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Science news that’s good for fighting Alzheimer’s, bad for India’s monsoons

An Indian farmer walks through a dry, cracked paddy field on the outskirts of Jammu, India, Tuesday, July 24, 2012. Indians have grown increasingly desperate waiting for the long-delayed monsoon, the annual rains that replenish rivers and quench crops to keep this agricultural nation of 1.2 billion fed through the year.

Channi Anand/AP

A roundup of the good, the bad and the just plain interesting from the week's science headlines:

Good news

A team of researchers from Dalhousie University have discovered what may be a new way to treat Alzheimer's by probing what the body does to protect itself from the disease. With the help of computers to scan and analyze the brain, researchers said they found molecules that bind to misfolded proteins linked to the development of Alzheimer's, preventing more of these deformed proteins from building up in the brain. The research, published online Wednesday in the Canadian Journal of Chemistry, may lead to new drugs to treat the disease – a breakthrough since scientists say there's currently no medications on the market that impact the causes of Alzheimer's. – Aleysha Haniff

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Bad news

The Indian monsoon is likely to fail more often in the next 200 years threatening food supplies, unless governments agree how to limit climate change. A study by a pair of researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany said monsoon rains could collapse about every fifth year between 2150 and 2200 due to continued global warming, blamed mainly on human burning of fossil fuels, and related shifts in tropical air flows. India's monsoon, which lasts from June to September, is vital for India's 1.2 billion people to grow crops such as rice, wheat and corn. India last faced a severe widespread drought in 2009 and had to import sugar, pushing global prices to 30-year highs. The researchers defined monsoon "failure" as a fall in rainfall of between 40 and 70 per cent below normal levels – such a drastic decline has not happened any year in records dating back to 1870 by the India Meteorological Department, they said. The study was published online Monday in Enviromental Research Letters. – Reuters

Just news

A piece of a fossilized reptilian horn that sat in an Ottawa museum for decades has led to the discovery of a new dinosaur species the size of a rhinoceros that roamed Alberta 80 million years ago. Pieces of skulls from the recently-named Xenoceratops, a name which translates as "alien-horned face," were originally dug up from rocky sediments in southern Alberta sediments in 1958. However, paleontologists Michael Ryan and David Evans rediscovered the bones a decade ago and gradually pieced together the sweeping neck plate of the four-footed, horn-headed giants. The 3,000-kilogram creatures used their beak-like mouths to munch on plants and had a fearsome appearance due to a sweeping neck shield topped by two protruding spikes. The researchers' work has been published in the October issue of the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences. – The Canadian Press

It may not be audible, but coral can call for help when under attack by toxic seaweed – and its bodyguards come running (or swimming). New research published this week in the journal Science shows that two types of gobies, a type of inch-long fish that lives in specific corals in the Fiji Islands, arrive within minutes when their home emits a distress call. The fish trim away a certain type of potentially lethal seaweed: Over a three-day period, the dangerous seaweed was cut back by 30 per cent, and damage to the coral dropped by 70 to 80 per cent, the Georgia Tech researchers said in a press release. – Aleysha Haniff

An Anglo-German team of astronomers has discovered a new planet, named HD 40307g, orbiting a nearby sun at just the right distance for an Earth-like climate that could support life. The team actually found three new planets orbiting the star 44 light years away, but only one of them is in the so-called Goldilocks Zone, the band around a sun where temperatures are neither too hot, nor too cold, for liquid water to exist. "The star HD 40307 is a perfectly quiet old dwarf star, so there is no reason why such a planet could not sustain an Earth-like climate," said Guillem Angla-Escude from Germany's University of Goettingen, who led the research with Mikko Tuomi at the University of Hertfordshire in Britain. More than 800 planets have been discovered outside our solar system since the first was detected in the early 1990s, but only a handful of those have been in the habitable zone. Even more rare are planets in the zone that rotate, as this one does, to create a day-time and night-time, which increases the chance of an Earth-like environment. An article detailing the discovery was published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. – Reuters

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