A life-saving answer to a medical mystery and a human ancestor with unusual traits were among the discoveries to make headlines this week:
- Deadly Brain Illness Blamed on Fruit: The Muzaffarpur area of produces 70% of India's lychee fruit. It's also the site of a mysterious and deadly illness plaguing children in May and June for each of the last 22 years. Researchers now say the two facts go hand in hand. In a Lancet study, they say children who filled up on lychee and skipped dinner ended up with dangerously low blood sugar and brain inflammation because of a toxin in the fruit. Genetic factors may make some kids particularly vulnerable.
- This Thing Is Your Ancestor: Our very primitive beginnings look to have been very primitive indeed. It turns out the earliest known ancestor of humans was a sea creature a millimeter in size that likely lacked an anus. It did have a big mouth, though, as the image reveals.
- Your Life May Indeed Flash Before Your Eyes at Death: The idea that our lives flash before our eyes in the moments before we die may sound close to mystical, but neurologists now say the phenomenon appears to be quite common. They found, however, that "life review experiences," or LREs, don't play out as Hollywood movies might suggest. For one thing, nothing is chronological.
- 'Deranged Cannibal' Hamsters Do Exist: An all-corn diet can quite literally turn a female hamster into a cannibal. A new study found that the European hamster, which once used to feast on a varied diet of grains, roots, and insects, is not doing so well on a diet limited to industrially grown corn. The all-maize regimen has turned the burrowing critters into "deranged cannibals" that eat their own offspring. A particular vitamin deficiency may be to blame.
- Fish Can't Talk, So They Pee Instead: Perhaps you know someone who's written his name in snow, you know, with urine. That's essentially what some fish do every day. Researchers say that urination for the cichlid fish is not only a bodily function but also a form of communication. To figure that out, they injected the fish with a dye that turned urine blue, then put fish together. The greetings weren't the friendliest.
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