21/01/2011

Pterosaurs
A chance discovery in China of a pterosaur fossil complete with egg has filled in a lot of gaps in the knowledge about these ancient flying reptiles. Although not dinosaurs, pterosaurs glided through the skies around the same time. The presence of the egg indicates that the fossil is female. She has no bony crest on her head, which leads the discoverers to assume that crests are a male-only ornament. The egg is soft-shelled and reptilian in nature and much smaller than an equivalent-sized bird would produce. The question now is whether or not these flying beasts invested any time and effort in raising their young?

Genetic link between friends
We all know that we share genes with our relatives – the genes that make us who we are, are inherited from our mother and father. Now researchers say there is a genetic component to friendship. They took a number of genes and searched for them in networks of friends. A gene which is implicated in alcoholism was found to be prevalent in groups of friends. This on its own might not be surprising, as drinkers may group together. But another gene which plays a role in openness and metabolism is found to be negatively-linked in friends – so opposites attract. The researchers think that genes may go some way to explain why we often instinctively like - or dislike – the people we meet.

Giant genes
Ireland has a history of giants, some of it legend and some fact. In an intriguing story of 18th century skulduggery and body snatching – DNA analysis of old bones from a man who had gigantism has been compared with that of modern day Irish giant Brendan Holland and found them to be related. Gigantism is caused by a tumour in the pituitary gland in the brain, which causes too much growth hormone to be released, making bones grow unchecked. It can be a dangerous condition if left untreated.

Plants go down as well as up
One of the widely expected ramifications of climate change is that plants and animals will move to higher latitudes and elevations in order to maintain the temperatures they require. But a study, in the mountainous regions of California, has found that over the past 70 years, the opposite has been true. Plant species have moved downhill. The researchers think that this is in response to changes in rainfall patterns caused by global warming, showing that patterns of change are far more complicated than previously thought.

Amateur astronomer discovers strange green blob
A new class of cosmic object has been found by a citizen scientist, through a project which allows the public to take part in astronomy research online. Dutch school teacher, Hanny van Arkel, found the strange gaseous blob while using the Galaxy Zoo website to help classify galaxies in telescope images. Astronomers subsequently confirmed that the object was one-of-a-kind, but they do not know what it is. Hanny has no plans to become a full time astronomer but is enjoying having her name on all the scientific papers related to the find.

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Sun 23 Jan 2011 15:32 GMT
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