ICYMI: This Week’s Science News (6/9/17)

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By: Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)

It looks like plants and birds are getting ready to take over the world, dinosaurs weren’t all fluffy, and more! ICYMI, here’s some of the science news from the last week!

Ready, set, grow!

We all know that certain plants have seasons in which they grow and blossom. But how do the plants know when the time is right to sprout? A recent study by researchers at the University of Birmingham have found a “command center” with two types of cells working together to dictate when the plant will grow. One set is in charge of the seed remaining dormant and the other set of cells is in charge of germination. The two work in opposition with one another, communicating with hormones to prevent the seed from sprouting until both sets analyze the environment and both agree that the plant should grow, which then leads to the plant beginning to sprout! Vegetarians beware! Plants are beginning to look like they have some “brain” functions!

How old are we?

Neanderthals and Homo sapiens appear to have evolved from a common ancestor 500,000 to 600,000 years ago. They diverged into their own separate species and fossils found in Ethiopia seemed to indicate that Homo sapiens evolved rather suddenly around 200,000 years ago. However, newly discovered fossils found in Morocco are approximately 300,000 years old! The evidence leads scientists to believe that Homo sapiens evolved earlier (and maybe differently) than originally thought, and it raises questions about where they might have evolved! This new discovery may help to shed light on the ever-confusing story in science about the origins of humans!

Consider this:

Sexual assault is a terrible crime against a person, and even worse, sometimes the victims’ bodies don’t act in the individuals’ best interests. A new study from Swedish researchers has found that seven of 10 victims experienced significant immobility during an attack – a type of paralysis known as tonic immobility. In the face of extreme fear, the body reacts with this immobility as a type of survival tactic, but in humans suffering through a sexual assault, this isn’t actually helpful. Victims often blame themselves for the attack, and will blame themselves even further if they don’t fight back. Further study showed that those who experienced a sexual assault and tonic immobility were twice as likely to develop PTSD following the attack and were more than three times more likely to develop severe depression. Women who already experienced sexual assault were twice as likely to experience tonic immobility if assaulted a second time along with other disturbing statistics.

This information is important to know, as a 2002 study showed that attackers were more likely to be prosecuted if physical signs of trauma were present. This means that those immobilized may be suffering in the legal system as well, because they were physically unable to fight back. The study also may serve as a comfort to those who feel guilty for not fighting back, as they learn that they are not alone and the tonic immobility is a natural defensive response. It’s something important to think about.

The T-Rex is not a chicken!

There’s been a lot of talk that Jurassic Park got some things wrong – such as missing feathers on dinosaurs. However, a recent discovery of a fossilized skin impression of the intimidating Tyrannosaurus rex shows a tough and scaly hide, like the flanks of a crocodile. While ancestors of the T-Rex were much smaller and may have needed feathers to maintain body heat, dinosaurs in the tyrannosaur family increased in size significantly and were more likely to need to stay cool in varying environments. So rest easy – Jeff Goldblum wasn’t chased by a giant chicken!

Exhale!

This week a company in Switzerland brought the first commercial carbon dioxide capture plant online. The company plans to pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and then use it as a fertilizer for crops. The company, Climeworks, has ambitious plans to capture one percent of the planet’s annual carbon dioxide emissions by 2025, hoping to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere that contribute to the global warming trend. The Swiss are keeping it green!

Dear Woebot, I’m sad today. Love, Human

Approximately one in five Americans suffer from mental illness. But only one-third of them have had treatment within the last year. With rising health care costs, especially with in mental health, people simply don’t have the opportunity to get the help they need. But a new tool in dealing with depression has emerged: an artificial intelligence named Woebot! Woebot was designed by a clinical psychologist at Stanford who thoroughly tested the AI. Those who talked to Woebot (who utilizes cognitive-behavioral therapy) over a two-week period (most speaking with it almost every day) saw a significant decrease in their depressive symptoms. While Woebot isn’t meant to replace therapy with a human, it might be a viable option for those who can’t get to human-to-human therapy or it can be used as a tool to enhance therapy. I guess Skynet has the potential for good!

Sing me the song of justice!

The corvid birds – magpies, ravens, crows, etc. – are some of the smartest of the avian world. And a recent study with ravens has shown how advanced they are! Ravens, it seems, have a sense of justice and appear to understand and remember when they have been treated fairly or unfairly. In an experiment with the birds, the ravens were given a piece of bread. They could trade the piece of “meh” bread with a human for a delicious piece of cheese. In one group, the trade was conducted fair and square. However, in the other group, the humans took the bread and ate the cheese in front of the bird subject, leaving it with nothing. The cheated ravens then avoided the dishonest people for up to a month after the incident, showing that they remembered the injustice they suffered and avoiding a repeat performance! Hitchcock might have been on to something…


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