пятница, 31 августа 2018 г.

One Direction How do you know which way you’re going? The…

One Direction

How do you know which way you’re going? The answer lies in the mechanosensory system: a collection of sensory and nerve cells that gather information from the environment and feed it back to the brain. These green flower-like images are zebrafish sensory hair cells, kept alive under a microscope and watched over several hours as they connect up to a nerve cell (red). They’re normally found along the side of the fish, transmitting information about the direction of water flowing over them so they know which way they’re going. Some cells sense forward motion, while others can detect backwards flow. Impressively, the cells will still connect back up correctly after they are damaged and replaced or the nerves are cut. Similar combinations of hair cells and nerves are found in human sensory organs like the ear, so it will be interesting to see if these wiring processes are the same.

Written by Kat Arney

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Focus on Hittite Anatolia

I computed a series of D-statistics on most of the currently available ancient samples from Central Anatolia – dating from almost the Epipaleolithic (Boncuklu_N) to the Hittite era (Anatolia_MLBA) – to try and get a better idea of who the Indo-European-speaking Hittites may have been. The full output as well as details about the key ancient samples used in this analysis are available here. See anything interesting? The most noteworthy statistics, I suppose, are those listed below, because they’re significant (Z≥3) and organized chronologically.

However, the thing to keep in mind in regards to D-statistics, and the very similar f4-statistics, when looking for signals of mixture is that they may or may not produce significant Z scores because of several reasons, such as the choice of the outgroup, the choice of the reference sample(s) for the unadmixed population, the phylogenetic relationship between the mixed and unadmixed populations, or even the type, quality and density of the data being used.
Perhaps ironically, the D-statistics above suggest that the Neolithic Central Anatolians (Boncuklu_N and Tepecik_Ciftlik_N) were more European-like than those from the Bronze Age, and I suspect that this is one of the main reasons why the idea of Eastern European admixture (from the Pontic-Caspian steppe and/or Balkans) in Hittites is currently being rejected by the geneticists working on the problem. But this dilemma is easy to explain away by the fact that the Neolithic samples carry much higher ratios of Anatolian Epipaleolithic hunter-gatherer admixture and also other types of ancestry shared with and/or closely related to European hunter-gatherers and early farmers.
In other words, I’d say that most of the statistics are being confounded by deep phylogenetic relationships, and thus aren’t very useful for solving the Hittite problem. Interestingly, though, that relationship to Europe is reversed somewhat in the D-statistics involving Anatolia_EBA and Anatolia_MLBA, with the latter showing significantly higher affinity to Eastern European Hunter-Gatherers (EHG) and Minoans.
Thus, in my opinion, to get a more complete picture it’s also useful to look for patterns in the statistics, even those that, strictly speaking, don’t reach significance. One way to do that is with linear models. So here are a few linear models based on some of my D-statistics. The relevant datasheet is available here.

Arguably, the most striking thing about these models is the position at the top of the graphs of the ancient populations from Central Asia and what is now Iran, and the gradually lower position of populations with progressively less of this type of ancestry. The most plausible explanation for this phenomenon is post-Boncuklu_N gene flow into Central Anatolia from the east, possibly as a continuation of something that was happening already since the Epipaleolithic, but becoming more intense during the Neolithic revolution, probably as a result of rapid population growth in and around the Fertile Crescent.
Indeed, I strongly suspect that one of the main reasons why we’ve been hearing so much lately about Iran as a likely candidate for the Indo-European homeland is this strong eastern signal in Bronze Age Anatolian DNA. If so, then this is likely to be a misunderstanding, because there are better explanations for it than the Indo-Europeans, such as the Hattians and Hurrians.
Another rather obvious outcome in my graphs is the relatively stronger affinity by the Bronze Age Anatolians to the ancient populations from Eastern Europe, including, and especially, those from the Pontic-Caspian steppe, compared to Tepecik_Ciftlik_N. In fact, looking at the Anatolia_EBA vs Tepecik_Ciftlik_N graph, I’d say that steppe admixture was already seeping into Central Anatolia during the Early Bronze Age.
If so, this is an important point that should be taken into account when modeling the ancestry of the Hittite era Anatolians. That’s because if Anatolia_EBA already harbored some steppe ancestry, then we’d be shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot if we were to use it as the supposedly unadmixed reference population to try and determine whether Anatolia_MLBA was partly of steppe origin. Hence, to model the ancestry of Anatolia_MLBA, at least in the context of possible migrations from the steppe to Anatolia during the Bronze Age, it might be more useful to use Tepecik_Ciftlik_N as the likely unadmixed reference population.
Let’s try that with qpAdm, first on the whole Anatolia_MLBA set, and then on one individual labeled MA2203, who, as far as I can tell, shows an elevated level of steppe ancestry in several different types of analyses. I chose Yamnaya_Kalmykia as the potential mixture source from the steppe because it’s likely to be the closest available population in my dataset to the Eneolithic groups of the southern region of the Pontic-Caspian steppe.

Seh_Gabi_ChL 0.200±0.043
Tepecik_Ciftlik_N 0.659±0.033
Yamnaya_Kalmykia 0.141±0.022
chisq: 11.425
taildiff: 0.408404508
Full output
Seh_Gabi_ChL 0.179±0.065
Tepecik_Ciftlik_N 0.622±0.049
Yamnaya_Kalmykia 0.199±0.036
chisq: 12.914
taildiff: 0.299003693
Full output

Please note, however, that these mixture models are based on f4-statisctics. So, obviously, they’re going to be affected by the same factors as described above that affect f4-statistics. Hence, despite the seemingly statistically sound output, the steppe admixture that you see there might not actually be admixture from the steppe.
In fact, there’s a good reason why I’m not shouting from the rooftops that I’ve just uncovered the presence of steppe ancestry in Bronze Age Anatolia, and thus confirmed the steppe or kurgan hypothesis positing that the Hittite and indeed Indo-European homeland was located in the Pontic-Caspian steppe. That’s because I used a mixed bag of UDG-treated capture data and non-UDG-treated shotgun data. This is known to be a serious problem, which can skew the results of even the most robust analyses, and produce spurious statistics and Z scores.
Nevertheless, I’m reasonably confident that my findings will eventually be confirmed with more and higher quality data from ancient Anatolia. Let’s wait and see.
See also…
Late PIE ground zero now obvious; location of PIE homeland still uncertain, but…


Плазменная аномалия в облаке, НЛО США 16 Августа 2018

Моё мнение, это движение эктоплазматических сущностей или спруто НЛО, ведущих забор боли, смерти и страха от людей. Подробнее в моих фильмах
Радуга, Солнечное гало и Плазменная аномалия
Source: Радуга, Солнечное гало и Плазменная аномалия by SpaceTrack
Source: Код Земли Моя расшифровка рукописи Войнич 2016 by SpaceTrack
Source: Сумервы кто они и как с ними бороться by SpaceTrack
 Эфирные Сумеры НЛО Спруты Source: Эфирные Сумеры НЛО Спруты by SpaceTrack
 Спруты НЛО 2013 Source: Спруты НЛО 2013 by SpaceTrack

процесс Радужного сияния или разноцветный перелив энергополей Земли

Ссылка на канал очевидца, выложено в сеть 16 августа 2018, местоположение США. Оригинальный ролик
  процесс Радужного сияния или разноцветный перелив энергополей Земли спруто НЛО сумервы сумеры аномалия щупальца облака процесс Радужного сияния или разноцветный перелив энергополей Земли  процесс Радужного сияния или разноцветный перелив энергополей Земли спруто НЛО сумервы сумеры аномалия щупальца облака процесс Радужного сияния или разноцветный перелив энергополей Земли
 Другой очевидец из США снято 21 августа 2018 Оригинальная ссылка на канал Местоположение Palm Bay, Florida Палм-Бей Город во Флориде. Crown Flash это научное название данного феномена в учебниках метеорологии. процесс Радужного сияния или разноцветный перелив энергополей Земли спруто НЛО сумервы сумеры аномалия щупальца облака процесс Радужного сияния или разноцветный перелив энергополей Земли спруто НЛО сумервы сумеры аномалия щупальца облака Возможная связь с массовым наблюдением НЛО в Калифорнии 29 августа ночью. Жители Калифорнийские, большинство из города  Сан Диего, другие из при гранитных штатов как Нью-Мехико. Подборка видео в сети Появление НЛО в Калифорнии виде свидетеля
НЛО Треугольник в Австралии и планы сумерв Пришельцев
Source: НЛО Треугольник в Австралии и планы сумерв Пришельцев by SpaceTrack
 Взрыв иллюзии 14.01.16 Вспышка НЛО сияние в небе Source: Взрыв иллюзии 14.01.16 Вспышка НЛО сияние в небе by SpaceTrack
Сумервы Пришельцы Реальность Рисунки Даниэля Кристиансен Source: Сумервы Пришельцы Реальность Рисунки Даниэля Кристиансен by SpaceTrack

Лабрадор ныряет под воду

Source: Diving Labrador Fetches Pool Toy From Deep End by libertythesilverlab
Лабрадор ныряет под воду Лабрадор ныряет под воду
Лабрадор ныряет под воду Лабрадор ныряет под воду Лабрадор ныряет под воду Лабрадор ныряет под воду Лабрадор ныряет под воду Лабрадор ныряет под воду Лабрадор ныряет под воду Лабрадор ныряет под воду

2018 August 31 Close Mars Image Credit & Copyright: D….

2018 August 31

Close Mars
Image Credit & Copyright: D. Peach, V. Suc, Chilescope team

Explanation: Still bright in evening skies, Mars was just past opposition and closest to Earth on July 31, a mere 57.6 million kilometers away. Captured only a week later, this remarkable image shows the Red Planet’s disk near its maximum size in earthbound telescopes, but still less than 1/74th the apparent diameter of a Full Moon. Broad regional surface shadings are starting to reappear in the tantalizing view as the latest planet-wide dust storm subsides. With the bright south polar cap at the bottom, the Valles Marineris extends along the center of the disk. Just below it lies the roughly circular Solis Lacus region sometimes known as the Eye of Mars. In a line, three prominent dark spots left of center are the volcanic Tharsis Montes.

∞ Source: apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap180831.html

Hubble observes energetic lightshow at Saturn’s north pole

PR Image heic1815a
Saturn’s northern auroras

PR Image heic1815b

Saturn’s northern auroras


Animation of Saturn’s northern auroras

Animation of Saturn’s northern auroras

Closeup of Saturn's auroras

Closeup of Saturn’s auroras

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space telescope have taken a series of spectacular images featuring the fluttering auroras at the north pole of Saturn. The observations were taken in ultraviolet light and the resulting images provide astronomers with the most comprehensive picture so far of Saturn’s northern aurora.

In 2017, over a period of seven months, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope took images of auroras above Saturn’s north pole region using the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph. The observations were taken before and after the Saturnian northern summer solstice. These conditions provided the best achievable viewing of the northern auroral region for Hubble.

On Earth, auroras are mainly created by particles originally emitted by the Sun in the form of solar wind. When this stream of electrically charged particles gets close to our planet, it interacts with the magnetic field, which acts as a gigantic shield. While it protects Earth’s environment from solar wind particles, it can also trap a small fraction of them. Particles trapped within the magnetosphere — the region of space surrounding Earth in which charged particles are affected by its magnetic field — can be energised and then follow the magnetic field lines down to the magnetic poles. There, they interact with oxygen and nitrogen atoms in the upper layers of the atmosphere, creating the flickering, colourful lights visible in the polar regions here on Earth [1].

However, these auroras are not unique to Earth. Other planets in our Solar System have been found to have similar auroras. Among them are the four gas giants Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Because the atmosphere of each of the four outer planets in the Solar System is — unlike the Earth — dominated by hydrogen, Saturn’s auroras can only be seen in ultraviolet wavelengths; a part of the electromagnetic spectrum which can only be studied from space.

Hubble allowed researchers to monitor the behaviour of the auroras at Saturn’s north pole over an extended period of time. The Hubble observations were coordinated with the “Grand Finale” of the Cassini spacecraft, when the spacecraft simultaneously probed the auroral regions of Saturn [2]. The Hubble data allowed astronomers to learn more about Saturn’s magnetosphere, which is the largest of any planet in the Solar System other than Jupiter.

The images show a rich variety of emissions with highly variable localised features. The variability of the auroras is influenced by both the solar wind and the rapid rotation of Saturn, which lasts only about 11 hours. On top of this, the northern aurora displays two distinct peaks in brightness — at dawn and just before midnight. The latter peak, unreported before, seems specific to the interaction of the solar wind with the magnetosphere at Saturn’s solstice.

The main image presented here is a composite of observations made of Saturn in early 2018 in the optical and of the auroras on Saturn’s north pole region, made in 2017, demonstrating the size of the auroras along with the beautiful colours of Saturn.

Hubble has studied Saturn’s auroras in the past. In 2004, it studied the southern auroras shortly after the southern solstice (heic0504) and in 2009 it took advantage of a rare opportunity to record Saturn when its rings were edge-on (heic1003). This allowed Hubble to observe both poles and their auroras simultaneously.


[1] The auroras here on Earth have different names depending on which pole they occur at. Aurora Borealis, or the northern lights, is the name given to auroras around the north pole and Aurora Australis, or the southern lights, is the name given for auroras around the south pole.

[2] Cassini was a collaboration between NASA, ESA and the Italian Space Agency. It spent 13 years orbiting Saturn, gathering information and giving astronomers a great insight into the inner workings of Saturn. Cassini took more risks at the end of its mission, travelling through the gap between Saturn and its rings. No spacecraft had previously done this, and Cassini gathered spectacular images of Saturn as well as new data for scientists to work with. On 15 September 2017 Cassini was sent on a controlled crash into Saturn.

More Information

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.
Image credit: NASA, ESA & L. Lamy



Laurent Lamy
Observatoire de Paris
Paris, France
Tel: +33 145 077668
Email: laurent.lamy@obspm.fr

Mathias Jäger
ESA/Hubble, Public Information Officer
Garching, Germany
Tel: +49 176 62397500
Email: mjaeger@partner.eso.org

Archive link

International Space Station Status after leak repair

ISS – Expedition 56 Mission patch.

August 30, 2018

The International Space Station’s cabin pressure is holding steady after the Expedition 56 crew conducted repair work on one of two Russian Soyuz spacecraft attached to the complex. The repair was made to address a leak that had caused a minor reduction of station pressure.

After a morning of investigations, the crew reported that the leak was isolated to a hole about two millimeters in diameter in the orbital compartment, or upper section, of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft attached to the Rassvet module of the Russian segment of the station.

Image above: International Space Station Configuration as of Aug. 22, 2018: Three spaceships are docked at the space station including the Progress 70 resupply ship and the Soyuz MS-08 and MS-09 crew ships. Image Credit: NASA.

Flight controllers at their respective Mission Control centers in Houston and Moscow worked together with the crew to effect a repair option in which Soyuz commander Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos used epoxy on a gauze wipe to plug the hole identified as the leak source. As the teams were discussing options, flight controllers in Moscow performed a partial increase of the station’s atmosphere using the ISS Progress 70 cargo ship’s oxygen supply. Flight controllers in Houston are continuing to monitor station’s cabin pressure in the wake of the repair.

Meanwhile, Roscosmos has convened a commission to conduct further analysis of the possible cause of the leak.

Throughout the day, the crew was never in any danger, and was told no further action was contemplated for the remainder of the day. Flight controllers will monitor the pressure trends overnight.

All station systems are stable and the crew is planning to return to its regular schedule of work on Friday.

Related links:

Expedition 56: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition56/index.html

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

Greetings, Orbiter.chArchive link

Martian Skies Clearing over Opportunity Rover

NASA – Mars Exploration Rover B (MER-B) patch.

Aug. 30, 2018

A planet-encircling dust storm on Mars, which was first detected May 30 and halted operations for the Opportunity rover, continues to abate.

Mars Exploration Rover. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

With clearing skies over Opportunity’s resting spot in Mars’ Perseverance Valley, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, believe the nearly 15-year-old, solar-powered rover will soon receive enough sunlight to automatically initiate recovery procedures — if the rover is able to do so. To prepare, the Opportunity mission team has developed a two-step plan to provide the highest probability of successfully communicating with the rover and bringing it back online.

“The Sun is breaking through the haze over Perseverance Valley, and soon there will be enough sunlight present that Opportunity should be able to recharge its batteries,” said John Callas, Opportunity project manager at JPL. “When the tau level [a measure of the amount of particulate matter in the Martian sky] dips below 1.5, we will begin a period of actively attempting to communicate with the rover by sending it commands via the antennas of NASA’s Deep Space Network. Assuming that we hear back from Opportunity, we will begin the process of discerning its status and bringing it back online.”

Image above: About 11 months before the current dust storm enveloped the rover, Opportunity took five images that were turned into a mosaic showing a view from inside the upper end of “Perseverance Valley” on the inner slope of Endeavour Crater’s western rim. The images were taken on July 7, 2017. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The rover’s last communication with Earth was received June 10, and Opportunity’s current health is unknown. Opportunity engineers are relying on the expertise of Mars scientists analyzing data from the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to estimate the tau near the rover’s position.

“The dust haze produced by the Martian global dust storm of 2018 is one of the most extensive on record, but all indications are it is finally coming to a close,” said MRO Project Scientist Rich Zurek at JPL. “MARCI images of the Opportunity site have shown no active dust storms for some time within 3,000 kilometers [about 1,900 miles] of the rover site.”

With skies clearing, mission managers are hopeful the rover will attempt to call home, but they are also prepared for an extended period of silence. “If we do not hear back after 45 days, the team will be forced to conclude that the Sun-blocking dust and the Martian cold have conspired to cause some type of fault from which the rover will more than likely not recover,” said Callas. “At that point our active phase of reaching out to Opportunity will be at an end. However, in the unlikely chance that there is a large amount of dust sitting on the solar arrays that is blocking the Sun’s energy, we will continue passive listening efforts for several months.”

The additional several months for passive listening are an allowance for the possibility that a Red Planet dust devil could come along and literally dust off Opportunity’s solar arrays. Such “cleaning events” were first discovered by Mars rover teams in 2004 when, on several occasions, battery power levels aboard both Spirit and Opportunity increased by several percent during a single Martian night, when the logical expectation was that they would continue to decrease. These cleaning dust devils have even been imaged by both rovers on the surface and spacecraft in orbit (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8lfJ0c7WQ8 and  https://mars.nasa.gov/resources/5307/the-serpent-dust-devil-of-mars/).

Image above: Opportunity’s panoramic camera (Pancam) took the component images for this view from a position outside Endeavor Crater during the span of June 7 to June 19, 2017. Toward the right side of this scene is a broad notch in the crest of the western rim of crater. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.

The chances are small that dust accumulation would be the root cause of Opportunity’s lack of communication. Nonetheless, each day during the passive phase, JPL’s Radio Science group will scour the signal records taken by a very sensitive broadband receiver of radio frequencies emanating from Mars, looking for a sign that the rover is trying to reach out.

Even if the team hears back from Opportunity during either phase, there is no assurance the rover will be operational. The impact of this latest storm on Opportunity’s systems is unknown but could have resulted in reduced energy production, diminished battery performance, or other unforeseen damage that could make it difficult for the rover to fully return online.

While the situation in Perseverance Valley is critical, the rover team is cautiously optimistic, knowing that Opportunity has overcome significant challenges during its 14-plus years on Mars. The rover lost use of its front steering — its left-front in June of 2017, and right front in 2005. Its 256-megabyte flash memory is no longer functioning. The team also knows that everything about the rover is well beyond its warranty period — both Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit, were constructed for 90-day missions (Spirit lasted 20 times longer and Opportunity is going on 60 times). The rovers were designed to travel about 1,000 yards, and Opportunity has logged more than 28 miles. Through thick and thin, the team has seen their rover soldier on. Now, Opportunity engineers and scientists of Opportunity are planning, and hoping, that this latest dilemma is just another bump in their Martian road.

“In a situation like this you hope for the best but plan for all eventualities,” said Callas. “We are pulling for our tenacious rover to pull her feet from the fire one more time. And if she does, we will be there to hear her.”

Updates on the dust storm and tau can be found here: https://mars.nasa.gov/mer/mission/status_opportunityAll.html

JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, built Opportunity and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

For more information about Opportunity, visit:



Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JoAnna Wendel/Tony Greicius/JPL/DC Agle.

Best regards, Orbiter.chArchive link

Stellar ‘swarms’ help astronomers understand the evolution of stars

New work from Carnegie’s Jonathan Gagné and the American Museum of Natural History’s Jacqueline Faherty identified nearly a thousand potential members and 31 confirmed members of stellar associations — stars of similar ages and compositions that are drifting together through space — in our own corner of the Milky Way. Their work, published in the Astrophysical Journal, could help astronomers understand the evolution of stars and the properties of future exoplanet discoveries.

Stellar 'swarms' help astronomers understand the evolution of stars

Credit: Carnegie Institution for Science

“Like a swarm of birds flying together in the sky, the common velocities of stars in an association tell us that us that they are related,” Gagné explained. “This teaches us something about their age and their compositions,”

Thanks to internal similarities between group members and external differences between different groups — particularly when it comes to member ages — astronomers can use stellar associations to glean information about the history of star formation in our corner of the Milky Way. These stars’ ages vary from a few million to a billion years old, depending on the group, a range that offers astronomers a sweeping view of stellar evolution among our neighbors.

Gagné and Faherty combed through data from the European Space Agency’s three-dimensional mapping mission of our galaxy, Gaia, which was released earlier this year, to discover this goldmine of confirmed and potential group members.

“Our sample is mostly [composed of] stars called red dwarfs, which are smaller than our Sun and relatively cool,” Gagné said. “Because of their size, they can be difficult to observe, although we know that they are extremely common in the galaxy, which is why the Gaia data is such a great windfall.”

Visualization rendered by Dan Tell from the California Academy of Sciences using SCISS Uniview software

and directed/written by Jackie Faherty from the American Museum of Natural History

What they learn about these stars could also inform astronomers’ understanding of planets or planet-like objects found within their associations by upcoming space-based missions.

“If future missions like NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, are able to find exoplanets orbiting our stellar neighbors, the information we’ve gathered about their ages based on their membership in one of these associations, will be able to teach us a great deal about what planetary system evolution looks like at different points in time,” added Faherty, who is a Carnegie alumna.

In addition to the bonanza of red dwarf members of neighboring stellar associations, Gagné and Faherty discovered 111 brown dwarfs that are part of these local associations. Brown dwarfs are sometimes called failed stars or super Jupiters. They’re smaller than stars — too small to sustain the hydrogen fusion process — but more massive than giant planets. As such, they provide a natural link between astronomy and planetary science and are of great interest to scientists.

Source: Carnegie Institution for Science [August 28, 2018]



How eggplants became Asian: genomes and elephants tell the story

The evolutionary context of the eggplant was until recently very poorly known. Historical documents and genetic data have shown that the eggplant was first domesticated in Asia, but most of its wild relatives are from Africa. Researchers from the Natural History Museums of London (NHM) and Finland (University of Helsinki) managed to obtain the first well-supported hypothesis on the origin of the eggplant and its direct relatives.

How eggplants became Asian: genomes and elephants tell the story
Only recently taxonomists have resolved the status of the wild species that are related to the cultivated eggplant
– surprisingly many of them are found in the savannas of Africa [Credit: Élise Sanceaume]

In a study published in the American Journal of Botany, researchers from the Natural History Museum of London (NHM) and the Finnish museum of natural history, University of Helsinki, have sequenced the plastomes of the eggplant and of 22 species directly related to the eggplant. By comparing the plastome DNA sequences, they hoped to reveal the evolutionary history of the eggplant and its wild relatives. The team obtained a well-supported hypothesis on the origin of the eggplant and its wild relatives, and showed how a single event gave rise to two lineages, one comprising an African group of species and the other the wild progenitor of the domesticated eggplant.
“Nearly all species of the group of the eggplant inhabit low land savannahs and more or less arid habitats; some species are very widespread across Africa. Our results suggest that there had been a dramatic expansion of the distribution range of the group over the last two million years.” says the first author of the paper, Xavier Aubriot.

Eggplant’s history has been obscure

The eggplant (Solanum melongena) is a species that is a member of the giant genus Solanum (around 1,400 species) within the nightshade family (Solanaceae). Solanum also accounts for two other globally important food crops, the tomato and the potato. But in contrast to these New World crops, the eggplant hails from Asia. Historical documents and genetic data have shown that the eggplant was first domesticated somewhere in the region of China and India. It is only recently, however, that taxonomists have resolved the status of the wild species that are related to the cultivated eggplant – surprisingly many of them are found in the savannahs of Africa.

“Understanding the evolutionary history of a group depends upon detailed research using the collections of museums like the NHM” says Sandra Knapp of the Natural History Museum, “Resolving the identities of the wild species allows us to work out where they occur, which then allows us to dig deeper into the factors that determine their current status.”

The team found that the group containing the relatives of the eggplant originated in northeastern Africa some two million years ago. Plants then dispersed both eastwards to tropical Asia and southwards to southern and western Africa. In tropical Asia, the dispersal event gave rise to a species that scientists call Solanum insanum. It is from populations of this wild species that the eggplant was later domesticated. What really startled the researchers was the fact that the dispersion of the group to Asia seemed to result from a single dispersal event from northern Africa to tropical Asia rather than a linear step-wise expansion from Africa to Asia.

Explaining the current wide distribution of eggplant relatives across Africa

Some of the African wild relatives of the eggplant have extremely wide distributions – Solanum campylacanthum occurs all along the eastern part of the continent, from Kenya to South Africa. During the investigation of the factors that could explain this pattern, it turned out that this could have something to do with the dispersion of the seeds.

The African elephant and the impala, both inhabitants of African savannahs and with historical distribution ranges that encompass the continent, are both known to eat the fruits and disperse the seeds of these wild eggplant relatives. If today the range of African elephants is drastically reduced due to human activities, wild eggplant relatives may suffer as well. “If we want to secure eggplant production by tapping into the gene-pool of its wild relatives we have to protect African elephant populations.” says Péter Poczai researcher of the Finnish museum of natural history, University of Helsinki.

“This study is actually a first step for deeper analyses” summarizes Aubriot. “Many important questions remain to be investigated – how did the eggplant group reach tropical Asia? Were there interactions between early humans and wild eggplant relatives? What factors were involved in the domestication process of the eggplant from its wild progenitor, Solanum insanum? We are now working on getting a much improved sampling and new sources of data to shed more light on the complex and interesting origin of the eggplant.”

Source: University of Helsinki [August 28, 2018]



Discovery on past deep-water dynamics in the western tropical Pacific

Dr Hokuto Iwatani and Dr Moriaki Yasuhara from School of Biological Sciences and Swire Institute of Marine Science, The University of Hong Kong), in collaboration with scientists in Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, reported their discovery on past deep-water dynamics in the western tropical Pacific recently in renowned journal Geology.

Discovery on past deep-water dynamics in the western tropical Pacific
Scanning Electron Microscopy image of selected fossil ostracods from the study site
[Credit: The University of Hong Kong]

The western tropical Pacific is known to be an ocean in exhibiting the world’s highest sea-surface temperature. A surface sea current in this region is known as Indonesian Throughflow and transfers a significant amount of heat and water from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean. The throughflow plays a vital role in the dynamics of global climate and marine ecosystem. However, the effect of deep-sea water contribution to this region over time remains poorly investigated and is not well understood.
Dr Iwatani, Dr Yasuhara and their collaborators revealed that deep-sea fauna and biodiversity in this region rapidly changed during a globally-known rapid climate change event “Younger Dryas” about 12,000 years ago due to the weakened Indonesian Throughflow. They also found a significant environmental overturn at around 7,000 years ago probably due to the mixing of different deep-sea waters from both hemispheres. These are important findings for better understanding the tropical climate in our rapidly changing world.

Discovery on past deep-water dynamics in the western tropical Pacific
Deep-sea ostracod faunal component and diversity changes in the western tropical Pacific for the last 15,000 years.
Fossil records show rapid faunal and diversity changes during the significant global climate change events of
Younger Dryas and Holocene Thermal Maximum periods (highlighted by gray bands). Higher biodiversity
means that there are more species in a sample [Credit: The University of Hong Kong]

The research group used fossil Ostracoda preserved in a sediment core as a model organism to reconstruct the ecosystem, biodiversity, and marine environment of the earth in the past, as this small (usually
“The western tropical Pacific is a unique sea, where surface sea currents outflow to the northern and southern hemispheres, and deep-sea waters inflow from both high latitude regions, so this region could be seen as a kind of heart pump in the modern ocean. However, the deep-sea, especially their past dynamics, in this area remains poorly understood, despite their importance in Earth’s climate system.”, said Dr Iwatani. This study added new paleontological and paleoceanographic insights to this complex and enigmatic ocean history.

Source: The University of Hong Kong [August 28, 2018]



Parasites discovered in fossil fly pupae

Parasitic wasps existed as early as several million years ago. Within a project coordinated by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), researchers of various disciplines for the first time definitively discovered fossil parasites inside their hosts. The scientists studied fly pupae from old collections using ultrafast X-ray imaging. They found 55 cases of parasitation and described four extinct wasp species that were unknown until now. Their findings are reported in Nature Communications.

Parasites discovered in fossil fly pupae
Digitally resurrected: the parasitic wasp Xenomorphia resurrecta deposits an egg in a fly pupa
[Credit: Thomas van de Kamp, KIT; Nature Communications]

The results of the project provide major information on the evolution of parasitism. Parasitism is widely spread and impacts ecosystems essentially. Today, about 50% of all animal species are deemed parasites. The relation between the diversity of species and parasitism is particularly obvious in the insect order Hymenoptera, to which wasps belong.
Within the KIT-coordinated project, researchers identified four so far unknown extinct wasp species that were endoparasites, i.e. parasites developing inside their host, from the Paleogene that spanned the period from about 66 million years ago to about 23 million years ago. Each of the four parasitic wasp species had its own strategy for adaptation to the host. The most frequently observed species of the four was named “Xenomorphia resurrecta” by the scientists. The genus “Xenomorphia” is named after the creature from the “Alien” science fiction series, which is known as Xenomorph and also develops endoparasitically. The species’ name “resurrecta” refers to the “digital resurrection” of the species, says project coordinator Dr. Thomas van de Kamp from KIT’s Laboratory for Applications of Synchrotron Radiation (LAS). “Our project proves that it is worthwhile to study old collections afresh with latest technology.”

Parasites discovered in fossil fly pupae
Synchrotron X-ray micro tomography enables view into the interior of several-million-year-old fly pupae
[Credit: Georg Oleschinski, University of Bonn (Photograph) & Thomas van de Kamp,
KIT (Rendering); Nature Communications\

The fossils the scientists studied, more than 1,500 mineralized fly pupae, belong to collections of the Natural History Museum of Basel and the Naturhistoriska riksmuseet of Stockholm. In the late 19th century, they were collected in phosphorite mines in the region of Quercy, France. In 1944, Swiss entomologist Eduard Handschin described the fossils in detail and emphasized the value of the externally inconspicuous pieces of merely 3 mm in length. Still, they have fallen into oblivion for more than 70 years. At that time, Handschin had suspected the contours of a parasitic wasp in a thin section of a probably 34 to 40-million-year-old fly pupa, but could not prove it. This was the point of departure of the current project, the results of which are published in Nature Communications under the heading “Parasitoid biology preserved in mineralized fossils.”
Ultrafast X-ray imaging, largely developed and refined by KIT, enabled new access to the fossils. The researchers studied the samples with synchrotron X-ray microtomography. In optically dense samples, inner structures can only be observed non-invasively and in three dimensions with X-rays. Synchrotron radiation sources, a type of particle accelerators, produce electromagnetic radiation with a much broader spectrum and at much higher intensity than conventional sources. The measurements for the project were made at the UFO high-speed tomography station of the KIT synchrotron.

X-ray microtomography of 1510 fossil fly pupae from the Paleogene revealed parasitations by four species of 

parasitoid wasps. The video shows a virtual cut of a pupa, revealing a male parasitoid, which developed inside

 its host about 30 million years ago. The species was named Xenomorphia ressurecta, referring to the 

Xenomorph from the “Alien” movies[Credit: Thomas van de Kamp, KIT; Nature Communications]

“Sample throughput is high. Imaging and evaluation of the data take place in a partly automated manner, which makes such measurements feasible,” says van de Kamp. Two years ago, the team already imaged fossil beetles found in Quercy and made their inner anatomy visible. At the UFO station, however, not only fossils are scanned. The setup is equally suited for other projects, in which a large number of pieces have to be imaged. Hence, UFO is of interest to a variety of disciplines, among others to materials science.
Following imaging of the mineralized fly pupae, the parasitic wasps from the Paleogene were reconstructed digitally. Thus, the project did not only require comprehensive know-how relating to synchrotron X-ray microtomography, but also detailed biological and paleontological knowledge. Project coordinator Dr. Thomas van de Kamp of KIT’s LAS is a biologist and has specialized in insect morphology and digital imaging of biological samples. Also, he linked physics to biology. Other main authors are paleontologist Dr. Achim H. Schwermann of the LWL-Museum of Natural History in Münster, expert for fossilization processes, and biologist Dr. Lars Krogmann from the State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart, specialist for parasitic wasps, who systematically classified the discovered parasites and wrote the formal species descriptions. Overall, 18 scientists – biologists, paleontologists, physicists, computer scientists, and mathematicians – from several universities and museums participated in the interdisciplinary project, of these, eight researchers of KIT. Apart from the institutions mentioned, KIT’s Institute for Photon Science and Synchrotron Radiation (IPS) and Institute for Data Processing and Electronics (IPE) as well as institutions of the universities of Heidelberg and Bonn were involved.

Source: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology [August 28, 2018]



Stars vs. dust in the Carina Nebula

About 7500 light-years away, in the constellation of Carina, lies a nebula within which stars form and perish side-by-side. Shaped by these dramatic events, the Carina Nebula is a dynamic, evolving cloud of thinly spread interstellar gas and dust.

Stars vs. dust in the Carina Nebula
This spectacular image of the Carina nebula reveals the dynamic cloud of interstellar matter and thinly spread gas
and dust as never before. The massive stars in the interior of this cosmic bubble emit intense radiation that causes
the surrounding gas to glow. By contrast, other regions of the nebula contain dark pillars of dust cloaking
 newborn stars [Credit: ESO/J. Emerson/M. Irwin/J. Lewis]

The massive stars in the interior of this cosmic bubble emit intense radiation that causes the surrounding gas to glow. By contrast, other regions of the nebula contain dark pillars of dust cloaking newborn stars. There’s a battle raging between stars and dust in the Carina Nebula, and the newly formed stars are winning — they produce high-energy radiation and stellar winds which evaporate and disperse the dusty stellar nurseries in which they formed.
Spanning over 300 light-years, the Carina Nebula is one of the Milky Way’s largest star-forming regions and is easily visible to the unaided eye under dark skies. Unfortunately for those of us living in the north, it lies 60 degrees below the celestial equator, so is visible only from the Southern Hemisphere.

Within this intriguing nebula, Eta Carinae takes pride of place as the most peculiar star system. This stellar behemoth — a curious form of stellar binary– is the most energetic star system in this region and was one of the brightest objects in the sky in the 1830s. It has since faded dramatically and is reaching the end of its life, but remains one of the most massive and luminous star systems in the Milky Way.

Eta Carinae can be seen in this image as part of the bright patch of light just above the point of the “V” shape made by the dust clouds. Directly to the right of Eta Carinae is the relatively small Keyhole Nebula — a small, dense cloud of cold molecules and gas within the Carina Nebula — which hosts several massive stars, and whose appearance has also changed drastically over recent centuries.
The Carina Nebula was discovered from the Cape of Good Hope by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in the 1750s and a huge number of images have been taken of it since then. But VISTA — the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy — adds an unprecedentedly detailed view over a large area; its infrared vision is perfect for revealing the agglomerations of young stars hidden within the dusty material snaking through the Carina Nebula.

In 2014, VISTA was used to pinpoint nearly five million individual sources of infrared light within this nebula, revealing the vast extent of this stellar breeding ground. VISTA is the world’s largest infrared telescope dedicated to surveys and its large mirror, wide field of view and exquisitely sensitive detectors enable astronomers [1] to unveil a completely new view of the southern sky.

Source: ESO [August 29, 2018]



Bridge Ruins near Great Mitton, Lancashire, 30.8.18.If the…

Bridge Ruins near Great Mitton, Lancashire, 30.8.18.

If the bridge brings to mind the sweeping arches of Rivendell then you may well be right. J.R.R. Tolkien spent time at the nearby Stonyhurst College and it is whilst he was there that he wrote some of his most memorable chapters of ‘The Lord of the Rings’. The striking ruinous architecture of the region but specifically this structure may well have played into the consciousness of Tolkien as he frequently walked the countryside here.

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Flu Forecast Any type of influenza, such as bird or swine flu,…

Flu Forecast

Any type of influenza, such as bird or swine flu, jumping from animals to humans is cause for concern. New strains present a threat because our bodies have no immunity developed from past exposure, so being able to predict which forms of flu might take hold in humans would be useful. Now researchers might have a way to tell whether a particular flu could cause us harm. They grew an artificial replica of human airways from human stem cells, which can be exposed to any potentially threatening strain to see if infection sets in. The structures are made of live, functioning cells like the one shown, with tiny hairs beating just as they would in your airways. Initial tests accurately identified which strains of bird and swine flu could infect humans, and armed with this warning system we might be better prepared to fight the next flu epidemic.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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Protect key habitats, not just wilderness, to preserve species

Some scientists have suggested we need to protect half of Earth’s surface to preserve most of its species. A new Duke University-led study, however, cautions that it is the quality, not merely the quantity, of what we protect that matters.

Protect key habitats, not just wilderness, to preserve species
To protect more endangered species, such as this golden snub-nosed monkey
of China, we have to protect the right places not just more area
[Credit: Binbin Li, Duke Kunshan University]

“There’s a lot of discussion about protecting ‘Half Earth’ as a minimum to protect biodiversity. The challenge is, which half do we protect?” said Stuart L. Pimm, Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, who was lead author of the new study.

“The predilection of national governments is to protect areas that are ‘wild’—that is, typically remote, cold, or arid,” Pimm said. “Unfortunately, those areas often hold relatively few species. Our analysis shows that protecting even as much as half of the world’s large wilderness areas will not protect many more species than at present.”

To protect as many at-risk species as possible, especially those with small ranges, governments should expand their conservation focus and prioritize the protection of key habitats outside existing wildernesses, parks and preserves, Pimm and his coauthors from China and Brazil say.

“If we are to protect most species from extinction we have to protect the right places—special places—not just more area, per se,” said Binbin Li, assistant professor of environmental sciences at Duke Kunshan University in China.

Protect key habitats, not just wilderness, to preserve species
To protect more endangered species, such as this glittering starfrontlet hummingbird
of Columbia, we have to protect the right places not just more area
[Credit: Luis Mazariegos]

The team’s new peer-reviewed study, published in Science Advances, uses geospatial analysis to map how well the world’s current system of protected areas overlaps the ranges of nearly 20,000 species of mammals, birds and amphibians, the species that scientists know best.

“We found that global conservation efforts have enhanced protection for many species—for example, nearly half the species of birds with the smallest geographical ranges now have at least part of their ranges protected to a degree—but critical gaps still exist,” said Clinton Jenkins, of Brazil’s Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas.

These gaps occur worldwide, including in biodiversity hotspots such as the northern Andes, the coastal forests of Brazil, and southwestern China, and they will continue to persist even if governments protect to up to half of the world’s remaining wild areas, the study shows.

“Certainly, there are good reasons to protect large wild areas: they provide environmental services,” Pimm said. “An obvious example is the Amazon, where the loss of the forest there might cause massive changes to the climate. But to save as much biodiversity as possible, we have to identify the species that remain poorly protected—which this paper does—and then pinpoint where they are, so we can effect practical conservation.”

Protect key habitats, not just wilderness, to preserve species
To protect more endangered species, such as this Cassidy’s poison dart frog
of Colombia, we have to protect the right places not just more area
[Credit: Luis Mazariegos]

Many of the unprotected habitats are small parcels of land in areas where human impacts are already felt, disqualifying them for protection as wildernesses.

Pimm, Jenkins and Li lead a nonprofit organization called SavingSpecies that partners with local conservation groups in South America, Asia and other regions to protect such lands.

“The ‘Half Earth’ approach provides an inspiring vision to protect the world’s species,” Pimm said. “A preoccupation with concentrating on the total area protected is misleading, however. It’s quality, not quantity that matters.”

Source: Duke University [August 29, 2018]



Mammal forerunner that reproduced like a reptile sheds light on brain evolution

Compared with the rest of the animal kingdom, mammals have the biggest brains and produce some of the smallest litters of offspring. A newly described fossil of an extinct mammal relative – and her 38 babies – is among the best evidence that a key development in the evolution of mammals was trading brood power for brain power.

Mammal forerunner that reproduced like a reptile sheds light on brain evolution
A figure representing the 38 Kayentatherium babies found with an adult specimen, which researchers
think is their mother [Credit: Eva Hoffman/ The University of Texas at Austin]

The find is among the rarest of the rare because it contains the only known fossils of babies from any mammal precursor, said researchers from The University of Texas at Austin who discovered and studied the fossilized family. But the presence of so many babies – more than twice the average litter size of any living mammal – revealed that it reproduced in a manner akin to reptiles. Researchers think the babies were probably developing inside eggs or had just recently hatched when they died.

The study, published in the journal Nature, describes specimens that researchers say may help reveal how mammals evolved a different approach to reproduction than their ancestors, which produced large numbers of offspring.

“These babies are from a really important point in the evolutionary tree,” said Eva Hoffman, who led research on the fossil as a graduate student at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences. “They had a lot of features similar to modern mammals, features that are relevant in understanding mammalian evolution.”

Hoffman co-authored the study with her graduate adviser, Jackson School Professor Timothy Rowe.

The mammal relative belonged to an extinct species of beagle-size plant-eaters called Kayentatherium wellesi that lived alongside dinosaurs about 185 million years ago. Like mammals, Kayentatherium probably had hair.

A 3D visualization of the skull of a Kayentatherium baby [Credit: Eva Hoffman, The University of Texas at Austin]

When Rowe collected the fossil more than 18 years ago from a rock formation in Arizona, he thought that he was bringing a single specimen back with him. He had no idea about the dozens of babies it contained.

Sebastian Egberts, a former graduate student and fossil preparator at the Jackson School, spotted the first sign of the babies years later when a grain-sized speck of tooth enamel caught his eye in 2009 as he was unpacking the fossil.

“It didn’t look like a pointy fish tooth or a small tooth from a primitive reptile,” said Egberts, who is now an instructor of anatomy at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. “It looked more like a molariform tooth (molar-like tooth) — and that got me very excited.”

A CT scan of the fossil revealed a handful of bones inside the rock. However, it took advances in CT-imaging technology during the next 18 years, the expertise of technicians at UT Austin’s High-Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography Facility, and extensive digital processing by Hoffman to reveal the rest of the babies — not only jaws and teeth, but complete skulls and partial skeletons.

Mammal forerunner that reproduced like a reptile sheds light on brain evolution
The fossils of the mother and babies belonged to Kayentatherium, a close relative to mammals
[Credit: Eva Hoffman, The University of Texas at Austin]

The 3D visualizations Hoffman produced allowed her to conduct an in-depth analysis of the fossil that verified that the tiny bones belonged to babies and were the same species as the adult. Her analysis also revealed that the skulls of the babies were like scaled-down replicas of the adult, with skulls a tenth the size but otherwise proportional. This finding is in contrast to mammals, which have babies that are born with shortened faces and bulbous heads to account for big brains.

The brain is an energy-intensive organ, and pregnancy — not to mention childrearing — is an energy-intensive process. The discovery that Kayentatherium had a tiny brain and many babies, despite otherwise having much in common with mammals, suggests that a critical step in the evolution of mammals was trading big litters for big brains, and that this step happened later in mammalian evolution.

“Just a few million years later, in mammals, they unquestionably had big brains, and they unquestionably had a small litter size,” Rowe said.

The mammalian approach to reproduction directly relates to human development — including the development of our own brains. By looking back at our early mammalian ancestors, humans can learn more about the evolutionary process that helped shape who we are as a species, Rowe said.

“There are additional deep stories on the evolution of development, and the evolution of mammalian intelligence and behavior and physiology that can be squeezed out of a remarkable fossil like this now that we have the technology to study it,” he said.

Source: University of Texas at Austin [August 29, 2018]