Ripped from the Journals: The Biggest Discoveries of the Week

by Eliza Strickland

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September 15

The week began with a bit of science news that caught the attention of just about everyone who has ever taken a shower. Microbiologists examined shower heads in nine U.S. cities and found that the innocuous-seeming pieces of hardware often harbor hordes of bacteria that spray out of the nozzle when the shower is turned on. Although the study’s findings sound alarming, researchers were quick to point out that microbes are omnipresent in our daily environment and that a healthy person’s immune system can easily handle this bacterial bath. They suggest that only people with immune disorders need be concerned.

PLoS ONE, September 16
In a new report in this open access journal, researchers describe a cell phone app designed to help both professional scientists and citizen scientists. The program allows people to collect data on a subject like the changing habitat of a rare species by recording notes, photos, or videos on their smart phones; the program would then use the phones’ GPS system to determine the user’s location and to plot the data on a map. It’s a nifty research method that is bound to become more prevalent as smart phones find their way into more people’s hands.

Nature, September 17
It was the biggest science news of the week: Researchers used gene therapy to cure color blindness in two squirrel monkeys, suggesting that treatments for blindness in humans may be down the road. In the study, researchers say they were delighted and surprised to find that inserting a gene into the monkeys’ eyes corrected their vision, even though the adult monkeys’ brains were fully formed and couldn’t “rewire” themselves in response to the new gene. The findings suggest that the human brain is considerably more adaptable than we thought.

New England Journal of Medicine, September 16
Over the past decades Americans have been sucking up sugary drinks at a furious pace, and doctors say it’s no coincidence that we now have an obesity epidemic on our hands. To encourage consumers to make healthier choices, seven experts in nutrition, public health, and economics published a paper calling for a tax on soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages. This idea is catching on with policymakers looking for new revenue that could be used for government health care programs, but the beverage industry is, unsurprisingly, furious to have its products singled out as a major cause of obesity.

Science, September 18
Researchers have found the fossil of what looks like a miniature Tyrannosaurus rex, a toothy little man-sized beast that has ravaged previous theories of how the T. rex evolved. In a new study researchers describe Raptorex kriegsteini as a 9-foot-long, 150-pound creature with powerful back legs, runty forelegs, a whip-like tail, and a disproportionately large head. The fossil surprised paleontologists because it was previously believed that the T. rex evolved these distinct features as a consequence of its huge body size. The finding of Raptorex, which lived 35 million years before its colossal descendant, suggests that in fact the predator’s body type was set early on, and that the dinosaur then just scaled up over time.
September 18th, 2009 9:30 AM Tags: journal roundup


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