Science Briefs

June 30, 2013 

Release of large, exotic butterflies in Durham

The Magic Wings Butterfly House at the Museum of Life + Science, in Durham, is staging a release of more than 1,000 blue morpho butterflies – one of the largest butterflies in the world – July 1-31. Each day, new, blue-winged insects, native to the tropical jungles of South and Central America, will be released into the glass conservatory as part of the daily programming. Butterfly House hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; morpho releases are at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., Monday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Museum admission: $14; $11 for 65 and older; $10 for ages 3-12. Details: http://bit.ly/16vss2V. Staff Reports

View the stars after fireworks in Yancey County

Burnsville’s Town Square is the place to see both fireworks and stars on Independence Day weekend.

July 5, the summer Stars on the Square astronomy event occurs immediately following the Independence Day fireworks show. Stars on the Square are free, quarterly events allowing the public to set up telescopes for viewing stars, constellations, planets and satellites. They’re sponsored by the local astronomy group, whose members share their high-powered telescopes so others can peer deep into space. For these star-gazing events, all town lights in and around the square are turned off, while traffic is detoured to reduce headlight glare.

“This gives us a darker sky for better viewing through the telescopes, as well as safe access to the telescopes,” said Bob Hampton of the Blue Ridge Astronomy Group. “Come out and see the rings of Saturn; Saturn’s moon, Titan; the giant star cluster M13; spiral galaxies; nebulae and more.”

There is no charge to attend; in the case of rain or cloudy skies, the astronomy event will take place July 6. Details: www.blueridgeastronomygroup.com. Staff Reports

Leprosy genomes reconstructed

From skeletons and biopsies, an international team of scientists has reconstructed a dozen medieval and modern genomes of the leprosy-causing bacteria Mycobacterium leprae.

Leprosy, a devastating infectious and chronic disease, was widespread in Europe until the Late Middle Ages. Persons infected with the disease were isolated in leprosy colonies built for them. (Today, the disease is found in 91 countries.) To trace the history of the disease, scientists reconstructed the complete genomes of M. leprae from five medieval skeletons from Scandinavia and Britain.

Additionally, the M. leprae genetic substance was decoded from seven biopsy samples of contemporary patients.

The researchers compared the European medieval M. leprae genome with those of the seven biopsies and four additional modern bacteria strains. They observed that all M. leprae strains have a common ancestor that existed less than 4,000 years ago, which suggests unusually minor changes of the bacteria’s genetic material within the last 1,000 years, and presumably had no effects on the virulence of the pathogen. This evidence suggests that the end of the leprosy epidemic was influenced by other factors, such as improved social conditions during the Middle Ages.

The findings by the team, led by Johannes Krause of Germany’s University of Tubingen and by Stewart Cole of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology of Lausanne, were published in Science magazine. Eurekalert.org

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