1. Nanomedicine Takes a Small Step Forward.

    For years, the idea of using nano-sized crystals in medicine has been an alluring one for medical researchers. A new study conducted at several universities in the U.S. and China, finds that after being tested in primates for one year, the use of these tiny crystals, called quantum dots, produced no ill effects. In the future, quantum dots, which glow in bright luminescent colors, might be useful in diagnosis, cancer treatment and other therapies.

    More at Science Daily.

  2. New Lizard Found Amidst Congo’s Landmines.

    Researchers have discovered a new lizard that has a sort of armor plating. CT scans were used to reveal the armor feature of the lizard and DNA analysis confirmed that it was a new species. However, the lizard will need all the armor it can get because it exists in an area of the Congo that has seen long-term warfare and is riddled with landmines.

    More at the American Museum of Natural History. Mongabay.

  3. Rat Research Suggests New Concerns About Too Much Fructose.

    Does excessive consumption of sugary treats impair our cognitive ability? A six-week study using lab rats has prompted some concern. In the study, some rats were given pure water and a routine rat diet, while some were given a water solution containing 15% fructose, instead of pure water. In addition, half of the rats were given a high omega-3 supplement. The rats’ ability to navigate a maze was used as a cognitive test. The rats who ingested fructose and did not have omega-3 scored worse on the test than any of the other rats. Considering that people consume some 60 pounds of high fructose corn syrup every year, the basis for concern is apparent.

    More at National Geographic.

  4. Writable DNA Computing May Be Within Reach.

    Until now, DNA was considered a repository of information, much like a hard drive on a computer. However, scientists constructed a DNA composite from bacteria and a virus. The resulting DNA blend allows for a reversible process for attaching and detaching segments to specific sites on the DNA. This makes DNA the equivalent of a dynamic memory with the ability to write and rewrite information just like a computer does. How this form of DNA actually will be used in biological sciences is still unclear, but scientists are hopeful about its potential.

    More at Gizmodo.

  5. Jurassic Squid Ink Virtually Unchanged.

    A stroke of luck has preserved a small ink sack in the fossil of a Jurassic period squid that was found in England. Even though it is some 160 million years old, the organic chemical component of the ink, melanin, has been analyzed and found to be almost identical to the same chemical that today gives squid their inky defense system. It is extremely rare that organic material survives intact after such a long time. In this case, the lucky find has allowed scientist to conclude that no evolutionary change in the squid ink mechanism occurred for millions of years.

    More at Discovery.

  6. DNA Search On for “Bigfoot.”

    It goes by many names: Bigfoot, Yeti, Sasquash, and the Abominal Snowman, but most scientists scoff at its existence. Yet, as unlikely as it seems, the prestigious Oxford University and the Lausanne Museum of Zoology have invited samples from Bigfoot aficionados in order to conduct DNA testing. So far they have received strands of hair, blood and material allegedly chewed by a Yeti. A positive DNA finding would be one that suggests a so-far unknown hominid. Results will be published at the end of the year.

    More at Fox News.

  7. Did Changes in the Earth’s Magma Oxygenate the Planet?

    Scientists know that early earth, from 4 to 2.5 billion years ago, had very little free oxygen. Of course, the great abundance of life that followed and exists today requires free oxygen, but where did it come from? The answer may lie deep beneath the earth’s crust in the composition of its magma — molten or partially molten rock. Over 70,000 rock samples from around the world were analyzed. The findings, co-authored by C. Brenhin Keller of Princeton University, suggest that a change in the type of iron compounds in the earth’s magma sometime after 2.5 billions years ago, permitted much more free oxygen to enter and remain in the atmosphere through volcanic action.

    More at National Geographic.

  8. New Sensory Organ Found In Chin of Some Whales.

    Rorqual whales, which include some of the largest — blue, humpback and minke whales — feed by opening their tremendous jaws and swallowing huge quantities of seawater that contain fish and krill. Biologists have now identified a heretofore unnoticed organ at the tip of these whales’ chins. It is a bundle of nerve fibers that is “perfectly placed, anatomically, to coordinate a lunge because that soft structure is pinched by the tips of the jaws, and deforms through the course of a lunge,” according to biologist Nicholas Peyenson.

    More at Red Orbit.

  9. Speaking to Dolphins.

    An impediment to communicating with dolphins is that they utilize a wide range of low to high frequency sounds. Normal speakers are not able to replicate that range and so scientists are developing a special type of speaker that can. The prototype has not yet been tested, but it is hoped that if an accurate replication of dolphin calls can be re-broadcast with the new device, the responding communication from the dolphins might help unlock the secrets of their “language.”

    More at Live Science

  10. Dogs’ Genetic Makeup Scrambled by Humans.

    We have all heard that dogs are ultimately descended from wolves. Even though that is still true, a comprehensive DNA analysis of hundreds of dog breeds that exist today demonstrates that the genetic origins of dogs at the time of domestication are obscured by human breeding. Even the so-called old dog breeds bring scientists no closer to their genetic origins. In fact, the almost constant human tinkering with dog breeds has left so much of an imprint on their DNA that DNA analysis offers little insight into their more ancient origins. Scientists believe that not until more ancient dog fossils (on the order of 15,000 years) are analyzed will they have in hand genetic clues as to the first point of dog domestication.

    More at New York Times.

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


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