Sunday, June 21, 2009

"Glass" Frog Discovered in Ecuador

On their recent trip to the mountainous rain forests of Nangaritza, Ecuador, scientists from Conservation International’s Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) discovered seven new insects, a new lizard, and four more amphibians. Vice President of CI’s RAP group, Leeanne Alonso, said, “the species that we discovered on this expedition are fascinating and make clear how biologically important this area is – not only because of the wealth of plants and animals that inhabit it but also because of the service that it provides to local people, like clean water and the opportunities for income from ecotourism. It is crucial that it is protected properly.”

Along with the new species the scientists discovered, RAP also found a Nymphagus Chancas, a glass or crystal frog for the first time in Ecuador. The species have been recorded previously in northeastern Peru.

The Nymphagus Chancas is named for its translucent skin, which allows scientists to examine the frog’s internal organs. They are classified by their lack of webbing on their outer fingers, their lack of humeral spines in adult males, and their lobbed livers. Their natural habitats are subtropical or tropical montane rivers and forests.

According to Conservation International, the number of amphibians is in serious decline due to the global climate change, infectious diseases, and loss of habitat from deforestation and logging. CI endorses the introduction of amphibian habitats where these populations can live without the threat of deforestation. Conservation International also plans to use captive breeding programs to save amphibians from the threat of disease.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Giant Jellyfish Plaguing the World's Oceans

Giant jellyfish like this one are taking over parts of the world's oceans as overfishing and other human activities open windows of opportunity for them to prosper, say researchers.

In this photo, a diver is attaching a sensor to track a monster Echizen jellyfish, which has a body almost 5 feet across, off the coast of northern Japan.

Jellyfish are normally kept in check by fish, which eat small jellyfish and compete for jellyfish food such as zooplankton, researchers said. But, with overfishing, jellyfish numbers are increasing.

These huge creatures can burst through fishing nets, as well as destroy local fisheries with their taste for fish eggs and larvae.

Anthony Richardson of CSIRO Marine & Atmospheric Research and colleagues reported their findings in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution to coincide with World Oceans Day.

They say climate change could also cause jellyfish populations to grow. The team believes that for the first time, water conditions could lead to what they call a "jellyfish stable state," in which jellyfish rule the oceans.

The combination of overfishing and high levels of nutrients in the water has been linked to jellyfish blooms. Nitrogen and phosphorous in run-off cause red phytoplankton blooms, which create low-oxygen dead zones where jellyfish survive, but fish can't, researchers said.

"(There is) a jellyfish called Nomura, which is the biggest jellyfish in the world. It can weigh 200 kilograms (440 pounds), as big as a sumo wrestler and is 2 meters (6.5 feet) in diameter," Richardson said.

Richardson said jellyfish numbers are increasing in Southeast Asia, the Black Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

47 Million Year Old Fossil Hailed as "Missing-Link" Between Humans and Other Primates Open to Skepticism

A perfectly preserved fossil of a 47 million year old primate has been discovered, and is claimed to be a "missing link" between today's higher primates - monkeys, apes and humans - and more distant relatives. The fossil is in such great condition that it is possible to see traces of fur, and scientists have even identified the remnants of its last meal. Although this is a potentially groundbreaking scientific discovery, independent scientists are skeptical of the significance of the fossil, nicknamed Ida.

Ida was discovered in the 1980s in a fossil treasure-trove called Messel Pit, near Darmstadt in Germany. For much of the time period since then, it has been in a private collection. The investigation of the fossil's significance was led by Jorn Hurum of the Natural History Museum in Oslo, Norway.

Hurum claims the fossil creature was "the closest thing we can get to a direct ancestor" and described the discovery as "a dream come true".

The female animal lived during an epoch in Earth history known as the Eocene, which was crucial for the development of early primates.At first glance, Ida resembles a lemur, yet she lacks very specific features which are characteristic of the lemur - including elongated canine teeth.

The team concluded that she was not simply another lemur, but a new species. They have called her Darwinius masillae, to celebrate her place of origin and the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin.

Dr Jens Franzen, an expert on the Messel Pit and a member of the team, described Ida as "like the Eighth Wonder of the World", because of the extraordinary completeness of the skeleton.

It was information "palaeontologists can normally only dream of", he said.

In addition, Ida bears "a close resemblance to ourselves" he said, with nails instead of claws, a grasping hand and an opposable thumb - like humans and some other primates. But he said some aspects of the teeth indicate she is not a direct ancestor - more of an "aunt" than a "grandmother".

"She belongs to the group from which higher primates and human beings developed but my impression is she is not on the direct line."

Independent experts are keen to see the new fossil but somewhat skeptical of any claim that it could be "a missing link".

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Rare "LSD-Fish" Caught in the UK

A rare fish that causes two full days of hallucinations, apparently quite similar to LSD, has been caught off the coast of Cornwall.

The sarpa salpa, usually found in the Mediterranean and off the coast of southern Africa, was caught by fisherman Andy Giles.

He told The Sun: "I had never seen one before so I brought it back for experts to have a look at. Now I know what it was perhaps I should have taken it into town to sell to some clubbers."

This is a very interesting discovery, as it is only the third time the fish has been found in UK waters.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Searchers Set Record Finding Meteorites

The luminous fireball that lit up Alberta and Saskatchewan's night sky last fall, previously covered on Markit Science (Meteorite Spotted + Found!), has set a Canadian record for the number of meteorites recovered from a single fall. Scientists from University of Calgary have searched for the scattered remnants and have found more than 1000 fragments in fields near Lloydminster on the Alberta-Saskatchewan boundary.

This beat the previous record of 700 pieces set after a meteor hit the ground in central Alberta in 1960. Now that the snow has melted, the search continues, and Alan Hildebrand says they are finding dozens of meteorites a day.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Mysterious Spokes Discovered in Crater on Mercury

A bizarre spoke-like pattern of troughs and ridges has been found on the surface of Mercury by NASA's Messenger spacecraft. The feature is unlike any to be found in basins on Mercury or elsewhere in the solar system.

The feature sits in the Rembrandt impact basin, the second-largest impact scar on the planet. The basin was discovered during Messenger's second flyby of the planet on 6 October 2008, a maneuver that allowed the probe to photograph 30% of the planet's surface not previously seen by spacecraft.

By examining the craters that formed on top of it, researchers estimate that Rembrandt formed in an impact some 3.9 billion years ago, near the end of a barrage of impacts in the inner solar system known as the Late Heavy Bombardment.

The impact that created Rembrandt also fractured the crust beneath it, allowing magma to flow to the surface and partly fill the 700-kilometre-wide basin.

But researchers cannot yet explain some of the features etched in that volcanic material: a spoke-like pattern of troughs and ridges emanating from the centre of the basin.

The pattern is even stranger than a mysterious spider-shaped pattern of troughs found in Mercury's Caloris basin, during Messenger's first Mercury flyby in January 2008, says team member Thomas Watters of the Smithsonian Institution.

Troughs and ridges, which are thought to form through very different processes, are not expected to be found lying side by side.

So-called "wrinkle ridges" are caused when the crust compresses, while troughs are formed when it is stretched, causing the surface to separate.

"What's so bizarre is these features are sitting beside each other. We've never seen anything like that – not in Caloris, not anywhere," Watters told New Scientist.

Models cannot yet explain how this feature might have formed, Watters says. Multiple episodes of volcanic material bubbling up from below may be needed to explain the features.

A 1000-kilometre-long cliff, or scarp, though to be formed as Mercury's surface, was found, cutting across the rim and floor of the Rembrandt basin. It is the longest such scarp to be discovered on Mercury.

Messenger will make one last flyby of the planet on 29 September before entering into orbit around Mercury on 18 March 2011, where it is expected to operate for at least one year.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Honda Creates Thought Controlled Robot

The famous robot known as Asimo is back in the news, in a groundbreaking study that combines thought patterns with robotics. In Tokyo today at Honda headquarters, a new robotic technology that reads patterns of electrical currents on a person's scalp as well as changes in cerebral blood flow when a person thinks about four simple movements - moving the right hand, moving the left hand, trotting and eating. Honda succeeded in analyzing thought patterns and then relaying them as wireless commands for Asimo, their human shaped robot.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Skeletons For Sale

Going once, going twice, SOLD! If you are a serious fossil collector, and can afford the hefty cost, those might be the words you'd hear at a Natural History Auction hosted by I.M. Chait Gallery/Auctioneers on Saturday, March 21 in New York City.

Shown above is Lot 250: a mounted complete skeleton of a Dryosaurus dinosaur from the Jurassic Era. There are only two in the world, the other is on display at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pennsylvania. Apparently the one for sale is by far the more impressive specimen. It measures 127.5 inches from nose to tail, stands 36 inches high, and was expected to sell for $440,000 - $500,000.

But if dinosaurs are not really your style, perhaps you coule find more interest in Lot 199: a complete skeleton of a juvenile Wooly Mammoth. This 7-foot high, 15-foot long fossil is approximately 20,000 years old. The perfectly preserved specimen was expected to sell for $80,000 - $100,000, appealing to the more thrifty of shoppers.

Seeing Pink Elephants

No, this is not a drunken hallucination. While filming for a BBC wildlife program in Botswana, cameraman Mike Holding spotted this rare pink elephant calf among a herd of approximately 80 elephants. The young elephant is most likely an albino, which diminishes its chances for long-term survival under the scorching African sun. Lengthy exposure might result in blindness and serious skin problems.

Although albinism is considered quite common among Asian species, it is rather rare in the larger African elephants. "This is probably the first documented sighting of an albino elephant in northern Botswana," said Ecologist Dr. Mike Chase, head of the conservation charity Elephants Without Borders.

Although surviving into adulthood will be a difficult task for the baby elephant, Dr. Chase expressed some hope in the creature's ability to adapt and cope with its condition: "I have learned that elephants are highly adaptable, intelligent and masters of survival." He explained that it could seek refuge underneath large trees, or coat itself with thick mud.

"Already the two-to-three-month-old calf seems to be walking in the shade of its mother. This behavior suggests it is aware of its susceptibility to the harsh African sun, and adapted a unique behavior to improve its chances of survival."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fearless "Sharkman"

This shocking picture has been surfacing all over the internet, and has earned Mike Rutzen a global reputation as the "Sharkman". No stranger to the dangers associated with these beasts of the sea, he has over 30 scars on his body from close encounters. This former fisherman aims to change the stigma surrounding the powerful creatures, and hopes that the world will start to view them through his eyes, as smart and sensitive beings.

To succeed in his mission, he has been swimming alongside sharks without the protection of diving cages. He has learned to mimic their body language, by altering his posture in response to their actions. If done properly, the shark will see him neither as prey nor predator, and will merely drift past him. They even allow him to ride along by grasping onto their dorsal fins.

The photo above, showing Mike holding a 13-foot long Grey Reef Shark, is a demonstration of his most startling feat - inducing "tonic immobility" to the shark. Animals sometimes enter into this natural state of paralysis if faced with an imminent threat. However this can also be achieved in sharks by turning them onto their heads and massaging their snouts, between their eyes. The shark will then slip into this catatonic state for almost 15 minutes.

This method has been helpful for scientists wishing to study sharks, even the most dangerous kinds. In fact, by getting so close to a Great White, Mike discovered that their eyes are not black, but rather a dazzling, bright blue.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Cancer Spreading Enzyme Found

Cancer metastasis, where the cancer spreads from its original location, is known to be responsible for 90% of cancer-related deaths.

Institute of Cancer Research scientists have found that an enzyme called LOX is crucial in promoting metastasis, Cancer Cell journal reports.

Drugs to block this enzyme's action could keep cancer at bay, they hope.

The researchers studied breast cancer in mice but are confident that their findings will apply to humans with other cancer types too.

LOX (lysyl oxidase) works by sending out signals to prepare a new area of the body for the cancer to set up a camp Without this preparation process the new environment would be too hostile for the cancer to grow.

Lead researcher Dr. Janine Erler described the discovery as "the crucial missing piece in the jigsaw that scientists have been searching for."

She said it was the first time one key enzyme has been identified as responsible for effectively allowing the cancer to spread.

"If we can interrupt the body's ability to prepare new locations for the cancer to spread to, we can effectively prevent cancer metastasis.

"Cancer metastasis is very difficult to treat and this new discovery provides real hope that we can develop a drug which will fight the spreading of cancer," she said.

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK's science information manager, said: "A better understanding of how cancer spreads is crucial to improving the treatment of the disease. This research takes scientists a step closer to understanding this major problem - the next stage will be to find out if the LOX protein can be switched off to stop cancer spreading."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Oldest Fossilized Brain Found in Fish

A 300-million-year-old fossilized brain has been discovered by researchers studying a type of fish that once lived in what is now Kansas and Oklahoma.

Researchers report in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that the brain was discovered in a fossilized iniopterygian from Kansas, which they had sent for scanning at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France.

Iniopterygians are extinct relatives of modern ratfishes, also known as ghost sharks.
The scan found a fossilized blob inside the braincase and closer study revealed it was the fossilized brain of the ancient creature.

Asteroid Makes Close Call With Earth

A surprise asteroid named 2009 DD45 zipped between our planet and the moon on Monday March 2, and was moving at a speed of about 20 kilometers per second when it was closest to Earth.

Astronomers didn't notice the oncoming asteroid until February 28, when it showed up as a faint dot in pictures taken at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia.

At that point the asteroid was already a mere 2.4 million kilometers from Earth, and closing in fast.

Astronomers now know that the asteroid is moving within the inner solar system and that the space rock completes an orbit around the sun every 1.56 years.

This means the asteroid could swing close by Earth again someday—though that doesn't seem to be any cause for alarm, if Monday's flyby is any indication.

(Highlighted Image of the Asteroid)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Kepler Scouting for Alien Worlds

NASA is ready to utilize a new tool in the hunt for alien lifeforms, it is called the Kepler Telescope and it is designed to survey a region of the Milky Way and potentially discover hundreds of Earth-like planets in habitable zones around other stars. Scientists say it could also spot telltale signs of intelligent life, if it exists, in the patters of light coming from those stars.

They plan to focus the Kepler in on a specific section of the galaxy, to observe over 100,000 stars in the next 4 or 5 years. They are looking for tiny, regular changes in how much light is coming from the stars, relative to Kepler's view, which may be caused by a planet passing in front of its parent star.

The technique, in use for about a decade, has helped astronomers discover more than 300 large planets. Kepler is intended to hone in on smaller worlds, like Earth, that are well positioned around their parent stars for Earth-like life.

Are you ready for what the Kepler will find? Here is a video of a SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Life) Astronomer explaining what that might be.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Study Shows Marijuana Cuts Lung Cancer Tumor Growth in Half

A study conducted by researchers at Harvard University shows that the active ingredient in marijuana cuts tumor growth in common lung cancer in half, and significantly reduces the ability of the cancer cells to spread. The researchers conducted the experiment in both lab and mouse studies, with extraordinary results.

They say this is the first set of experiments to show that the compound, Delta-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), inhibits EGF-induced growth and migration in epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) expressing non-small cell lung cancer cell lines. Lung cancers with high levels of EGFR are usually highly aggressive and resistant to chemotherapy.

"The beauty of this study is that we are showing that a substance of abuse, if used prudently, may offer a new road to therapy against lung cancer," said Anju Preet, Ph.D., a researcher in the Division of Experimental Medicine.

Although the researchers do not know why THC inhibits tumor growth, they say the substance could be activating molecules that inhibit the cell cycle. They speculate that THC may also interfere with angiogenesis and vascularization, which promotes cancer growth.

Preet says much work is needed to clarify the pathway by which THC functions, and cautions that some animal studies have shown that THC can stimulate some cancers. "THC offers some promise, but we have a long way to go before we know what its potential is."

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

New Amphibian Species Found in Colombian Forest

A recent scientific exploration in Colombia's mountainous Darien region has discovered 10 new species of amphibians, the environmental organization Conservation International reported. The area is described as being a "safe haven" for frogs, and the species are completely new to science, being unearthed after only a three week survey of the area.

Friday, January 30, 2009

"Immortal" Jellyfish Swarming Across the Oceanic World

A type of jellyfish known as Turritopsis Nutricula has the ability to revert back to a juvenile form after becoming sexually mature and mating. Scientists claim the jellyfish population in the world is skyrocketing, because they don't seem to be dying.

It's gotten to the point where Dr Maria Miglietta of the Smithsonian Tropical Marine Institute said: "We are looking at a worldwide silent invasion."

Although they are only 5mm long, the jellyfish which originated in the Caribbean have managed to spread worldwide. Turritopsis Nutricula is technically known as a hydrozoan and is the only known animal that is capable of reverting completely to its younger self through the cell development process of trans-differentiation.

The scary concept to consider is that scientists believe they can do this indefinitely, causing this animal to be potentially immortal. Which is why it will be the focus of many intricate studies by marine biologists and geneticists, to determine exactly how it manages to literally reverse its aging process.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Scientists Combat Hunger with Flood Resistant Rice

University of California-Davis professor Pamela Ronald has made a ground breaking discovery, that will have huge ramifications on the developing world. They have managed to breed a new, hardier type of rice, which may succeed in stopping millions of people from going hungry worldwide. About half of the world's population utilizes rice as a staple in their diet, and if massive flooding were to wipe out an area such as India's supply of rice, it would have catastrophic consequences on the lives of millions.

"People (in the United States) think, well, if I don't have enough rice, I'll go to the store," said Ronald, a professor of plant pathology at UC-Davis. "That's not the situation in these villages. They're mostly subsistence farmers. They don't have cars."

With the combination of rising sea levels, and the worsening of world weather patterns - flooding has become a major cause of rice crop loss. Scientists estimate 4 million tons of rice are lost every year because of flooding. That's enough rice to feed 30 million people.

Normal rice dies after three day of intense flooding - "They don't get enough carbon dioxide, they don't get enough light and their entire metabolic processes are thrown off. The rice plant tries to grow out of the flood, but when it does, it depletes its sugar reserves. It starts to break down its chlorophyll, important for photosynthesis. It grows really quickly, and then when the flood recedes, it just dies. It's out of gas."

So Ronald and her colleagues have spent the last decade working to find a rice strain that could survive flooding for longer periods of time. An associate of Ronald's named David Mackill, identified a flood-resistant gene 13 years ago in a low-yielding traditional Indian rice variety. He passed along the information to Ronald, who isolated the gene, called Sub1, and introduced it into normal rice varieties, generating rice that could withstand being submerged in water for 17 days.

The team relied on something called precision breeding, the ability to introduce very specific genes into plants without the associated baggage of other genes that might get passed along in conventional breeding. Using precision breeding, scientists introduced the Sub1 gene three years ago into test fields in Bangladesh and India. The subsequent rice harvests were a resounding success.

"The results were really terrific," said Ronald. "The farmers found three- to five-fold increases in yield due to flood tolerance. They can plant the normal way. They can harvest the normal way and it tastes the same. Farmers had more food for their families and they also had additional rice they could sell to bring a little bit of money into the household."

The potential impact is huge, and the researchers predict that this strain of flood resistant rice will be available to farmers in Bangladesh within the next two years. Because the plants are the product of precision breeding, rather than genetic modification, they are not subject to the same regulatory testing that can delay release of genetically modified crops. The U.S. Department of Agriculture conferred one of its highest research awards last December on Ronald, Mackill and Bailey-Serres for their work on submergence-tolerant rice.

But Ronald has no plans to stop discovering new ways to sontribute her scientific knowledge to the world.

"I feel a great sense of gratitude that I was able to contribute in this way," she said. "But the farmers have asked us, 'Can you develop varieties that are drought tolerant, salt tolerant? Can you develop varieties that are insect resistant?' There are always more things to work on."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Video Footage of Recent Meteorite in Europe

On January 17, 2009, this footage was captured by a security camera in Sweden, and it was also seen by stargazers as far away as Denmark, Poland and Germany as well. Some reports claim that the meteorite landed somewhere in the Baltic Sea between Germany and Sweden.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Elusive Venomous Mammal

The Hispaniolan solendon waddles around one Caribbean island with its long, thin snout. This shrew-like mammal is capable of injecting its prey with a venom-packed bite. Just like many creatures in these regions, it is threatened by hunting, deforestation, and the introduction of competing species. After a period of dormancy in the media, the mammal was finally filmed in the summer of 2008, when it was spotted in the Dominican Republic. Neighboring Haiti is the only other country where this nocturnal, insect-eating animal can be found.

Dr Richard Young, from Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, said: "My colleagues were excited and thrilled when they found it in the trap. "But despite a month's worth of trapping effort, they only ever caught a single individual."

He said: "They are still incredibly vulnerable and fragile. So it is really important to get back out there to work how how these animals are surviving." However, sometimes it can be difficult to focus on important conservation goals in countries like Haiti, where remedying political corruption takes the top spot on the To Do list. Here is a video of the captured:

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Titan Moon May Hold the Key to Future Sustainability

NASA's Cassini Spacecraft has been mapping Saturn's orange moon known as Titan, covering about 20% of the moon's surface so far. What it has observed is remarkable, and may hold the key to sustaining life on our planet in the distant future. Titan has hundreds of times the amount of natural energy in the form of liquid hydrocarbons than all of the known oil and gas reserves on Earth, which even rain from the sky and collect in hundreds of vast lakes and dunes throughout the moon.

The temperature on Titan is a brisk minus 179 degres celsius, and a few of its more potent lakes have energy in the form of methane and ethane which have the capacity to provide 300 times the amount of energy the United States uses annually.

Scientists believe that methane might be supplied to the atmosphere by eruptions from the interior in cryovolcanic eruptions. If so, the amount of methane, and the temperature on Titan, may have fluctuated dramatically throughout Titan's long history.

There is still much to discover on Titan, which could hold the key to keeping our planet sustainably sound in the distant future, and the answer lies in the hundreds of deep natural gas lakes which are visible here from satellite photography.