May 26, 2019

    Two distinct lineages of ravens have merged into a single species, genetic data suggest
    Speciation reversal: two species of ravens merged into one - short science news

    Speciation is an important concept in evolution and it represents the branching of a species into two new, distinct species. The opposite, termed “speciation reversal”, also happens and it is exemplified in a recent study investigating ravens. After examining the genome of hundreds of ravens across North America, the study found that two lineages of ravens (that diverged between one and two million years ago) have been hybridizing and are merging into a single species. Speciation reversal is a very important evolutionary phenomenon and it has contributed to the evolution of the modern humans, which are the result of hybridization between Neanderthals, Denisovans and other extinguished hominids.

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

    How does singing work in tonal languages, where a change in pitch can modify the meaning of a word?
    A universal pattern in adapting the sounds of a language for music  - short science news

    In some languages, pitch is used to distinguish between different words. However, the same pitch is also employed in singing, so how can someone speaking such a language also sing? A change in pitch, imposed by the music, may change the meaning of a word, converting “dog” into “brother”, or even worse. Scientists studied the speakers of Tommo So language from Mali to understand how it works. They discovered that Tommo So music avoids making singers sing words in pitches that directly contradict how they are spoken in non-musical contexts. The principle is similar to the rules of poetic metric in English and Latin, thus pointing towards a universal mechanism for adapting sounds for artistic expression.

    Read the full story: Linguistic Society of America
    Scientific publication: Language

    Healthy male house finch
    An imperfect immune system makes pathogens stronger and more dangerous

    Incomplete host immunity drives the evolution of deadly pathogen strains, making them stronger and more dangerous for the individuals that they will infect next. Birds infected with less virulent pathogens developed partial immune memory that did not protect against the virulent strains. This favored the spreading and survival of the virulent strains, causing more disease or death among the birds. The results not only show complex host-pathogen interaction in wild animals, but are also relevant for vaccination programmes in humans.

    Read the full story: Virginia Tech
    Scientific publication: Science

    The proposed structure of the virus. Credit: Montana State University
    Virus living in boiling acid hot springs assembles in an entirely new way - short science news

    In the hot, acid springs from Yellowstone lives a little-known virus, called Acidianus tailed spindle virus. Not much was now about the structure of the viral particles and about how they assemble, until now. In a new paper, scientists describe the architectural principles that underlie assembly of the virus. The process is entirely new and it may have important applications for nanotechnology. This is the first time scientists really understood how this class of viruses is put together.

    Read the full story:
    Scientific publication: PNAS

    A new species of tardigrade, one of the most resistant organisms on Earth, was discovered in Japan
    New tardigrade species discovered - short science news

    Tardigrades (water bears) are microscopic organisms living all over the world. They are popularly known for their ability to survive in extreme conditions, including in space. Researchers report the discovery of a new species of tardigrade in Japan. Baptized Macrobiotus shonaicus, the tiny organisms were identified after careful examination of moss samples using phase contrast light microscopy and electron microscopy. The new species has particularities in the morphology of the eggs. Currently there are 168 species of tardigrades known in Japan, including the newly discovered one.

    Read the full story: Science Daily
    Scientific publication: PLOS ONE

    During deep dives dolphins are in danger of dying due to lack of oxygen.
    Dolphins carefully plan their dives in order to preserve oxygen - short science news

    Dolphins find their food in the deep of the oceans. But, during a dive for food they are in danger of dying due to lack of oxygen. In order to use oxygen efficiently, dolphins carefully plan their dives based on previous experiences. This discovery is very intriguing because there is disagreement in the scientific community about the ability of nonhuman animals to use past information. This is mostly considered an ability that only humans have, but the study suggests otherwise.

    Read the full story: NPR
    Scientific publication: Journal of experimental biology

    Reforestation promotes the return of animal species to the rainforest, even after 30 years
    Bats and other species come back 30 years after rainforest devastation - short science news

    In the Brazilian Amazon cutting the rainforest resulted in isolation of forest fragments and loss of many species. A study investigated looked at how regeneration of the forest influences the animal species 30 years later after the initial deforestation. The study looked over 50 species of bats and it concluded they are returning to the forest. This comeback was reflected in the beetle and bird populations, as well. These parallel trends reinforce the idea that the benefits of forest regeneration are widespread, and suggest that habitat restoration can ameliorate some of the harm inflicted by humans on tropical wildlife”, says Dr. Ricardo Rocha, lead author of the study.

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

    All these king penguins may be on the move soon to find better breeding grounds
    King penguin may be forced to find new habitats soon

    Rising global temperatures may force 70% of the king penguin population to move south to prevent starvation of their offspring. The Antarctic Polar Front that penguins rely on for their food supply starts to move south, away from the breeding grounds so that the penguins spend too much time at sea to catch fish to feed the young. An analysis of the penguin genome has revealed that these emblematic birds are able to migrate to more favourable places when situations change, but whether they can do so in the face of global warming induced by human activities is still an open question.

    Read the full story: Universität Wien
    Scientific publication: Nature Climate Change

    3D illustration of cells with two meters of DNA packaged in chromosomes
    This is how two meters of DNA is packaged into a single cell

    A single protein complex called condensin has been found to compact a cell’s DNA by extruding many loops. This collection of loops becomes visible as chromosomes, and makes sure that the genome of a cell will be distributed evenly to its daughter cells following cell division. These new findings settle a long-standing debate over how two meters of DNA is organised in a single cell, and might help to better understand genetic illnesses such as cancer and Cornelia de Lange Syndrome.

    Read the full story: TU Delft
    Scientific publication: Science

    Asian elephants have individual personalities manifested through three different factors
    Elephants have different personality traits, just like us! - short science news

    A new study shows that Asian elephants have a clear personality which is influenced by three factors: Attentiveness, Sociability and Aggressiveness, as the researchers called them. "Attentiveness is related to how an elephant acts in and perceives its environment. Sociability describes how an elephant seeks closeness to other elephants and humans, and how popular they are as social partners. Aggressiveness shows how aggressively an elephant acts towards other elephants and how much it interferes in their social interaction," describes Dr Seltmann the lead author of the study. Such complex personality structure, similar to humans, could be the result of the rich social environments in which elephants live.

    Read the full story: University of Turku
    Scientific publication: Royal Society Open Science

    Chameleon bacteria adapt to different wavelengths of light by changing their color
    Bacteria can shift color to match different colored light across the world’s oceans - science news

    Light is not the same color under the sea. Blue light is prevalent in the open ocean, green light in coastal and equatorial waters, and red light in estuaries. Synechococcus cyanobacteria, a species essential for oceanic ecology, have found a way to adapt in order use all colors of light to produce energy. The bacteria contain specific genes which alter their pigmentation depending on the type of light in which they float, allowing them to adapt and thrive in any part of the world’s oceans. These specific ‘chromatic adaptor’ genes are abundant in ocean dwelling Synechococcus and it represents a mechanism through which bacteria functions in various environments to keep the balance in the oceans.

    Read the full story:
    Scientific publication: PNAS

    Could cave art be at the origin of human language? Example of cave art found in Patagonia, Argentina
    Cave paintings may be linked to the origin of language - short science news

    It is currently unknown when humans developed spoken language. A new theory suggests cave paintings may have something to do with this. Cave art is found everywhere in the world, mostly in places with special acoustics, where sound echoes strongly. The drawings may represent the first sounds that humans produced. Cave art was thus used to communicate, much like we do now, in modern times, when combinations of sound and images are very common. This is for now only a working hypothesis, but it will certainly stimulate discussions about the origin of language.

    Read the full story: MIT
    Scientific publication: Frontiers in Psychology

    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:
    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

    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.

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    Scientific publication:

    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.

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    Scientific publication:

    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:
    Scientific publication:

    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:
    Scientific publication:

    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.

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    Scientific publication:

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