A terrifying Jurassic ‘Jaws’
One hundred and forty-seven million years ago, says New Scientist, a monster the size of a city bus wreaked terror in the Arctic Ocean. The enormous pliosaur, nicknamed Predator X by scientists, was a marine meat-eater of the Jurassic period. With a head twice the size of T. rex, 1-foot-long teeth, and a bite far more powerful than that of any creature ever discovered, the animal was built for devouring large, swimming reptiles such as dolphin-like ichthyosaurs and the plesiosaur (which resembled a typical long-necked land dinosaur). Fossils of Predator X were uncovered by Norwegian scientists over several summers on a frozen island 800 miles from the North Pole. As parts of the frigid landscape thawed, and polar bears scratched through the ice, the researchers were able to dig up part of the pliosaur’s skull and the remains of its flipper. All told, scientists dug up 20,000 pieces of the creature, which provided a vivid picture of a true monster. Predator X had a bite force of about 33,000 pounds—four times the force of T. rex’s, and more than 10 times that of any animal alive today. “Its anatomy, physiology, and hunting strategy all point to it being the ultimate predator,” the researchers said.
The peanut allergy cure
Parents whose kids are allergic to peanuts live in fear. Should an allergic child accidentally eat any food containing peanuts, touch a peanut, or even breathe in the scent of a peanut, he can have such a violent reaction that he may go into shock and die. But doctors at Duke University Medical Center have discovered what might be a lifelong cure for the 3 million Americans with peanut allergies—exposing them to about a 1,000th of a peanut in a controlled setting, managing their reaction, and then increasing the amounts in tiny increments. Now, 10 months after the study began, formerly allergic kids can eat about 15 peanuts each day without a reaction. “They’re eating peanut candy, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, whatever they want,” Dr. Wesley Burks tells the Los Angeles Times. Further research is needed, he says, but for parents accustomed to policing their kids’ environments for any trace of peanuts, the treatment could be truly life-changing. “It’s such a burden lifted off your shoulders,” says Rhonda Cassada, whose son has been allergy-free for two years now.
iPod, heal thyself
A new coating for cars, iPods, and furniture can magically “heal” scratches under the light of the sun, says National Geographic News. This new type of clear polyurethane, University of Southern Mississippi researchers say, heals itself when exposed to any source of ultraviolet light, so a car’s scratches would melt away simply by sitting in your driveway for about a half-hour. The coating combines ring-shaped molecules called oxetane with chitosan, a natural material that makes up the hardened skin of bugs and crustaceans. When a scratch breaks the ring molecules open, the chitosan is activated by UV energy and binds to the molecule fragments, closing the void and healing the scratch. “There are an immense number of opportunities for this,” says researcher Marek Urban. He and his team are now talking to chemical companies about developing the coating for sale.
The hippo’s natural sunblock
If you want to stay out in the sun all day and not get burned, slather on some hippo sweat. University of California researchers recently began collecting the red, oily sweat of hippos from a zoo to figure out how the virtually hairless animal can stand in the beating African sun all day and not get burned. They found that the sweat has a liquid crystalline structure that diffuses beams of light and a red pigment that absorbs them, so it blocks or screens most of the sun’s harmful rays. The secretions also contain antimicrobial and insect-repelling chemicals: A jar of hippo sweat left out in the lab showed no signs of bacterial or fungal contamination, even after several months. A similar substance—providing the combined virtues of a sunblock, sunscreen, insect repellent, and antiseptic—would be liquid gold on a drugstore’s shelves, chemical engineer Christopher Viney tells Discovery News, “just so long as the stuff doesn’t smell like hippo.”
Sniffing out fearful men
Watch out, men: When you feel fear, women can smell it. Researchers at Rice University in Texas provided 48 women with sweat from three groups of men. Two of the groups had been watching neutral or happy videos as they sweated, and the third group had watched a horror movie. The women were shown pictures of the different men’s faces as they smelled their sweat, and then were asked to describe the emotions on the faces. When inhaling the smell of “fear sweat” (the sweat of a man who had been watching a scary film), the women were significantly more likely to say that the men in the sample photos were frightened. “Our findings provide direct behavioral evidence that human sweat contains emotional meanings,” study author Denise Chen tells LiveScience.com. She theorizes that evolution equipped humans with the ability to detect danger and “read” people when visual and auditory signals aren’t clear. “The sense of smell guides our social perception when the more dominant senses are weak,” Chen says.