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Creating a tastier tomato now in the works by Florida scientists

Tomatoes just don’t have the same flavor they once did.

The taste of the fruit in the varieties that are found in the supermarket is described as bland, at best, and like cardboard, at worst.

>> Read more trending news 

“Modern commercial tomato varieties are substantially less flavorful than heirloom varieties,” according to a new study in the journal Science.

The fruit has lost most of its flavor over the decades mainly as farmers have mass produced a larger version of it, scientists said.

Now researchers at the University of Florida believe they have the recipe for growing a better tasting tomato because they’ve discovered which genes control the flavor.

Biologist Harry Klee has studied the flavor of fruits and vegetables, especially the tomato, for the past decade.

“The taste of a tomato is the consequence of the interactions of sugars, acids and a set of 15-20 volatile compounds,” Klee said.

Klee said the ultimate goal of his research is to produce a better tasting tomato, including heirloom tomatoes, wild relatives, and cultivated tomatoes.

As part of his research, Klee and his team taste-tested more than 100 varieties of tomatoes and measured the chemical and genetic properties of almost 400 different varieties.

They discovered modern varieties of tomatoes are deficient in flavor chemicals.

Klee said he hopes researchers can restore the flavor of tomatoes by cross-breeding existing plants and grow a tastier fruit. 

Prehistoric otter with wicked teeth, powerful jaws once roamed Earth

An unusual skull discovered at a dig in southwestern China in 2010 has now been identified as that of a fierce, wolf-like animal that roamed the Earth more than 6 million years ago, weighing about 100 pounds, with large, sharp teeth and powerful jaws.

The newly discovered species is a prehistoric otter and an ancestor to the modern-day otter, but it was twice as big as its modern cousin, according to the study published in the Journal of Systematic Paleontology.

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The discovery was part of a collaboration between the Yunnan Cultural Relics and Archaeological Institute in Yunnan Province, China and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

The extinct animal was named Siamogale Melilutra because it shares characteristics with modern otters and badgers, said Denise Su, curator of paleobotany and paleoecology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

“This species has a mix of characteristics of both these animals in its skull and its teeth,” Su explained.

It’s one of the largest otters ever discovered, about “the size of a modern wolf,” she said.

The fossilized skull was found in Yunnan Province and included a cranium and lower jaw that is much larger than that of the modern-day otter.

 

Burned toast, too crispy potatoes pose cancer risk, British food agency warns

Burned toast or brown French fries are examples of over-cooked foods that could cause cancer due to a possible carcinogen they contain, according to the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency, or FSA.

The FSA has launched a campaign aimed at getting people to “go for gold” when cooking some foods, including potatoes, root vegetables, toast, biscuits and cereals to reduce the amount of a chemical called acrylamide.

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Acrylamide is a natural by-product of cooking, and is  formed when foods with a high starch content, like potatoes and bread, are fried, grilled, roasted, toasted or baked at high temperatures. The longer a high starch food is cooked and the higher the temperature the more acrylamide is produced.

Studies have shown acrylamide causes cancer in animals and scientists believe it might cause cancer in humans, too.

The FSA said it wants to help reduce the amount of the carcinogen in food as researchers continue studying the effects of acrylamide.  

The agency is advising, through its “go for gold” campaign, that starchy foods should be cooked until golden yellow or lighter.

“We want our ‘Go for Gold’ campaign to highlight the issues so that consumers know how to make small changes that may reduce their acrylamide consumption,” FSA director of policy Steve Wearne said in a statement.

The new safety standard comes as the agency released a new study showing people in the U.K. are eating higher levels of acrylamide than “is desirable.”

Pluto landing in new NASA video looks like the real thing

NASA has released a new video showing what it might be like to land on Pluto with a brand-new view of  the dwarf planet’s surface.

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The space agency’s New Horizons spacecraft spent about six weeks in a flyby of the dwarf planet in the summer of 2015 and gathered hundreds of images of Pluto and its moons.

NASA created the Pluto landing video using more than 100 images taken during the mission.

It took almost 10 years for New Horizons to travel more than 3 billion miles to reach the Pluto system, where it came within 7,800 miles of the dwarf planet, NASA said.

The spacecraft is carrying powerful telescopic cameras that can see features on the surface of a planet or moon smaller than a football field, according to the space agency.

New Horizons flew on to a new mission exploring the Kuiper belt beyond Pluto. Its ultimate destination in 2019 is an ancient object about 1 billion miles past Pluto that scientists believe could shed light on the early formation of the solar system.  

 

NASA to explore valuable, metal space rock worth $10,000 quadrillion

NASA is setting its sights on a large, metal asteroid orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter. 

The U.S. space agency and researchers at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration want to get a closer look at the space rock, named Psyche, because they believe it’s made of valuable metals, such as nickel, iron, and gold.

 >> Read more trending stories 

The asteroid measures 124 miles in diameter and the iron on it alone is worth $10,000 quadrillion, NASA said in a statement. That compares to the value of the world economy, which is estimated at almost $74 trillion.

But, even if scientists wanted to harness the asteroid and haul it back to Earth, they don’t yet have the technical capability to do it.

So, NASA and ASU researchers are launching a robotic space craft in 2023 to make observations of Psyche. The craft is scheduled to arrive at the asteroid in 2030 where it will spend 20 months studying the rock and mapping it.

The rock will give scientists a glimpse of a planetary core for the first time.

“This mission, visiting the asteroid Psyche, will be the first time humans will ever be able to see a planetary core,” said lead scientist Lindy Elkins-Tanton.

Elkins-Tanton, the director of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, said the mission “will help us gain insights into the metal interior of all rocky planets in our solar system, including Earth.”

The $450 million mission is part of NASA’s Discovery Program.

NASA to explore valuable metal space rock worth $10,000 quadrillion

NASA is setting its sights on a large, metal asteroid orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter. 

The U.S. space agency and researchers at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration want to get a closer look at the space rock, named Psyche, because they believe it’s made of valuable metals, such as nickel, iron, and gold.

>> Read more trending stories  The asteroid measures 124 miles in diameter and the iron on it alone is worth $10,000 quadrillion, NASA said in a statement. That compares to the value of the world economy, which is estimated at almost $74 trillion.

But, even if scientists wanted to harness the asteroid and haul it back to Earth, they don’t yet have the technical capability to do it.

So, NASA and ASU researchers are launching a robotic space craft in 2023 to make observations of Psyche. The craft is scheduled to arrive at the asteroid in 2030 where it will spend 20 months studying the rock and mapping it.

The rock will give scientists a glimpse of a planetary core for the first time.

“This mission, visiting the asteroid Psyche, will be the first time humans will ever be able to see a planetary core,” said lead scientist Lindy Elkins-Tanton.

Elkins-Tanton, the director of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, said the mission “will help us gain insights into the metal interior of all rocky planets in our solar system, including Earth.”

The $450 million mission is part of NASA’s Discovery Program.

World’s primates in crisis, on track for extinction, new study warns

Half of the world’s primates, including gorillas, apes, monkeys, lemurs, and others are in crisis and on track for extinction, mainly due to a growing human population and habitat loss.

Some “60 percent of primate species are now threatened with extinction and 75 percent have declining populations,” according to a new study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances. That means around 300 of the world’s 500 species of primates are currently threatened or endangered, the survey found.

>> Read more trending stories 

Nonhuman primate species are essential for a healthy environment and balanced ecosystems, which humans also need to survive, the study said.

"This truly is the 11th hour for many of these creatures," study co-leader Paul Garber, an anthropology professor at the University of Illinois, told USA Today.

Garber also said many primate species will disappear quickly, over the next 25 years, unless the world takes action.

“Raising global scientific and public awareness of the plight of the world’s primates and the costs of their loss to ecosystem health and human society is imperative,” the study warned.

The threats to primates’ existence also include industrial agriculture, cattle ranching, logging, mining, oil and gas drilling, hunting, illegal trade in primate parts, and as pets.

 

Lone zebra shark surprises scientists with pups

A zebra shark surprised researchers in Australia when she hatched a trio of eggs three years after she was last paired with a mating partner, according to a study published Monday in Scientific Reports.

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Leonie the shark was separated from her partner in 2013, but in April 2016 managed to hatch the eggs. It is the first known time that a shark has switched from sexual to asexual reproduction, according to scientists at the University of Queensland.

"We thought she could be storing sperm, but when we tested the pups and the possible parent sharks using DNA fingerprinting, we found they only had cells from Leonie," said Christine Dudgeon, research officer at the University of Queensland's School of Biomedical Sciences. "Leonie adapted to her circumstances, and we believe she switched because she lost her mate."

Leonie was captured in the wild in 1999 and first introduced to a male shark at the Reef HQ aquarium in Queensland. The pairing wasn't fruitful until scientists again paired the two in 2006. Leonie started laying eggs in 2008 and continued to produce litters until 2013, according to researchers.

In 2013, Leonie's daughter, Lolly, was added to her tank. The next year, both sharks laid eggs.

"Much like a chicken, they will lay eggs if the conditions are good, whether they are fertile or infertile," Dudgeon told The Guardian Australia.

Despite the lack of male sharks, six of Leonie's 47 eggs had live embryos inside. However, by the third month of incubation, all six had died.

Again, both sharks laid eggs last year. Four of them hatched – three from Leonie's clutch and one from Lolly's.

It's incredibly rare for females of a species to switch from sexual to asexual reproduction. There are only two other documented cases, according to The Guardian. An eagle ray who was separated from her partner for a year managed to reproduce and a boa constrictor asexually reproduced, although she was caged with a male boa constrictor, according to the newspaper.

It's not clear what caused Leonie to switch from sexual to asexual reproduction.

"What we want to know now is, could this occur in the wild and, if so, how often does it?" Dudgeon said. "This has big implications for conservation and shows us how flexible the shark's reproductive system really is."

However, she warned The Guardian, the switch is unlikely to herald a turning point for the endangered species. She described the case to the newspaper as similar to "a severe case of inbreeding."

Scientists will watch Leonie's offspring to determine whether they can reproduce despite their odd beginnings.

"You lose genetic diversity with generations of asexual reproduction, so we'll be seeing if these offspring can mate sexually themselves," Dudgeon said.

Alien megastar more hungry than mysterious, scientists say it ate a planet

The theories about the strange and mysterious light patterns surrounding a distant star some 1,500 light years away from Earth have abounded since it’s discovery in 2009, especially the possibility that aliens were somehow behind it.

The dipping or dimming light surrounding the star named KIC 84622852, also known as Tabby’s Star or Boyajian’s Star, was identified by the Kepler Space Telescope and has been tracked by scientists ever since.

>> Read more trending stories  

Scientists said the irregular light patterns are an indication that something unusual is orbiting the planet.

One of the most unusual theories about the cause of the erratic light emitted from Tabby’s Star, something straight out of a science fiction film, suggested that aliens could have built a megastructure of some sort around the star, maybe a huge sphere of solar panels to harness energy.

Another theory, equally as strange, suggested an advanced alien civilization was building something gigantic near the star.

Perhaps a large number of comets orbiting the star caused the erratic light, or maybe the star was extremely active, emitting periodic and gigantic outburst, scientists theorized.

Now a more convincing theory about KIC 84622852 suggests the star consumed a planet about 10,000 years ago.

“We propose that the secular dimming behavior is the result of the inspiral of a planetary body or bodies into KIC 8462852,” researchers from Columbia University and UC Berkley said in a new research paper.

If the star did consume a planet, it could explain the unusual light pattern, researchers said.

It would have caused Tabby’s Star to suddenly brighten erratically, especially if a detached moon system from the engulfed planet was still circling the star irregularly blocking its light. The star would show a dimming pattern of light as it returned to normal, the research suggested.

Breast cancer treatment unnecessary a third of the time, says new Danish study

Too many women were unnecessarily treated for breast cancer after mammograms detected slow-growing tumors that are basically harmless, according to a Danish study published in the journal “Annals of Internal Medicine.”

The research indicated that overdiagnosis of breast cancer is more frequent than previously thought.

>> Read more trending stories  

The Danish study looked at the incidence of early-stage and advanced breast cancer in women between the ages of 50 and 84 years old, both before and after the country began offering mammograms, between 1986 and 2010.

They found that one in three women diagnosed with breast cancer after a mammogram were unnecessarily treated for the disease, something that officials said can endanger women’s health and lives

The chief medical officer with the American Cancer Society, Dr. Otis Brawley, was not involved in the study but wrote an accompanying editorial.

The study raised the uncomfortable possibility that some women who believe their lives were saved by mammograms were actually harmed by surgery, radiation and even chemotherapy they didn’t need, Brawley said in the editorial.

The problem is that all breast cancers essentially look the same under a microscope, Brawley said, but researchers are recognizing that they don’t pose the same risk.

"By treating all the cancers that we see, we are clearly saving some lives," according to news reports on an interview with Brawley. "But we're also 'curing' some women who don't need to be cured."

The release of the study has stoked a long-running debate, again, over what age women should begin screenings for breast cancer.

The age varies from between 40 to 50 years old, depending on the health agency.

More than 40,000 women in the United States die from breast cancer every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

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