Scanning electron micrograph images of the nut (A,B)
and screw (C, D) in the leg joint of a Papuan weevil
What’s the News: Biologists spend lots of time poring over nature’s nuts and bolts. Now, for the first time, they’ve found a biological screw and nut—previously thought to be an exclusively human invention. The legs of beetles called Papuan weevils, researchers report today in Science, have a joint that screws together much like something you’d find in the hardware store.
What’s the News: A few years ago scientists learned that American crows can recognize and remember human faces, particularly faces they associate with bad experiences. Now, new research published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B shows that the birds can share that knowledge of dangerous humans with other crows.
What’s the News: To much fanfare, Google has released a preview version of Google+, their long-anticipated move into the social-networking space dominated in the U.S. by Facebook, whose meteoric growth challenges Google’s dominance over the Web itself. The new service lets users send messages and pictures to each other, like Facebook, but puts more emphasis on grouping and communicating with different groups of people, as with email or in meatspace (i.e., the real world).
The two consensus early reactions (from the small group of people who have access) are that the service is mostly smooth and functional, a welcome change after Google’s social flops Buzz and Wave; and that it sure looks a heck of a lot like Facebook. Will that be enough to challenge Facebook, whose enormous base of users have uploaded much of their lives to one social network and may not want to invest time in another?
What’s the News: Due to a vicious disease, the population of the endangered Tasmanian devil has decreased by at least 70 percent since 1996. The cancer, devil facial tumor disease, spreads when an infected devil bites another, typically during feeding or mating. Because Tasmanian devils are so genetically similar, their bodies don’t recognize the intruding cancer cells as foreign.
But now, researchers have sequenced the genome of two devils and created a genetic test that could help breeders select genetically diverse mates. The test will help conservationists breed future generations of Tasmanian devils that are prepared for the cancer, as well as other types of diseases.
What’s the News: In high school physics classes, students are often taught that static electricity develops when electrons detach from the surface of one object and jump to another, causing a difference in charge. Since opposite charges attract, the two objects are drawn to one another (like your hair to a balloon). But new research published in the journal Science shows that static electricity is caused by more than just the exchange of individual electrons, and instead involves the transfer of bigger (yet still tiny) clumps of material.
What’s the News: When personal genotyping service 23andMe was founded in 2006, most people were understandably focused on the benefits and the dangers of knowing your chances of getting an incurable disease. But a major part of the company’s business plan was eventually leveraging their users’ information to explore the genetic basis of disease.
With more than 100,000 people now in their database, 23andMe has been turning that into a reality. They’ve just published their first paper focusing on the origins of disease, pinpointing two new areas of the genome involved in Parkinson’s.
What’s the News: Hemophilia is perhaps best known as a disease of nineteenth-century royalty (specifically, of the oft-intermarried Hapsburgs), but it has evaded our efforts at a cure for thousands of years. And its effects are gruesome: mutations in the gene for a crucial clotting factor mean that victims can rapidly bleed to death from even small cuts.
Now, researchers working with hemophiliac mice have demonstrated a simple and apparently safe technique to swap in a functioning gene, giving hope for a future respite for sufferers of the disease.
What’s the News: The more we study other species, the more we learn just how well we fit into the animal kingdom. Recently, scientists described how some parrots share our ability to use logical reasoning, and now a new study is showing that our syntactical language may not be all that unique either. The research, published recently in the journal Nature Neuroscience, explains that the society finches (Lonchura striata domestica) sing according to an acquired set of grammatical rules. Scientists previously thought that language syntax only existed in humans and some whales.
What’s the News: Dinosaur metabolism is one of the biggest mysteries in paleontology. Ever since the giant creatures were first unearthed, scientists have been wondering whether dinosaurs drew their heat from the environment, like the cold-blooded modern reptiles they resemble, or whether they generated heat themselves, like warm-blooded mammals.
Using a geoscience technique to see at what temperature dinosaur tooth enamel formed, scientists have found that at least two large dinosaurs, Brachiosaurus and Camarasaurus, had body temperatures similar to our own. While this study on its own doesn’t explain where the heat came from, it does add to paleontologists’ toolboxes a new, reliable way to probe temperature, which will lead to better inputs into the computational models that may eventually answer the question of whether dinosaurs were warm- or cold-blooded.
What’s the News: Starting in September 2012, the FDA will require every pack of cigarettes sold in the US to be emblazoned with a large, text-and-image health warning, similar to the labels already seen in Canada, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and several other countries. The FDA unveiled the nine label designs earlier this week; several are quite graphic, including photos of cancerous lungs and lips and a man exhaling smoke through his tracheotomy hole.
These graphic images, however, may not be an effective way to get smokers to quit, or deter new smokers from starting. Several neuroscience and psychology studies show that these fear tactics have little effect—and may at times do more harm than good.