, showcasing an abrupt shift in mortality, and plants on the other, touting a much lower mortality. Birds and invertebrates populate the space between.

“The [evolutionary] theories we have are applicable in lots of situations — but they can’t explain some cases,” says Owen Jones, a biologist at the University of Southern Denmark and leader of the study.

Detractors, including evolutionary biologists at the University of California–Irvine and the University of Texas Health Science Center, criticize the findings for being lab-oriented.

Steven Austad, biologist at the University of Texas, says the findings are "divorced from biology" and "[ignore] the impact of the environment."

Stephen Stearns, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University, says that while the research provides a useful reminder, it does not repudiate evolutionary theory. “That would require difficult empirical measures of the trade-offs between reproduction and mortality," he says, "which haven't yet been done.”

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Still better than John Mayer.     Photo: Youtube.com

WATCH: Orangutan Plays, Eats Ukelele

Has little use for the arts in the wild

What happens when an instrument of human art and recreation crosses the line from civilization into the wild? It becomes food, then, failing that, a tool for survival.

The folks at GoPro, who have been working with the Frankfurt Zoological Society to introduce us to the orangutans of Sumatra, released this video of one of our simian friends attempting to play, eat, then dig a hole with a ukulele, in that order.

The orangutan plucks a clear b, then, perhaps having fulfilled all of his artistic desires, attempts to eat the strings. When the strings fail to provide sustenance, the orangutan turns the instrument around and starts digging into the earth. One small step for simian kind.

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Dharavi, India. Urban developments like this one are expected to double in population size by 2044.     Photo: YGLvoices/Wikimedia

Urbanites Expected to Double By 2050

U.N. says growth to occur in developing countries

It took all of human history to accumulate 3.5 billion urban dwellers on Earth, but it'll only take another 30 years to double that number, a U.N. agency focusing on cities announced Monday.

Although the rate of population growth is decreasing, the U.N. projects that the global population will increase from 7 billion to 9 billion within the next 30 to 40 years, with urbanites growing exponentially. But don't expect to see that impact in your city. Developing countries are expected to represent 96 percent of the urban growth.

"This is why we are very worried, because the number of people living in slums is increasing," Joan Clos, executive director of the U.N. human settlement program UN-Habitat, told the Associated Press.

UN-Habitat estimates that that the world's slum population has increased by 213 million people since 1990, reaching 863 million in 2012—more than twice the entire population of North America in 2010.

Urban immigration is a double-edged swords in the developing world. Although people have experienced improvements in their living conditions, cities experience huge demands on land, resources, and services from handling millions of new arrivals.

In April, 10,000 ministers, mayors, academics and representatives from business, non-governmental organizations and local authorities are expected to attend the World Urban Forum in Medellin, Colombia, to address these issues.

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