Scientific Discoveries this week: 5-2-11

Baton Rouge, Louisiana – Scientists have linked many of the cases of leprosy in the United States to contact with armadillos. The unique strain of the bacterium that is responsible for leprosy, M. Leprae, has been found in armadillos, and its genome has been sequenced. The disease can be contracted through direct contact with an armadillo or by being exposed to its blood or excrement. Roughly 30% of armadillos in the southern United States appear to be carrying the bacteria. Dermatologists caution against having contact with armadillos and recommend washing hands and anything that may have touched the animal if contact is unavoidable.

Copenhagen, Denmark – Box Jellyfish have no brains, but their ability to perform simple tasks is well developed, according to researchers at the University of Copenhagen. They have been studying the box jellyfish and have attributed this ability to the jellyfish’s wide array of eyes. With 24 eyes set in multiples groups, the box jellyfish is capable of tracking and navigating around obstacles as well as identifying its proximity to mangrove tree roots. The jellyfish’s ability to perform these tasks without a brain is remarkable, scientists say.

Potsdam, Germany – Astrophysicists have been studying trace elements in modern stars in an effort to understand their “ancestors.” The ancestral stars were likely massive, spun at very high speeds, and were composed mainly of hydrogen and helium. These massive stars are thought to have created heavy particles of matter in their life cycle, eventually dying out in massive bursts of gamma rays. By studying heavy particles in modern stars, scientists at Potsdam University have been able to understand some of the makeup of these huge, ancient, celestial bodies from which elements such as strontium and yttrium likely originated.

Honolulu, Hawaii – Studies by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are challenging the belief that humans are the primary cause of the recent decrease of sea turtle populations. New evidence indicates that turtles may be in much more danger due to the weather than humans. Baby loggerhead turtles must make their way to the ocean after hatching to survive, and that alone can be difficult. Plus, if the ocean water is either too warm or too cold, the baby turtles have a very difficult time surviving in the wild and living to maturity when they can reproduce.

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