Happy Tuesday, Aledans! We’ve got a lot of science news to cover, and I’m hanging out at WriteOnCon all day, so let’s get to it!
Sun may resurrect dormant comets, study says: Comets languishing in the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars may not be quite as dead as once thought, according to research by astronomers at the University of Anitoquia in Colombia. “Imagine all these asteroids going around the sun for eons, with no hint of activity,” said astronomer Ignacio Ferrin. “We have found that some of these are not dead rocks after all, but are dormant comets that may yet come back to life if the energy that they receive from the sun increases by a few percent.”
Fossilized whale guts are identified in Italy: Geologists have concluded that strange, rocky lumps found in Italy are the fossilized remains of ambergris, a substance produced in the digestive tract of sperm whales. The study by researchers at the University of Perugia also suggests that the more than two dozen creatures may have died all at once.
Apparently this stuff sells for tons of money because people like to eat it. Yes, you read that right. People like to eat fossilized whale guts. Even I’m not that much of a foodie.
Diners sample lab-grown beef burger: Scientists in London served up the first burgers made from lab-grown beef Monday in an effort to drum up financial support for continued research into the process. Mark Post of the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands is developing the lab-created meat as a means of providing protein to the growing world population.
I am, however, too much of a foodie to eat this. Blech.
Expedition off New England coast finds a wide array of deep-sea life: The 2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition, which is exploring deep-sea life off the New England coast, has uncovered a vast and diverse ecosystem. The 36-day expedition is gathering information about 11 canyons and one seamount at depths ranging from 1,600 to 7,000 feet before potentially opening up the area to fishing, says Tim Shank of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
Solar array would split water into oxygen, hydrogen: Engineers at the University of Colorado Boulder are planning to build a solar array that would split water into oxygen and hydrogen, an alternative fuel source. “One of the big innovations in our system is that there is no swing in the temperature,” said a project leader, Charles Musgrave. “The whole process is driven by turning a steam valve either on or off.”
Twin astronauts offer unique health-study opportunity: Identical twin astronauts will give researchers a chance to study the health effects of space while having a control subject on Earth. Scott Kelly will spend a year on the International Space Station beginning in 2015 while his Earthbound twin, Mark Kelly, will be monitored on the ground, to determine how genetics can affect health in space.
NASA telescope spies distant magenta planet: A dark magenta planet circling a star similar to our sun about 57 light-years away has been photographed by the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii. “If we could travel to this giant planet, we would see a world still glowing from the heat of its formation with a color reminiscent of a dark cherry blossom, a dull magenta,” said Michael McElwain, a researcher at NASA. “Our near-infrared camera reveals that its color is much more blue than other imaged planets, which may indicate that its atmosphere has fewer clouds,” he said.
High-tech tools help photographer get close to lions: Using high-tech tools such as robots, micro-drones and infrared lights, photographer Michael “Nick” Nichols captured unique photos of lions in the Serengeti. The photographer shared his techniques and adventures with the big cats in the August issue of National Geographic.
Dolphins remember long-ago companions: Dolphins have the longest memories of all animals, according to research by animal behaviorists at the University of Chicago. Researchers studied 43 bottlenose dolphins that had moved between six different breeding facilities for decades, testing their reactions to whistles from unfamiliar dolphins as well as those from animals they had previous contact with and found that they responded to sounds from their former companions.
Duh, cause dolphins are awesome.
Sauropod dinosaurs had replaceable teeth: Giant herbivore sauropod dinosaurs regularly replaced dull teeth with reserves stored in each tooth socket, according to research by paleontologists at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. “Sauropods have very simple teeth, so people have often thought of those dinosaurs as very basic and not very interesting,” said John Whitlock, the study’s lead author. “But it turns out that those simple teeth are tied into this remarkable teeth replacement and adaptation.”
River blindness stopped in Colombia: Colombia has eliminated river blindness caused by Onchocerca volvulus, a parasitic worm, by administering the antiparasitic drug ivermectin every six months for 12 years to areas most affected by the condition. River blindness affects millions of people in more than 30 African and South American countries.
Cactus-like needles show promise for oil-spill cleanup: A synthetic needle modeled after those of a cactus may help soak up oil droplets in the ocean to clean up spills. A team of scientists at the Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing developed the needles as an economic alternative to current ways to clean up oil spills.
Or we could just not, you know, drill for oil in the ocean…
Next-generation sequencing aids mummy DNA testing: Next-generation sequencing is giving researchers a more accurate look at the DNA of mummies. “Next-gen sequencing allows us quite easily to see if we are dealing with authentic ancient human DNA,” said Albert Zink, head of the EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy. “We can also more easily identify small DNA fragments, so we don’t lose as much information.” The practice could help end the long-standing debate over the accuracy of ancient-DNA testing.
A mammal or not a mammal: That is the question: Two almost complete skeletons of haramiyids, rodentlike animals that first appeared around 212 million years ago, are stirring up controversy about whether it belongs in the mammal family tree. One study suggests the group belongs to the mammal family, while the other believes it predates mammals.
Guatemala site yields well-preserved Mayan frieze: A near-intact massive frieze of human figures in a mythological setting as been uncovered in the buried Mayan city of Holmul in Guatemala. “It’s 95% preserved. There’s only one corner that’s not well-preserved because it’s too close to the surface, but the rest of it isn’t missing any parts,” said Maya archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli, whose team discovered the frieze in July.
Va. dolphin deaths raise researchers’ concerns: Researchers are looking into the deaths of dolphins, which have been washing up in surprising numbers along Virginia’s beaches in recent months. The scientists are hoping to stave off an epidemic similar to a dolphin die-off in 1987. “We think we’re getting the very beginning of this event,” said Charley Potter, marine mammal collection manager at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
Big appetite? Lack of sleep could be to blame: Lack of sleep can lead to increased appetite for high-calorie foods, according to a study by researchers at the University of California in Berkeley. “These findings provide opportunities to adjust our environment and behavior in new ways to combat such health issues,” said Stephanie Greer, one of the researchers. “Specifically, our study indicates that one choice people can make is to regularly obtain sufficient amounts of sleep.
Sun will switch polarity in 3 to 4 months: The sun is getting ready to change its polarity as part of an 11-year solar cycle, according to NASA-supported observatories. “It looks like we’re no more than three to four months away from a complete field reversal,” said Todd Hoeksema, the director of Stanford University’s Wilcox Solar Observatory. “This change will have ripple effects throughout the solar system.”
Navy invests in sticky study of spider webs: The U.S. Navy has funded research by Utah State University to study spider webs in wet conditions that could lead to development of an underwater adhesive. “Spiders successfully attach webs to rocks, trees and other surfaces right next to water in very humid environments. We’re trying to see if we can produce this material synthetically, test its adhesive properties and duplicate its function,” said Randy Lewis, who is heading up the research team.
In the hunt for life’s origins, scientists recreate ancient proteins: Researchers say they have recreated 4-billion-year-old proteins that could offer clues about the origins of life. Scientists at the University of Granada in Spain analyzed versions of thioredoxins, which are believed to have primordial roots, for differences to determine an amino-acid sequence needed to reproduce the ancient proteins.
9,000-year-old flint found at construction site in England: Archaeologists have uncovered 150 pieces of flint used to make tools 9,000 years ago at a construction site in what today is Woolwich, England, a London suburb. “This is a unique and exciting find that reveals evidence of humans returning to England and in particular the Thames Valley after a long hiatus during the Ice Age,” said Jay Carver, lead archaeologist of England’s Crossrail project.
North American climate plays role in ice-age cycles: North America’s climate is a key factor in the 100,000-year cycle of ice ages, according to a multinational team of scientists. Researchers from Japan, the U.S. and Switzerland say the region’s climate and the thick ice sheets’ effect on the Earth’s crust work together to trigger the cycles when the ice gets too heavy.
Herbal remedy has cancerous side effect, studies say: Aristolochia plants, which have been used in China for herbal remedies, have been found to cause cancer, according to two studies published in Science Translational Medicine. The plants contain a naturally carcinogenic compound called aristolochic acid, which causes more cell mutations than those caused by tobacco smoke and UV light, researchers say.
Yikes! Hopefully they never say the same about Tea Tree Oil, or I’ll be in big trouble.
Bats in U.K. are unfazed by deadly fungus: Bats in the United Kingdom appear to be immune to the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, which has killed about 6 million of the creatures in North America since 2006. “Our understanding is that this fungus has been present in Europe for a very long time and that bats have grown a resistance to it. It’s been introduced in North America where bats have not been exposed before and don’t have resistance, that’s why they’re dying in large numbers,” said Julia Hanmer of the Bat Conservation Trust.
Novel vaccine raises hope for total immunity from malaria: An intravenous malaria vaccine was found effective in a small clinical trial. Maryland-based biotech company Sanaria developed the PfSPZ vaccine made from sporozoites, an immature stage of malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum. A study in the journal Science reported that among the 15 participants who were administered high doses of the vaccine, 12 have shown complete immunity from the infectious disease. However, administering the intravenous vaccine may be challenging in a larger scale, compared with injected and oral vaccine that are given promptly.
Study finds link between camels and MERS: Fifty camels from Oman had MERS antibodies in their blood, indicating they had exposure to the deadly virus at some point, leading researchers to think camels could be part of the chain that leads to human infections. Only 15 of 105 camels from other regions had MERS antibodies. Since identification in September, 46 of 94 people have died from the virus, closely related to the SARS virus that caused a pandemic in 2003. Bats or other animals may be possible contributing species because many of the people infected with MERS did not have direct contact with camels, according to the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health.
Archaeologist opens crypts to identify Mona Lisa: Is Lisa Gherardini Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa? Archaeologist and art historian Silvano Vinceti is opening crypts in Florence, Italy, to find out. By exhuming the skeletons of Gherardini and her children, Vinceti hopes to find a genetic match, then reconstruct the woman’s face to compare it to the masterpiece.
Remnants of 19th century Utica uncovered: The remnants of life in 19th century Utica, N.Y., have been unearthed during a dig to study the city’s transportation history. “It’s representative of our state history, transportation history and even our nation’s history and that’s why it’s important to recover all that we can about it when we have an opportunity to do that,” said New York State Museum archaeologist and site manager David Staley.
Robot plants take root in Italy: Robotic plants could help researchers better understand how roots grow and bend, which could lead to multiple applications, according to a study by the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa. Scientists there are working on a system that copies roots’ behavior. “The mock-ups and prototypes we’ve developed aim to validate some of the functions and features of plant roots,” said researcher Barbara Mazzolai.
Trees still bear signs of Chernobyl disaster: The 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine has had a lasting effect on the area’s trees, according to a study. “Many of the trees show highly abnormal growth forms reflecting the effects of mutations and cell death resulting from radiation exposure,” said the University of South Carolina’s Tim Mousseau, the study’s co-author.
Baby mouse brains are affected by caffeine: Caffeine has negative effects on baby mice whose mothers were given the stimulant during pregnancy, according to a study published in Science Translational Medicine. While the study has no clear correlation for humans, the findings show that caffeine exposure resulted in brain changes and memory deficits in mouse offspring.
This is known, Khaleesi. That’s why we tell pregnant women to limit their caffeine intake. (That’s right, I totally just threw a quote from a fantasy novel into a science news post.)
That’s it for this week, Aledans. Come back next Tuesday for your weekly dose of sciencey goodness.
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