Science Tuesday: Caffeinated Bees, A Lost Chapter of Gilgamesh, and The Sun Has A Hole.

Happy Tuesday, Aledan Merfolk! Science was busy being awesome this week, so let’s get straight to the news!

Scientists discover new species of dwarf lemur: A new dwarf lemur species has been found in Madagascar. Andy Sabin’s dwarf lemur, more formally known as Cheirogaleus andysabini, is named for the New York philanthropist. The tiny lemur has a white underside and dark rings circling its eyes, according to findings published in Primate Conservation.

Burrowing owls at plague hotspot avoid disease, research finds: Western burrowing owls living alongside small mammals that are susceptible to plague aren’t infected with the bacteria that cause the disease, and neither are the fleas feeding on the owls, according to researchers at Boise State University. They speculate that the fleas may stay on owls and thus never feed on infected mammals, with the owls’ presence potentially helping slow the spread of disease.

Ancient tablet reveals lost chapter of “Epic of Gilgamesh”: A new chapter in the ancient “Epic of Gilgamesh” has been found within a set of clay tablets the Sulaymaniyah Museum in Iraq bought from a smuggler. The tablet describes in more detail a forest for the gods and also provides fresh insight into the tales’ heroes’ inner conflict. The 20 new lines have been fully translated, and the tablet is on display at the museum.

Moon’s faults influenced by Earth’s pull: The gravitational pull of the Earth is tugging open faults on the moon, scientists say. Images taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter show 14 cliffs caused by faults that are believed to have formed as the moon’s hot interior cooled and shrank, researchers said. “There is a pattern in the orientations of the thousands of faults, and it suggests something else is influencing their formation, something that’s also acting on a global scale. That something is the Earth’s gravitational pull,” said planetary scientist Thomas Watters, lead author of the study published in Geology.

Researchers develop robot that could help space station astronauts: A robot that could literally lend a hand to astronauts aboard the International Space Station is being developed by scientists at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, along with the University of Bremen. The BesMan AILA robot has two arms, each equipped with a hand and articulated fingers. Researchers say the robot could help do the more menial tasks around the space station in order to free the astronauts for more specialized tasks.

Robots with hands freak me out.

Supercoiled DNA reveals wider spectrum of shapes, researchers find: DNA twists itself into more than just the widely recognized double helix shape, researchers say. Scientists looked closely at snippets of supercoiled DNA. “Some of the circles had sharp bends, some were figure eights, and others looked like handcuffs or racquets or even sewing needles. Some looked like rods because they were so coiled,” said biochemist Rossitza Irobalieva, lead author of the study published in Nature Communications.

Brain activity profiles unique to individuals, study suggests: One’s brain activity can be almost as identifiable as a fingerprint, according to findings published in Nature Neuroscience. Researchers mapped the brain activity of 126 subjects several times under different conditions to get a profile of each participant, and they were able to identify the individual by their brain scan most of the time. “What was most exciting to me was that these profiles are so stable and reliable, in the same person, no matter if it’s today or tomorrow and no matter what your brain is doing when we’re scanning you,” said Emily Finn, study co-author.

Researchers to begin study of “in womb” stem cell therapy for bone disorder: The Karolinska Institute in Sweden and the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London are scheduled to initiate a stem cell trial for osteogenesis imperfecta in January. The 30-patient trial involves the injection of stem cells into babies in utero.

Hubble sees strange structure in Jupiter’s shrinking Red Spot: A detailed map produced by the Hubble Space Telescope shows the Great Red Spot in Jupiter’s atmosphere is shrinking and a strange structure has been seen within it. The spot, a massive storm that has hovered over Jupiter’s equatorial region for about 300 years, is about half the size it was 100 years ago, but scientists say the rate of shrinkage recently slowed. With the new Hubble observations, researchers have also discovered a bizarre wispy structure, but they don’t know what it is or how it came to be there.

Pebbles indicate Mars once held extensive river system, study finds: The shape of pebbles found on Mars indicates the Red Planet once had an extensive river system, according to a new study published in Nature Communications. Scientists created a mathematical model to help determine how much mass a rock loses over time due to erosion as it rolls downstream. They concluded that the Martian pebbles had been rolling around for a long time, moving about 30 miles, or about 48 kilometers. Researchers say the technique could be used to measure river-borne rocks on Earth and other planets as well.

Pair of experiments show genetic testing can be performed in zero gravity: Genetics tests can be performed in zero gravity, researchers discovered in experiments aboard NASA’s reduced-gravity aircraft. In the first experiment, the scientists tested three methods to transfer liquid samples from one vessel to another, determining that the best technique involves using a tiny plunger inside a pipette that moves the liquid without allowing air to get in. The researchers also tested a MiniON, a genetic sequencer, which successfully sequenced DNA in the zero-gravity environment.

Fossilized eggshells reveal clues about dinosaur metabolism: Dinosaur body temperatures varied widely, according to a study of ancient eggshells. Scientists analyzed the fossilized eggshells of a titanosaur sauropod and an oviraptorid, finding a wide range of metabolic rates. “Combined with other data, it’s consistent with them having some kind of intermediary metabolism. This suggests that maybe they were warm blooded, but hadn’t developed the high level of temperature regulation seen in mammals and birds today. They were kind of part way to evolving endothermy,” said Robert Eagle, author of the study published in Nature Communications.

Fungi in milkweed soil may help butterflies with parasite: Certain fungi in the soil around milkweed plants may help monarch butterflies battle a certain parasite, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Academy B. Monarchs infected with Ophryocystis elektroscirrha seek out specific milkweed plants that contain the toxic steroid cardenolide, and now researchers have linked arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi to the amount of cardenolide a plant has.

Analysis suggests bias safeguards not in place for many animal studies: Many animal research studies may contain biases, according to a survey of more than 2,500 journal articles. Simple safeguards to avoid biases are often not used by researchers in animal studies, making their findings look more promising than they are, the analysis by the Center for Clinical Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh suggests.

MRSA bacteria may be passed between humans and their pets: Recent research found that people with the superbug methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus pass it to their pets. Those pets, in turn, may serve as a reservoir and pass the bacteria back to humans. More studies are planned to determine exactly how pets acquire MRSA from their owners.

I’m SO GLAD I have so many pets! >.<

Well-preserved fossil of furry little mammal that lived with dinosaurs found: A small, furry rat-like creature lived alongside dinosaurs about 125 million years ago, according to analysis of an extremely well-preserved mammal fossil found in Spain. The remains of Spinolestes xenarthrosus include a complete skeleton, along with cellular level fur, spines like those of a hedgehog, and liver and lung soft tissues. Scientists say the fossil gives them the best view yet of mammals that lived with dinosaurs of the Mesozoic Era, according to a study published in Nature.

Nest of baby giant hadrosaurs fossils found in Gobi Desert: A nest of baby giant hadrosaur fossils has been found in the Gobi Desert’s Nemegt Formation in Mongolia. The rare find includes the embryonic remains of three or four Saurolophus angustirostris babies along with eggshell fragments. The fossils are described in a study published in PLOS ONE.

Ancient teeth found in China shed light on migration of early humans: Scientists are learning more about Homo sapiens’ migration from Africa thanks to the discovery of 47 fossilized human teeth in a southern China cave. The teeth are between 80,000 and 120,000 years old. “This finding suggests that Homo sapiens is present in Asia much earlier than the classic, recent ‘Out of Africa’ hypothesis was suggesting: 50,000 years ago,” said paleontologist Maria Martinon-Torres, an author of the study published in Nature.

Ancient giant sea scorpion remains found in Iowa impact crater: Pieces of a giant sea scorpion that lived about 460 million years ago have been found within an impact crater in Iowa. Fossils of Pentecopterus decorahensis were found well-preserved, pressed between layers of rock, according to findings published in BMC Evolutionary Biology. Researchers say the giant sea scorpion reached lengths of about 5.7 feet, or 1.7 meters, and featured hind limbs shaped like paddles.

Dark Coalsack nebula blots out portion of Milky Way in new image: The vast darkness of the Coalsack nebula obscures a portion of the Milky Way in a new image taken by the European Southern Observatory. The Coalsack nebula, unlike its more brightly glowing brethren, is dark because the dust is coated in frozen water and particles that block visible light almost completely, but ESO researchers say that will one day come to an end. “As the stray material in the Coalsack coalesces under the mutual attraction of gravity, stars will eventually light up, and the coal ‘nuggets’ in the Coalsack will ‘combust,’ almost as if touched by a flame,” they said.

People in high-stress jobs have increased stroke risk, study suggests: High-stress jobs may increase one’s stroke risk, according to a new study. Researchers examined six previous studies between three and 17 years long and involving about 140,000 participants, and found that those with high-stress jobs were 22% more likely to have a stroke than those who didn’t. The findings were reported in Neurology.

Massive coronal hole in sun seen in NASA image: There’s a massive hole in the sun and its magnetic field visible in a new ultraviolet wavelength image taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Coronal holes most often occur during less active points in the sun’s 11-year cycle and cause geomagnetic storms. The current hole is about the width of 50 Earths and has touched off a geomagnetic storm that’s resulted in several auroras on Earth visible farther south than usual, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists.

Climate-driven lava pulses have little effect on sea-floor hill formation: Faulting action and regular magma eruptions form hills along the sea floor, not climate-driven lava pulses as previous studies have suggested, according to a new analysis published in Science. The new study tested the climate hypothesis with three different models, and researchers said none showed that climate made any significant difference in the hills’ formation. “We’re not contradicting the idea that the modulations exist. We’re contradicting the idea that it leads to the sea floor landscapes,” said Jean-Arthur Olive, author of the latest study.

Renovations uncover Jefferson-designed chemical lab at U. of Virginia: A chemical lab designed by Thomas Jefferson has been discovered in the Rotunda of the University of Virginia during renovations there. The 19th century science classroom, located behind a wall, features a chemical hearth, two fireboxes and five workstations, and officials say it may have been sealed off after the chemistry lab was relocated to another area of the Rotunda. “This may be the oldest intact example of early chemical education in this country,” said the school’s Brian Hogg.

This is awesome!

Bees can become hooked on caffeine, study finds: Honeybees seem to have a weakness for caffeine, a fact some flowers capitalize on to keep the insects coming back for more, a new study suggests. Researchers raised concerns, however, that bees who fixated on plants containing caffeine are more likely to ignore nectar from uncaffeinated flowers. “We saw that if they just had one, three-hour exposure to the caffeinated nectar on the first day, they would come back [to the empty feeder] for many more days, and more often within each day,” said Margaret Couvillon, lead author of the study published in Current Biology.

Fossils of ancient massive shark found in Texas: The 300 million-year-old fossils of a massive shark have been found in Texas. The shark measured about 26 feet, or about 8 meters, long. The shark, which lived during the Carboniferous period, was described at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology conference in Dallas.

Supposed dinosaur species actually juvenile T. rex, study suggests: Fossils long considered to be from a smaller cousin of Tyrannosaurus rex are actually from a juvenile T. rex, according to findings presented at the Society of Vertebrate Paelontology. A dinosaur skull found in the 1940s was first described as being in the tyrannosaur family, then was re-evaluated in the 1980s as a separate and smaller creature. However, scientists have used 3D computer reconstruction to allow for a more detailed analysis, leading to the conclusion that the skull belonged to a juvenile T. rex.

Seals are effective hunters thanks to shape of whiskers: A seal’s whiskers help it catch prey by sensing external vibrations that help it determine the prey’s shape, size and trajectory, according to a new study published in Smart Materials and Structures. The whiskers have a particular wavy shape that helps them detect prey without being influenced by their own movements, making seals especially effective hunters, researchers say. Scientists constructed large plastic whiskers and tested them underwater to reach their conclusions.

US record for most time in space broken by Scott Kelly: Astronaut Scott Kelly has broken the US record for spending the most time in space. Friday was Kelly’s 383rd day in space, and he’s got quite a few more days to go before he returns to Earth from the International Space Station on March 2. Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka is the world record holder for time spent is space: 879 days.

Researchers use robot replicas to study Galapagos lava lizards: Researchers used robot lizards to help them learn more about the evolutionary behaviors of different species of lava lizards that live on the Galapagos Islands. Microlophus grayii reacted in the same way to the robot that resembled it and the robot that resembled Microlophus indefatigabilis, while M. indefatigabilis responded most to the robot that acted most like itself. The findings are described in Animal Behavior.

Data Science Machine can predict human behavior, study suggests: An algorithm is better at predicting human behavior than humans, according to a new study set to be presented at the IEEE Data Science and Advanced Analytics conference this week. Researchers at MIT have developed the Data Science Machine, which seeks out patterns and relevant variables to predict an outcome. In three tests, the machine’s predictions were more accurate than 615 of 906 human teams, researchers said.

Trove of fossils found in Bahamas offers clues about extinctions: An underwater fossil site in the Bahamas is giving researchers clues about what caused extensive extinctions during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition about 10,000 to 11,000 years ago, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests. About 39 of the more than 90 species found among the fossils went extinct, and more than 56% of those died out after humans arrived on the island of Abaco, suggesting that human involvement was the greatest factor. About 44% died out due to climate changes, researchers said.

Dogs likely originated in Central Asia, DNA study suggests: Dogs likely originated in Central Asia about 15,000 years ago, according to a new DNA study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers looked at a diverse group of more than 4,500 canines from 38 countries, including free-ranging dogs. Three sources of DNA from the purebred and street dog subjects worldwide were analyzed.

Drought in Mexico reveals colonial-era church in reservoir: A drought in southern Mexico has revealed the remains of a colonial-era church sunken within a reservoir. The Temple of Santiago, which was abandoned in the mid-1770s due to plagues, was swallowed by the reservoir in the state of Chiapas when a dam in the area was completed in 1966. This is the second time that falling water levels have revealed the church. In 2002, the water receded so much that people could actually walk inside the mid-16th-century building.

Some of Earth’s bacteria could survive in Europa’s salty ocean, researchers say: Some strains of terrestrial bacteria could likely survive in the salty, sulfate-filled oceans of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, a new study suggests. Scientists tested Bacillus pumilus, Halomonas halodurans and Salinibacter ruber in varying concentrations of sodium chloride, magnesium chloride, sodium sulfate and magnesium sulfate, and found that each could adapt. Salinibacter ruber took a specific liking to magnesium sulfate, which is particularly abundant on Europa.

Asteroid to pass close to Earth on Halloween, NASA says: An asteroid will pass about 310,000 miles, or 490,000 kilometers, from Earth on Oct. 31, according to NASA scientists. It will be the closest an asteroid has come to Earth since 2006. NASA scientists just spotted the asteroid about two weeks ago because it is “on an extremely eccentric and a high inclination orbit,” they said, but they said it won’t hit the planet.

400M-year-old mineral grains may hold clues to earliest life on Earth: Life may have existed on Earth about 300 million years earlier than previously thought, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Scientists found a “chemo-fossil” made up of a particular concoction of carbon isotopes, or “the gooey remains of biotic life or anything more complicated,” said Mark Harrison, the study’s co-author, when they examined zircon mineral grains dating to Earth’s early days.

Hearts age differently in men, women: The hearts of men and women age differently, a long-term study suggests. The muscle around the left ventricle gets bigger and thicker in men, but remains the same size or becomes smaller in women. “Our results are a striking demonstration of the concept that heart disease may have different pathophysiology in men and women, and of the need for tailored treatments that address such important biologic differences,” said Joao Lima, author of the study published online in Radiology.

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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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