Explainer: 2008 Weird Science Awards
What was the weirdest science story of 2007? Well, have you heard the one about the South Korean scientists who transferred genes into cloned cat embryos so that they glowed red under ultraviolet light? That tale was the top vote-getter in our unscientific ballot for the 2008 Weird Science Awards - but there's a serious point behind the glowing kitties. Such alterations may be used in the future to correct genetic flaws. Click "Next" for the nine other award-winners.
Time reversal studied
Can causality run backward through time? Some scientists scoff - but University of Washington physicist John Cramer, pictured in his lab at right, wants to find out. At first, he couldn't get the funding for his experiment in light transmission and "retrocausality," but once people found out about his plight, they sent in more than $40,000 — and Cramer continued his quest.
See-through frogs bred
Why on earth would you want to breed a see-through frog? Japanese scientists say they're doing it for the frogs. The creatures' transparent skin could let researchers study internal organs and blood vessels without having to dissect the weird-looking amphibians.
Virgin dragon gives birth
There's really nothing mysterious about the five squirmy Komodo dragons that were the product of a virgin birth in England. It turns out that Flora the Komodo dragon, like virgin mothers in about 70 other reptile species, can reproduce asexually in a process known as parthenogenesis.
Panda porn doesn't pan out
Do racy videos help get pandas in the mood for procreation? Chinese experts thought so, and zoo researchers in Thailand decided to give it a try as well. Unfortunately, the videos didn't get the male panda in the mood, and researchers eventually had to resort to a less, um, exotic method: artificial insemination.
Ancient Romeo and Juliet
What could be more romantic — or should we say more ghoulish — than the discovery of two 5,000-year-old skeletons seemingly locked in an embrace? Add in the fact that the remains were found near Verona, the locale for the "Romeo and Juliet" story, and you have a archaeological love story of Shakespearean proportions.
Why monkeys yell during sex
Female Barbary monkeys often utter loud, distinctive calls before, during or after sex - and for years, researchers have debated the reasons for all the shouting. German scientists reported that the shouts appear to help the male partner reach sexual climax. Part of the researchers' job was to count the males' pelvic thrusts - a task that primatologist Dana Pfefferle admitted was "quite weird." But sometimes doing science requires that kind of sacrifice. "You get used to it," Pfefferle said.
Checkers computer can't be beat
No checkers champion is safe, now that a computer program has figured out every possible move in the centuries-old game. The University of Alberta's Chinook program determined that if neither player made a mistake in the course of a game, the match would have to end as a draw. So what's the next frontier for game-playing computers? Would you believe poker?
Wanted: crab lice
Is pubic hair removal leading to the extinction of the crab louse? Concerns about the species' decline prompted an appeal from the Rotterdam Natural History Museum for someone — anyone — to contribute a single crab louse for its collection. Humans have had crab lice for about 3 million years, and the parasites may be hanging around for a while longer: The museum's curator reported in Improbable Research that he received a fresh specimen soon after the call went out.
Are chimps smarter than students?
First, there was the experiment in which young chimps could perform memory tests faster than human volunteers, with roughly the same level of accuracy. Then, there was the research showing that monkeys could do mental math almost as well as students. Is this a case of life imitating "Planet of the Apes"?