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September 17 2014

Cross-bred crops get fit faster


Genetic engineering lags behind conventional breeding in efforts to create drought-resistant maize.

Old-fashioned breeding techniques seem to be leading genetic modification in a race to develop crops that can withstand drought and poor soils.

As the climate warms and rainfall becomes more erratic, farmers worldwide will increasingly need crops that can thrive in drought conditions.

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September 17 2014

Earthworms as nature's free fertilizer


Earthworm presence in the soil increases crop yield, shows a new study that was published this week in Scientific Reports. "This is not unexpected," says Jan Willem van Groenigen, associate professor in the Soil Biology group of Wageningen University, and lead author of the study. "People have known for millennia that earthworms can be good for plant growth. However, we did not know how strong this effect is, nor how it works. That is what we studied."

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September 17 2014

This Crocodile Uses Tools To Capture Its Prey


With their powerful jaws and their ability to grow up to 10 feet long, this South Asian crocodile looks like a powerful hunter. But its not just their size or their teeth that makes their hunting style so successful. It's their strategy. They're using tools.

The Mugger (Crocodylus palustris) is medium-sized crocodile that is found mostly in India, but also surrounding countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and even as far north as Iran.

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September 17 2014

Sharks Act Like Math Geniuses


Sharks behave as though they are brilliant mathematicians, finds new research, although they may be more sensible than clever.

The mathematician-like behavior attributed to sharks and certain other marine predators, animals and organisms is known as Lévy flight. It is a seemingly complex form of random walk comprising clusters of short step lengths with longer movements between them.

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September 17 2014

Stringy fields may make the universe swell faster


DARK energy, the mysterious force thought to be responsible for the fact the universe's expansion is accelerating, might come from a series of exotic fields. This notion, which has its origins in string theory, could explain why it was only after galaxies formed that the rate of expansion began to increase.

Dark energy could simply be a property of space-time, called the cosmological constant, which appears as a term added into the equations of general relativity.

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September 17 2014

What Is the Universe? Real Physics Has Some Mind-Bending Answers


The questions are as big as the universe and (almost) as old as time: Where did I come from, and why am I here? That may sound like a query for a philosopher, but if you crave a more scientific response, try asking a cosmologist.

This branch of physics is hard at work trying to decode the nature of reality by matching mathematical theories with a bevy of evidence. Today most cosmologists think that the universe was created during the big bang about 13.8 billion years ago, and it is expanding at an ever-increasing rate.

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September 17 2014

Early Earth less hellish than previously thought


Conditions on Earth for the first 500 million years after it formed may have been surprisingly similar to the present day, complete with oceans, continents and active crustal plates.

This alternate view of Earth’s first geologic eon, called the Hadean, has gained substantial new support from the first detailed comparison of zircon crystals that formed more than 4 billion years ago with those formed contemporaneously in Iceland, which has been proposed as a possible geological analog for early Earth.

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September 17 2014

Dino-Killing Impact Remade the Plant Kingdom, Too


The killer meteorite that extinguished the dinosaurs also torched North America's forests and plants. The harsh conditions after the impact favored fast-growing flowering plants, nudging forests toward a new pecking order, a new study reports.

As a result, today's forests would baffle a Brachiosaurus. Most of the slow-growing trees and shrubs that were munched by dinosaurs are minor players in modern forests, because the plants couldn't adapt to post-impact climate swings, researchers reported Tuesday in the journal PLOS Biology.

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September 17 2014

Tiny Bite Marks Reveal Afterlife of an Ichthyosaur


When whales die, their bodies sink to the seafloor. But surprisingly few of their natural graves have ever been found.

The rare "whale falls" that have been seen by scientists aren't exactly grim pictures of death; rather, they're often teeming with life. Sharks, eels, bacteria and bone-eating "zombie worms" gather around these nutrient-rich graveyards. The number of new species discovered around whale falls in deep water suggests the carcasses can host distinct, complex ecosystems.

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September 17 2014

Fossils show parental care in beetles


Helicopter parenting may be a modern invention, but parenting overall is nothing special. After all, beetles have been doing it for some 125 million years. Today’s Nicrophorus burying beetles are known for the care of their young. A male and female pair buries the carcass of a small vertebrate, such as a rodent or bird, removing the fur or feathers in the process; the female then lays 20 to 40 eggs around it.

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September 17 2014

The Gulf Stream kept going during the last Ice Age


The warm Atlantic water continued to flow into the icy Nordic seas during the coldest periods of the last Ice Age.

An Ice Age may sound as a stable period of cold weather, but the name can be deceiving. In the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, the period was characterized by considerable climate changes. Cold periods (stadials) switched abruptly to warmer periods (interstadials) and back.

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September 17 2014

New Evidence Lost Civilizations Really Existed


What if everything you’ve been taught about the origins of civilization is wrong? Be it that certain pieces of our history have been intentionally hidden, or that we have yet to discover and realize the true story of our past, new archaeological and geological discoveries are revealing that sophisticated civilizations have likely existed in prehistoric times.

Until recently, the archaeological community has spread the view that the beginnings of human civilization started after the last Ice Age, which ended around 9,600 BC.

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September 17 2014

Did Time In This Dungeon Turn Vlad Into The Impaler?


The real story of Vlad III of Wallachia, better known as Vlad the Impaler and inspiration for Count Dracula, includes a period when he was held hostage in Tokat Castle in Tokat, Turkey. Archeologists restoring the castle have recently discovered two dungeons, a secret tunnel, storage rooms and more that they believe was used to imprison Vlad.

What’s interesting about this discovery is that it brings to light what may be one of the reasons Vlad went bad.

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September 17 2014

Bones Tell the Grisly Tale Behind King Richard III's Death


Researchers say marks on Richard III's bones confirm the centuries-old saga of the English king's death — including claims that the killing blows were delivered to his skull, and that vengeful foes stabbed his corpse after death.

"The contemporary accounts of the battle tally with what we've seen on the skeleton," said the University of Leicester's Sarah Hainsworth, one of the authors of a study published Tuesday by The Lancet, a British-based medical journal. "It's a great testament to modern forensic science and engineering that we can go back more than 500 years in history and learn how a person of that age died.".

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September 16 2014

Uncovering Hidden Text on a 500-Year-Old Map That Guided Columbus


Christopher Columbus probably used the map above as he planned his first voyage across the Atlantic in 1492. It represents much of what Europeans knew about geography on the verge discovering the New World, and it’s packed with text historians would love to read—if only the faded paint and five centuries of wear and tear hadn’t rendered most of it illegible.

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September 16 2014

Divers sure of new finds from 'ancient computer' shipwreck


Archaeologists set out Monday to use a revolutionary new deep sea diving suit to explore the ancient shipwreck where one of the most remarkable scientific objects of antiquity was found.

The so-called Antikythera Mechanism, a 2nd-century BC device known as the world's oldest computer, was discovered by sponge divers in 1900 off a remote Greek island in the Aegean.

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September 16 2014

Walking or Biking to Work May Make You Happier


Walking to work is not only good for your body; it may also benefit your psychological health, a new study from England suggests.

In the study, the researchers analyzed information from nearly 18,000 commuters in England who answered questions about their well-being, such as whether they experienced feelings of worthlessness, unhappiness or sleepless nights in the last few weeks. Based on those answers, the researchers gave each participant a well-being score. Participants completed the survey for at least three consecutive years between 1991 and 2009.

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