November 19, 2018

    A new method for replicating RNA might have helped RNA-based primordial life forms to multiply. The figure shows the different structures of DNA (left) and RNA (right).
    Experimental RNA replication system provides clues about how primordial life might have multiplied - science news in brief

    A new type of laboratory-created genetic replication system, not known to exist in nature, offered some clues about how the primordial life might have reproduced. It is likely that the first life forms on Earth were based on RNA, a molecule similar to DNA. There is, however, a problem with the replication of RNA molecules, because they are often folded and this blocks the process. Now scientists managed to create a biological system called a ribozyme that is able to overcome this problem and replicate RNA (including itself). Scientists believe that the “primordial soup” contained some RNA molecules that were able to replicate using a similar mechanism, providing clues about the beginnings of life on our planet.

    Read the full story: Medical Research Council
    Scientific publication: eLife


    For a turtle called the red-eared slider, a hatchling’s sex depends on the temperature in the nest. Cooler temperatures give mostly males, and higher temperature females
    A boy or a girl? Temperature-dependent molecular biology decides in turtles - life science news

    While gender is encoded by our chromosomes, turtles and some other reptiles let temperature decide whether the next generation will be boys or girls. In a new study, biologists have discovered how this works. At low temperature (26 oC), a protein is active that will stimulate the expression of genes that promote the growth of the testes and will thus give male offspring. At high temperature (32 oC), this protein is inactive, no testes are formed, and the offspring will be female. Importantly, the researchers knocked out the gene in embryos that were kept at 26 oC, and female gonads developed where normally testes would be expected to occur. Thus, the determination of gender by temperature is not encoded in the genome, but by a protein that switches on the genetic program for the development of testes.

    Read the full story: Duke University
    Scientific publication: Science


    Artist representation of Magyarosuchus, the five-meter long ancestor of modern crocodiles. Credit: Márton Szabó
    Large-bodied fossil monster is missing link in crocodile evolution - science news paleontology in brief

    A fossil found hidden in the mountain of Hungary, in 1996, provided valuable information about how crocodiles evolved, according to a new study. The prehistoric animal was five meters long and it lived 180 million years ago, during the Jurassic. It shares features with two families of prehistoric crocodiles: it had a heavy armor, but also a tail fin. These anatomical details identify it as a very likely candidate for the missing link between the two groups. The newly identified species was baptized Magyarosuchus.

    Read the full story: University of Edinburgh
    Scientific publication: PeerJ


    The DNA of ancient and medieval hepatitis B virus has been analyzed by scientists
    What we learned from 7000 years old hepatitis B virus - science news in brief

    Scientists managed to successfully isolate and reconstruct the DNA of the hepatitis B viruses that infected people about 7000 years ago (Neolithic). They also studied the DNA of medieval viruses extracted from human bones. The study discovered that the ancient viruses were similar to the modern ones, however, they come from a distinct lineage that is now extinct. In fact, the old extinct virus was very similar to chimpanzee and gorilla viruses. The DNA of the Neolithic virus is the oldest virus genomes reconstructed to date.

    Read the full story: ScienceBriefss
    Scientific publication: eLife


    To discover the secrets of animal movement, scientists have trained a spider to jump on command while filming it with a high-speed camera. The spider can jump over a distance of six times its body length (compare this with maximally 1.5 body lengths for humans!), either using a spring-like mechanism of the muscles or using internal fluid pressure. The first strategy is energetically costly, but brings the necessary precision for capturing prey. The internal fluid pressure system is more economic and used for travelling longer distances to move about in rough terrain. These results may help in the development of a new class of micro-robots with these kinds of movements.

    Read the full story: University of Manchester
    Scientific publication: Scientific Reports


    If scientists succeed to rejuvenate dogs, humans will be next
    Startup wants to reverse aging in dogs - science news - aging gene theraphy

    The startup Rejuvenate Bio has an ambitious goal: to make old dogs young again! The company, which has already run preliminary tests, says they will use gene therapy to reverse aging. The approach is based on positive results reported by studies on more primitive animals such as flatworms or fruit flies. It is not clear how advanced the company’s research is but, if they will succeed in rejuvenating dogs, this will have major implications for humans too. How knows, maybe in the future, you will be 100 in the body of a 30-year-old, playing with your very active dog that is much older than it should be! 

    Read the full story: MIT Technology Review
    Grant application proposal (accepted): SBIR-STTR


    Alligators extend their habitat from the swamps to include the beach
    Conservation measures pay off: big predators recolonise their original habitats - life science news

    Many predators show up in funny places, as they return to their original habitats where they lived before they became endangered. Alligators, for example, appear to live on the beach and not only in the swamps where they found their last refuge. Killer whales swim up the rivers, and sea otters can live outside the kelp fields where they had retreated to escape from extinction. Now that their numbers are increasing, as a result of wild life conservation, they are on their way to recolonise their long-lost habitats, showing that these animals have huge adaptive capabilities and can take up once again their role in their original ecosystems.

    Read the full story: Duke University
    Scientific publication: Current Biology


    A rendition of what the Hyneria lindae might have looked like. By Jason Poole of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
    Now we know how this 365 million years old aquatic predator looked like - paleontology science news in brief

    In 1968 a new extinct aquatic predator was first described. Known as Hyneria lindae, the animal remained quite a mystery for a long time, due to the lack of fossils. Now, after 25 years of collecting fossils, scientists have completed the picture of the elusive fish. According to the new study, the animal was a 3.6 meters (12 foot) long and lived during the Devonian era. It was a fierce predator with small eyes and a sensory system that allowed him to find the prey using pressure waves.

    Read the full story: Drexel University
    Scientific publication: Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology


    Passing by sharks leave their DNA in the water and this can be used to identify the species from an ecosystem
    DNA traces in the water give away the identity of sharks - short science news - biodiversity and environment

    The biodiversity of sharks is impressive and often scientists are not able to count all species in a give area. A team of scientists compared three different methods for sampling sharks in the New Caledonian archipelago: sending divers to identify and count species, video camera recordings, and analyzing the DNA left in the seawater. The winner was the DNA analysis. It identified 13 species, six of which were missed by the two other approaches. Analyzing environmental DNA could be the next step for species identification; however, it can not provide information about the number of individuals in a habitat.

    Read the full story: ScienceBriefss
    Scientific publication: Science Advances


    A microorganism has been killing male embryos of fruit flies and now we know why
    The mysterious killer of male fruit flies finally identified - short science news

    Since 1950s scientists have tried to solve a mystery: what kills male fruit flies embryos (Drosophila), without affecting the females? Some time ago it was discovered that the cause was a bacteria called Spiroplasma poulsonii however, it was not clear why it kills only the males. Now, a new study revealed the molecular mechanisms behind the mystery. The culprit is a protein called Spaid which interferes with a male-specific genetic process, thus explaining why the bacteria only kills the males. “To our knowledge, Spaid is the first bacterial effector protein identified to date that affects host cellular machinery in a sex-specific manner,” says Dr. Toshiyuki Harumoto, one of the authors of the paper.

    Read the full story: EPFL
    Scientific publication: Nature


    The first beak to evolve was a horn-covered pincer tip at the end of the jaw of an animal that takes a place in the transition from reptiles to birds. This animal, Ichthyornis dispar, lived in North America nearly 100 million years ago and probably looked like a sea gull. It would have used its beak as a precision grasping instrument to replace its paws and hands that had already transformed into wings. Also, Ichtyornis had a brain like modern birds, but the skull was still dinosaur, showing that the brain transformed before the skull in the transition from reptiles to birds. These discoveries give new insights in the origin of birds.

    Read the full story: Yale University
    Scientific publication: Nature


    Scientists have grown embryos from stem cells to blastocysts that successfully implanted into the uterus
    Creation of embryos without egg or sperm - life science news

    Dutch scientists have created mouse embryos from stem cells, thus without fertilizing an egg with sperm cells. The embryos resemble natural ones in the sense that they implant into the uterus and initiate pregnancy. Using stem cells to create embryos is a radically new approach to study the first phases of development, infertility or the onset of diseases. Also, this new method can be used for screening of new medical techniques and pharmacological compounds for the treatment of disease.

    Read the full story: Hubrecht Institute
    Scientific publication: Nature


    The mantis shrimp has an extraordinary color vision despite rolling their eyes permanently.
    Mantis shrimp has the most extreme eyes in the animal kingdom - short science news

    The Mantis shrimp has amazing vision in many aspects. Also, they have the most mobile eyes in the animal world. In a new study, scientists investigated how vision works in these animals. Normally the eyes have to stop moving in order to see clearly, but the eyes of the Mantis shrimp roll constantly, without decreasing their vision. Moreover, the eyes move independently of each other. Their visual system seems immune to the effects of rolling the eyes. The shrimps can still tell which side is up or down even when the eyes are rolled, which is unusual in other animals. Science still has to figure out why the shrimps move their eyes and how are they still able to preserve such sharp vision.

    Read the full story: ScienceBriefss
    Scientific publication: Proceedings of the Royal Society B


    The sea slug Elysia chlorotica that lives on the East coast of Canada and the United States “steals” chloroplasts from algae, stores them in its body, and uses photosynthesis to produce energy that it can live from without further feeding. This is quite remarkable, as it was assumed until now that chloroplasts need the cell nucleus of the algae to function properly. While this is apparently not the case, researchers believe that this might provide a new opportunity to develop solar panels based on artificial photosynthesis for the production of energy. 

    Read the full story: Rutgers - State University of New Jersey
    Scientific publication: Molecular Biology and Evolution


    Mosquitos not only bite to lay eggs, but also when they are thirsty
    Mosquitos bite when they are thirsty - life science news

    Mosquitos have been found not only to bite to get blood for the development of the eggs, but also when they are simply thirsty. Mosquitos that had not had access to water for three hours become more aggressive and start to bite, whereas mosquitos that had been drinking remained calm and did not bite. Researchers say that these observations are worrisome, because with rising global temperatures and expected droughts, mosquitos are more likely to come to humans to drink and spread diseases in the process.

    Read the full story: University of Cincinnati
    Scientific publication: Scientific Reports


    This Australian marsupial eliminates competition to have more food. Image by Gernot Heiser through Wikimedia Commons
    This lesser hairy-footed dunnart eats its competitors - life science news

    Researchers from the University of Sydney have found that the lesser hairy-footed dunnart (Sminthopsis youngsoni, Dasyuridae) consume unexpectedly large quantities of wolf spiders. Further observations indicated that both the dunnart and the wolf spiders hunt the same prey, ants, and they do so during the night. In times of prey scarcity, the larger predator (in this case the dunnart) eats its smaller competitor (the wolf spiders) to reduce competition for food. This phenomenon is known as “intraguild predation”, and the current study is first one to show that this occurs between taxa that are extremely disparate. 

    Read the full story: Sciemex.com
    Scientific publication: Royal Society Open Source


    Horses have emotional memory
    Horses can remember your facial expressions - life science news

    Experiments have revealed that horses understand human facial expressions and can even memorise them. In the morning, the horses were shown pictures of people looking either angry or happy. A few hours later the horses met the people from the photos in person, but this time the human participants had a neutral expression on their faces. It turned out that the horses looked at people with angry faces on the photo with their left eye, consistent with the idea that animals use their right hemisphere for threat processing. Horses could therefore assess whether a person might represents danger or not by assessing human emotions.

    Read the full story: University of Sussex
    Scientific publication: Current Biology


    The European Union is planning to ban insecticides that are dangerous for bees
    EU to ban use of pesticides responsible for killing bees - short science news - environment

    The European Union has announced plans to completely ban the outdoor use of some insecticides that have been show to severely impact bee populations. These are the neonicotinoid insecticides which are some of the most widely used insecticides in the world. They are chemically similar to nicotine, which research has shown is one of the most powerful insecticides. In the case of insecticides that have been shown to pose a reduced risk for bees, like Acetamiprid, no ban will be imposed.

    Read the full story: European Commision


    Some microorganisms communicate with each other in a group in order to protect themselves against antibiotics
    Bacteria communicate with each other to escape antibiotics - short science news - microbiology

    Little is known about how some pathogen bacteria, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, interact in a group in the presence of antibiotics. In a new research study, scientists discovered that these microorganisms communicate with each other, releasing distress signals when threatened by antibiotics. The chemical released is called alkyl hydroquinolone and it may trigger protective mechanisms that contribute to antibiotic resistance. It is the first time this type of behavior is identified.

    Read the full story: University of Notre Dame
    Scientific publication: Journal of Biological Chemsitry


    This zebrafish with all its different cell types developed from a single cell, the fertilised egg
    From fertilised egg to many specialised cells - life science news

    Each new life starts with one cell, a fertilised egg, which will divide and produce more cells that each will take on a particular identity to form a brain, heart or muscle cell. A new study shows that finding cell identity not only depends on genetics, but also on signals from the environment of a cell that can be so strong that developing cells leave their migration path on the way to their final destination, and follow another path to e.g. another organ, thus taking on a new identity. These results, obtained in zebrafish embryos, contradict the idea that cells follow a fixed path to maturity and identity. Instead cellular differentiation appears to be more flexible than previously thought.

    Read the full story: University of Basel
    Scientific publication: Science


    One whale shark set the world record for the longest migration for this species, going from the eastern Pacific to the western Indo-Pacific
    Whale shark sets amazing record for the longest migration ever - science news

    Her name is Anne and she is a whale shark (Rhincodon typus) that marine biologists are following in the ocean. Using tagging technology, the scientist tracked the migration route of Anne, as she crossed the Pacific in what is now the world’s record for the longest migration of a whale shark. The distance of the migration reached the gigantic value of 20,142 km (12,500 miles)! The study is part of a long-term project in which 45 additional sharks around Panama are tagged and monitored. Interestingly, the reason for the migration of whale sharks is still a mystery for scientists!

    Read the full story: Smithsonian
    Scientific publication: Marine Biodiversity Records


    After an established nesting area is destroyed birds have the ability to adapt by dispersing to nearby colonies and colonizing new habitats
    Scientists discover how birds survive volcano eruptions - short science news

    When a volcano erupts the habitat of the birds nearby is destroyed. But, what happens to the birds? To understand this, biologists studied the impact of the 2008 eruption of the Kasatochi volcano, in the Aleutian archipelago. Surprisingly, the birds were extremely adaptable when their colonies were abruptly destroyed. After the eruption, the birds quickly found a new close by habitat and created a new colony that flourished only four years after the cataclysm. The study provides valuable insight into the habitat shifting and adaptative abilities of seabirds.

    Read the full story: American Ornithological Society Publications Office
    Scientific publication: American Ornithological Society


    Have complex molecules neccesary for life been built in space?
    How complex molecules necessary for life might be built in space - life science news

    Under laboratory conditions that mimic astrophysiological conditions, scientists have created a complex molecule knows as glycine. They achieved this using an electron gun to irradiate thin sheets of ice covered in simple molecules that are important ingredients for complex molecules necessary for life. Indeed, the single glycine molecule that formed is an amino acid, a building block of proteins. The study suggests that it is possible that complex molecules can be built from simple ones in space

    Read the full story: Université de Sherbrooke
    Scientific publication: Journal of Chemical Physics

     

    Most living organisms reproduce sexually, an efficient way to exchange and shuffle genes, leading to evolution. How about organisms that do not have sex?
    How do animals evolve without having sex - short science news

    How do animals that do not have sex evolve, since no genetic transfer occurs in the reproductive process? A new study looked into this dilemma using the Bdelloid rotifers as animal models. They are all females and they reproduce by cloning, however, they successfully evolved into more than 500 species. The study proved incorrect a previous theory that claimed that rotifers evolve through genetic mechanisms occurring after periods of dehydration. Alternative solutions to this problem could be the transfer of genetic material from other species, or even the presence of males (although they have never been discovered). For the moment the mystery of these animals remains unsolved.

    Read the full story: Imperial College London
    Scientific publication: PLOS Biology


    During the last ice age, a mutation spread in some human populations. The mutation increased the delivery of milk during breast feeding. The figure depicts the region where the studied population lived (shrub tundra). Credit: the researchers, via PNAS
    The last ice age and breast feeding, what is the relationship - short science news

    According to a new study, the last ice age could have had an unexpected impact on breast feeding in native Americans. Starting from the study of teeth in archeological populations, scientists discovered that a genetic mutation occurred around 20,000 years ago, during the last ice age, in East Asians and Native Americans. The mutation affected the shape of the teeth but also increases the branching density of mammary ducts in the breasts. The latter change probably increased the efficacy of breast feeding in order to provide more fat and vitamin D to infants that were not receiving enough sunlight. The genetic mutation could have spread in the population trough natural selection.

    Read the full story: University of California, Berkeley
    Scientific publication: PNAS


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