Discovered: What we were before we were monkeys; lower legal drinking ages encourage more binge drinking; forensics on King Richard III's remains prove Shakespeare right; diet sodas raise diabetes risk more than sugary drinks.
Ancient rats may be among our ancestors. Creationists bothered by the thought of humans descending from apes won't like this one bit. After a six-year study of the mammal family tree, scientists now believe that many mammalian species (people included) originated with a tiny rat-like creature that crawled the Earth tens of millions of years ago. Fossils of the Protungulatum donnae look like the best ancestor candidate for the mammal family tree extending back 66 million years, and they preserve evidence that the creature weighed around eight ounces, had a long fuzzy tail, and ate bugs. Maureen A. O’Leary, the Stony Brook University anatomist who led the project, says, "The findings were not a total surprise. But it’s an important discovery because it relies on lots of information from fossils and also molecular data." [The New York Times]
Lowering the drinking age leads to more binge drinking. There was once a time when not every state in the union required citizens to be 21 before legally tasting their first sip of alcohol. And after studying long-term trends across states with differing legal drinking age laws, researchers have found that people who grew up in areas with younger drinking age laws were more likely to become binge drinkers later in life. "It wasn't just that lower minimum drinking ages had a negative impact on people when they were young," says led author Andrew D. Plunk, a post-doc at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "Even decades later, the ability to legally purchase alcohol before age 21 was associated with more frequent binge drinking." [Science Daily]
Digging up King Richard III's fate. Shakespeare wrote a pretty violent fate for Richard III in his play about the doomed British monarch. And now that University of Leicester researchers have dug up the former king's body to learn more about his final days, it looks like the playwright didn't take much dramatic license. The scientists located his remains under a parking lot in Leicester, England, and after performing some forensics tests on the bones they found that he suffered a huge blow to the back of the head. This suggests a pole weapon called a halberd finished him off. For centuries, it wasn't known where Richard III's final resting place was, due to his unceremonial burial. "The last thing the victors wanted was to give him a nice tomb in Westminster Abbey and have people put pretty flowers on it," comments Cornell Middle Ages specialist Paul Hyams. [Science News]
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Diet soda packs more diabetes danger than sugary drinks. The whole point of diet soda is that it doesn't contain sugar, an overabundance of which can lead to type 2 diabetes. So why is it that the artificially sweetened drinks raise the risk of developing diabetes more than regular soda, according to a new study from France? Researchers led by Francoise Clavel-Chapelon and Guy Fagherazzi surveyed more than 66,000 women about their food and drink intake over 14 years, finding that diet soda drinkers had noticeably higher incidence of diabetes than regular soda drinkers. The researchers aren't sure what to make of that finding just yet, writing, "Information on beverage consumption was not updated during the follow-up, and dietary habits may have changed over time. We cannot rule out that factors other than ASB (artificially sweetened beverages)... are responsible for the association with diabetes." [New York Daily News]