Science Tuesday Is Back!

Welcome back to Science Tuesday, Aledans! While we missed all of November and December’s science news, I’m getting back on track and found seven (Word) pages of goodies for you today! Since that’s a lot of science news, let’s get right to it.

Geologists unravel origin of underwater Antarctic volcanoes: The Marie Byrd Seamounts, a group of eight large volcanoes on the seafloor off the coast of West Antarctica, were formed about 60 million years ago when part of the Earth’s crust pulled apart and fossilized mantle-plume material escaped to the surface, according to a report by Germany’s GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiehl. This goes against another theory that they were formed by a hotspot. “The Marie Byrd Seamounts are particularly interesting, since they represent an example for enigmatic intraplate volcanism which cannot be explained with the ‘classical’ model … for the origin of volcanism within the Earth plates and, therefore, requires alternative models,” said study co-author Reinhard Werner.

New species of humpback dolphin identified: A new species of humpback dolphin has been identified off the coast of Australia by scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society. Researchers used genetic tests to confirm the findings, according to a report in the journal Molecular Ecology. Scientists hope the discovery will spark conservation programs that will target each species accordingly, leading to boosts in their populations.

Australia’s oldest known bird tracks date to Early Cretaceous period: Two sets of fossilized footprints found in Victoria, Australia, are those of birds during the Early Cretaceous period, which would make them the oldest bird tracks found on the continent, according to a report in the journal Palaeontology. “These tracks are evidence that we had sizable, flying birds living alongside other kinds of dinosaurs on these polar, river floodplains, about 105 million years ago,” said Emory University paleontologist Anthony Martin, who authored the report.

Brains wired to be wary of snakes, study says: The brain is wired to detect the threat of snakes, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers studied a pair of macaque monkeys born in captivity who had not encountered snakes before the experiment. When shown an image of a snake, the monkeys’ brains fired off rapid fear responses far stronger than those recorded when other threatening images were shown. “It really strengthens the argument that snakes are very important for the evolution of primates,” said University of California at Davis anthropology professor Lynne Isbell, who co-authored the study.

5 cannons recovered from Blackbeard’s ship: Five cannons have been recovered from Blackbeard’s sunken ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, off the coast of North Carolina. Researchers from the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources worked with the Coast Guard to bring up the guns, which weigh between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds, bringing the total number of cannons recovered from the wreckage to 20. Edward Teach, better known as the pirate Blackbeard, intentionally grounded the ship about 300 years ago.

1,900-year-old eagle statue found at London dig site: A Roman statue of an eagle swallowing a snake has been uncovered by archaeologists digging at the site of a planned hotel complex in London. The limestone statue is in pristine condition and is believed to be about 1,900 years old. “This really sits among the finest pieces of Romano-British sculpture,” said Museum of London Archaeology finds specialist Michael Marshall.

Dinosaur walks again thanks to computer simulation: How the Argentinosaurus, among the largest known dinosaurs, moved more than 94 million years ago has been recreated in a computer simulation by researchers at the University of Manchester in England. Scientists used lasers to scan the skeleton of the 88-ton dinosaur, then created a computer model of how the bulky creature got around. “If you want to work out how dinosaurs walked, the best approach is computer simulation. This is the only way of bringing together all the different strands of information we have on this dinosaur, so we can reconstruct how it once moved,” said lead researcher Bill Sellers, a computational and evolutionary biology professor.

Scientists create first map of human HIV resistance: Genetic researchers have analyzed the genomes of strains of HIV from 1,071 individuals and retraced how the immune system fights the virus, producing the first map of human AIDS resistance. According to research published in the journal eLife, researchers used supercomputers to cross 3,000 genetic mutations with more than 6 million variations in the genes of HIV patients to trace how the virus interacted with different genes to survive. Scientists believe that by profiling the genome of HIV-infected people, it will be possible to develop individually targeted treatments that take into account the patient’s genetic strengths and weaknesses.

Stately redwoods hold record of Pacific Ocean’s climate: By soaking up water from fog as well as rain, coastal redwoods have helped scientists reconstruct climate patterns of the Pacific Ocean. “Redwoods are restricted to a very narrow strip along the coastline. They’re tied to the coastline, and they’re sensitive to marine conditions, so they actually may tell you more about what’s happening over the ocean than they do about what’s happening over land,” said Jim Johnstone, co-author of the study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences. Researchers measured the different levels of oxygen trapped inside the wood.

Ocean warming at a faster rate, researchers say: Over the past 60 years, the Pacific Ocean has been warming 15 times faster than ever before, and heat from greenhouse gases is the culprit, researchers say in a study published in Science. The temperature of the area of the Pacific near Indonesia has risen about one-third of a degree Fahrenheit. “It’s not so much the magnitude of the change, but the rate of change. We’re experimenting by putting all this heat in the ocean without quite knowing how it’s going to come back out and affect climate,” said Columbia University climate scientist Braddock Linsley, the study’s co-author.

Massive flood may have led to decline of ancient Native American city: A devastating flood may have led to the demise of the thriving Native American city of Cahokia around 1200 A.D., according to research reported at the Geological Society of America conference. The community sprang up in an area near modern-day St. Louis and was just reaching the height of its population when the flood hit, after which Cahokia fell into decline and eventually became a ghost town. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, examined sediment cores from a lake near the Cahokia site, finding a layer of silty clay left behind by the floodwaters.

Wild blueberries linked to improved blood vessel function: Eating wild blueberries can help blood vessel function, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study is the first to link wild blueberry polyphenols to better vascular function in healthy men, according to the Wild Blueberry Association of North America. “Importantly, even the lowest amount of wild blueberries tested in the study, equivalent to [three-quarters of a] cup of wild blueberries, was able to improve endothelial function,” said University of Dusseldorf’s Ana Rodriguez-Mateos.

Specific brain regions activate when babies watch different tasks: U.S. researchers looked at the brain activity of 70 babies who were 14 months old and found greater activation in areas of the brain corresponding to the body part used by adults performing specific tasks. “Babies are exquisitely careful people-watchers, and they’re primed to learn from others,” said Andrew Meltzoff, co-author of the study reported in the journal PLoS ONE.

Clouds hovering over pair of exoplanets, researchers say: High-altitude clouds have been found covering the atmospheres of GJ 436b, an exoplanet a bit larger than Neptune but significantly hotter, and GJ 1214b, a super-Earth, according to two teams of scientists whose findings have been published in Nature. Researchers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope were looking for dips in specific wavelengths of starlight as the planets passed in front of their respective stars in order to determine the chemicals making up their atmospheres. They were unable to find chemicals within the light, leading researchers to believe that layers of clouds were blocking their view.

Sea anemones living underneath Antarctica ice shelf baffle scientists: A large number of white sea anemones have been found living on the underside of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica. Scientists are puzzled over how the creatures survive without freezing. Researchers, using a camera attached to a drill, were conducting a geological study of the ice shelf when they saw several Edwardsiella andrillae hanging underneath the ice. “I would never have guessed that they live embedded in the ice because there is nothing different about their anatomy,” said Marymegan Daly of Ohio State University.

Vitamin E shows promise in slowing brain decline due to Alzheimer’s: Vitamin E may slow brain decline in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, according to a study of 613 patients at several Veterans Affairs medical centers. The patients given 2,000 international units per day of vitamin E exhibited slower functional decline over the average follow-up time of 2.3 years and needed less caregiver assistance.

100-year-old negatives yield photos of early Antarctic expedition: Images of Ernest Shackleton’s final attempt to conquer Antarctica have been developed from negatives found in the darkroom of a hut that was a base for some of the earliest expeditions to the region. The 22 photos, a century old, depict the journey of the support ship and crew to Shackleton’s ill-fated Endurance, which was eventually crushed by ice. The Aurora also ran afoul of weather, but the photos offer a glimpse of the ship before it was lost, as well as Ross Island and landmarks around McMurdo Sound.

High-tech scanners reveal Colonial-era sites in New England: The forests of New England hide Colonial-era farms and roads, according to archaeologists using light detection and ranging scanners, or LiDAR. The images have uncovered farm walls, homesteads and roads dating back to the 18th century in three areas of Connecticut and Massachusetts. LiDAR, which bounces laser light pulses off the ground from the air, is a growing method of revealing new clues about archaeological sites.

Paintings in tomb of Egyptian brewer depict life 3,000 years ago: The well-preserved tomb of an Egyptian brewer, with paintings on the walls showing life 3,000 years ago, has been found on the Nile’s west bank by a team of Japanese archaeologists. Khonso Im-Heb was a brewer who was in charge of granaries dedicated to the worship of Egyptian mother goddess Mut. The paintings depict scenes of daily life and worship between Khonso Im-Heb and his family.

Stem cells proliferate in newly developed artificial bone marrow: German scientists have successfully created an artificial bone marrow made from synthetic polymer that contains the basic properties of the natural human bone marrow. To test if hematopoietic stem cells can proliferate in the same way as they do in their natural environment, researchers directed HSCs from umbilical cord and incubated them for days. Results showed that the cells can proliferate in the artificial bone marrow, which can lead researchers to study stem cell behavior and how they are influenced by synthetic materials.

Rare configuration of pulsar, white dwarfs could test Einstein’s theory: A rare configuration of a pulsar orbited by two white dwarfs has been found by researchers with the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Virginia, giving scientists an opportunity to test Einstein’s theory of relativity. Researchers can measure the orbital periods and the masses of each of the three objects to possibly uncover anomalies to Einstein’s theory. “By measuring to very high precision, we’ll be able to test this strong equivalence principle,” said Scott Ransom, who was conducting a pulsar survey with colleagues when they detected the trio.

Level of magma alone is enough to get supervolcanoes to erupt: Supervolcanoes don’t need any external help to erupt, according to a study published in Nature Geoscience. Researchers conducting tests at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility found that just a large volume of liquid magma is enough to trigger a devastating eruption. “Now we know you don’t need any extra factor — a supervolcano can erupt due to its enormous size alone. … Once you get enough melt, you can start an eruption just like that,” said ETH Zurich’s Wim Malfait, lead author of the report.

Amber catches ancient flowering plant in act of producing seeds: A flowering plant from the Cretaceous period was encased in amber while it was making seeds, giving researchers a unique look at how ancient plants reproduced, which turns out not to be all that different from today’s plants. The Micropetasos burmensis, a plant with tiny bunches of flowers, was first collected in 2001 in Myanmar, and the amber perfectly preserved its fragile structures. “Here you have a 100-million-year-old flower that looks like it was blooming last week,” said Oregon State University biologist George Poinar, co-author of the study.

Ancient carnivore ancestor was cat-squirrel-like creature: The remains of one of the earliest ancestors of today’s carnivorous mammals has been found in Belgium. The 2-pound, or 1-kilogram, Dormaalocyon latouri was not a fearsome beast, but a creature that resembled a small panther crossed with a squirrel that lived during the Eocene era. “It is one of the oldest carnivorous mammals which is related to present-day carnivores,” said paleontologist Floreal Sole of the Royal Belgian Institute of National Sciences.

Fossils of Eocene-era cockroaches found in Colo.: The fossils of four different Ectobius species of cockroach have been found in northwest Colorado, dating back 49 million years. Ectobius cockroaches were thought to have originated in what is now Europe and Africa, but the Colorado discovery suggests they originated in North America during the Eocene era, according to a study published in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.

Mars rover Opportunity celebrates 10th birthday: The Martian rover Opportunity was only supposed to operate for 90 days, but apparently, nobody told the rover. The robot continues to explore the Red Planet, a decade later. “Opportunity is still in excellent health for a vehicle of its age,” mission project manager John Callas, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “The biggest science may still be ahead of us, even after 10 years of exploration.”

Researchers uncover dinosaur fossils in Saudi Arabia: Dinosaur fossils have been found in Saudi Arabia for the first time with the discovery of the remains of a titanosaur and a theropod. “This discovery is important not only because of where the remains were found, but also because of the fact that we can actually identify them,” said paleobiologist Benjamin Kear of Uppsala University in Sweden and lead author of the study published in PLoS ONE. The fossils date back 72 million years.

Prairie dogs jump to test neighbors’ awareness, study suggests: Prairie dogs exhibit contagious displays of communication very much like the wave seen at sports stadiums around the world, according to a study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. “This work reveals that black-tailed prairie dogs use contagious ‘jump-yip’ displays to probe the responsiveness of their neighbors, effectively testing their level of vigilance, and adjusting their behavior according to how much they can rely on their neighbor’s awareness of potential risks in their environment,” said James Hare of the University of Manitoba in Canada, a co-author of the study.

Ancient strips of bamboo hold multiplication table: A multiplication table in base 10 has been revealed in ancient strips of bamboo found in China that date back to around 305 B.C. About 2,500 bamboo strips were donated to Tsinghua University in Beijing five years ago, and researchers discovered ancient Chinese calligraphy written on the strips that they pieced together like a puzzle. Of those strips, 21 contained only numbers, which researchers found was a multiplication table.

More scientists explore use of cord blood stem cells to treat various diseases: Scientists are looking to expand the use of umbilical cord blood stem cells in treating conditions. Ongoing studies show promise in treating patients with type 1 diabetes, rebuilding heart muscles in children with hypoplastic left-heart syndrome and improving conditions of patients with cerebral palsy by infusing the stem cells intravenously. The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued policy encouraging public cord blood donations, as U.S. demand for cord blood stem cells for research and medical treatments increases.

Mantis shrimp use rapid eye movements to track surroundings: To study their surroundings, mantis shrimp use rapid eye movements similar to primates, according to researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia. Scientists filmed shrimp eyes as a colored object was introduced inside an aquarium and found that the mantis shrimp tracked it with rapid eye movement, known as saccades, which is usually found in primates, but at twice the rate of human saccades.

Mycenaeans took their cooking on the road with portable grills: Ancient Mycenaeans were culinary pioneers as well as builders and warriors, using portable grills and non-stick pans more than 3,000 years ago, according to a study presented at the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting. Among the artifacts the Mycenaeans left behind were souvlaki trays and griddles that researchers recreated using American clays. The scientists used their replicas to cook meat and bread to better understand how the utensils worked.

Sticky nanoparticles may halt spreading cancer cells: Nanoparticles designed by scientists at Cornell University can destroy cancer cells in the blood and prevent the disease from spreading, research suggests. Researchers attached sticky cancer-killing proteins to nanoparticles and injected them into blood, where they stuck themselves onto white blood cells, according to a report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “The results are quite remarkable actually, in human blood and in mice. After two hours of blood flow, they [the tumour cells] have literally disintegrated,” said Michael King, the lead researcher.

Great white sharks live much longer than previously thought, study finds: The life span of great white sharks is much longer than what researchers first thought, according to a study published in PLoS ONE. Researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution combined the common method of determining a shark’s age — counting stripes in teeth and bones — with measurements of carbon-14 levels left behind after nuclear bomb testing during the 1950s-60s, which “provides a time stamp for us to determine when these tissue layers were deposited,” said Li Ling Hamady, the study’s co-author. Using that method, researchers determined that sharks can live up to 70 years or more and mature more slowly.

Prehistoric sea creatures had dark coloring, study finds: Fossil pigments of ancient reptiles have been found, giving scientists details about their coloring, which helped protect them from predators and ultraviolet radiation. “The pigment melanin is almost unbelievably stable. Our discovery enables us to make a journey through time and to revisit these ancient reptiles using their own biomolecules,” said study co-author Per Uvdal of the MAX IV Laboratory at Sweden’s Lund University. Researchers studied the soft tissue remains of a 196 million-year-old ichthyosaur, an 85 million-year-old mosasaur and a 55 million-year-old leatherback turtle, finding that they had dark skin, according to the study published in Nature.

Extreme-distance runners in better overall health, study finds: Ultramarathoners, who run races of 50-plus miles, are in better health and miss less work due to sick time, according to a study published in PLoS ONE. “Such information is valuable in understanding potential benefits and risks from levels of exercise beyond the moderate amounts known to have health benefits,” wrote Dr. Martin Hoffman of the University of California at Davis and Dr. Eswar Krishnan of Stanford University School of Medicine. The scientists studied 1,212 ultramarathoners between the ages of 18 and 81 who ran more than 64 miles a week.

Scientists develop tiny windmills with big power potential: Tiny nickel-alloy windmills, so small that 10 could fit on a grain of rice, could potentially produce enough power to revive a dead cell phone within minutes, according to researchers at University of Texas at Arlington. WinMEMS, a Taiwanese company, has already secured rights to commercializing the windmills and is working on potential applications. “These inventions are essential to build micro-robots that can be used as surgical tools, sensing machines to explore disaster zones or manufacturing tools to assemble micro-machines,” said university officials.

Caffeine can improve long-term memory, study suggests: In the right amount, coffee can improve long-term memory, according to a study from the University of California at Irvine. Researchers tested 160 volunteers, showing them images of objects, then giving them a pill with either a placebo or 200 milligrams of caffeine, the equivalent of two espressos. The subjects given the caffeine showed significant improvement in memory consolidation, researchers said.

Gene therapy for Parkinson’s yields promising results: ProSavin, a triple-gene therapy that stimulates brain cells to produce dopamine, shows potential in relieving symptoms of advanced Parkinson’s disease. The therapy was tested in 15 patients whose response to existing treatments had waned. ProSavin infuses genes into the brain via modified virus to boost production of dopamine in the area that controls motor function, according to findings reported in The Lancet. Though the therapy was well tolerated without serious side effects, experts noted additional research involving a control group is needed.

Japanese scientists use sound waves to levitate objects: Scientists at the University of Tokyo are using sound waves to levitate objects. The researchers created a standing wave, combining two or more waves to generate a node where there is no movement as the wave oscillates. The wave can hold aloft small objects and could be useful in industries where sterile materials need to be moved but not touched, like medicines or spaceship parts.

High levels of molecular chlorine over Alaska concern scientists: Researchers say an unusually high level of molecular chlorine in the atmosphere above Barrow, Alaska, is probably the product of melting sea ice, which becomes highly reactive chlorine atoms in sunlight. A 2009 study detected levels as high as 400 parts per trillion. “It’s a mystery to us right now,” said Greg Huey of the Georgia Institute of Technology. “But the sea ice is changing dramatically, so we’re in a time where we have absolutely no predictive power over what’s going to happen to this chemistry.”

Evidence of limbs found in 375 million-year-old fish: A 375 million-year-old fish known as Tiktaalik roseae had gills and fins, but also grew front and back legs much like alligators, researchers at the University of Chicago discovered. “We had long thought that expanded hind limbs and hips were features of limbed animals,” said study lead author and paleontologist Neil Shubin. “Tiktaalik shows that our closest fish relatives had expanded hips and hind fins; hence, this feature may well have arisen in fish.”

Long lives of primates may lie in their slower metabolism: Slower metabolisms may be the key to long lives in primates. Researchers say primates tend to expend 50% less energy during the day than mammals of similar size and shape, and the feature may be a survival mechanism when food becomes scarce. “Slowing life-history down would be advantageous and provide juveniles with extended periods to learn how to survive,” said primatologist Erin Vogel of Rutgers University. “If they can slow down their expenditure, this could buffer them against an uncertain environment.”

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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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