November 19, 2018

    Land plants appeared on Earth earlier than previously believed
    Land plants appeared on Earth earlier than previously believed

    The first plant evolved after 4 billion years from the formation of our planet. Before that, the only life on our planet was represented by microbial microorganisms. Previous estimates based on fossil plants suggested that land plants appeared around 420 million years ago. However, a new study is challenging this view. Using a “molecular clock” methodology, the new study places the moment of origin for plants around 520 million years ago. To reach this conclusion, scientists considered genetic differences between living species, but also fossil constraints on the age of their shared ancestors, to establish an evolutionary timescale that sees through the gaps in the fossil record.

    Read the full story: Eureka Alert
    Scientific publication: PNAS


    Cell surface receptors decode messages from other cells in a dynamic manner
    Decoding cell communication

    By using a new video system to monitor the activity of cells in real time, researchers have discovered that one receptor of a cell may respond to more than one signalling molecule, but, and this is very special, with different temporal kinetics. Cells communicate thus in a much more dynamic manner as previously thought to integrate information and coordinate their activities for proper functioning of an organism. The newly found complexity of cellular crosstalk has important implications for the understanding of embryonic development and treatment of disease such as cancer.

    Read the full story: Caltech
    Scientific publication: Cell


    Ants are a unique example of animals providing medical care
    Ants provide medical care

    African Matabele ants take care of the wounds inflicted upon conspecifics, thus increasing survival from 10% to 90% of the casualties. Injuries occur frequently with these ants because of their aggressive lifestyle: they feed on termites that know how to defend themselves with their impressive jaws. It is the first time that insects, or any other animals, are shown to provide medical care to injured comrades.

    Read the full story: Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
    Scientific publication: Proceedings of the Royal Society B


    Bee-killer wasps do not have the problem of antibiotic resistant pathogens
    Bee-killer wasps use the same antibiotics for millions of years with no loss of efficacy - news

    Beewolves or bee-killer wasps live in symbiosis with bacteria which produce around 45 antibiotics to protect the insects against infections. This symbiotic relationship begun 68 million years ago and surprisingly the antibiotics have remained stable ever since. For humans, the emerging resistance of multi-drug resistant pathogens is a problem, however no resistance to antibiotics has been developed in the case of the beewolves’ pathogens. The explanation is found in the composition of the antibiotics, which have a large spectrum of action, and in the behavior of the insets who, unlike humans, relocate frequently and live in small populations providing fewer opportunities for pathogens to adapt.

    Read the full story: Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology
    Scientific publication: PNAS


    Spider trapped in amber. Credit: bigstockphoto
    The missing link in the evolution of spiders found trapped in amber

    An ancient creature, half spider, half scorpion, dating from the Cretaceous era, has been found trapped in amber and it may offer valuable insights about the evolution of spiders. Four specimens, about 100 million years old, have been thoroughly studied and they are the subject of two independent scientific studies. The arachnids have a distinct anatomy resembling a spider with tail, suggesting that early in evolution spiders had a mix of anatomical traits. These fossils likely represent the earliest evolutionary branch of the arachnids.

    Read the full story: www.sciencemag.org
    Scientific publication: Nature
    Scientific publication: Nature


    Flowering plants evolved 149 to 256 million years ago. Credit: bigstockphoto
    Flowers appeared on Earth 149 to 256 million years ago

    A new study gives a new estimate for the evolution of flowering plants. Researchers used a multidisciplinary approach, combining molecular data, fossil record and different approaches to assess the evolutionary time scale. They concluded that flowers first appeared on Earth between 149 and 256 million years ago. Previous estimates were conflicting, with older dates provided by molecular studies and more recent dates provided by literal interpretation of their fossil record. This new research helps solve the contradiction by combining both approaches to give a more precise estimation for the evolution of flowers.

    Read the full story: University College London
    Scientific publication: New Phytologist


    Changes in DNA, although rare, are important for evolution and disease. Image: pixabay
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    Scientists have discovered that DNA bases, the building blocks of DNA, can change their shape for one thousandth of a second, causing the incorporation of the wrong base pairs into the DNA double helix during DNA replication. This changes the DNA code, and such mutations are the molecular basis of evolution and genetic diseases such as cancer.

    Read the full story: Duke University
    Scientific publication: nature


    Naked mole rats do not age. Image: Wikimedia Commons
    Keeping young and beautiful

    Researchers of Calico (USA) found that naked mole rats hardly age, and that their risk of dying after their reproductive phase is over does not increase as it does with other animals. In captivity they live five times longer than may be expected for mice of comparable size. This makes these animals excellent models to study the biology of longevity and ageing.

    Read the full story: Calico
    Scientific publication: elifesciences


    The millipede has many color combinations. Image source: Virgina Tech
    The most colorful millipede specie has just been discovered

    A new arthropod from the group of millipedes has been discovered by entomologists in Virginia, USA. The small millipede lives in the forest and it has one interesting feature: it has more color combinations than any other known millipede species. Named Apheloria polychrome, the animal uses the colors to warn potential predators that it is not tasty. This is because its body is covered with a poisonous chemical. The team of scientist published their discovery in the journal Zootaxa.

    Read the full story: www.sciencebriefss.com
    Scientific publication: https://biotaxa.org


    Mosquitos remember odours and swats to select their hosts. Image: Pixabay
    Mosquitos can remember you

    A new study performed at Virginia Tech revealed that mosquitos remember smells from humans. They also remember if they have had a bad experience, like somebody trying to hit them, link this to the odour they perceived, and so select their preferred victims. Learning is mediated by dopamine in the mosquito’s brain. These findings might contribute to designing new strategies to control mosquito populations.

    Read the full story: vtnews.vt.edu/articles/
    Scientific publication: www.cell.com/current-biology/


    Mexican salamanders regrow their limbs following damage. Image: Pixabay
    Genome of axolotl decoded

    Scientists from Vienna, Dresden and Heidelberg have decoded the genome of the Mexican salamander axolotl. Axolotls have an astonishing capacity to regenerate parts of their bodies (limbs, muscles, nerves) when damaged. The characterisation of the axolotl genome may help to better understand tissue regeneration and repair.

    Read the full story: www.mpg.de/
    Scientific publication: www.nature.com/articles/


    Crab-eating macaque has been cloned. Photo M. Prince via Wikimedia Commons
    Chinese scientists clone monkeys

    In China, two monkeys are born that are exact copies of the monkey from which an embryonic fibroblast had been taken to create them. This is the first time that researchers succeeded in cloning non-human primates, by improving techniques used to clone sheep Dolly in 1996. Cloned monkeys may be used for studies of human disease, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. This scientific breakthrough also raises ethical questions, as the techniques used to clone monkeys can in theory be extended to humans.

    Read the full story: www.sciencemag.org/news/
    Scientific publication: www.cell.com/cell/


    Typical viruses that can infect bacteria. Photo Y-R Lin, C-S Lin, Wikimedia Commons
    New bacteria-eating viruses discovered in the ocean

    Scientists from MIT and Albert Einstein College have discovered a completely new group of viruses in surface waters of the ocean. These viruses remained unnoticed before as they lack the tail that scientists normally target for virus detection, and are further characterised by a very short genome. These viruses infect and kill marine bacteria, and play thus an important role in marine ecosystems.

    Read the full story: www.sciencedaily.com/
    Scientific publication: www.nature.com/articles/


    Cells contain 42 million proteins
    There are 42 million proteins in a single cell

    Cells are the building blocks of every living organism, and they are packed with proteins to make them work: 42 million to be precise. This astonishing number was found in yeast cells by analysing already existing data in a new way in a study that made quantification possible for the first time. Increased insight into the biology of proteins in a single cell helps to understand diseases where there is too much or too little of a particular protein.

    Read the full story: www.sciencedaily.com/
    Scientific publication: www.cell.com/cell-systems/


    Would starfish see the world like brittlestarts do?
    Seeing without eyes

    Brittlestars appear to have many specialised cells on their skin that are full of light-sensitive molecules with which they can scan their environment for light and dark areas. These animals, relatives of starfish, use these light-sensitive cells for example to move towards darker areas to hide themselves. These new findings contradict previous hypotheses of how sea stars sense their environment, without having a real eye nor a brain to process visual information.

    Read the full story: www.nature.com/articles/
    Scientific publication: rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/


    Birds decrease in size as temperatures increase. Image by Dreamstime.
    Birds around the world are shrinking due to increasing temperatures

    Birds living in colder climate have generally larger bodies, in order to reduce heat loss. To understand better the variations in body size induced by changing temperatures, scientists studied the European house sparrows from Australia and New Zeeland. They looked for relationships between variations in size of the birds with the high summer temperatures. The conclusion was that the average adult body size was decreased, and this was strongly correlated with high temperatures. The study raises concerns that increasing global warming could decrease the body of birds, with a negative impact on their health.

    Read the full story: https://www.eurekalert.org
    Scientific publication: http://www.bioone.org


    Horses once had five distinct toes. Image by ScienceBriefss
    It is largely accepted that horses that live today have only single-toed hooves

    It is largely accepted that horses that live today have only single-toed hooves. Previous research has shown that their ancestors had maximum three or four functional toes. However, a new study published today claims that Mesohippus, a horse which lived 35 million years ago, had five distinct toes. The same is similar for a more recent horse relative from 5 million years ago. In the modern horse, the four of the fingers have gradually reduced with evolution until they became the ridges of the horse hooves.

    Read the full story: http://www.sciencemag.org
    Scientific publication: The Royal society Publishing


    Centipede venom can kill large preys. Nattawat Kaewjirasit, dreamstime.com
    Giant centipedes kill very big prey by blocking potassium channels with deadly venom - Life news

    The Chinese red-headed centipede, which can grow up to 20 cm (8 in) in length, can kill prey up to 15 times bigger then its body. The centipede weights about 3 grams, but it is capable of killing a mouse of 45g in a few seconds. A new study discovered that this is due to a peptide called SsTx found in the venom of the centipede. SsTx kills by blocking a group of potassium channels called KCNQ, essential for normal biological processes. By targeting these ion channels the venom disrupts the nervous system but also the respiratory and cardiovascular functions.

    A video of the centipede in action is found here. Please be advised, the content may be disturbing to some viewers!

    Read the full story: www.outerplaces.com/
    Scientific publication: www.pnas.org


    Plants can sense the world and react to it. Image by sciencebriefss.com
    Plants can see and hear and this study shows how they sense the world - life science news

    Believe it or not, plants also have senses. They can “smell” chemicals, they can react to sounds and they can see (they respond to light). But, how is this possible? Researchers from the University of Birmingham asked this question and they discovered a network map including over 200 proteins that plants use to feel the world. One of the most important of these “sensing” proteins are the leucine-rich repeat receptor kinases which are similar to some human receptors. Further study of this network of proteins will lead to ways of improving plant’s resistance and productivity.

    Read the full story: www.eurekalert.org
    Scientific publication: www.nature.com


    Great white shark. Image by Fotolia
    Where do sharks go for lunch? New research reveals sharks’ eating habits - short life science news

    There are more than 500 species of sharks but little is known about the feeding behavior of most of them. A large scale international study figured out the places where sharks eat by analyzing carbon isotopes found in the sharks. They discovered that sharks living far from costal regions travel a long way to get their food from specific oceanic areas. On the contrary, costal shark feel locally, without traveling to much. The results have important applications for the conservation efforts for many shark species.

    Read the full story: www.sciencedaily.com
    Scientific publication: www.nature.com


    DNA that does not code for proteins is important for brain development
    Non-coding DNA essential for normal brain development

    The mystery of what highly conserved, but not protein-encoding, DNA is for has finally been solved: it regulates the expression of genes that do code for proteins, and by doing so guides brain development. When researchers removed this non-coding DNA in experimental mice, they observed abnormalities in the hippocampus that resemble those found in Alzheimer’s disease or could facilitate epilepsy and dementia. Future studies will have to reveal whether patients with these disorders have mutations in these important but understudied DNA sequences.

    Read the full story: www.nature.com/articles/
    Scientific publication: www.cell.com/cell/


    Pelican spider. Image by: Robert Whyte / Greg Anderson via Wikipedia
    18 new species added to the pelican spiders family

    A new scientific publication describes 18 new species of spiders from the family of Archaeidae also know as pelican spiders. The amazing discovery was done by researchers from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. They analyzed anatomically and genetically pelican spider specimens from museums but also live specimens.

    These spiders (popularly know as assassin spiders) are small in size, leaving in leaf litter. They have “necks” that are elongated resembling the peak of a pelican. In total there are around 70 species identified but the above research raises the possibility that there might be many more still undiscovered.

    Read the full story: https://www.sciencenews.org
    Scientific publication: https://zookeys.pensoft.net/articles.php?id=20222


    RNA in cells. Some of it is of ancient viral origin and can be transferred to other cells. Image by Ryan Jeffs, via Wikimedia Commons
    RNA in cells
    During evolution, plants and animals have been infected by viruses and some of the virus genes are stably integrated in the genome. Two groups independently found that cells from flies and mice use at least one of these genes to facilitate communication between cells. The gene transcript and the protein it codes for are packed into a vesicle, which is released from one cell and fuses with another. In this way, content between cells is shared and this is important for neuron-neuron as well as neuron-muscle connections, and hence for learning and muscle contraction.

    Read the full story: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-00492-w

    Scientific publications: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2017.12.024 and http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2017.12.022

    Spectacular find of Pterosaur eggs sheds new light on the life of the first flying vertebrates. © pixabay.com
    Spectacular find of Pterosaur eggs sheds new light on the life of the first flying vertebrates
    Hundreds of fossilized eggs of the flying dinosaur Pterosaur in China provide new evidence that these flying giants nested in groups, and that they might not have been able to fly shortly after hatching. The embryos revealed strongly developed hind limbs, but not forelimbs necessary for flying. However, some experts in the field point out that more evidence is necessary to support this spectacular claim. Analyses of more embryos that have already been excavated might provide the answers.

    Source: https://www.nature.com/

    Scientific publication: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/358/6367/1197.long

    Even Dinosaurs were not spared of bloodsucking ticks © CDC/ Dr. Christopher Paddock, Public Health Image Library
    Even Dinosaurs were not spared of bloodsucking ticks
    Scientists discovered ticks in a 99 million-year-old amber which showed that it had a penchant for latching on to dinosaurs. This amber which dates way back to the Cretaceous period has an exciting specimen of a tick holding onto a dinosaur feather. Scientists claim that this is the first fossil evidence of parasitization of dinosaurs.

    Read the full story: https://www.cnet.com

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