Calif. drought wreaking havoc on ecosystems, scientists say | Giant arapaima being fished to extinction in Amazon | Alexander-era tomb found in Greece
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August 14, 2014
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Calif. drought wreaking havoc on ecosystems, scientists say
California has never been a stranger to drought because of its extreme hydrological cycle, but scientists say current drought conditions are rapidly reforming the state's ecosystems and providing a glimpse into the possible future. The ecosystem is already greatly modified and susceptible to several stresses, and this puts many plant and animal species at risk. "The west has always gone through this, but we'll be going through it at perhaps a more rapid cycle," said plant ecologist Mark Schwartz of the John Muir Institute of the Environment. Nature (free content) (8/12)
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Science in the News
Giant arapaima being fished to extinction in Amazon
Arapaima, a giant, air-breathing fish that once thrived in the Amazon, has been pushed to extinction in many areas due to overfishing, according to researchers. The fish, which can grow to about 10 feet, or about 3 meters, are easy to catch because they come up for air every five to 15 minutes. "Fishers continue to harvest arapaima regardless of population depletion. When the mature, large fish are gone, gill nets are used to harvest small fish and these capture juvenile arapaima as well. Eight communities report zero arapaima," said Virginia Tech's Leandro Castello, who led the research. BBC (8/13)
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Alexander-era tomb found in Greece
A tomb from near the end of Alexander the Great's reign has been uncovered in Greece, according to officials. The tomb appears to have never been looted and may have belonged to a senior official. Archaeologists have uncovered the entrance to the tomb, and expect to enter it in the next two weeks. The Christian Science Monitor/The Associated Press (8/13)
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Imaging technology a boon in study of ancient fossils
Digital scans, X-rays and computer reconstructions give scientists the ability to take a 3D look at fossils on a microscopic scale, leaving the samples in tact so they can be studied many times over. Imaging technology such as X-ray microtomography are "transforming our understanding of long-studied fossil groups, and of the narratives of organismal and ecological evolution that have been built upon them," according to University of Bristol's Stephan Lautenschlager and his team in their review article in Trends in Ecology & Evolution. American Scientist magazine (9/2014)
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Mummification practices started earlier in Egypt than previously thought
The ancient practice of mummification has been around longer than previously thought, according to a study published in PLoS ONE. Researchers have found evidence that a form of mummification was in use more than 6,000 years ago, finding embalming substances in funerary textiles from as early as 4,300 B.C. "I was surprised that the prehistoric Egyptians, who lived in a tribal society 1,000 years before the invention of writing, were already in possession of the empirical science that would later become true mummification," said Egyptologist Jana Jones of Macquarie University in Australia. Reuters (8/13)
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Butterfly wing-headed flying reptile fossils found in Brazil
The remains of a flock of ancient flying reptiles with butterfly wing-shaped crests atop their heads has been found in Brazil, according to paleontologists with the Museu Nacional/Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. Caiuajara dobruskii lived in the Cretaceous period about 80 million years ago and is a pterosaur. The fossils were found in southern Brazil in the 1970s and forgotten until recently, according to a study that details the findings in PLoS ONE. (8/13)
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Study: Squeals indicate pleasure in whales, dolphins
Bottlenose dolphins and beluga whales squeal with delight when they're happy, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. The sounds are different than the buzzing many whales and dolphins use to locate prey, according to researchers with the National Marine Mammal Foundation. They theorize that the squeals occur after their brains release dopamine, which plays a role in how pleasure is displayed among humans. National Geographic News (free registration)/Weird and Wild blog (8/13)
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Asteroid found to be loosely joined pile of rubble
An asteroid that could potentially hit Earth in about 800 years is just a bunch of rubble connected loosely by extremely weak forces, according to astronomers. "I was expecting to find a high-density metallic asteroid, as such an asteroid wouldn't require cohesive forces to hold itself together under its fast rotation. Instead we found the opposite," said University of Tennessee astronomer Ben Rozitis, lead author of the study published in Nature. (8/13)
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Study reveals how Ebola disables the immune system
A study in the journal Cell Host & Microbe reveals that the Ebola virus carries the protein called VP24, which blocks interferons, or proteins that warn the nucleus about bacterial or viral invasions. The VP24 protein particularly targets transcription factor STAT1, which carries interferon's antiviral message, making the body incapable of mounting a defense against the virus. "Figuring out how VP24 promotes this disruption will suggest new ways to defeat the virus," said lead researcher Chris Basler. Reuters (8/13), HealthDay News (8/13)
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Funding Watch
BioCryst gets $4.1M grant to develop drug to treat Ebola
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has given drug developer BioCryst Pharmaceuticals a $4.1 million grant to test an experimental antiviral drug to treat Ebola. The drug, known as BCX4430, is being developed as a treatment for Marburg, a related virus, but research will be expanded to include Ebola. "The ongoing Ebola epidemic in West Africa emphasizes the urgent need for safe and effective antiviral agents for hemorrhagic fever virus diseases," said William Sheridan, the company's chief medical officer. The Charlotte Observer (N.C.) (8/13)
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