Clues to a Very Old Extinction and Pizza for War Zones

Fossils of extinct squidlike creatures called ammonites located in a rock layer very close to the boundary between the Permian and Triassic periods.

A homicide trail that had been cold for 252 million years is suddenly warm. A new vaccine can withstand high temperatures, and here comes pizza that doesn’t need a fridge. Even January, it turns out, was warmer than you thought.

Developments

Geology

A Break in an Extinction Case

What happened 252 million years ago to cause the extinction of 96 percent of species on Earth? Researchers are reporting a break in the case. By using volcanic ash to date fossils formed during the die-off, researchers writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences determined that the entire episode lasted just 60,000 years. Knowing it happened so rapidly (geologically speaking) will help them evaluate different hypotheses for what set off the extinction.

Physics

Snakes Make Good Planes

More than a living nightmare, flying snakes are a unique case of aerodynamics in nature, researchers from Virginia Tech say. By submerging a 3-D printed model of the paradise tree snake in water, they concluded that its flying style, which closely matches the S-shaped slithering of most snakes, actually achieved better lift than some conventional wings. The study, published in The Journal of Experimental Biology, could prove useful in the development of planes and flying robots.

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An airborne serpent can be the stuff of nightmares or a delicious aerodynamic puzzle.CreditCredit...Jake Socha

Health

A Vaccine That Can Stand the Heat

A vaccine for meningitis A that can withstand high temperatures and survive for days without refrigeration is proving useful in West Africa. The vaccine, MenAfriVac, was designed for use in the so-called African meningitis belt, where heat and lack of refrigeration have hobbled efforts to vaccinate people against the widespread disease, The Guardian reported. Out of 15,000 vials administered in a 2012 trial, only nine had to be discarded because of spoilage, researchers wrote in the journal Vaccine.

Chemistry

Developing a War-Zone Pizza

It’s hard to get good pizza delivered to a war zone. But scientists at a United States military lab in Natick, Mass., say they are closing in on a recipe for a pie that doesn’t need to be frozen or refrigerated, The Washington Post reported. The moisture from tomatoes and cheese has long stymied efforts to include pizza in M.R.E.s (meals ready to eat). But researchers are finding that tweaking acidity levels and adding humectants — ingredients that absorb ambient water — do the trick. The taste isn’t bad, researchers promise.

Climate

Warmer Than You Thought?

Yes, the Eastern United States was colder than normal, but for the planet, last month was the fourth-warmest January on record, government weather analysts reported. Alaska and parts of California had temperatures up to 15 degrees above normal, and Brazil, most of Europe and several other regions were unseasonably warm, too. Over all, it was the 347th consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th-century average, the report said.

Biology

Breast Milk, Varied by Gender

Doctors have long known that breast milk evolves to fit the changing needs of a growing baby. Now research suggests it might contain different nutrients depending on the sex of the child, The Guardian reported. Rhesus monkeys produce milk with 35 percent more fat and protein for male babies, Katie Hinde, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, said at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. For girls, the monkeys produce milk higher in calcium.

Genetics

Mice, Chromosomes and Calico Cats

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, have found a new imaging technique that helps them study the three-dimensional structure of the inactive X chromosome in female mammals. Although the scientists used the technique in mouse cells, the X-chromosome inactivation is the same phenomenon that silences the gene for black or orange fur in calico cats (nearly all of which are female) and produces that distinctive calico pattern.

A report in the Week column on Feb. 25 about a new finding on the genetics of the black and orange pattern in calico cats misstated the significance of the research. Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, reported on a new imaging technique they used to study the three-dimensional structure of the inactive X chromosome in female mammals. The scientists did not discover that an inactive chromosome is the cause of the calico pattern; that discovery was reported in 1961.

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