Science Tuesday: Walking Sharks, Braaaaains, and We’re All Aliens!

We have a lot of science news to cover today, Aledans. Have two weeks of sciencey goodness!

By Michael L. Baird [CC-BY-2.0 (]
By Michael L. Baird [CC-BY-2.0 (
Sea otters linked to abundance of seagrass at Calif. estuary: The resurgence of sea otters has been linked to a resurgence of seagrass in a major estuary in Monterey Bay off California, researchers say. By dining on crabs at the Elkhorn Slough, the otters have boosted the population of sea slugs, which in turn have protected the seagrass from growth-stunting algae.

Research aims to make astronaut hibernation a reality: The physical, mental and actual cost of the long journey to Mars might be mitigated due to NASA-funded research on ways to induce hibernation in astronauts. “Every year, it’s, ‘We’re going to go to Mars in 20 or 30 years,’ ” said project principal investigator John Bradford of SpaceWorks Engineering in Atlanta. “We plan to help stop that slide. This, we feel like, addresses a number of the key challenges, and maybe we can eliminate some of the technology requirements in multiple areas.”

Study: Infants may recognize words heard while in the womb: Babies whose mothers were made to listen to pseudowords beginning from 29th week of gestation until birth showed increased brain activity when they heard the words again after birth, Finnish researchers found. Compared with babies who were not exposed to repeated words, these babies “were able to process the word better, and also they were able to detect changes in the word better,” study co-author Minna Huotilainen said. The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Water exists deep inside the moon, researchers say: Evidence of water deep beneath the surface of the moon has been found by researchers, according to NASA, which funded the study. Scientists remotely detected magmatic water, which originates from deep inside the moon, using data gathered by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper aboard the Indian Space Research Organization’s spacecraft, Chandrayaan-1. “Now that we have detected water that is likely from the interior of the moon, we can start to compare this water with other characteristics of the lunar surface,” said planetary geologist Rachel Klima of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Meteor that hit Russia had previous close calls or impacts, study finds: Evidence of a previous collision or a close encounter with the sun has been found in the debris left by the bus-sized meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, this year. Researchers found melted areas on the rock fragments. “This almost certainly means that there was a collision between the Chelyabinsk meteorite and another body in the solar system or a near miss with the sun,” said Victor Sharygin, a geologist at the Institute of Geology and Mineralogy in Novosibirsk, Russia.

Morbillivirus is the likely cause of dolphin deaths: The morbillivirus, the same virus responsible for a dolphin die-off in the late 1980s, is to blame for the current spate of deaths this year along the East Coast, researchers believe, and there’s not much they can do about it. “At this point there isn’t anything we can do to stop the virus,” said Teri Rowles, coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program. “We don’t have a vaccine that is developed that could be easily deployed in a wild population of bottlenose dolphins or subpopulations.”

Deep-sea worm species first found in 1873 resurfaces: A fragile species of deep-sea acorn worm first discovered in 1873 has resurfaced near the same spot in the equatorial Atlantic near South America. The worm, dubbed Glandiceps abyssicola, lives off sediment and debris on the seafloor and falls apart when dredged, which is why it has taken so long to find another specimen, researchers say.

Little-seen squid lures prey with unique tentacles: A rarely observed deep-sea squid uses its tentacles to lure prey close enough to kill, researchers say after viewing videos taken of the creatures in the Atlantic and North Pacific. The Grimalditeuthis bonplandi appears to move its unique tentacle clubs in a way that mimics a small fish or squid, according to Henk-Jan Hoving, a squid researcher at the Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany.

Researcher uses brain-computer interface to move colleague’s hand: A researcher made a colleague’s hand move from across the campus of the University of Washington using brain signals sent over the Internet. Rajesh Rao, computer science and engineering professor at the university, had electrodes on his head, which were connected to a machine to read the electrical activity, and played a simple computer game only with his mind. The signal was received by a researcher across campus who was wearing a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil on his left motor cortex. The researcher said the feeling of his right hand moving was like a nervous twitch.

I see a book coming out of this idea…

Mesolithic hunter-gatherers owned domesticated pigs, researchers say: Mesolithic hunter-gatherers began raising pigs about 7,000 years ago, 500 years earlier than previously thought, say researchers at Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany. Scientists analyzed bones and teeth of pigs found at a Mesolithic site in northern Germany.

Snail shell piles put ancient humans in Bolivian Amazon earlier than thought: Three forested islands in the Bolivian Amazon show evidence of human habitation about 10,000 years ago, researchers say. The islands are shell middens, piles of freshwater snail shells that humans left behind, which scientist carbon-dated. “This discovery alters the map of early human occupations in South America,” said geographer Umberto Lombardo of the University of Bern in Switzerland.

Researchers grow human brain tissue in lab: Tiny gobs of brain tissue have been grown from human stem cells to help researchers study microcephaly, a genetic disorder that reduces brain size. “Our system allows us to study human-specific features of brain development,” said Juergen Knoblich of the Austrian Academy of Science’s Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Vienna.

This kind of squicks me out. And I’m not easily squicked.

Curiosity rover takes first solo drive on Mars: The Mars Curiosity rover drove itself for the first time Tuesday, using its autonomous navigation software to roll about 33 feet along a path that its Earth-based technicians couldn’t see. “We could see the area before the dip, and we told the rover where to drive on that part,” said John Wright, a rover driver. “We could see the ground on the other side, where we designated a point for the rover to end the drive, but Curiosity figured out for herself how to drive the uncharted part in between.”

Component for life on Earth may have come from Mars, researcher says: Life on Earth may have actually begun on Mars billions of years ago, attendees of the Goldschmidt Meeting in Italy were told Thursday. Professor Steven Benner of the Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology presented evidence that suggests minerals containing key elements needed to form RNA was more abundant on the Red Planet and may have traveled here on a meteorite. “The evidence seems to be building that we are actually all Martians; that life started on Mars and came to Earth on a rock,” he said.

Woohoo! We’re all aliens!

Mars, by NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) [Public domain]
Mars, by NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) [Public domain]
Brains look up words like a dictionary, study finds: Human brains may operate like a dictionary, say scientists who used mathematical analysis to link the definitions of English words to create a minimal set of words. Stevan Harnad of the University of Quebec and his team believe that finding the minimal word set and determining its structure could reveal how language is put together in the brain.

Mice may shed light on jet lag remedy: The body clocks of mice may lead to the development of remedies for jet lag. Scientists from Oxford University and Swiss drug firm Roche have found that the SIK1 molecules is key to how mice handle changes in light cycles. “We’re still several years away from a cure for jet lag, but understanding the mechanisms that generate and regulate our circadian clock gives us targets to develop drugs to help bring our bodies in tune with the solar cycle,” said Russell Foster, director of sleep and circadian neuroscience institute at Oxford.

Researchers take tiny sphere for a record-breaking spin: A miniscule sphere that spins at a clip of 600 million rotations per minute is the fastest-spinning object ever made and may offer clues to the physics of matter. “This system poses fascinating questions with regard to thermodynamics and is a challenging system to model theoretically,” said physicist Michael Mazilu of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a co-author of the study. “The rotation rate is so fast that the angular acceleration at the sphere surface is 1 billion times that of gravity on the Earth surface.”

New shark species “walks” into view: A new species of shark, dubbed Hemiscyllium halmahera, appears to use its pectoral and dorsal fins to “walk” along the seafloor. The shark, which grows up to 27 inches long and doesn’t harm humans, was discovered off the coast of an Indonesian island.

Polyamine-rich diet keeps fruit flies thinking young: Eating a diet rich in polyamines, small molecules essential for cellular growth, helps fruit flies reverse cognitive decline, say researchers at the Free University of Berlin. The finding, published online in Nature Neuroscience, could lead to human therapies. Polyamines can be found in foods such as wheatgerm and fermented soya beans.

European men reach new heights over century: European men were on average more than 4 inches taller between the 1870s and 1980, say researchers at the University of Essex in England. “Increases in human stature are a key indicator of improvements in the average health of populations,” said Timothy Hatton, who led the study, which links the change in height to the decision by couples to have fewer children.

Some secrets of samurai training revealed in translated writings: A training text offering a glimpse into the life of a 19th-century samurai swordsman has been partly translated and analyzed by Balazs Szabo of the Japanese studies department at Lorand Eotvos University in Budapest, Hungary. The text is written in kanbun style, which combines Japanese and Chinese writing, and was written in 1844 for samurai students learning about martial arts.

Studies catalog genetic mutations linked to TB drug resistance: Two studies published in Nature Genetics catalog genetic mutations that lead to resistance to tuberculosis drugs, and researchers said the findings could help ensure patients are prescribed appropriate treatments. The study teams, from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Institute of Biophysics in Beijing, also found mutations that may influence other resistance genes.

Industrial Revolution soot linked to melting Alpine glaciers in 1860s: The rapid melting of glaciers in the Alps during the 1860s may have been caused by the rising amount of soot brought on by the Industrial Revolution, say researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “It dawned on me that industrialization was kicking off then,” said researcher Tom Painter. “We have these visions from Charles Dickens and others of that time — the mid-1800s — of a huge amount of soot being pumped out into the atmosphere, not just in England but in France and Germany and Italy.”

Tiny, earless frog hears with its mouth: Long-thought to be deaf because it has no middle ear, the tiny, rare Gardiner’s frog listens with its mouth. “Ultimately the structure allowing these earless frogs to hear [the mouth] is already present and serves other functions such as feeding and sound production,” said Renaud Boistel of the French National Center for Scientific Research, who co-authored the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “It is a quite unexpected result, but in the end a simple and elegant solution.”

Study: Rainforest monkeys warn others of threats with unique calls: Black-fronted titis, monkeys that live in the Brazilian rainforests, use a variety of calls to warn each other not only about which predator may be in the area, but where the threat is located, according to research published in Biology Letters. “A single call doesn’t really tell the recipient what’s happening, but they can infer the type of predator and its location by listening to the first five or six calls,” said co-author Klaus Zuberbuhler of the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland.

No preferential use of left or right brain, study suggests: Are you left-brained or right-brained? Researchers at the University of Utah say you’re both. By analyzing more than 1,000 brains, the scientists found no evidence that participants favored their left or right brain. Instead they used the entire brain equally.

Insomnia study finds lack of focus, misconception of sleep quality: People who say they are insomniacs have problems focusing during the day and may have misconceptions about the quality of their sleep, according to findings published in the journal Sleep. Researchers at the University of California at San Diego, compared brain scans of self-described insomniacs with those who say they sleep well while they performed memory tests. The results showed that insomniacs’ brains functioned less efficiently. A sleep researcher in the U.K. found that each group’s sleep quality was similar. “Maybe they’re perceiving what happened in the night differently; maybe what is affecting their working memory and ability to focus on the task at hand is also causing insomnia,” said Neil Stanley.

King Richard III may have had roundworms: The remains of King Richard III show signs of roundworm infection, researchers say. Archaeologists found roundworm eggs in soil samples around the monarch’s pelvis area, which suggests that the parasite was present in his intestines.

Because the poor bastard wasn’t already lost under a parking lot for hundreds of years…

Evolution makes bats, dolphins strangely related: Bats and dolphins independently evolved their echolocation abilities from the same genetic mutations, suggesting that evolution uses the same sequence of steps in very different animals, according to a study. Researchers at Queen Mary University of London studied the genes of bats and dolphins and found the same mutations in a particular protein that affects hearing. They took that a step further to look at the entire genome, according to their report in Nature.

Lemur species can fall asleep in hibernation state: The fat-tailed dwarf lemur, the only primate known to hibernate, periodically falls fully asleep during hibernation, researchers said. Hibernation is a state in which an animal’s body is neither fully awake nor fully asleep. “We found that, even if you are in torpor, sleep is still a necessity,” said study co-author Andrew Krystal.

Mangroves can weather sea-level changes with help, report finds: Mangrove forests can survive rising sea levels due to climate change, but only if they are managed and protected, according to a report. Dam building and shrimp farming can weaken mangroves. “Once mangroves are degraded, they are much less likely to keep up with sea-level rise,” said Anna McIvor, the report’s lead author and a University of Cambridge researcher in England.

Video shows meteor light up Southeastern U.S. brighter than a full moon: A blazing meteor streaking across the late August sky in the Southeastern U.S. was 20 times brighter than a full moon, according to NASA, which caught the predawn spectacle on video. The fireball had a diameter of 2 feet and weighed more than 100 pounds, NASA officials said.

Giant undersea volcano near Japan might be solar system’s largest: A massive undersea mountain off the coast of Japan may be the largest volcano on Earth, and perhaps the solar system, according to a study published online in the Nature Geoscience journal. The seamount Tamu Massif is a single, continuous shield volcano about the size of New Mexico, say researchers.

Scientists puzzle over mysterious web found in Peruvian Amazon: Scientists are scratching their heads over a bunch of circular web-like structures about 0.8 inches wide found by a Georgia Tech grad student in the Peruvian Amazon. Troy Alexander posted photos of his find online, hoping the Internet community might know what they are, but to no avail. “I have no clue,” said McGill University arachnologist Chris Buddle. It’s “a seriously fascinating mystery.”

Corals may need light to prevent bleaching, study finds: Heat-stressed corals can bleach if they are not exposed to light, according to a study published in the journal Current Biology. Bleaching occurs when corals lose the algae that provide them with food and give them their bright color, and can be fatal to the sea creatures. “As we learn more about the mechanisms involved in coral bleaching, we may be able to ameliorate the situation a bit more,” said algal physiologist Arthur Grossman of the Carnegie Institution for Science, the study’s lead author.

Yellow Warbler, by GeoffClarke ( [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (]
Yellow Warbler, by GeoffClarke (
Costa Rica birds brew trouble for coffee crop pests: Next time you savor your favorite Costa Rican coffee blend, offer a toast to the yellow warbler. The tiny bird and its avian friends help protect the country’s coffee crops by keeping the coffee berry borer beetle in check, according to a study published in Ecology Letters. “Based on this study, we know that native wildlife can provide you with a pretty significant benefit,” says Stanford University conservation biologist Daniel Karp, the lead researcher. “Incorporating their conservation into your management of pests is absolutely something you should do.”


Declassified spy photos help archaeologists find second-century Roman wall: Declassified spy technology has helped British archaeologists locate Roman walls that date to the second century A.D. in present-day Romania. Researchers from the University of Glasgow and and the University of Exeter used declassified photos taken during covert surveillance to identify previously unknown sections of the Roman wall. “Photographs from military surveillance are revealing more than those who took them could have imagined because now, half a century or more later, they are proving to be of enormous benefit in showing us our lost archaeological heritage,” said the University of Exeter’s Ioana Oltean.


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Rebecca Enzor

Rebecca Enzor is a chemist in Charleston, SC who writes Young Adult and New Adult Fantasy and Magical Realism. Repped by Eric Smith of P.S. Literary.

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