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Science news digest – 11th December 2013

In the science news this week, monkeys eat up to 50 different species of fruit a day, the heat from the Underground could soon be warming our homes, and finally… the coldest place on Earth is…Antarctica!

Monkeys eat up to 50 different species of fruit a day

Researchers from the University of East Anglia have published new research on primate diets, which suggests that some species of monkey eat up to 50 different species of fruit per day.

Whilst humans might struggle to consume their recommended ‘five a day’ the scientists saw evidence that species like Saki monkeys often consume this many species of fruit in just an hour of foraging.

Mid-size species were found to be the biggest fruit consumers. Small monkeys, such as tamarins, ate more insects and less fruit, whilst the larger primates were more likely to eat leaves and foliage.

Dr Joseph Hawes, co-author of the study, suggested in an interview with the BBC that this difference in diet, may be down to differing metabolic requirements.

"Smaller monkeys, which have higher metabolic requirements, eat more insects as they provide a high quality source of nutrients and calories," he said.

It also seems that fruits are more palatable, and the more complicated digestive systems might be better suited to a foliage-heavy diet.

"It is only the larger primates that are able to cope with the higher levels of toxins that are typically found in leaves," explained Dr Hawes.

Forty-two years’ worth of data, from 290 different studies spanning Central and South America, were pulled together to draw these conclusions. The scientists hope that their work may help assess the conservation needs of different species, as well as gathering important evidence about the diversity of plants in tropical forests.

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Heat from underground could warm our homes

A new project has been launched to find ways of using the heat generated by underground trains and other urban heat sources in more useful ways, reported New Scientist.

There are five separate strands to the €25 million project, Celsius, which is funded by the European Union. The aim is to investigate whether waste heat can be economically recovered and then put to good use in five cities: London, UK; Gothenburg, Sweden; Cologne, Germany; Genoa, Italy and; Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

In London, scientists and engineers will be trying to find a way to collect hot air from the London Underground network as well as electricity substations. In Gothenburg, the task is to find a way of using the heat from waste incinerators and giant industrial fridges; in Cologne, the heat from the sewer waste water; and in Rotterdam, the heat from the servers in massive data centres will be the focus. Meanwhile, in Genoa, researchers will determine whether pressure differences in the gas distribution network can be used to drive turbines.

The first project to be completed is likely to be in London, where Islington Council is spending £2.3 million to use wasted heat in local homes by 2016. Based at the Bunhill power station, the plan is to fit air-to-water heat exchangers at a nearby ventilation shaft on the Northern Line and a local substation, which could heat more than 500 extra homes.

The project’s coordinator in Gothenburg, Jonas Cognell, hopes to have 50 cities adopting Celsius technologies by 2017, provided they are economically viable. Matthew Pencharz from the Greater London Authority is feeling confident that they will: "We'll prove the case. Our calculations show these energy sources are well worth pursuing," he says.

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And finally…

The coldest place on Earth is… Antarctica!

Newly analysed measurements from NASA satellites have revealed that the coldest ever temperature has been recorded at a place in East Antarctica in August 2010. The temperature dropped to a decidedly chilly -94.7C (-135.8F), a whole lot lower than the current record of -89.2C (-128.6F).

However, the measurement won’t be making it into the Guinness Book of World Records, as it was measured by a satellite rather than a thermometer, reported the Guardian.

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