Random Samples

Science  20 Mar 2009:
Vol. 323, Issue 5921, pp. 1543

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    What's hotter than Harry Potter? In South Korea, at least, the answer is science—in comic-book form. The 50 titles in the English-titled Why? series have sold more than 20 million copies since 2001, outselling translations of J. K. Rowling's blockbuster series 3 to 2, according to publisher YeaRimDang.


    Each 160-page, $6.50 book covers a different topic, including space, the sea, and puberty. These panels from Why? Electricity and Electronics explain how fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity, producing H2O as a byproduct. The dog admonishes the fuel cell for “peeing all over the place.” “It's just clean water,” says the fuel cell. French, Russian, Chinese, and Thai translations have already appeared. Japanese and North American versions may soon follow.



    On 17 July 1918, Czar Nicholas II of Russia, his wife, and five children were killed by the Soviets. A grave containing the remains of five family members was found in the 1970s, and in 1991, DNA testing established that the remains were those of the czar, his wife, and three of their children.

    Now, researchers say they have definitively identified the missing children—the couple's hemophilic son, Alexei, and a girl—from bone fragments and teeth discovered near the original gravesite in 2007. Because the youngest daughters were only 2 years apart in age, the scientists couldn't be sure who the girl was.

    A team led by Michael Coble of the DNA lab at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Rockville, Maryland, made the matches by comparing mitochondrial and nuclear DNA from the remains with DNA from the earlier work and with Y chromosome markers from a living Romanov cousin, they reported 11 March in PLoS ONE.

    At the same time, says Coble, researchers in Yekaterinburg, Russia, analyzed bloodstains from a shirt—stashed for decades in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg—that Nicholas had been wearing when he was attacked while traveling in Japan in 1881. DNA from the blood showed “complete concordance” with DNA from one of Nicholas's teeth.

    The newly discovered remains are now in a forensic lab in Yekaterinburg. Once the Russian Orthodox Church agrees that they are authentic, they can be buried with the rest of the family in a cathedral in St. Petersburg.


    Plant explorers have discovered a giant new species of carnivorous pitcher plant on a mountaintop in the Philippines. At 30 cm long and 15 cm wide, the plant's pitchers may set a record for genus Nepenthes—the group that includes all 120-odd species of Old World pitcher plants.

    The team spied the plant after scrambling up a 6-m waterfall to reach the summit of Mount Victoria on the island of Palawan, says Alastair Robinson, an independent field botanist formerly at the University of Cambridge, U.K. Dangling from long tendrils attached to a central stem, the trumpet-shaped pitchers are “akin to an open stomach” filled with milky digestive fluids and water, Robinson says. Insects attracted to the pitcher's nectar and color get trapped in the pool and drown. The new giant pitchers, whose ilk turned to carnivory because of the nutrient-deficient soils they live in, enjoy a varied diet: One contained several large green beetles, black beetles, bees, and wasps. Dubbed N. attenboroughii, the plant is described in the February Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society.