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10 Amazing Discoveries You Missed This Week

From hidden terrorist messages in porn, to smog-eating buildings, to dolphin coworkers, here are some incredible discoveries.

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Sarah Tishkoff, a geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania led the study and the result both supports a genetic basis for Pygmy height and also shows how tricky untangling our genetic underpinnings can be. 

Pygmies and Bantus have been interbreeding for about 4,000 to 5,000 years so researchers first looked at what part of the genome of their subjects (57 from Pygmy groups and 39 from Bantu) reflected Pygmy or Bantu ancestry: “They confirmed that the more Bantu ancestry someone had the taller he or she was likely to be, supporting the idea that Pygmy stature has genetic roots,” Hayden writes.  

Researchers then looked for variations in the genes that would give Pygmies an edge in natural selection; some “occurred in a region of chromosome 3 that differed between Bantus and Pygmies and were linked to height,” but none could be absolutely linked to Pygmy height. Even studies of Europeans “only explained about 10% of the genetic contribution to height in people with European ancestry.” But part of the problem was the limited number of Pygmies in the study, a study which, Tishkoff said, shows the challenges in studying “the genetics of limited, ancient populations.”

So….seriously…it sounds like part of the difficulty was that the Pygmy study was too small.

9. Brains vs. prawns

Not that there’s anything wrong with small. We’re forever trying to get our debts and our phone bills to shrink. Bigger isn’t always better… take the invasive giant Asian cannibal tiger shrimp which has been turning up with increasing frequency in the Gulf of Mexico and the Southeast coast. Claudine Zap at Yahoo reports that the almost-lobster-sized prawns are capable of outsizing and eating their shrimpy shrimp cousins of other species who are also cannibals but unlikely to be able to take the big guys. 

At first we didn’t see why the US Geologic Survey is asking anyone who spots one, to contact them with the location of the interloping prawn immediately , like they were the shellfish Mickey and Mallory. We thought they might not be that bad, especially with  a little lemon and garlic

We were blinded by visions of dinner.

“Researchers worry that the Asian cannibal species is preying on the smaller, native sea life, competing for resources and carrying disease.” Plus, says marine ecologist James Morris, they’ll throw off delicately balanced marine ecosystems. Pam Fuller, USGS biologist, says there are probably more of them than anyone thinks, since fishermen get used to seeing them and don’t report them.

Moreover, check out this video from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation about the effect of farmed tiger prawns on the environment. For more info and less of a desire to order tiger prawns check out The Ecologist's story and video here.

Ah, well. Wouldn’t be the first time something we thought looked good turned out not to be good.

10. Wind farms and hot air

It’s always weird when something turns out to be just the opposite of what you thought it was. A story came and went this week that had some feeling like the last days of April were really the first day of April. 

Headlines like Fox’s “Wind farms are warming the earth, experts say” started popping up at the end of the month. As Trevor Quirk at the Christian Science Monitor points out, such headlines misconstrued the actual story which is this: SUNY researchers found that surface temperatures around Texas wind farms (and Texas has a lot of wind farms) “ rose an average of 0.72 degrees Celsius between 2003 and 2011. The effect was most prominent at night. Some of the team has speculated that this localized warming trend could be an effect of the turbines pulling down warm air from higher altitudes at night, when the air above the land would otherwise be cooler.”

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