Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

by Jason Daley

Fiinding bones from early humans and their ancestors is difficult and rare—often requiring scientists to sort through the sediment floor of caves in far-flung locations. But modern advances in technology could completely transform the field. As Gina Kolta reports for The New York Times, a new study documents a method to extract and sequence fragments of hominid DNA from samples of cave dirt.

The study, published this week in the journal Science, could completely change the type of evidence available to study our ancestral past. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, collected 85 sediment samples from seven archeological sites in Belgium, Croatia, France, Russia and Spain, covering a span of time from 550,000 to 14,000 years ago.

As Lizzie Wade at Science reports, when the team first sequenced the DNA from the sediments, they were overwhelmed. There are trillions of fragments of DNA in a teaspoon of dirt, mostly material from other mammals, including woolly mammoth, woolly rhinoceroses, cave bears and cave hyenas. To cut through the clutter and examine only hominid DNA, they created a molecular “hook” made from the mitochondrial DNA of modern humans. The hook was able to capture DNA fragments that most resembled itself, pulling out fragments from Neanderthals at four sites, including in sediment layers where bones or tools from the species were not present. They also found more DNA from Denisovans, an enigmatic human ancestor found only in single cave in Russia.

“It’s a great breakthrough,” Chris Stringer, anthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London tells Wade. “Anyone who’s digging cave sites from the Pleistocene now should put [screening sediments for human DNA] on their list of things that they must do.”

So how did the DNA get there? The researchers can’t say exactly, but it wouldn’t be too difficult. Humans shed DNA constantly. Any traces of urine, feces, spit, sweat, blood or hair would all contain minute bits of DNA. These compounds actually bind with minerals in bone, and likely did the same with minerals in the soil, preserving it, reports Charles Q. Choi at LiveScience.

There’s another—slightly scarier—option for the DNA’s origins. The researchers found a lot of hyena DNA at the study sites, Matthias Meyer, an author of the study tells Choi. “Maybe the hyenas were eating human corpses outside the caves, and went into the caves and left feces there, and maybe entrapped in the hyena feces was human DNA.”

The idea of pulling ancient DNA out of sediments is not new. As Kolta reports, researchers have previously successfully recovered DNA fragments of prehistoric mammals from a cave in Colorado. But having a technique aimed at finding DNA from humans and human ancestors could revolutionize the field. Wade points out that such a technique might have helped produce evidence for the claim earlier this week that hominids were in North America 130,000 years ago.

DNA analysis of sediments might eventually become a routine part of archeology, similar to radio carbon dating, says Svante Pääbo, director of the Evolutionary Genetics department at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in the press release. The technique could also allow researchers to start searching for traces of early hominids at sites outside of caves.

“If it worked, it would provide a much richer picture of the geographic distribution and migration patterns of ancient humans, one that was not limited by the small number of bones that have been found,” David Reich, Harvard geneticist tells Kolta. “That would be a magical thing to do.”

As Wade reports, the technique could also solve many mysteries, including determining whether certain tools and sites were created by humans or Neanderthals. It could also reveal even more hominid species that we have not found bones for, creating an even more complete human family tree.

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/new-technique-pulls-ancient-human-dna-out-cave-soil-180963084/#5gzaxagh8RYmlP6s.99

6 interesting facts about bison

Posted: April 29, 2017 in Uncategorized
Tags:

The bison is an iconic animal of the American plains — so iconic that it has been named the first national mammal. Yet most of us know little about this symbolic creature. Here are a few basic facts that might surprise you:

1. Bison may look like lumbering lumps but they’re quite fast and agile. They can run an impressive 35 miles per hour and jump as high as 6 vertical feet! Because tourists underestimate the speed and overestimate the docility of bison, these animals have been responsible for injuring more people in Yellowstone than any other species in the park, according to the National Park Service.

2. A bison’s coat is so thick and insulating that snow can cover it without melting.

3. Bison played a huge role in the plains ecosystem. They grazed native grasses, and in doing so their hooves turned up the soil and their droppings fertilized it. Prairie dogs preferred to live in areas grazed by bison so they could keep a better watch out for predators over the shorter grasses. Meanwhile, bison was a major food source for both humans and wolves, and their carcasses were feasts for scavenger species. Without bison, the plains would never have been the fertile, unique ecosystem it was before farming arrived.

4. European settlers really did a number on the bison and managed to whittle down their numbers until only a few hundred survived. There’s only one location in the entire continent where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times, and that’s Yellowstone National Park.

5. Only around 500,000 bison exist today, a fraction of the some 30 million that once roamed the plains before Europeans arrived. Defenders of Wildife says that “today they are ‘ecologically extinct’ as a wild species throughout most of their historic range, except for a few national parks and other small wildlife areas.” The vast majority are raised by ranchers for their meat and hides. Only around 30,000 bison graze on parks and public lands and only around 15,000 of them are considered wild, roaming free and unfenced. But in a sign of progress, Parks Canada is bringing plains bison back to Banff National Park, where they roamed more than 100 years ago, according to the Calgary Sun. A small group of 16 bison will initially roam in an enclosed pasture, but the goal is for the new group to eventually roam in a much larger space and interact with native species. The video above gives a look at the process transporting the bison to Banff.

6. The bison’s genetic make-up has changed over time. Most bison today aren’t exactly pure bison. According to PBS, Texas A&M professor of veterinary pathobiology Dr. James Derr “has spent the past several decades analyzing bison DNA to determine which herds contain cattle genes, and believes that only about 1.6 percent of today’s bison population (8,000 animals) is not hybridized.”

So though the notion of vast herds of wild bison roaming free across the plains is something for the history books, humans can keep pushing to bring them back.

Banff National Park marked Earth Day in the best way possible this year. A herd of wild bison that were recently reintroduced to the park in February welcomed the arrival of a new calf. The newborn represents the first bison calf born in the park’s backcountry in 140 years.

The first calf was born on Earth Day, April 22, and two more calves have been born since then.

According to CBC Radio Canada:

Officials also hope that the calving bison will help tether the plains animals to the area. “It’s a huge step in this process,” said [Bill Hunt, a resource conservation manager with Parks Canada].

“We know … that where a young female drops her calf it really ties her to that space, even if she was born somewhere else.”

While many remember what Parks Canada calls a “display herd” of bison housed in a paddock near the Banff townsite until 1997, this new herd represents a return to wild animals.

This is the first calving season the bison have been in the park. The release is part of a five-year pilot program to see how the herd affects the park’s ecosystem. Next summer during the second calving season, the bison will be allowed to roam through the eastern part of the park and eventually — we hope — throughout the entire park as the herd integrates with the native plants and wildlife.

by Michael d’Estries

In 1963, Col. Gordon Cooper, one of NASA’s original seven astronauts, spent a record-setting 34 hours in orbit around the planet. While the official purpose of his mission was to study the effects of prolonged weightlessness on the human body, the U.S. government was also interested in what his eyes could tell them. To that end, they tasked Cooper with taking thousands of photos using long-range detection equipment to search for possible Soviet nuclear sites near U.S. shores.

“Man, all I do is take pictures, pictures, pictures. I’m up to 5,245 now,” Cooper told Mission Control from space.

Long before online programs like Google Maps could give us all eyes on the planet, Cooper’s perspective on Earth afforded him an unprecedented opportunity to see objects not possible otherwise. And this is how, while cruising over the clear waters of the Caribbean, he started noticing some strange underwater anomalies. In fact, during his time in space, he photographed over a hundred of these shallow water sites, later deducing that they could only be shipwrecks.

In the decades that followed, using the notes and images from his orbital mission, Cooper created a treasure map pointing the way to some of these sites — a treasure map, that by all accounts, came from space.

Cooper, who passed away in 2004, never acted on the map he created. In the years before his death, however, he shared both his research and the map with a longtime friend, Darrell Miklos. A professional treasure hunter by trade, Miklos decided to honor the memory of his boyhood idol and hero and see if Cooper’s space map really could point the way to sunken riches. To help fund the expedition, he smartly pitched the hunt to a production company and subsequently managed to catch the attention of the Discovery Channel.

“I get to pay homage to a hero whom I considered to be my surrogate father,” he said during a television press panel. “I get to tell a story and finish a project or several projects that we were never able to finish together.”

Premiering on Discovery this month, the series “Cooper’s Treasure” follows Miklos and his team as they comb through Cooper’s documents and scour the Caribbean to reveal first-hand the locations spotted from space. According to executive producer Ari Mark, watching the puzzle pieces fall into place has been a fascinating experience.

“It starts to unravel and when you learn about who Gordon was … it starts to connect, and it did for us,” he said.

While Miklos has yet to reveal if any of wrecks on Cooper’s map have led to sunken treasure, his Gemini Marine Exploration company, founded in 2014, does mention that the firm is currently engaged with “several promising projects in the Caribbean.” Some of those wrecks, he tells ABC, could even turn out to be part of a lost fleet belonging to Christopher Columbus.

“This one wreck site right here would be worth well over $500 million,” he says in a clip.

You can tune in on April 18 on the Discovery Channel to see if the first treasure map from space delivers on potential riches.

http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/blogs/astronauts-treasure-map-space-may-lead-untold-riches

by David Z. Morris

A new device, developed by researchers at UC Berkeley and MIT, promises to bring clean drinking water to remote areas by drawing it directly from the air. Though the device is currently only a prototype, its early results appear extremely promising.

The device, which calls to mind the “moisture vaporators” Luke Skywalker oversaw in his youth, was developed in collaboration between chemist Omar Yaghi and mechanical engineer Evelyn Wang. It relies on a special material combining zirconium and adipic acid into what’s known as a metal-organic framework. At night, the material collects water molecules from the air. Then, during the day, sunlight causes it to release the water into a condenser.

In early tests, the device has been able to produce nearly three liters of water over 12 hours for every kilogram of the zirconium-acid material, even in very dry regions. Speaking to Science, an expert not involved in the project called the results “a significant proof of concept.”

There is one obstacle to wide deployment of the devices—the high cost of the key zirconium material. But the researchers say they’ve already had some success using cheaper aluminum instead.

Yaghi says the device would allow for taking water supplies “off-grid.” That invites a comparison to the global spread of cell phones, which, by circumventing the need to lay expensive wires, have proven more accessible in developing nations than wired phones. Their spread has had profound effects on global agriculture, education, and governance.

But the impact of a device that produces drinkable clean water, without the need for expensive pipes, filtration facilities, or even power, could be even bigger. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 10 people worldwide lack access to clean water, and 88% of all disease in the developing world has been estimated to be caused by unsafe drinking water. For lack of water, millions die each year of cholera, malaria, diarrhea, and malnutrition. Not surprisingly, a 2009 study found that GDP growth correlated strongly with access to clean water.

Issues of water access aren’t limited to developing nations, either. Even in the U.S., clean, safe water has been a hot button issue at the center of outrage over lead contamination in Flint, Michigan and other cities and concerns over California’s drought woes. Fears the Missouri River could be contaminated by a leak from the Dakota Access Pipeline inspired the protest slogan “water is life.”

http://fortune.com/2017/04/16/drinking-water-technology/

by David Moye

Talk about exceeding expectations: A former runt of the litter has grown up to be the tallest dog in the world.

Guinness World Records declared Freddy, a 4-year-old Great Dane in Leigh-on-Sea, U.K., the world’s tallest living dog in December.

Claire Stoneman, his proud owner, announced the news on Dec. 20.

Freddy is officially 40.75 inches tall and a whopping 7 feet, 5.5 inches when standing on his hind legs, according to the International Business Times.

He comes close to the measurements of Zeus, a Great Dane from Otsego, Michigan, currently recognized by Guinness as the tallest dog to ever live. Zeus, who died in 2011 at the age of 5, measured in at 44 inches tall and 7 feet, 4 inches on his hind legs.

Freddy’s honor is especially amazing considering how tenuous his first weeks of life were, Stoneman said.

“I got him a couple of weeks earlier than I should have done because he wasn’t feeding off mum, so he was pretty poorly” she told IBT. “He was half the size of [his sister] Fleur when he was tiny so I had no idea he was going to be this big at all.”

As you might expect, Freddy has a big appetite.

Stoneman figures she spends about $123 a week on food, mostly whole roast chickens and peanut butter on toast, according to UPI.com.

Naturally, Freddy attracts a big crowd whenever he is out in public.

“If we go out in the daytime we get interrupted every five seconds,” she told the BBC. “Cars brake and stop to look at him.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/freddy-great-dane-tallest-dog_us_5866d251e4b0de3a08f877e9

By Deepa Padmanaban

A striking new species of crab has been found living in tree-holes high above the ground. The animal, which fits in the palm of a human hand, has a deep bluish black body that stands out against the tree bark that it prowls for worms and seeds to eat.

Scientists discovered the crab—named Kani maranjandu—in the lush forests of the Western Ghats in south India. It’s an entirely new genus and species named after the Kani, the tribal community that noticed the crabs, and maranjandu, the local colloquial term for tree crab.

The forest-dwelling Kani first reported sightings of “long-legged crabs” on trees in 2014. A. Biju Kumar, a professor of aquatic biology at the University of Kerala, was at that time leading a project to survey the Western Ghats of Kerala for freshwater crabs. After months of tracking the tree crabs with the help of the tribesmen, Kumar and his student Smrithy Raj recently managed to catch a couple of these elusive crabs.

In the Journal of Crustacean Biology, the scientists describe Kani maranjandu as having a distinct hard outer shell or carapace that is broad, swollen, and convex. Most conspicuously, the legs are extremely long, with slender, curved, sharp ends that help them get a good grip on the tree, making them effective climbers.

The crabs live in water-filled hollows of tall evergreen and deciduous trees. The Kani tribesmen detect their presence by looking for air bubbles coming out of the hollows. Outside the hollows, the crabs move rapidly on tree trunks, using their pincer-bearing thick front legs to propel themselves.

The crabs are shy creatures, retreating deep inside the hollows when approached. The younger ones take shelter in the canopy of the trees, up to about 30 feet. That’s unusual for crabs, which don’t normally climb more than a few feet into trees.

“This lifestyle of tree living indicates that, since they cannot disperse widely through the sea, their range tends to be limited to a very narrow area,” says Tohru Naruse, an expert on crab biodiversity at Japan’s University of the Ryukyus. He not involved in the discovery.

This geographical restriction could mean that any impact on their habitat could put the species at greater risk.

Biju Kumar also stresses the importance of the crab’s habitat: the large trees and forest ecosystem of the Western Ghats. The crabs’ existence hinges on rainwater collected in tree hollows, and the crabs have been observed to change trees if the hollows dry up. The broad, swollen carapace is an adaptation that helps them hold water in their gill chambers.

“It also suggests that the tree-climbing behavior and morphology of Kani maranjandu, and possibly other related, undiscovered species, has evolved where they are distributed,” adds Naruse.

For Peter K.L. Ng, a National University of Singapore biologist who helped classify Kani maranjandu, the species’ most alluring feature is how it illustrates crab evolution. “The exciting thing for me is that these crabs, regardless of where they have been found, and how they are related (or unrelated) to each other, they have nevertheless evolved to use specialized habitats to enhance their survival—in this case, tree-holes and climbing,” he says.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/04/new-crab-species-india-weird-wild-animals/