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Oct 23, 2014

Easter Island’s ancient inhabitants weren’t so lonely after all

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – They lived on a remote dot of land in the middle of the Pacific, 2,300 miles (3,700 km) west of South America and 1,100 miles (1,770 km) from the closest island, erecting huge stone figures that still stare enigmatically from the hillsides.

But the ancient Polynesian people who populated Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, were not as isolated as long believed. Scientists who conducted a genetic study, published on Thursday in the journal Current Biology, found these ancient people had significant contact with Native American populations hundreds of years before the first Westerners reached the island in 1722.

Oct 23, 2014

Old, cold and bold: Ice Age people dwelled high in Peru’s Andes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In a bleak, treeless landscape high in the southern Peruvian Andes, bands of intrepid Ice Age people hunkered down in rudimentary dwellings and withstood frigid weather, thin air and other hardships.

Scientists on Thursday described the world’s highest known Ice Age settlements, two archaeological sites about 2.8 miles (4.5 km) above sea level and about 12,000 years old packed with artifacts including a rock shelter, stone tools, animal bones, food remnants and primitive artwork.

Oct 22, 2014

The beast with the behemoth arms: A dinosaur mystery is solved

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In July 1965, two gigantic fossilized dinosaur arms replete with menacing claws were unearthed in the remote southern Gobi desert of Mongolia. Measuring 8 feet (2.4 meters), they were the longest arms of any known bipedal creature in Earth’s history.

But nearly everything else was missing, leaving experts baffled about the nature of this beast with the behemoth arms. Half a century later, the mystery has been solved.

Oct 16, 2014

US lawmakers blast government’s Ebola response, urge travel ban

WASHINGTON, Oct 16 (Reuters) – Congressional lawmakers
criticized the government’s response to Ebola in the United
States on Thursday as some called, at a congressional hearing
probing efforts to contain the virus, for a ban on travel from
epidemic-stricken West Africa.

Federal Aviation Administration chief Michael Huerta told
reporters separately that the United States is assessing whether
to issue a travel ban “on a day-to-day basis” but that the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had determined
that a ban would not address the challenges posed by Ebola.

Oct 16, 2014

Severe weather alert: U.S. study finds tornadoes coming in swarms

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Tornadoes in the United States are increasingly coming in swarms rather than as isolated twisters, according to a study by U.S. government meteorologists published on Thursday that illustrates another trend toward extreme weather emerging in recent years.

Looking at tornado activity over the past six decades, the study in the journal Science found the total number of tornadoes annually remaining rather steady, averaging 495. Since the 1970s, there have been fewer days with tornadoes but plenty more days with many of them, sometimes dozens or more.

Oct 15, 2014

Stop the hop: for huge ancient kangaroos, hopping was dicey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Kangaroos hop, right? Well, not all of them.

Scientists said on Wednesday that a biomechanical and statistical analysis of fossil bones of a group of huge extinct kangaroos shows that the largest of the bunch in all likelihood could not hop as their modern-day relatives do with aplomb.

The study focused on a group of big-bodied, short-faced kangaroos called sthenurines that lived in Australia from about 13 million years ago until about 30,000 years ago, disappearing after the first humans arrived on the continent.

Oct 9, 2014

Rattlesnake repertoire boosts snake-like robot’s skills

WASHINGTON, Oct 9 (Reuters) – How do you make a better snake
robot? You study snakes, of course.

Researchers on Thursday said they conducted experiments to
learn precisely how sidewinder rattlesnakes are able to climb
sandy hills, then applied the reptiles’ repertoire to an
existing snake robot so it could do the same thing.

Oct 8, 2014

Ancient Indonesian cave paintings rewrite history of human art

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Prehistoric paintings at least 40,000 years old that depict animals – including one known as a “pig-deer” – and the outline of human hands in seven caves on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi are rewriting the history of art.

Scientists said on Wednesday they used a highly precise method to determine the antiquity of the paintings. They found the artwork was comparable in age to the oldest-known rock art from Europe, long thought to be the cradle of the early human cultural achievement embodied by cave painting.

Oct 8, 2014

HIV’s infection tactics could guide AIDS vaccine, study finds

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – New research that sheds light on the methods and machinery used by HIV to infect cells provides insight into the tricky virus that potentially could guide the development of a vaccine against the virus that causes AIDS, according to U.S. government and other scientists.

Separate studies published on Wednesday describe in detail the structure and dynamics of the spike on the surface of the human immunodeficiency virus that it employs to fuse with and enter cells.

Oct 5, 2014

Tall tale: scientists unravel the genetics of human height

WASHINGTON, Oct 5 (Reuters) – It’s no secret that if your
dad is tall and your mother is tall, you are probably going to
be tall. But fully understanding the genetics of height has been
a big order for scientists.

Researchers on Sunday unveiled what they called the biggest
such study to date, analyzing genome data from more than a
quarter million people to identify nearly 700 genetic variants
and more than 400 genome regions relating to height.