Recent Interesting Science Articles (October 2012)

A mixed bag of articles for this month, ranging from the funny to the weird. Let’s get to it.

  • ¬†Regenerative medicine, or growing replacement body parts from one’s own cells, will be the next frontier of medicine. This article from the admittedly skanky Global Post site demonstrates that it has the potential to covers external organs as well as the more commonly considered example of internal organs. In this instance, a woman had a replacement ear grown on her arm as a substitute for the original one which was removed due to cancer. The new ear was fashioned using cartilage from her rib.
  • The next article from the Wall Street Journal covers a paper that is cleverly titled “The Power of Kawaii”. The claim is that human test subjects perform assigned with greater care and precision after being exposed to pictures of cute things, such as puppies and kittens. The tasks ranged from the delicate, such as picking up small objects from a hole without brushing the sides, to the purely logical, such as finding a target from a sequence of random numbers. As a control, participants were also exposed to pictures of adult dogs and cats and food items, which did not result in the same improved performance.
  • As this next article from The Economist states, we’ve found so many extrasolar planets now that they’re no longer exciting. The difference with this one is that it’s orbiting Alpha Centauri B, one of the three gravitationally bound stars that form the trinary Alpha Centauri system. This is the nearest system from our own Sol system at a mere four light-years, close enough that we could conceivably launch an expeditionary probe to it. The bad news is that it is located far too close to its parent star to have any chance of harboring life with one of its “years” lasting 3.2 Earth days. But where we’ve found one planet, we’re more likely to find more. You can bet that astronomers all around the world are feverishly working on it.
  • Ever wonder if animals are capable of recognizing their own dead and responding to it? This post at the The Scorpion and the Frog blog talks about a research paper on just this topic. The animals in question are western scrub-jays and the researchers tested their responses towards both an actual scrub-jay carcass, complete with feathers, and a collection of painted wood pieces arranged vaguely to look like a dead scrub-jay. The live birds reacted furiously to the real carcass, hopping about and calling loudly, while taking far fewer peanuts strewn on the ground as usual. Testing further with a realistic mounted great horned owl, a predator of scrub-jays, led to similar reactions, leading the scientists to conclude that the reaction wasn’t about grief but about alarm and physical danger.
  • Finally, here’s a longer article about the evolution of lactose intolerance in humans from Slate. It’s not about a specific new discovery, more of an overview of the subject. Apparently the ability to digest lactose in adult humans spread very quickly once the mutation occurred, unreasonably quickly according to most scientists, and the reason why is still something of a mystery.

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