Science Tuesday: Zombie Edition (ie. Braaaaaaaaains!)

Happy Tuesday, Aledans! The title of today’s post promises brains, and you’ll find those articles saved together at the bottom of the page. First there are space balloon rides, baby morality, and a Viking Parliament buried under a Scottish parking lot. Enjoy!

First known venomous crustacean identified: The Speleonectes tulumensis, a blind cave-dwelling fanged remipede that resembles a centipede, is the first crustacean found to be venomous, according to scientists at the National History Museum in London. Scientists believe that the remipede’s sophisticated venom system injects its prey first with a paralyzing neurotoxin and then liquefies it for digestion. There are about 70,000 species of crustacean, with the remipede the first to be identified as venomous.

Study of fossil teeth suggests missing earlier human ancestor: A study of teeth in European, African and Asian fossils, and modern humans, suggests that the last common ancestor between humans and Neanderthals lived earlier than previously thought. “What we realized is that none of the species we have in the fossil record is similar to that ancestor morphology that we calculated as the most likely one. We think that we didn’t find it because we actually don’t have this ancestor in the fossil record,” said George Washington University anthropologist Aida Gomez-Robles, the lead author of the study published online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The missing ancestor’s teeth would be more like those of Homo ergaster, which lived in Africa between 1.3 million and 1.8 million years ago, the study indicates.

Baby duck-billed dinosaur skeleton found by high schooler: The skeleton of a baby duck-billed dinosaur discovered by a high school student during a fieldwork outing in Utah in 2009 is the smallest and most complete of its kind ever found, say paleontologists at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, Calif. The skeleton is set to go on display at the museum this week, coinciding with a report about the discovery in PeerJ. The student is now studying geology in college.

Nanoscale coating repels water, video shows: A video released by Brookhaven National Laboratory shows how water is repelled by a nanoscale coating, leaving no moisture behind no matter how powerfully it is shot at the coating. The coating could be used to generate power or waterproof electronics.

Trees with gold inside could lead to deposits: Trees can absorb gold from the soil and hold it in their leaves, according to a study published in Nature Communications. Researchers grew trees in insulated greenhouses and watered them with gold-laced solutions. While gold cannot be mined from the trees themselves, the trees could help lead to gold deposits underneath them.

I guess money does grow on trees!

Private company to provide balloon rides to the stratosphere: A startup in Arizona is getting ready to offer balloon rides to the stratosphere at $75,000 a ticket. World View plans to have a six-passenger vehicle ready for liftoff within three years, Chairwoman and President Jane Poynter says. The ride, about 19 miles above Earth, will last about two hours.

Oldest known galaxy discovered in photos by Hubble: Researchers have spotted the farthest and oldest galaxy ever found, which existed 700 million years after the Big Bang. The galaxy, known as z8_GND_5296, is also very active, forming stars at 100 times the rate of the Milky Way. Astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope’s infrared camera to find the galaxy and confirmed it with the Keck Observatory’s light-splitting spectograph. “If you tried to look at these really distant galaxies with a visible light telescope, you would see nothing. Literally, they’re invisible. All that visible and optical light has been shifted into the near-infrared,” said the study’s author Steven Finkelstein of the University of Texas at Austin.

Shipping noise hinders killer whales’ communication, study suggests: The shipping noise levels in killer whale habitats off the British Columbia coast are disrupting the creatures’ communication space, according to a study by Scotland’s University of St. Andrews. “On average, what we found is, the habitats that are most important to resident killer whales — both northern and southern populations — are the noisiest of the sites we are studying,” said lead researcher Rob Williams. The study found that the noise levels in areas populated by humpback whales were less, but noted that there is no protection in place to ensure that they stay that way.

Giant pandas better genetically suited to handle change than other endangered creatures: The endangered giant panda has a resilient immune system and may be able to handle environmental change better than previously thought, according to a genetic study by researchers at China’s Zhejiang University. The scientists collected genetic material from 218 wild pandas from the six mountain areas where they live and found that the wild panda is more genetically diverse than other endangered species, such as the Bengal tiger and the Namibian cheetah. The data can be used help breeding programs perpetuate diversity.

Bee ancestors annihilated along with dinosaurs, study finds: An ancient ancestor of modern carpenter bees abruptly disappeared about 65 million years ago, about the same time as dinosaurs, according to a study published online in PLoS ONE. “We found this mass extinction event signature in the DNA that just happened to correspond to the extinction of dinosaurs, which was a major change in the global diversity at the time,” said University of New Hampshire professor Sandra Rehan, the study’s lead author. The researchers, who analyzed DNA sequences and used fossils of other types of bees as reference points, say the bee extinction lasted about 10 million years.

Drone gives researchers detailed view of 300-year-old coral: Detailed images of a 300-year-old coral living off the coast of American Samoa have been taken by a small drone, using technology that could help scientists map the world’s network of coral reefs. The drone, developed by Stanford Woods Institute’s Stephen Palumbi and Stanford aeronautics graduate student Ved Chirayath, can film coral reefs from up to 200 feet above the ocean. Combining the images from the drone with those of a 360-degree underwater camera, researchers produced detailed panoramic images of the reef.

Surgeons sew out scar tissue in beating heart for first time: Surgeons in England for the first time have operated on a beating heart, sewing out scar tissue in a patient with a failing heart. Doctors say the procedure is less traumatic and invasive than previous procedures, in which patients were placed on a heart-lung machine and had their hearts stopped. The heart function of the man who underwent the new procedure is said to have significantly improved since the operation.

This makes my eyes want to pop out of my head. How amazing is that?!

Cassini images add clues to Titan’s weather cycle: New photos from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft are giving researchers clues to the weather cycle of Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. By studying previous images, scientists think Titan has a hydrologic cycle, in which hydrocarbons rain onto the surface filling the lakes and then evaporating back into the atmosphere. The new photos have shown another aspect of that cycle. “Many of these northern liquid bodies are surrounded by a bright material not seen elsewhere on Titan,” said Carolyn Porco, who leads the Cassini imaging team. “Is this an indication that with increased warmth, the seas and lakes are starting to evaporate, leaving behind a deposit of organic material?”

Curse tablet unearthed in Jerusalem: A 1,700-year-old lead tablet inscribed with a curse was found in Jerusalem in the remains of a collapsed Roman mansion. In part, the curse by a woman named Kyrilla against a man named Iennys says, “I strike and strike down and nail down the tongue, the eyes, the wrath, the ire, the anger, the procrastination, the opposition of Iennys,” asking the gods that “he in no way oppose, so that he say or perform nothing adverse to Kyrilla … but rather that Iennys, whom the womb bore, be subject to her” Archaeologists say the curse, written in Greek, was likely written for Kyrilla by a magician over a legal dispute.

The curse must have worked if the mansion collapsed 😉

Viking gathering place found under Scottish parking lot: A Dingwell, Scotland, parking lot was once the site of an 11th-century Viking parliamentary gathering known as a “Thing,” archaeologists say. Things, derived from the word thingvellir, which means field of assembly, were seasonal gatherings held far and wide by Norsemen, who stayed only temporarily. “No one’s had dating [information] from a Thing site in Scotland,” said archaeologist Oliver O’Grady of OJT Heritage and a member of the Thing Project, which works on similar sites around Europe.

Mars rover scales hill to find oldest rocks yet: NASA’s decade-old Opportunity rover is on its way up a 130-foot hill in its biggest climb yet. At the peak of Solander Point, the rover will find rocks thrown up by the impact that created the nearby crater, making them older than rocks below. “We expect we will reach some of the oldest rocks we have seen with this rover — a glimpse back into the ancient past of Mars,” said Opportunity principal investigator Steve Squyres.

7th planet found in distant solar system: A seventh planet has been discovered orbiting the dwarf star KIC 11442793, according to two separate research teams. “This is the first seven-planet system from Kepler, using a transiting search. We think [the identification] is very secure,” said the University of Oxford’s Chris Lintott, who co-wrote the paper for Planet Hunters, a group of volunteers who use public data from the Kepler space telescope to help suss out new exoplanets. The seven-planet system, about 2,500 light-years from Earth, is similar to our own with the smaller planets on the inside, though the planets circle much closer to their star than we do to our sun.

Scientist unlock genetic secrets in kiwifruit genome: The genome of the kiwifruit has been decoded by scientists from the U.S. and China. “The genome sequence will serve as a valuable resource for kiwifruit research and may facilitate the breeding program for improved fruit quality and disease resistance,” said researcher Zhangjun Fei of the Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University. The scientists uncovered two major evolutionary events in the kiwifruit genome as well as many genetic similarities to potatoes and tomatoes, among other plant species.

Smart window insulates and generates power: Vanadium oxide incorporated in windows not only moderates infrared radiation from the sun to help insulate buildings but also can be used to drive diverted sunlight to solar cells for power. That’s the discovery of a team of scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In the journal Nature Scientific Reports, the authors wrote, “This smart window combines energy-saving and generation in one device and offers potential to intelligently regulate and utilize solar radiation in an efficient manner.”

New species of gecko, skink and frog found in Australian rainforest: Three new species — the leaf-tail gecko, the golden skink and the blotched boulder frog — have been found in a remote, largely unexplored rainforest on the northern tip of the Australian state of Queensland. “Finding three new, obviously distinct vertebrates would be surprising enough in somewhere poorly explored like New Guinea, let alone in Australia, a country we think we’ve explored pretty well,” said Conrad Hoskin of James Cook University, which embarked on the expedition along with National Geographic. The researchers said the rainforest may be home to a host of other new species.

Imported Asian carp breeding in Great Lakes watershed: Asian carp imported decades ago to help deal with algae in controlled settings have successfully reproduced in the Great Lakes watershed, much to the dismay of researchers who fear that the carp could threaten native fish. “It would have been a lot easier to control these fish if they’d been limited in the number of places where they could spawn,” said biologist Duane Chapman of the U.S. Geological Survey, which is studying the carp infestation along with Bowling Green State University. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will soon release a report on a long-term solution.

This has been a huge threat for years 😦

Book looks at origins of morality through studies of babies: Babies can tell good from bad, suggesting that morality is innate, according to a book by psychology professor Paul Bloom of Yale University. In “Just Babies: The origins of good and evil,” Bloom, citing his own experiments as well as other studies, details how babies as young as 3 months old can tell the good guys from the bad during a puppet show and how, when they are just a little older, the babies gravitate toward the good guys and punish bad behavior. The basis of Bloom’s book is that the roots of morality are evolutionary and that humans are not born as blank slates.

Life on Earth to end in about 2.8B years, study suggests: In 2.8 billion years, only the toughest microbes will be left on Earth, as the sun ages and gets increasingly warmer, according to a study by astrobiologists at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. The scientists measured temperature, and the abundance of water and food to determine how and when life on Earth might die off, noting that as Earth’s temperature slowly rises, the level of carbon dioxide will decrease and start killing off plants, beginning in some 500 million years.

Well, that’s still a long time to find another home.

Magma reservoir underneath Yellowstone larger than once thought: The magma beneath Yellowstone National Park is 2½ times larger than previously thought. Researchers say the biggest risk the park faces is an earthquake, not a volcanic eruption. Researchers have noted swarms of tiny quakes above the magma blob in recent years, repeating every few seconds, and new images show that the molten rock reservoir is about 50 miles long and more than 12 miles wide. “I don’t know of any other magma body that’s been imaged that’s that big,” said University of Utah geophysicist Robert Smith.

Chinese girl gets new face: Surgeons reconstructed the face of a 17-year-old Chinese girl using tissue from her chest and a blood vessel from her leg. The girl lost her chin, eyelids and part of her right ear in a fire when she was 5 years old. “With her new face she will be able to express herself in a more precise way. She will even be able to blush when her emotions change, but it will take a long time,” said Jiang Chenhong, the girl’s surgeon.

And now for some Braaaaaaaains:

Cryptography helping researchers crack brain’s code: Neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania are using cryptography to help them unlock the code to the brain. “Neurons extract information from the world and put it in code. There’s got to be some kind of code-breaker in the brain to make sense of that,” said the university’s Joshua Gold. Researchers are using an algorithm by World War II British code-breaker Alan Turing to give them insights into how the brain works.

Last night my sister called because she was listening to NPR and found an article for me to share on Science Tuesday: Eeek, Snake! Your Brain Has A Special Corner Just For Them

“We have our forward-facing eyes,” she says. “We have our excellent depth perception. We have very good visual acuity, the best in the mammalian world. We have color vision. So there has to be some sort of explanation for it.”

Primates in parts of the world with lots of poisonous snakes evolved better vision than primates elsewhere, she found out. It’s no accident that lemurs in Madagascar have the worst vision in the primate world, she says. There are no venomous snakes.

Hubs also found a cool NPR article about a professor of psychiatry who discovered he had the brain scan and genetic markers of a psychopath: Uncovering the Brain of a Psychopath

~~~~~

And there you have it. Science Tuesday will be postponed for NaNo in November, but I’ll be back with your weekly science goodies in December! If you want to receive the same daily science emails I do, you can sign up for the Sigma Xi SmartBrief here.

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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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