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December 12, 2013

This Week In The Civil War: Lincoln’s Restoration Plan

This Week in the Civil War - This series marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War draws primarily from wartime dispatches credited to The Associated Press or other accounts distributed through the AP and other historical sources.

This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Dec. 15: Lincoln’s Proclamation on Amnesty and Reconstruction.

In early December 1863, President Abraham Lincoln announced his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, an early document aimed at speeding reconciliation and reconstruction of areas recaptured from the Confederacy by this point in the Civil War. At this time in the conflict, Lincoln’s armies had reclaimed large parts of the South and with the capture of those territories came a pressing need to rebuild and reorganize them. Lincoln’s document, in an annual message to Congress, sought to permit a full pardon and restoration of property rights to all who had rebelled against the government — save ranking Confederate commanders and leaders. It also called for permitting a new government to be formed when 10 percent of eligible voters had sworn allegiance to the United States and to resolve questions involving freed slaves. Several Northern newspapers immediately supported the plan. ``The President’s plan of restoring our Federal system to its normal operation ... finds us already thoroughly committed to it .... What is the problem to be solved? It is — How to restore truly and safely the part of the Union which revolted,’’ The New York Times said on Dec. 11, 1863.

Oldest DNA By 100,000 Years Throws Science Into A New Era

By MALCOLM RITTER

AP Science Writer

New York (AP) Scientists have reached farther back than ever into the ancestry of humans to recover and analyze DNA, using a bone found in Spain that’s estimated to be 400,000 years old. So far, the achievement has provided more questions than answers about our ancient forerunners.

The feat surpasses the previous age record of about 100,000 years for genetic material recovered from members of the human evolutionary line. Older DNA has been mapped from animals.

Experts said the work shows that new techniques for working with ancient DNA may lead to more discoveries about human origins.

Results were presented online last Wednesday in the journal Nature by Matthias Meyer and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, with co-authors in Spain and China.

They retrieved the DNA from a thighbone found in a cave in northern Spain. It is among thousands of fossils from at least 28 individuals to be recovered from a chamber called the ``Pit of the Bones.’’ The remains are typically classified as Homo heidelbergensis, but not everybody agrees.

Some of the Spanish skulls found in the pit

The age of the bones has been hard to determine. A rough estimate from analyzing the DNA is around 400,000 years, which supports what Meyer said is the current view of the anthropologists excavating the site. Todd Disotell, an anthropology professor at New York University, said geological techniques suggest the remains are older than 300,000 years but it’s not clear by how much. By comparison, modern humans arose only about 200,000 years ago.

The researchers mapped almost the complete collection of so-called mitochondrial DNA. While the DNA most people know about is found in the nucleus of a cell, mitochondrial DNA lies outside the nucleus. It is passed only from mother to child.
Researchers used the DNA to construct possible evolutionary family trees that include the Spanish individuals and two groups that showed up much later: Neanderthals and an evolutionary cousin of Neanderthals called Denisovans. They assumed the DNA would show similarities to Neanderthal DNA, since the Spanish fossils have anatomical features reminiscent of Neanderthals.

But surprisingly, the DNA instead showed a closer relationship to Denisovans, who lived in Siberia and apparently elsewhere in Asia, far from the Spanish cave. Scientists are uncertain of how to explain that, Meyer said.

The picture should get clearer if scientists can recover the other kind of DNA, found in the nucleus, from the Spanish bones, he said. Nucleus DNA would give more comprehensive information about evolutionary relationships between species, perhaps telling a story much different from the mitochondrial DNA evidence, Meyer said. Nucleus DNA is harder to recover, but Meyer said he’s optimistic that some small fraction might be retrievable.

He also noted that the cave has acted as ``the perfect fridge’’ to preserve the DNA for eons, and said it will be hard to find comparable situations elsewhere. Experts in ancient DNA called the new paper exciting because it showed scientists can recover older DNA than many had thought outside the deep freeze of permafrost areas. Much of human evolution happened in warmer places.

``We had been operating for a while under the assumption that the oldest DNA we’re going to get is about 100,000 years,’’ said Disotell. Now, ``we might take a shot at some older samples that we just never would have bothered with in the past.’’

In warm places like Africa, where DNA does not preserve well, even getting genetic material that is just tens of thousands of years old would be an advance, said David Reich of Harvard Medical School.

Bird Lovers Seek Respect For Sweet Birds: Iowa Blue Chickens

By ALY BROWN

Iowa City Press-Citizen

Iowa City, Iowa (AP) Like John Wayne, Eskimo Pie and the Gallup poll, Iowans are proud of Iowa-born.

We build museums and host festivals to celebrate minor references in Star Trek. We relish wearing our Hawkeye gear outside of the stadium, and we are quick to correct those who think we only grow corn.

But why don’t we celebrate the Iowa Blue chicken, the only breed of chicken developed in the state? The Iowa Blue Chicken Club hopes to change your mind, one chick at a time.

The Iowa City Press-Citizen reports Curt Burroughs, a Palo-based breeder and club historian, purchased his first Iowa Blues a decade ago when the breed was on the verge of extinction.

Only two of six chicks survived the shipment, a male and female, which grew to a flock of 20. Burroughs said he sold the flock when he briefly moved to Virginia. He came back to the breed when he saw the newly formed Iowa Blue Chicken Club was attempting to standardize a Texas-crossbreed, turned black from breeding outside the genetic line.

``I knew right away it was not an Iowa Blue,’’ Burroughs said. ``I told them, `You give me two weeks to find evidence the bird should be blue-gray at a distance, not black.’’’

Burroughs returned with a lengthy historical treatise, beginning the standardization of Iowa’s chicken.

Iowa Blue Rooster

John Logsdon, a Decorah farmer known for experimentation with livestock genetics, wanted a chicken that could handle extreme Iowa summers and winters. His chickens bred for the cold in Minnesota or Wisconsin would stroke in the heat, and breeds developed in California would freeze.

While the origins of the breed are fuzzy, Logsdon purportedly created the breed in the early 1920s by breeding a cross of a Chinese cock pheasant with a Black Minorca hen and a Rhode Island hen.

By breeding for each chicken’s best characteristics, Logsdon created a hardy, brave chicken equally good on the table and for laying eggs.

Logsdon’s breed grew in popularity among state hatcheries, but fell into obscurity when the last known hatchery to carry the breed shuttered in 1972, according to Burroughs’ ``History and Characteristics of the Iowa Blue.’’

Burroughs writes that the industrialization of America’s food supply in the 1950s shifted the consumer mentality from self-sufficiency to convenience and thriftiness.

``This shift from local, home-raised poultry to supermarket-ready birds raised in an industrial environment took its toll on many local as well as nationally-recognized breeds,’’ he writes.

Without a demand from consumers or admittance into the Standard of Perfection, Iowa Blues could neither thrive on the farm nor in the show ring. By 1989, Burroughs writes, the breed withered to two flocks: one old and infertile, the other belonging to Ransome Bolson.

``Every Iowa Blue in the nation traces back to Ransome’s flock,’’ Burroughs said.

Kent Whealy, co-founder of Seed Savers Exchange and an avid conservationist, took the breed under his wing and purchased several dozen hatching eggs from Bolson. Whealy bred his resulting chicks, selling hatching eggs to several breeders who disseminated their stock.

But, after being crossbred with so many varieties, the Iowa Blue experienced what Burroughs calls a ``genetic bottleneck,’’ where the breed began to lose ``the characteristics that make the Iowa Blue unique among chicken-dom.’’

Out of this conservation effort emerged two colorations of Iowa Blue chickens: Birchen and Silver Penciled, the original variety.

Silver Penciled Iowa Blue roosters’ heads are silvery white, leading into a silvery white and black-laced body. The tails are a lustrous black with a blue sheen, matching the laced breast. Hens have similar, stippled gray appearance.

Birchens, a more recent product of crossbreeding, have a largely black appearance with the breed’s characteristic lacing.

While Burroughs said club breeders are selecting for Silver Penciled coloration, maintaining the breed’s disposition is paramount.

``They are so inquisitive, and they are so unique in how they behave,’’ he said. ``They don’t behave like chickens. They do, but they don’t.’’

Like a cat, Iowa Blues will cock their tail to the side when they’re curious. When you lift the lid off of a box of chicks, they pop up like exploding popcorn.

They’re also the only known chicken in the world that will fight a hawk.

``They puff out their chest almost like they’re daring it to try, `Just try me,’ “ Burroughs said. ``They’ll flop on their back and lock talons with the hawk, and there is dust and feathers flying and awful noises, but they hold their own.’’

Kari McKay-Widdel, vice president of the Iowa Blue Chicken Club and a Belle Plaine-based breeder, said even though the breed will fight predators such as snakes and foxes, they are the ``sweetest birds I’ve had.’’

Amber O’Harrow, a local artist, was so inspired by the chicken’s rotund shape and ``haughty’’ attitude that she forged a six-foot tall metal sculpture of a hen as part of a sculptural collection at Iowa River Landing.

``Humans relate to chickens in two ways,’’ O’Harrow said. ``We love them as a beautiful creature, and we love them as dinner.’’

O’Harrow, who owns three Iowa Blues, wanted to create a sculpture that celebrated and ``reinvigorated’’ the breed’s original purpose: food.

``Chickens do have a purpose other than being fluffy,’’ she said. ``We can give them a good life, if we could all get back to the mindset of having a good, healthy farm.’’

McKay-Widdel said the club’s true function is achieving breed standardization from the American Poultry Association.

To do so, the club must present five breeders with affidavits affirming they have bred Iowa Blues for at least five years. During these years, breeders must show a certain number of chickens, exposing the breed to judges’ certification.

Finally, the club must present 50 birds at a qualifying show that all display the same genetic traits, which is at least two years away, McKay-Widdel said.

The club currently is trying to get the bird in as many hands as possible, with the hopes that the breed will continue to thrive. By standardizing the breed, the Iowa Blue’s original colorization and characteristics will be maintained, nearly 100 years later.

``If we can do that, the breed will take care of itself,’’ Burroughs said.


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