Teleocrater rhadinus was a carnivorous animal living more than 245 million years.(Natural History Museum, London, artwork by Mark Witton)


Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

May 2017

In the News:

Proto-dinosaur Looked Like Croc - The creature named Teleocrater rhadinus is a carnivorous animal living more than 245 million years ago during the Triassic Period, before dinosaurs. Recently unearthed in southern Tanzania, the creature was approximately seven to 10 feet long, with a long neck and tail. The NSF-funded international team of scientists led by Virginia Tech was surprised to find that rather than walking on two legs, this creature walked on four legs like a crocodile. T. rhadinus predated dinosaurs and shows up in the fossil record right after a large group of reptiles known as archosaurs split into a bird branch (leading to dinosaurs and eventually birds) and a crocodile branch (leading to alligators and crocodiles). T. rhadinus and its kin are the earliest known members of the bird branch of the archosaurs. The finding was published in the journal Nature and fills a gap in the fossil record.

More Mummies and Sarcophagi Found at Luxor - The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities announced they've excavated eight mummies, ten motley sarcophagi and many figurines found in several 3,500-year-old tombs. The objects were all found at complex belonging to a city judge named Userhat, a New Kingdom nobleman, at the Draa Abul Nagaa necropolis near Luxor in southern Egypt. The inner chambers of the main tomb include a collection of sarcophagi from the 21st Dynasty and mummies wrapped in linen, the ministry said in a statement. The sarcophagi are in good condition, they noted. To get to the tomb entrance workers needed to remove 450 cubic meters of debris. Excavation work continues "to reveal the secrets of these two tombs," the ministry added.

Frog Skin May Hold New Way to Fight the Flu - In the future if you avoid the flu, you may have a frog to thank. A study published in the journal Immunity, suggests that the peptides found on the skin of frogs represent a resource for antiviral drug discovery. Researchers from Emory Vaccine Center and the Rajiv Gandhi Center for Biotechnology in India have discovered a component of the skin mucus secreted by South Indian frogs can kill the H1 variety of influenza viruses. Anti-flu peptides could become handy when vaccines are unavailable, in the case of a new pandemic strain, or when circulating strains become resistant to current drugs, says senior author Joshy Jacob, a PhD, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Emory Vaccine Center and Emory University School of Medicine. While developing antimicrobial peptides into effective drugs has been a challenge in the past, partly because enzymes in the body can break them down, Jacob's lab is also now exploring ways to stabilize antiviral peptides that would make them more useable.

Bad Knee? Doctors May Soon Be Able to Fix It with a 3D Printer - The human knee takes a lot of punishment and when the menisci - ear-shaped cushions of cartilage nestled between the thigh and shin bones - get damaged by age or accident, every step can be painful. Now a new material promises to allow doctors to replace the menisci by printing the patient a custom one on a 3D printer. Doctors would scan the patient's knee to get the shape then use hydrogel-based material to print new menisci. The new material is the first to match human cartilage in strength and elasticity while also remaining 3-D-printable and stable inside the body. "We've made it very easy now for anyone to print something that is pretty close in its mechanical properties to cartilage, in a relatively simple and inexpensive process," said Benjamin Wiley, an associate professor of chemistry at Duke and author on the paper, which appears online in ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering. Feichen Yang, a graduate student in Wiley's lab and an author on the paper, experimented with mixing together two different types of hydrogels -- one stiffer and stronger, and the other softer and stretchier -- to create what is called a double-network hydrogel. "The two networks are woven into each other," Yang said. "And that makes the whole material extremely strong."

If an Asteroid Hit the Earth, What About it Would be Most Likely to Kill You? - If an asteroid struck Earth, which of its effects--scorching heat, flying debris, towering tsunamis--would claim the most lives? A new study has the answer: violent winds and shock waves are the most dangerous effects produced by Earth-impacting asteroids. The study explored seven effects associated with asteroid impacts--heat, pressure shock waves, flying debris, tsunamis, wind blasts, seismic shaking and cratering--and estimated their lethality for varying sizes. The researchers then ranked the effects from most to least deadly, or how many lives were lost to each effect. Overall, wind blasts and shock waves were likely to claim the most casualties, according to the study. In experimental scenarios, these two effects accounted for more than 60 percent of lives lost. Shock waves arise from a spike in atmospheric pressure and can rupture internal organs, while wind blasts carry enough power to hurl human bodies and flatten forests. "This is the first study that looks at all seven impact effects generated by hazardous asteroids and estimates which are, in terms of human loss, most severe," said Clemens Rumpf, a senior research assistant at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, and lead author of the new study published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.


Science Quote of the Month - "Science may set limits to knowledge, but should not set limits to imagination." - Bertrand Russell


What's New at the Museum:

Machu Picchu: The Lost City - In 1911, American explorer, Hiram Bingham, set out to find the capital of the long gone Incan Empire in Peru. With his expedition, he traveled down the Urubamba River, asking local farmers about ancient ruins. When he reached a place called Mandor Pampa, Bingham, spoke to an innkeeper named Melchor Arteaga. Arteaga told Bingham he knew of an excellent set of ruins and led him up a steep slope to an altitude of almost 8,000 feet. There, nestled in a saddle between two peaks, Bingham found the ancient city we now call Machu Picchu. - Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this this?

Ask the Curator:

Domesticated Dinosaurs - I have a Question which deals with something found in a LOT of Sci-fi and fantasy stories: The situation is this... That human beings and dinosaurs or dinosaur-like creatures live side by side... COULD humanity be able to domesticate dinosaurs or dino-like creatures in the same way we domesticated dogs, cattle, or cats? I already know nobody has tried to domesticate the Komodo Dragon, but still... Iguanas and small lizards are sold as pets, alligators are farmed for hides and meat, and so on... But could, if they had still been around, something like an armored ankylosaur or Triceratops, have been domesticated in the same way Humanity domesticated cattle or dogs? - David R.

Could humanity have domesticated dinosaurs in the same way we domesticated dogs, cattle, or cats if humans had lived in the same era? Well, let's start by defining domestication. It not quite the same thing as training a wild animal. A true domesticated animal has been bred by humans to be sociable and easy to handle along with other desirable characteristics. Scientists can even estimate the date that certain animals were domesticated in history by looking for changes in the fossil record of animal's body that gave some advantage to the human's that did the domestication. Usually the domestication process takes decades, if not centuries.

Now even if you didn't domesticate a wild animal, you still might be able to train it to assist you and live with you. Generally, the smarter, more social, and less aggressive a creature is, the more likely you would able to get it to cooperate. Wolves are good example. They are pack creatures, very social and very smart. If trained from a young age they can live with humans, though they still tend to have a wild streak in them.

Another example is the elephant. These creatures are large and powerful, yet humans have been able to tame them to get them to do work.

As you might be aware, reptiles (like snakes and crocodiles) are generally not very easy to train for some of the reasons I've already mentioned. They tend to be not as smart or sociable as many mammals. However, dinosaurs, while they are reptiles, are also thought to be the ancestors of birds, which are often highly trainable.

Whether any particular species of dinosaur can be trained or even domesticate is an open question. When people think of dinosaurs they tend to picture the larger ones like the T-Rex or Apatosaurus. However, there were thousands of dinosaur species, some of which were no bigger than chickens. We believe some even hunted in a pack (velociraptor for instance) which would indicate they were of high intelligence and very social.

It seems likely that at least some dinosaurs would have had the right characteristics to allow to be trained. Even if there weren't, however, humans could have still bred them till they were domesticated, if only for no other purpose then to serve as food (imagine chicken-like dinosaurs raised as a food source).

Could a cave man have been riding around on a T-Rex if they had co-existed? My guess is probably not as they were likely to have been top predators and very aggressive as well as very large and powerful. However, humans have even had some success in training lions and tigers, though they usually don't ride on them, so perhaps a trained T-Rex is not an impossibility.

Dogs are nothing but domesticated gray wolves, so it seems possible that something like a velociraptor, which might fill a similar niche in the environment, might both be trainable and perhaps eventually domesticated too.

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In History:

First Skyscraper - On May 1st inn 1884, construction began on the first skyscraper. Located in Chicago, it was a ten-story office building for the Home Insurance Company of New York. It was the use of a steel skeleton that made this, and all skyscrapers, possible because it allowed the frame to carry the weight of the structure, instead of the walls themselves. The building was completed in the fall of 1885.


In the Sky:

May Meteor Shower - The Eta Aquariids meteor shower comes on May 6th this year. This shower is not one of the stronger ones and may seen better from the tropics or the Southern Hemisphere. Halley's Comet provides the debris of which the shower is made. Look for the radiant to be the Water Jar asterism of Aquarius.



Californians See A lot of Flying Saucers - According to a newly released book, California has the largest number of UFO sightings of any state in the U.S.. Author and UFO columnist Cheryl Costa says her "UFO Sightings Desk Reference: United States of America 2001-2015" catalogs reports to The National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC) and the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) from 2001 to 2015. She said there have been more than 120,000 UFO sightings reported from 2001-2015 in the U.S. and California holds down the top position among the states with 16,000 sightings, while Los Angeles County outranks 40 individual states with 3,200 sightings.


Zeep and Meep are on a well deserved vacation. In their place we feature highlights from their past adventures.

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