Discovered: Carbo-loading is why we have cute dogs; dung beetles follow the stars; research to resume on H5N1 avian flu; look at this newly discovered Brazilian bird before it goes extinct.
Carb-loving wolves evolved into dogs. We know that at some point in evolutionary history, dogs branched off from wolves and became the cuddly, domesticated creatures we now know and love (and pit against each other in bizarre televised competitions). And a new study led by Erik Axelsson, a geneticist at Sweden's Uppsala University, suggests that a carb-heavy diet helped distinguish modern-day dogs from their protein-hungry wolf ancestors. While toothsome wolves remained faithful to the Atkins diet, early dogs approached human settlements and started eating their carbohydrate-based scraps. "That food was obviously the same kind of food that we were eating," says Axelsson, claiming that these proto-dogs probably subsisted on roots, porridge, and bread much like our human ancestors. [Los Angeles Times]
Dung beetles guided by the Milky Way. Who knew these crunchy insects were such stargazers? Eric Warrant, professor of zoology at the Lund University in Sweden, and his colleagues have found that dung beetles use starlight from the Milky Way to orient themselves when traveling at night. This is the first time an insect has been shown to rely on starlight for mobility—we already knew birds and seals were capable of it. "Even without the moon—just with the stars—they were still able to navigate," says Warrant. "We were just flabbergasted." [Science Now]
Avian flu research moratorium lifted. Citing fears that an avian flu virus might be engineered by evil-doers to be extra-infectious, flu researchers across the world agreed to put a two-month moratorium on H5N1 research in January 2012. That ban has gone on for a year now, and scientists are ready to lift it. The 40 researchers who signed the initial moratorium held a press conference today announcing that they'll resume studying the potentially deadly flu strain in special labs in Europe, Canada, and China. They say it's important to prepare for the possibility of an H5N1 pandemic. "Understanding how the avian virus is adapted to mammals will lead to better surveillance and vaccines," says the University of Tokyo's Yoshihiro Kawaoka. American researchers are awaiting guidelines from the CDC before proceeding with their own studies. [MIT Technology Review]
Look at this Brazilian bird before it goes extinct. Discoveries of new species are often a bittersweet affair—by the time we spot these creatures, they tend to be on the brink of extinction. Such is the case with the Stresemann’s bristlefront (Merulaxis stresemanni), a critically endangered bird just filmed for the first time by Brazilian researchers who went bird-watching in the state of Bahia. "This is the discovery of a lifetime made all the more gratifying by the fact that not only have we found live adult birds, but we have also found strong evidence of several chicks as well," says Alexandre Enout, the manager of the Mata do Passarinho Reserve, where the discovery was made. Bristlefronts are ground-nesting birds, meaning they don't migrate. There are only about 15 of these little guys left, so get a look while you still can. [Scientific American]