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Better than a shiny red nose

A study of antlers teaches scientists about bone healing and regeneration

A reindeer

Better than a shiny red nose

The average reindeer may not possess the ability to fly through the air pulling a sleigh full of presents and a jolly man in a red suit, but God gave it, and other species of deer, a unique and impressive ability to rapidly regrow antlers every season. In a study published in October in the Journal of Stem Cell Research and Therapy, scientists reported they discovered two genes that work in concert to make speedy antler regeneration possible.

The new antlers deer sprout every spring and lose every winter are temporary, external bone structures that can grow up to a quarter of an inch per day and weigh 22 pounds within two to three months. In contrast, the human femur bone grows only about a quarter of an inch per year during puberty.

In the Stanford University study, the researchers identified two genes, also found in humans, that cause bone cells to grow and harden quickly. Skeletal stem cells primarily make up early antler tissue, which is soft like cartilage. As young antlers grow upward, a collection of stem cells remains at the top, allowing continued and speedy growth. In the second stage, one of the genes causes calcium deposits to increase and harden the antlers.

The researchers hope their discovery will lay the groundwork for developing more effective treatment options to both prevent and treat bone diseases such as osteoporosis and to quickly repair bone fractures.

“Antler regeneration is a unique phenomenon that, to me, is worth studying just out of pure curiosity, but, lo and behold, it may have some really interesting applications for human health,” Peter Yang, the lead researcher, said in a statement.

Birch bark pitch from Sweden with tooth marks

Birch bark pitch from Sweden with tooth marks Creative Commons/Natalija Kashuba, et al.

Ancient DNA found in prehistoric gum

Anthropologists discovered what they believe are 8,000-year-old samples of gum containing the DNA of a group of Scandinavian reindeer hunters who once lived in present day Sweden and Norway, according to a study published this month on the bioRxiv preprint server.

The researchers uncovered 100 samples of coal black gum pieces the size of a thumbprint embedded with distinct human toothmarks in an archaeological site in western Sweden. Chemical analysis revealed the sticky chunks were pieces of birch bark pitch, an early adhesive made from plant resin. The scientists believe the hunters chewed the pitch to make glue for weapons and tools, Science Magazine reported.

The researchers analyzed three pieces of the gum and found that all three contained human DNA from two females and a male. The size and wear of the toothmarks showed the samples likely came from people between the ages of 5 and 18 years, although the scientists found adult toothmarks in other samples of the pitch, suggesting that toolmaking may have incorporated both sexes and children and adults.

In this excavation, the researchers did not find the wads of pitch embedded in actual tools, so they cannot say the chewers were definitely toolmakers, Lisa Matisoo-Smith, a molecular anthropologist in New Zealand noted. “They may have been children just chewing gum,” she told the magazine. “Either way, it’s pretty cool.” —J.B.

Birch bark pitch from Sweden with tooth marks

Birch bark pitch from Sweden with tooth marks Creative Commons/Natalija Kashuba, et al.

New salamander species discovered

Scientists just discovered a brand new species of salamander that lives exclusively in water and breathes through Christmas tree–shaped structures growing on its head, Live Science reported.

The 2-foot-long salamander, known as a reticulated siren, boasts spots like a leopard, a long body like an eel, and has only two limbs.

Scientists described similar species as early as 300 years ago, but they have largely eluded scientific investigation because the murky swamps and streams of their native waters in the southeastern United States make them difficult to detect.

But now a detailed DNA analysis, described in a study published online Dec. 5 in the journal PLOS One, reveals the reticulated siren is genetically and physically distinct from the two other known siren species that live in the same area.

Identifying this giant salamander also serves as a reminder that there are new species to be discovered “right in our own backyards,” study co-author David Steen said. —J.B.

Dough as white as snow

Scientists recently discovered that a simple combination of white wine and lemon juice keeps pastry dough snowy white, according to a study appearing last month in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. That’s good news this Christmas for commercial producers of cookies and pastries, who have to turn to artificial food additives to keep white dough from browning. Polyphenol oxidase, the same enzyme that causes bananas and apples to turn brown, also discolors dough and can make holiday sugar cookies less-than-appealing. —J.B.

Julie Borg

Julie is a WORLD contributor who covers science and intelligent design. A clinical psychologist and a World Journalism Institute graduate, Julie resides in Dayton, Ohio.

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