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Solving History with Science

No one knows what happened to Amelia Earhart when she disappeared 73 years ago flying around the equator — the theories range from her crashing into the Pacific to being executed by the Japanese for being a spy. But now, some bones found on the uninhabited Pacific atoll of Nikumaroro suggest that she and her navigator Fred Noonan crashed there, died as castaways, and were eaten by crabs, says the Guardian's Chris McGreal. Researchers from the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery have found what looks like a phalanx from a finger and two other bones, along with other artifacts like a mirror from a woman's compact and evidence of small fires with bird and fish bones. The alleged finger bones will be tested for DNA — they may turn out to be turtle bones, however, McGreal says, as turtles have similar bones in their flippers. A member of Earhart's family has provided DNA for comparison.

Science has already solved another historical riddle. The severed head of King Henri IV of France has been identified from a mass of remains in Paris's Royal Basilica of Saint-Denis, says Katherine Harmon at Scientific American's Observations blog. Henri IV was assassinated in 1610, but his remains were mutilated during the French Revolution and the head separated. The researchers couldn't get enough mDNA material from the remains to run a genetic test, Harmon says, but instead took a multidisciplinary approach and used a combination of radiocarbon dating, computed tomography, and raman spectroscopy to identify the head's owner. The team's paper appears in the British Medical Journal.

The Scan

Pig Organ Transplants Considered

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration may soon allow clinical trials that involve transplanting pig organs into humans.

'Poo-Bank' Proposal

Harvard Medical School researchers suggest people should bank stool samples when they are young to transplant when they later develop age-related diseases.

Spurred to Develop Again

New Scientist reports that researchers may have uncovered why about 60 percent of in vitro fertilization embryos stop developing.

Science Papers Examine Breast Milk Cell Populations, Cerebral Cortex Cellular Diversity, Micronesia Population History

In Science this week: unique cell populations found within breast milk, 100 transcriptionally distinct cell populations uncovered in the cerebral cortex, and more.