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‘Extinct’ giant tortoise found living in Galapagos

A genetic test has revealed that a tortoise found two years ago in the Galapagos Islands actually belongs to a species thought to have gone extinct over a century ago (Chelonoidis phantasticu).

The adult female tortoise is estimated to weigh 30 kilograms and be between 80 to 100 years old. It was found in 2019 on Fernandina Island, one of the archipelago’s youngest and most pristine islands, as part of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative.

The genetic test was performed by Yale University in the US, comparing the living tortoise’s DNA with a sample taken in 1906 from a now-deceased male tortoise of the same species, also found on Fernandina Island.

“To avoid the same tragic fate as Lonesome George – the last Pinta Giant Tortoise who died in 2012 – an urgent expedition to Fernandina Island will be launched by GNPD and Galapagos Conservancy to find a mate and save the species,” said the Galapagos Conservancy in a statement.

Ferrets against bird flu

For our choice for an Ig Nobel Prize, we nominate a study published in PLOS ONE, where researchers taught ferrets to detect bird flu – in duck poo.

Trained ferret performing test. Credit: Golden et al, 2021, PLOS ONE (CC-BY 4.0,

Goodbye, sniffer dogs, hello sniffer ferrets!

The idea is that the ferrets would be able to detect bird flu in bird poo (say that ten times) as a biosecurity measure – essentially, non-invasively identifying when a new avian influenza strain becomes prevalent in wild birds before it has a chance to spread to humans.

Breaking the mould for 3D printing medical implants

Nest3d structure
A tiny and intricate biomedical structure created with the new NEST3D technique. Credit: RMIT University

A big challenge for biomedical engineers is to design and develop 3D-printed scaffolds to be used in the body, harnessing our natural abilities to heal ourselves by regrowing cells. The particular difficulty is in making these structures small and complex enough – but RMIT researchers have just created some of the most intricate biomedical structures yet, just the size of a fingernail.

As described in a study in Advanced Materials Technologies, the team 3D-printed moulds, filled the intricate cavities with biocompatible materials, then dissolved the moulds away.

“Importantly, our technique is versatile enough to use medical grade materials off-the-shelf,” says lead researcher Cathal O’Connell said. “It’s extraordinary to create such complex shapes using a basic ‘high school’ grade 3D printer. That really lowers the bar for entry into the field, and brings us a significant step closer to making tissue engineering a medical reality.”

Timelapse of making a tiny bioscaffold. Credit: RMIT

Gamer grannies

A study published in PLOS ONE, conducted by Australian and international researchers, suggests that interactive video gaming might help preserve memory in older people.

A group of people from South African retirement homes who reported memory complaints played Xbox Kinect Sports to exercise, and another used more traditional methods.

At the end of the study, the gamers improved their memory more than the traditional exercisers. Good game!

Tiny tools show skills of ancient Indonesians

Maros points 2
Collection of Maros points. Credit: Griffith University

Griffith University researchers have examined a collection of stone and bone ‘point’ tools made by the Toalean people, a group of hunter-gatherers who lived on Sulawesi around 1500–8000 years ago.

These distinctive, precise and tiny tools average just 2.5 centimetres long. Some have fine, tooth-like serrations, but researchers don’t know exactly what they were used for. They are somewhat similar to tools found in Australia, prompting theories that the two regions exchanged ideas millennia ago.

Yinika Perston, lead author of the study published in PLOS ONE which provides the most complete description of the tools yet, says the tools have been described inconsistently and yet “used to build elaborate scenarios for human activities”.

“We found that while Maros points from Sulawesi look similar to some Australian tools – for example, the famous Kimberley spearheads – the production processes for the Toalean points and Australian stone points are actually quite different, and this is a topic we hope can be explored further,” Perston concludes.

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