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New dolphin fossil makes a splash

river dolphin fossil skull and jaw

The skull and jaws of Isthminia panamensis, a new fossil dolphin from Panama, provides clues to the evolution of river dolphins in the Americas.  

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Six million years ago, a relative of modern river dolphins once frolicked along Panama's Caribbean shores, researchers report September 1 in PeerJ. Unearthed in 2011, the fossilized skull, teeth and jaw bones belong to a novel dolphin species (Isthminia panamensis). 

Researchers originally rescued the fragile specimen from a coastal area battered by breaking waves. Sediments and other fossils found in the same rock layers put the species between 6.1 million and 5.8 million years old. By scanning and 3-D printing a copy of the specimen, the team found that I. panamensis had a snout optimized for ocean fishing and a small body like that of modern ocean dolphins. Still, its closest relation appears to be the modern Amazonian river dolphin.

River dolphins likely descended from marine species and evolved separately to live in freshwater ecosystems. With little fossil evidence to back that theory up, this species could represent a missing link of sorts, the researchers posit. 

Cells,, Technology

New microscope techniques give deepest view yet of living cells

By Tina Hesman Saey 7:00am, August 31, 2015
Two new microscopy techniques are helping scientists see smaller structures in living cells than ever glimpsed before.
Planetary Science

Life after Pluto: New Horizons to head for Kuiper belt boulder

By Christopher Crockett 7:20pm, August 28, 2015
The New Horizons spacecraft has a second target in the Kuiper belt: an icy boulder dubbed 2014 MU69.
Animals

Tropical songbirds get their growth spurt late

By Allison Bohac 2:00pm, August 27, 2015
Tropical songbirds are late bloomers, but that delayed development may give them an advantage after leaving the nest.
Planetary Science

Mountains, craters revealed in latest images of dwarf planet Ceres

By Christopher Crockett 7:59am, August 27, 2015
The Dawn spacecraft sent back postcards from Ceres that show off the dwarf planet’s varied terrain.
Clinical Trials,, Health

Earlier is better for HIV treatment

By Nathan Seppa 5:00pm, August 26, 2015
People infected with HIV benefit from starting a drug regimen early, an international study finds.
Health,, Evolution,, Animals

Virus closely related to hepatitis A discovered in seals

By Sarah Schwartz 10:17am, August 25, 2015
Scientists have discovered a relative of the hepatitis A virus in seals.
Animals,, Ecology

Chimps keep numbers high as forest losses mount

By Bruce Bower 8:00pm, August 24, 2015
African apes show surprising resilience in face of forest destruction.
Planetary Science

Flyby of Dione yields stunning pictures of icy Saturn moon

By Christopher Crockett 5:09pm, August 24, 2015
Saturn’s moon Dione shows off its ripping landscapes during the Cassini spacecraft’s final flyby.
Immune Science,, Health

Experimental MERS vaccine shows promise

By Nathan Seppa 2:00pm, August 19, 2015
An experimental vaccine against the MERS virus triggers immune protection, a new study finds.
Astronomy

Eight more galaxies found orbiting the Milky Way

By Christopher Crockett 8:25am, August 19, 2015
The dozens of satellite galaxies that orbit the Milky Way make excellent laboratories for studying dark matter.
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