Tag Archives: research

Paleontologist discovers tiny terrifying dinosaur – beak of a parrot, fangs of a vampire

Dr. Paul C. Sereno, a paleontologist at University of Chicago has discovered a new dinosaur, from The Register:

A two-foot long dinosaur with the beak of a parrot, teeth of a vampire and covered in some sort of bristly quill stuff…the Pegomastax africanus scampered around the earth 200 million years ago.

Called Pego, and judging by the illustration, the beast was terrifying with fangs in its beak and sharp quills down it’s back. But it would have weighed less than a house cat and was a herbivore – speculation is that the fangs were for fighting during mating competitions.

The fossil was surprisingly well preserved in volcano ash, allowing Dr. Sereno to study the bristles in addition to the bones. And the reason for this discovery is the Doctor finally pulled the fossil out of his desk drawer. It had been sitting there for 50 years collecting dust. Now, he is moving on to the second drawer.

Scientists discover 2 million new plankton species – on a 2.5 year ocean voyage

A team of scientists spent 2.5 years traveling the oceans, over 70,000 miles, and came back with a startling discovery. There was once thought to be 30,000 species of plankton but they discovered more than 2 million species. The diversity, and strangeness, is astounding. One species combines together to form a chain 40 meters long while another forms symbiotic colonies, living within each other.

Watch the BBC story:

 

Learn more about the Tara Expédition by visiting their website, listening to PRI’s interview, or following them on Facebook.

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Scientists set out to study Earth’s most forbidding – and Mars-like – locations

If we want to find life on Mars it might help to study the most forbidding places on Earth. And it turns out there are four places so inhospitable – too cold, dry, hot or salty – that match the conditions on Mars. A team of scientists visited these sites to see if life can survive.

The four places are:

  • Chott-el Jerid, a salt pan in Tunisia
  • Atacama desert in Chile
  • Rio Tinto in Southern Spain
  • Deception Island in Antarctica
Deception Island in Antarctica. (source: Astrobiology)

 

From AstroBiology:

“The big questions are: what is life, how can we define it and what are the requirements for supporting life? To understand the results we receive back from missions like Curiosity, we need to have detailed knowledge of similar environments on Earth. In the field campaigns, we have studied ecosystems…found a range of complex chemical processes that allow life to survive in unexpected places.”

The results are helping to guide NASA’s mission to Mars with the rover Curiosity. Hinting at places where life might be found, how cloud cover can help create moisture, and showing that bacteria can survive just below the surface.

More about this research and the results from each site – from AstroBiology Magazine - Mars-Like Places on Earth Provide Insight to Life.

New papryus shows Jesus had a wife, female minister – and it’s been proven authentic

A Harvard researcher, Karen King, has a tiny piece of papyrus – no bigger than a credit card – that is sure to shock the Christian world. It is barely readable and only fragments of sentences are available, but like a politicians gaffe on CNN, it is enough to draw attention. Jesus says “my wife” and, from Smithsonian:

The “wife” Jesus refers to is probably Mary Magdalene, and Jesus appears to be defending her against someone, perhaps one of the male disciples.

“She will be able to be my disciple,” Jesus replies. Then, two lines later, he says: “I dwell with her.”

Wow, so Jesus was married and living with his wife and had plans to make her a minister. How’s that for upsetting the balance – Catholics and celibacy, all Christians and female preachers – and the inevitable Dan Brown, Da Vinci Code, references.

Did he get it right?

It’s possible, but the papyrus was written a century or so after Jesus’ crucifixion and could be as much fiction as Dan Brown’s novel. But the age and authenticity of the text has been verified and so this story is ready to explode into the Christian mind.

As long as it isn’t proved to be a fake…

The Smithsonian has the inside story on this controversial text.

 

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Child obesity and soda – science says it’s a problem, soda companies say it’s not

Here is the perfect example of the obesity debate in America. Last Friday, the New England Journal of Medicine published the following:

The increase in consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages among both adults and children in the United States and other countries is considered a potential contributor to the obesity pandemic. Sugar intake from sugar-sweetened beverages alone, which are the largest single caloric food source in the United States, approaches 15% of the daily caloric intake in several population groups. Adolescent boys in the United States consume an average of 357 kcal of the beverages per day. Sugar-sweetened beverages are marketed extensively to children and adolescents, and large increases in consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages have occurred among black and Mexican-American youth

Which prompted a response from the American Beverage Association (ABA):

The fact remains:  sugar-sweetened beverages are not driving obesity.  By every measure, sugar-sweetened beverages play a small and declining role in the American diet:

  • While Americans consume about 617 more calories today than they did in 1970, more than 90 percent of those incremental calories come from sources other than beverages.
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages contribute about 7 percent of the calories in the average American’s diet.
  • Caloric intake from sugar-sweetened beverages declined by more than 20 percent between 2001 and 2010, yet obesity rates continued to rise.

And the most interesting part is the disputed fact – is soda 7% or 15% of the American diet? The answer – it depends. The Journal said 15% in “several population groups” and hinted at children, minorities, and adolescent boys as those groups. While the AMA did not give details and so we can only assume 7% is for all population groups.

This type of confusing disagreement is common in the food industry. One obvious statement is blurred by a logical response, and the argument that wins isn’t the science – it’s the commercials on TV and packaging on food.

The best thing we can do is become more educated eaters and support scientific studies that can explain the truth. In the end, this may be like the smoking and cancer debate of the 1980s – where multiple attempts were made to confuse the public, but in the end the truth came out.

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You can read the full piece in the New England Journal of Medicine or a summary at Time.com - and here is the ABA Press Release.

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Scientists discover the motion of sperm cells using 3-D technology

If nature finds the best way, then move in a spiral pattern to get there the quickest, from the UCLA Newsroom:

The team developed a lensless computational imaging platform that accurately tracked more than 24,000 individual sperm cells in a large volume. This involved observing the individual rotations of each sperm cell, including helical movement patterns, rotation speed, and linear and curved distances traveled.

90% of them move in a right-handed spiral – damn I’m left-handed – and they move fast for microscopic entities, 20-100 micrometers/second.

That’s a big difference in speed…one sperm cell could be 5x faster than his brother.

 

Image demonstrating three-dimensional motion of human sperm cells. (source: UCLA)

Research: cheaper food means less nutrients

A few weeks ago, I shared a study that found nutrients in the U.S. food supply are declining. Which could explain why millions of Americans, who prefer to be thin, are overeating to get more nutrients.

Another study found that industrial farming techniques – including the use of petroleum-based fertilizer – reduces nutrient levels in food, while dramatically increasing yields. This means we have abundant cheap food with lowered nutrient levels:

This article summarizes three kinds of evidence pointing toward declines during the last 50 to 100 years in the concentration of some nutrients in vegetables and perhaps also in fruits. It has been noted since the 1940s that yield increases produced by fertilization, irrigation, and other environmental means tend to decrease the concentrations of minerals in plants.

Jarrell and Beverly (1981) reviewed the evidence for this well-known “dilution effect.” Although their review has been cited over 180 times (60 times from 2000 on), few mentions of the dilution effect contain a reference, suggesting that the effect is widely regarded as common knowledge.

Common among scientists perhaps, but the public is unaware. When I share this among friends and readers there is a strong disbelief, with the most common response being - food is cheaper. Yes it is, because it has been hollowed out like a pumpkin and there’s nothing left on the inside.

And that makes it a struggle to get the message out. How do I explain the dilution effect to a public obsessed with everything but this – from diet programs to food labels to coupon cutting that encourages cheaper food?

 

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Biomimicry at the zoo – San Diego Zoo creates a Centre for Bioinspiration

Science look to nature for innovation, via BBC News:

San Diego Zoo in California has opened a Centre for Bioinspiration, which aims to take ideas from nature to see if they can be applied to solve human issues.

The concept is known as biomimicry.

 

Examples of biomimicry, from Xconomy:

Mirasol display technology…generates colors…by mimicking the interference of reflected light by microscopic scales on the iridescent surface of the morpho butterfly’s wings.

—San Diego’s Biomatrica has developed DNA and RNA preservation technology based on anhydrobiosis, a dehydration process that occurs in nature with brine shrimp and other organisms.

 

Fascinating stuff. More examples can be found at San Diego Zoo’s – Biomimicry in Action.

 

// Image - Biomimicry in Action

Ecology goes Big Data – 15,000 sensors to measure everything in the soil

This project, called NEON, should revolutionize the study of ecology, and with it global warming.

The Economist – NEON light

Once this network is completed, in 2016 if all goes well, 15,000 sensors will be collecting more than 500 types of data, including temperature, precipitation, air pressure, wind speed and direction, humidity, sunshine, levels of air pollutants such as ozone, the amount of various nutrients in soils and streams, and the state of an area’s vegetation and microbes.

 

I just can’t believe they were able to get $400+ million in funding for this project.

 

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Get ready for the Maser-Beam, older than a laser and more powerful

Move Over Lasers, It’s Maser Time

No, masers are not just a word that we came up with just now. They’ve actually been around since the 1950s, before lasers were invented. The problem is that they’ve always been impractical–that is, until the team of researchers came up with a device that could let masers over take lasers in the coolness race.

They have yet to determine what the maser can do, but like the laser the discoveries only happen when you shoot stuff.

The expectation is that the more precise maser can shoot through clouds (lasers can’t), detect extra-terrestrials, and turn into a surgical tool that can exactly attack a tumor.

From the August cover of Nature magazine:

The maser is the microwave-frequency precursor of the now ubiquitous laser. But it has had little technological impact compared with the laser, in large part because of inconvenience: masers typically require vacuum and/or low-temperature operating conditions.

Some researchers think they’ve solved that problem and have published a paper in Nature magazine, Room-temperature solid-state maser.

 

The preceding link gives the abstract. For more details read-on at:

 

 

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