суббота, 5 октября 2019 г.

Two by Two Despite a growing understanding of the importance…

Two by Two

Despite a growing understanding of the importance of microbiota, microbial communities living in and around us, and how disrupting them can lead to disease, we still know little about specific relationships between bacteria, making it difficult to take action. Setting out to change this, researchers studied interactions between a bacterium commonly found in our mouths, Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans (Aa, pictured), and 15 other microbes, from either the same or different environments. Genetic manipulations revealed that Aa required different sets of genes to be successful when paired with another microbe, depending on whether its partner helped or hindered. Surprisingly, Aa generally fared better with species it does not normally encounter than alongside those it naturally co-occurs with, suggesting that co-existing communities are not always supportive. In our mouths, Aa can sometimes cause periodontitis, a serious form of gum disease, and its interactions with other oral bacteria could contribute to this pathogenic switch.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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U.S. Astronauts Captured Japanese Cargo Spacecraft at 7:12 a.m. EDT

JAXA — H-II Transfer Vehicle-8 (HTV-8) Mission patch.

September 28, 2019

Image above: The Japanese HTV-8 cargo vehicle captured by the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm at 7:12 am EDT on Saturday Sept. 28, 2019. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Using the International Space Station’s robotic arm, Canadarm2, Expedition 60 Flight Engineer Christina Koch of NASA, backed up by her NASA crewmate Andrew Morgan, operated the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm from the station’s cupola to capture the 12-ton spacecraft as it approached from below. Flight Engineer Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) monitored HTV-8 systems during its approach to the station.

HTV-8 capture

Next, robotic ground controllers will install it on the Earth-facing side of the Harmony module. NASA TV coverage of the berthing will begin at 9:30 a.m.

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) cargo spacecraft launched at 12:05 p.m. EDT Sept. 24 (1:05 a.m. Sept. 25 Japan standard time) from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.

Related links:

NASA TV: http://www.nasa.gov/live

Expedition 60: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition60/index.html

H-II Transfer Vehicle-8 (HTV-8): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/elements/htv.html

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

Image (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Norah Moran/NASA TV/SciNews.

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Space Station Science Highlights: Week of September 23, 2019

ISS — Expedition 60 Mission patch.

Sept. 30, 2019

Scientific studies recently conducted aboard the International Space Station included testing algorithms to control free-flying satellites, evaluating the flow of amyloids in microgravity and more. On Sept. 25, the Expedition 60 crew welcomed members of Expedition 61 including NASA astronaut Jessica Meir and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, along with a ROSCOSMOS spaceflight participant from the United Arab Emirates, Hazzaa Ali Almansoori. In addition, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) H-IIB rocket launched Sept. 24 for a four-day trip to bring supplies and science investigations to the station.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The space station provides a platform for long-duration research on the human body in microgravity and for testing technologies for traveling farther into deep space, which supports Artemis, NASA’s plans to go forward to the Moon and on to Mars.

Here are details on some of the science conducted on the orbiting laboratory during the week of Sept. 23:

Analyzing Amyloids

Image above: NASA astronaut Nick Hague works on the Ring Sheared Drop investigation in the Microgravity Sciences Glovebox as NASA astronaut Christina Koch observes. Ring Sheared Drop examines the formation and flow of amyloids in microgravity. Image Credit: NASA.

The crew set up the first sample run for Ring Sheared Drop. In microgravity, fluids float, which allows examination of the formation of amyloid fibrils where surface tension and not a container holds liquids together. Amyloids, abnormal fibrous deposits found in organs and tissues, are associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Results could contribute to better understanding of and treatments for these diseases. Data on the flow of liquids without the complications associated with solid walls also could contribute to development of advanced materials.

Calling the Space Station

ISS Ham Radio provides students, teachers, parents and other members of the community an opportunity to communicate directly with astronauts using Ham radio units. Crew members conducted several ISS Ham passes including one with the Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, an independent nonprofit for families of children with rare or critical illnesses, and another with Northridge Elementary School, a STEM-focused school in Longmont, CO. Some of the questions asked from the ground included how space affects body tissues, how astronauts return safely to Earth and the effects of gravity on solids and liquids. The experience sparks student interest in mathematics and science and inspires the next generation of explorers.

Steering Swarms of Satellites

Crew members performed the final science session for SPHERES hardware, SPHERES-ReSwarm, which evaluates algorithms for controlling swarms of small spacecraft. These algorithms scale easily with formation size and remain applicable to multiple mission scenarios. The next-generation satellite system known as Astrobee now takes over the free-flier role from SPHERES. Swarms of small spacecraft could become feasible in the near future and create new capabilities for Earth and space observation missions.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

— RADI-N2, a Canadian Space Agency investigation, characterizes the neutron radiation environment aboard the space station to help define the risk to the health of crew members and provide data for development of advanced protective measures for future spaceflight. https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=874

Image above: The Microgravity Crystals investigation crystallizes a membrane protein that is integral to tumor growth and cancer survival, potentially advancing development of cancer treatments with fewer side effects. NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan sets up the protein crystal samples for observing and photographing inside a microscope. Image Credit: NASA.

— The Microgravity Crystals investigation crystallizes a membrane protein that is integral to tumor growth and cancer survival.

— Food Acceptability examines changes in the appeal of food aboard the space station during long-duration missions. “Menu fatigue” from repeatedly consuming a limited choice of foods may contribute to the loss of body mass often experienced by crew members, potentially affecting astronaut health, especially as mission length increases.

— Standard Measures captures a consistent set of measures from crew members to characterize how their bodies adapt to living in space.

— Actiwatch is a nonintrusive, wearable monitor that analyzes a crew member’s circadian rhythms, sleep-wake patterns, and activity.

Animation above: European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano conducts operations for MVP Cell-02, an investigation into how organisms adapt to the space environment, an important component of future space exploration. Animation Credit: NASA.

— MVP Cell-02 seeks to understand how organisms adapt to the space environment, an important component of future space exploration, using the bacterium Bacillus subtilis as a model organism.

— Rodent Research-17 (RR-17) uses younger and older mice as model organisms to evaluate the physiological, cellular and molecular effects of the spaceflight environment.

— Functional Immune analyzes blood and saliva samples to determine the changes taking place in the immune systems of crew members during flight.

— The ISS Experience creates virtual reality videos from footage covering different aspects of crew life, execution of science and the international partnerships involved on the space station.

Space to Ground: New Arrivals: 09/27/2019

Related links:

Expedition 60: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition60/index.html

Expedition 61: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition61/index.html

Ring Sheared Drop: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7383

ISS Ham Radio: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=337

SPHERES-ReSwarm: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7753

SPHERES: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=303

Astrobee: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Facility.html?#id=1891

Artemis: https://www.nasa.gov/artemis

Spot the Station: https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/

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

Images (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/Vic Cooley, Lead Increment Scientist Expedition 60.

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Crew Departure Preps, Biochemistry Research Start Workweek

ISS — Expedition 60 Mission patch.

September 30, 2019

The nine-member crew aboard the International Space Station will split up Thursday and see three humans return to Earth. Meanwhile, there is still a multitude of space research to conduct as well as a new Japanese space freighter to unload.

Expedition 60 Commander Alexey Ovchinin and NASA Flight Engineer Nick Hague are in their final week aboard the orbiting lab. The homebound residents are packing up their Soyuz MS-12 crew ship and handing over their duties to the crewmates staying in space.

They will undock Thursday from the Rassvet module at 3:36 a.m. EDT along with spaceflight participant Hazzaa Ali Almansoori. The trio will parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan at 7 a.m. (5 p.m. Kazakhstan time). All three returning crewmates reviewed their undocking and landing procedures today.

Image above: Four Expedition 60 crewmembers and a spaceflight participant gather inside the Unity module for a meal. Pictured from left are, astronauts Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) and Christina Koch of NASA, spaceflight participant and United Arab Emirates astronaut Hazzaa Ali Almansoori and NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan and Nick Hague. Image Credit: NASA.

Astronauts Luca Parmitano and Andrew Morgan took turns today exploring how astronauts grip and manipulate objects in microgravity. Observations may inform the design of intelligent, haptic interfaces for future crews on deep space missions.

Morgan then explored increasing the purity of protein crystals in space to improve pharmaceutical and biochemistry research. Veteran cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov conducted his own biochemistry research in the Russian segment of the space lab studying how the microgravity environment impacts enzymes in the human body.

Image above: NASA astronaut Christina Koch participates in her first spacewalk on March 29, 2019. International Space Station astronauts are gearing up to perform 10 spacewalks in coming weeks to upgrade solar array batteries and make repairs to the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. Image Credit: NASA.

New Expedition 61 crewmates Jessica Meir of NASA and Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos continue settling in for their 189-day mission inside the orbiting lab. Meir reviewed Canadarm2 robotics procedures today to support upcoming spacewalks. She wrapped up the day observing protein crystals to support cancer research. Skripochka tested a specialized suit that counteracts the headward flow of fluids in astronauts due to microgravity. He finally checked out the Magnetic 3D Printer that explores the benefits of printing organic tissue in space.

Japan’s eighth station resupply ship, also known as the Kounotori, is open for business and Parmitano and NASA astronaut Christina Koch are unloading its cargo and new science hardware today. Kounotori is due for a month-long stay attached to the Harmony module for internal and external cargo operations. Ground controllers will be commanding the Canadarm2 to remove new lithium-ion batteries delivered on Kounotori’s external pallets. The robotics work will be setting up a series of power upgrade spacewalks planned for October.

NASA Television to Air 10 Upcoming Spacewalks, Preview Briefing

Related links:

Expedition 60: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition60/index.html

Expedition 61: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition61/index.html

Rassvet module: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/elements/rassvet

Enzymes: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=1324

Cancer research: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7977

Magnetic 3D Printer: https://www.energia.ru/en/news/news-2018/news_07-25.html

Harmony module: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/elements/harmony

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

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

Best regards, Orbiter.chArchive link

T. rex used a stiff skull to eat its prey…

T. rex used a stiff skull to eat its prey http://www.geologypage.com/2019/09/t-rex-used-a-stiff-skull-to-eat-its-prey.html

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Croc-like carnivores terrorized Triassic dinosaurs in southern Africa 210 million years ago http://www.geologypage.com/2019/09/croc-like-carnivores-terrorized-triassic-dinosaurs-in-southern-africa-210-million-years-ago.html

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Kimberlites: The only volcanic deposits that we know are from the deep mantle of Earth http://www.geologypage.com/2019/09/kimberlites-the-only-volcanic-deposits-that-we-know-are-from-the-deep-mantle-of-earth.html

Fluorite | #Geology #GeologyPage #Minerals Locality:…

Fluorite | #Geology #GeologyPage #Minerals

Locality: Argentière, Mont-Blanc, Haute-Savoie (74), France

Size : 8,7 x 7,3 x 7,5 cm — 6,4 cm edge

Photo Copyright © Le Comptoir Géologique

Geology Page

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Catching evolution in the act

Charles Darwin was right. In his 1859 book, «On the Origin of Species,» the famed scientist hypothesized that artificial selection (or domestication) and natural selection work in the same ways. Now an international team, led by Northwestern University, has produced some of the first evidence that Darwin’s speculation was correct.

Catching evolution in the act
Roundworms magnified beneath a microscope. Larger worms are adults; smaller worms are in dauer
[Credit: Erik Andersen/Northwestern University]

This time, the study’s subjects are not exotic birds in the Galapagos, but instead a roundworm, which relies on its sense of smell to assess the availability of food and nearby competition. In the Northwestern-led work, researchers found that natural selection acts on the same genes that control wild roundworms’ sense of smell as were previously found in domesticated worms in the lab.

«The evolution of traits if rarely connected to exact genes and processes,» said Northwestern’s Erik Andersen, who led the study. «We offer a clear example of how evolution works.»

The scientists used a combination of laboratory experiments, computational genomic analysis and field work. Their research also shows that natural selection acts on signal-sensing receptors rather than the downstream parts of the genetic process.

The study published this week in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. Andersen is an associate professor of molecular biosciences in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

A keystone model organism, C. elegans is a one-millimeter-long roundworm that lives in decaying organic matter — particularly rotten fruits — and feeds on bacteria. These roundworms are typically found in gardens and compost piles.

For C. elegans, having a keen sense of smell can be the difference between life or death. If they smell enough food in their environment, then they will stay, grow and reproduce. If they sense a shortage of food and/or too much competition from other worms, then they will undertake a long and potentially fatal journey in search of a more favorable environment. This process, called «dauer,» delays growth and reproduction.

In other words, dauer decreases reproductive success in the short term in order to ensure survival in the long run.

«At some point in their lives, these worms must make a gamble,» Andersen said. «In the time it takes for a worm to come out of dauer and start growing again, the worm that stayed behind has already been multiplying. If the food runs out, then the dauer worm made the right decision and wins. If the food doesn’t run out, then the dauer worm loses.»

Andersen and his collaborators found that evolution plays a significant role in a worm’s decision to stay or enter dauer. Some roundworms have one genetic receptor to process scents; other roundworms have two. The roundworms with two receptors have a heightened sense of smell, which allows them to better assess the availability of resources in their environment and make a better gamble.

«If worms can smell large numbers of worms around them, that gives them an advantage,» Andersen said. «This was discovered in a previous study of artificial selection in worms. Now we also found that result in natural populations. We can see specific evidence in these two genes that artificial and natural selection act similarly.»

Source: Northwestern University [September 26, 2019]



Earliest signs of life: Scientists find microbial remains in ancient rocks

Scientists have found exceptionally preserved microbial remains in some of Earth’s oldest rocks in Western Australia — a major advance in the field, offering clues for how life on Earth originated. The UNSW researchers found the organic matter in stromatolites — fossilised microbial structures — from the ancient Dresser Formation in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Earliest signs of life: Scientists find microbial remains in ancient rocks
Photomicrograph of pyritized stromatolites from the 3.5 billion-year-old Dresser Formation.
The stromatolites are delineated by pyrite, also known as fool’s gold
[Credit: UNSW Sydney]

The stromatolites have been thought to be of biogenic origin ever since they were discovered in the 1980s. However, despite strong textural evidence, that theory was unproven for nearly four decades, because scientists hadn’t been able to show the definitive presence of preserved organic matter remains — until today’s publication in prestigious journal Geology.

«This is an exciting discovery — for the first time, we’re able to show the world that these stromatolites are definitive evidence for the earliest life on Earth,» says lead researcher Dr Raphael Baumgartner, a research associate of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology in Professor Martin Van Kranendonk’s team at UNSW.

Professor Van Kranendonk says the discovery is the closest the team have come to a «smoking gun» to prove the existence of such ancient life.

«This represents a major advance in our knowledge of these rocks, in the science of early life investigations generally, and — more specifically — in the search for life on Mars. We now have a new target and new methodology to search for ancient life traces,» Professor Van Kranendonk says.

Drilling deep, looking closely

Ever since the Dresser Formation was discovered in the 1980, scientists have wondered whether the structures were truly microbial and therefore the earliest signs of life.

«Unfortunately, there is a climate of mistrust of textural biosignatures in the research community. Hence, the origin of the stromatolites in the Dresser Formation has been a hotly debated topic,» Dr Baumgartner says.

«In this study, I spent a lot of time in the lab, using micro-analytical techniques to look very closely at the rock samples, to prove our theory once and for all.»

Stromatolites in the Dresser Formation are usually sourced from the rock surface, and are therefore highly weathered. For this study, the scientists worked with samples that were taken from further down into the rock, below the weathering profile, where the stromatolites are exceptionally well preserved.

«Looking at drill core samples allowed us to look at a perfect snapshot of ancient microbial life,» Dr Baumgartner says.

Using a variety of cutting-edge micro-analytical tools and techniques — including high-powered electron microscopy, spectroscopy and isotope analysis — Dr Baumgartner analysed the rocks.

He found that the stromatolites are essentially composed of pyrite — a mineral also known as ‘fool’s gold’ — that contains organic matter.

«The organic matter that we found preserved within pyrite of the stromatolites is exciting — we’re looking at exceptionally preserved coherent filaments and strands that are typically remains of microbial biofilms,» Dr Baumgartner says.

The researchers say that such remains have never been observed before in the Dresser Formation, and that actually seeing the evidence down the microscope was incredibly exciting.

«I was pretty surprised — we never expected to find this level of evidence before I started this project. I remember the night at the electron microscope where I finally figured out that I was looking at biofilm remains. I think it was around 11pm when I had this ‘eureka’ moment, and I stayed until three or four o’clock in the morning, just imaging and imaging because I was so excited. I totally lost track of time,» Dr Baumgartner says.

Clues for search for life on Mars

Just over two years ago, Dr Baumgartner’s colleague Tara Djokic, a UNSW PhD candidate, found stromatolites in hot spring deposits in the same region in WA, pushing back the earliest known existence of microbial life on land by 580 million years.

«Tara’s main findings were these exceptional geyserite deposits that indicate that there have been geysers in this area, and therefore fluid expulsions on exposed land surface,» Dr Baumgartner says.

«Her study was focused on the broader geological setting of the paleo-environment — lending support to the theory that life originated on land, rather than in the ocean — whereas my study really went deeper on the finer details of the stromatolite structures from the area.»

The scientists say that both studies are helping us answer a central question: where did humanity come from?

«Understanding where life could have emerged is really important in order to understand our ancestry. And from there, it could help us understand where else life could have occurred — for example, where it was kick-started on other planets,» Dr Baumgartner says.

Just last month, NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) scientists spent as week in the Pilbara with Martin Van Kranendonk for specialist training in identifying signs of life in these same ancient rocks. It was the first time that Van Kranendonk shared the region’s insights with a dedicated team of Mars specialists — a group including the Heads of NASA and ESA Mars 2020 missions.

«It is deeply satisfying that Australia’s ancient rocks and our scientific know-how is making such a significant contribution to our search for extra-terrestrial life and unlocking the secrets of Mars,» says Professor Van Kranendonk.

Source: University of New South Wales [September 26, 2019]



Life’s building blocks may have formed in interstellar clouds

An experiment shows that one of the basic units of life — nucleobases — could have originated within giant gas clouds interspersed between the stars.

Life's building blocks may have formed in interstellar clouds
An inside look of an ultra-high vacuum reaction chamber that simulates chemical reactions
in an interstellar cloud environment [Credit: Hokkaido University]

Essential building blocks of DNA — compounds called nucleobases — have been detected for the first time in a simulated environment mimicking gaseous clouds that are found interspersed between stars. The finding, published in the journal Nature Communications, brings us closer to understanding the origins of life on Earth.

«This result could be key to unravelling fundamental questions for humankind, such as what organic compounds existed during the formation of the solar system and how they contributed to the birth of life on Earth» says Yasuhiro Oba of Hokkaido University’s Institute of Low Temperature Science.

Scientists have already detected some of the basic organic molecules necessary for the beginnings of life in comets, asteroids, and in interstellar molecular clouds: giant gaseous clouds dispersed between stars. It is thought that these molecules could have reached Earth through meteorite impacts some four billion years ago, providing key ingredients for the chemical cocktail that gave rise to life. Learning how these molecules formed is vital to understanding the origins of life.

The basic structural unit of DNA and RNA is called a nucleotide and is composed of a nucleobase, a sugar, and a phosphate group. Previous studies mimicking the expected conditions in interstellar molecular clouds have detected the presence of sugar and phosphate, but not of nucleobases.

Now, Yasuhiro Oba and colleagues at Hokkaido University, Kyushu University, and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) have used advanced analytical methods to detect the fundamental nucleobases in a simulated interstellar cloud environment.

Life's building blocks may have formed in interstellar clouds
The fundamental nucleobases detected in a simulated interstellar
cloud environment [Credit: Hokkaido University]

The team conducted their experiments in an ultra-high vacuum reaction chamber. A gaseous mixture of water, carbon monoxide, ammonia, and methanol was continuously supplied onto a cosmic-dust analogue at a temperature of -263° Celsius. Two deuterium discharge lamps attached to the chamber supplied vacuum ultraviolet light to induce chemical reactions. The process led to the formation of an icy film on the dust analogue inside the chamber.
The team used a high-resolution mass spectrometer and a high-performance liquid chromatograph to analyse the product that formed on the substrate after warming it to room temperature. Recent advances in these technological tools allowed them to detect the presence of the nucleobases cytosine, uracil, thymine, adenine, xanthine, and hypoxanthine. They also detected amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins, and several kinds of dipeptide, or a dimer of amino acid, in the same product.

The team suspects that past experiments simulating interstellar molecular cloud environments would have produced nucleobases, but that the analytical tools used were not sensitive enough to detect them in complex mixtures.

«Our findings suggest that the processes we reproduced could lead to the formation of the molecular precursors of life,» says Yasuhiro Oba. «The results could improve our understanding of the early stages of chemical evolution in space.»

Source: Hokkaido University [September 27, 2019]



Longest coral reef survey to date reveals major changes in Australia’s Great...

Coral reefs around the world are under increasing stress due to a combination of local and global factors. As such, long-term investigation is becoming increasingly important to understanding ecosystem responses.

Longest coral reef survey to date reveals major changes in Australia's Great Barrier Reef
Soft coral are now dominating large areas of the shadow reef which in 1928 had many
species of hard corals too [Credit: Professor Maoz Fine, Bar-Ilan University]

A new study — the longest coral reef survey to date — provides an in-depth look at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef over the past 91 years. Published today in the journal Nature Communications by researchers at Bar-Ilan University and Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Israel, and the University of Queensland in Australia, the study concludes that since 1928 intertidal communities have experienced major phase-shifts as a result of local and global environmental change, leaving few signs that reefs will return to their initial state in the near future.
«This is a unique opportunity to look at long-term changes on an inshore reef system,» said author Prof. Hoegh-Guldberg from the University of Queensland. «Most studies are only a few decades in length — this one is just short of 100 years of study.»

In 1928 the Great Barrier Reef Committee and the Royal Society of London sent an expedition to study the Great Barrier Reef. Members of the expedition, pioneers in coral biology and reef studies, lived on Low Isles for over a year. During this time they documented environmental conditions surrounding the coral reefs of the Low Isles, as well as the community structure of tidal and subtidal communities, using, for the first time, a diving helmet.

Longest coral reef survey to date reveals major changes in Australia's Great Barrier Reef
The reef-flat at the Low Isles, which was covered with living branching Acropora corals in 1928
is now mostly dead [Credit: Professor Maoz Fine, Bar-Ilan University]

«What was critical to our study was how carefully the expedition in 1928 undertook their study,» said lead author Prof. Maoz Fine, of the Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences at Bar-Ilan University and the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences. «We were literally able to go the exact spot and identify features that the 1928 expedition saw.»
Members of the expedition produced aerial photography-based mapping of the island. This highly-accurate mapping enabled researchers in the current study to follow in their footsteps and revisit and sample the exact intertidal and subtidal locations previously explored 76, 87 and 91 years later, thereby forming the longest ecological survey to date.

In the latest investigation, carried out in three phases in 2004, 2015 and 2019, researchers discovered that intertidal communities have experienced major phase-shifts over nearly a century. Species richness and diversity of these communities systematically declined for corals and other invertebrates. Specifically, massive corals have replaced branching corals, and soft corals have become much more numerous.

Longest coral reef survey to date reveals major changes in Australia's Great Barrier Reef
These are patches of branching Acropora corals during low tide at Low Isles
[Credit: Professor Maoz Fine, Bar-Ilan University]

«The degree to which reefs may shift from one state to another following environment change was overwhelming,» said Prof. Fine. «The long-term implications of these changes highlight the importance of avoiding phase shifts in coral reefs which may take many decades to repair, if at all.» According to Fine the multi-year study also illustrates the importance of considering multiple factors in the decline, and potential recovery, of coral reefs, and the importance of tracking changes in community structure, as well as coral abundance, over long periods.

Coral reefs are highly sensitive to environmental change. Multiple stressors, in isolation or in combination, may lead to dramatic deterioration that can result in loss of reefs and their ecological services for many years. In the future the researchers hope to use the same methods to reconstruct data from other parts of the world where historical expeditions accurately documented similar communities.

Source: Bar-Ilan University [September 27, 2019]



Report: 58% of Europe’s native trees face extinction threat

An international conservation group is warning that more than half of the European tree species that exist nowhere else in the world are threatened with extinction.

Report: 58% of Europe's native trees face extinction threat
A critically endangered Sorbus rhodanthera is seen in Czech Republic
[Credit: Martin Lepsi/IUCN via AP]

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature said in a new report that 58% of Europe’s 265 endemic trees face an elevated risk of disappearing from the continent.

More than 150 experts contributed to the report, which the conservancy called the first comprehensive assessment of the extinction threat for all types of trees native to Europe.

Report: 58% of Europe's native trees face extinction threat
An endangered Sorbus sudetica, which is considered extinct in Poland, is seen in Czech Republic
[Credit: Alena Jirova/IUCN via AP]

The European Red List of Trees classified 37% of Europe’s 454 native tree species as «threatened.» Of those, 15% are «critically endangered,» a step away from extinction, the report said..
The findings come amid heightened concern about environmental issues and extinction risks in Europe and beyond. A U.N. report on biodiversity released in May warned that extinction looms for over 1 million species of plants and animals.

Report: 58% of Europe's native trees face extinction threat
An endangered Sorbus bosniaca is seen in Bosnia and Herzegovina
[Credit: Faruk Bogunic/IUCN via AP]

IUCN, a 71-year-old organization known for its «Red List» classification of threatened species, said that «invasive and problematic» species are the top threat to European trees, with urban development and «unsustainable logging» as other factors.

The group’s Europe director, Luc Bas, said «human-led activities» were resulting in population declines of important tree species.

Report: 58% of Europe's native trees face extinction threat
A critically endangered Cheddar Whitebeam tree is seen in England
[Credit: Libby Houston/IUCN via AP]

Among the recommendations , the report’s authors called for the creation of protected areas, improved monitoring and increased research on the impacts of climate change on forests and individual tree species.

The conservancy highlighted Aesculus hippocastanum, or the horse chestnut tree, native to southeastern Europe. The polished brown conker inside its spiked fruit «is perhaps more famous than the tree itself» because of its use in children’s playground games, the report said.

The species, present in Europe since before the last Ice Age, has been threatened by defoliation because of the leaf miner moth, and a blotch caused by a fungus, as well as by human pressures. It is endangered in Bulgaria and Greece and critically endangered in Albania.

Source: The Associated Press [September 27, 2019]



Egypt to restore 3,400-year-old sarcophagi of senior official and wife

Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Khaled al-Anany witnessed the unpacking process of two ancient sarcophagi ahead of their restoration and display in a new museum.

Egypt to restore 3,400-year-old sarcophagi of senior official
A mask of Sennedjem’s wife after it was removed from his coffin at the National Museum
of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo [Credit: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters]

The mummies in the two sarcophagi belong to a senior official of the New Kingdom of Egypt, and his wife, said Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.
The sarcophagi belong to Sennedjem, who served as the overseer of the workers at Deir al-Medina necropolis in Luxor during the reigns of Seti I and Ramsesses II of the 19th Dynasty, some 3,400 years ago, he said.

Egypt to restore 3,400-year-old sarcophagi of senior official
Sennedjem was an overseer of work at the Deir al-Medina necropolis in Luxor during the reigns
of Seti I and Ramesses II of the 19th dynasty [Credit: Egypt. Ministry of Antiquities]

Egypt to restore 3,400-year-old sarcophagi of senior official
Both mummies will be part of a new exhibition in December [Credit: EPA]

Egypt to restore 3,400-year-old sarcophagi of senior official
The restoration process will take months [Credit: EPA]

Sennedjem was nickname of the servant of the Palace of Truth, Ahmad al-Sherbini, general supervisor of the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC), told Xinhua.

The two mummies have been placed inside colored wood-made sarcophagi, said Sherbini.

Egypt to restore 3,400-year-old sarcophagi of senior official
Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany (C) and archaeologists look at the pharaonic mummy of Sennedjem
prior to its removal from the coffin at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in Cairo
[Credit: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters]

Egypt to restore 3,400-year-old sarcophagi of senior official
Archaeologists prepare to remove the mummy of Sennedjem from its coffin for fumigation at the National Museum of
Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in the capital Cairo’s Old Cairo district [Credit: Mohamed el-Shahed/AFP]

Egypt to restore 3,400-year-old sarcophagi of senior official
The mummy of Sennedjem lying inside its coffin before fumigation at the National Museum
of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo [Credit: Mohamed el-Shahed/AFP]

He highlighted the bodies are perfectly preserved in best conditions and its mummification process resembled that of the royal kings.
After removing the covers of the two sarcophagi, the mummies will be transferred to the restoration lab to be placed in a sterilization capsule for more than twenty days, Sherbini explained.

Egypt to restore 3,400-year-old sarcophagi of senior official
Archaeologists prepare the mummy of Sennedjem, for fumigation at the National Museum
of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in Cairo [Credit: Mohamed el-Shahed/AFP]

Egypt to restore 3,400-year-old sarcophagi of senior official
Archaeologists prepare the mummy of Sennedjem for fumigation at the National Museum
of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in Cairo [Credit: Mohamed el-Shahed/AFP]

Egypt to restore 3,400-year-old sarcophagi of senior official
Journalists gather around the mummy of Sennedjem after being removed from its coffin for fumigation
at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in Cairo
[Credit: Mohamed el-Shahed/AFP]

Egypt to restore 3,400-year-old sarcophagi of senior official
The  mummy of Sennedjem is seen after being removed from his coffin at the National Museum
of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in Cairo [Credit: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters]

«The fumigation process is similar to a sophisticated surgery conducted by very skillful restorers,» Anany said.

The mummies will also undergo a process of cleaning it from any insects for at least one month, Anany added.

Egypt to restore 3,400-year-old sarcophagi of senior official
Egypt’s Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani (2nd-L) directs archaeologists as they prepare the mummy
of Sennedjem for fumigation at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in Cairo
[Credit: Mohamed el-Shahed/AFP]

Egypt to restore 3,400-year-old sarcophagi of senior official
The pharaonic mummy of Sennedjem inside the fumigation tent lab at the National Museum
of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo [Credit: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters]

Sennedjem’s bodies were found along with other 20 mummies in a tomb discovered in 1886 on the west bank of the Nile by a French Egyptologist Maspero.
The two sarcophagi came from Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to the NMEC, partially opened in February, 2017.

The official opening of the NMEC is scheduled in the beginning of December after inaugurating the mummies hall that will include seventeen royal mummies, Sherbini added.

Located in the ancient city of Fustat in Cairo, the museum will display a collection of 50,000 artefacts, presenting Egyptian civilization from prehistoric times to the present day, Sherbini added.

The new museum, overlooking Ain el-Sirah lake, is composed of nine halls, he added.

Sherbini added the NMEC, the second largest museum in Egypt built on 23,235 square meters, will be also an integrated cultural center.

Source: Xinhua News Agency [September 27, 2019]



2019 October 5 Jupiter and the Moons Image Credit &…

2019 October 5

Jupiter and the Moons
Image Credit & Copyright: Derek Demeter (Emil Buehler Planetarium)

Explanation: After sunset on October 3, some of the Solar System’s largest moons stood low along the western horizon with the largest planet. Just after nightfall, a pairing of the Moon approaching first quarter phase and Jupiter was captured in this telephoto field of view. A blend of short and long exposures, it reveals the familiar face of our fair planet’s own large natural satellite in stark sunlight and faint earthshine. At lower right are the ruling gas giant and its four Galilean moons. Left to right, the tiny pinpricks of light are Ganymede, [Jupiter], Io, Europa, and Callisto. Our own natural satellite appears to loom large because it’s close, but Ganymede, Io, and Callisto are actually larger than Earth’s Moon. Water world Europa is only slightly smaller. Of the Solar System’s six largest planetary satellites, only Saturn’s moon Titan, is missing from this scene. But be sure to check for large moons in your sky tonight.

∞ Source: apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap191005.html

Hairy Dog Problems Like looking at a cross-section through a…

Hairy Dog Problems

Like looking at a cross-section through a lettered stick of rock, these patterned circles are a cross-section view of tiny ‘hairs’ on the surface of lung cells, known as cilia, visualised with an electron microscope. The cells are from an Alaskan Malamute dog with a hereditary lung disease called primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD), causing extra structures to form within the cilia (red arrows) and affecting their movement. Defective cilia can’t perform their usual job of sweeping out dust, mucus and infectious agents, leading to recurrent lung infections. Elsewhere in the body, immobile cilia can cause problems with fertility and brain development. By carefully analysing a dog family where two out of six puppies are affected by PCD, researchers have pinned the defect down to a gene called NME5. PCD can also affect humans, although the genetic culprit often isn’t known, so maybe NME5 is behind some of these cases too?

Written by Kat Arney

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NASA’s Push to Save the Mars InSight Lander’s Heat Probe

NASA — InSight Mission patch.

Oct. 3, 2019

Animation above: NASA InSight’s robotic arm will use its scoop to pin the spacecraft’s heat probe, or «mole,» against the wall of its hole. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA’s InSight lander, which is on a mission to explore the deep interior of Mars, positioned its robotic arm this past weekend to assist the spacecraft’s self-hammering heat probe. Known as «the mole,» the probe has been unable to dig more than about 14 inches (35 centimeters) since it began burying itself into the ground on Feb. 28, 2019.

The maneuver is in preparation for a tactic, to be tried over several weeks, called «pinning.»

NASA InSight’s Robotic Arm Helps Out its Mole on Mars

Video above: NASA’s InSight lander on Mars is trying to use its robotic arm to get the mission’s heat flow probe, or mole, digging again. InSight team engineer Ashitey Trebbi-Ollennu, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, explains what has been attempted and the game plan for the coming weeks. The next tactic they’ll try will be «pinning» the mole against the hole it’s in. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

«We’re going to try pressing the side of the scoop against the mole, pinning it to the wall of its hole,» said InSight Deputy Principal Investigator Sue Smrekar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. «This might increase friction enough to keep it moving forward when mole hammering resumes.»

Whether the extra pressure on the mole will compensate for the unique soil remains an unknown.

Designed to burrow as much as 16 feet (5 meters) underground to record the amount of heat escaping from the planet’s interior, the mole needs friction from surrounding soil in order to dig: Without it, recoil from the self-hammering action causes it to simply bounce in place, which is what the mission team suspects is happening now.

While JPL manages the InSight mission for NASA, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) provided the heat probe, which is part of an instrument called the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3). Back in June, the team devised a plan to help the heat probe. The mole wasn’t designed to be picked up and relocated once it begins digging. Instead, the robotic arm removed a support structure intended to hold the mole steady as it digs into the Martian surface.

Removing the structure allowed the InSight team to get a better look at the hole that formed around the mole as it hammered. It’s possible that the mole has hit a rock, but testing by DLR suggested the issue was soil that clumps together rather than falling around the mole as it hammers. Sure enough, the arm’s camera discovered that below the surface appears to be 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters) of duricrust, a kind of cemented soil thicker than anything encountered on other Mars missions and different from the soil the mole was designed for.

Image above: NASA’s InSight Mars lander acquired this image using its robotic arm-mounted, Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC). Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

«All we know about the soil is what we can see in images InSight sends us,» said Tilman Spohn, HP3s principal investigator at DLR. «Since we can’t bring the soil to the mole, maybe we can bring the mole to the soil by pinning it in the hole.»

Using a scoop on the robotic arm, the team poked and pushed the soil seven times over the summer in an effort to collapse the hole. No such luck. It shouldn’t take much force to collapse the hole, but the arm isn’t pushing at full strength. The team placed HP3 as far from the lander as possible so that the spacecraft’s shadow wouldn’t influence the heat probe’s temperature readings. As a result, the arm, which wasn’t intended to be used this way, has to stretch out and press at an angle, exerting much less force than if the mole were closer.

«We’re asking the arm to punch above its weight,» said Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu, the lead arm engineer at JPL. «The arm can’t push the soil the way a person can. This would be easier if it could, but that’s just not the arm we have.»

Interplanetary rescue operations aren’t new to NASA. The Mars Exploration Rover team helped save Spirit and Opportunity on more than one occasion. Coming up with workable solutions requires an extraordinary amount of patience and planning. JPL has a working replica of InSight to practice arm movements, and it has a working model of the heat probe as well.

Besides pinning, the team is also testing a technique to use the scoop in the way it was originally intended to work: scraping soil into the hole rather than trying to compress it. Both techniques might be visible to the public in raw images that come down from InSight in the near future.

About InSight

JPL manages InSight for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.

A number of European partners, including France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument to NASA, with the principal investigator at IPGP (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris). Significant contributions for SEIS came from IPGP; the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland; Imperial College London and Oxford University in the United Kingdom; and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) supplied the temperature and wind sensors.

More about InSight:


Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3): https://mars.nasa.gov/insight/spacecraft/instruments/hp3/

Animation (mentioned), Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/Alana Johnson/JPL/Andrew Good.

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