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Boy Discovered Million Year Old Fossil by Accident

Leslie Tander

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In November 2016, a nine-year old, Jude Sparks, was out for a hike with his family in Las Cruces, New Mexico when he tripped over what first appeared to be a rock or fossilized wood. When he looked closer, the strange-looking obstruction turned out to be the jawbone, half-buried in the desert.  

Paleontologists unearthed partial skeletons in New Mexico more than 20 years ago. Since then, more than 25 different species of dinosaurs have been found, including Alamosaurus, Coelophysis, Edmontosaurus, Iguanodon, and Tyrannosaurus rex. Still every find is important, and Jude’s find was no different. Professor Peter Houde, from New Mexico State University, recognized the fossil as the jaw from a stegomastodon, an ancient cousin of the elephant, although it’s a gomphothere offshoot.  

What Makes the Stegomastodon Special?  

Once Houde unearthed the stegomastodon, he determined that it was one of the most complete skeletons found in New Mexico. It was a type of Pleistocene creature that roamed the Rio Grande Valley. It was once a common species, but it’s now considered to be a rare find.  

Houde transported the stegomastodon jaw and tusk to the NMSU Vertebrate Museum. The entire skull was excavated in May 2017, and the process of reconstructing the fossil is still underway. Once the fossil skeleton is fully reassembled, Houde wants to put the 1.2 million-year old stegomastodon skull on display.  

Beyond the rarity of the fossil find, it’s also an inspiration for both Jude and for all the others who were once passionate about fossils and dinosaurs. It just shows that pieces of prehistoric history are waiting to be discovered just below the surface. For those who find fossils in the desert sand, it’s also a reminder to contact an expert to find out more about them and bring them into the light of day.  

What’s Next? 

The stegomastodon discovery was not the first nor the last fossil to be discovered in New Mexico. Bob Chesbrough and his kids found a crocodile fossil in September 2018, but they’ve found more than a thousand bone fragments in the Ojito Wilderness over the years. Chesbrough worked with Dr. Spencer Lucas, a paleontologist at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science, to recover and excavate the fossils.  

Fossils are discovered at sites across the US and around the world. When Jude discovered the fossil, it was a surprise, but it also reawakened his passion for the discovery of prehistoric history. It’s might be reminiscent of a dreamed-of treasure hunt, where instead of gold or gems, it’s possible to stumble upon important fossil finds. 

To some, the discovery of these fossilized remnants are the biggest treasure. These fragments of the past shed light on the creatures, vegetation and landscape, but it’s also a lesson in science and adventuring. The next great fossilized creature may be a stumble away. 

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Life

Could There Be Answers to the Famed Peanut Allergy on the Horizon?

Mackenzie Freeman

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Peanuts are incredibly delicious as they permeate candy, condiments, snacks, and numerous other parts of the food industry. At the same time, peanuts also contribute to one of the most common food allergies on the face of the Earth. Those who are allergic to peanuts often have deadly allergies, known as anaphylaxis. This reaction can cause someone to stop breathing if they even simply inhale some of the dust associated with peanuts. As a result, many kids have to carry around an EpiPen that might be needed to save their life. Therefore, peanuts, peanut oil, peanut butter, peanut chocolate, and more can pose a serious health risk. Indeed, some kids will never know the delicious taste of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Some people might even be shocked to hear that peanuts can be found in potato chips, icing, and more! It is hard for people who have severe food allergies to have a normal life. Furthermore, peanut allergies have actually been becoming more common. Many schools have even banned peanuts to protect their students from harm. This is a drastic, but necessary, measure in the eyes of many people.

Now, there might be an answer for those who have been waiting for what seems like forever. Scientists from Australia have recently announced that they might have found an answer to this common problem. A team of researchers have been using a novel treatment method called immunotherapy to help children get over their allergies to peanuts. In this treatment option, patients are intentionally exposed to something that they have a serious reaction to. In this case, that item would be peanuts. Of course, this exposure takes place in a controlled setting to minimize the potential health risks that might come with an intentional allergic reaction.

When children in this experiment are exposed to peanuts, the immune system reacts. After all, this is the basis of an allergic reaction. Over time, the body is exposed to doses in higher and higher amounts. With the right treatment, the body learns to handle the reaction and the allergic reaction gradually subsides. This is called tolerance. Essentially, the body “gets used” to the peanuts. In this clinical trial, which lasted for 18 months, about four out of every five children who were involved in the trial had developed a tolerance to peanuts. Now, five years later, most of the kids who devleoped a tolerance are still eating peanuts to this day. This represents a breakthrough in the field of medicine that has the potential to help children all over the world who suffer from severe peanut allergies.

It can be exhausting for parents and children to go around constantly wondering if they are going to be exposed to peanuts that might lead to an allergic reaction. It can be hard to carry around an EpiPen every day. Now, there might be a way to get around this problem. At the same time, this is only one study. There is still a long way to go and parents should not go around giving their peanut-allergic children allergens to force a reaction. The next step is to try to replicate the results of this study on a larger scale. Then, this therapy needs to reach the open market to be distributed. At the same time, this study still represents a tremendous hope for those who suffer from allergies. If the results of this study can be replicated on a larger scale, it might provide a way to help people who suffer from food allergies.

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Life

Does Freezing the Earth Lead to the First Animals?

Mackenzie Freeman

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The Earth is the only planet we have. While we think of this blue giant as our home, life is actually challenging. For example, descending too far into the ocean can expose the body to pressures that it can’t possibly resist. On the other hand, travel too high and oxygen runs out. People essentially suffocate. Don’t forget about the boiling waters found in some parts of the Earth along with the arctic temperatures found in some corners of the globe. 

On the other hand, despite all of these hazards, life finds a way to persist. In some ways, that defines who we are as Earthlings. We have the ability to resist all of these things and survive. In order to understand just how this is done, people need to turn back the clock to when Earth was just another snowball hurtling around the sun at lightning speeds.

This time period was referred to as the Cryogenian period. Earth, at this time, was a solid ball of ice. Living on Earth at this time would have been challenging. For tens of millions of years, Earth was undergoing a cycle of freezing and thawing. Simply wash, rinse, and repeat. This is far from the ski resort that most people associate with cold temperatures. During this time, there were even glaciers at the equator. This is very different from the Greenhouse gas conditions during other time periods of prehistoric Earth that led to tremendous volcanic eruptions. 

This time period would have been tough for anyone to survive. Yet, during this time, life didn’t simply survive. It actually thrived. There were some great moments during this time. Life made the jump from simple, single cells to the organs, tissues, and multicellular organisms that we see today. Every living thing that people encounter today can be traced back to the dark days of the prehistoric period. That makes this time period one of the most miraculous on Earth. At the same time, in a letter that was published in a well-respected scientific journal, this is not a coincidence. To triumph in the face of adversity is something that defines Earth as a planet. 

Indeed, life might have actually required these conditions in order to grow and develop into the beauty that people see today. To back up this statement, the authors of the letter have pointed to algae. While some people might associate this word with the slippery substance found on rocks, life billions of years ago needed to find nutrients wherever it could. As glaciers continued to travel across the planet’s surface, they ground the mountains into a fine powder. This powder was filled with plenty of minerals such as phosphates. Eventually, the cycle of cooling started to flip. The glaciers then melted and released all of these minerals into the Earth’s water supplies. 

This made these minerals accessible to plants such as algae. The algae were able to absorb these minerals and put them to use. Then, algae started to grow and develop. They spread across the entire planet. This provided food for everything else that needed nutrients to survive. In the end, this led to the evolution of multicellular life. Therefore, every living thing has algae to thank for its growth and development. Algae, in turn, needs to thank the rough conditions that were around during this time period. It turns out that living things on Earth are incredibly resilient. We will find a way to survive and thrive in the future as well. We always have and we always will, as people.

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Life

Shoppers in the Midwest can now enjoy non-browning apples

Mackenzie Freeman

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Apples make for a convenient and healthy snack. However, some consumers are put off consuming apples once they have turned brown. It doesn’t take very long for sliced apples to start turning brown. It can be hard for consumers to finish snacking on apples before they start to lose their fresh appearance. 

Most consumers agree that apples don’t look quite as appetizing when they’ve started to brown. In fact, a lot of consumers throw apples away when they start to go brown even though the apple flesh is still edible. A company that distributes apples in the Midwest has addressed this issue by recently developing an apple variety that is genetically modified so that it doesn’t go brown as quickly when exposed to oxygen. This was done using a gene editing tool known as CRISPR. The tool has modified apples by reducing the effectiveness of an enzyme in apples that’s responsible for the tendency in apples to go brown. 

The new apples were developed from regular Golden Delicious apples. They are set to hit the selves at around 400 stores located in different parts of the Midwest. The produce will be made available in bags offering 10 ounces of the new apple variety . This is a big event in the world of genetically modified foods. While genetic modification has frequently been used on crops such as soybeans and corn, using the technology to manipulate the genetic makeup of fruits is relatively new.

In fact, there had previously been only one other genetically modified fruit commonly sold on shelves in the United States. This was a papaya that was genetically modified to resist viruses. The company that has produced this new non-browning apple is hoping to encourage consumers to eat more healthy fruit by making fruit more appealing.

The president of this company was recently interviewed by the Chicago Tribune. In this interview, he expressed that this new apple variety- named the Arctic apple- could help to increase healthy eating while also minimizing the waste of good food.

While this may be the first time that such a product is available on such a large scale, it is not the first time that genetically modified apples have been sold. There were previously apples modified to show reduced browning tendencies that were sold in the United States. These were Opal apples that were modified to show reduced browning. In fact, these apples are still available for sale in some parts of the country and are still available for Americans to eat.  

To some consumers, the issue of genetically modified food is controversial. There has been an effort to protest the increased development, production, and sale of genetically modified foods all across the company. However, scientists have yet to find any evidence that genetically modified foods pose any risk to human health. 

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