Repeated bouts of plague in Europe may have come from gerbils in Asia | Bacterial life found at deepest point of Mariana Trench | Chromosomes shortened in lower ranking hyenas, study suggests
February 25, 2015
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Repeated bouts of plague in Europe may have come from gerbils in Asia
Asian gerbils, rather than European rats, were responsible for periodic outbreaks of bubonic plague from the mid-1300s to the early 1800s, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports. Previously, researchers believed that once the initial germs came from Asia, they remained on local rodents to repeatedly infect Europeans during that period. Study co-author Nils Stenseth said the weather conditions in Europe weren't right for a large rat population in the years of the outbreaks. The Washington Post (tiered subscription model)/The Associated Press (2/24)
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Science in the News
Bacterial life found at deepest point of Mariana Trench
Tiny bacteria flourish in the deepest recesses of the Mariana Trench, particularly heterotrophs, which are unable to create their own food and must find sustenance in their surroundings, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The microbes were discovered in Challenger Deep, the lowest part of the Mariana Trench, where they most likely dine on material that drifts down from above or is released from landslides, scientists suggest. (2/23)
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Chromosomes shortened in lower ranking hyenas, study suggests
Hyena chromosomes become shortened as a result of stress, a study published online in Biology Letters suggests. A DNA study of African savanna hyenas lowest in the pack's pecking order found that the stress of having to search longer and harder for food shrinks their telomeres, setting off a chain reaction that can end in cell death. (2/24)
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28M-year-old teeth offer link to hippos' past
Recently discovered 28 million-year-old fossil teeth are giving researchers clues about how hippopotamuses got from Asia to Africa. The teeth of Epirigenys lokonensis, found in Kenya, are similar to those of extinct ancestors of hippos called anthracotheres, which lived in Southeast Asia about 40 million years ago, suggesting that they migrated into Africa, according to the study published online in Nature Communications. Science News (2/24)
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7 species of crocodiles coexisted in ancient Peru, study finds
About 13 million years ago, seven crocodile species once populated the same area in what is today the Amazon. Researchers found evidence of their co-existence in a pair of rock outcroppings in Peru. "It was a real crocodilian community. To find seven species ... is just amazing," said Rodolfo Salas-Gismondi, co-author of the study. USA Today (2/25)
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Numbers of rare Amur leopard on the rise, survey finds
The Amur leopard population appears to be on the rebound, with their numbers jumping to about 69, up from 30 found in 2007, according to a count of the rare felines. "Such a strong rebound in Amur leopard numbers is further proof that even the most critically endangered big cats can recover if we protect their habitat and work together on conservation efforts," said Barney Long of the World Wildlife Fund. Discovery (2/23)
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Central Colombia has a new volcano
A new volcano has been identified by researchers with the Servicio Geologico de Colombia. The scientists have dubbed the volcano El Escondido and say that there is no immediate danger of eruption. In fact, the area doesn't look like a typical volcano, instead appearing as a series of hills. blog (2/24)
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Eyes stay lubricated with help from lashes, study suggests
Lengthy lashes help keep mammals' eyes lubricated, according to a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. Researchers studied an array of creatures and found that eyelashes are consistently one-third the length of the width of the eye, the perfect size to redirect airflow around the orb, keeping evaporation at bay. The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (2/24)
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Funding Watch
U.K. school gets $2.17M to develop prosthetic limb that talks to brain
Newcastle University in the U.K. will receive $2.17 million to develop higher functioning bionic limbs that can communicate with the brain. "The U.K. leads the way in the design of prosthetic limbs but until now one of the limiting factors has been the technology to allow the hand to communicate with the brain," said study leader Kianoush Nazarpour, who added. "If we can design a system that allows this two-way communication it would help people to naturally reach out and pick up a glass, for example, whilst maintaining eye contact in a conversation, or pick up an apple without bruising it." BBC (2/23)
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