Bonnie is a 63.5-kilogramme orangutan at the National Zoo in Washington, DC. And she whistles. But then, most orangutans imitate human beings. What is so special in this case? The key point is that she was not trained to whistle. She probably picked it up from someone who was whistling. So, Bonnie is the first indication that orangutans can independently pick up sounds from other species. A new study suggests that the sounds she makes could hold clues about the origins of human language. Two things need to be studied now – how flexible soundlearning is in apes and whether they can adjust their sounds, like pitch and intonation, depending on the context.
Human beings have finally touched magma in its natural environment. A drilling crew cracked into magma – molten form of rock that sometimes erupts to the surface as lava – deep beneath Hawaii. The drilling was being done for a geothermal power plant at the world’s most active volcanic zone, Kilauea volcano. What is adding to the excitement is that the magma is made of dacite, precursory rock type of granite, rather than basalt, which forms most of Hawaii. This proves that dacite can separate from basaltic magma to form granitic rocks. “This may be the first time that the generation of granite has actually been observed taking place in nature,” says William Teplow, a consulting geologist at US Geothermal, Inc., who is assisting on the project. Also, “this could be the first magma observatory in the Earth,” says Bruce Marsh, a volcanologist from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, US, who will be studying the find.
Scientists have discovered one of the largest raptors to roam Earth 70 million years ago in Argentina. Austroraptor cabazai is 16.5 to 21 feet long, depending on its tail size. The dinosaur’s incomplete skeleton — including head, neck, back, and foot bones — was extracted from rocks in the farsouthern Patagonia region. This is a completely ‘unexpected’ discovery because paleontologists have found mostly smaller crow- and turkey-size raptors in South America, but none so huge. “The new find turns the evolutionary history of raptors — northern and southern America — upsidedown”, says Fernando Novas, the lead researcher behind the discovery who is based out of Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Disease-causing bacteria have evolved a cell wall made from a tangle of tightly woven strands to protect themselves from human defenses. This made it difficult for scientists to see inside these organisms. But, researchers from Rockefeller University, US, have now figured out how to drill holes through their hide without obliterating them. They are looking at Streptococcus pyogenes – the culprit behind diseases like strep throat and rheumatic fever, and an enzyme common to all gram-positive bacteria called sortase A, which anchors surface proteins to the cell wall. “The idea here is that the more we know how sortase functions inside the cell, the more strategies we will have to interfere with its activity stripping the bacteria of their pathogenic surface proteins”, says study leader Vincent A. Fischetti, head of the Laboratory of Bacterial Pathogenesis and Immunology. So now, it would be possible to study most of the known bacteria on the planet. Hmm… sounds good.
Diamonds are not just a sign of luxury. They hold clues to our past. Archeologist Doug Kennett of the University of Oregon, US, and his colleagues have found tiny diamonds at six sites across North America. These ‘nanodiamonds’ are made under high temperature and pressure during massive cosmic impacts. “The nanodiamonds that we found at all six locations exist only in sediments associated with the Younger Dryas Boundary layers, not above it or below it”, says Kennett. This suggests, about 12,900 years ago, a group of comets hit Earth. This melted the Greenland ice sheet and sent the planet into a cold spell, which led to the extinction of mammoths, and other creatures like saber-toothed cats, camels and giant sloths.