A Bit More Detail

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Posts Tagged ‘science

[LINK] “Canadian-backed telescope construction delayed as Hawaiians defend Mauna Kea’s sacred summit”

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The National Post‘s Lauren Strapagiel looks at how a Canadian-backed telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea has become a major issue for indigenous Hawaiian activists.

The construction of what will be one of the world’s largest observatories — a project to which Canada has pledged $243 million — is on hold amid passionate protest by indigenous Hawaiians.

The $1.5 billion Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) will sit on top of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island and the highest peak in the state. At 4,205 metres above sea level, scientists say its summit provides unrivalled conditions for cosmic observation from TMT’s 30-metre wide primary mirror.

For some Native Hawaiians, however, Mauna a Wākea is a sacred place — a home to deities and buried ancestors. Traditionally, access to its summit is forbidden to all but chiefs and spiritual leaders.

Though the volcano is already home to 13 observatories, protesters have said TMT crosses a line, citing concerns for Mauna Kea’s unique flora and fauna as well as the peak’s cultural significance. Protesters have clashed with construction crews since they broke ground on the observatory last fall and 31 protesters opposing the project were arrested earlier this month.

Lawsuits have been filed by indigenous groups and an online petition opposing TMT has surpassed 51,000 signatures. On April 11, Hawaii’s governor David Ige announced the non-profit building the telescope has placed a moratorium on construction until at least April 20.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 20, 2015 at 9:49 pm

[LINK] On the recent inbreeding but continued survival of the mountain gorilla

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The Dragon’s Tales linked recently to the online paper “Mountain gorilla genomes reveal the impact of long-term population decline and inbreeding”. The abstract is below.

Mountain gorillas are an endangered great ape subspecies and a prominent focus for conservation, yet we know little about their genomic diversity and evolutionary past. We sequenced whole genomes from multiple wild individuals and compared the genomes of all four Gorilla subspecies. We found that the two eastern subspecies have experienced a prolonged population decline over the past 100,000 years, resulting in very low genetic diversity and an increased overall burden of deleterious variation. A further recent decline in the mountain gorilla population has led to extensive inbreeding, such that individuals are typically homozygous at 34% of their sequence, leading to the purging of severely deleterious recessive mutations from the population. We discuss the causes of their decline and the consequences for their future survival.

One commentary suggests the extended survival of the mountain gorilla as a small population over millennia augurs well for the species’ survival in the near term.

By analysing the variations in each genome, researchers also discovered that mountain gorillas have survived in small numbers for thousands of years. Using recently-developed methods, researchers were able to determine how the size of the population has changed over the past million years. According to their calculations, the average population of mountain gorillas has numbered in the hundreds for many thousands of years; far longer than previously thought.

“We worried that the dramatic decline in the 1980s would be catastrophic for mountain gorillas in the long term, but our genetic analyses suggest that gorillas have been coping with small population sizes for thousands of years,” says Dr Yali Xue, first author from the Sanger Institute. “While comparable levels of inbreeding contributed to the extinction of our relatives the Neanderthals, mountain gorillas may be more resilient. There is no reason why they should not flourish for thousands of years to come.”

It is hoped that the detailed, whole-genome sequence data gathered through this research will aid conservation efforts. Now that a genome-wide map of genetic differences between populations is available, it will be possible to identify the origins of gorillas that have been illegally captured or killed. This will enable more gorillas to be returned to the wild and will make it easier to bring prosecutions against those who poach gorillas for souvenirs and bush meat.

“Our dedicated programme of clinical monitoring and intervention in cooperation with the Rwanda Development Board, the Institut Congolese pour la Conservation du Nature and local communities is helping to ensure the health and sustainability of endangered mountain gorillas,” says Dr Mike Cranfield, Co-Director of Gorilla Doctors. “Detailed genetic data help us trace where confiscated gorillas came from, and allows the assessment of the genetic health of the population as well as their susceptibility to certain health issues.”

Written by Randy McDonald

April 14, 2015 at 10:31 pm

Posted in Science

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[LINK] “Two mysterious bright spots on dwarf planet Ceres are not alike”

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New Scientist‘s Jacob Aron reports on the latest mystery to emerge from Ceres.

The unidentified bright spots on dwarf planet Ceres have become more mysterious. The spots on the surface were first glimpsed close-up just a month ago, and now infrared images reveal that they have different thermal properties.

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is currently in orbit around the dwarf planet, which sits in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Mission scientists presented the latest results from the spacecraft at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna, Austria, today.

Two spots on the surface, labelled feature one and feature five, show up in visible light images as very bright in comparison to the rest of Ceres’s dull grey, leading to speculation that they could be the sites of watery volcanoes on the dwarf planet, also known as cryovolcanoes.

Now Federico Tosi, who works on Dawn’s Visible and Infrared Spectrometer, has presented infrared images of the two spots, measuring their thermal properties. “What we have found is that bright spot number one corresponds to a dark spot in the thermal image,” he said at a press conference today. In other words, the bright spot is much cooler than its surroundings.

In comparison, feature five, which appears as two separate bright spots next to each other in visible images, didn’t show up in the infrared images. “Spot number five shows no distinct thermal behaviour,” he said, meaning it is the same temperature as its surroundings. At the moment Dawn is too far away from Ceres to determine whether this is due to the bright spots being made from different stuff, or due to a different structure on the ground.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 14, 2015 at 10:17 pm

[CAT] “What type of music is best for relaxing cats during surgery? (Hint: it’s not heavy metal.)”

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Discover‘s Seriously Science reported on a recent paper that claimed that cats in the stressful situation of impending surgery are more relaxed after listening to classical music, compared to other genres.

Influence of music and its genres on respiratory rate and pupil diameter variations in cats under general anaesthesia: contribution to promoting patient safety

“Objectives The aims of the study were to recognise if there is any auditory sensory stimuli processing in cats under general anaesthesia, and to evaluate changes in respiratory rate (RR) and pupillary diameter (PD) in anaesthetised patients exposed to different music genres, while relating this to the depth of anaesthesia.
Methods A sample of 12 cats submitted for elective ovariohysterectomy were exposed to 2 min excerpts of three different music genres (classical [CM], pop [PM] and heavy metal [HM]) at three points during surgery (T1 = coeliotomy; T2 = ligature placement and transection of the ovarian pedicle; T3 = ligature placement and transection of the uterine body). A multiparametric medical monitor was used to measure the RR, and a digital calliper was used for PD measurement. Music was delivered through headphones, which fully covered the patient’s ears.
Results Statistically significant differences between stimuli conditions for all surgical points were obtained for RR (T1, P = 0.03; T2, P = 0.00; and T3, P = 0.00) and for PD (T1, P = 0.03; T2, P = 0.04; and T3, P = 0.00). Most individuals exhibited lower values for RR and PD when exposed to CM, intermediate values to PM and higher values to HM.
Conclusions and relevance The results suggest that cats under general anaesthesia are likely to perform auditory sensory stimuli processing. The exposure to music induces RR and PD variations modulated by the genre of music and is associated with autonomic nervous system activity. The use of music in the surgical theatre may contribute to allowing a reduced anaesthetic dose, minimising undesirable side effects and thus promoting patient safety.”

Written by Randy McDonald

April 11, 2015 at 11:57 pm

Posted in Assorted

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[BLOG] Some Friday links

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  • At Acts of Minor Treason, Andrew Barton is very unhappy with the misuse of the Hugo Award.
  • Anthropology.net notes that DNA has been retrieved from an ancient and mostly fossilized Neanderthal fossil.
  • Centauri Dreams examines the early history of the Milky Way Galaxy.
  • Crooked Timber looks at the controversies over religious liberty.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze considers how extraterrestrial life can be detected through disequilibria in exoplanet atmosphere and notes the recent Alpha Centauri B study.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that by 2018 a laser will be deployed on a drone.
  • Geocurrents shares slides from a recent lecture on Yemen.
  • Language Hat examines the Yiddish word “khnyok”.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money considers the Republican race.
  • Marginal Revolution notes the unpopularity of political jobs among young Americans.
  • The Planetary Society Blog notes SpaceX’s problem with retrieving the first stages of its rockets.
  • Torontoist looks at beekeeping in Toronto.
  • Towleroad notes a Kickstarter fundraiser for Emil Cohen’s photos of queer life in Providence.
  • Transit Toronto notes the expansion of free WiFi throughout the subway system.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes that divorce papers can be served via Facebook if it is the most practical alternative.
  • Window on Eurasia fears a summertime Russian attack on Ukraine, notes Russian fears of rebellion at home, and looks at Russian Internet censorship.
  • The World’s Gideon Rachman wonders if the Greek demand for Second World War reparations will bring the Eurozone crisis to a head.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell notes the essential lack of difference on government spending between Labour and the Tories and looks at flawed computer databases.

[LINK] “Largest HIV outbreak in Indiana history hits tiny community”

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The Toronto Star‘s Jennifer Yang describes a terrible epidemic of HIV in the United States, a drug-borne pandemic in Indiana’s Scott County aggravated by public policy and poor public health.

Since December, 89 cases have been reported in Scott County, a region that typically sees five HIV cases a year. Most are in Austin, a crumbling city of about 4,300 located near the Kentucky border.

The crisis has triggered a state of emergency and urgent response measures, including a temporary needle exchange program, which is normally illegal under Indiana state law. But as public health officials scramble to contain the outbreak, a troubling question looms: how could this have happened?

Investigators say the HIV outbreak was caused by another epidemic that has long plagued Scott County: drug addiction. “One hundred per cent of cases have reported IV drug use so far,” Dr. Jerome Adams, Indiana’s health commissioner, told the Star.

While unsafe sex has helped spread the virus, Adams believes this is the “largest or first outbreak of its kind solely related to prescription drug abuse.” In Austin, where public parks are littered with syringes, police are pointing the finger at Opana, the area’s “drug of choice,” a prescription painkiller that can be crushed and injected. In 2012, Reuters reported that Opana was the “new scourge of America,” gaining popularity after the painkiller OxyContin was changed to become more difficult to abuse.

Scott County is one of Indiana’s poorest areas and 17 per cent of people live in poverty, with a median household income of $43,650. “Austin has historically been a poor community,” said Cpl. Carey Huls, a public information officer with Indiana State Police. “Over time, because of joblessness, the drugs crept in.”

Written by Randy McDonald

April 8, 2015 at 10:21 pm

[LINK] “Wooly Mammoth Genes Inserted into Elephant Cells”

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The Dragon’s Tales linked last week to this Discovery News report suggesting that the resurrection of the mammoth may not be too far off.

Researchers from Harvard University have successfully inserted genes from a woolly mammoth into living cells from an Asian elephant, the extinct giant’s closest remaining relative.

Harvard geneticist George Church used DNA from Arctic permafrost woolly mammoth samples to copy 14 mammoth genes — emphasizing those related to its chilly lifestyle.

“We prioritized genes associated with cold resistance including hairiness, ear size, subcutaneous fat and, especially, hemoglobin,” Church told The Sunday Times.

Then, using a kind of DNA cut/paste system called CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat), Church dropped the genes into Asian elephant skin cells.

The result? A petri dish of elephant cells functioning normally with mammoth DNA in them, marking the first time mammoth genes have been on the job since the creature went extinct some 4,000 years ago, as Sarah Fecht, from Popular Science, noted.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 30, 2015 at 10:42 pm

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