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Abiotic amino acid found in subseafloor rocks

In 2000, scientists discovered a new type of deep-sea hydrothermal vent site in the North Atlantic about 20 kilometers west of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which they named Lost City. Nearly two decades later, researchers have discovered that an amino acid detected in rocks beneath the site is produced by a geochemical process, rather than a biological one. The find reveals conditions that might have kick-started life on Earth.

20 Mar 2019

Neanderthals and humans suffered similar levels of head injuries

Paleolithic Neanderthals have traditionally been depicted as more aggressive than Homo sapiens, and reliant on inferior hunting techniques with close-range weapons that would have put them at greater risk of suffering gruesome injuries and shortened life spans. A seemingly high incidence of Neanderthal remains bearing evidence of traumatic injuries has helped shape the narrative that they lived harder, more violent lives and died younger than their modern human neighbors. But a new study in Nature looking at skull injuries in Eurasian hominids casts doubt on this brutish stereotype.

19 Mar 2019

Hard-knock hominid skeletons tell harsh tales

The Pleistocene was a hard time for hominids. Homo fossils from this period, when humans evolved and expanded from Africa and across Eurasia, are riddled with an unusual number of skeletal abnormalities. Swollen braincases, bowed femurs, twisted long bones, pronounced dwarfism and malformed teeth are just a few of the unusual skeletal features found in many Pleistocene hominid fossils. A new statistical study has confirmed that these anomalies occur at higher-than-expected rates in the Pleistocene fossil record. But whether this elevated incidence was mainly caused by nutritional stress or inbreeding, or if it’s an artifact of preservational bias, is unknown.

15 Mar 2019

Kerogen's nanostructure determines oil and gas reservoir capacity

The petroleum and natural gas that power engines and heat homes are extracted from the complex networks of nooks and crannies that permeate kerogen — a waxy organic mishmash that forms within sedimentary rocks as algae, terrestrial plants and other organic matter is compacted and heated over geologic time. In a new study, scientists have taken the closest look yet at kerogen’s internal pore structure, and the resulting images are helping scientists understand why some oil and gas reservoirs are more productive than others.

14 Mar 2019

Dinosaur soft tissues preserved as polymers

Since 2005, several samples of ostensibly soft tissue, such as blood vessels and bits of organic bone material, have been gleaned from dinosaur bones. The finds have stirred debate because the notion that intact dinosaur proteins could survive tens of millions of years has proved a tantalizing but difficult pill to swallow for many paleontologists. In a new study, however, researchers have identified a chemical pathway — well known in food science but not seen before in paleontology — that may be the key to long-term preservation of soft-tissue structures.

12 Mar 2019

Jump-starting earthquake insurance uptake in California

Many parts of California are at risk for large, damaging earthquakes. Yet only about one in 10 homes in the state is covered by earthquake insurance. Now, a new insurance option offers a means to supplement traditional insurance plans and provides a way for uninsured Californians to obtain at least a modicum of earthquake coverage.

08 Mar 2019

Stronger monsoon drove ancient Indus civilization into the hills

Roughly 4,000 years ago, the Indus River Valley was home to the advanced and thriving Harappa culture. But by 1800 B.C., the civilization’s sophisticated cities along the river, which drains into the Arabian Sea on the coast of what is now Pakistan, were abandoned for smaller villages in the Himalayan foothills. A new study suggests that widespread changes in the Indian winter monsoon may have resulted in flooding that forced people to resettle farther from the Indus.

07 Mar 2019

Some of Earth's water originated in the solar system's birth

When Earth first formed, the oceans of water we know today were nowhere in sight. The long-standing consensus about where our planet’s water came from posits that it was not present during Earth’s formation and that it was later brought by chondritic materials like meteorites, asteroids and comets. But new research suggests some also came from the solar nebula — the gas and dust left over from the formation of the sun that created the planets.

05 Mar 2019

Wrangling the data to choose Mars landing sites

NASA has sent four rovers to Mars, and the fifth — the Mars 2020 Rover — is slated to launch in summer 2020 for an early 2021 arrival. Selecting suitable landing sites is a critical and painstaking pre-launch step in ensuring both the technical and scientific success of these missions.

27 Feb 2019

Earliest bird-like lungs found in China

Before birds took to the air, a number of anatomical features evolved that allowed them to get off the ground. While many of these features were skeletal adaptations that have been well-documented in the fossil record, when exactly the large-volume lungs needed to power flight developed has long been a mystery. But the recent discovery of a unique fossil bearing a significant amount of preserved soft tissue, including lung tissue, has shed light on how early birds adapted to breathe in flight.

26 Feb 2019

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