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March 17 2015

Ancient ‘sex switch’ comes out of retirement


Scientists have brought a retired sex gene in mammals back to life—proving it can still switch on male development in mice, despite not having done so for millions of years.

The gene Dmrt1 is no longer used by mammals to determine sex but still plays a key role in determining sex in many vertebrates, including frogs, fish, and birds.

The work provides valuable insights into the evolution of genes responsible for determining sex in humans and animals, researchers say.

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March 17 2015

Why the coco-de-mer evolved such giant seeds


The fruit of the double coconut palm or coco-de-mer, which houses the tree’s enormous seeds, are the largest among plants. The fruit can weigh up to roughly 39 pounds and can reach a diameter of over one-and-a-half feet.

The palm has developed a clever mechanism to optimize the provision of nutrients for itself and its offspring—and as a result produces large seeds. It is the only plant species that takes care of its offspring in order to increase their chances of survival.

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March 17 2015

The perils of feeding bread to ducks


It's a seemingly innocent pastime. But experts warn that feeding ducks bread is not just bad for the bird's health - it can damage entire ecosystems, says Justin Parkinson.

Throwing crumbs of stale bread in a pond or river is a ritual of family days out dating back to at least the 19th Century.


Alt: Feed ducks frozen peas instead of stale bread, charity asks

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March 17 2015

Ancient whale swam hundreds of miles up African river


A 22-foot beaked whale that apparently took a wrong turn up an African river about 17 million years ago may offer clues to the climate-change forces that shaped human evolution.

Lost for more than 30 years, the fossilized beak with part of the jaw bone helps determine that the East African Plateau probably began rising no earlier than 17 million years ago, according to a study published online Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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March 17 2015

Himalayan Yeti 'Mystery' Looks Even Less Mysterious, Scientists Argue


Mystery solved? Not Yeti, but close. A year ago, geneticists reported that RNA extracted from hair samples attributed to the Himalayan Yeti monster, a.k.a. "the Abominable Snowman," were actually most similar to the 40,000-year-old genetic signature of a now-extinct breed of polar bear. They suggested there might be a yet-to-be-discovered bear species lurking in the remote Himalayan snows.

Now a different research team says the hairs were just as likely to come from a type of brown bear that's common in the Himalayas.

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March 17 2015

Scientists Take DNA Sample From Woolly Mammoth Leg for Cloning Project


A group of Russian and South Korean researchers has begun their attempt to clone a woolly mammoth, starting by extracting DNA from a spectacularly well-preserved specimen discovered in the Siberian permafrot in 2013. The project is led by Hwang Woo-Suk, a Korean cloning scientist who was the focus of a scandal in 2006 involving fraudulent research on human stem cells. Hwang has had success with animals, however, reportedly creating the world's first cloned dog and several cloned coyotes.

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March 17 2015

Stolen Artifacts Returned to Iraq


U.S. authorities turned over more than 60 stolen artifacts to Iraq today (March 16), including gold-plated items from Saddam Hussein's palace and a limestone head of the Assyrian king Sargon II from an ancient city that was recently wrecked by ISIS militants.

Back in June 2008, special agents with the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in New York were working on "Operation Lost Treasure," an effort to break up antiquities-trafficking networks.

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March 17 2015

The Largest Known Bronze Mask of Pan Uncovered


A large bronze mask of the god Pan, the only of its kind, was uncovered at the excavation at Hippos-Sussita National Park. According to experts, bronze masks of this size are extremely rare and usually do not depict Pan or any of the other Greek or Roman mythological images.


Related: 2,000-year-old sword found in Henan

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March 17 2015

Oldest Roman Fort Protected Soldiers from 'Infamous Pirates'


Using airborne laser scanners, researchers have discovered ancient fortifications in Italy that make up the oldest known Roman military camp, where soldiers may have fought pirates more than 2,000 years ago.

This camp may help reveal clues about how the Romans developed their army, and the structures might have served as the foundations of the modern Italian city of Trieste, the researchers said in the new study.

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March 17 2015

Ancients Set Stage for Collapse of Teotihuacan


A recent study paints a picture of a great ancient Mexican city-state that eventually collapsed, at least in part, due to the weight of its own internal social, political and economic struggles.

Known as Teotihuacán, the enigmatic end of this ancient, powerful central Mexican civilization has been the subject of a variety of theories and explanations, including warfare, draught, and internal unrest or conflict, to name a few. The latest study, however, points to internal social and economic struggles characteristic of a mixed, complex and fractured social fabric and power structure that essentially set the stage for conditions leading to its downfall.

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March 17 2015

Did Atlantis really exist on the Moroccan coast?


FOR centuries, historians, archaeologists and scuba divers have sought — and failed over and over again — to find Atlantis, the glorious ancient metropolis that was lost beneath the waves.

But what if the wave was lost beneath the city? That is, what if the “sunken” metropolis was, in fact, only sunken briefly by a tsunami wave, which wreaked colossal destruction before receding back to the sea.

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March 17 2015

Unearthing an Iron Age Sanctuary in the Mediterranean


In the summer of 2015 a team of archaeologists will begin excavation of a cyclopean sanctuary located on the Mediterranean island of Menorca. This type of building is monumental and exclusive to this island, with no parallel around the world. Because of this, fieldwork at this building will offer the opportunity to both researchers and excavators to uncover a unique megalithic religious center, where they will obtain information about the ritual practices carried out there and the whole meaning of the building in relation to their users: the so-called Talayotic society.

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March 16 2015

Circular thinking: Stonehenge's origin is subject of new theory


Whether it was a Druid temple, an astronomical calendar or a centre for healing, the mystery of Stonehenge has long been a source of speculation and debate. Now a dramatic new theory suggests that the prehistoric monument was in fact “an ancient Mecca on stilts”.

The megaliths would not have been used for ceremonies at ground level, but would instead have supported a circular wooden platform on which ceremonies were performed to the rotating heavens, the theory suggests.

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March 16 2015

Ring brings ancient Viking, Islamic civilizations closer together


More than a century after its discovery in a ninth century woman’s grave, an engraved ring has revealed evidence of close contacts between Viking Age Scandinavians and the Islamic world.

Excavators of a Viking trading center in Sweden called Birka recovered the silver ring in the late 1800s. Until now, it was thought that it featured a violet amethyst engraved with Arabic-looking characters. But closer inspection with a scanning electron microscope revealed that the presumed amethyst is colored glass (an exotic material at the time).

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March 16 2015

Robot Funerals Reflect Our Humanity


A Japanese funeral service held for broken AIBO robot dogs may seem strange in the eyes of many Westerners. Owners of AIBOs often treat their robots as beloved pets and family members rather than just machines—an openness that arises in part from Japan’s cultural attitudes toward robots. But the robot funeral also reflects more universal tendencies of human psychology that go beyond Japanese culture.


Related: Teaching Robots To Be Moral

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March 16 2015

The Plan to Build a Skyscraper That Doesn’t Cast a Shadow


Growing cities around the world have nowhere to go but up, leading to taller and taller buildings. But while mega-skyscrapers are the most efficient way to build new homes, they also cast long shadows, drawing the ire of people living and working below. One solution: a pair of buildings that work together, reflecting sunlight to minimize shade.

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March 16 2015

For the first time, the world economy grows while carbon emissions don't


For the last 40 years, whenever the world economy grew, so did the Earth's carbon dioxide levels — until 2014, The Washington Post reports. The International Energy Agency (IEA) announced that in 2014, the economy grew and CO2 levels didn't.

In the past, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions was due to an economic downturn. That's because economic growth is often linked to increased energy use, which in turn increases emissions. The "decoupling" of the economy and carbon emissions was likely the result of efforts by energy companies to fight climate change, the IEA says.

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