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Oops: Researchers say 3.7 billion-year-old ‘fossils’ are probably just rocks

Hunting for fossils is a difficult business in the first place, but the challenge is multiplied the farther back in time you’re searching. Finding bones from a dinosaur that lived 50 million years ago is a cake walk compared to hunting for evidence of life from billions of years back.

A new analysis of supposed 3.7 billion-year-old fossils in Greenland reveals that the researchers who first announced the discovery may have gotten it all wrong. In truth, it seems the strange deposits found in ancient ground may have just been rock all along.

The features, which were touted as potentially being the oldest evidence of life on Earth, look a lot like the pyramid-shaped remains that hinted at the presence of microbial life in other rock samples. In a new letter published in Nature, it seems there are also some very important differences that throw the conclusions of prior research into question.

The strange shapes certainly look like they may have been created by life, but as NPR reports, this new round of research points to the alleged cone-shaped features in the rock being elongated and stretched. Three-dimensional examination of the shapes hints at the features having been created by intense pressure between rocks, squeezing and twisting stone into bizarre forms.

“They’re stretched-out ridges that extend deeply into the rock,” Joel Hurowitz, co-author of the work, told NPR. “That shape is hard to explain as a biological structure, and much easier to explain as something that resulted from rocks being squeezed and deformed under tectonic pressures.”

As for the researchers involved in the original study that claimed evidence of ancient microbial life, they are sticking with their findings. Those scientists have weighed in by saying that this new research is “disappointing” and that their original work holds up despite being challenged.

Man’s death linked to consumption of squirrel brains

Hunting for your own food can be a rewarding and liberating thing, but knowing where to stop when preparing wild game for consumption is obviously pretty important. A case of a 61-year-old from Rochester, New York, is getting some attention lately as a stark reminder of that fact, as the man’s consumption of squirrel brains ultimately resulted in his death.

The man, who first complained of symptoms in 2015, was ultimately found to have an extremely serious and very rare brain disorder as a result of loving squirrel meat. The man was, as Live Science reports, an avid hunter and may have inadvertently mixed some contaminated brain matter from a squirrel he had killed with the rest of the meal.

The man’s case, which was reported as part of a larger analysis in IDWeek, is extremely unique. It’s thought that the man had contracted a form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), which affects a scant 1 in one million people per year across the world.

The symptoms are incredibly dire, and those diagnosed with the disease almost always die within a year of showing symptoms. Those symptoms include psychosis as well as impaired movement, and there was nothing that could be done for the man before the disease took his life.

As the disease progresses it fundamentally changes how a certain protein in the brain functions, causing lesions in brain tissue that rapidly spread and ultimately consumes the individual’s mind. This obviously explains the psychological and physical symptoms of the disease, but it also makes the disorder extremely difficult to stop.

The case report urges doctors to consider the disease when making future diagnoses, as pinpointing it as a cause of symptoms is so often delayed to the point where there’s no time to even consider treatment.

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Bees act really strange when there’s a solar eclipse and scientists can’t explain it

The much-hyped total solar eclipse that streaked across the United States in 2017 changed how a lot of us behaved for a very short period of time. Instead of working or playing, we stared at the skies like a bunch of weirdos for a bit, but apparently humans weren’t the only ones affected by the spectacle.

In a new study published in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America, researchers explain that bees decided to take a break from their busy days as well. When the Moon blocked out the Sun for a few brief moments on August 21st of last year, bees just kind of shut down.

The scientists set up tiny microphones in bee hives to test how the insects would react to the sunlight being almost entirely blocked out. Before the experiment began, the team expected that the bees would move slower as they do when the Sun begins to set in the sky each day before chilling out for the night in their hives. That’s not what happened.

Instead, the bees were fully active all the way up until totality — the point at which the Sun is totally blocked by the Moon — seemingly not noticing the eclipse as it was happening up until that point. When totality hit, however, the bees immediately shut down, instantly entering a low-energy mode that persisted until the Sun peaked around the Moon once more.

“We anticipated, based on the smattering of reports in the literature, that bee activity would drop as light dimmed during the eclipse and would reach a minimum at totality,” Dr. Candace Galen of the University of Missouri, lead researcher on the work, said in a statement. “But, we had not expected that the change would be so abrupt, that bees would continue flying up until totality and only then stop, completely. It was like ‘lights out’ at summer camp! That surprised us.”

The research was conducted with the help of citizen scientists across Oregon, Idaho, and Missouri, including elementary school students who helped the scientists listen in for signs that the bees’ behavior was shifting. The result was truly unexpected, and thus far largely unexplained, and adds another wrinkle to the complex behavior of bees.

Catch-and-release fishing might actually be doing more harm than good

Catching fish for food is something that has been done for, well, pretty much since the dawn of mankind, but fishing as a hobby or sport is a relatively recent wrinkle. Sportsmen who fish simply for the enjoyment of it often adopt strict catch-and-release policies to ensure that fish populations remain robust, sustaining their pastime in the future.

However, a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology suggests that the simple act of catching a fish may be enough to doom it to death, even if it is promptly returned to the water after being de-hooked.

The study focused on the damage caused by hooks in the mouths of fish that were previously caught. When hooked, the tissue around the mouth of a fish is often damaged, sometimes severely. The long-held belief that fish don’t feel pain in the same way humans or some other animals do is often enough to assuage the guilt of tearing up the lip of a fish, but the study says that’s not the real problem.

“Using high-speed video and computational fluid dynamics (CFD), we asked whether injuries around the mouth caused by fishing hooks have a negative impact on suction feeding performance,” the researchers write. “We hypothesized that fish with mouth injuries would exhibit decreased feeding performance compared with controls.”

Well, as it turns out, their hypothesis proved to be true. The suction feeding mechanism used by many fish to suck in and secure prey is indeed hampered by injuries to the mouth caused by hooks. Fish with hook injuries are less reliable feeders, which might put their overall survival prospects at risk.

“Fishing injuries in nature are likely to depress feeding performance of fish after they have been released,” the scientists say.

While the focus of the study was on feeding performance, and the results are very clear, the actual impact on the survival of hook-injured fish was not followed. A subsequent study could shed more light on the overall impact on survivability of fish with hook injuries, but the fact that such wounds makes it significantly more difficult to eat suggests that the long-term results could be dire.