ICYMI: This Week’s Science News (6/23/17)


By: Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)

Planets, cat music, ancient wine requests, and geeky kids…just a handful of the great things to come out of the science world recently. If you’ve been caught up in the news of politics and tragedy, you might not have seen the interesting things humanity is up to! So ICYMI, here’s some of the science news from the last week!

Will doctors soon ask about your astrological sign?

A new study published has shown a link between your month of birth and certain chronic diseases. The researchers found some interesting correlations in a sample of almost 30,000 subjects. Results showed that men born in September are three times more likely to develop thyroid problems than men born in January. On the flipside, men born in June are 34% less likely to suffer from depression. For the ladies, July babies are 27% more likely to have problems with high blood pressure, but women born in June were 33% less likely to develop migraines. The study, and others like it, only give a tiny piece of a much larger puzzle. Causality cannot be established, only correlation, but the connections are interesting nonetheless!

NASA is pleased to announce…

On Monday, NASA researchers announced that data collected from the Kepler exoplanet mission provides evidence of 219 objects outside our solar system that are highly likely to be planets. Of those 219 possible planets, the scientists believe that ten of them are rocky, Earth-sized, and in habitable zones around their respective stars. (Don’t get your hopes up. A lot depends on the atmospheres of planets, in addition to a score of other factors.) These ten possibly habitable planets are added to the list of other Kepler discoveries, bringing the possibly habitable planet count up to 49, for now.

Meow, meow, meow, meow.

U.S. scientists from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and the University of Maryland have found the kind of tunes felines like, and they did it on purpose! The team created musical pieces to the same general frequency vocalization range of cats, with tempos mimicking things cats would find interesting (like a purring or suckling tempo), and sliding notes (to reflect the sliding frequencies cat calls often exhibit). Playing classical music that appeals to humans elicited no response from the cats, but the newly composed cat-centric pieces drew the cats to the speakers, raising their interest, and resulting in many cats trying to “claim” the speakers. (No need to describe that process.) The study hopes to find auditory enrichment for animals that may have practical application in animal shelters, boarding facilities, and veterinary offices. Just wait until the crazy cat ladies get a hold of this!

Please sir! Could I have some more?

A piece of pottery hailing from biblical times has been found to have a surprisingly relatable message. The pottery shard has been extensively studied, but using a new multispectral imaging technique that utilizes wavelengths unseen by the human eye, researchers found a previously hidden message on the other side of the piece. The newly discovered message begins first with a request for more wine, followed by promises of assistance if requested and a request for some other commodity. More wine was a priority in 600 BCE, much like it is now. Scientists are excited to use the new imaging technique on other artifacts to see if there are other previously unseen messages waiting to be discovered!

Smile and say DNA for the camera!

Scientists have had a certain perspective about how DNA replicates, but with the world’s first close-up footage of a DNA strand replicating itself, that perspective is getting turned on its head. In short, scientists believed that the process was an organized and planned process, but the footage has shown an unexpected randomness to the process of replication. Scientists have expected a bit of coordination between strands as they unravel to replicate, but each strand appears to operate independently, somehow still resulting in perfect matches. It looks like the textbooks will need some revising!

The first step to create a “geek” is…

There’s a geek index, and 15,000 sets of U.K.-based twins were scored on it as part of a study to see how genes and environment shape human development. The geek index measured traits like non-verbal IQ, focus, social-aloofness, etc. Interestingly, it was found that men who have sons later in life are more likely to have “geekier” sons who tended to have higher grades and IQ, better focus, more ambition, and less interest in the concept of “fitting in.” (The same result did not apply to daughters, so some questions still remain.) There may be a variety of causes for sons displaying more “geeky” traits than those born to younger men, but the correlation is certainly worth looking at!

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