Science in the News Weekly
A last-ditch effort is under way to lure back the cliff swallow, which put San Juan Capistrano on the map but has snubbed the mission in recent years. The mission has tried drawing them back with food. It has tried shelter. Now, it's trying seduction.
In other environmental news, citizen scientists have captured about 13,000 moths in southern England in a project described as the largest of its kind. Researchers hope the data will help them understand how species will migrate in response to climate change.
According to oil firm Total, the gas leak from the Elgin platform in the North Sea has been stopped. The company's platform was evacuated when the gas began leaking on March 25. An attempt to stop the leak by pumping heavy mud into the well got under way on Tuesday.
The proposed 2,200-megawatt Pakitzapango hydroelectric dam, which would flood much of the Ene River valley in Peru, would displace thousands of people and species in the process.
At the Millennium Seed Bank in West Sussex, an hour or so from London, scientists are racing against time: 100,000 species of flora are threatened with extinction. "Even if we know that plants are being lost in the wild," says Paul Smith, head of seed conservation, "if we can get them into the seed bank, we can regenerate them in the future."
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Microbes have been discovered on the sea floor that have exceptionally low metabolic rates, using so little oxygen that they barely qualify as life. Researchers think that they may have been living at the absolute minimum energy requirement needed to subsist for 86 million years.
In other news of the ancient past, the earliest direct example of insect pollination has been identified by scientists in 100-million-year-old amber blocks from Spain that include tiny invertebrates whose bodies are coated with pollen grains.
And archaeologists working in a rain forest in Guatemala have stumbled on a remarkable discovery: a room full of wall paintings and numerical calculations. The room, about the size of a walk-in closet, is part of the buried Maya city of Xultun.
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U.S. drug regulators last week affirmed landmark study results showing that a popular HIV-fighting pill can also help healthy people avoid contracting the virus that causes AIDS.
In other biomedical news, researchers reported that a three-pronged strategy--to knock out renegade immune cells, replace them and revitalize other cells that make insulin--appeared to cure type 1 diabetes in seven out of 12 diabetic mice.
Doctors on a panel revising psychiatry's influential diagnostic manual have backed away from two controversial proposals that would have expanded the number of people identified as having psychotic or depressive disorders.
Elsewhere, researchers have found a set of gene mutations that seem to play a part in some cases of melanoma.
By inserting a mutated gene into cancer patients, researchers have found a way to protect them against the side effects of chemotherapy and boost their odds of surviving a particularly aggressive type of cancer, glioblastoma, a fast-growing and usually fatal brain cancer.
Finally, scientists say that psychopaths have a distinct brain structure. They reached this conclusion after scanning the brains of men convicted of murder, rape and violent assaults. The study showed that psychopaths, who are characterized by a lack of empathy, had less gray matter in the areas of the brain important for understanding other peoples' emotions.
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Three young scientists examined the fossil record over the 12 million years leading up to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous geological period and concluded that a huge asteroid is still the central villain in the dinosaurs' extinction.
In other news of the ancient past, the smallest mammoth ever known roamed the island of Crete millions of years ago, researchers say. Adults were roughly the size of a modern baby elephant.
A newfound crocodile species may have been the largest to ever roam the Earth. Some 25 feet long, it trolled East African waters between 4 million and 2 million years ago and may have snacked on human ancestors, researchers said.
For centuries, scientists trying to describe the earliest life have relied on evidence provided by biology, studying what features modern life-forms have in common to deduce the most primitive components of cells. By working backward, biologists have developed proposals describing when and where such simple forms of life could have arisen.
Putting a place and date on the domestication of horses has been a challenge for archaeologists. Now a team of geneticists studying modern breeds of the animal has assembled an evolutionary picture of its storied past. Horses, the scientists conclude, were first domesticated 6000 years ago in the western part of the Eurasian Steppe, modern-day Ukraine and West Kazakhstan.
Dinosaurs may well have been tortured by large, flealike bloodsucking insects. Scientists in China have discovered Pseudopulex jurassicus and its cousin, Pseudopulex magnus--magnus as in "great."
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