Discovered: Genetically "upgraded" fruit flies; mummification was invented during heavy rainfall; egg yolks speed atherosclerosis almost as much as cigarettes; dark matter detected in our galaxy.
Hacking the fruit fly genome. Jason Chin and his colleagues at Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge have genetically "upgraded" fruit flies by adding amino acids that don't naturally occur in the species' genetic code. These "hacked" fruit flies are now able to make proteins that exhibit properties not found in nature. Imperial College London's Paul Freemont says, "This work provides a very significant expansion on our capability to manipulate and alter proteins involved in specific cellular and developmental processes. It will provide new insights into human disease mechanisms, memory and ageing." [New Scientist]
The origins of mummies. Long before Egyptians embalmed their pharaohs, the Chinchorro of South America mummified their dead. The practice, which dates back 7,000 years, may have began during—and partially because of—a period of heavy rainfall, researchers have discovered. The weather led to an increase in food supply and a population boom that enabled the Chinchorros to develop new cultural practices. "Environmental changes are usually associated with the collapse of complex societies," says Pablo Marquet, an ecologist from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago. "But if resources are abundant, environmental change can provide fertile ground for cultural evolution." [Science News]
Eggs sunny-side up are almost as bad as lighting one up. David Spence of the University of Western Ontario has determined that eating egg yolks may speed atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, nearly as much as cigarette smoking. In a survey of more than 1,200 patients, Spence found that regularly eating cholesterol-rich egg yolks builds up carotid plague at two-thirds the rate of regular smoking. Atherosclerosis makes heart attacks more likely by building up plaque on the inner walls of arteries. "It has been known for a long time that a high cholesterol intake increases the risk of cardiovascular events, and egg yolks have a very high cholesterol content," says Spence. "In diabetics, an egg a day increases coronary risk by two- to five-fold." [University of Western Ontario]
The dark center of it all. Astronomers theorize that dark matter comprises 85 percent of the universe's mass, but one of the only ways they can see this substance is by picking up on the gamma rays that shoot off from dark matter particles annihilating each other. Now, astronomers at UC Irvine have detected gamma-ray photons coming from the center of the Milky Way galaxy, which backs up the theory that the the center of our galaxy is made of dark matter. "This is the first time this new source has been observed with such high statistical significance, and the most striking part is how the shape, spectrum and rate of the observed gamma rays are very consistent with the leading theories for dark matter," says Kevork Abazajian, a UCI assistant professor. [University of California, Irvine]