Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Strange but true: Ocean's ugliest sea monster?

Science monster - A reconstruction of the Tully Monster as it would have looked 300 million years ago. Photo / Sean McMahon
Science monster - A reconstruction of the Tully Monster as it would have looked 300 million years ago. Photo / Sean McMahon

Was this the ocean's ugliest sea monster?

Its teeth were found at the end of a narrow, trunk-like extension of its head and its eyes were perched on either side of a long, rigid bar. The so-called Tully Monster could be the most repulsive looking creature to ever have roamed the oceans. For decades, the ancient monster had been one of the great fossil enigmas: It was discovered in 1958, first described scientifically in 1966, yet never definitively identified even to a major animal group. But a Yale University-led team of paleontologists have determined the 300- million-year-old beast - which grew only a foot long - was a vertebrate, with gills and a stiffened rod supporting its body. "It's so different from its modern relatives that we don't know much about how it lived," study leader Dr Victoria McCoy said. "It has big eyes and lots of teeth, so it was probably a predator."

Watch out for your Tinder competition

To swipe left, or swipe right? It's the big choice at the heart of Tinder and other dating apps as hook-up hunters trawl through faces for a potential candidate. But now researchers have unearthed a hidden and interesting pattern that may be giving some an unexpected boost - or the opposite. An Australian study found women were more likely to rate a face as attractive if they thought the preceding face was attractive - but the same was true when they thought the preceding face was ugly. Earlier studies had found that when participants were asked to make quick judgements about a rapid sequence of faces, the most recently seen images were likely to be rated more attractive. Until the new study, it still wasn't clear whether this bias was true when attractiveness was simplified to a choice between attractive or not attractive, as favoured by some online dating sites.

How mouldy bread could make better batteries

Science has given us a world of colourful waste-to-gold stories, but the latest surely takes the cake ... or mouldy bread. Within rotting loaves of Molenberg or Nature's Fresh could lie the answer to a new generation of rechargeable battery. Scottish and Chinese researchers behind the research found common bread mould converts manganese into a material that performs better than manganese oxides used in today's lithium-ion batteries. It's due to a fungus, found in bread mould, that can transform manganese into a mineral composite with favourable electrochemical properties. "The electrochemical properties ... were tested in a supercapacitor and lithium-ion battery, and it was found to have excellent electrochemical properties," said Professor Geoffrey Gadd of the University of Dundee. "This suggests a novel biotechnological method for the preparation of sustainable electrochemical materials."

Arachnophobe's worst nightmare

In the name of science, one US researcher has gone far beyond the call - spending each night for several weeks in the company of 300,000 bats. Also keeping UCLA biologist Kenneth Chapin company in darkened caves in Puerto Rico were snakes, cockroaches and spiders. He was there to study huge whip spiders, a poorly-understood relative of scorpions that have ghastly long claws, don't build webs and happened to be tortured with magic in one scene of the film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. "They look terrifying, but are actually delicate, timid and afraid of you," said Chapin. "I was more excited than terrified." His experience was worth it: in the Journal of Arachnology, he was able to report many new findings about the spiders, including the fact they sometimes eat each other after territorial scraps.

Bad memories movies got it right

Charlie Kaufman's 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind might not have been too far off the mark when it comes to blocking out bad memories. A US and UK study has just found that when a patient voluntarily tries to suppress a memory, unrelated experiences surrounding the time of the suppression are likely forgotten also. The scientists put 381 participants through experiments where they were asked to memorise word-pair associations, but instructed to try to suppress the memory of the second word. They found the instruction to suppress the memory of words also made it harder to remember details about objects presented shortly before or after reminders of the to-be-suppressed words. MRI scans revealed how the area of the brain linked with memory formation was reduced during the suppression, which might explain memory lapses after traumatic events.

- NZ Herald

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