Scientific discoveries this week: 1-24-11

Houston, Texas – An amoeba formerly classified as slime mold is now being called the farmer amoeba. The amoeba, Dictyostelium discoideum, picks up bacteria from its environment, carries it around, seeds it somewhere, and then harvests it for food. Debra Brock, a graduate student at Rice University in Houston, Texas, first started studying the amoeba as an undergraduate, and most of her samples were clones of one amoeba. At Rice university, Brock found that wild amoeba developed the ability to farm bacteria for food. Not all of the amoeba farmed; it was only observed under certain conditions that were more favorable to seeding and harvesting.

Valley of the Kings, Egypt – King Tutankhamn’s tomb will eventually be closed to the public, but not until a new project called “Valley of the Replicas” is completed. The wear and tear of nearly 6,000 visitors per day to the tomb has taken it’s toll, and the Egyptian government is trying to find a way to preserve the tomb from further damage. The new project will involve recreating the tombs exactly and then directing all visitors to those replicas, cutting down on the traffic through the original tombs. The original tombs will still be open to the public, but at a potentially high cost per visit, perhaps as high as $8,500 dollars.

Liaoning Province, China – One more piece in the confusing puzzle of understanding the differences between the sexes of Pterosaur was discovered in China. The fossil, identified as a Darwinopterus, appears to have been fossilized very shortly after laying an egg, which may help researchers understand more of what identifies a female of this species of winged dinosaur. While it is debatable whether or not the pterosaur fossil is actually a female, it seems to be the logical option considering the egg and the full-grown pterosaur are fossilized right next to each other.

Canary islands, Spain – Astronomers seem to be in the mood to find new record-setting planets. Researchers with the Royal Astronomical Society teamed up with astronomers and used the William Herschel telescope in the Canary Islands to find the new hottest planet on record. WASP 33b, orbiting a white-hot star, was measured at a surface temperature of 3200 degrees Celsius, far hotter then any planet previously recorded. For comparison, Venus, the hottest planet in our solar system, has a surface temperature of 460 degrees Celsius.

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