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10 Cool Things the World Learned This Week

Fuzzy dinosaurs, coral with herpes, an autism gene? Here's a few stories you may have missed.

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“Babies start requiring non-milk food in their diets at six months old, but they don't develop the molars they need to chew most foods until age 18 to 24 months,” LLM’s Natalie Wolchover writes, so “pre-mastication” was, and in some cultures still is, a way to bridge the gap. And, as with breast milk, it also exposes the little one to “traces of disease pathogens in the mother’s saliva,” which gets their antibodies working, making for a healthier immune system (though moms with some infectious diseases, like HIV, should avoid the practice). 

5. Fuzzy Wuzzy Was a…Dinosaur?

Just in time for Easter: the news that some dinosaurs may been as soft and fuzzy as spring chicks. 

Wired.com’s Brandom Keim reports on an eye-opening find from the Yixian Formation in Northern China: a 30-foot-long, 30,000-pound ancestor of the T-rex, Ytyrrannus huali , a Latin/Mandarin name meaning “beautiful feathered tyrant.” The paleontologists who discovered the fossil write about it in the April 5 issue of Nature. 

Y. huali was smaller than T-rex but is the biggest feathered dinosaur anyone’s discovered so far. Fossils found at Yixian are “so finely preserved that it’s possible to discern feather-like structures,” subverting the long-held idea that all dinosaurs were scaly. The feathers may have been for insulation or to attract mates: fluffy bling.

“Instead of giant lizards they were basically weird birds,” Mark Norrell of the Museum of Natural History said about dinosaurs (but certainly not to their faces). 

6. Coral Goes Viral

Remember Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the folks who  wrapped those Florida islands in pink fabric ? Maybe we can get them to take their large-scale wrapping expertise underwater and make some condoms for the world’s coral reefs.

The coral, it seems, have “numerous varieties of herpes infections,” reports Discovery.com’s Tim Hall and this spread “may be one of the reasons the world’s coral reefs are plummeting.” Microbiologist Rebecca Vega-Thurber from Oregon State University says, "We've identified 22 kinds of emerging disease that affect corals, but still don't know the pathogens that cause most of them," but viral infections may be among them; the cause is, as yet, unknown. 

Coral and herpes have both been around for a long, long time, Vega-Thurber notes, “evolving 500 million years ago,” and herpes is a virus that “can infect almost every kind of animal.” These old-timers, she says, may have evolved together. 

If someone tells you, “Oh, you can’t get it from coral sex,” don’t you believe it.

7. Bonobots and Ape Apps 

No disrespect to friends or colleagues, but if I could talk to anyone it would be a bonobo. Bonobos, you probably know, are the sex-mad branch of the primate family. They use sex to ease tension, strengthen relationships and to console one another, says the BBC, and we love ‘em. This is an ancestor we can really relate to. 

Now the Bonobo Hope/Great Ape Trust in Iowa has put up a Kickstarter campaign to help get the bonobos talking. This story on the Huffington Post features a video of  Ken Schweller, who has built touchscreens for the apes to use and wants to provide them with mobile interconnected keyboards and an app for humans to download that converts the lexigrams -- keyboards using symbols representing words  -- into English so the bonobos and their people can talk wherever they are.

The Bonobo Chat App would also allow the apes to control their environments -- use vending machines, open doors, watch movies, etc. Schweller also wants to provide them with bonobo robots, “robo-bonobos” armed with water guns…so they can play with guests. The video shows a baby bonobo, so cute your head will explode, trying to make better use of his iPad. 

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