King Richard III’s Eyes, and the Munchies

The skeleton of Richard III.

It was a week of revived hopes. Thermonuclear fusion is looking a bit more promising; a moon rover thought dead may yet work; and we may finally discover the color of King Richard III’s eyes. Keep your fingers crossed.


Medicine: New Doubts About Mammography

One of the largest studies of mammograms ever conducted found that death rates from breast cancer were the same among women who got the test and those who did not. And one in five cancers found by the test, leading to therapies like chemotherapy or surgery, posed no real threat to the woman’s health. Ultimately, the study found no benefit to detecting breast cancers that were still too small to feel.

The new finding “will make women uncomfortable, and they should be uncomfortable,” said a screening expert not involved in the study.

Credit...University of Leicester, via Reuters

Genetics: Human History, Drawn by Genome

A team of geneticists took a first shot at using the genome to reconstruct human history. By sampling human genomes from around the world and applying statistical models, the scientists have tried to identify and date the major population-mixing events of the last 4,000 years. For instance, people of the southern Mediterranean and Middle East acquired segments of African origin in their genomes between A.D. 650 and 1900, the scientists said. This correlates with the advent of the Arab slave trade in the seventh century.

Sequencing the King

What color were King Richard III’s eyes? British scientists hope to find out when they grind up some of his bones, found under a Leicester, England, parking lot in 2012, to try to sequence his genome. They also hope to discover what kind of infectious bacteria the embattled monarch might have been hosting when he died at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

Energy: A Step Toward Sustainable Fusion

It took five years and many billions of dollars, but scientists in California say they have finally managed to produce fusion reactions with lasers, an important step toward the dream of producing nearly limitless energy through thermonuclear fusion. Writing in the journal Nature, scientists described two successful attempts at using lasers to crush a hydrogen pellet into helium, releasing more energy than had been deposited into it. As an energy source, the process remains impractical — only about 1 percent of the initial laser energy reached the hydrogen. But “a lot of people are jazzed,” said one of the researchers.

Neuroscience: The Munchies Demystified

Ingesting marijuana may make food smell and taste better, at least in mice, reported European researchers writing in Nature Neuroscience. THC, the active ingredient in the plant, binds to receptors in the olfactory bulb of the brain, increasing the user’s ability to smell food, which may partly explain the “munchies.” Earlier research showed that THC stimulates the release of dopamine, making for a satisfying meal, reported.

Coming Up

Space: A Chinese Rover Reborn

Less than 24 hours after it was pronounced dead, China’s moon rover, Jade Rabbit (Yutu, in Mandarin), perked up again. After malfunctioning for weeks, it entered hibernation early last week, a Chinese lunar program spokesman said. By Thursday it had revived, but was still malfunctioning. What went wrong, and can the rover be fully restored? Scientists will spend the next few weeks trying to figure that out, Reuters reported.

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