Science  08 Jul 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6039, pp. 141

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  1. Right Whales Finally Coming Home


    After more than 100 years, right whales have returned to their calving grounds in New Zealand, an international team of scientists reports. The 100-ton whales, known for their social frolicking and impressive acrobatic displays, were hunted to extinction in these same waters during the 19th and 20th centuries' era of industrial whaling. A small population managed to survive near remote, sub-Antarctic islands south of New Zealand. In recent years, a few dozen females found their way back to the same bays their ancestors used for bearing their young. Normally, such cultural knowledge is passed from mother to daughter, the researchers say. But the tradition had been lost, until these pioneering females began making the journey once again. Reporting in Marine Ecology Progress Series, the scientists—from Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand—confirmed that some of the females had migrated from the southern islands to New Zealand by comparing the DNA in tissue samples collected from seven whales at both sites. Now that the tradition has been restored, scientists expect more whales to follow the pioneers.

  2. Tiny Bug Makes a Riot With Its Privates


    The world's loudest animal relative to its size has been revealed to be a tiny bug with a big organ. Specifically, the water boatman, Micronecta scholtzi, rattles its penis along grooves in its abdomen to produce a chattering song—that registers at 99.2 decibels—about the volume of a loud orchestra when heard from the front row. Scientists presenting at the Society for Experimental Biology's annual conference in Glasgow recorded the bug and analyzed its volume compared to various other loud animals. Even though the water boatman does its “singing” from the bottom of rivers to attract mates, humans walking along the riverbank can clearly hear it. The area along its abdomen that the bug uses to make the noise is about the width of only a human hair, and researchers aren't sure exactly how it produces so loud a song.

  3. New Drug Hope for ‘Aging’ Kids


    A drug already approved to treat cancer and prevent the rejection of transplanted organs may be the next hope for children with progeria, a rare disease that resembles accelerated aging and typically kills those afflicted by their teen years. In studies on cells from those with the disorder, the drug, rapamycin, promoted clearance of the mutant protein dubbed progerin and extended the cells' survival, reports a group that includes Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, in the 29 June issue of Science Translational Medicine.

    The buildup of progerin inside the nuclei of cells distorts their shape and somehow initiates a diverse set of normally age-related symptoms such as as loss of hair, brittle bones, stiff skin, and cardiovascular disease. Three drugs that seek to impair the synthesis of progerin are already being tested in about 50 afflicted children, but rapamycin may offer an alternative, complementary strategy, says Collins. Given the short life span of someone with progeria, researchers and phyicians are now debating whether mouse studies are needed before proceeding with a clinical trial of an oral form of rapamycin that has shown tolerable side effects in children.

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