The Week In Science: New Japanese Island, Chatty Neanderthals, Narcolepsy Mystery Unraveled

on December 20 2013 3:47 PM
neanderthal
In Neanderthals, a structure below the root of the tongue that is positioned in a fashion similar to humans, researchers discovered. Wikimedia Commons

Even as the holidays approach, scientists are still hard at work in labs and field stations, delivering piping fresh discoveries for us to ponder. This week's science news highlights included signs of cat domestication in ancient China, inkjet-printed eye cells and a way to send molecular text messages with vodka, but there’s still a lot more science that was unveiled! Here’s a roundup:

A new island formed off of the Japanese coast by a recent volcanic eruption is growing. Niijima, as officials have dubbed it (provisionally -- it means "new island"), was expected to be washed away soon after forming, but the little rock has expanded to 82 feet above sea level and an area of about 13.8 acres. [Christian Science Monitor]

Narcolepsy’s root cause is an autoimmune disorder, according to new research. A group of Stanford scientists has found that in some people, certain T-cells are erroneously gobbling up the hormone hypocretin, which helps keep us awake. Interestingly, the strain of swine flu H1N1 virus that spread across the globe several years ago has certain features resembling hypocretin, which appears to explain why people that caught swine flu -- and some that received the vaccine, which contains inactivated virus -- developed narcolepsy. [Nature news]

A new study links the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to a spike in dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico. [Wall Street Journal]

Move over, Curiosity: There’s a hot new robotic rover in town! Jade Rabbit, China’s lunar rover, is making tracks on the moon. All the more reason for the U.S. to return to where that “one small step” was made by Neil Armstrong -- and build a permanent research facility, one scientist argues. [National Geographic]

Around 6,000 years ago, someone in Egypt carved what looks like spiders into the face of a rock wall. Scientists are still trying to figure out what the figures could mean. [LiveScience]

Neanderthals were probably able to speak like humans, researchers say. A new analysis of a horseshoe-shaped structure in the neck called a hyoid bone, which supports the root of the tongue, shows that in Neanderthals it’s in the right position for vocalizing. [BBC]

A funny read: A writer argues that dinosaur erotica (which we’ve covered before) is no less terrible than Dave Egger’s “The Circle,” a New York Times Notable Book of 2013. [Medium]

Reddit’s biggest science forum -- following in the footsteps of the Los Angeles Times -- is banning climate change-denying publications from being posted. Some applaud the move; others are troubled. [Vocativ]

A vast amount of scientific data from studies published decades ago may be lost forever. Though many journals these days have scientists submit raw data for archiving, this was not always the case. A group of researchers tried to contact the authors for 516 biological studies published between 1991 and 2011 to see if their data was available, and were only able to obtain the files for 23 percent of the studies. Among the oldest papers, written more than 20 years ago, data could not be located for 90 percent of the studies. [Smithsonian Magazine]

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