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Solving the Romanov Mystery, Anthrax’s American History, Usage Maps of Science and a Self-Healing Caterpillar

PLoS ONE’s biggest news buzz last week was created by a study from an international team of researchers led by Michael Coble of the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory. The researchers report the results of forensic DNA tests, which confirm that skeletal remains of two individuals discovered in Russia in 2007 belong to the two missing children of the last Tsar of Russia—the Crown Prince, Alexei Romanov and one of his sisters. The Tsar, Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, their five children and four family employees were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918 to prevent them from being rescued by the White Russian Army, who were loyal to the Tsar. After a failed attempt to hide the remains in a nearby mine shaft, the Bolsheviks first tried to cremate two of the children (discovered in 2007) and then buried the remaining nine bodies in a mass grave (officially discovered in 1991). 

There was extensive coverage of the story in the news and in the blogosphere, and the study was highlighted on the CNN front page and on the ScienceBlogs homepage on March 12. Other coverage includes: the Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, the Independent, the Telegraph, Greg Laden’s blog, the Intersection and 80beats.

A second historical “mystery” was solved by a paper published on Friday by Leo Kenefic and colleagues, which suggests that Columbus wasn’t to blame for introducing anthrax to the Americas. Although Europeans introduced many diseases which had serious impacts on the indigenous populations when invading the Americas, the new study shows, however, that anthrax was actually introduced thousands of years earlier, during the Stone Age. New Scientist and USA Today both posted nice write-ups on the study.

Johan Bollen’s new article, Clickstream Data Yields High-Resolution Maps of Science, also picked up some media attention on its publication last week, with its intricate maps created from citation data, giving a detailed, contemporary view of scientific activity and correct the under-representation of the social sciences and humanities that is commonly found in citation data. Figure 5 from the paper is a fantastic image and was reused in several of the stories and posts highlighting the paper. As well as a New York Times article, Nature News, the USA Today science blog, Wired News, the Scholarly Kitchen and the Edge of Vision also covered the study.

Finally, I was intrigued by the title of Carl Zimmer’s recent post on the Loom, Woolly Bear, Heal Thyself, which of course refers to a type of caterpillar, which can, according to a study by Michael Singer, self-medicate, in response to disease or to parasites. Another blog post on the study appears on Evolving Ideas and National Geographic and ScienceNOW have both run stories on the article.

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