Science Tuesday: Four New Elements, Dancing Dinosaurs, and 3-D Glasses for Praying Mantises

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

[Photo: Praying Mantis with custom 3-D glasses, Newcastle University]

Four new elements added to periodic table: The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry has filled out the seventh line of the periodic table by adding four new elements. A team of scientists in Japan has been credited with the discovery of element 113, called ununtrium. Elements 115 (ununpentium), 117 (ununseptium) and 118 (ununoctium) were credited to a joint team of Russian and American scientists.

Ancient skeleton found in Scotland may have been 16th-century pirate’s: A skeleton found last year beneath an Edinburgh playground belonged to a 16th-century pirate and not to a person from the Bronze Age, as had been thought, according to the City of Edinburgh Council. “Thanks to carbon dating techniques, archaeologists now know that the skeleton was likely to have been a murder victim — and quite possibly a pirate,” said Culture Convener for the City of Edinburgh Council Richard Lewis. Officials say the man, likely in his 50s, was hung at a gallows not far from the grave site.

Species’ speediest tongues belong to smallest chameleons: The smallest species of chameleon have the quickest tongues, which can lash out at up to 264 times gravity’s force to gobble up any prey that comes close enough, according to a study published in Scientific Reports. The smaller chameleons can whip out their tongues five times faster than their bigger cousins, researchers say. “They get such high performance because the muscles are loading energy into elastic tissues before they actually project the tongue,” said Christopher Anderson, the study’s author.

Scientists stop deadly fungus in Majorcan midwife toads: A deadly fungus that’s been killing toads, frogs, salamanders and newts around the world has been wiped out in Majorcan midwife toads in Majorca, Spain, the first time it’s been stopped in a wild population, according to findings published in Biology Letters. Chytrid fungus, or Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, is thought to have driven many amphibian populations to extinction. “This is proof of principle that you can go out there and mitigate infections and that the method doesn’t need to be that complex,” said study co-author Trenton Garner.

Marmosets can distinguish between low, high notes like humans do: Marmosets can discern between high and low pitches just as humans do, raising questions about when the ability to perceive pitch evolved, according to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Until now we didn’t think any animal species, including monkeys, perceived it the way we do. Now we know that marmosets, and likely other primate ancestors, do,” said Xiaoqin Wang, a study author.

Bog orchids woo mosquitoes by emitting human-like odor: Bog orchids give off an odor similar to that of the human body to attract tiger mosquitoes, say researchers at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology’s annual meeting. Tests are ongoing, but scientists say the flowers may be trying to lure the mosquitoes, which are drawn to the smell, even though the insects aren’t particularly good pollinators.

tretchable device can track heart rate using nanoparticles: Researchers at Seoul National University have developed a stretchable electronic device that could monitor heart rate continuously and accurately using gold nanoparticles. The device, which provides signal amplification and long-term memory storage, is made up of ECG sensors and amplifiers.

Teeth indicate giant apes died out due to insufficient food supply: Dwindling food supply likely led to the extinction of giant apes more than 100,000 years ago, according to a study of the massive creatures’ teeth published in Quaternary International. Gigantopithecus blacki, which weighed between 440 and 1,100 pounds, or 200 and 499 kilograms, was vegetarian, and researchers say its size and metabolism made survival difficult as the environment evolved. “When during the Pleistocene era more and more forested areas turned into savanna landscapes, there was simply an insufficient food supply for the giant ape,” said Herve Bocherens, the study’s author.

Black hole emits pair of massive gas waves: A black hole at the center of a nearby galaxy has burped out two massive waves of gas, something researchers are calling an example of feedback between the black hole and its galaxy, according to findings reported at the American Astronomical Society meeting. “We think that feedback keeps galaxies from becoming too large,” said study co-author Marie Machacek. “But at the same time, it can be responsible for how some stars form. This shows that black holes can create, not just destroy.”

Ancient farmhouse, monastery found in central Israel: Archaeologists have uncovered a 2,700-year-old farmhouse in central Israel, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority. Artifacts found in the area suggest grain was grown and processed on the site. Not far away, researchers also found a monastery that dates back about 1,500 years.

New biomaterial can catalyze hydrogen formation: Using a bacterial virus, researchers have developed a biomaterial that can catalyze hydrogen formation, which could one day lead to more environmentally friendly biofuel production. “Essentially, we have taken a virus’s ability to self-assemble myriad genetic building blocks and incorporated a very fragile and sensitive enzyme with the remarkable property of taking in protons and spitting out hydrogen gas,” said study leader Trevor Douglas.

Dogs may be transmitting Guinea worm to humans in Chad: The painful Guinea worm infection occurs when the worms grow and reproduce within the human intestine and then migrate to the legs, where the sometimes almost 3-foot-long parasites take months to exit the skin. The infection was close to being eradicated in Chad, one of just four countries with cases last year, but hundreds of cases were noted in dogs there. Researchers are working with ferrets to find out how the parasite interacts with nonhuman hosts, and health officials in Chad are implementing prevention strategies, such as tethering dogs and burying potentially contaminated fish entrails.

Parasitic wasp larvae manipulate host to crave carbs: Parasitic wasp Cotesia nr. phobetri causes its host, the Grammia incorrupta caterpillar, to chow down on a carbohydrate-heavy diet, according to a new study. The wasps put their eggs into the caterpillars, and the larvae cause the caterpillars, which normally eat equal parts carbs and protein, to crave higher amounts of the carbs, which better serves the parasites and compromises the immune response of the host.

Planet with long period found circling Kepler-56, scientists say: A third planet appears to be orbiting the star Kepler-56, according to findings reported at the American Astronomical Society meeting. The planet, observed using radial velocity data gathered by the Kepler Space Telescope, has almost six times the mass of Jupiter and a period of approximately three Earth years.

Eta Carinae binary star is rare, but not unique, astronomers say: The massive Eta Carinae binary star isn’t the only one of its kind, according to findings presented at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society. Scientists have found five so-called twins to the giant binary star using archived images from the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. “Eta Carinae is not unique … It happens in nature. However, it’s very, very rare. This is the first time we can quantitatively say just how rare Eta Carinae is,” said NASA’s Rubab Khan.

Sense of smell important for sharks to navigate, study suggests: Sharks may navigate the ocean by using their sense of smell, a new study published in PLOS ONE suggests. Scientists followed wild leopard sharks, some of which had their noses blocked, after relocating them some distance from their favorite habitat, and noted how the ones with blocked noses seemed lost while the unblocked sharks headed straight back to their stomping grounds. Researchers acknowledge that sharks use many cues to navigate, but they say their work shows how smell plays a significant role.

Crows gather around dead comrades to learn about threats, study finds: Crows notice and react whenever they see a dead crow, assessing the potential danger to themselves and scolding any humans or possible predators nearby, a new study suggests. Researchers say the birds’ interactions with their dead comrades help them “to assess danger and trigger anti-predator behaviors,” the study published in Animal Behavior reads. Scientists noted the birds had an indifferent response when the corpse was a bird other than a crow.

Science weighs in on North Korea’s hydrogen bomb test: Science can tell us many things about North Korea’s claim that it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb. Experts can say that the earthquake that occurred in the area around the time of the explosion was not a natural quake, that the blast seemed to be nuclear and originated from the nation’s nuclear testing site. Experts also say that the test was likely not successful, but that they can’t rule out that it was a hydrogen bomb.

Malaria drug shows promise as Ebola treatment; survivors’ blood doesn’t: A malaria drug has shown promise in treating the Ebola virus, lowering a patient’s risk of dying by one third, according to a new study. A separate study has found, however, that treating Ebola with the blood of survivors is not likely to improve a patient’s survival chances. “After two years of the largest Ebola epidemic, and despite several promising therapeutic candidates, we still lack good evidence that any of these drugs work,” said Dr. Iza Ciglenecki, an author of the malaria drug study.

Gout tied to greater risk of atrial fibrillation, study finds: UK research found gout was associated with greater risk of atrial fibrillation, according to a study in the journal Rheumatology. Researchers said the association could be related to hyperuricemia because evidence suggests uric acid may help in the atrial remodeling process that increases the risk of atrial fibrillation.

Ancient grooves may be evidence of dinosaur mating rituals: Four sites found in Colorado exhibit fossilized grooves that may have been made by dinosaurs doing a bird-like mating dance more than 100 million years ago, according to findings published in Scientific Reports. Scientists say the gouges could have been made by theropods performing a mating ritual common to modern birds. “These are the first sites with evidence of dinosaur mating display rituals ever discovered, and the first physical evidence of courtship behavior,” said Martin Lockley, a co-author of the study.

Researchers find H. pylori in Otzi the Iceman’s gut: The bacterium Helicobacter pylori has been found in the gut of Otzi the Iceman, the 5,300-year-old mummy found in the Alps 25 years ago, giving researchers more clues about the microbe’s long history with humans. Scientists analyzed the mummy’s stomach DNA in search of that particular microbe. “It’s a really huge amount of data, in our case it was originally hundreds of gigabytes. We had to separate the Helicobacter bacteria from other bacteria, and this was like searching for a needle in a haystack,” said Thomas Rattei, author of the study published in Science.

Neanderthals linked to allergies in humans, studies suggest: Neanderthals may have passed genetic variants on to humans that make them susceptible to environmental allergies, but interbreeding with humans also may have helped humans adapt as they began to settle in Europe, a pair of new studies in the American Journal of Human Genetics suggest. “Interbreeding with archaic humans does indeed have functional implications for modern humans … the most obvious consequences have been in shaping our adaptation to our environment — improving how we resist pathogens and metabolize novel foods,” said Janet Kelso, an author of one of the studies.

Excess water causes mold to grow on space station plants: Mold has killed or sickened four zinnia plants aboard the International Space Station, NASA says. It’s believed that excessive water caused the mold, which has been bagged and frozen so it can be returned to Earth and studied later. Three healthy plants are left in the experiment that’s now being tended to by astronaut Scott Kelly.

Microbial seed coatings show promise in crop production experiments: Scientists with agricultural firms Novozymes and Monsanto’s BioAg Alliance have coated seeds with microbes and planted them to see if it would help the crops grow bigger and stronger. Five out of 2,000 microbial coatings used on the seeds produced promising results, with corn harvests increased by four to five bushels an acre and soy harvests boosted by 1.5 bushels an acre, researchers said. Findings were released this week.

Roman sanitation system may have hurt, rather than helped, public health: Roman sanitation systems may not have been as effective for public health as once believed, a new study suggests. Researchers looking at fossilized feces found an increased incidence of intestinal parasites after the Romans came into the area. The findings were published online in the American Journal of Parasitology.

Insulin-producing cells developed from skin cells: Scientists with the Gladstone Institutes and the University of California at San Francisco have developed insulin-producing cells from human skin cells, bypassing a pluripotent state. The research was supported by groups including the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Ice flow visible in new images of Pluto: An ice flow on Pluto can be seen in new high-resolution images released by NASA. The images are a composite of photos taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager and the Ralph Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera during the New Horizons spacecraft’s close encounter with the dwarf planet on July 14. The latest images are so detailed they show the direction of the ice flow and patterns of terrain that indicate areas of thermal convection.

Retooled Kepler mission finds more than 100 new planets: The revamped Kepler mission has confirmed more than 100 new planets so far, according to data presented at the American Astronomical Society conference last week. The mission has also identified more than 200 potential planets that are yet to be confirmed. “It’s probing different types of planets [than the original Kepler mission]. We’re focusing on stars that are much brighter, stars that are nearer by, stars that are more easy to understand and observe from the Earth. The idea here is to find the best systems, the most interesting systems,” said NASA’s Tom Barclay.

Hydrogen reaches new state under extreme pressure, study suggests: A new state of hydrogen has been created by putting the element under extreme pressures, according to a study published in Nature. Researchers created phase V hydrogen by placing a small quantity of the element under 384 gigapascals, or about 55.6 million pounds per square inch, of pressure. “This paper does not claim a metallic state, but claims that it is a precursor to the metallic state due to similarities between what we see experimentally and what is predicted theoretically for solid metallic hydrogen,” said Ross Howie, a study author.

Wreckage found off Alaskan coast may be from 1871 whaling ship disaster: What appears to be the wreckage of two whaling ships lost in the 1871 disaster that trapped 33 vessels in ice off Alaska’s coast has been found, thanks to a combination of new technology and ice shrinkage caused by climate changes. Researchers with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries’ Maritime Heritage Program detected the magnetic signatures of the two shipwrecks by using the latest sonar and underwater sensing devices. Scientists haven’t definitively confirmed that the wreckage is from the 1871 disaster, but they say there is a lot of evidence to support the conclusion.

Researchers find fossils of giant ocean-dwelling crocodile: The fossilized remains of what appears to be the largest crocodile that ever lived in the sea have been found in the desert of Tunisia, according to findings published in Cretaceous Research. Though not quite as large as the biggest freshwater crocodile ever found, Machimosaurus rex was more than 30 feet, or 9 meters, long and weighed about three tons, or about 2.7 metric tons. The fossils, which included a skull and other bones, were found in rock that dated back 120 million years.

Researchers learn about mantises’ brains by giving them tiny 3D glasses: Researchers made tiny 3D glasses for praying mantises and showed them movies depicting prey to learn more about how the insect’s minuscule brain works. Scientists say learning more about how the mantises’ brains make sophisticated depth calculations could help researchers create better algorithms for computer 3D depth perception. “Of course all of this data and observations is to understand how their brains work — and then how our own brains work — and then map this technology for robotics,” said Ghaith Tarawneh, an author of the study published in Scientific Reports.

Number of bacteria roughly equals amount of cells in human man, study suggests: An average human man has about the same number of bacteria as cells, according to new calculations. Earlier research suggested that bacteria outnumbered cells by a 10-to-1 or higher ratio.

Researchers develop technique to convert stem cells into primary cell types: Researchers with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said they were able to generate all of the three primary cell types from human induced pluripotent stem cells, making it possible to produce human tissues that can be used for patient transplant or drug testing. Researchers developed the technique while examining whether stem cells can be used in the production of pancreatic beta cells intended for patients with diabetes.

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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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