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These are the days of miracles and wonders. 5/11 Future Shoes hed: Yahoo! These are the days of miracles and wonders. by Michael Finley

If you ever get to feeling all caught up, go to Yahoo!’s full coverage page, where you will be inundated with multiple versions of the top stories of the week.

This past week was typically amazing. Let me tick off just a few of the things going on in our world. Each is extraordinary, yet they stack up on the Full Coverage page like cordwood.

There’s a new theory, for example, about asteroids, described at a recent confab at NASA’s Johnson Space Flight Center. Instead of being remnants of unformed planets (the old theory), astronomers now think asteroids were once part of live planets that were then ejected, sometimes with living stuff still on ’em. These Johnny Appleseeds of the cosmos might be responsible for spreading the seeds of life (panspermia) from planet to planet, vitalizing us when they crash into us as meteors. We even have a meteor from Mars that fell to earth billions of years ago, which appears to contain fossilized remains of Martian bacteria. Take a deep breath, and take a blue pencil to your Bible.

Dennis Tito, the world’s first space tourist, is already filling slide carousels with pictures from his trip. Having written a hefty check to the cash-starved Russians for a steerage seat aboard the shuttle launch, he has opened the floodgates of space travel to Everyman, although for the foreseeable future Everyman has to fork over $20 million. Already, entrepreneurs are talking about space joyrides–quick trips up, once around the planet, a peak at the moon, then down again. My wife and I want to go, but we’re waiting for the fall colors.

Physicists revealed last week that they have conducted experiments in which light, which customarily travels at a fixed 186,000 miles per second, was brought to a dead stop, held in its tracks for a time inside a special chamber, and then released again. Yes, light travels at 186,000 miles a second, but only, as it turns out, in a vacuum. Light is slowed down when you force it to pass through a medium such as air or glass. At high speeds, light remains a will o’ the wisp; slowed down it becomes a plasma or jelly; frozen in place it’s–well, no one knows how to describe it yet. “This is tough stuff even for scientists,” said Stanford University physicist Stephen E. Harris.

The world’s first genetically modified babies are born and living among us. Fertility scientists in New Jersey announced that there are now 15 healthy children that were conceived using a process called ooplasmic transfer. Genetic material was “manipulated,” but not altered, according to doctors. The children are all the progeny of three, not two, parents. We take another unwitting step toward rewriting our own biological code, and wonder where it will end.

Finally, scientists have extracted brain tissue from human cadavers and kept it alive–and growing healthy new cells–with chemical nourishment. This means the dead are not necessarily dead. The implications for treatment of neural disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases are obvious. Scientists, however, think they may have something even greater than that. Cells from the brain’s hippocampus, or memory center, may have restorative properties to compare with fetal stem cells–able to become any kind of cell the body requires. A silver bullet to regenerate healthy tissue, but if fetal cells trouble some people, isn’t it likely that brain cells of dead people are going to give some folks qualms?


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