May 26, 2019

    Viruses have existed on Earth for millions of years and they have evolved together with the vertebrates, their hosts
    Study reveals insights about the origins of viruses - short science news

    A recent study analyzed the viruses infecting 186 vertebrate species in a quest to understand their origin. The research discovered over 200 new RNA viruses in apparently healthy animals. Many of them are relatives of mammal viruses, such as Ebola and influenza. The results show that viruses have existed from the beginning of the evolution of vertebrates, and it provides clues about the evolution of the viruses. Moreover, it shows that they are extremely diverse and common, with probably millions of them still to be discovered.

    Read the full story: Eureka Alert
    Scientific publication: Nature


    A lizard that lived 48 million years ago is the only known jawed vertebrate with four eyes. Credit: Smokeybjb, via Wikimedia Commons
    Extinct lizard had four eyes - short science news - paleontology news

    Saniwa ensidens, a fossil lizard, is the first jawed vertebrate known to have four eyes. A team of researchers showed evidence that this extinct species had two extra photosensitive organs: the pineal and parapineal glands. Although they function differently than normal eyes, these organs are able to sense light. For example, they can determine the polarization of light (helping with orientation) and play roles in circadian and annual cycles. Some species living today (fishes and frogs) possess a pineal gland and this study will help scientist understand how it evolved and what is its functions.

    Read the full story: Sciencemag
    Scientific publication: Current Biology


    The subject of the study was the zebra finch. It helped scientists understand how the FoxP2 gene controls bird singing
    How birds can help us better understand human speech disorders - short science news - life science news

    Investigating how birds sing may provide valuable clues about the ways humans speak and about speech disorders. One recent study discovered that the activity of a gene, called FoxP2, declines in birds when they sing. This process happens in a particular brain region, Area X, important for singing. Interestingly, FoxP2 gene also plays a role in human speech. These findings could help develop new treatments for speech disorders, but this will require further studies.

    Read the full story: University of California, Los Angeles
    Scientific publication: eLIFE


    Educational level correlates with use of genes, similar to smoking
    Education leaves its marks on DNA

    In a genetic assessment of chemical markers on the DNA in white blood cells, researchers found that Dutch people with lower education use their genetic code differently from those with higher education. The analysis of the chemical markers, that act as switches to turn on and off our genes, revealed that people with lower education use their genes in a similar way as smokers do. However, other environmental influences such as air pollution also contribute to the differences related to educational level. Whether the observed differences on the DNA are the cause or consequence of educational level and smoking remains to be determined.

    Read the full story: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
    Scientific publication: npj science of learning


    Chance plays an important role in the survival of competing species
    What does a species need to survive? Luck! - short science news - ecology

    When two similar species compete for resources in the same habitat it is very likely that one species will overcome and eliminate the other. In an extensive study, scientists investigated the role of chance in this process. It turns out that chance (or luck, if you wish) has a significant contribution to the mechanisms that determine if a species dies out or not. Due to this, it is very difficult to predict which species will die and which will survive. The results are important for conservation efforts of endangered species.

    Read the full story: Lund University
    Scientific publication: The American naturalist


    Will this dragonfly species survive competition with a closely related species occupying the same niche? Make your bet!
    The chance factor of survival of a species

    Researchers found that for two species occupying the same ecological niche, it is impossible to predict which one will thrive, and which one will get locally extinct. Local survival of a species seems therefore to depend, to a certain extent, on chance. Counteracting chance is negative frequency-dependence, meaning that, as one of the two species becomes rare, the few survivors will face less competition or aggression from conspecifics, allowing them to reproduce, and the species becomes more common again. Sometimes, this mechanism fails, and the rare species dies out.

    Read the full story: Lund University
    Scientific publication: The American Naturalist


    A new receptor protein can trigger distinct developmental pathways in plants.
     New mechanism by which protein controls plant development discovered - short science news

    Some years ago, new protein was identified in the stem cells of plants, with a role in development. Now, researchers discovered that it mediates a unique mechanism that dictates how a plant develops. Interestingly, this protein instructs the plant to grow differently, based on the type of signals (peptides) that it perceives. Different peptides induce different growth rates and developmental directions. Scientists say this discovery has applications in crop production: by manipulating the receptor, the production of plants such as tomatoes or corn could be increased.

    Read the full story: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
    Scientific publication: eLife


    Curly hair may be curled due to the variations in the length of the cells inside
    New Zealand sheep helps scientist why curly hair is curved - short science news

    Currently, it is unknown why curly hair looks the way it does. To understand what gives the curly hair its particular appearance, scientists studied the hairs from the wool of the Merino sheep, from New Zeeland. This particular breed has very fine, natural curly hair that is easier to study compared to human hair. The researchers found that curly hairs have a biological particularity: the cells from the outside of the curl are significantly longer than the ones located on the inside. Conversely, in straight hair, the cells are similar in length. This may explain why sheep have curly hair but it remains to be seen if the same is true for the human hair.

    Read the full story: New York Times
    Scientific publication: Journal of Experimental Biology


    Mexican cave fish have a diabetes-like physiology as an adaptation to limited access to food
    Cave fish are insulin-resistant and live happily

    New research has revealed that cave fish living in Mexico have high blood sugar levels and are insulin-resistant, a condition very similar indeed to diabetes type II. While human diabetics can develop serious health problems, the cave fish are not bothered by the sugar, and instead use it to their advantage. As they live in caves that receive only new fresh water in spring, they eat as much as they can to fatten up. They use their reserves during the rest of the year. Thus, these fish have adapted their physiology to extreme living conditions with limited access to food, and have for that reason a type II diabetes-like energy system. Further research should show why these animals do not develop diabetes-related health problems, such as damaged nerves or blood vessels.

    Read the full story: Harvard Medical School
    Scientific publication: nature


    The secret for the survival of the American cockroach is in its genes
    The genome of the cockroach was sequenced and it reveals why these insects can survive anything - short science news

    The genome of the American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) has been sequenced for the first time. The scientists concluded that cockroaches have more genes related to detoxification, taste, and smell, compared to other insects. This increases the ability to detect and avoid toxic compounds. The detoxification genes help cockroach destroy dangerous chemicals, such as insecticides. Moreover, the cockroaches have a large set of genes dedicated to immunity and to development. Understanding their genome may contribute to the development of new ways to control these type of pest species.

    Read the full story: Live Science
    Scientific publication: Nature Communications


    The rariphotic is a new ocean zone recently defined by scientists, rich in many species of reef fish. Credit: Patrick Colin, C. C. Baldwin and D. R. Robertson, Smithsonian
    The rariphotic: a new ocean zone discovered - short environment science news

    After surveying a southern Caribbean reef system in Curaçao, scientists realized they discovered a new life-zone in the ocean. Baptized the rariphotic, the new zone spreads between 130 and 309 meters (427 – 1014 feet) below the surface. It is a refuge zone for reef fish after the destruction of their habitats. The new zone is rich in biodiversity, with an impressive number of previously unknown species. “About one in every five fish we’re finding in the rariphotic of the Caribbean is a new species,” said D. Ross Robertson, marine biologist at STRI and a co-author of the study.

    Read the full story: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
    Scientific publication: Scientific Reports


    Lipid bilayers separate the interior of a cell from the outside world
    Old life recreated

    To better understand what the first forms of life looked like, researchers have created a new life form from normal E. coli gut bacteria. This new life form, probably resembling the oldest one on Earth, has a mixed lipid membrane resembling partially that of bacteria and partially that of all other forms of life. These newly created cells had a stable membrane, thus challenging the commonly held view that instability of membranes has led to the differentiation between bacteria and other life forms. On a technical note, the study may lead to the engineering of industrial production microorganisms with optimised cell membranes and stability.

    Read the full story: University of Groningen
    Scientific publication: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA


    Triceratops had body ornaments like horns and frills that likely evolved through sexual selection
    Why did dinosaurs develop horns and frills? - short life science news - paleontology

    Some dinosaurs, like Triceratops and Styracosaurus, had elaborate horns and frills. Scientists are curious to know why. The current view is that these body “decorations” evolved to facilitate species recognize each other, but a new study provides a different hypothesis. According to this study, body decorations, like horns, evolved as sexual features through a process called sexual selection. The predictions will be tested further by looking for clues in the fossil records.

    Read the full story: Queen Mary University of London
    Scientific publication: Proceedings of the Royal Society B.


    Our DNA is a puzzle of our own genome and bits and pieces from ancient hominids
    Modern Asians and Melanesians carry DNA from ancient hominids, the Denisovans

    When our early ancestors left Africa, they must have met and mated on two separate occasions with ancient hominids known as the Denisovans. By comparing the genomes from fossiles and modern humans, researchers found that one group of travelling ancestors mixed with Denisovans and ended up in Melanasia (Papua New Guinea and islands close by). 5% of their DNA is inherited from the Denisovans. In the genomes of people from China and Japan, 0.2% of the DNA is from Denisovan origin, resulting from a second time travelling humans and Denisovans crossed each other’s trails. Until today, fossil records do not permit to say what Denisovans looked like, but sure is that they have left their traces in the DNA of modern people.

    Read the full story: The Atlantic – University of Washington
    Scientific publication: Cell


    Two meters of DNA is packaged into the cell's nucleus of just a few micrometers
    DNA folding further unravelled

    A chemical modification of DNA tells a protein called CTCF to make loops in the DNA to package two meters of DNA into a cell to determine which of the genes on the DNA can be expressed. The chemical modification is known as hemimethylation, which was thought to be a random process and not to have a function. Instead, hemimethylation is passed on from parent to daughter cells after cell division, and occurs at the exact same place on the genome. Without hemimethylation, CTCF cannot make the loops. These new observations add to our understanding of DNA folding and the regulation of gene expression.

    Read the full story: Emory University
    Scientific publication: Science


    A new discovery in Africa suggests primitive humans were more sophisticated and had greater cognitive abilities than previously thought
    Primitive tools discovered in Africa suggest our ancestors were smarter than we think - short science news

    A team of anthropologists discovered 320,000 years old stone tools in southern Kenya. The discovery was a surprise since it was considered that this type of tools was produced only later. The available data suggest that homo sapiens started to live in a collective society earlier than believed (previous estimates suggested 100,000 years ago). The processing of the tools, together with the discovery of color pigments, point towards a more advanced society than previously thought of those times. 

    Read the full story: Popular Mechanics
    Scientific publication: Science


    Flatworms can regenerate lost tissues. In this study researchers investigated the cellular mechanisms behind the regeneration of the eye
    How stem cells coordinate tissue regeneration - short life science news

    Using the flatworm as a model organism, scientists tried to understand what are the rules that govern the ability to regenerate tissue from stem cells. The results of the study suggest that regeneration is directed by three mechanisms: creating of a positional map; attracting stem cells (progenitors) to the correct structure and involvement of stem cells originating in a diffuse location rather than a precise one. These principles appear to be the basis for regenerating tissues in animals that have this ability, like the flatworm.

    Read the full story: MIT
    Scientific publication: Science


    The color-changing hogfish can “see” with its skin. Credit: Sander van der Wel, Wikimedia Commons
    Fish sees with its skin and scientists uncovered how it works - life science news

    The hogfish has the ability to sense light not only with the eyes, but also with the skin. How exactly is this possible was not known, until now. In a new study the mechanisms of “skin vision” were uncovered. The skin of the fish contains light sensors that evolved separately from the ones in the eyes. They are sensitive to changes in brightness and wavelength so the fish can see a moving shadow or changes in light intensity. The molecular pathway involved in sensing light in the skin is also different from the one in the eye cells.

    Read the full story: Duke University
    Scientific publication: Journal of Comparative Physiology A


    Huge Chinook salmon capture. Oregon, circa 1910. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
    This is why salmons are shrinking in size and numbers - life science news in short

    A century ago, it was common for fisherman to catch salmons as big as a human, especially in the case of the Chinook salmon, the biggest known species. Presently, both the size and the numbers of salmons have decreased and a new research study has some explanations for it. One reason is that orcas (killer whales), which are the main predator of Chinook salmon, are targeting the older and bigger fish. Moreover, the population of salmon-eating orcas has increased recently. However, humans are still part of the blame due to overfishing, habitat destruction and salmon hatcheries that have diluted the genetic pool of wild salmons.

    Read the full story: NPR
    Scientific publication: Scientific Reports


    Gold Molokai spider. Credit: George Roderick / UC Berkley
    One spider group evolved into 14 different species in Hawaii - life biology news in short

    Adaptive radiation is an evolutionary process through which new species evolve rapidly from an ancestral species in order to adapt to a new environment. This is exactly what happened to a group of spiders that arrived in Hawaii two to three million years ago. This original species gave rise to 14 new ones that can be found today. They all share similar body shapes, but each has distinctive physical traits. A new study shows that evolution lead to a predictable and independently evolved set of similar forms in spiders on different islands. This phenomenon is very rarely observed and it provides valuable insights into the mechanisms of biodiversity.

    Read the full story: UC Berkley
    Scientific publication: Current Biology


    Many animals help their relatives to ensure survival during challenging times
    When the going gets tough animals stay at home to protect their family - biology science news

    A new study shows that sudden changes in the environment push many animal species to protect their families. They stay at “home” and help raise their relatives, as for example in the case of sterile worker bees. This type of altruism has been observed in many species from birds to bees. By helping their relatives during a bad environment change the animals ensure survival and efficient reproduction. In many cases the “helpers” also provide support for animals that are not close relatives as a way to ensure species survival. The study helps understand how cooperation between animals is achieved.

    Read the full story: University of Bristol
    Scientific publication: Nature


    Crepdiula onyx, a species of snail tolerate microplastics better than other species
    Marine snails more resilient to microplastics pollution - short life science news

    Some marine organisms tolerate pollution very well. Crepdiula onyx, a species of snail, is one of them and it was used as a model to study the immunity to microplastic particles on ocean life. Microplastics are tiny particles (between several micrometers and five millimeters in size) that account for roughly 90% of the plastic floating in the ocean. The study found that the snail larvae exposed to high concentrations of microparticles grew less, compared to the control and this was carried out later in adult life. However, at lower concentrations the snails were not affected, showing that they are more resilient than other marine animals.

    Read the full story: Science Daily
    Scientific publication: Environmental Pollution


    Bacteria living in the Dead Sea in Israel have solved the problem of living with oxidative stress
    How bacteria resist oxidative stress : implications for treatment of human diseases

    Bacteria living in extreme conditions, such as in salty lakes, produce huge amounts of small, non-coding RNA molecules that protect against oxidative stress. These RNAs do that by degrading messenger RNAs that encode proteins that play a role in oxidative stress. These proteins were thus not made, allowing the bacteria to live in hostile conditions that cause massive oxidative stress. This new insight might lead to better treatments for human diseases that are caused by oxidative stress (neurodegenerative disease, cardiovascular disease and others).

    Read the full story: Johns Hopkins University
    Scientific publication: Journal of Bacteriology


    Many features of modern birds were already present in birds living more than 100 million years ago
    Fossil baby bird from dinosaur times reveals early avian evolution

    Researchers have found a small fossil of a prehistoric bird that hatched 127 million years ago, when dinosaurs were dominating the Earth. It died shortly after hatching, with its sternum (breastplate bone) still being made of cartilage and not yet developed into hard bone which would have made flying possible. Comparing bone formation of this baby bird with other prehistoric birds revealed that development must have been quite diverse in these early birds and was probably driven by ecological demands and lifestyle.

    Read the full story: University of Manchester
    Scientific publication: Nature Communications


    Panthera Indochinese Leopards. Credit: Panthera-WildCRU-WWF-Cambodia-FA
    Cambodia’s Last Leopards risk immediate extinction - short environment news

    A new study has investigated the last breeding population of leopards in Cambodia and the results are alarming. The population of leopards in this region has declined by 72% over the last five years and it is at immediate risk of extinction. This group is the last remaining population of leopards in eastern Indochina. Several factors have contributed to the situation, like poaching, which has increased lately, and illegal wildlife trade. The study also reveals interesting details about the behavior of the leopards. They are the only population in the world whose pray (a wild species of cattle) is larger than 500 kg (1,100 pounds), which is five times the leopard’s mass.

    Read the full story: Panthera Organization
    Scientific publication: Royal Society Open Science


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