Science & Health

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As virtually every school-aged child knows, birds are descended from dinosaurs. But holy toledo, does this newly discovered oviratporid ever look like a modern cassowary — right from the dramatic crest atop its head through to its long neck and ostrich-like shape. The paleontologists who discovered the dino are now studying modern cassowaries to get a better sense of its potential behaviour.

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Turtles have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, but they now are struggling to survive, with about half of all species threatened with extinction. To save them, scientists need accurate data on how many males and females of each species are left, but there's a problem — the two sexes can look essentially identical, with the male's penis tucked inside his body when he is not aroused. So, what is a scientist trying to properly conduct research to support conservation to do? Whip out a vibrator, of course.

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Last year, extraterrestrial exploration venture Breakthrough Initiatives announced an ambitious plan to send tons of tiny spacecraft to our nearest neighbouring star system, Alpha Centauri. The project, called Breakthrough Starshot, is focused on launching lightweight 'nanocraft' to the stars at rip-roaring speeds. Recently, the project took a big leap toward achieving its ultimate goal by successfully sending six test craft into Low Earth Orbit.

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For the first time in the US, a number of one-cell human embryos have had their DNA modified using the gene-editing tool CRISPR. Scientists in China have been doing the same thing for the last two years in a number of experiments - including one that make them HIV resistant - but not with out issues.

There have been problems with CRISPR causing editing errors in the DNA - but the US research (which is yet to be published) apparently avoids this problem.

Here's what Australian experts have to say about the news.

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China has long been ahead of the US when it comes to human genetic engineering — there, the idea seems far less morally fraught. But for the first time, scientists in the United States have now genetically modified a human embryo, according to a new report in the MIT Technology Review. At Oregon Health and Science University, the publication reports, scientists are using the gene-editing technique CRISPR to alter the DNA of a "large number of one-cell embryos."

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On today's date in 1948, President Harry Truman desegregated the American military with an executive order. On the same date almost 70 years later, President Donald Trump announced he was kicking transgender people out of the US military on Twitter, the platform he usually uses to spew stream-of-conscious nonsense and bigoted vitriol. Why? Apparently, transgender healthcare is too much of a burden to the United States' nearly 600-billion-dollar military budget.

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A flash of visible light recently appeared in the sky that, depending on your location, could have been visible with binoculars. It wasn't a plane or a star: it was a gamma ray burst, one of the most violent kinds of explosions in the universe, from a source 9 billion light years away, possibly a black hole. And you're afraid of explosions here on Earth? That's cute.

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Emus are big, fluffy, flightless birds found only in Australia. They are also the biggest dufuses in the animal kingdom, and are constantly getting themselves caught up in all sorts of tomfoolery, which is documented in obscure subreddits. Now, Australian researchers at Monash University might have found another reason to love these giant goofballs - a gene that appears to control their wing development may one day help humans born with limb abnormalities.

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In nature, blue is much rarer than you might think. Sure, the sky is blue when the weather's nice, and so is the ocean. But the vast majority of plants and animals are incapable of making blue pigment. Brilliantly-coloured peacocks appear blue not because their feathers are coloured that way, but because of how they reflect light. Less than 10 per cent of the world's 280,000 flowering plants produce blue flowers, which may be why they're often a symbol of the unattainable in folklore and literature.

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Most people (wrongly) assume the moon is barren and boring. Sure, our satellite might be a little clingy, but it also has moonquakes, orange soil, and could be hiding abundant water resources. New research from satellite data offers more evidence that the Moon does indeed have water trapped in its mantle, which could be huge for companies looking to mine the Moon for resources. Still no word about where the cheese is, though.

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Austrosaurus mckillopi, one of Queensland's long-necked sauropods, has been rediscovered thanks to a team of Australian and British palaeontologists.

The Early Cretaceous period (104 million year old) dinosaur was first discovered in 1932 on Kunjen country, northwest of Richmond, Queensland - then it was lost.

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It's easy to feel small and insignificant in the grandiose scope of the universe, because we are. At the same time, as Carl Sagan once reminded us, we're made of the same "star stuff" as the cosmos. All too often, we forget how random, ridiculous, and resplendent it is to part of the stellar sorority of the universe. That's why art, specifically movies like Eliza McNitt's Fistful of Stars, is important — it reacquaints us with humanity's small and stupid and somehow very special place in the cosmos.

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Dr. George Church is a real-life Dr. Frankenstein. The inventor of CRISPR and one of the minds behind the Human Genome Project is no longer content just reading and editing DNA — now he wants to make new life. In Ben Mezrich's latest book, Wooly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History's Most Iconic Extinct Creatures, Church and his Harvard lab try to do the impossible, and clone an extinct Woolly mammoth back into existence.