Insanely Large Rodent of the Year
The discovery of a buffalo-size guinea pig fossil in Venezuela was announced in September — the first complete specimen ever found. Scientists suspect Phoberomys pattersoni’s size — 10 feet long, 4 feet tall — drove it to extinction eight million years ago: Burrowing to escape giant crocodiles was decidedly out of the question.
Most Convenient Genetically Modified Organism of the Year
By “knocking out” an enzyme that directs caffeine production, Japanese scientists have genetically engineered decaf coffee plants that will produce 70 percent less jitter than the natural variety.
Particle of the Year
The pentaquark, which scientists say they may have glimpsed, would be an unusual addition to the particle zoo: It’s composed of five quarks, not the typical two or three. Physicists hope the finding will shed light on the still-mysterious strong nuclear force, which holds the atom’s nucleus together.
Insect Athlete of the Year
The spittlebug jumps 28 inches high, reported a Cambridge zoologist. The trick? Its rear legs stay “locked” as muscles slowly contract; unlocking releases a force 414 times the insect’s weight.
Extremophile of the Year
A microbe that inhabits scalding water gushing from a deep-sea vent near Puget Sound thrives at 250