Science Tuesday: The “Living Buddha”, New Metamaterials, and the City of the Monkey God.

Happy Tuesday, Aledan Merfolk! I took a couple weeks off from social media, but I’m back with all the sciencey news goodness you could ever want. Two week’s worth of it – so let’s get started!

Rising ocean acidity threatens shellfish, study suggests: The changing acidity of the oceans may soon affect the shellfish market, a study suggests. The oceans are becoming more acidic, and some shellfish larvae, which aren’t yet protected by strong shells, have begun dying as a result, according to researchers. “We looked at all the coasts around the United States. There are more places vulnerable than we previously thought. That said, every region has a unique set of factors that makes it vulnerable. Understanding what makes you vulnerable is useful to guide how you will adapt,” said Julia Ekstrom, the study’s lead author.

Large number of opsins gives dragonflies diverse color vision, study finds: Dragonflies’ large eyes have 11 to 30 types of light-sensitive opsins, giving them extremely diverse color vision, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers looked at 12 species of dragonfly. “It’s likely that they have better color discrimination than humans,” said Ryo Futahashi, one of the study’s authors.

Researchers trace fungi, plants’ symbiotic partnership in genome study: Fungi, and the plants that grow above or around them, have a symbiotic relationship that goes back millions of years, according to a study of 49 fungal genomes. The mycorrhizal fungi have evolved what researchers call a toolkit of genes for symbiosis to provide the plants with minerals while extracting sugars from the plants. The findings were published in Nature Genetics.

New virus found in blood of man who died after tick bite: A new tick-borne virus has been identified in the U.S., according to a report in Emerging Infectious Diseases. The Bourbon virus, named for the Kansas county where a man died last spring after contracting the virus, is a member of the thogotovirus family. Researchers studying the man’s blood used advanced molecular detection to confirm the presence of the previously unknown pathogen.

Monk’s mummified remains found inside ancient Buddha statue: The mummified remains of a monk who died around 1100 have been found encased in a Chinese statue of the Buddha. Researchers put the statue into a CT scanner and took samples of the mummy with an endoscope, which found scraps of inscribed paper in the spaces that once held organs. Scientists suggest the monk may have been practicing a form of self-mummification to achieve status as a “living Buddha.”

Babies given peanut butter less likely to develop allergy, study suggests: Peanut allergies might be avoided or eased by giving infants small amounts of peanut butter, according to a new study. Researchers say babies at risk for peanut allergies that are exposed to peanut butter aren’t as likely to develop the allergy as those babies who avoid peanuts in infancy. The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Repeated bouts of plague in Europe may have come from gerbils in Asia: Asian gerbils, rather than European rats, were responsible for periodic outbreaks of bubonic plague from the mid-1300s to the early 1800s, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports. Previously, researchers believed that once the initial germs came from Asia, they remained on local rodents to repeatedly infect Europeans during that period. Study co-author Nils Stenseth said the weather conditions in Europe weren’t right for a large rat population in the years of the outbreaks.

Bacterial life found at deepest point of Mariana Trench: Tiny bacteria flourish in the deepest recesses of the Mariana Trench, particularly heterotrophs, which are unable to create their own food and must find sustenance in their surroundings, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The microbes were discovered in Challenger Deep, the lowest part of the Mariana Trench, where they most likely dine on material that drifts down from above or is released from landslides, scientists suggest.

Chromosomes shortened in lower ranking hyenas, study suggests: Hyena chromosomes become shortened as a result of stress, a study published online in Biology Letters suggests. A DNA study of African savanna hyenas lowest in the pack’s pecking order found that the stress of having to search longer and harder for food shrinks their telomeres, setting off a chain reaction that can end in cell death.

Numbers of rare Amur leopard on the rise, survey finds: The Amur leopard population appears to be on the rebound, with their numbers jumping to about 69, up from 30 found in 2007, according to a count of the rare felines. “Such a strong rebound in Amur leopard numbers is further proof that even the most critically endangered big cats can recover if we protect their habitat and work together on conservation efforts,” said Barney Long of the World Wildlife Fund.

Eyes stay lubricated with help from lashes, study suggests: Lengthy lashes help keep mammals’ eyes lubricated, according to a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. Researchers studied an array of creatures and found that eyelashes are consistently one-third the length of the width of the eye, the perfect size to redirect airflow around the orb, keeping evaporation at bay.

Giant black hole 12 billion times the size of the sun discovered: A black hole 12 billion times larger than our sun has been found, causing scientists to question common theories about how these celestial objects grow. “Current theory is for a limit to how fast a black hole can grow, but this black hole is too large for that theory,” said Fuyan Bian of Australian National University’s Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics. The black hole came into being about 900 million years after the Big Bang, researchers estimate.

Study tracks how much Saharan dust travels by wind to the Amazon: The wind-borne journey of tons of dust from the Sahara desert to the Amazon basin has been tracked by NASA’s Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation satellite, showing just how much of it is carried across the Atlantic each year. According to data, 28.8 million tons, or 26 metric tons, of Saharan dust travels to the Amazon annually, helping to fertilize the rainforest with phosphorus.

Scientists detail wounds that caused ancient pharaoh’s death: Scientists have forensically reconstructed how an early king of the Abydos Dynasty died in battle about 3,600 years ago. Pharaoh Woseribre Senebkay’s remains were found last year in a tomb 300 miles, or 483 kilometers, from Cairo. “The king’s skeleton has 18 wounds that penetrated to the bone. The trauma includes major cuts to his feet, ankles, and lower back. Multiple blows to Senebkay’s skull show the distinctive size and curvature of battle axes used during Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period,” said Josef Wegner, who led the expedition.

Human head transplant could be proposed this year: A controversial plan to transplant a human head onto a donor body by 2017 could be announced at the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons conference in June. Sergio Canavero is trying to gather support for his idea, which has raised questions of ethics within the scientific community. “If people don’t want it in the U.S. or Europe, that doesn’t mean it won’t be done somewhere else,” he said.

Baby woolly rhino found frozen in Russia, scientists say: The remains of an ancient baby woolly rhinoceros, which paleontologists have dubbed Sasha, have been found preserved in permafrost in Russia’s Sakha Republic, and scientists are anxious to study it. “Woolly rhinos are less studied than mammoths. We are hoping Sasha the rhino will give us a lot of answers to questions of how they grew and developed, what conditions they lived in, and which of the modern day animals is the closest to them,” said Albert Protopopov, who runs the Mammoth Fauna Department at the Sakha Republic Academy of Sciences. Researchers will first look for DNA in the well-preserved carcass.

Study finds Cope’s rule might be true for marine animals: Marine animals have evolved over time to be larger, which supports Cope’s rule, according to researchers from Stanford University. Scientists studied fossil records from as far back as 542 million years ago, and found that, over all, the size of marine mammals has increased 150%. “For a long time, people have had this hypothesis that there’s not much directional trend in evolution, that random events and random drift can produce increasing size or complexity. That model just isn’t compatible with the trends we see,” said lead study author Noel Heim.

Researchers describe 2 new species of peacock spiders: Scientists have identified two new species of peacock spiders in Australia. Maratus jactatus looks similar to other peacock spider species, with blue and red stripes adorning its abdomen, while Maratus sceletus “looks dramatically different [from] all other peacock spiders known to date, making me think that this group is perhaps much more diverse than we had thought,” said entomologist Jurgen Otto, co-author of the report in Peckhamia.

Ancient reptile’s bite more powerful than Tyrannosaur’s, scientists say: An ancient ancestor of the caiman that lived in what is now the Amazon 8 million years ago had a bite much stronger than that of a Tyrannosaurus rex, according to findings published online in PLOS ONE. Paleontologists determined that the prehistoric reptile Purussaurus brasiliensis’ skull and teeth were better structured to snap up prey than T.rex. “The Purussaurus and the Tyrannosaurus lived in different ages but there is no doubt that the Purussaurus would have won a fight between the two of them,” said study co-author Aline Ghilardi.

Bright spots seen on Ceres: Bright spots seen on the surface of dwarf planet Ceres in photos taken by the approaching Dawn space probe are puzzling scientists. “Ceres’ bright spot can now be seen to have a companion of lesser brightness, but apparently in the same basin. This may be pointing to a volcano-like origin of the spots, but we will have to wait for better resolution before we can make such geologic interpretations,” said Dawn Mission principal investigator Chris Russell. The probe is getting closer to Ceres, and will eventually be able to give researchers more information about the dwarf planet.

Woman’s grave found close to Richard III burial site: A woman’s bones were found in an elaborate burial site not far from the site where King Richard III’s remains were found within the ruins of a medieval monastery in England. The remains were found in a lead coffin that itself was encased in limestone. Researchers had been expecting to find the remains of friars or knights alongside those of the king, but were surprised to find the graves of four women, including the one in the lead coffin.

Study of DNA in parchment helps track ancient animal breeding: Researchers have used next-generation DNA sequencing on historical parchment to help determine how animals were selectively bred during the 17th and 18th centuries. The hide of various animals were used in the creation of parchment during this period. “The genome change in sheep is a big deal in this period. A lot of England’s wealth is built around the wool trade, and in terms of breeding, this is where it’s happening. So [this work] opens up a tantalizing window as to what a more concentrated analysis might reveal,” said Daniel Bradley, one of the researchers.

Sight may trump smell for hungry cats: The results of a small study suggest that cats may rely more on their sight than on their sense of smell for finding food. “Up until now we really thought that the sense of smell would dominate how cats view their world, but we are now reconsidering this and also the implications of how we manage them,” said lead researcher Evy Mayes. The findings were reported in Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

Sunlight a useful tool for great white sharks during attacks, study finds: Great white sharks may hide themselves in the sun’s glare while hunting prey, according to a study published in The American Naturalist. Scientists watched as sharks approached prey, noticing that they came from whatever direction the sun was, appearing to cloak themselves in the glare. If the sun was obscured, the sharks didn’t use a specific angle of attack, again suggesting that they used sunlight to their advantage, researchers said.

Clean-up method uses iron balls to attract, capture uranium: Tiny balls of iron can capture uranium within liquid, then be picked up by a magnet, a method that can be helpful in cleaning up radioactive spills or at nuclear power plants, according to research published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The method was developed by Tongji University’s Lan Ling and Wei-xian Zhang, who are environmental engineers.

Researchers capture image of light as both wave and particle: Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have developed a technique to photograph light acting as a wave and a particle. “This experiment demonstrates that, for the first time ever, we can film quantum mechanics — and its paradoxical nature — directly. Being able to image and control quantum phenomena at the nanometer scale like this opens up a new route towards quantum computing,” said research team leader Fabrizio Carbone.

Recently discovered galaxy too young to be so dusty, researchers say: Scientists have found a young dusty galaxy in the cluster Abel 1689 that they say shouldn’t exist. The dim galaxy, called A1689-zD1, is too young to have so much dust, which is typically seen in much larger and brighter galaxies, researchers say. The findings were published in Nature.

Photographs show micro-bacteria exist: High-powered microscopes have revealed the existence of micro-bacteria and likely show life at its tiniest, according to research published in Nature Communications. This is the first photographic proof of their existence, following years of scientific debate. “These newly described ultra-small bacteria are an example of a subset of the microbial life on earth that we know almost nothing about. They’re enigmatic,” said Jill Banfield, an author of the study.

Forests’ CO2 absorption may be hurt by insects, researchers say: As the amount of carbon in the atmosphere increases, trees should increase their photosynthesis, turning forests into a vital carbon sink. But there’s a catch, researchers say: Increased CO2 also means less protein in plant leaves, which drives leaf-eating insects to consume far more greenery. Increased insect activity could reduce forests’ additional carbon uptake by as much as 50%, studies show.

Impacts on early Earth may have brought about rain of iron, study suggests: A vaporized form of iron may have rained on early Earth after the planet was hit by objects from space, according to a study published in Nature Geoscience. Researchers collided small samples of aluminum and iron at super speeds. The collisions resulted in the iron eventually turning to vapor at a pressure much lower than they expected, suggesting that when meteors hit early Earth, they similarly caused iron to vaporize and later rain over a wide area.

Archaeologists find remains of 200 people in medieval mass grave in Paris: The skeletons of 200 people have been found in a mass grave underneath a Paris supermarket in what was once a medieval cemetery. “The fact that so many people were buried together, that the grave is this large, tends to show us that there was a major mortality crisis. The crisis may have resulted from an epidemic, famine or extreme fever,” said Isabelle Abadie, the lead archaeologist at the dig. Further tests are planned to discover what caused their deaths.

Study: Mass migration from east may be root of modern European languages: There were two major migrations across Europe, the second of which brought the languages that would later become the modern form of European and English speech, according to a DNA study published in Nature. “First there are early hunter-gatherers, then come farmers, then farmers mix with hunter-gatherers — then comes a new population from the east, which is the major migration,” said geneticist Iosif Lazaridis, a study co-author. The second wave was found to have come from what is today Russia and Ukraine about 4,500 years ago.

Microbes can be used to clean fracking wastewater, study finds: A study conducted by University of Colorado Boulder scientists found that microbes can be used to clean hydrocarbon-rich wastewater produced from hydraulic fracturing. The microbes can consume the hydrocarbons and generate electric current that eliminates salt from the wastewater, according to the study published in Environmental Science Water Research & Technology. “If we can … reuse the water, the companies don’t need to buy new water, and they could even make money from selling it to other users like farmers,” said Zhiyong Jason Ren, co-author of the study.

New technique gives researchers 3D view of virus: A new technique has allowed researchers to create a 3D image of a virus, according to a report in Physical Review Letters. Physicists took information from a 2D diffraction pattern to create a 3D look at a mimivirus that shows not only what the virus looks like on the outside, but also its internal structure. The researchers say the technique can be used to learn more about potentially dangerous viruses like flu, herpes and HIV.

Jawbone found in Ethiopia pushes back human lineage: The discovery of a fossilized jawbone that dates back 2.8 million years has pushed back the origins of the genus Homo, according to a study published in Science. The jawbone, which holds five teeth, is likely a new species of the genus, and was found in Ethiopia. However, “we are awaiting more material before definitively naming a new species,” said lead researcher Brian Villmoare.

Archaeologists believe they’ve found the City of the Monkey God: Archaeologists believe they’ve discovered a long-rumored city referred to by names including City of the Monkey God in an undisclosed location within the Honduran rainforest. The site remained undiscovered until scientists used laser-mapping tools to find its untouched remains.

3D technique used to measure weight of Stegosaurus: A new 3D scanning technique was used to estimate the living weight of Sophie, a Stegosaurus stenops skeleton housed at the Natural History Museum of London, according to a report published in Biology Letters. The weight was estimated to be 3,527 pounds, or 1.6 metric tons, which is the same as the estimate of its weight using traditional methods, leading researchers to conclude that their initial estimate is accurate.

Mars could help answer questions about Earth’s Little Ice Age: Drilling a borehole into Mars could provide clues about what may have caused the Little Ice Age that enveloped Earth from 1300 to 1870, a study in Icarus reports. Scientists have long debated whether the Little Ice Age was the result of a change in solar activity or due to volcanoes. Study author Ralph Lorenz said that if Mars shows signs of an ice age, then it would support the theory that a drop in solar activity was to blame for Earth’s lengthy cold snap.

Answer to puzzling sun question may be found in dark matter, scientists say: Scientists are looking to mysterious dark matter to help them solve a mystery about the sun. About 10 years ago, researchers discovered a discrepancy in the amount of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen in the sun and they’ve been puzzling over it ever since. Now physicists wonder if asymmetric dark-matter particles could be involved, and if they are, “we should be on the cusp of seeing it very soon,” said astroparticle physicist Aaron Vincent, lead author of the study published in Physical Review Letters.

New metamaterials have scientists abuzz at conference: An array of metamaterials have scientists buzzing at the American Physical Society’s March Meeting. Among the items touted at the meeting are a lattice of metamaterial that can make whatever is underneath it unable to be felt; a programmable sponge-like material that can be stiff, soft or somewhere in between depending on the user’s needs; and tiny ceramics that can return to their original size after being squashed.

Synthetic molecule could stop cancer cell proliferation: Scientists at Bielefeld University in Germany have developed a synthetic molecule that appears to interfere with the proliferation of cancer by binding to DNA and blocking replication. The molecule has two copper ions at one end that are drawn to the DNA phosphates. The molecules outperformed a common chemotherapy drug when tested on cancer cells. The study appeared in the journal Inorganic Chemistry.

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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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