ICYMI: This Week’s Science News (4/28/17)


By: Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)

This past weekend, the March for Science went down, with science supporters standing up to represent and they did so for good reason! There’s a lot of crazy and wonderful things coming out of the STEM community. Actually, ICYMI, here’s some of the science news from the last week:

Don’t you hate it when you arrive a few thousand years too early to the party?

It has generally been agreed that humans made their way to the North American continent about 24,000 years ago. However, an archaeological dig in San Diego County is causing the scientific community to reconsider that number. The team found a 131,000 year old mastodon skeleton with unique marks on its tusks. Those marks match up perfectly with indentations and marks that would have been created by ancient tools in the area, leading the researchers to believe that there was a human presence in North America MUCH earlier than originally believed. No human skeletons have been found, but maybe they’ll get lucky and we’ll get even more definitive proof!

Mayday! Mayday! Cassini probe going down!

NASA’s Cassini probe has been orbiting Saturn for almost 13 years, and with fuel running low, it’s time to set her down. To avoid the probe crashing into the waters of one of Saturn’s moons, NASA has purposely set the probe on a crash course with Saturn. After one last trip past the moon, Titan, the probe was sent on a path between Saturn and its innermost rings on a crash course with the planet. The probe will go out in a blaze of glory, expected to send back data and photos until the bittersweet end sometime in September of this year. RIP Cassini.

Did you have a good time with the mushroom? I heard it’s a fungi!

A geologist from Curtin University in Australia was studying basalt samples from South Africa’s Northern Cape and may have found the oldest fungal life on Earth. Current estimates place the oldest fungus at 385 million years old. However, if the microfossils prove to be actual fungus and not something else just fungus-like, the eukaryotes would be about 2 billion years older than the oldest known fungus we have on record now. If shown to be a fungus, scientists will likely have to start taking a closer look at the deep biosphere and the evolutionary history of organisms there.

“Nom, nom,” says the hungry, hungry caterpillar.

Honeycomb moth caterpillars don’t just like eating beeswax. It turns out they have a penchant for plastic, too! And with the plastic waste building up on our planet, finding its way into rivers and oceans, we need all the help we can get. With the recent discovery, scientists are hoping to create a substance similar to the special enzymes found in the wax worms’ stomachs that would help to naturally break down and dispose of the plastic waste left around on our planet. Because Adidas can only make so many shoes from recycled plastic found in the ocean.

Did Radiohead write any music for Antz?

A new ant species has been identified in Central and South America. The Sericomyrmex radioheadi ant is named after the band, who participate in many conservation and climate-change awareness efforts. The new species is covered with filament-like white crystals and they basically farm fungus in their colonies to use as food as well as repellant against parasites. The purpose of the silky filamentous hairs hasn’t been determined yet, but the ants will be cause for further study.

So how are birthdays going to work?

Scientists have created an artificial womb that appears to have worked successfully on pre-mature lambs, allowing them to gestate further in the new womb for four weeks. The artificial womb allowed the lambs’ brains and lungs to mature, along with other developing functions. This research is important as it may have the potential to increase the survival rate of human babies born prematurely. Of course, certain anatomy of the lambs differs from humans, so we can’t get too excited yet. But the team hopes to continue development and potentially test the artificial womb with human babies in three to five years. The real question is, if it works, which date goes on the birth certificate? Or do they get two birthdays? (More cake and presents don’t sound too bad!)

Well isn’t that just the bee’s knees?

Our knees have a built in system to deal with absorbing shock as cushions for every step we take. These menisci can be damaged, making walking and other knee movement painful while also increasing the risk of arthritis. That being said, Duke University researchers have been able to produce a type of hydrogel menisci that can be 3D printed for about $300. If it can be proven that the hydrogel materials work as well as the cartilage they are designed to replace, it might bode well for future surgeries involving knee repairs, and might prove to be more effective in the long run as the 3D printing process will potentially allow for replacements that are custom fit to the individual!

Who wants a Cretaceous omelet?

At a construction site in the Guangdong Province of China, the remnants of five dinosaur egg shells were discovered. It is estimated that the egg fossils are around 70 million years old (although tests still need to verified and peer-reviewed). The eggs likely belonged to a plant-eating dinosaur. The area in which they were found in the Sanshui Basin is rich with fossils and minerals, so these aren’t the first eggs to be found, nor will they likely be the last. Anything that gets us closer to a real Jurassic Park is fine by me!

Happy Birthday!

This week, the Hubble space telescope turned 27 years old, outliving scientists’ predictions of functionality by more than a decade. It’s been taking incredible photos and gathering data about the space around us since 1990. Cheers to another year of awesome work! Happy Birthday, Hubble!

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