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Science in the News Weekly


Did Developmental Timing Give Birds an Edge?

A new study suggests that retained juvenile traits may have helped birds outlive dinosaurs through a process known as paedomorphosis.

In other news of the ancient past, a study of more than 300 Neolithic skeletons suggests evidence of "hereditary inequality" among farmers 7,000 years ago. Archaeologists from Cardiff University led a team who studied the skeletons from across Europe. They say evidence suggests that farmers buried with tools had access to better land than those buried without.

The slow eastward migration of monsoons across the Asian continent initially supported the formation of the Harappan civilization in the Indus valley by allowing production of large agricultural surpluses, then decimated the civilization as water supplies for farming dried up, researchers reported last week.

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SpaceX Dragon Splashdown 'Like Seeing Your Kid Come Home'

The privately launched SpaceX Dragon supply ship returned to Earth last week, ending a revolutionary nine-day voyage to the International Space Station with an old-fashioned splashdown in the Pacific. The unmanned capsule parachuted into the ocean about 500 miles off Mexico's Baja California.

In other space news, astronomers have developed a new technique for calculating the masses and ages of old stars based on the masses of the white dwarfs they have become.

The Guardian recounted how the transit of Venus in the 18th century allowed astronomers to measure accurately the size of the solar system for the first time.

And two Colorado companies are working to create a less-costly vehicle to send into the stratosphere. StarLight--a two-stage system with a planelike vehicle suspended below a massive gas-filled balloon--could be the answer to a longtime challenge.

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Science at the Top of the News for May 29-June 1

A new study suggesting that climate skepticism is not necessarily rooted in science illiteracy was the most-viewed item last week by subscribers to Science in the News Daily. Other popular stories focused on why stout bubbles sink and some surprising new theories about the center of the Earth. Subscribe for free daily updates.

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Panel Advises Dropping PSA Test

A government task force made the controversial recommendation last week that the PSA test should be abandoned as a prostate cancer screening tool. The panel came to that conclusion after determining that the side effects from needless biopsies and treatments hurt many more men than are potentially helped by early detection of cancers.

In other biomedical news, a new study suggests that long-acting birth control devices are nearly 22 times as reliable as contraceptive pills or other short-acting approaches that need close monitoring.

Nearly one in four American adolescents may be on the verge of developing Type 2 diabetes or could already be diabetic, representing a sharp increase in the disease's prevalence among children ages 12 to 19 since a decade ago.

And, finally, the government proposed that all baby boomers get tested for hepatitis C. Anyone born from 1945 to 1965 should get a one-time blood test to see if they have the liver-destroying virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in draft recommendations issued last week.

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Arctic Methane: 'The Warming Will Feed the Warming'

There are thousands of sites in the Arctic where methane that has been stored for millennia is bubbling into the atmosphere. The methane has been trapped by ice, but is able to escape as the ice melts. Researchers say this ancient gas could have a significant impact on climate change.

In other environmental news, Los Angeles has become the largest city in the U.S. to approve a ban on plastic bags at supermarket checkout lines. The City Council voted to phase out plastic bags over the next 16 months at an estimated 7,500 stores, meaning shoppers will need to bring reusable bags or purchase paper bags for 10 cents each.

Periodic increases in the flow of Colorado River water through the Grand Canyon are designed to alleviate the environmental disruption caused by the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona in the 1960s. By mimicking the river's original dynamics, federal officials said, the flows could help restore the backwater ecosystems in which native fish are most at home.

A pan-European project has devised a much-anticipated way to differentiate marine populations of the same species with up to 100% accuracy. It will help managers tell the difference between, for example, an illegally harvested Northeast Arctic cod and a perfectly legal Eastern Baltic cod. The new approach relies on genetic variants called single-nucleotide polymorphisms.

An autonomous robotic fish designed to sense marine pollution is lurking in the waters of the port of Gijon, Spain. The robots will continuously monitor the water, letting the port respond immediately to the causes of pollution, such as a leaking boat or industrial spillage, and work to mitigate its effects.

Scientists have concluded that fresh water demand is driving sea-level rise faster than glacier melt. The massive impact of the global population's growing need for water on rising sea levels is revealed in a comprehensive assessment of all the ways in which people use water.

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A Promising Advance in Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells

Solar cells could become much cheaper thanks to improvements in a more than 20-year-old solar technology that captures light with dye molecules. The advance is "one of the most important breakthroughs in dye cells in the last several years," says a chemist at Pennsylvania State University, University Park.

In other technology news, two researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (N.J.I.T.) have devised a direct-contact membrane distillation (DCMD) system that can efficiently wring drinking water out of up to 20 percent-salt-concentrated brine.

Two scientists at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, have designed a metamaterial that stretches when compressed, and vice versa, under any circumstances. "What is interesting is that they study systems that are not responding to a vibration but to a steady applied force," says John Pendry of Imperial College London.

As a Houston computer scientist has developed his ideas over nearly a decade, he has found increasing acclaim for his "inexact" computer chips. At a major computing conference in Italy, Rice University's Krishna Palem unveiled his newest chips that trade a bit of accuracy for better efficiency.

When Clarence Birdseye figured out how to pack and freeze haddock, using what he called "a marvelous new process which seals in every bit of just-from-the-ocean flavor," he essentially changed the way we produce, preserve and distribute food.

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Disputed Fossil Sold for $1 Million

An American auction house sold a fossil of a fearsome T. rex relative for $1 million despite a court order not to. The fossil was found in Mongolia, and the sale is contingent on the outcome of a court fight with the Mongolian government over ownership.

In other news of the ancient past, scientists have for the first time confirmed pigment in two fossilized ink sacs from cuttlefish-like animals, a new study says. The ancient ink's similarity to modern squid ink suggests that this defensive weapon hasn't evolved much since the Jurassic period.

The consensus is that dogs came from wolves. Beyond that, there are varying claims. It seems dogs appeared sometime between 15,000 and 100,000 years ago, in Asia or Africa or multiple times in multiple places. In a new study, a researcher argues that the DNA of modern dogs is so mixed up that it is useless in figuring out when and where dogs originated.

A team of paleontologists has discovered the fossil remains of a new species of dining-table-size freshwater turtle that apparently lived side-by-side with the 50-foot snakes and super-size crocodiles that they had found earlier in the same Colombian coal mine.

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Science at the Top of the News for May 21-25

An NPR story about an unusual sea creature caught on camera in the ocean off Great Britain was the most-viewed item last week by subscribers to Science in the News Daily. Other popular stories included the discovery of a mysterious sensory organ in a whale's chin and an examination by the L.A. Times on whether blazing a trail in solar energy has cost California too much. Subscribe for free daily updates.

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