Discovery of 550 million year old worm-like creature as the first ancestor on the human and animal family tree

Evidence of a worm-like creature about the size of a grain of rice has been uncovered in South Australia, and researchers believe it is the oldest ancestor on the family tree that includes humans and most animals.

The creature lived 555 million years ago.

It’s considered to be the earliest bilaterian. Bilaterians are organisms with a front, back, two openings on either end and a gut that connects them. They were an evolutionary step forward for early life on Earth.

Some of the oldest life on Earth, including those sponges and algal mats, is referred to as the Ediacaran Biota. This group is based on the earliest fossils ever discovered, providing evidence of complex, multicellular organisms.

But those aren’t directly related to animals living today. And researchers have been trying to find fossilized evidence of the common ancestor of most animals.

Developing bilaterian body structure and organization successfully allowed life to move in specific, purposeful directions. This includes everything from worms and dinosaurs to amphibians and humans.

But for our common ancestor, they knew that fossils of the tiny, simple creatures they imagined would be nearly impossible to find because of its size and soft body.

Burrows were found in stone that belonged to a tiny creature who lived billions of years ago.

Then, they turned to fossilized burrows, dated to the Ediacaran Period some 555 million years ago, found in Nilpena, South Australia. For 15 years, scientists knew they were created by bilaterians. But there was no evidence of what made the burrows and lived in them.

That is, until researchers decided to take a closer look at the burrows. Geology professor Mary Droser and doctoral graduate Scott Evans, both from the University of California, Riverside, spotted impressions shaped like ovals near the burrows.

A 3-D laser scan revealed the impressions contained evidence of a body shaped and sized like a rice grain, with a noticeable head, tail and even V-shaped grooves suggesting muscles.

Contractions of the muscles would have enabled the creature to move and create the burrows, like the way a worm moves. Patterns of displaced sediment and signs of feeding led the researchers to determine that it had a mouth, gut and posterior opening.

And the size of the creature matched with the size of the burrows they found.

The study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“We thought these animals should have existed during this interval, but always understood they would be difficult to recognize,” Evans said. “Once we had the 3D scans, we knew that we had made an important discovery.”

A 3D scan revealed the shape and characteristics of the creature that made the burrows.

The researchers involved in the study named the creature Ikaria wariootia. The first name translates to “meeting place” in the Adnyamathanha language. Adnyamathanha is the name of contemporary Indigenous Australian people that live in the area where the fossil was found. And the name of the species is a variation on a waterway in the area, called Warioota Creek.

The fossilized burrows were found beneath the impressions of other fossils in the lowest layer of Nilpena’s Ediacaran Period deposits. During its lifetime, Ikaria searched for the organic matter it fed on by burrowing through layers of sand on the ocean floor. Given that the burrows track through sand that was oxygenated, rather than toxic spots, suggest the creature had basic senses.

“Burrows of Ikaria occur lower than anything else. It’s the oldest fossil we get with this type of complexity,” Droser said. “We knew that we also had lots of little things and thought these might have been the early bilaterians that we were looking for.”

Droser also explained that other, larger fossils belonging to other creatures they found in the past were likely evolutionary dead-ends.

“This is what evolutionary biologists predicted,” Droser said. “It’s really exciting that what we have found lines up so neatly with their prediction.”

Trauma of Australia’s Indigenous ‘Stolen Generations’ is still affecting children today

Indigenous children in Australia who live in families that experienced forced separations in much of the twentieth century are more likely than other Indigenous children to have poor health and negative school experiences, according to a landmark government report released this month.

As many as one in three Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were taken from their families and communities between 1910 and the 1970s, under racist government policies that tried to force Aboriginal people to assimilate with white Australians. The children were brought up in institutions or foster homes, or were adopted by white families. The Australian government formally apologized to members of these ‘Stolen Generations’ in 2008.

In the latest report, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, a government-funded statistics agency, used existing data from surveys of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to conduct the first national study of how the forced separations have affected children in subsequent generations. Previous reports looked at the impacts of these policies on the Stolen Generations themselves, and on their adult descendants.

“What all of this work around Stolen Generations is showing is that compared to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the Stolen Generations and their descendants are far worse off,” says Richard Weston, a descendant of the Meriam people from the Torres Strait, and chief executive of the Healing Foundation in Canberra, a government-funded organization that is working towards healing for the Stolen Generations and their descendants, and which commissioned the report. “Trauma stays with people, and its impacts are far-reaching and they’re profound,” says Weston.

Mostly worse off
The report examined health, cultural and socio-economic measures for about 7,900 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children under the age of 15 who were living in households with at least one member of the Stolen Generations. These measures were compared with those of about 40,800 Indigenous children whose households included no adults who had been removed from their families as children. The relationships between the children and the members of the Stolen Generation in their households were not reported.

The analysis showed that 17.2% of Indigenous children living in Stolen Generations households reported having missed school without permission in the previous year, compared with 4.1% of the reference group. Children in Stolen Generation families were also nearly twice as likely to report having been “treated unfairly” at school because they were Indigenous, and 26% of Indigenous children living in Stolen Generations households rated their health as poor, compared with 19.2% of the comparison population.

Children living in Stolen Generations households were also 1.8 times as likely to have experienced stress in the previous 12 months, and 60% less likely to live in a home owned by a household member.

The analysis also considered the effects of other factors on the children’s health and socio-economic measures irrespective of whether they lived in a Stolen Generations household, such as age and gender, and whether the children lived in a remote area or in a household with someone who was employed, had completed school or had been incarcerated. The results show that removal has intergenerational effects even after controlling for these factors.

The report concludes that children living in a Stolen Generations household were more likely to experience adverse outcomes than were other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and that this “demonstrates a transfer of intergenerational poverty and trauma”.

“The results from the survey show how much suffering is still being endured from these policies,” says Maggie Walter, a Palawa woman from Tasmania and a sociologist at the University of Tasmania in Hobart. “It is ricocheting through generations.”

But the report did find that Indigenous children living in Stolen Generations households were twice as likely as Indigenous children not living in these households to identify with a clan, tribal or language group, and to recognize an area as homeland.

Weston says this could suggest that cultural identity has been a source of strength and resilience for members of the Stolen Generations.

Although Walters thinks the report shines a light on the difficulties these children face, she worries that focusing on households will inadvertently place the blame on them. “The risk with all of these things is that somehow it becomes Aboriginal families’ and communities’ fault that they are still living with the repercussions of those dreadful policies,” she says. “What we need to be looking at is wider social and cultural reality in which that family, both current and previous generations, have lived their lives.”

Addressing trauma
Weston thinks the trauma caused by racist policies such as the forced removal of children is the root cause of the fact that Indigenous Australians, on average, die about ten years earlier than non-Indigenous Australians. Studies of the effects of childhood trauma in the United States show that it can increase the risk of substance misuse and mental and physical ill-health, and can limit employment opportunities.

But Weston says government initiatives are not adequately addressing trauma, and this is why, despite numerous policies over the past ten years, the life expectancy of Indigenous Australians has yet to improve significantly. The government acknowledges that the country is not on track to meet its goal of closing the life-expectancy gap by 2031.

Some researchers are also worried that the trauma is being repeated today, in Indigenous children who are being removed from their families under state child-welfare laws. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children represented 5.5% of Australian children under 18 in 2016–17, but 36.9% of all children placed in out-of-home care.

Walter says it is a contradiction for governments to say that they want to improve Indigenous life expectancy when Indigenous children are still being placed in out-of-home care. Removing children from their communities is contributing to these gaps, she says.

Although government policies state that Indigenous children should be placed with their extended family or families in their community before non-Indigenous carers, this isn’t always possible.

The high proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care is a concern, says Ken Wyatt, a Noongar, Yamatji and Wongi man and the country’s minister for Indigenous Australians. Although child-protection systems are the responsibility of states and territories, Wyatt says, the national government is working to address the underlying factors that contribute to children being placed in out-of-home care, including intergenerational trauma.

Nature 570, 423-424 (2019)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-01948-3

Artificial Intelligence Can Predict Your Personality By Simply Tracking Your Eyes

Researchers have developed a new deep learning algorithm that can reveal your personality type, based on the Big Five personality trait model, by simply tracking eye movements.

t’s often been said that the eyes are the window to the soul, revealing what we think and how we feel. Now, new research reveals that your eyes may also be an indicator of your personality type, simply by the way they move.

Developed by the University of South Australia in partnership with the University of Stuttgart, Flinders University and the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Germany, the research uses state-of-the-art machine-learning algorithms to demonstrate a link between personality and eye movements.

Findings show that people’s eye movements reveal whether they are sociable, conscientious or curious, with the algorithm software reliably recognising four of the Big Five personality traits: neuroticism, extroversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

Researchers tracked the eye movements of 42 participants as they undertook everyday tasks around a university campus, and subsequently assessed their personality traits using well-established questionnaires.

UniSA’s Dr Tobias Loetscher says the study provides new links between previously under-investigated eye movements and personality traits and delivers important insights for emerging fields of social signal processing and social robotics.

“There’s certainly the potential for these findings to improve human-machine interactions,” Dr Loetscher says.

“People are always looking for improved, personalised services. However, today’s robots and computers are not socially aware, so they cannot adapt to non-verbal cues.

“This research provides opportunities to develop robots and computers so that they can become more natural, and better at interpreting human social signals.”

Dr Loetscher says the findings also provide an important bridge between tightly controlled laboratory studies and the study of natural eye movements in real-world environments.

“This research has tracked and measured the visual behaviour of people going about their everyday tasks, providing more natural responses than if they were in a lab.

“And thanks to our machine-learning approach, we not only validate the role of personality in explaining eye movement in everyday life, but also reveal new eye movement characteristics as predictors of personality traits.”

Original Research: Open access research for “Eye Movements During Everyday Behavior Predict Personality Traits” by Sabrina Hoppe, Tobias Loetscher, Stephanie A. Morey and Andreas Bulling in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Published April 14 2018.

Artificial Intelligence Can Predict Your Personality By Simply Tracking Your Eyes

The John Oliver Koala Chlamydia Ward


The comedian John Oliver, who made a name for himself as host of an HBO talk show, will now have his name in a slightly more embarrassing locale: outside a koala chlamydia clinic in Australia.

While he is known for clever stunts — Oliver recently published a children’s book about a gay bunny and started a church — his latest prank may have backfired.

After Oliver revealed that he had bought several items from actor Russell Crowe’s divorce auction, Crowe found “a cool way” to honor him. That “cool way” turned out to be a ward at a zoo, now called “The John Oliver Koala Chlamydia Ward.”

We’ll explain: Here’s what you — and John Oliver — need to know about koala chlamydia.

Do koalas really have chlamydia?

Sadly, yes. Some surveys of koala populations in Queensland have suggested at least half of wild koalas are infected with the disease — possibly more.

Chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease, causes conjunctivitis, which can lead to blindness, urinary-tract infections and infections of the reproductive organs that can lead to female infertility.

Researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast discovered in April that a retrovirus was further weakening koalas, making them even more susceptible to chlamydia.

It’s not just chlamydia; dogs, loss of habitat, rapid urbanization and deaths from vehicles are also killing koalas. In some parts of Queensland, between 1994 and 2016, the koala population declined 80 percent.

In 2012, the federal government classified koalas as “vulnerable” in the states of New South Wales and Queensland and in the Australian Capital Territory. The Australia Zoo says that 40,000 to 100,000 koalas — a symbol of Australia’s unique wildlife — remain in the wild.

How is the disease transmitted?

Though transmitted through sex, koalas have little time for randy rooting, as the Australians call it, because they sleep about 20 hours a day. There are two main strains of bacteria that lead to chlamydia in the marsupials. The more common strain, Chlamydia pecorum, is responsible for most of the outbreak in Queensland and cannot be transmitted to humans. The second strain, C. pneumoniae, can infect humans if, say, an infected koala were to urinate on someone, though it’s unlikely.

Baby koalas, known as joeys, can also catch the disease from their mothers while nursing if they come into contact with infected feces.

Is there a cure?

For humans, treatment of the disease involves an embarrassing trip to the doctor for antibiotics (and maybe a few angry texts).

Antibiotics are also used to treat koalas, although they do not prevent re-infection and come with a host of unpleasant side effects. Research has shown that the treatment messes with the gut microbes that help them digest their leafy diet — meaning they can starve.

There have been successful trials of a vaccine to prevent infection in both healthy koalas and those in early stages of infection. Some of those experiments have taken place at the wildlife hospital where Oliver’s name now adorns the wall.

And don’t worry, the Australian government isn’t letting Oliver have all the credit: Monday, the New South Wales government announced a 45 million Australian dollar plan to save the state’s koalas. (That’s almost $34 million.)

What did John Oliver actually get?

Apart from his name forever memorialized with the words “koala chlamydia,” a ward in Oliver’s honor was donated at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital in Queensland. The ward will focus on treating and vaccinating koalas in that state.

“Thanks to your auction, you are now saving literally thousands of koala lives,” Bindi Irwin, daughter of conservationist Steve Irwin, who died in 2006, said in a video tweeted out by Crowe.

The reward was all too much for Oliver, who joked Sunday on his show, “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” that he was so overcome by the accomplishment that he was done hosting it.

“Don’t think of this as a sad occasion, because I leave you in total triumph …,” he said. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a date with some very contagious koalas.”

Oldest message in a bottle (132 years old) found on Western Australia beach

Experts confirmed the bottle was jettisoned as part of a German oceanographic experiment in 1886

A Perth family has found the world’s oldest known message in a bottle, almost 132 years after it was thrown into the sea, Australian experts say. Tonya Illman picked up the bottle while going for a walk around sand dunes on a remote beach in West Australia. Her husband Kym Illman told the BBC they found some paper in the bottle but had “no idea” what it was until they took it home and dried it in the oven.

Experts have confirmed it is an authentic message from a German ship. The note in the bottle, which was dated 12 June 1886, was jettisoned from the German ship Paula, as part of an experiment into ocean and shipping routes by the German Naval Observatory.

Previously, the Guinness world record for the oldest message in a bottle was 108 years, between it being sent and found.

‘Rolled up cigarette’

The Illman family were driving through a beach north of Wedge Island on 21 January when the car became bogged down in the sand, and Mrs Illman and her friend decided to go for a walk. “Tonya saw a whole lot of rubbish on the ground, and thought she’d help pick up some rubbish,” Mr Illman told the BBC. She found and picked up the bottle, thinking it would be nice for her bookshelf, he added.

Mr Illman said his wife passed the bottle “to our son’s girlfriend, who saw what she thought was a rolled-up cigarette, and tipped it out with the sand”. “Tonya tried to untie the string around the paper, but it was rather fragile, so we took it home and put it in the oven for five minutes to dry up the moisture. “Then we unrolled it and saw printed writing. We could not see the hand written ink at that point, but saw a printed message that asked the reader to contact the German consulate when they found the note.”

Later, they also noticed faint handwriting on the note, with a date of 12 June 1886 and the name of the ship, Paula. When they saw the date they thought it was “too far-fetched” to be real, Mr Illman said – but they researched the bottle online and took it to experts at the Western Australian Museum.

Dr Ross Anderson, Assistant Curator Maritime Archaeology at the WA Museum, confirmed the find was authentic after consulting with colleagues from Germany and the Netherlands.

“Incredibly, an archival search in Germany found Paula’s original Meteorological Journal and there was an entry for 12 June 1886 made by the captain, recording a drift bottle having been thrown overboard. The date and the coordinates correspond exactly with those on the bottle message,” Dr Anderson said. The handwriting on the journal, and the message in the bottle, also matched, he added.

The bottle was jettisoned in the south-eastern Indian Ocean while the ship was travelling from Cardiff in Wales to Indonesia, and probably washed up on the Australian coast within 12 months, where it was buried under the sand, he wrote in his report.

Thousands of bottles were thrown overboard during the 69-year German experiment but to date only 662 messages – and no bottles – had been returned. The last bottle with a note to be found was in Denmark in 1934.

The bottle found on Wedge Island was found “mostly exposed without any form of cork or closure, and was about a quarter full of damp sand”, and the bottle appeared to have lain “buried or mostly buried”, partially filled with damp sand, Dr Anderson added.

Sand dunes in the area are quite mobile during storm events and heavy rain, so the bottle could have been subject to “cyclical periods of exposure” which could have led to the cork in the bottle drying out and becoming dislodged, “while the tightly rolled paper along with a quantity of sand remained inside preserved”.

“The narrow 7mm bore of the bottle opening and thick glass would have assisted to buffer and preserve the paper from the effects of full exposure to the elements, providing a protective microenvironment favourable to the paper’s long-term preservation,” the report added.

Faceless fish not seen since 1873 now re-discovered off the coast of Australia

A “faceless” deep-sea fish not seen for more than a century has been rediscovered by scientists trawling the depths of a massive abyss off Australia’s east coast, along with “amazing” quantities of rubbish.

The 40cm fish was rediscovered 4km below sea level in waters south of Sydney by scientists from Museums Victoria and the Australian government’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) on the weekend.

Dr Tim O’Hara, the chief scientist and expedition leader, who is a senior curator of marine invertebrates at Museums Victoria, said it was the first time the fish had been seen in waters off Australia since 1873, when one was dredged up by a British ship near Papua New Guinea.

“This little fish looks amazing because the mouth is actually situated at the bottom of the animal so, when you look side-on, you can’t see any eyes, you can’t see any nose or gills or mouth,” O’Hara said via satellite phone from the research vessel Investigator on Wednesday. “It looks like two rear-ends on a fish, really.”

The world-first survey of commonwealth marine reserves stretching from northern Tasmania to central Queensland began on 15 May. On board the Investigator research vessel for the month-long voyage are 27 scientists, 13 technicians and 20 crew.

Samples of animals and sediment have been collected from the bottom of the abyss each day by a metal sled-style device attached to 8km of thick wire. A video camera has also been trailed behind the ship to capture footage from the depths.

Finds have included bright red spiky rock crabs, spectacular bioluminescent sea stars and gigantic sea spiders as big as a dinner plate.

“The experts tell me that about a third of all specimens coming on board are new totally new to science,” O’Hara said. “They aren’t all as spectacular as the faceless fish but there’s a lot of sea fleas and worms and crabs and other things that are totally new and no one has seen them ever before.”

Di Bray of Museums Victoria told the ABC that the rediscovery of the faceless fish was a highlight of the “awesome stuff” thrown up by the study so far.

“On the video camera we saw a kind of chimaera that whizzed by – that’s very, very rare in Australian waters,” she said. “We’ve seen a fish with photosensitive plates that sit on the top of its head, tripod fish that sit up on their fins and face into the current.”

“A lot” of the species found would prove to be previously undiscovered, she predicted.

“We’re not even scratching the surface of what we know about our abyssal plain fishes.”

Equally “amazing”, O’Hara said, was the quantity of rubbish that researchers had dredged up.

“There’s a lot of debris, even from the old steam ship days when coal was tossed overboard,” he said. “We’ve seen PVC pipes and we’ve trawled up cans of paints.

“It’s quite amazing. We’re in the middle of nowhere and still the sea floor has 200 years of rubbish on it.”

In February, scientists reported “extraordinary” levels of toxic pollution in the 10km-deep Mariana trench, one of the most remote and inaccessible places on the planet.

Data from the survey of the eastern abyss would allow scientists to collect baseline data about its biodiversity and would likely be used to measure the impacts of climate change in the coming decades.

The research voyage is due to conclude on 16 June.

Zebra Shark Attains Ability of Asexual Reproduction and Has Babies Without a Male After Years of Isolation


by Rhett Jones

A female zebra shark in Australia has shocked scientists by producing three offspring after spending years away from her male partner. Subsequent analysis found that she had simply developed the ability to do it all on her own.

Leonie the zebra shark spent about 12 years living with a male at an aquarium in Townsville, Australia. In that time, the two sharks had 24 pups and life was good. Then, someone ripped Leonie from her home and family, placing her in a separate tank in 2012. After spending years away from any male sharks, Leonie suddenly gave birth to three healthy babies in 2016.

This caught the attention of Christine Dudgeon, a professor at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Her first avenue of investigation was to make sure that Leonie had not somehow stored her former partner’s sperm and used it to fertilize her own eggs. When tests showed that the pups were only carrying their mother’s DNA, it became clear that the shark had likely achieved asexual reproduction.

According to New Scientist, “Some vertebrate species have the ability to reproduce asexually even though they normally reproduce sexually,” such as “certain sharks, turkeys, Komodo dragons, snakes and rays.”

But what makes Leonie’s circumstances especially rare is that asexual reproduction tends to manifest in females that have never had a sexual history. Reportedly, there have only been two other documented cases of this occurring—once with an eagle ray and another with a boa constrictor.

Russell Bonduriansky a professor at the University of New South Wales tells New Scientist, “In species that are capable of both reproductive modes, there are quite a few observations of switches from asexual to sexual reproduction.” But it’s extremely uncommon for the opposite to occur.

In the case of sharks, this is possible through a form of inbreeding that is far from ideal in the grand scheme of evolution. An adjacent cell, called a polar body, actually fertilizes the egg with the females own genetic material. “It’s not a strategy for surviving many generations because it reduces genetic diversity and adaptability,” Dudgeon says.

Scientists believe that this ability functions as a temporary mechanism to continue the species until a male partner can be found.

24 / 7 Robot Miners Working in Australia

by Tom Simonite

Each of these trucks is the size of a small two-story house. None has a driver or anyone else on board.

Mining company Rio Tinto has 73 of these titans hauling iron ore 24 hours a day at four mines in Australia’s Mars-red northwest corner. At this one, known as West Angelas, the vehicles work alongside robotic rock drilling rigs. The company is also upgrading the locomotives that haul ore hundreds of miles to port—the upgrades will allow the trains to drive themselves, and be loaded and unloaded automatically.

Rio Tinto intends its automated operations in Australia to preview a more efficient future for all of its mines—one that will also reduce the need for human miners. The rising capabilities and falling costs of robotics technology are allowing mining and oil companies to reimagine the dirty, dangerous business of getting resources out of the ground.

BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company, is also deploying driverless trucks and drills on iron ore mines in Australia. Suncor, Canada’s largest oil company, has begun testing driverless trucks on oil sands fields in Alberta.

“In the last couple of years we can just do so much more in terms of the sophistication of automation,” says Herman Herman, director of the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh. The center helped Caterpillar develop its autonomous haul truck. Mining company Fortescue Metals Group is putting them to work in its own iron ore mines. Herman says the technology can be deployed sooner for mining than other applications, such as transportation on public roads. “It’s easier to deploy because these environments are already highly regulated,” he says.

Rio Tinto uses driverless trucks provided by Japan’s Komatsu. They find their way around using precision GPS and look out for obstacles using radar and laser sensors.

Rob Atkinson, who leads productivity efforts at Rio Tinto, says the fleet and other automation projects are already paying off. The company’s driverless trucks have proven to be roughly 15 percent cheaper to run than vehicles with humans behind the wheel, says Atkinson—a significant saving since haulage is by far a mine’s largest operational cost. “We’re going to continue as aggressively as possible down this path,” he says.

Trucks that drive themselves can spend more time working because software doesn’t need to stop for shift changes or bathroom breaks. They are also more predictable in how they do things like pull up for loading. “All those places where you could lose a few seconds or minutes by not being consistent add up,” says Atkinson. They also improve safety, he says.

The driverless locomotives, due to be tested extensively next year and fully deployed by 2018, are expected to bring similar benefits. Atkinson also anticipates savings on train maintenance, because software can be more predictable and gentle than any human in how it uses brakes and other controls. Diggers and bulldozers could be next to be automated.

Herman at CMU expects all large mining companies to widen their use of automation in the coming years as robotics continues to improve. The recent, sizeable investments by auto and tech companies in driverless cars will help accelerate improvements in the price and performance of the sensors, software, and other technologies needed.

Herman says many mining companies are well placed to expand automation rapidly, because they have already invested in centralized control systems that use software to coördinate and monitor their equipment. Rio Tinto, for example, gave the job of overseeing its autonomous trucks to staff at the company’s control center in Perth, 750 miles to the south. The center already plans train movements and in the future will shift from sending orders to people to directing driverless locomotives.

Atkinson of Rio Tinto acknowledges that just like earlier technologies that boosted efficiency, those changes will tend to reduce staffing levels, even if some new jobs are created servicing and managing autonomous machines. “It’s something that we’ve got to carefully manage, but it’s a reality of modern day life,” he says. “We will remain a very significant employer.”

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

Fish trapped inside a jellyfish

This unlucky fish was swallowed by a roaming jellyfish in waters off Byron Bay, Australia. The shot was captured by ocean photographer Tim Samuel, who says the fish was still alive and fighting to escape. ‘It was able to propel the jellyfish forward and controlled its movement to an extent. The jellyfish threw it off balance, though, and they would wobble around, and sometimes get stuck doing circles.’ Tim said “It was a tough decision, I definitely thought about setting it free, but in the end decided to just let nature run its course.”

Fast-growing tumbleweed called hairy panic blows into Australian city

untitledResidents of a rural Australian city are frustrated by a fast-growing tumbleweed called hairy panic that is piling up outside their houses, covering lawns and blocking doors and windows.

Hairy panic is piling up outside several homes in Wangaratta in north-east Victoria – at times reportedly reaching roof height – forcing residents to clear it several times a day. About 20 residences on Bella Way, a new development hard against the fringe of farmland, have been particularly affected, with the grass blowing over from neighbouring fie

But authorities say they have limited powers to do anything about the problem.

Hairy panic – Panicum effusum – is a short-lived perennial native to inland Australia. Outbreaks of the weed take place across the country every year but Wangaratta has been hit particularly badly this year because of dry conditions.

Matt Thewlis‎ posted several images of his home covered in the grass to the council’s Facebook page: “Hope the person who owns the out-of-control paddocks in our area gets notified to do something because this is a joke and the whole estate is sick of it! … ask yourself this would you put up with this everyday?”

Thewlis and other residents who have posted publicly to the council page have been contacted over Facebook for comment.

A council spokesman told Guardian Australia there was not much that could be done “from an enforcement side of things, through local laws,” to control the tumbleweed’s spread, though it was investigating potential controls for next year. “The council has a very limited capacity to intervene, but we are attempting to work with residents and nearby farmers.”

On Friday morning street sweepers would “attempt to clean up the mess”, he said. “We don’t know how effective it’s going to be until we try.”

Though there was often hairy panic in Wangaratta, he said, it had been particularly bad this summer. “It’s widespread. It can happen in any town, at any time, and it does happen in Wangaratta. It just spreads from farm to farm.”

The council had received up to 30 complaints about the grass, though the spokesman clarified that not all were from residents affected by it. “Some people are just ringing to talk to us about it, which is fine.”

The spokesman said hairy panic would go wherever the wind blows, and clarified again that it was not something that the council “can stop from happening”.

Despite concerns raised by Wangaratta residents about the safety of their properties, the Country Fire Authority has advised that the fire risk of the grass is “relatively low”.

If eaten by farm animals in large quantities, it can cause photosensitisation or “yellow big-head”, the blistering of hairless or light-coloured areas. It poses no threat to pets.