Saturday, January 19, 2013

Weekly Science Roundup #15

My brain is stuffed with a fun mid-winter head cold. Please pardon any spelling errors or absurdities you may read below.

1. Dogs Aren't Wild Like Wolves Because We PLAY WITH PUPPIES

Possibly the most fun I've had doing a Wikimedia Commons picture search EVER.
Okay, so maybe you're saying, "Gee, dogs are friendlier because we socialize them? Isn't that obvious since like, forever?" but bear with me.

As it turns out, dogs and wolves begin to explore their environments at different ages. Wolves begin at two weeks of age, when only their sense of smell is active. Dogs begin at four weeks, when their sense of smell and their sense of hearing are both active, followed quickly by their sense of sight.

Now, anything added to a puppy's world when a new sense is developed is rightfully quite terrifying. But since dog pups only deal with one new sense added after their initial exploration phase (and added quickly, at that) while wolf pups have to deal with two, that cuts down on the panic associated with encountering new things (people, cats, horses, goats, etc) in dogs compared to wolves.

Also, in the case of wolf pups, even if people somehow end up raising them, it's generally not from before the pups hit two weeks. Meanwhile, when people raise dog pups, it often is already by the time they hit four weeks. During their first exploration phases, wolves don't encounter humans, while dogs do. Such a wonderfully simple explanation for one of the biggest mysteries in dog domestication.

Now to figure out at what point in their evolutionary history, the gene switched in wolves to allow them two extra weeks before they began exploring...

2. Reversing Disabilities in Pre-mature Babies?

In an amazing new discovery, doctors think it might be possible in the not-so-distant future to actually reverse disabilities in babies that are born prematurely.

It turns out that low blood (and therefore oxygen) supply to a developing brain doesn't cause an irreversible loss in brain cells. The neurons don't actually die in all cases; instead, their maturation gets disrupted. If doctors intervene early enough, they could promote the proper maturation of the neurons and resolve brain disabilities before they even strike.

Biology is awesome. 

Okay, so now that we're all happy and optimistic, filled up with puppies and babies and pleasant feelings...I'm going to unfortunately have to burst your bubbles. I'm sorry.

3. Climate Change is Officially Messing With Two Awesome Places

The Amazon Rainforest had a drought in 2005, and another in 2010. These droughts are due to climate change. There is no denying it. The evidence is all there. What scientists didn't expect was how long it would take the rainforest to recover from drought. As of 2010, when the second drought hit, the forest still hadn't recovered from the 2005 yet. This isn't just a matter of letting it take a year to bounce back. These droughts hit hard, harder than any scientist had predicted. 


And along with the study on the effects of climate change on the Amazon, a biodiversity hotspot and one of the last great wildernesses our planet has, another study has just come out explaining the upcoming effects of climate change in what will always be my home: the Great Lakes region, Midwest, USA.

I won't even try to top the introductory explanation given in this article here :
In the coming decades, climate change will lead to more frequent and more intense Midwest heat waves while degrading air and water quality and threatening public health. Intense rainstorms and floods will become more common, and existing risks to the Great Lakes will be exacerbated.
Excuse me while I go curl up and shake for a bit.

Maybe I'll go look up more puppy pictures on Wikimedia Commons for a while. And then get back to working on my science stories for kids, because someone has to talk some sense into the next generation if they're going to be left dealing with this crap.

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