Recent Interesting Science Articles (December 2016)

Pulling the trigger on this one a little earlier than usual to square things with my posting schedule.

  • The most headline grabbing announcement of the month is the news that more than 20 years after Jurassic Park, scientists have found a dinosaur tail preserved in amber. The incredible thing about this find that was made in Myanmar is that the tail is feathered and the features show up in wonderful detail, making it a powerful demonstration that dinosaurs really are feathered animals and not the scaly reptiles as envisioned in the film. Analysis indicates that this early form of feather isn’t well adapted for flight and so must have served some other function, regulating body temperature for example, so it’s also a good example of how features that evolved to serve some purpose went on to become adapted for another purpose.
  • Biology is probably the theme of this post as the next entry is about elephants. One of the key differences between African and Asian elephants is that all male and female African elephant usually have tusks while only some male Asian elephants have tusks while some female ones have short tusks known as tushes. This article talks about how ivory poaching have caused an increasing number of African elephants to be born tuskless, a clear case of natural selection in action. In one national park, high levels of poaching have even caused 98 percent of female elephants to be born tuskless.
  • Next up are horses. No new science here, just a bit of news about how Adolfo Cambioso, apparently the world’s best polo player, used a team of six horses in a high-profile event, all of which were clones of the same mare. I find it sobering how this passes without notice these days indicating that this is now a mature and commonly used technique.
  • Still on the subject of animals, this article talks about how a Chinese team fed silkworms mulberry leaves that have been sprayed with a solution containing graphene. The silkworms then went on to produce silk that is twice as tough as normal silk. This seems a bit too easy. How could the researchers be sure that the graphene would be incorporated in silk? But it sure is cool if it’s true.
  • Finally, here’s one that’s at least potentially about humans. It talks about disturbing your circadian rhythms can be a cause for liver cancer. The mechanics in mice stems from the fact that disrupted day-night cycles cause the animals to overproduce bile acid. Over time, this damages the liver and leads to cancer. They’re only guessing that the same applies to people and accordingly advise to follow a regular sleeping schedule.

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