Top stories: How Dylan made his mark on science, the origins of the ‘bear dog,’ and naked mole rats that feel no pain

(Left to right): ALYONA ZYKINA/EPA/Newscom; Chris Hakkens/Wikimedia Commons; Thomas Park and Amanda Olphie

Top stories: How Dylan made his mark on science, the origins of the ‘bear dog,’ and naked mole rats that feel no pain

Bob Dylan, the songwriter scientists love to quote, just won a Nobel Prize

One of scientists’ favorite singer-songwriters just won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Bob Dylan, whose lyrics have been quoted, paraphrased, or cited in hundreds of papers and letters in the biomedical research literature alone, was awarded the prize for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Even for researchers born decades after the 75-year-old musician, Dylan’s lines seem to stay forever young. For example, a 2015 analysis published in The BMJ found 213 references in a biomedical journals database that could be “classified as unequivocally citing Dylan.”

‘Bear dogs’ once lived in southern Texas

Fragmentary fossils found in southwestern Texas 3 decades ago belong to a strange group of extinct animals known as “bear dogs,” according to a new study. Though only about the size of a Chihuahua when they first appeared, some creatures in this group of carnivorous mammals evolved to become top predators in their ecosystems tens of millions of years ago. The study also suggests that bear dogs could have originated in this part of North America, which may have been a hot spot of evolution for the group.

Alien life could feed on cosmic rays

A bizarre microbe found deep in a gold mine in South Africa could provide a model for how life might survive in seemingly uninhabitable environments through the cosmos. Known as Desulforudis audaxviator, the rod-shaped bacterium thrives 2.8 kilometers underground in a habitat devoid of all that powers the vast majority of life on Earth—light, oxygen, and carbon. Instead, this “gold mine bug” gets energy from radioactive uranium in the depths of the mine. Now, scientists predict that life elsewhere in the universe might also feed off radiation, especially the radiation raining down from space.

How naked mole rats conquered pain—and what it could mean for us

Although it has a face—and a body—that only a mother could love, the naked mole rat has a lot to offer biomedical science. It lives 10 times longer than a mouse, almost never gets cancer, and doesn’t feel pain from injury and inflammation. Now, researchers say they’ve figured out how the rodents keep this pain away, a discovery that could inspire better human treatments.

We care when an airplane crashes. And then we don’t

On 19 May, EgyptAir Flight 804 crashed into the Mediterranean Sea, killing all 56 passengers and 10 crew members aboard. The Wikipedia entry documenting the disaster went up within hours, and it will likely remain online into perpetuity. Human readers, however, lost interest after about a week. A pair of new studies reveals that’s common whether an aircraft crash kills 50 people or 500—a finding that reveals some surprises about our online attention spans.

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