Scientific discoveries this week: 9-16-11

Alberta, Canada – Archaeologists have discovered what appear to be the first real feathers. Embedded in amber taken from very old coal deposits, these feathers have a similar structure to modern feathers, including the long shafts and the Velcro-like hooks on the sides that enable the individual stalks to grasp each other. The archaeologists also found tiny filaments, smaller than a human hair, with no discernible structure that would make them identifiable as hairs or feathers, that were unlike anything seen before. The researchers are now calling them “protofeathers,” the ancestors to modern feathers.

Denver, Colorado – Folic acid may have some unfortunate side affects, according to a new study by a developmental biologist at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. Folic acid has been a recommended dietary supplement for pregnant women for many years, due to a number of past studies that showed babies were more likely to be born with spinal, brain, and skull birth defects if there was a deficiency of the nutrient in the mothers’ diet. This new study sought to determine how Folic acid helps reduce the risk of birth defects, but instead showed that Folic acid worsened birth defects in mice. Experts caution that this one result is inconclusive and that Folic acid may not produce the same result in humans as it does in mice.

Perth, Australia – It appears that ancient peoples in the Middle East expressed their creative urges in the desert floor. Archaeologist David Kennedy at the University of Western Australia has been studying the giant designs that have been built on the desert floor in Jordan, Syria, and Saudia Arabia. These geoglyphs are much less well known than the similar geoglyphs in Peru known as the Nazca lines. These glyphs all have a similar shape, taking the form of wheels, with spokes radiating out from a central hub. It is not entirely clear why they were built. Kennedy believes that they are at least 2000 years old.

Cebu City, Philippines – In a study by an international group of anthropologists and biologists, men have shown decreases in testosterone levels after they become fathers. Initially, the researchers wondered if these men had lower levels to start with, but over the course of the study, the opposite was actually proven true. Men with children generally had higher overall testosterone levels to begin with than those who had no children. Scientists are now theorizing that men are biologically wired to help out in the process of raising children.

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