Droughts may have led to fall of Mayan civilization | Archaeologist aims to clear up myths around Chile's geoglyphs | NASA's super-pressure balloon to study high-energy photons
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December 30, 2014
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Droughts may have led to fall of Mayan civilization
Two major droughts may have played a role in the collapse of the Mayan civilization, according to a study that examined sediments in the Blue Hole of Belize. Data collected show evidence of an extreme drought between 800 A.D. and 1000 A.D., forcing Mayans north, then another major drought struck between 1000 A.D. and 1100 A.D., coinciding with the fall of Chichen Itza. "When you have major droughts, you start to get famines and unrest," said Earth scientist Andre Droxler, co-author of the study. LiveScience.com (12/24)
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Science in the News
Archaeologist aims to clear up myths around Chile's geoglyphs
While myths and legends swirl around geoglyphs in Chile's Atacama Desert, one Chilean archaeologist says the ancient rock art is the work of Earthly travelers marking their path rather than that of space aliens. "The figures reflect the work and the gracefulness of the pre-Columbian Andean world -- of local ancestors who, in their quest to tame the wilderness, to provide it with content and culture, painted the hillsides with huge figures, as if they wanted to compete with the infinite desert," said archaeologist Gonzalo Pimentel. NBC News (12/29)
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NASA's super-pressure balloon to study high-energy photons
NASA sent aloft its most ambitious scientific balloon near McMurdo Station in Antarctica on Sunday. Scientists expect the super-pressure balloon to fly for up to 100 days or more to study high-energy photons coming from the cosmos with its on-board gamma-ray telescope. The super-pressure balloon differs from traditional helium balloons in that it doesn't lose altitude during chilly temperatures at night, allowing it to collect more data. Nature (free content) (12/29)
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CO2 oceans may have once covered Venus' surface, study suggests
Venus may have once been covered with oceans of liquidlike supercritical carbon dioxide, which helped form what the planet looks like today, according to a study published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters. Researchers used computer simulations to show supercritical carbon dioxide that could have lasted up to 200 million years might have formed in the planet's early days. "This in turn makes it plausible that geological features on Venus like rift valleys, riverlike beds, and plains are the fingerprints of near-surface activity of liquidlike supercritical carbon dioxide," said theoretical physicist Dima Bolmatov, the study's lead author. Space.com (12/28)
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Geysers once observed on Europa nowhere to be seen now
Plumes of water vapor detected on the south pole of Jupiter's moon Europa by the Hubble Space Telescope in December 2012 have gone missing, according to NASA scientists, who have been scanning for the geysers repeatedly since then. NASA had hope to send a probe to gather a sample without having to touch down, but they've been unable to further study the plumes. "It is certainly still possible that plume activity occurs, but that it is infrequent or the plumes are smaller than we see at [Saturn's moon] Enceladus," said Amanda Hendrix of the Cassini ultraviolet imaging spectrograph instrument team. Space.com (12/29)
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Stem cell therapy shows promise against multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis patients experienced long-term disease remission after hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, according to a study in JAMA Neurology. Three years after treatment, almost 79% of patients with active relapsing-remitting MS who underwent the procedure sustained full neurologic function, more than 90% did not experience disease progression and 86% did not have periods of relapse. CBS News (12/29), DailyRx.com (12/31)
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Funding Watch
Colo. school receives $42.5M gift to help build stem cell research facility
Colorado State University has received its largest gift ever, $42.5 million, to go toward the creation of a stem cell research facility that could lead to treatments for humans and animals. The gift comes from Liberty Media Chairman John Malone and his wife Leslie, whose dressage horse was treated with a novel stem cell therapy for a bad knee at the school and is back in training. The school is looking for additional funding to build the CSU Institute for Biologic Translational Therapies in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. The Denver Post (12/30)
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Diabetes prevention study receives $800,000 NIH grant
The National Institutes of Health has given an $800,000 grant to a professor at Louisiana State University Health Shreveport to study the role vitamin D and amino acid L-cysteine have on insulin resistance. The study will examine whether levels of the vitamin and amino acid affect the amount of glutathione, or GSH, in the blood of Type 2 diabetics. "If we could prove more clearly that GSH deficiency is causing insulin resistance, then we can recommend patients should take L-cysteine supplementation," said Sushil Jain, the principal investigator. The Times (Shreveport, La.) (tiered subscription model) (12/27)
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Research Policy Regulations
FDA authorizes emergency use of Roche's Ebola test
Roche announced that the FDA has authorized the emergency use of its LightMix Ebola Zaire rRT-PCR Test in certain U.S. laboratories and in other countries for a limited time. The test, developed by TIB MOLBIOL GmbH and distributed exclusively by Roche, can produce results in a little more than three hours. Reuters (12/29)
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