5 Most Incredible Discoveries of the Week
Including a lab error that turned out for the best
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted May 17, 2014 5:20 AM CDT
Diver Susan Bird, working at the bottom of a Mexican cave called Hoyo Negro, brushes an ancient human skull.   (AP Photo/National Geographic, Paul Nicklen)

(Newser) – Two ancient cave discoveries, one human and one from the sea, highlight the list this week:

  • Ancient Skeleton May Settle Debate on First Americans: A slight teenage girl who died in a Mexican cave 12,000 years ago may help settle a long-simmering debate in archaeological circles: Where did the very first Americans come from? The answer doesn't seem to be Europe, Australia, or southeastern Asia, but rather a land that no longer exists called Beringia—it once connected Siberia and Alaska but is now submerged beneath the Bering Sea. The ancient girl has the DNA of modern Native Americans.
  • Scientists Find World's Oldest Sperm: About 17 million years ago, a shrimp-like creature had sex in a cave in Australia, but instead of an afterglow, she got hit almost immediately with what one scientist thinks was a "torrential rain of bat droppings." Her misfortune then is scientists' delight today, because the chemicals in the bat guano preserved both her and the "giant" sperm still inside her.

  • Lab Mistake Results in Momentous Find: It's a happy accident: A mistake at an IBM research lab has created the first new synthetic polymers in 20 years. They're light, strong, and recyclable and could transform the old-school world of plastics and polymers.
  • Shorter Men Have Longer Lives: Study: FOXO3—what a gene: Men who get a "protective" version of it will experience a number of longevity-related upsides: It contributes to regulating insulin, suppressing tumors, and protecting cells from oxidative stress. But it's also likely to make them short.
  • Woman's Cancer Cured by ... Measles: In a breakthrough that could offer new hope to people with some kinds of cancer, Mayo Clinic researchers say they managed to wipe out a woman's cancer with a blast of measles vaccine strong enough to inoculate 10 million people. The 50-year-old woman's blood cancer, which had spread through her body, went into complete remission after the vaccine dose.
Click to read about more discoveries.