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Chocolate Toothpaste, Paper-thin Batteries and the Resurgence of the Dodo (the bird, not your neighbor)?

A Toothpaste Cathy Would Love

Picture 21.pngI didn't think it could get any better than the day my dental hygienist told me that beer cleaned teeth (a fact I've never bothered to verify because I just don't want it to be wrong). But now it turns out that chocolate may be the best ingredient to add to toothpaste. A doctoral candidate at Tulane University has shown that cocoa extract is more effective at fighting cavities than fluoride, having done animal tests and developed a peppermint toothpaste with cocoa instead of fluoride. It could be another 2-4 years before the chocolate toothpaste is commercially available, and until then you should probably just stick to regular, foul-tasting paste; something tells me brushing with Hershey's and gargling with Yoo-hoo wasn't what he had in mind

Madly in Love

say anything.jpgWe've all heard that love makes us do crazy things, but we never realized how true that actually was. A scientist in Switzerland surveyed a group of adolescents and found that those who claimed to be in love actually exhibited signs of hypomania, a mild form of bipolar disorder. For example, the love-struck teens needed one hour less of sleep every night than their counterparts and were also twice as likely to say they had creative energy. The researchers concluded that adolescent love is a "psychopathologically prominent stage," and that psychologists should take this into account when treating teens. Anyone looking to study this subject more should look into the collected works of John Hughes.

Paper-thin Batteries

PaperBattery.jpgBatteries almost always make devices twice as heavy as they need to be. However, a group of scientists from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and MIT have created a new technique of creating batteries that results in paper-thin power cells. The process is mighty complex, but the crux of it is in carbon nanotubes. As of now, the batteries are pretty weak, but they are able to fit in unusual shapes and could be made bigger and better. If they get more powerful, just imagine how thin cell-phones can be.

MORE: Astronaut Stress Tests, life-extending wines and Dodos (who're squawking not to call it a comeback), all after the break!

Use Fossil Fuels, Save the Earth

Yes, you read that headline correctly. As strange as it seems, some scientists around the world are presenting evidence that using biofuels won't do a whole lot to save the environment. A representative of the International Energy Agency says that creating biofuels will require cutting down forests to grow more corn, so, in the end, the net carbon reduction will be negligent. Scientists at the University of Leeds in Britain agree, saying that we wouldn't see any different for 50-100 years, which is far too long to wait. Instead, they are arguing that governments focus on replanting forests and making fossil fuels more efficient.

Space-age Stress Balls

Since no one can hear you scream in space, it must be difficult to figure out how stressed people are. And unlike in the easy-going world I live in, where I can easily go back and edit out stress-induced errors, stress for astronauts can cause costly and life-threatening problems (see: Mir Space Station). That's why NASA has designed a handheld device with a three-minute test to alert astronauts when they're too stressed to perform tasks.. The psychomotor vigilance task tests how quickly the subject can react to a flashing light to test sleep deprivation and mental fatigue. It will replace the ten-minute, multi-part test that includes pattern matching and repeating numbers that, while it sounds more fun, hasn't been effectively validated.

Dodo's Making a Comeback

dodo.jpgThe dodo was a flightless bird that laid its eggs on the ground and went extinct 400 years ago. But now we have a chance at studying its DNA, thanks to a discovery on an island off of Africa. Scientists looking for cave cockroaches stumbled upon a skeleton of a dodo that had been preserved nicely because of the environment in the cave. The discoverers theorize that the dodo, which they have christened "Fred," ended up in the cave because it had been trying to escape a storm and fell down a hole. If my wildest dreams come true, that means we could soon have a lame, dodo-filled version of Jurassic Park, which will assuredly make a less exciting movie.

Is the Fountain of Youth filled with Red Wine?

A professor at Harvard is purporting to be a modern-day Ponce de Leon with his research in resveratrol, a chemical he says can slow aging. David Sinclair says that resveratrol, which is found in red wine, extended the life span of mice by 24 percent and other animals by 59 percent. There's an understandable amount of skepticism around his research, but Sinclair says he believes the chemical could work on humans and has gathered a good deal of funding. Even though the research sounds exciting, I can't help but feel shades of the immensely unsettling Tuck Everlasting.

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Why Can Parrots Talk and Other Birds Can't?
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If you've ever seen a pirate movie (or had the privilege of listening to this avian-fronted metal band), you're aware that parrots have the gift of human-sounding gab. Their brains—not their beaks—might be behind the birds' ability to produce mock-human voices, the Sci Show's latest video explains below.

While parrots do have articulate tongues, they also appear to be hardwired to mimic other species, and to create new vocalizations. The only other birds that are capable of vocal learning are hummingbirds and songbirds. While examining the brains of these avians, researchers noted that their brains contain clusters of neurons, which they've dubbed song nuclei. Since other birds don't possess song nuclei, they think that these structures probably play a key role in vocal learning.

Parrots might be better at mimicry than hummingbirds and songbirds thanks to a variation in these neurons: a special shell layer that surrounds each one. Birds with larger shell regions appear to be better at imitating other creatures, although it's still unclear why.

Learn more about parrot speech below (after you're done jamming out to Hatebeak).

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Prehistoric Ticks Once Drank Dinosaur Blood, Fossil Evidence Shows
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Ticks plagued the dinosaurs, too, as evidenced by a 99-million-year old parasite preserved inside a hunk of ancient amber. Entomologists who examined the Cretaceous period fossil noticed that the tiny arachnid was latched to a dinosaur feather—the first evidence that the bloodsuckers dined on dinos, according to The New York Times. These findings were recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

Ticks are one of the most common blood-feeding parasites. But experts didn’t know what they ate in prehistoric times, as parasites and their hosts are rarely found together in the fossil record. Scientists assumed they chowed down on early amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, according to NPR. They didn’t have hard evidence until study co-author David Grimaldi, an entomologist at the American Museum of History, and his colleagues spotted the tick while perusing a private collection of Myanmar amber.

A 99-million-year-old tick encased in amber, grasping a dinosaur feather.
Cornupalpatum burmanicum hard tick entangled in a feather. a Photograph of the Burmese amber piece (Bu JZC-F18) showing a semicomplete pennaceous feather. Scale bar, 5 mm. b Detail of the nymphal tick in dorsal view and barbs (inset in a). Scale bar, 1 mm. c Detail of the tick’s capitulum (mouthparts), showing palpi and hypostome with teeth (arrow). Scale bar, 0.1 mm. d Detail of a barb. Scale bar, 0.2 mm. e Drawing of the tick in dorsal view indicating the point of entanglement. Scale bar, 0.2 mm. f Detached barbule pennulum showing hooklets on one of its sides (arrow in a indicates its location but in the opposite side of the amber piece). Scale bar, 0.2 mm
Peñalver et al., Nature Communications

The tick is a nymph, meaning it was in the second stage of its short three-stage life cycle when it died. The dinosaur it fed on was a “nanoraptor,” or a tiny dino that was roughly the size of a hummingbird, Grimaldi told The Times. These creatures lived in tree nests, and sometimes met a sticky end after tumbling from their perches into hunks of gooey resin. But just because the nanoraptor lived in a nest didn’t mean it was a bird: Molecular dating pinpointed the specimen as being at least 25 million years older than modern-day avians.

In addition to ticks, dinosaurs likely also had to deal with another nest pest: skin beetles. Grimaldi’s team located several additional preserved ticks, and two were covered in the insect’s fine hairs. Skin beetles—which are still around today—are scavengers that live in aerial bird homes and consume molted feathers.

“These findings shed light on early tick evolution and ecology, and provide insights into the parasitic relationship between ticks and ancient relatives of birds, which persists today for modern birds,” researchers concluded in a news release.

[h/t The New York Times]

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