Health & Science

When whales could walk; Beam me up, Scotty; Reviving a lost species; A condom for the stomach; Affected by your mom’s life

When whales could walk

One of the evolutionary ancestors of today’s whales was a fully amphibious creature that spent much of its life in the sea, but slept and gave birth on land. Scientists are now able to confidently describe this animal, having found a well-preserved fossil of a pregnant proto-whale. The Maiacetus inuus, as the species has been named, lived 47 million years ago, midway through the whale’s evolution from a goat-like land creature to today’s marine mammal. It spent most of the day swimming with its flippered hooves, but crawled onto land to give birth, to mate, and to sleep. “Maiacetus was a long-snouted, short-haired mammal with short limbs, webbed hands and feet retaining small hooves on some fingers and toes, and it had a thick, long tail,” study author Philip Gingerich tells Discovery News. It was from 6 feet to 15 feet long and looked like a strange amalgam of a whale, cow, alligator, and sea lion. Maiacetus is a huge evolutionary find, representing a node on the branched family tree that gave rise to today’s whales and cattle. We can consider this new fossil find a birthday present for Charles Darwin, who was born 200 years ago this month, says geologist Ewan Fordyce. “Darwin would have reveled in such evidence for a major shift in the fossil record.”

Beam me up, Scotty

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

It’s hardly Star Trek, but scientists have taken one small step toward the process of teleportation, says The New York Times. Utilizing the almost-magical properties of quantum physics, scientists at the Joint Quantum Institute in Maryland were able to transport information instantly across several feet of space, from one atom to another. With a microwave pulse, scientists “wrote” quantum information onto one atom. They induced both atoms to become “entangled.” Entanglement is a mind-boggling quantum phenomenon in which two bits of matter somehow instantly affect the other across space, as if they shared a single identity. After the entanglement, the second atom had the same information that was written on the first atom, even though no information had traveled between them. That’s a primitive form of teleportation. Beaming Captain Kirk down from the Starship Enterprise to a planet, says physicist Christopher Monroe, probably isn’t in the cards. “There’re way too many atoms,” he says.

Reviving a lost species

For the first time, scientists have successfully cloned an extinct animal. The animal in question isn’t a Tyrannosaurus rex or a woolly mammoth, but a species of goat that died off just a few years ago. The rare Pyrenean ibex, a mountain goat, became extinct in 2000, when the last of this subspecies was found dead. Fortunately, scientists salvaged some cells from the goat, named Celia, and froze them for safekeeping. The researchers inserted Celia’s DNA into egg cells from a domestic goat, and were able to grow them into a thousand embryos, 30 of which were implanted into goats. One was born, though it died soon after because of lung malformation, a common problem in cloned animals. Though a resurrected Celia has yet to run free in her former habitat, this cloning gives hope for dwindling species everywhere, professor Robert Miller tells the London Daily Telegraph. “Clearly there is some way to go before it can be used effectively, but the advances in this field are such that we will see more and more solutions to the problems faced.”

A condom for the stomach

The latest breakthrough in weight-loss procedures may sound unappealing, but it’s reversible and safer than surgery. The “gastric condom” is a device that looks like a tampon applicator, and is inserted through the mouth and into the stomach. Once it has reached the bottom of the stomach, the device opens up, anchoring itself and releasing a length of plastic tubing into the first two feet of the small intestine. Like a sausage casing, the tubing will surround food, preventing it from being absorbed by the walls of the intestine as it passes through the body. This effectively reduces the number of calories that can be absorbed from a given amount of food. When tested on rats, a smaller version of the device resulted in both significant weight loss and reversal of type 2 diabetes, researcher Stuart Randle tells New Scientist. Since the procedure isn’t surgical, it has far fewer risks. The device can be removed in just 10 minutes by being pulled through the mouth.

Affected by your mom’s life

Every woman should live a rich life, says a new study, if not for herself, then for her children. Researchers at Tufts University have found that when a female mouse is exposed to plenty of mental stimulation, she improves both her own memory and that of her offspring. Enriching experiences appear to stimulate body and brain chemicals that increase the capacity for memory. While in the womb, babies’ chemical pathways are probably activated by the chemicals in their mom’s blood. In other words, as study author Larry Feig tells Scientific American, “Experiences [your mother] had during adolescence could influence your memory.”

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.