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SciTech Briefs

Mammoth skeleton uncovered in Idaho reservoir

Paleontologists have recently discovered a 70,000-year-old mammoth skeleton in Idaho’s American Falls Reservoir.

Every year, when the water level drops in the reservoir, teams of paleontologists scour the beaches for fossils in the freshly eroded reservoir banks; one of the volunteers found the mammoth fossil on a cliff face 30 feet below the reservoir’s high-water level. Mary Thompson, a vertebrate paleontologist and senior collections manager at the Idaho Museum of Natural History, led a team to excavate parts of the tusk (which was 19 centimeters in diameter), skull, and teeth of the 16-year-old mammoth using plaster casts. Next year, Thompson hopes to get a better idea of the dimensions of the fossil with more advanced radar.

Source: Live Science

NASA identifies methane ice cloud in Titan’s strato

In 2009, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft picked up an image of a space cloud on Saturn’s moon, Titan, reminiscent of Earth’s own clouds near its poles. Recently, researchers have identified that the cloud contains methane ice, and a cloud of this nature has never been seen so high in Titan’s stratosphere before. Because clouds in Titan’s stratosphere require extreme cold, it was previously thought that only ethane clouds could form there. However, Carrie Anderson, a Cassini participating scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, has noted that the temperatures in Titan’s lower stratosphere are not consistent at all latitudes, allowing for the formation of the cloud. Scientists are eager to explore how this cloud will vary with seasonal changes on Titan.

Source: Science Daily

Scientists make DNA wires that carry current

Recent research, published by an international team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has demonstrated that electric current can be transmitted through long DNA molecules.

Scientists participating in the study measured currents over 100 picoamperes traveling over 100 nanometers and were able to reliably reproduce their data. Lately, molecular electronics and nanocircuits have become an interest of study, and this potential breakthrough could lead to the development of DNA-based electronic circuits that are more sophisticated, cheaper, and simpler to make than those currently in use, according to Danny Porath, a professor at the university.

The team published its findings in Nature Nanotechnology.

Source: The Science Times

NASA’s rocket Antares deliberately destroyed

In the aftermath of NASA’s Antares rocket explosion, teams of investigators are examining the damage done to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. The unmanned rocket lifted off on Oct. 28 at 6:22 p.m., but roughly 6 seconds after the launch, there was a large explosion and pieces of the rocket scattered across the launch area. A spokesman for Orbital Sciences Corporation said that the rocket was deliberately destroyed after it became apparent there was a problem with it. Lost in the explosion were 5,000 pounds of supplies meant for the International Space Station, including a project called Drain Brain, which was designed to help learn more about blood flow in space, and an experiment called Meteor, which was designed to help detect meteor showers.

Source: CNN

Scientists make enzyme that could explain origin of life

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have devised an enzyme in a test tube with a unique property that could have been crucial to the origin of life on Earth. The new enzyme — called a ribozyme, since it is made from ribonucleic acid (RNA) — helps knit together a “copy” of a mirror image strand of RNA using the original RNA strand as a template.

The team created the enzyme by catalyzing a quadrillion short RNA molecules of right-handed chirality. This “cross-chiral” enzyme could explain how RNA replication started on primitive Earth, according to Gerald F. Joyce, a professor in TSRI’s Departments of Chemistry and Cell and Molecular Biology and director of the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation.

Source: Science Daily

Miniature human stomachs are grown in labs

Scientists have successfully grown the first fully functioning miniature human stomach from pluripotent stem cells. This intestinal “organoid” was grown in a dish containing mucus-making cells, very similar to how real stomachs grow.

Scientists are hoping to study human gastric disease using these mini organs, which could lead to the creation of individualized intestinal patches to help those suffering from ulcers. Already, they have injected the mini stomach with Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that more than half the world’s population is infected with, to see how the bacterium grows and infiltrates human stomachs.

Source: Science News