The ferocious animals of Australia's past, the excess of pee in German bushes and the promise of meat from stem cells.

Godzilla, Queen of the Desert

On the surface, Australia is a peaceful continent, full of adorable animals like wallabies, wombats and koalas. But, a mere 10 to 20 million years ago, carnivorous monsters roamed the land down under, viciously slaughtering helpless prey. Last Wednesday, paleontologists announced they had discovered the remains of 20 previously unknown creatures in Queensland. At the top of this list stood the “killer kangaroo,” a meat-eating creature with long, wolf-like fangs. It did not hop around like the cute ‘roos of today, the researchers said, but rather galloped on all fours, powered by meaty forearms. The team also found an enormous carnivorous bird that they’ve termed a “demon duck of doom.” It appears the old land of Oz may not have been so merry after all.

(source: BBC)

Testing the Untested

Often it takes balls to be the subject of an invasive scientific experiment; sometimes it doesn’t. Scientists at Bologna University have exhumed the remains of Farinelli—one of the greatest castrati of the 18th century—in order to study the anatomical effects of being castrated as a young boy. The scientists specifically want learn what gave castrati such great vocal range. While Farinelli’s body is not extremely well-preserved, it is the only available castrati skeleton, and it’s in good enough shape that the researchers believe they may be able to examine Farinelli’s vocal chords and larynx. Some scientists hypothesize that the vocal chords stay small after castration, while the lungs keep growing, giving castrati enormous air power. The scientists also want to determine what shape a man’s body takes after castration; art from the time has depicted them as alternately gangly and voluptuous.

(source: Reuters)

Kitchen Utensils in Space

Someday, somehow, you may find yourself orbiting the Earth with two eggs, a heat source, a frying pan, some cheese, some butter and a hankering for an omelet. If so, you’ll be in luck! Thanks to Discovery astronaut Piers Sellers, there is now a spatula orbiting the globe. Sellers was testing a system that detects cracks in the shuttle’s heat shield, and while he was poking and prodding, Sellers let go of the spatula, which has now become our newest satellite.

(source: the Scotsman)

Shroom for Improvement

While some churches use “bells and smells” to induce mystical experiences, science has discovered another tool for spirituality: hard, hard drugs. A study recently published in the journal Psychopharmacology shows that the active ingredient in “sacred mushrooms”—a plant alkaloid called psilocybin—can cause mystical experiences. The experience can also prompt positive changes in attitude and behavior that may last for months. More than 60% of subjects who took the drug said they had full-on mystical experiences—one third said it was the most spiritually meaningful experience of their lives, another third reported significant fear or paranoia. Two months after they took the drug, nearly 80% of the subjects reported moderately or greatly increased well-being and satisfaction with their lives. The researchers hope their research will lead to a therapy for depression.

(source: Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions)

Pee in the Cup

Germany has produced its fair share of famous mathematicians. Unfortunately, those über-mensches were not the ones calculating the number of toilets that would be needed during the World Cup, and the errors of a country known for its precision may cause the death of German plant life. World Cup organizers provided a mere 280 Port-o-Potties for the 700,000 fans who gathered along the Fan Mile in Berlin to watch matches on the big screen. Desperate calls of nature require desperate measures, and about 100,000 liters of urine were dumped into the surrounding bushes every day. Biologists warn that the pee will sink into the ground as ammonia, and that the high acidity will ruin the soil. Every night during the Cup, the ground was sprayed with 3,000 cubic meters of water so that the trees would have some chance to survive. Authorities have admitted they have—and this is the word they use—a “pinkelproblem.”

(source: Press Trust of India)

You Got Beef with Science?

Stem cell research could bring us more than a cure for Parkinson’s. It could also bring us cured meat! Henk Haagsman, a professor of meat sciences at Holland’s Utrecht University is working with his colleagues to grow meat in a test tube. The Dutch government has given €2 million to the project, which they hope will have delicious results (in the form of pork) by 2009. The researchers say a single cell could be cultivated to produce enough meat to feed the whole world for a year, but that they need to develop technology to produce the meat in industrial quantities. They are starting by creating “meat sheets,” or as the Italians like to call them, carpacci. The researchers are eliminating the middleman of meat production: the living animal. With in vitro meat, scientists can concentrate all their energy on the scrumptious prime cuts. Currently it costs thousands of dollars to produce one pound of this meat. Did someone say “delicacy”?

(source: Wired News)

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Originally published July 18, 2006

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