• June 4, 2020
  • Last Update Jun 4, 2020 12:07 am
  • Australia



A new device can produce electricity using shadows

Someday, shadows and light could team up to provide power. A new device exploits the contrast between bright spots and shade to create a current that can power small electronics. “We can harvest energy anywhere on Earth, not just open spaces,” says Swee Ching Tan, a materials scientist at the National University of Singapore. Tan…

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Lidar reveals the oldest and biggest Maya structure yet found

Ancient Maya society got off to a monumentally fast start around 3,000 years ago. Excavations and airborne mapping at a previously unknown site in Mexico, called Aguada Fénix, have uncovered the oldest and largest known structure built by Maya people, say archaeologist Takeshi Inomata of the University of Arizona in Tucson and his colleagues. This…

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What parents need to know about kids in the summer of COVID-19

As states reopen, the coming months bring the prospect of gatherings at pools, playgrounds and even amusement parks. But in this summer of COVID-19, many parents are left wondering what their kids can safely do.  There isn’t a satisfactory answer, because there’s still so much unknown about the coronavirus in regards to children. While studies…

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These tube-shaped creatures may be the earliest known parasites

Tube-dwelling creatures that spent their lives cemented to the shells of clamlike brachiopods over 500 million years ago may be the earliest known parasites. “Parasitism is an integral part of life on Earth, but it’s been hard to determine when it emerged,” says Tommy Leung, a parasitologist at the University of New England in Armidale,…

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The Dead Sea Scrolls contain genetic clues to their origins

Genetic clues extracted from slivers of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls are helping to piece together related scroll remnants and reveal the diverse origins of these ancient texts, including a book of the Hebrew Bible. The scrolls are made of sheepskin and cow skin, which retain DNA from those animals. Analyzing that DNA represents a…

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A new 3-D map illuminates the ‘little brain’ within the heart

The heart has its own “brain.” Now, scientists have drawn a detailed map of this little brain, called the intracardiac nervous system, in rat hearts. The heart’s big boss is the brain, but nerve cells in the heart have a say, too. These neurons are thought to play a crucial role in heart health, helping…

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A weird cosmic flare called the ‘Cow’ now has company

First, astronomers discovered the “Cow.” Now they’ve rounded up a small herd. A short-lived celestial flare-up with a bovine nickname has been joined by two similarly unusual outbursts. The mysterious events were brighter than typical supernovas, explosions of stars that are a common source of temporary light shows in the sky. And the novel bursts…

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Neon colors may help some corals stage a comeback from bleaching

For some corals, going bright may be part of their fight against bleaching. Higher-than-normal ocean temperatures can cause some corals to bleach and lose the beneficial algae that dwell within their cells. Those algae help feed the corals and give them their color, so bleached corals can become bone white, and may struggle to survive…

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Meteorites might be more likely to strike near the equator

Geoffrey Evatt was snowmobiling in Antarctica when he spotted an outlandish feature. A black rock stood so starkly against the diamantine ice that even the untrained eye would have known it was not from this world, but a meteorite. “You’ll never get over that high of finding the first one,” he says. Not that it…

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How more powerful Pacific cyclones may be fueling global warming

Increasingly powerful tropical cyclones in the North Pacific Ocean may be fueling a powerful north-flowing ocean current, helping to boost the amount of heat it ferries to northern latitudes. By enhancing the speed of some ocean whirlpools called eddies, and suppressing the spin of others, the passing storms may be accelerating the heat-carrying Kuroshio Current…

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Wastewater could provide up to a week of warning for a COVID-19 spike

Monitoring sewage for the coronavirus’s genetic material could give public health experts up to a week of warning before COVID-19 cases peak in an area, a new study finds. Scientists have found the coronavirus’s RNA in stool from some COVID-19 patients. Though it remains unclear whether the virus can be transmitted through feces, researchers have…

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Infecting people with COVID-19 could speed vaccine trials. Is it worth it?

The world waits with bated breath for a COVID-19 vaccine, which could effectively end the pandemic once it’s widely available. Until then, more people will die from the disease, and economies will struggle to fully recover. With such intense pressure to get a vaccine quickly, many experts are contemplating a controversial shortcut to the usual…

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New species of scaly, deep-sea worms named after Elvis have been found

A new look at the critters known as “Elvis worms” has the scale worm family all shook up. These deep-sea dwellers flaunt glittery, iridescent scales reminiscent of the sequins on Elvis’ iconic jumpsuits (SN: 1/23/20). “For a while, we thought there was just one kind of Elvis worm,” says Greg Rouse, a marine biologist at…

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How coronavirus stress may scramble our brains

I’m on deadline, but instead of focusing, my mind buzzes with unrelated tidbits. My first-grader’s tablet needs an update before her online school session tomorrow. Heartbreaking deaths from COVID-19 in New York City make me tear up again. Was that a kid’s scream from upstairs? Do I need to run up there, or will my…

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Politics aside, hydroxychloroquine could (maybe) help fight COVID-19

President Donald Trump’s announcement that he is taking the drug hydroxychloroquine as a precaution against the coronavirus has once again thrown a decades-old antimalarial drug into the headlines. There’s currently not enough data to say whether the drug can protect people from catching COVID-19 or from getting very ill if they do get infected with…

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Scientists sometimes conceal a lack of knowledge with vague words

You can’t kill a virus, common wisdom contends, because viruses aren’t alive to begin with. Yet some viruses sure act like they’re alive. And in fact, you can find biologists and philosophers who will insist that viruses do deserve a branch on the tree of life. Still, many oth­er experts refuse to confer viruses with…

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Pollen-deprived bumblebees may speed up plant blooming by biting leaves

Here’s a bumblebee tip that might get a slowpoke plant to bloom early. Just bite its leaves. At least three species of bumblebees use their mouthparts to snip little confetti bits out of plant foliage, researchers report in the May 22 Science. This foliage biting gets more common when there’s a pollen shortage, says Consuelo…

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Up to 220 million people globally may be at risk of arsenic-contaminated water

As many as 220 million people around the world may be at risk of drinking arsenic-contaminated groundwater, a new study finds. Combining climate, environmental and geologic data with machine learning, researchers made a global map, described in the May 22 Science, that predicts where groundwater arsenic concentrations are likeliest to exceed 10 micrograms per liter,…

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Stunning images of swirling gas and dust may show a planet forming

For the first time, astronomers may have seen direct evidence of a planet forming around a young star. A spiral disk of gas and dust surrounding the star AB Aurigae contains a small S-shaped twist near the spiral’s center, infrared telescope images show. That twist “is the precise spot where a new planet must be…

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As we wait for a vaccine, here’s a snapshot of potential COVID-19 treatments

Aggressive public health measures to stem the tidal wave of coronavirus infections have left people isolated, unemployed and wondering when it will all end. Life probably won’t go completely back to normal until vaccines against the virus are available, experts warn. Researchers are working hard on that front. At least six vaccines are currently being…

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The oldest disk galaxy yet found formed more than 12 billion years ago

The oldest disk-shaped galaxy ever spotted formed just 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang, a new study finds. That’s much earlier than astronomers thought that this type of galaxy could form. Previous observations show that disk-shaped galaxies — including sprawling, spiral systems like the Milky Way — didn’t show up in large numbers until…

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A new artificial eye mimics and may outperform human eyes

Scientists can’t yet rebuild someone with bionic body parts. They don’t have the technology. But a new artificial eye brings cyborgs one step closer to reality. This device, which mimics the human eye’s structure, is about as sensitive to light and has a faster reaction time than a real eyeball. It may not come with…

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Births in the United States have dropped to a 34-year low

For the fifth year in a row, the number of babies born in the United States has declined. It’s the lowest number of births — just under 3.75 million in 2019, gleaned from birth certificate data — since 1985, according to the report published online May 20 from the National Center for Health Statistics. Since…

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New data suggest people aren’t getting reinfected with the coronavirus

People who test positive again for the coronavirus, despite having already recovered COVID-19, aren’t being reinfected, a new study finds. Reports of patients discharged from hospitals in South Korea testing positive after their apparent recovery had raised concerns that people could get infected by the virus in the short term more than once or that…

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Indoor, high-intensity fitness classes may help spread the coronavirus

As more U.S. states reopen and people return to public life, dance fitness classes in South Korea tell a cautionary tale. A workshop to train instructors for the classes, which are similar to Zumba, ultimately led to more than 100 people falling sick with COVID-19, a new study finds. Nearly 30 teachers participated in the…

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Daily global CO2 emissions dropped dramatically as COVID-19 kept people home

Stay-at-home orders haven’t just curbed the spread of COVID-19. They’ve briefly cleared the air. Daily global carbon dioxide emissions dropped 17 percent, from about 100 million metric tons to about 83 million metric tons, in early April compared with average daily emissions in 2019, researchers report May 19 in Nature Climate Change. Among other changes,…

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Physicists exploit a quantum rule to create a new kind of crystal

Physicists have harnessed the aloofness of quantum particles to create a new type of crystal. Some particles shun one another because they are forbidden to take on the same quantum state as their neighbors. Atoms can be so reluctant to overlap that they form a crystal-like arrangement even when they aren’t exerting any forces on…

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Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine stimulates an immune response in people

An experimental vaccine may help protect against a coronavirus infection, preliminary results from people and mice suggest. One or two doses of an mRNA vaccine prod people’s bodies to make as many or more antibodies against the coronavirus as are made by people who have recovered from COVID-19, researchers from Moderna, Inc., announced May 18.…

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Astronauts may be able to make cement using their own pee

Future astronauts could make lunar buildings out of moon dust and pee. That’s the suggestion of chemist Anna-Lena Kjøniksen and her colleagues, who made a cement from urea — a major component of urine — and faux lunar soil. When humans take up long-term residence on other planets or the moon, they will need to…

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Past plagues offer lessons for society after the coronavirus pandemic

It was an optimistic time. A healthy economy showered wealth on elites and allowed many ordinary citizens to live comfortably. Local goods and exotic imports filled shops and markets. Political leaders ruled a vast network of cities and trade routes. Then the enemy attacked. An infectious disease leapfrogged from one population center to another. People…

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50 years ago, explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s Atlantic crossing hit a snag

Once again for Ra, Science News, May 16, 1970 – Last year … a seven-man international crew was abandoning a disabled boat made of papyrus that in two months had taken them 2,700 miles westward in the Atlantic toward Mexico…. Nevertheless explorer-anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl, designer and pilot of the Ra, refused to admit defeat…. Late…

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These 6 books explore climate change science and solutions

Climate change is increasingly becoming part of everyday conversations. For those who want to join the discussions, there is no shortage of books that give detailed background and context on the subject. The question is, which to read? Science News staff members have reviewed several books published this year to guide you to which ones…

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Readers ask about satellite traffic jams and coronavirus

Space jam Fleets of satellites launched to expand global internet access are interfering with telescopes and astronomy research, Christopher Crockett reported in “An obstructed view” (SN: 3/28/20, p. 24). Reader Michael Brostek asked if researchers could use small satellites to build telescopes that orbit above the o­bstructing satellites. “With the proliferation of small satellites, could…

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Malaria parasites may have their own circadian rhythms

The parasites that cause malaria may march to the beat of their own drum. New genetic analyses suggest that Plasmodium parasites possess their own circadian rhythms, and don’t depend on a host for an internal clock, researchers report May 15 in Science. Figuring out how Plasmodium’s clock ticks may lead to ways to disrupt it, potentially…

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Long-dormant volcano Mauna Kea has been quietly grumbling for decades

Hawaii’s long-dormant Mauna Kea volcano has been quietly and regularly rumbling for decades — but there’s no need for alarm. The tiny earthquakes aren’t signs of the volcano’s unrest, and are more likely linked to gases bubbling from a pool of slowly cooling magma deep underground, researchers report in the May 15 Science. Since at…

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Africa’s biggest collection of ancient human footprints has been found

More than 400 human footprints preserved in hardened volcanic sediment are providing a rare peek at social life among ancient East African hunter-gatherers. These impressions, found in northern Tanzania near a village called Engare Sero, add up to the largest collection of ancient human footprints ever found in Africa, say evolutionary biologist Kevin Hatala of…

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How fear and anger change our perception of coronavirus risk

Even as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in many places, some U.S. states are starting to relax social distancing guidelines. With public health experts often disagreeing with politicians pushing for reopening, in many cases individuals may decide for themselves when and how to return to society. To be clear, for many people, the decision…

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What lifestyle changes will shrink your carbon footprint the most?

Three years ago, Kim Cobb was feeling “completely overwhelmed” by the problem of climate change. Cobb spends her days studying climate change as director of the Global Change Program at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, but she felt paralyzed over how to be part of the solution in her personal life. The barriers felt immense. She…

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New hybrid embryos are the most thorough mixing of humans and mice yet

Scientists have made embryos that are a lot mouse and a little bit human. With a little help, human stem cells can knit themselves into growing mouse embryos, populating the developing liver, heart, retina and blood, researchers report May 13 in Science Advances. Finicky human cells don’t tend to grow well in other animals. But…

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How to protect your home from disasters amplified by climate change

A decade ago, climate change projections pointed to a distant future, 50 or 100 years down the road. But with each storm and fire season seemingly more ferocious than the last, it’s clear we’re already facing the impacts of climate change: Sea levels are rising, and storms, wildfires and droughts are intensifying, fueled by warmer…

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The new COVID-19 drug remdesivir is here. Now what?

Though remdesivir, a new treatment for COVID-19, has been hailed as a game changer, most people sick with the coronavirus will have to recover or die without getting the drug. “Everyone won’t be able to get it, because there just isn’t enough of it at this point in time,” says Raymond Woosley, a cardiologist and…

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Kids can develop severe complications from COVID-19 in rare cases

Although severe illness with COVID-19 remains rare among children, they are not immune from life-threatening complications. And an emerging inflammatory syndrome may also be connected to the coronavirus. New York has 93 children with the syndrome, called pediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome, which appears to be related to having had COVID-19. Three children have died, and…

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Tapirs may be key to reviving the Amazon. All they need to do is poop

Beneath the viridescent understory of the Brazilian Amazon, ecologist Lucas Paolucci has been honing his skills for hunting tapir dung. In this region’s degraded rain forests, he sees the piglike mammal’s enormous piles of poop as a treasure. Chock full of seeds, the dung from trunk-nosed lowland tapirs (Tapirus terrestris) may be key in regenerating…

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What data do cities like Orlando need to prepare for climate migrants?

Hurricane Maria roared across Puerto Rico in late September 2017. The storm caused an estimated $90 billion in damage, demolished the power grid (SN: 2/15/20, p. 22) and left more than half of the island’s residents without safe drinking water. Dachiramarie Vila recalls the smell of gasoline from generators choking the air. “The smell was…

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What Michael Moore’s new film gets wrong about renewable energy

In the film Planet of the Humans, producer and director Jeff Gibbs and executive producer Michael Moore take aim at renewable energy technologies and the environmental organizations such as 350.org and the Sierra Club that promote them. The film’s premise is that green tech is not so green and that turning to this technology as…

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Florence Nightingale understood the power of visualizing science

Victorian icon Florence Nightingale is best known as the founder of modern nursing. But Nightingale, who would have celebrated her 200th birthday on May 12, was also a statistics and data visualization pioneer who sought to illustrate that simple sanitation techniques, such as handwashing, could stop the spread of infectious diseases (SN: 1/5/20). While that’s…

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A multiple sclerosis drug may speed COVID-19 recovery

A drug that boosts the immune system may help some people with COVID-19 fight off infections quickly, at least when taken in the early stages of the illness, a new study suggests. People taking a drug cocktail containing one of the body’s natural immune chemicals called interferon beta 1b plus a combination HIV drug and…

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Door-to-door tests help track COVID-19’s spread in one Oregon town

Through mid-May, researchers will be knocking on doors in Corvallis, Ore., and asking people inside their homes if they’d agree to a coronavirus test. These door-to-door tests, which began on April 19, may be the first of their kind in the country, the scientists say, and will help determine whether people currently have the virus…

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Deadly temperatures expected to arrive later this century are already here

Human beings have a superpower — sweating. When temperatures rise, beads of sweat exude from our pores and evaporate, releasing energy that cools the skin and keeps our bodies from overheating. This self-cooling mechanism has helped humans spread to every hot and humid corner of the globe. But that sweating superpower has a theoretical upper…

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Physicists have found a way to foil a classic oobleck science trick

It takes guts to attempt running across the surface of a liquid. Even more so if a sneaky physicist is nearby. A mixture of cornstarch and water known as oobleck solidifies when hit with a forceful impact. That effect makes for a classic science party trick, in which participants run across the liquid’s surface (SN:…

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Brewing beer may be an older craft than we realized in some places

Microscopic signatures of malting could help reveal which prehistoric people had a taste for beer. Ancient beer is difficult to trace, because many of beer’s chemical ingredients, like alcohol, don’t preserve well (SN: 9/28/04). But a new analysis of modern and ancient malted grain indicates that malting’s effects on grain cell structure can last millennia.…

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Some comb jellies cannibalize their young when food is scarce

Some jellies go ballistic when their prey disappears — cannibalistic that is. Warty comb jellies, native to the western Atlantic Ocean, invaded Eurasian waters in the 1980s. The jellies have since flourished, cycling through population booms during summer when prey is abundant and busts in fall and winter when it’s not. Now a study finds…

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A game based on Simon shows how people mentally rehearse new information

A brain at rest isn’t always resting. Sometimes it’s rehearsing information it just learned. For the first time, scientists have watched this mental replay in two human volunteers. These neural ruminations, described May 5 in Cell Reports, might play a role in making a new, fragile memory more durable, scientists suspect. Most examples of mental…

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Warming water can create a tropical ecosystem, but a fragile one

A decade ago, the waters off the Otomi Peninsula in the Sea of Japan, were a tepid haven. Schools of sapphire damselfish flitted above herds of long-spined urchins. The site was a hot spot of tropical biodiversity far from the equator, thanks to warm water exhaust from a nearby nuclear power plant. But when the…

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A pill for heavy metal poisoning may also save snakebite victims

Doctors have long sought a “snakebite pill” that can deliver life-prolonging medicine when and where it’s most needed. Now experiments with an existing drug that treats heavy metal poisoning are stoking that dream. Given orally, the drug saved or extended the lives of mice injected with lethal doses of viper venom, researchers report May 6…

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Why otters ‘juggle’ rocks is still a mystery

A lovely, intuitive idea about why otters juggle rocks — that it helps them practice survival skills — might not be correct, new tests show. The term “juggling” is itself overenthusiastic. Otters don’t keep stones flying around in some tall, aerial circle. Instead, the animals shuffle rocks back and forth quickly between their front paws.…

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A simple exercise on belonging helps black college students years later

A simple, one-hour exercise that helps black students feel like they belong in college can pay off. Even a decade later, students who took the training reported higher levels of personal and professional satisfaction than their peers. The findings, reported April 29 in Science Advances, indicate that benefits from a “social-belonging” intervention endure, says Christopher…

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Planets with hydrogen-rich atmospheres could harbor life

Microbes can live and grow in an atmosphere of pure hydrogen, lab experiments show. The finding could widen the range of environments where astronomers seek signs of alien life. “We’re trying to expand people’s view of what should be considered a habitable planet,” says exoplanet astronomer Sara Seager of MIT (SN: 10/4/19). “It seems to…

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Deep-sea mining may damage underwater ecosystems for decades

Microbe communities living in the seafloor off Peru haven’t bounced back from a deep-sea mining experiment 26 years ago. The populations are still reduced by 30 percent in this part of the South Pacific Ocean, researchers report April 29 in Science Advances. From 1989 to 1994, the DISturbance and reCOLonization, or DISCOL, experiment plowed grooves…

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50 years ago, superconductors started feeling the pressure

Superconductivity under pressure, Science News, May 2, 1970 – Cooling certain metals to temperatures near absolute zero turns them into superconductors, substances without electrical resistance, in which currents flow without power loss. In recent years it has become apparent that in some cases pressure as well as cooling has something to do with inducing superconductivity. Metals are…

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Why mammals like elephants and armadillos might get drunk easily

An elephant, a narwhal and a guinea pig walk into a bar. From there, things could get ugly. All three might get drunk easily, according to a new survey of a gene involved in metabolizing alcohol. They’re among the creatures affected by 10 independent breakdowns of the ADH7 gene during the history of mammal evolution.…

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Some existing drugs might fight COVID-19. One may make it worse

Scientists are investigating a variety of drugs, including ones for anxiety and allergies, that might prevent the coronavirus from hijacking different cell systems to replicate itself. But one medicine that patients with COVID-19 may be using to treat a symptom of the disease could make things worse, lab experiments hint. A common ingredient in cough…

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A newfound superconducting current travels only along a material’s edge

Superconductors are getting edgy. For the first time, scientists have spotted a superconducting current traveling along the edge of a material, like a trail of ants crawling along the rim of a dinner plate without venturing into its middle. Normally, such superconducting currents, in which electricity flows without any loss of energy, permeate an entire…

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Greenland and Antarctica are gaining ice inland, but still losing it overall

In the tug-of-war between coastal melting and inland ice buildup, the meltdown is winning in both Greenland and Antarctica. Initial observations from NASA’s ICESat-2 satellite in 2018 and 2019 reveal how the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have changed since the original ICESat mission collected data from 2003 to 2008. Both missions measured the height…

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16th century skeletons suggest the slave trade brought some diseases to Mexico

Slavery proved contagious when Spain colonized 16th century Mexico. Africans abducted into the transatlantic slave trade and taken to Mexico around that time may have introduced forms of two infectious diseases, hepatitis B and yaws, to the Americas, researchers say. DNA of three men whose skeletons were previously excavated near a Mexico City hospital indicates…

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Remdesivir is the first drug found to block the coronavirus

An antiviral drug called remdesivir is the first treatment to show efficacy against the coronavirus. Preliminary results from a clinical trial comparing the drug with a placebo suggest that remdesivir speeds recovery from COVID-19 by 31 percent, the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said April 29 in a news release. The international…

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Spinosaurus fossil tail suggests dinosaurs were swimmers after all

Sharp-toothed Spinosaurus didn’t just stand in the shallows to snag fish for dinner; this dinosaur may have been an excellent swimmer. Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, a new fossil discovery reveals, had a paddle-shaped tail that may have helped the predator slice through the water with the grace of a crocodile. The fossilized tail, unearthed from 95-million-year-old rocks…

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Vaping may damage the heart just as smoking does

Switching from smoking to vaping may not help with cardiovascular health. Researchers performed tests on the vascular systems of more than 400 healthy adults aged 21 to 45. Study participants who use cigarettes, e-cigarettes or both had stiffer arteries than those who did not smoke or vape, the researchers report online April 29 in the…

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Here’s why a hero shrew has the sturdiest spine of any mammal

At first glance, hero shrews don’t appear to live up to their name. But these fuzzy, molelike animals are the Clark Kents of the shrew world, with superpowers hidden beneath their humble exteriors. Their backbones are like nothing else in the animal kingdom: the vertebrae interlock, making the spine extremely strong and rigid when compressed. …

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Some patients who survive COVID-19 may suffer lasting lung damage

Among patients who have recovered from COVID-19 in China comes the first evidence that some may suffer long-term lung damage from the disease. In 70 patients who survived COVID-19 pneumonia, 66 had some level of lung damage visible in CT scans taken before hospital discharge, researchers report March 19 in Radiology. The damage ranged from…

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Skeletal damage hints some hunter-gatherer women fought in battles

Women’s reputation as nurturing homebodies who left warfare to men in long-ago societies is under attack. Skeletal evidence from hunter-gatherers in what’s now California and from herders in Mongolia suggests that women warriors once existed in those populations. Two research teams had planned to present these findings April 17 at the annual meeting of the American…

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