Latest Breakthroughs in Biology and Science

scientist conducting clinical experiment

The ones you may have missed because they weren’t about viruses and vaccines, chosen by National Geographic

In 2020, due to the coronavirus, there has been a lot of talk about scientific research, scientific journals and scientists, in a completely exceptional way than usual. Not all of this year’s discoveries received the same attention, however: around the world there was much anticipation and trepidation for news about vaccines, while announcements related to other fields have probably been overlooked.

The National Geographic has put together ten and stretched them in short, for those who if they had lost over the last twelve months.

The Oldest Matter on Earth Is Older Than the Entire Solar System

In September 1969, a meteorite we called Murchison fell in Australia. In January, an analysis was published in the authoritative scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences according to which a piece of that meteorite is the oldest matter found on Earth so far: it would have an age between 4.6 and 7 billion of years, and would therefore be older even than the Sun.

We Found Two Tyrannosaurus Embryos

Or rather, we discovered that some dinosaur bone remains found in 1983 in an archaeological site in Montana, USA, and in 2018 in one in Alberta, Canada, belonged to specimens of tyrannosaurus not yet released ‘egg. The remains are between 71 and 75 million years old and have made us discover that tyrannosaurs were very small at birth, roughly the size of a Chihuahua, even though they had disproportionately long tails. According to scientists, we hadn’t found any remains of embryos or very young tyrannosaurus puppies so far because we didn’t expect them to be so small.

Ars Hums, and We Don’t Really Know Why

In 2019 InSight, NASA’s 2018 lander on Mars, detected the first Martian earthquake ever recorded. Subsequently it recorded a slight but constant hum which seems to be somehow connected to the earthquakes but of which the origin is not yet known. It has a higher frequency than the natural background noises heard on Earth, some of which are caused by oceans, others by winds. It cannot yet be ruled out that the lander itself generates the noise and for now we do not know much more.

Betelgeuse Was Less Bright Than Usual Due to a Cloud of Dust

Between October 2019 and last April Betelgeuse, one of the most visible stars from Earth, about 700 light-years away, had been less bright than usual. It had happened several times that it had drops in brightness, but the one observed in that period was greater than the previous ones: astronomers and astrophysicists had therefore wondered if it was due to the normal life cycles of the star or if it was the indication of a new phase in its evolution, and a possible imminent explosion. A study published in August in the Astrophysical Journal explained that thanks to the observations of Hubble – the important NASA and ESA telescope orbiting the Earth – it is now thought that the drop in brightness was caused by a “cloud of dust” created by Betelgeuse itself, and that as it cooled, it had covered the star.

The Last Meal of a Nodosaurid

In 2011, again in Alberta, in an oil sands deposit, the very well preserved remains of a 110 million-year-old dinosaur, or rather a part of it, were found. The dinosaur in question was a nodosaurid, that is an “armored” dinosaur: it had, along its entire body, bony spines covered with keratin. This year’s discovery concerns the fact that the last meal of the fossilized animal was found and analyzed inside the remains. The nodosaurid was a herbivore and in its stomach, remains of ferns of a particular type were found, along with woody twigs: for this scientists have hypothesized that the dinosaur died in the summer.

3d space scene

Second Largest Ebola Outbreak Is Over

This is not really a discovery, but an important result of scientific advances: on June 25, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the end of an Ebola outbreak that infected 3,480 people, killing nearly 2,300. It had developed in August 2018 from the North Kivu region in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it had been difficult for health authorities to intervene due to local political instability. Things were resolved thanks to a vaccination campaign: the vaccinated were more than 300 thousand. In June there had been other cases in the country, unrelated to that epidemic, but then in November the government announced a period of 42 days without any recorded infection, a period of time that corresponds to double the incubation period of the virus. It was the eleventh Ebola outbreak in the history of the Congo.

The Oldest Homo Erectus

In 2015, Jesse Martin and Angeline Leece, two Australian students researching fossils in the Drimolen mine near Johannesburg, South Africa, found the remains of a skull. Initially they thought it belonged to a baboon: in reality they are the oldest remains of a skull of Homo erectus, a human species that lived between 2 million and 108 thousand years ago, the first to spread from Africa to Asia. The remains in question, described in an article published in Science, date back to 2 million years ago. Their discovery is important because this kind of archaeological discoveries helps scientists to improve the tree of evolution of the human species, therefore of our ancestors.

Dinosaur DNA?

Don’t think about Jurassic Park right away, because de-extinguishing an animal species is still a far from reality perspective, science fiction in the case of dinosaurs. But by studying well-preserved fossils dating back 70 million years, a group of scientists have been able to identify forms that could be chromosomes and cell nuclei in some remains of Hypacrosaurus stebingeri, a species of dinosaur. It was not possible to extract DNA from the fossil, but the study is still relevant because it demonstrates how even certain very small biological structures can be preserved in the fossilization process.

Perhaps We Arrived in the Americas Earlier Than We Thought

In Mexico, some artefacts such as spearheads and chipped rocks, suggests that as early as 30,000 years ago there were humans on the American continent. So far we have been certain that the first human presence in the Americas dates back to at least 13,500 years ago. The evidence from the Nature study suggesting otherwise however is not yet considered definitive by the scientific community. If human remains had been found at the archaeological site in question, dating back to that time, there would have been less doubt.

A Coral Reef Higher Than the Empire State Building

An expedition from the Schmidt Ocean Institute, an oceanographic research organization dedicated to the study of the Great Barrier Reef, north-east of Australia, has found a coral formation, similar to a tower, about 500 meters high. Only seven other structures were known of similar structures.

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