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Jun. 11, 2013

Mars Road Trip, Bird Penises (or Lack Thereof), and More

by Jordan Davidson

Click to enlarge images
Each week we’ll round up links to science stories or studies that blow our mind, tickle our funny bone, or generally strike our fancy.
 
Road Trip, Mars Edition
The Mars rover, Curiosity, will soon embark on a southwestern excursion. Scientists at NASA announced that after the one-ton robot finishes its current task—collecting rock samples in the Red Planet’s Gale Crater—it will meander five miles southwest to Mount Sharp where scientists anticipate it will find evidence about how the ancient Martian environment changed and evolved.
NASA
 
The Wonders of Breast Milk
We already know that Mommy’s milk is something of a wonder food. For instance, it helps babies establish strong immune systems. Now, researchers at Brown University’s Advanced Baby Imaging Lab have more evidence for breastfeeding’s benefits. Using a baby-friendly MRI, the researchers found that, by age two, tykes who were fed breast milk exclusively for at least three months boasted more brain development—especially in parts associated with language, emotional function, and cognition—than babies who consumed only formula or a combination of formula and breast milk. Further, babies breastfed for more than a year showed enhanced brain growth over infants breastfed for fewer than 12 months. Drink up, little one!
 
Breathalyzer Test for Diabetes?
Sufferers from diabetes might experience “fruity” breath, a sign that the body is using fat for energy instead of glucose and releasing sweet-smelling acetone in the process. That biomarker inspired chemists at the University of Pittsburgh to develop a device that could eventually analyze breath to diagnose and monitor diabetes so that people don’t have to rely on blood analysis. The technology combines titanium dioxide (often found in make-up) with carbon nanotubes into a sensor that measures acetone vapors. The team is now working on a prototype that can be tested on human breath samples.
 
Roosters Aren’t Cocky
The cock has no penis. Nor do hawks. Not even the macho bald eagle sports one. In fact, most male land fowl lack that hallmark of masculinity, an external sex organ. Researchers at the University of Florida, however, report in Current Biology that most male land fowl do have a penis when they’re in an embryonic state, but a specific gene (Bmp4) sets off a chemical reaction that causes the organ to wither away.
 
About Jordan Davidson

Jordan Davidson is a freelance writer based in New York.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

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