Discoveries, News

Darwin’s ‘strangest animals’ finally classified thanks to protein sequencing

Macrauchenia ("long llama"). Image: Wikimedia Commons

While in South American during his 1830 expedition with the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin came across the fossils of two peculiar hoofed species which he was unable to classify properly. One was Macrauchenia, which looked like a camel with the head of an ant eater, and the other was Toxodon which had the body of rhino, the head of a hippo and the teeth of a rodent. So, was the Macrauchenia related to the camel or the ant eater? Who was Toxodon’s closet cousin, the hippo or the rhino? Darwin was puzzled and to no avail concluded these were “perhaps one of the strangest animals ever discovered”. But Darwin didn’t have the tools we have today. Now, using a ground breaking technique researchers have sequenced the collagen of a myriad of South American mammals, including Darwin’s ‘strangest animals’ and finally found their real taxonomy.

Discoveries, News

Croc ancestor was the top two-legged predator on Earth, long before T. Rex and other dinosaurs

Artist impression of the "Carolina Butcher," Carnufex carolinensis. Credit: JORGE GONZALES

Long before T-rex claimed the top dog spot among terrestrial predators, a vicious crocodile ancestor that walked on its hind legs was at the top of the food chain during the Triassic. The fossils of the Carnufex carolinensis, also known as the the “Carolina Butcher,” were discovered decades ago in the Pekin Formation, a geological formation in North Carolina’s Chatham County. It was only recently that researchers reanalyzed the fossils and concluded they were dealing with an all new predator that roamed the Earth several million years before dinosaurs were even around.

Discoveries, News

Earliest tree-clinging and burrowing mammals show they weren’t afraid of dinosaurs

age of dinosaurs

Although mammals surfaced only 20 million years after the first dinosaurs evolved, there’s a general consensus that mammals were shadowed and reclusive in the face of dinosaurs, seeing how they were the dominant animals on the planet back then. As such, early mammals are thought to have been mostly nocturnal with minimal interaction with dinosaur environments, occupying very limited ecological niches. This conventional thinking might be toppled by recent findings made by Chinese paleontologists who discovered two highly sophisticated early mammals each at least 160 million years old: the first tree-clinging mammal and the first burrowing mammal. These creatures munched on the same plants dinosaurs did, proving they seemingly coexisted in the same ecological framework.

Discoveries, Great Pics, News

10,000 year old underwater forest discovered

It is believed the forest was drowned when the ice caps melted and the sea level rose 120 metres. The trees are now lying on the ground, where they have formed a natural reef, which is teaming with fish and plants

Divers off the coast of Norfolk have discovered a submerged prehistoric forest, hidden underwater for 10,000 years. The forest was part of Doggerland – a land area which connected Germany and Great Britain up to 8000 years ago. This is a forgotten part of Europe, hidden under 200 meters of water. Divers discovered it after a winter storm shifted thousands of

Discoveries, News, Science

Ancient 420-million-year-old fossil hints of bony fish and cartilaginous fish common ancestor

The 415-million-year-old fish Janusiscus provides evidence of a common bony and cartilaginous fish. Credit: SAM GILES, MATT FRIEDMAN, AND MARTIN BRAZEAU

Based on fossil evidence and genome analysis, scientists know that the two groups diverged from a common ancestor around 420 million years ago, but we’ve yet to find actual fossil of it. Things are shaping up though after paleontologists have identified an Early Devonian fish from Siberia, approximately 415 million years old, which bears features of both classes.

Discoveries, News

Microbial life found 2.4 km beneath the ocean floor – it’s the deepest marine drill ever

Microscope image of the tiny organisms discovered 2,4 km deep below the sea bed. Image: IODP Expedition

An expedition that drilled 2,400m beneath the seabed off Japan – the deepest marine drilling ever –  found life in cores brought back to the surface. The tiny, single celled organisms survived there without any oxygen or light, relying only on a harsh diet of hydrocarbons to make means. Because of the limited resources available to them, the organisms have an

Biology, Discoveries, Genetics, News

Genetic response to starvation is passed down to at least three generations

starvation

In 1944, the Nazis caused widespread famine in Western Netherlands after they blocked food supplies. A group of pregnant women living in the Netherlands, labouring under starvation conditions imposed by a harsh winter and food embargo, gave birth to relatively small babies. When their children grew up, in relative prosperity, to have children of their own their babies were unexpectedly small.

Anthropology, Discoveries, Genetics, News

Unique gene passed by extinct human species makes Tibetans superhuman

Tibetans acquired a unique gene by interbreeding with a now-extinct human species. Photo: easytourchina.com

Advancements in genetic sequencing has allowed genomic research to flourish. DNA sequencing is now much faster, cheaper and accurate than ever before, and we’re only now beginning to reap the rewards. It’s the first step to a complete understanding of our bodies. The Human Genome Project, once finally completed, mapped and identified all the genes of the human genome. This helps

Chemistry, Discoveries

X-rays image atoms during chemical reactions for the first time

The X-ray snapshots in the figure show the atomic arrangement of the molecule being brominated before, during, and after the reaction. Photo: Fujita et al/JACS

Since its advent some 100 years ago, crystallography has become one of the most important processes in chemical research and development. It involves bombarding a material with X-rays to produce a diffraction pattern as they reflect off the sample. The pattern can be used then to directly determine the atomic structure of the crystal. Using this technique, the structure of

Discoveries, News, Research

Pluto’s Moon may have harbored underground ocean

Underground-Ocean-on-Pluto

The new NASA-funded study showed that if the icy surface of Pluto’s giant moon Charon is cracked, analyzing the fractures could show if the interior was warm and perhaps warm enough to have maintained a subterranean ocean of liquid water. Pluto is the most distant planetoid (no longer a planet, sorry) in the solar system. It’s extremely far from us,