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(Thinkstock/Thinkstock)
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SOCIAL STUDIES

A slack jaw compared with a chimp is the price of humanity’s big brain Add to ...

Slack-jawed humans

“A chimpanzee’s jaws are so powerful it can bite off a person’s finger in one chomp,” says the New Scientist. “That is not a theoretical calculation; more than one primate researcher has lost a digit that way. Humans have wimpy jaw muscles by comparison. This could be down to a single mutation in a gene called MYH16, which encodes a muscle protein. The mutation inactivates the gene, causing our jaw muscles to be made from a different version of the protein. They are consequently much smaller. This finding, which came in 2004, caused a stir when the researchers argued that smaller jaw muscles could have allowed the growth of a bigger skull. Primates with big jaw muscles have thickened supporting bones at the back of their skull, which arguably constrains skull expansion, and therefore that of the brain, too.”

Smaller Nobel prizes

“The Nobel Foundation has decided to reduce the prize money of each of the six Nobel awards by 20 per cent this year to eight million kronor ($1.1-million U.S.) to help safeguard its long-term capital prospects,” Associated Press reports. “The board of directors also said Monday it wants to ensure the potential for achieving a good inflation-adjusted return on the Nobel Foundation’s capital during the next several years.”

Think your commute was bad?

“A New York woman,” reports United Press International, “said she has been unable to ride the subway since a rat climbed up her leg inside her pants. Ana Vargas, 40, said she was riding the train between 125th Street and Columbia Circle around 8 a.m. Thursday when the rat crawled up her leg and she had to take off her pants to get rid of it, the New York Post reported. ‘I’m still nervous about it,’ Ms. Vargas said. ‘I had to take pills to get to sleep … I don’t know what I’m going to do to get to work, but I don’t want to get on the train.’”

Eavesdropping on corn

“Plants really can talk, scientists have found,” says The Sun. “They discovered corn saplings make a clicking noise in their roots – and react when the sound is played back. The University of Bristol team emitted noise at the same frequency as the clicks – which can’t be heard by humans – and found the plants grew towards it. Biologist Monica Gagliano said: ‘For the first time we have found plants make their own sounds.’ The new claims back up research in Australia which found chili seeds reacted to certain noises.”

Land of the fax

“In Japan’s businesses and bureaucracies, in home offices and hulking companies, the fax machine is thriving,” writes Chico Harlan of The Washington Post. “Yes, the clunky device has fallen out of favour in much of the world, a refuge for dust bunnies and stray cover sheets. But it is humming [in Japan]. Japanese still fax party invitations, bank documents and shopping orders. Business people call the fax a required communications tool, used for vital messages, often in place of e-mail. … With their traditional reverence for paper and handwriting, the Japanese still see use for the analog world. Computer use lags behind that in other developed countries. Business meetings revolve around printed documents, distributed in binders of breathtaking heft. And at government ministries, fax machines spin and whir, the centrepieces of a busy bureaucracy.” As of March, according to the Cabinet Office, fax machines could be found in 59 per cent of Japanese homes.

When crows joke around

“The extremes of animal behaviour,” writes James Gorman in The New York Times, “can be a source of endless astonishment. … But Gifts of the Crow by John N. Marzluff and Tony Angell includes a description of one behaviour that even Aesop never imagined. ‘In northern Japan, jungle crows pick up deer feces … and deftly wedge them in the deer’s ears.’ What?! I checked the notes at the back of the book, and this account comes from another book, written in Japanese. So I can’t give any more information on this astonishing claim, other than to say Dr. Marzluff, of the University of Washington, and Mr. Angell, an artist and observer of birds, think that the crows do it in the spirit of fun.”

THOUGHT DU JOUR

“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.”

– Henry Ford, U.S. industrialist (1863-1947)

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