The Dirt: This Week in Nature (6/16-6/22)

  1. Oldest Cave Art Found In Spain.

    The dating estimate of more than 40,000 year old makes the cave art in Spain the oldest cave art ever recorded. It includes hand stencils and dots. The paint itself could not be age tested but calcium deposits over the paint, which themselves were thousands of years older than the paint, were tested against known uranium decay rates. The age of the drawings is highly suggestive that they were made by Neanderthals. However, the art is so similar to examples produced by ancient homo sapiens living in Europe around the same time that it has led at least one scientist to suggest Neanderthals may simply have been a different race and not a separate species.

    More at National Geographic.

  2. Antarctica As It Once Was.

    Most information about the climate of the distant past is provided by ice cores. However, while ice core samples only go back around 1 million years, soil sediment core samples can reach back many millions of years through time. A new study headed by Sarah J. Feakins of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and participated in by NASA, has examined sediment soil cores from the Ross ice shelf in the Antarctic and has come to some interesting conclusions. Some 15-20 million years ago, Antarctic was about 20 degree F. warmer than it is today. The landscape was dotted with small trees and the warming coincided with increases in the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere.

    More at RedOrbit

  3. Jaguars in Columbia … Not the Four-Wheel Kind.

    The fragmented jaguar populations of North and South America are separated by human dominated space that is usually threatening for the animals. Palm tree plantations in South America are a predominant form of agriculture there. In Columbia, camera traps were set up to determine whether or not jaguars would venture onto one of the plantations in order to cross into a neighboring habitat. To the surprise of experts, they did. The bonus is some incredible close ups of a jaguar cub on a palm plantation.

    More at National Geographic.

  4. Gorillas Return After Ebola Outbreak.

    For several years, scientists have been observing a gorilla population in a section of Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Republic of the Congo. In 2004, an outbreak of the ebola virus, which is famously deadly to humans, decimated the population in just six months. From a high of about 380 gorillas, the population plummeted to about 40. Since then, however, the population has started to rebuild. New adult females have moved into the area and large male silverbacks moved away, to find more mates. Because of their relative isolation from social contact, the silverbacks are less likely to become infected. Now, the population is beginning to recover, although scientist estimate that it will be many decades before it returns to the preepidemic levels.

    More at Live Science.

  5. Sponges Might Teach Us About Central Nervous System Evolution.

    The simple sponge does not have a central nervous system. However, scientists believe that the entire animal kingdom branched off from the sponges’ ancient ancestors. It was then that the blueprints for a central nervous system were first laid down. Sponge DNA seems to contain the genes necessary for turning synapses on and off, albeit without coordination. At some point, these genes were regulated, perhaps by the evolution of a master gene, and in time synaptic coordination began. Once that happened, it is believed that the evolution of more complex nervous systems, relied upon by all members of the animal kingdom, began.

    More at Science Daily.

  6. The Pitcher Plant’s Ingenious Ruse.

    Carnivorous plants have always fascinated children and adults alike. Their methods for catching insects are sometimes ingenious. Take for example the pitcher plant. It has a hollow body like a pitcher and a lid sits atop the pitcher’s opening. The underside of the lid is coated with a waxy substance that allows insects to get a grip, but not too much of a grip. When it rains, insects seek shelter on the underside of the lid, which acts like an umbrella. However, when a raindrop hits the top of the lid, the insect is flung into the pitcher and digested by the plant.

    More at New York Times.

  7. Cheetah v. Greyhound Experiment Leads to Unexpected Results.

    Cheetahs have long been known as the fastest land animals. Researchers were interested in learning exactly what about their running technique makes them faster than other superiors runners, such as greyhound dogs. Using high speed photography and pressure sensitive plates to measure the cheetahs push off the ground, captive cheetahs at the ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, UK, and the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre, South Africa, were put through their paces. A piece of chicken attached to a truck was used to bait the animals into running. Although the captive big cats actually ran slower than the greyhounds in this test, the experiment discovered differences in their stride. They employ a varied gait in accelerating and can achieve longer than expected contact with the ground, both of which are thought to give the cheetah its usual speed advantage. As to why they ran slower than greyhounds in this particular experiment, the lead researcher blamed the poor performance on the effects of captivity and a lack of motivation.

    More at Science Daily.

  8. Staying One Step Ahead of Cancer.

    Billions of dollars are spent in the search for cancer therapeutic drugs. A recent study on cancer mutations reaches the conclusion that just as viruses will constantly adapt to new adverse conditions by mutating, so too do cancer cell evolve in response to cancer treatments. This explains the all-too-common effect of initial success in cancer treatment followed by relapse when those few cancer cells that happen to be resistant to the treatment multiply and in turn mutate again. Getting ahead of cell mutation by anticipating the most likely future mutations will delay but not eliminate cancer mutations. However, as one of the authors explains, the development of “evolutionarily informed therapies can forestall the emergence of resistant tumors for a very long time.”

    More at Science Daily.

  9. Goat Moms Know Their Kids’ Voices.

    Research in Great Britain suggests that even after a year of separation, a goat mom will still recognize it’s kid’s voice. Speculating on the usefulness of such long term memory, the researchers believe that long-term recognition is beneficial because it prevents incestuous breeding and its consequent health problems.

    More at Red Orbit.

  10. Can An Apple A Day Keep Obesity Away?

    Probably not. But research with lab mice offers a hint that a chemical in apple peel, called ursolic acid, has been shown to limit obesity in mice. The chemical also builds muscle, promotes healthier levels of blood sugar and increased “brown fat,” which is the preferred form of fat in humans. Of course, these findings are preliminary and apply so far only to lab mice, but they somehow make apples even more appetizing.

    More at Science Daily.

“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.