All of the interesting stuff this month are in biology and medicine. This has been the trend for a few months now I guess.
- The first link goes to a series of photos that I won’t reproduce here so you’ll just have to click that. It’s about the discovery of a petrified dinosaur fossil of a type of ankylosaur. The reason this is so amazing is that instead of pieces of bones or teeth, this particular specimen includes a substantial portion of its armor so that for the first time scientists don’t have to infer what the exterior of the dinosaur looked like from its bone structure but can just see it for themselves. The photos are truly breathtaking.
- Next we have a discovery that has the potential to rewrite all the textbooks about the origin of humans but is probably misguided. For a long time now, the consensus that our species originated in Africa but a group of scientists now claim that the discovery of two fossils of an ape-like creature in Bulgaria and Greece is evidence that our ancestors appeared in Europe instead. They date the fossils as some 7.2 million years old, older than oldest evidence of African hominids. Still, others are skeptical as consensus is fairly solid and claim instead that these fossils are those of some other ape-species who are not the ancestors of humanity. You can read some of those arguments here.
- Then we have this article about how insect populations all over the world seem to be dropping propitiously. This is based on automatic sensors of various kinds at various sites. In Germany for example, one group reported that counts at insect trapping sites have fallen by 80% between 1989 and 2013. The reasons for the phenomenon are unknown and guesses include pesticides and changes in land use but these are huge changes that have important knock on effects throughout the entire food chain.
- AIDS patients have been able to get the disease under control for a while now but a permanent cure still seems impossible. This article however talks about effecting just such a cure by using the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing tool to excise HIV DNA from infected issues. Intriguingly the team did so not only with mice infected with mouse equivalent of human HIV-1 but also with mice engrafted with human immune cells that have been infected with human HIV-1. I know that when I first posted about CRISPR/Cas9 I said it would be immensely useful but I’m still surprised by how quickly new uses for it are cropping up all over the place.
- I normally focus on basic research and ignore cool new devices but this bit about the Apple Watch caught my attention. I’m skeptical of claims about such devices for medical uses but this article claims that it does indeed work. This device comes with a heart rate sensor and a long study has now concluded that it is able to detect atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rate that can lead to stroke or heart disease, 97 percent of the time. This uses special software that isn’t yet available to ordinary users but it does prove that such devices have lots of real potential.