Scientific discoveries this week: 2/3/14

#1: University of Pennsylvania—Massive Chinese Dinosaur Discovered
Dinosaurs not only fascinate the general population, they also offer a glimpse into the Earth’s history. Paleontologists from the University of Pennsylvania, classified a new species of dinosaur based on fossils discovered in China’s northwestern Gansu Province, now known as Yongjinglong datangi. The herbivorous species, estimated to be between 50 and 60 feet long, lived during the Cretaceous period, about 100 million years ago. This massive creature belonged to the Titanosauria group, which contained some of the largest beings to ever roam the earth. This discovery proves significant as it helps to solidify China’s lead over the U.S. in new dinosaur discoveries. In 2007 China overtook the U.S. as the new dinosaur diversity epicenter, and the region in which this dinosaur was found, Gansu, now leads China in new dinosaur findings.

#2: University College, London—React or Die
A recent study by researchers from the University College London and the University of Edinburgh found that people in their midlife, age 20 to 59, with poor reaction times were 25 percent more likely to die within 15 years than their counterparts with average reaction times. The researchers examined data for over 5,000 subjects who had their reaction times quantified in the 1990s. “Reaction time is thought to reflect a basic aspect of the central nervous system and speed of information processing is considered a basic cognitive ability (mental skill). Our research shows that a simple test of reaction time in adulthood can predict survival, independently of age, sex, ethnic group and socio-economic background,” Dr. Gareth Hagger-Johnson, lead researcher from the University College London, said. “Reaction time may indicate how well our central nervous and other systems in the body are working. People who are consistently slow to respond to new information may go on to experience problems that increase their risk of early death.” Reaction time may be used in the future to monitor health and survival, according to Hagger, but right now, leading a healthy lifestyle is the most important component to a long life.

#3: University of Waterloo, Canada—ADHD Impacts Communication
Researchers from the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Canada found that children and young adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can have difficulty taking on the perspective of another person. This can in turn lead to difficulties in communication. “In conversation, individuals need to pay attention to the knowledge and perspective of one another,” Professor Elizabeth Nilsen of the University of Waterloo and co-author of the study, said. “Our findings are important because they allow us to think about possible remediation strategies. Social skills training programs for children with ADHD often don’t show substantial benefits when children return to their social environments, and if we have a better sense of what is causing the difficulties in communication and then target remediation at these particular skills, intervention programs may be able to achieve more beneficial outcomes.”

#4: McMaster University, Canada—Return of the Plague?
In the 14th century, the Black Death wiped out between 30 and 60 percent of the European population, and earlier in 541 A.D. the Plague of Justinian had nearly the same impact on the Byzantine Empire. A team of researchers from multiple universities recently discovered that both plagues are distinct strains of the same pathogen. One strain of the pathogen died out on its own, and the other made a comeback in the late 1800s, suggesting that a new strain could appear again in the future. Lead researchers on the project speculate that either human population has evolved to become less susceptible over the years or that gradual climate changes have made it more difficult for the plague bacterium to survive.

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