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Dung beetles use the Milky Way as a map, and other science news

A dung beetle (Scarabaeus Satyrus) is seen at the University of Lund, Sweden, on January 25, 2013. Scientists at the Swedish university have shown how the insects use the Milky Way to orientate themselves. According to the university "the researchers found that dung beetles can transport their dung balls along straight paths under a starlit sky, but lose the ability under overcast conditions. In a planetarium, the beetles stayed on track equally well under a full starlit sky and one showing only the diffuse streak of the Milky Way."


A roundup of some of the week's science headlines:

Star light, star bright: A species of South African dung beetle has been shown to use the Milky Way to navigate, making it the only known animal that turns to the galactic spray of stars across the night sky for direction. Researchers have known for several years that the inch-long insects use the sun or moon as fixed points to ensure they keep rolling dung balls in a straight line – the quickest way of getting away from other beetles at the dung heap. But scientists have puzzled over how the beetles achieve a straight line on moonless nights.To prove the Milky Way theory, scientists at Johannesburg's Wits University took beetles into the university planetarium to see how they fared with a normal night sky, and then one devoid of the Milky Way. "But when we turned off the Milky Way, the beetles got lost," said Prof. Marcus Byrne. – Reuters

What's old is new again: Greenland's climate was approximately 8 C warmer during the last interglacial period than it is today, a finding that could provide a guide for Earth's future climate. The project's researchers, led by the University of Copenhagen, drilled down into the Greenland ice sheet and studied extracted ice cores. A distinctive type of surface warming of the ice took place during the Eemian period, a chunk of time that lasted between 130,000 and 115,000 years ago between two ice ages. Evidence of that same type of surface warming, which has occurred very rarely over the past 5,000 years, was seen by the research team in July, 2012, scientists said in a release. We might see this more often due to current warming patterns over Greenland – so the earth may be in store for some Eemian-like climatic conditions. The ice cores are being studied for more clues. The study was published Thursday in the journal Nature. – Aleysha Haniff

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Everything but the kitchen sink. Or maybe that too: It holds all your genetic material, but could DNA also store your music collection? Researchers reported Wednesday that they had stored all 154 Shakespeare sonnets, a photo, a scientific paper, and a 26-second sound clip from Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech in a barely visible bit of DNA in a test tube. The process involved converting the ones and zeroes of digital information into the four-letter alphabet of DNA code. That code was used to create strands of synthetic DNA. Then machines "read" the DNA molecules and recovered the encoded information. That reading process took two weeks but technological advances are driving that time down, said Ewan Birney of the European Bioinformatics Institute in Hinxton, England. He's an author of a report published online by the journal Nature. DNA could be useful for keeping huge amounts of information that must be kept for a long time but not retrieved very often, the researchers said. – The Associated Press

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