[Photo: Opah, a warm-blooded fish, by NOAA Fisheries West Coast]
Happy Tuesday, Aledan Merfolk! We’re back to our normal weekly science news post, and there’s some really good stuff in here (seriously, check out the Lisa Frank Crayfish – it’s beautiful!).
Domestication changes genes in animals: Domestication results in genetic changes within animals, according to findings presented at the May 6 conference of the Biology of Genomes. In a DNA study, researchers found that genetic changes were present in 1,880 genes in domesticated Norway rats and in 525 genes in American minks. Scientists also studied domesticated and wild dogs, cats, pigs and rabbits and had similar results.
Each person has identifying set of microbes, study finds: Much like fingerprints or DNA, each individual has a unique set microbes that can be used for identification. “Each of us personally has a specific set of bugs that are an extension of us, just the same way that our own genome is a part of what defines us,” said biostatistician Curtis Huttenhower, co-author of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The findings may one day have applications in criminal investigations.
Latest Dawn images offer more detail about Ceres’ bright spots: The latest photos taken of Ceres by the Dawn spacecraft have given researchers the best view yet of the dwarf planet’s mysterious bright spots. What was originally thought to be two bright features in one place has turned out to be a series of many dots. “Dawn scientists can now conclude that the intense brightness of these spots is due to the reflection of sunlight by highly reflective material on the surface, possibly ice,” said principal investigator Chris Russell.
Researchers develop chicken embryos to grow dinosaur snouts instead of beaks: By blocking a pair of proteins responsible for beak formation, researchers have caused dinosaur-like snouts to develop in chicken embryos instead, according to a study published in Evolution. Researchers were surprised when there were dinosaur-like changes to the birds’ palates as well. “This was unexpected and demonstrates the way in which a single, simple developmental mechanism can have wide-ranging and unexpected effects,” said lead author Bhart-Anjan Bhullar.
Gut bacteria may play role in fossilization of soft tissue structures: Why some fossilized creatures are better preserved than others might have to do with its gut bacteria, a study published online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B found. Looking at how microbes break down dead brine shrimp, scientists have learned that, under the right conditions, a biofilm forms on the surface of soft tissue and preserves the shape of the structure long after bacteria consume the soft tissue.
Gene activity factors into seasonal health changes, study suggests: Gene activity changes with the seasons, affecting a person’s immunity to illness and disease, a study has found. Gene activity spurs inflammation in the winter, revving up symptoms for related conditions, researchers say. “Given that our immune systems appear to put us at greater risk of disease related to excessive inflammation in colder, darker months, and given the benefits we already understand from vitamin D, it is perhaps understandable that people want to head off for some ‘winter sun’ to improve their health and well-being,” said John Todd, co-author of the study published in Nature Communications.
Cracks on Europa’s surface may be from underground ocean saltwater: The dark cracks visible on the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa may be caused by irradiated salt seeping up from its underground ocean, researchers say. “That would be a simple and elegant solution for what the dark, mysterious material is,” said NASA scientist Kevin Hand, co-author of a study scheduled for publication in Geophysical Research Letters. Researchers simulated Europa’s chilly conditions in a vacuum chamber, testing various mixtures and subjecting them to blasts of radiation similar to those on Europa.
Laser cannons may be one way to clean up space: Japanese researchers have hatched a plan to mount a full-sized laser cannon on an orbital telescope as a means to zap trash left over from launches and defunct satellites. The technology could help clean up the 3,000 tons of junk orbiting the Earth, but is also likely to spark concerns. “Everyone is afraid you are going to weaponize space,” orbital-debris expert Don Kessler says.
New Horizons snaps image of Pluto with all 5 of its moons: A series of images taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft shows Pluto and its five known moons for the first time. “Detecting these tiny moons from a distance of more than 55 million miles [88.5 million kilometers] is amazing, and a credit to the team that built our LORRI long-range camera,” said Alan Stern, principal investigator. New Horizons recorded the images of Pluto with Charon, Hydra, Nix, Kerberos and Styx between April 25 and May 1.
Fish oil supplements improve nerve damage in mice, study finds: A mouse-model study by researchers at the Iowa City, Iowa, VA Health Care System found that fish oil supplements were able to reverse some nerve damage caused by diabetes. “Our intent is to do more animal studies to demonstrate that fish oil can reverse the harmful effects of diabetes on nerves even after a long period of poorly controlled diabetes. After completion of this work, we hope to begin studies with diabetic patients with neuropathy,” said lead investigator Mark Yorek.
Rare particle decay seen in Large Hadron Collider: Using the Large Hadron Collider, two teams of scientists at CERN joined forces to observe the extremely rare decay of a strange B meson particle into a pair of muons after 30 years of searching, according to a study published in Nature. The decay was predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics, which somewhat shakes up theories about “new physics,” such as super symmetry, which are indirectly proven when the Standard Model fails. “We are very glad to observe the decay, but it’s still maddening. Nature is not helping us here,” said particle physicist Marc-Olivier Bettler.
Galaxy deaths caused by strangulation, study suggests: Galaxies are strangled to death when the supply of gas needed to form stars is choked off, according to a study published in Nature. Researchers looked at more than 26,000 galaxies to determine how so many had died, finding that higher quantities of metals existed in dead galaxies than in living ones, which is consistent with the strangulation theory. “This is the first conclusive evidence that galaxies are being strangled to death,” said astronomer Yingjie Peng, lead author of the study.
Colorful crayfish found in New Guinea a new species: A brightly colored crayfish found in a creek in New Guinea is a new species, according to research published in ZooKeys. Cherax pulcher has long been a staple in the aquarium business, and suppliers closely guarded where they got the colorful creatures, but that didn’t stop one independent researcher from tracking down its origins. Now that it has been identified, scientists are concerned about preserving its small habitat.
Ants use their powerful jaws to fling themselves away from predators: Trap-jaw ants can use their powerful jaws to fling themselves away from predators, according to a study published online in PLOS ONE. Researchers set up several antlions in individual cups of sand, allowing them to set up pits, then dropped the ants in. The ants would snap their jaws to spring out of the pit about 14% of the time.
Second-highest bee die-off numbers recorded: Almost half of the bee colonies managed in the U.S. over the last year have died out, the second largest number ever recorded, according to the Bee Informed Partnership. Beekeepers say 42.1% of colonies have been lost, with the highest die-offs recorded in Oklahoma and the lowest in Hawaii.
Newly discovered dinosaur had a keen nose for prey: A recently discovered dinosaur had a sharp sense of smell that made it a powerful predator during the Late Cretaceous period, according to a study. Saurornitholestes sullivani, whose fossil remains were found in New Mexico, was a member of the dromaeosauridae group of feathered carnivores and it sported a large olfactory bulb. “This keen olfaction may have made S. sullivani an intimidating predator. Although it was not large, this was not a dinosaur you would want to mess with,” said study author Steven Jasinski.
Long-term depression could raise risk of stroke, study suggests: People with a long history of depression may also have a higher risk for stroke, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. People aged 50 and older who exhibited depression symptoms for two years or more were twice as likely to experience a stroke within two years than similarly aged people who showed no depression symptoms, the study found. “The exact pathway through which depressive symptoms may lead to stroke remains unclear, and is an important area for future research,” said Paola Gilsanz, author of the study.
NOAA identifies first-ever warm-blooded fish: Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have discovered that the predatory deepwater opah is a warm-blooded fish. The opah circulates warm blood throughout its body thanks to a set of blood vessels in its gills, and that keeps it moving swiftly while other predatory fish in its habitat, the darkest and coldest parts of the deep ocean, move languidly. “I think that it’s really exciting that we spend so much time studying especially these larger fish to find something that’s completely unique and has never been seen before in any fish,” said NOAA researcher Heidi Dewar, an author of the study published in Science.
Astronomers spot extremely rare set of 4 quasars: Astronomers have spotted an extremely rare grouping of four quasars within about 650,000 light-years of space, according to research published in Science. “The odds against finding four so close together are 10 million to one,” said lead author Joseph Hennawi. The rare quartet exists in an unusually bright nebula that has scientists scratching their heads as well.
Fermi telescope data may explain missing antimatter mystery: The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope may have detected gamma rays that could offer some clues about a magnetic field that came to be just after the Big Bang that could indicate why matter outnumbers antimatter in the universe, according to research in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. “We think the most likely candidate for why this is happening is the magnetic field. And then, if it is the magnetic field, then it seems most likely to me it’s going to be this matter-antimatter asymmetry,” said researcher Tanmay Vachaspati.
Similar experiences motivate rats to help their struggling brethren: Rats work to rescue their comrades in peril, and do so even faster if they’ve experienced the same threat themselves, a study suggests. When researchers put rats into chambers connected to another enclosure with a rat struggling in a pool of water, the dry rat would aid the other by helping it through an opening, and it would do it even faster if it had been in a similar situation. “This suggests that knowing that soaking is distressing enhances the rats’ motivation to help their cage mate. We think this comes from empathy,” said Nobuya Sato, an author of the study published in Animal Cognition.
10,000-year-old Antarctic ice shelf may break up by end of decade: What’s left of the 10,000-year-old Larsen B Ice Shelf in Antarctica will likely be nothing but hundreds of icebergs by 2020, according to NASA scientists. “Although it’s fascinating scientifically to have a front-row seat to watch the ice shelf becoming unstable and breaking up, it’s bad news for our planet. This ice shelf has existed for at least 10,000 years, and soon it will be gone,” said NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Ala Khazendar. The findings were published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.
Remains of ancient temple uncovered in Egypt: The ruins of an ancient temple have been rediscovered at Gebel el Silsila in Egypt, according to the Ministry of Antiquities. Researchers say the site dates back to the reign of Thutmosis/Hatshepsut, through Amenhotep III and Ramses II to Roman rule, but they haven’t discovered which deity it served. The temple’s existence was first uncovered sometime between 1906 and 1925, and archaeologists used a map from 1934 to help lead them to the site now.
Wreck off Panama identified as Spanish ship that sank in 1681: A mysterious shipwreck off the coast of Panama in the Caribbean has finally been identified, three years after its discovery. The colonial Spanish ship Nuestra Senora de Encarnacion fell victim of a storm in 1681 and came to rest at the mouth of the Chagres River, where archaeologists discovered it three years ago with much of its hull preserved. Encarnacion was a merchant ship known as a nao and was carrying sword blades, scissors and mule shoes, among other things.
Viking age may have started much earlier with trade, researchers say: The Viking age may have begun much earlier and more peacefully than previously thought, according to a study published in the European Journal of Archaeology. Researchers have linked the Vikings with the trade of combs made from reindeer antlers sold to merchants in the Scandinavian city of Ribe around 725, well ahead of the Vikings’ first raid near England in 793. “Now for the first time, we can confidently say that people in the more remote parts of Scandinavia were visiting places like Ribe, presumably for commercial gain, from a very early stage,” said Steve Ashby, the study’s lead author.
Strong friendships key in hyena clans, study suggests: Strong, lasting friendships are at the core of spotted hyenas’ sophisticated social structure, a study published in Ecology Letters has found. Researchers pored over 20 years’ worth of observations of spotted hyenas’ social interactions at the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, looking at the tight bonds formed between individuals. The scientists call these friendships “cohesive clusters.”
Salmon journeys recorded in bonelike structures in their ears, study finds: A bonelike structure made of calcium carbonate found in the inner ear canals of salmon is giving researchers information about all the places the fish have been. Otoliths grow along with the salmon and absorb elements from whatever waters it swims in, offering lots of information, including how old the fish is. “This is an underutilized tool. If you invest the time and energy to build a robust map, this is a good way to actually get at some of the fundamental questions about the movement patterns of salmon,” said Sean Brennan, author of the study published in Science Advances.
Deadly White-nose Syndrome in bats may be stopped by common bacterium: The common bacterium Rhodococcus rhodochrous may help bats with White-nose Syndrome. The bacterium can be found in almost all soil in North America, and when grown on cobalt, it produces volatile organic compounds that halt the growth of the fungus that’s been killing bats for years. “The amazing part about this is that these compounds diffuse through the air and act at very low concentrations, so the bats are treated by exposing them to air containing the VOCs (the compounds do not need to be ‘directly’ applied to the bats),” the U.S. Forest Service said.
Scientists waiting for globular cluster “Firecracker” to pop with new stars: Astronomers are watching a globular cluster called the Firecracker, one of the youngest of these ancient space objects. “This remarkable object looks like it was plucked straight out of the early universe. To discover something that has all the characteristics of a globular cluster, yet has not begun making stars, is like finding a dinosaur egg that’s about to hatch,” said Kelsey Johnson, lead author of the study accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.
Study finds link between migraines, carpal tunnel syndrome: People with carpal tunnel syndrome are twice as likely to have migraine headaches than people without CTS, according to a study published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. “Based on the findings of this study and prior studies, it may be worthwhile in patients with migraine to perform an examination for peripheral nerve compression in the head and neck,” the researchers wrote.
If you want to receive the same daily science emails I do, you can sign up for the Sigma Xi SmartBrief here.