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Science Ticker

Science Ticker

Atacama mummy’s deformities were unduly sensationalized

fetal mummy

MUMMIFIED  The 6-inch-long body of a fetal mummy known as Ata, who scientists now say was a female, was preserved due to the arid conditions of Chile’s Atacama Desert.

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By analyzing the genome of a tiny fetal mummy known as Ata, researchers have learned more about what led to its strange-looking deformities — and that Ata was not an it, but a she.

The 6-inch human mummy, found in 2003 in Chile’s Atacama Desert, contains genetic mutations associated with skeletal abnormalities and joint problems, researchers report online March 22 in Genome Research. Those mutations help explain how Ata developed her elongated skull, large eye sockets and missing ribs — features that previously sparked suppositions the she was an extraterrestrial.

But Ata’s origins are not out of this world. She is probably of Chilean descent, says geneticist Garry Nolan of Stanford University, who has been the driving force behind examining Ata scientifically.

“I wanted to understand what could make something look like that,” he says. Nolan never claimed Ata was an alien, but he admits to playing a role in the hype surrounding Ata by participating in a documentary that advanced claims about her supposed otherworldly origins. He now says she should be buried as human remains.

Paolo Viscardi, a zoologist at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin who was not involved with the research, says the new study helps debunk Ata’s origin myths. “Ata highlighted the fact that people are quick to dehumanize and sensationalize anything unusual,” he says.

Technology,, Artificial Intelligence,, Science & Society

First pedestrian death from a self-driving car fuels safety debate

By Dan Garisto 6:24pm, March 19, 2018
A self-driving Uber kills woman in Arizona in the first fatal pedestrian strike by an autonomous car.

Critter-finding mission to Antarctica’s Larsen C iceberg scrapped

By Carolyn Gramling 7:00am, March 3, 2018
Thick sea ice ended a rapid-response mission to study seafloor that lay beneath Larsen C iceberg.

Penguin supercolony discovered in Antarctica

By Katy Daigle 6:26pm, March 2, 2018
Scientists have found a penguin supercolony living on tiny, remote Antarctic islands.
Astronomy,, Materials

Watch an experimental space shield shred a speeding bullet

By Lisa Grossman 3:45pm, February 27, 2018
Engineers tested how well a prototype shield for spacecraft would stand up to space debris by shooting it with a solid aluminum pellet.
Conservation,, Animals,, Pollution

Shipping noise can disturb porpoises and disrupt their mealtime

By Dan Garisto 7:05pm, February 13, 2018
Noise from ships may disturb harbor porpoises enough to keep them from getting the food they need.
Animals,, Health

Even after bedbugs are eradicated, their waste lingers

By Laurel Hamers 6:30pm, February 12, 2018
Bedbug waste contains high levels of the allergy-triggering chemical histamine, which stays behind even after the insects are eradicated.

SpaceX just launched its biggest rocket for the first time

By Lisa Grossman 4:09pm, February 6, 2018
SpaceX just launched the Falcon Heavy — the most powerful rocket since the Saturn V — for the first time.
Biomedicine,, Animals

Here’s the key ingredient that lets a centipede’s bite take down prey

By Susan Milius 5:25pm, January 22, 2018
A newly identified “spooky toxin” launches a broad attack but might be eased with a version of a known drug.
Biophysics,, Technology

A robotic arm made of DNA moves at dizzying speed

By Maria Temming 2:00pm, January 18, 2018
A DNA machine with a high-speed arm could pave the way for nanoscale factories.

See a 360-degree visualization of the center of the Milky Way

By Emily Conover 6:00am, January 12, 2018
A 360-degree simulation, made with data from several telescopes, shows the center of the Milky Way as seen from the galaxy’s supermassive black hole.
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