Robert Starr

Editor’s note: In this recurring column, science writer Robert Starr rounds up the previous week’s top science stories. Have a suggestion? Send a tweet to @RobertKStarr, and your link might appear in next week’s Science Buzz.

It’s been an exciting week for dinosaurs. Children love the Brontosaurus, but they soon grow up to learn that it’s not a real dinosaur. Scientists didn’t consider the dinosaur we usually call Brontosaurus as a distinct genus from another group already labeled Apatosaurus. But now we do. A group of scientists spent five years looking at specimens across 20 museums in the United States and Europe to determine that, yes, Virginia, Brontosaurus is a distinct group from Apatosaurus.

So keep your smart-aleck comments to yourself because Brontosaurus is real. 

A different group of dinosaur hunters found a skull of a Daspletosaurus — a cousin species to Tyrannosaurus rex — with bite marks on it. Bite marks in fossils are rare but important because they provide insight into the behavior and diets of prehistoric animals. In this case, the bite marks appear to match the teeth of another Daspletosaurus, suggesting these animals fought viciously with each other.

Were these kissing cousins or biting cousins? 

Love, security, money, a green card — these are all great reasons to get married. And now science has found another one: personal fitness. While previous research showed that people are more likely to drink or smoke if their partner does the same, a new study looked at whether spouses can encourage positive habits, such as weekly exercise routines. The results suggest they can.

The study looked at behavior over time and found that if a wife reported 150 minutes of weekly physical activity — as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends — in her first checkup, her husband would be 70 percent more likely to meet the requirement on a future visit. The influence of husbands on wives was lower — at only 40 percent — but still very promising.

Don’t just do it for yourself; do it for your spouse. 

Do you reach for a Gatorade after the morning bicycle ride with your significant other? Or do you prefer water and a Powerbar? How about Whataburger? While most don’t consider fast food an appropriate option for post-workout recovery, new research suggests it may not be a bad idea. The study looked at cyclists who completed a workout and then followed it up with either a sports supplement designed for recovery or a small fast-food meal. There was no difference in blood glucose, insulin levels or glycogen response between the two groups.

But that’s just science mumbo jumbo.

The more important part is that, four hours later, cyclists rode for another 20 kilometers, and there was no difference in performance between the group that recovered with the sports supplements versus those that recovered with the fast food.

So after your next three-mile jog, treat yourself to a honey butter chicken biscuit. 

Or maybe not.

A study out of Duke University found that college students who ate out were at a higher risk for high blood pressure. They also found that elevated blood pressure correlated with  high body mass indicies, older ages and low physical activity. Male students were also more likely to have high blood pressure than their female counterparts.

But surely five minutes on the treadmill is enough to counteract lunch at DoubleDave’s. 

Thanks for reading Science Buzz. Check back next Monday or check out last week's article for more!

Editor’s note: In this recurring column, science writer Robert Starr rounds up the previous week's top science stories. Have a suggestion? Send a tweet to @RobertKStarr, and your link might appear in next week's Science Buzz. 

3-D printers used to print objects at a rate of a few millimeters per hour, but a new system, described in the journal Science, speeds up the process over 100-fold. The old processes involved applying liquid to an object one layer at a time. The new process — continuous liquid interface production — produces a “dead zone” of liquid material at the base of the item that remains there throughout the printing. This ensures that the object remains in contact with liquid that hardens to become part of the object. It still takes a few minutes to print small items, but this is a huge improvement over previous methods that could take days.

So, Terminator fans, how long would it take to print Robert Patrick?

Most vertebrate land animals have tongues — and most water-dwelling animals do not. This is fine for most fish, which take water into their mouths and use suction feeding to swallow their food. It would require too much force to do that in air, so land-dwelling creatures evolved tongues to do similar work. But what about transitional species, such as mudskippers, which somehow feed on land without a tongue?

A new study looked at the fish using X-rays and high speed cameras and determined that mudskippers do have water in their mouth when they grab their prey. They suck the liquid back down, taking the prey with it. This allows them to swallow without needing to return to the water. It is a neat trick and one that might be worth trying next time you want to impress a date at a fancy restaurant.

But how do they kiss?

White and gold? Blue and black? The dress has made it all the way through the Internet and back to become yesterday’s news, but the scientific exploration behind the phenomenon is just getting started. 23andMe, a private company that provides its customers information about their genes in exchange for $99 and a little saliva, attempted to find a link between people’s genes and which colors they saw on the infamous dress. 

The company could not find a clear genetic component to the discrepancy. Anecdotal evidence — from identical twins, for example — suggest that the effect is not related to genetics, but there are traits that do correlate with what colors people see, including age and the environment in which they grew up. Nobody has yet to publish any peer-reviewed papers on the dress, but these questions mark the first step to understanding the baffling phenomenon.

So I guess genes really don’t go with that dress.

Evolutionary biologist J. B. S. Haldane, musing on God, once reportedly said, “He has an inordinate fondness for beetles.” With over 380,000 different named species of beetle — and likely many more that remain undiscovered — it’s difficult to argue his point. A new study also finds that while individual species of beetles may go extinct, taxonomic families tend to prove more extinction-resistant. A paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B notes that, of the 214 families of beetles to crawl this earth over 318 million years, 179 are still around today.

The researchers attribute this to beetles’ ability to move readily in response to climate change, although they acknowledge that this is only the beginning of our understanding of beetles’ resilience. 

Beetlemania just won’t die.

Thanks for reading Science Buzz. Check back next Monday for more!

Photo Credit: Melanie Westfall | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s note: In this recurring column, science writer Robert Starr rounds up the previous week’s top science stories. Have a suggestion? Send a tweet to @RobertKStarr, and your link might appear in next week’s Science Buzz.

The Internet lit up Thursday night when Tumblr user "Swiked" posted a picture of a white and gold dress. Or was the dress black and blue? Suddenly, a seemingly simple question (“What color is this dress?”) fostered impassioned debates seldom seen outside of politics, religion or sporting events. The image is an example of a color consistency illusion. Depending on lighting conditions, the same object reflects different wavelengths that hit our retina. Our brain has to make sense of them and adjust for the background light, but not all brains respond the same way.

Read more about how a black and blue dress can look gold and white.

Anyone who ever fed a roll of quarters into a Street Fighter machine knows that computers can be very good at video games, but these computers must be taught. The artificial intelligence for Street Fighter probably wouldn’t be as good at Angry Birds, and vice versa. Google developed a new self-learning video game playing machine to correct this. Without any explanation of the rules, the system taught itself to play several old Atari games through trial and error by analyzing what habits led to higher scores. Soon, the program became better than human players at some games, including Space Invaders, Pinball and Pong (although it didn’t fare as well at Ms. Pacman, Asteroids or Centipede because those games required looking too far ahead or in the past for the program to manage).

Will the computer become self-aware and kill us all?

This week, the United Kingdom approved a new system of in vitro fertilizations that uses DNA from three separate parents. During typical in vitro fertilizations, doctors take sperm from a male donor and match it with a woman’s egg before implanting it inside the mother’s uterus. The new system takes the DNA from an egg and places it into another egg with different mitochondrial DNA before providing the father’s sperm. This technique could be beneficial in situations in which the mother has faulty mitochondrial DNA, which can lead to problems with her offspring, including seizures or even death. Although the treatment received approval from the British House of Lords, it will remain highly regulated, used only in situations when it helps prevent potential side effects.

It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Eve and Other Eve!

Flip a quarter three times and it could land heads every time. Sometimes that happens by chance, but sometimes, it’s from using a two-headed quarter. The same thing happens in research. If people take a new medicine and show lower rates of heart attack than those who don’t, is it because of the medicine or just pure chance? In order to figure that out, scientists calculate a p-value, which gives the odds that a result occurred through chance alone. If this number is sufficiently low — usually below 5 percent — then the results are probably not just coincidence. However, researchers can manipulate this number, often without realizing it, which has led the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology to ban it from any research papers they publish. The “null-hypothesis significance testing”, which is the general category to which p-values belong, is not without its critics, but most scientists feel that it’s necessary until something better comes along.

Journal poo-poos p-values.

Thanks for reading Science Buzz. Check back next Monday for more!

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s note: In this new recurring column, science writer Robert Starr will round up the previous week's top science stories. Have a suggestion? Send a tweet to @RobertKStarr, and your link might appear in next week's Science Buzz. 

Bad news this week in science as we learned that not only is global warming still real, but it’s going to lead to the worst drought the U.S. has seen in 1,000 years. By looking at the rings of old trees, scientists can get a good idea of what the environment looked like over the past millennium and compare it to climate model predictions. Putting the information together allows them to connect the past, present and future and determine that the upcoming droughts could be on par to what California is currently experiencing.

To read more about the upcoming drought, click here.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, we’re putting even more plastic into the ocean than scientists originally thought, according to a report in the journal Science. While previous estimates assumed that only about .1 percent of produced plastic finds its way into the ocean, the new report said that the number is closer to 1.5–4.5 percent. This would mean about 5–13 million metric tons of plastic entered the ocean in 2010 — the most recent year that the researchers had data for. The scientists predict the amount of plastic entering the ocean per year will continue to grow because of global economic and population increases.

The plastic is coming. Read more here.

By contaminating marine life, the plastic affects our food supply and the drought our drinking supply, and a report from the journal Atmospheric Environment says the air supply isn’t looking so good, either. The study found that although UK drivers spend about 2 percent of commute time stopped at red lights, that’s where they inhale about 25 percent of the pollutants during their journey. These air pollutants are linked to 7 million premature deaths yearly. So while some may suggest that you don’t hold your breath waiting for that light on 24th and Guadalupe streets to change, maybe you should.

Hold your breath while you read more.

But this week is not all bad news. Two studies related to the HPV vaccine came back with optimistic results. The first shows that although researchers designed the vaccine against two specific cancer-causing strains of HPV, it is also effective against seven other strains which, although not quite as common, can still cause cervical cancer.

More information about the HPV vaccine's effects here.

One of the initial fears related to the vaccine is that it would encourage teenagers to engage in riskier sexual behaviors, but another study found that this isn’t the case. Although the population that would get vaccinated is more at risk of sexually transmitted diseases — since people are more likely to get the vaccination if they’re sexually active — the vaccine does not increase this risk. The vaccine, however, does not protect against other sexually transmitted diseases such as Hepatitis or AIDS. The easiest way to make sex safer is with the proper use of latex condoms.

So it turns out when teens get the HPV vaccine, it doesn't lead to more STDs.

And, finally, moving from the X-rated to x-rays, scientists have used x-ray lasers to observe a chemical bond forming. Researchers heated up carbon monoxide and oxygen to more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit while firing laser pulses lasting only a few femtoseconds to observe atoms combining into carbon dioxide. To put the speed of these laser pulses in perspective, there are as many femtoseconds in a second as there are seconds in 30 million years. The research aims to help us better understand the nature of chemical reactions and will allow scientists to design methods to make them faster and more efficient.

Read more about observing the chemical bond here (though personally, I refuse to accept anyone but Sean Connery in the role).

Thanks for reading Science Buzz. Check back next Monday for more!