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March 30, 2013

An Ohio prosecutor sought the death penalty for Punxsutawney Phil, saying the famous groundhog misled millions of people by predicting an early spring. "Punxsutawney Phil has let us down," said Michael Gmoser. "I awoke this morning to a snowstorm, low temperatures, and howling wind." Gmoser dropped the suit after Phil's handlers took responsibility for the error. Samantha Rollins

7:52 a.m. ET
Charly Triballeau/Stringer/Getty Images

French President François Hollande said Tuesday that the attackers of a Normandy church had claimed allegiance to the Islamic State.

Two armed men stormed the church in the city of Rouen and took several hostages early Tuesday morning, including the priest and two nuns, then slit the priest's throat before being killed by police, according to The Associated Press. Jeva Lange

7:34 a.m. ET
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Four billion years ago, sometime around Earth's 560 millionth birthday, Luca was born.

Luca is your great-to-an-infinite-degree grandmother and grandfather, as it is your dog's and your goldfish's and your ficus'. Every living thing on earth owes it existence to Luca, whose very name stands for "Last Universal Common Ancestor." It is the origin of life of earth, from which the rest of us evolved. And now scientists believe they have mapped a genetic picture of the qualities that would have belonged to Luca, giving us a startling look at how life on earth might have began:

...By comparing their sequence of DNA letters, genes can be arranged in evolutionary family trees, a property that enabled [Dr. William F.] Martin and his colleagues to assign the six million genes to a much smaller number of gene families. Of these, only 355 met their criteria for having probably originated in Luca, the joint ancestor of bacteria and archaea.

Genes are adapted to an organism's environment. So Dr. Martin hoped that by pinpointing the genes likely to have been present in Luca, he would also get a glimpse of where and how Luca lived. "I was flabbergasted at the result, I couldn't believe it," he said.

The 355 genes pointed quite precisely to an organism that lived in the conditions found in deep sea vents, the gassy, metal-laden, intensely hot plumes caused by seawater interacting with magma erupting through the ocean floor. [The New York Times]

Chemist John Sutherland, of the University of Cambridge, has a rival theory that life formed in shallow pools, not the ocean. Others say that Dr. Martin's version of Luca is actually the sophisticated descendent of some other original Luca.

But regardless of which theory you believe, as James O. McInerney wrote in a commentary about Dr. Martin's research, Luca is "a very intriguing insight into life four billion years ago." Read all about it at The New York Times. Jeva Lange

6:58 a.m. ET
CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images

A priest was killed after being taken hostage by two armed men in northern France on Tuesday morning, police say. The attackers stormed a church during mass in the Normandy city of Rouen and took several hostages, including the priest and two nuns, then slit the priest's throat before being killed by police, according to The Associated Press. One other hostage is in critical condition, the BBC reports.

The attack comes not even two weeks after an attacker killed 84 people in Nice with a truck, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility. France is still on high alert following the Nice attack, and last year's terrorist attack in Paris that left 130 people dead. Police say a motive for the Rouen hostage-takers isn't apparent, but anti-terrorism teams have been called to investigate.

Update 7:54 a.m.: French President François Hollande said the attackers claimed allegiance to the Islamic State. Jessica Hullinger

4:42 a.m. ET

The first day of the Democratic National Convention on Monday had its ups and downs, Stephen Colbert said in his live post-convention Late Show monologue. "Bernie Sanders heartily endorsed Hillary Clinton," he said. "It was an impassioned speech, but disappointed some of his supporters. I have not seen that many crying women since Bernie opened for the Beatles." But Day 1 of the Democratic convention was "also known as Hillary Clinton and the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day," Colbert said, mostly due to Friday's leak of 19,000 hacked Democratic National Committee emails, showing the DNC favoring Clinton over Sanders.

"In an unprecedented show of bias, the Democrats threw their weight behind the registered Democrat," Colbert said. "That's not farr. That's like Sam's Club refusing to take your Blockbuster card." But if the day started out rocky on Monday, "by early evening, things had calmed down," he said. "But then Bernie supporter Sarah Silverman and Hillary supporter Al Franken took the stage, and Sarah got a little tired of the crowd," telling the "Bernie or Bust" crowd they are being "ridiculous." "Wow, it is rare when the comedian heckles the audience," Colbert said.

"There were a lot of great speeches tonight, but leave it to Michelle Obama to truly unify the Democrats," Colbert said. "With tonight's moving speech, she convinced everyone in that arena that it was finally time to elect as president of the United States former first lady Michelle Obama. She crushed it." Colbert ended with a joke so obvious he would be negligent in not making it: "Anyway, Michelle's speech was so good, I want to hear it again. When is Melania doing it?" Watch below. Peter Weber

4:04 a.m. ET

As the Democrats kicked off their own chaotic national convention on Monday, Samantha Bee took a last, profanity-tinged look at last week's Republican National Convention. The theme of the GOP convention was that the world is scary and Hillary Clinton's Democrats are trying to divide the nation, a leitmotif Bee found both puzzling and ironic. "It takes a lot of balls to call your opponents divisive when your party is tearing itself in half because you nominated a sociopathic 70-year-old toddler," she said on Monday's Full Frontal.

If you watched last week's Republican convention, you might remember that Donald Trump was merely the last person on stage to portray a dark, broken, dystopian America — but it sounds much scarier when Rudy Giuliani, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and other speakers are talking terror over the dramatic strains of "Dies Irae" from Mozart's Requiem. Forget "Morning in America," Bee said. "It's the middle of the night in America and someone's kicking in your door — oh, and also, Hillary took your guns away."

After playing some of Trump's speech, Bee said, "Oh, my god, is Donald Trump running for Batman?" But then she reconsidered, arguing that he's re-running Richard Nixon's 1968 campaign. "Now I'm pissed that people are picking on Melania — at least she plagiarized someone good," Bee said. "Like Trump, Nixon courted old, white middle Americans made anxious by civil unrest," a group Nixon called the "silent majority." But Trump won't be just like Nixon, she added. "Nixon got 15 percent of the black vote." There is some mildly NSFW language, but if that doesn't bother you, watch the rest of Bee's Trump-Nixon comparison below. Peter Weber

3:15 a.m. ET

At the beginning of Monday's post-Democratic convention Late Show, Stephen Colbert took a bite of a Philly cheesecake he pretended to have found on the street of Philadelphia, and then things got strange. Colbert, dressed in hippy-faux tribal-rainbow pants attire, popped up behind what appeared to be the cast of a Hair revival to sing a raga-trance song called "Death, Taxes, and Hillary." A sample: "It's a cheesesteak jamboree, where your mind can be set free / And this power girl will change the world, if her donors all agree." The costumes mix late '60s and early 1970s counterculture and disco, the music is highly reminiscent of the Beatles' Maharishi period, and the animation is Yellow Submarine mixed with your most psychedelic screen saver. Watch below, and even if you're completely sober, you might feel a bit trippy by the end. Peter Weber

2:44 a.m. ET

Stephen Colbert made his way onto the Republican National Convention stage last week, dressed in his Hunger Games-inspired Julius Flickerman attire and carrying his stuffed weasel, Caligula. On Monday's Late Show, he tried the same stunt in Philadelphia with the Democrats. "It might have been my fault" that the Democrats didn't fix their divisions over leaked hacked Democratic National Committee emails before the Democratic National Convention started, he said at his desk in his live post-convention special. "Truth be told, yesterday I went down to Philly to bask in the coming Democratic conflict. You know, I see it as something of a blood sport."

After walking around and making fun of various aspects of the Democratic convention arena — and Chuck Todd's goatee, with CNN's Jake Tapper — Colbert said "the one thing left to do was the one thing Democrats really didn't want me to do: Mount the podium where Hillary will be crowned." Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats would not let him on the stage, even when he enlisted the help of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. (Maybe they watch Colbert's Late Show.) But Colbert/Flickerman is nothing if not determined, and also just the slightest bit crafty. Watch his mighty, inexplicable struggle to get on stage below. Peter Weber

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