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Science news that's good for brains, bad for coral

A new dinosaur species named Pegomastax africanus, or "thick jaw from Africa," is shown in this photograph of a model released to Reuters by University of Chicago paleontologist on Oct. 3, 2012.


A weekly roundup of the good, the bad and the just plain interesting from the week's science headlines:

Good news: Face-off drives new brain discovery

How do you know you're looking at mom when you see her? When people look at faces, a section of their brains known as the fusiform face area "lights up," helping them recognize someone by looking at them. After evaluating the same section of the brain using an MRI scanner, Vanderbilt University researchers found automobile experts recognize cars the same way you would know your best friend, challenging the idea that that particular section of the brain only aids in processing faces. (Score one for researchers who maintain the fusiform face area helps analyse objects we interact with often.) In a university press release, study director Isabel Gauthier said the finding may prove useful in developing treatments for people who have trouble recognizing faces, such as some people with autism. The research was published Monday in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Just news: Woman power

Archeologists have unearthed what they believe could be the tomb of a renowned Maya queen in northern Guatemala. The location of the tomb – 11 metres below ground in a temple near a staircase – has led experts to believe Late Classic period ruler Lady K'Abel was buried there and that she was worshipped even after her death, lead archaeologist David Freidel told the Associated Press on Thursday. According to Mr. Friedel, Lady K'Abel not only ruled with her husband for at least two decades during the 7th century, she had more authority than he did. Her title, "Kaloomte," is translated as "Supreme Warrior." "She has been given all the honours a male king would have been given," Marcello A. Canuto, director of the Middle American Research Institute at Tulane University, told the AP. "It's not the first such tomb discovered, but it gives an idea of the important role women played in forging dynastic alliances, and the status they enjoyed."

Just news: So it looks like a bivampcubine?

Lady K'Abel wasn't the only cool discovery presented this week. New findings published Wednesday in the online journal ZooKeys describe a tiny dinosaur that was found in a chunk of rock in South Africa, Reuters reported. Except it's not entirely new: University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno told Reuters he had first discovered Pegomastax africanus (translated as "thick jaw from Africa") in 1983, but was planning a more ambitious research project. The herbivore is about the size of a house cat and lived between 100 million and 200 million years ago. Mr. Sereno described it as a mix between "a bird, a vampire and a porcupine."

Bad news: Reef at risk

Australia's Great Barrier Reef has lost half its coral cover over 27 years– meaning tens of thousands of species have had their habitats destroyed, scientists say. In a study published Monday, researchers at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, said the total cover has dropped to 13.8 per cent from 28 per cent. Forty-eight per cent of this loss was caused by storm damage, while 10 per cent of the coral cover was destroyed by bleaching, in which coral becomes stressed and turns white. But 42 per cent of the coral's decline was caused by crown of thorns starfish, the one factor scientists can try to change. The coral would restore itself by 0.89 per cent per year without the pests munching away at the reef, even with cyclones and bleaching.

Just news: Smells good enough to eat

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A mother mouse's natural aroma is enough to trigger its babies to suckle, researchers say. In a report published Thursday, scientists tried to crack how baby mice know to feed without seeing it previously done. It's not Chanel No. 5, but researchers said in a press release that pups learn the mother mouse's scent. The smell is imbued with whiffs of amniotic fluid, and appears at the mother's nipple immediately after birth. There's no proof humans use a similar method to start breastfeeding, but it is possible mom's unique scent is responsible for some behaviour usually dubbed innate.

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