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Science Codex / December 02, 2020
Discovery of plant amyloids could help create varieties with improved seed quality
Группа российских и французских исследователей впервые доказала, что фибриллярные белки амилоиды, ранее обнаруженные у бактерий, архей, животных и грибов, содержатся также и в растениях. Если удастся найти способ регулирования количества амилоидов, это позволит повысить пищевую ценность семян растений, а также создать менее аллергенные сорта бобовых.
Thanks to this work, as the journal Trends in Plant Science recently noted, it is now known that functional amyloids serve biological functions in representatives of almost all large groups of living organisms: bacteria, archaea, animals, fungi, and plants.
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This fundamental finding could help improve the nutritional value of plant seeds and even reduce allergenicity of legume seeds in the future.
On the packaging of more than a half of snacks and sweets, which may not contain nuts at all, a warning phrase is often found: "It may contain traces of peanuts." Some people are so allergic to this product that the smallest particles of the peanut or even its powder causes an unpleasant and sometimes dangerous reaction: from a simple rash to severe swelling. Peanut seeds contain many proteins, some of which can cause allergies. One of the most potent allergens is vicilin, which is found in various legumes, including peanuts and peas.
The study was conducted by the team of researchers from: St Petersburg University; the All-Russian Research Institute for Agricultural Microbiology; the Institute of Cytology of the Russian Academy of Sciences; the Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Biophysics of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Kazan Federal University; and the University of Burgundy (France). The research findings are published in the journal PLOS Biology. The scientists managed to show by experiments for the first time (previously they managed to predict this using bioinformatic algorithms) that the seeds of garden pea contain amyloid-like aggregates of storage proteins - amyloid fibrils. They were previously found in bacteria, archaea, animals and fungi, but were first found in plants. Interestingly, most of the amyloids in pea seeds are formed by the aforementioned protein vicilin.
"Vicilin is one of the most important food allergens found in legumes. The mechanism of its allergenicity can potentially be associated with the amyloid properties of this protein that we have discovered. We have shown that storage proteins, which are the main reservoir of nutrients for the embryo, accumulate in seeds as amyloids. In the future, studying these mechanisms could help create less allergenic varieties of peas, peanuts, and other legumes," said Anton Nizhnikov, the corresponding author of the research, Associate Professor at the Department of Genetics and Biotechnology at St Petersburg University, Laboratory Head at the All-Russian Research Institute of Agricultural Meteorology
"Interestingly, according to our bioinformatic data, the storage proteins of seeds not only of peas, but of a number of plants that do not belong to legumes, turned out to be abundant in sites that are prone to the formation of amyloids, that is, compact and stable fibrillar aggregates. This explains the ability of seeds to survive various unfavourable conditions and germinate after many years," noted Kirill Antonets, the first author of the research, Associate Professor at the Department of Cytology and Histology at St Petersburg University, Senior Research Associate at the All-Russian Research Institute of Agricultural Meteorology.
Another possible applied value of this work is the creation of plant cultures with super nourishing seeds in the future. The in vitro experiments performed by the scientists have shown that mammals cannot completely digest plant amyloids: they cannot be broken down by digestive enzymes. As Anton Nizhnikov explains, amyloids significantly impair the nutritional value of seeds. It is therefore important to understand how the formation of amyloids in plant seeds can be reduced in order to obtain varieties with a larger amount of common proteins. Such crops can become particularly useful and nutritious for humans.
"Today we are also studying the amyloids of root nodule bacteria. These are the microorganisms that can enter into symbiosis with legumes and bind atmospheric nitrogen so that plants can receive more nutrients," said Anton Nizhnikov. "There is an assumption that amyloids can also play an important role in a mutually beneficial symbiotic process. At least root nodule bacteria, as we have shown, also have amyloids. We hope that our findings will be of benefit to the development of plant biology and microbiology, as well as for agriculture."
For reference: a special fibrillar aggregate of proteins - amyloids - has become known for its association with a number of diseases caused by abnormal protein aggregation, known as amyloidosis. In these severe diseases, monomeric soluble proteins are converted into polymeric fibrillar deposits that form amyloid "plaques" in various tissues and organs. In total, there are more than 40 human diseases associated with amyloids, and they are very difficult to treat or are completely incurable.
However, as this research also confirms, in recent decades, scientists around the world have been finding more and more evidence that amyloids function in healthy organisms. This form of protein makes it possible to "conserve" and stabilise various substances. Moreover, it acts as a kind of structural "template". This happens not only in plants. For example, in humans and animals, some of the hormones are stored precisely in the form of amyloids, while other functional amyloids are involved in melanin biosynthesis and the formation of long-term memory.
EurekAlert / 2-dec-2020
Academic dishonesty: Fear and justifications
Why Russian undergraduates cheat and how they rationalise it for themselves and others.
Ученые Высшей школы экономики провели исследование академического мошенничества среди студентов - списывания, плагиата, покупки готовых работ и т. п. Опросы, проведенные среди учащихся и преподавателей российских вузов, показали, в каких случаях академическое мошенничество считается оправданным или хотя бы допустимым и почему принимаемые против него меры не дают результата.
Why do some students cheat by looking over someone's shoulder, furtively searching for test answers on the internet, using cheat sheets during exams or paying others to complete their coursework? How do they rationalise their behaviour to continue to think of themselves as decent people? A study conducted by the HSE Centre for Sociology of Higher Education offers some answers.
Cheating Is Contagious
According to studies performed in many countries, the vast majority of students have at least once committed academic fraud such as plagiarism, using cheat sheets during exams, "outsourcing" one's homework, sharing information between peers regarding test answers, etc. There are many reasons why academic dishonesty is so widespread. Often students' perception of their peers' behaviour has an effect on the likelihood of cheating. Students who believe that most of their classmates do it are more inclined to cheat.
A recent study by the Centre for Sociology of Higher Education of the HSE Institute of Education suggests that cheating students use various mental strategies to rationalise and justify their dishonesty, indicating their awareness that cheating is wrong and their attempts to resolve an internal conflict. Dremova, Maloshonok and Terentiev a number of undergraduates in Russia and the U.K. at both highly selective (two in each country) and medium-level universities (one in each, in different regions), most of them large and multidisciplinary ones. The students interviewed were predominantly economics and business undergraduates whom other studies found to be more prone to academic fraud.
Cheating such as copying from other students' papers was found in both countries. But the study did not involve a cross-country comparison, rather, its main purpose was to provide a generalised classification of reasons why undergraduates may either judge or justify cheating and to suggest appropriate measures against academic fraud for various national contexts. The researchers identified six main types of logic - or "modes" - of dishonest conduct, based on Laurent Thévenot and Luc Boltanski's sociology of critical capacity.
Modes of Justification
In their seminal work "De la justification: Les économies de la grandeur", Boltanski and Thévenot identify six "modes" - or "regimes" - of criticism and/or justification, listed below with examples from the sphere of academic dishonesty:
• the inspiration mode, involving an emotional aspect, e. g. the study content evokes either interest or boredom;
• the domestic (traditional) mode, instilled by family or school, e. g. cheating is considered unacceptable (or okay) in the family;
• the opinion (reputation) mode, based on external assessment of one's actions, e. g. successful cheating is admired but being caught causes a student to lose points with peers;
• the civic mode, which is community-driven, e. g. peer cover-up, (un)willingness to share assignments;
• the market mode, seeking to obtain results at a relatively small cost;
• the industrial (functional) regime, e. g. is there any benefit in taking a course? If none is expected, cheating is okay.
In a more recent paper, Boltanski and Eve Chiapello added a project-oriented mode, in which the equivalency principle is based on whether one is active and likely to initiate projects. This mode, however, can hardly be applied to academic dishonesty, because cheating and plagiarism are associated with precisely the opposite: an unwillingness to be active at school.
Interesting vs Boring
Being in the inspiration mode often means that the student is interested in the subject and finds it easy to engage with the teaching and learning materials and the teacher's presentation. Students who are motivated and passionate about a subject are not likely to cheat. "Writing it on your own is better, because you are starting to really understand [the subject]", according to a respondent in Russia.
On the opposite end are negative feelings, such as extreme anxiety at the exam, fear of failure, boredom and aversion to the subject or to the teacher. Students experiencing such feelings are more likely to cheat and often rationalise their dishonesty by being too nervous, finding the subject too complicated and the teacher overly demanding, and saying that "you cannot retain such a huge amount of information in your head anyway".
According to a study participant, "Some teachers give lectures in a monotonous manner, so following them is virtually impossible <...>. Also, some teachers are not really involved in the process during seminars, and their students answer by reading out papers downloaded from the internet and no one cares".
But sometimes people are motivated to be honest because they want to avoid negative feelings. "I almost bought [an essay] once", says a Russian university undergraduate. "But then I felt it was kind of shameful <...> humiliating. I do not consider myself too stupid to write an essay".
As far as the inspiration mode is concerned, teachers need to know how to engage students in their subject, in particular by soliciting feedback from students about the content and delivery of the courses they take.
The researchers also advise teachers to consider using close supervision and strict sanctions to discourage students from cheating by creating negative emotional associations with dishonest behaviour.
In the traditional mode, dishonest conduct is either justified or rejected based on students' pre-existing attitudes. Thus, some undergraduates justify their cheating by saying that it was tolerated in their family or secondary school. "When we come to university, we are already prepared to cheat, just like we had been doing for the 11 years before that", according to a Russian student.
Another respondent argues, "[We learn] all of this from adults, from our older sisters and brothers, from our parents, who tell us stories about getting stuff without paying or about outwitting someone. So you come to university and cheat to avoid studying hard, just as you did before <...>".
For other students, integrity is a value instilled by their family. "I was raised to be honest", says a U.K. respondent. "I want to be proud of the work I do and to be able to say that I did this myself".
Since most undergraduates' attitudes are already well-established, there is not much a university can do to combat cheating justified by "tradition".
Success at Any Cost In the reputation mode, other people's opinion is the main consideration for those who cheat to get a good grade or avoid a bad one. "Given a chance to look up the right answer, I don"t think anyone would miss out on it by saying that they never cheat on principle", according to a Russian undergraduate. Another reason to cheat is to avoid upsetting one's family.
A student from the U.K. explains, "If our parents are only concerned about our academic performance and pressure gets too high, cheating looks like an increasingly interesting option".
On the other hand, the fear of damaging one's reputation by being caught can discourage academic fraud. "If your school finds out that you have been cheating, you will be punished", a U.K. respondent explains.
In order to respond to this type of justification, any academic success gained by cheating should be declared unacceptable and damaging to the cheater's reputation.
Common Good and Punishment
This mode is based on collectivism and informal rules established among peers. "It's a matter of mutual help," says a respondent from Russia. "I allow you to copy from my paper and you allow me to copy from yours. Either all of us should avoid cheating or we all agree to cheat".
A few other studies found that students often interpret cheating behaviour as acceptable peer support. "If you peek at someone's paper just a little bit to compare your answers<...>, I don't think of it as something bad", a respondent says. "We need to help each other".
Those who are against cheating often refer to broader responsibility before society. "I believe that someone [who completes an assignment on behalf of someone else] harms society by enabling that person to get through university without gaining the knowledge".
Sanctions imposed on the entire group rather than the individual cheater may be effective in dealing with this type of dishonest conduct. "It's like in the army - one person messes up, the entire team is made to do push-ups together or mop the floor", according to one respondent.
Big Gain with Least Effort
In the market mode, students hope to achieve their goals with the least possible investment of time and effort. They rationalise dishonesty by saying that it is okay to save one's resources while still getting the desired result. "The main thing [for some people] is to get a degree, so they choose to pay [for a term paper, a thesis or an essay]", a Russian respondent explains.
He is echoed by a U.K. undergraduate who says, "If there were a really big difference between passing and failing, I would cheat because the cost of failure would be too high," and summarises, "Do whatever it takes to pass the exam".
Another argument may be that cheating is tolerated in university. "I am not aware of anyone getting kicked out [for cheating]. <...> Everyone does it and everyone gets away with it, so why not me?", a Russian respondent says.
The attitude of the faculty can also play a role. According to some students, teachers prefer to look the other way because they will be worse off by exposing cheating. "If they catch someone with a cheat sheet<...>, they will need to reschedule the exam at the cost of their personal time - which perhaps will not be compensated<...>".
According to another respondent, "If all your teacher needs is some kind of paper from you, I don't consider [cheating in this situation] to be academic fraud". But cheating can be risky. "I was afraid to pull out and use my cheat sheet", a student admits. "I knew that I could be kicked out of the exam if caught". Justifications of this type rely on the perceived balance between cost and benefit. Codes of conduct, group discussions and similar approaches to changing students' minds are not likely to work in this situation. "Stricter supervision to make it more difficult for students to achieve their goals by cheating may be more effective", according to the researchers.
In the industrial mode, students make decisions based on whether or not a course is likely to contribute to their future career. When cheating is perceived as an obstacle to useful learning, it is avoided, because cheaters make incompetent employees, as potential employers will quickly discover.
"Those who thoughtlessly download papers from the internet deny themselves the opportunity to think independently, to learn how to express their ideas, search for information and reorganise it", according to a Russian undergraduate. "As a result, their degrees do not reflect their actual abilities". Another respondent agrees that someone who refuses to complete assignments "will simply fail to learn anything of value before their graduation", stressing that "when studying is a tick-box exercise, one is not getting any real value out of it".
On the other hand, some students justify academic dishonesty by claiming that the content of certain university courses has little relevance to their future occupation. "A lot of words but not much meat - no practice, only theory", a respondent from Russia complains. Another undergraduate argues that "academic fraud is okay" in a course which "has no effect on your future" but is only needed for the degree.
Making courses interesting and relevant is a universal response to this and other rationalisations of dishonesty, because student engagement is the best cure for cheating. This may not work, however, in schools where academic fraud has acquired epidemic proportions to become the new norm.
According to the authors, more research could determine the prevalence of different cheating justification modes across universities and help design effective responses for each case.
Copyright © 2020 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
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India Education Diary / December 3, 2020
Scientists Conduct Vostsibneftegaz-Sponsored Unique Studies of Post-Fire Landscapes of Evenki Forests
Ученые Сибирского федерального университета и Института леса им. В.Н.Сукачева СО РАН провели совместную экспедицию при поддержке «Восточно-Сибирской нефтегазовой компании» по изучению послепожарных ландшафтов в Эвенкийском муниципальном районе (Красноярский край). Основной целью исследования было прогнозирование пожаров и определение потенциала восстановления лесов.
Employees of the Siberian Federal University School of Ecology and Geography jointly with the Sukachev Institute of Forest of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences have conducted a unique expedition to study post-fire landscapes in Evenki municipal district of Krasnoyarsk Krai as part of a grant project of the East Siberian Oil and Gas Company, a subsidiary of Rosneft Oil Company. Fieldwork took place near the Tura community.
The total area under study was 600,000 km, 25% of which had been subject to forest fires in the last 20 years. The study will help assess the impact of massive natural fires that have become more frequent in Eastern Siberia during the summer period.
The key objective of the study is to forecast the fires and determine the potential for forest restoration. By carrying out a comprehensive analysis of vegetation and soil at test sites, scientists assess the condition of landscapes after a fire. During the expedition, the ecologists collected soil samples, took readings from temperature and humidity sensors, checked the coordinates of the sites under study and measured permafrost under regular forest fires.
This is the first time that such comprehensive monitoring has been organised in the area. The project has already processed data from ground and remote observations of the post-fire condition of the area under study. Data on the state of vegetation after fires in deciduous forests was obtained by analysing satellite images of the earth and water surface, which show the level of damage and vegetation recovery. Some temperature abnormalities have been recorded in areas disturbed by fires. Moreover, it has been established that the greatest damage to land cover in the extreme conditions of continuous permafrost is caused by stable grassroots fires. They disturb the soil cover, which is the main thermal regulator of the soil environment.
The frequency of forest fires is an urgent issue due to climate change presenting as increased average annual temperatures and decreased precipitation. The fire interval standard is once every 50 years in pine forests and 80 years in deciduous forests. Nowadays, this phenomenon is becoming almost annual, and the forests have no time to recover. According to remote monitoring data, the same areas have started to burn in recent years. Experts believe that unless the necessary measures are taken, there are risks of losing the main wealth of the Siberian taiga - hectares of forest.
Laboratory processing of the data obtained is currently in progress and the material is being analysed and consolidated. The research results will form the basis for assessing the potential of the northern landscapes of the Krasnoyarsk Territory for restoration and will help to develop detailed recommendations for natural resources recovery.
© Copyright IndiaEducationDiary, 2020.
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Mirage News / December 9, 2020
Scientists have tested new materials for protective masks
Ученые Томского госуниверситета, Института физики прочности и материаловедения СО РАН и Инжинирингового химико-технологического центра разработали новую технологию придания бактерицидных и вирулицидных свойств материалам медицинского назначения, в том числе тем, из которых изготавливаются маски и защитная одежда.
Scientists from TSU, the Institute of Strength Physics and Materials Science of the Russian Academy of Sciences (ISPMS SB RAS), and the Engineering Chemical-Technological Center have developed new materials with a bactericidal and virucidal effect that can be used to create various medical products, including protective masks and medical clothing. The materials were tested at the Federal Research Center for Fundamental and Translational Medicine (Novosibirsk) with the most modern protocols for assessing antiviral activity, using a model of the influenza A/H1N1 virus, and tested at the ISPMS SB RAS (Tomsk) in the Escherichia coli model. The new materials have shown high efficacy with both model objects.
"The situation with new pathogens arising from natural foci requires a fundamentally new approach to the organization of prevention: it is necessary to create barriers to the spread of microbes by preventing their accumulation on surfaces and medical products", explains Aleksey Sazonov, an adviser to the TSU administration. SARS, bird flu, H1N1, and COVID-19 have shown that it is not enough to treat surfaces with disinfectants. The surfaces themselves must fight the infection.
TSU and ISPMS SB RAS scientists have developed new technologies for imparting antiseptic properties to polymeric medical materials, including fibrous ones, used for the manufacture of protective masks, gowns, hats, and other medical items. The scientists used zinc oxide nanoparticles and biocomponent particles of copper oxide (Cu-Fe)O, obtained by the method of the electrical explosion of conductors, as a tool that acts as a barrier to the pathogen.
A liquid containing strains of the pandemic model influenza virus A/Tomsk/273-MA1/2010 (H1N1pdm09) was applied to the materials. After 30 minutes, the researchers assessed the viral load in the swabs. In washes from polypropylene samples containing particles of copper oxide and zinc oxide, there was no viral load, in contrast to the washout from the surface of the control sample (spunbond), where a high virus content was noted.
Along with this, the antiviral activity of materials with nanoparticles was tested on a culture of MDCK cells sensitive to the virus. They were treated with fluids from washes and the cell viability was assessed. The analysis showed that washings from nanomaterials did not hurt cells, in contrast to washings from the control sample (spunbond) that did not contain nanoparticles.
During the studies, the effectiveness of the protective properties of new materials against E.coli was revealed. Along with this, it was found that technological processes do not hurt bioactive particles and do not reduce their protective qualities.
"The test results helped us to take a fresh look at our development", says Alexander Vorozhtsov, TSU Vice-Rector for Research and Innovation. "The nanoparticles we have obtained are promising for use in other areas. For example, they can be incorporated into paints and varnishes and used for surface treatment in hospitals, schools, kindergartens, and other high-traffic organizations. Now for such purposes, silver-containing paints are sometimes used. Paints with our nanoparticles will not only be effective but also several times cheaper. Thanks to such coatings, the disinfection process will become permanent. At present, TSU and its partners are solving the issues of commercializing a new product and bringing it to the market".
© Mirage.News 2020.
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Gizmodo / Dec 11, 2020
Scientists Find Mammoth Seemingly Butchered by Humans on Arctic Island
Российские палеонтологи представили на 80-м Международном собрании общества палеонтологии позвоночных (в этом году - виртуальном) результаты исследования «мамонта Павлова», найденного в 2019 г. на острове Котельный в Северном Ледовитом океане и получившего имя в честь руководителя полевых работ. На костях скелета имелись множественные порезы и царапины, предположительно оставленные человеческим оружием.
Kotelny Island sits high up in the Arctic, off the coast of Northern Siberia. It’s cold and barren now, mostly absent of humans. But over 20,000 years ago, this island was home to huge megafauna. Melting permafrost is exposing evidence of this past life, including three large woolly mammoth skeletons discovered there in 2019.
One of those skeletons, named the Pavlov mammoth after the man who first studied it, appears to have been butchered by ancient hunters. We can imagine them, huddled around an enormous carcass, cutting through tangles of fur and thick skin towards the sinew. We might even hear the grunts of their efforts - it’s no easy task - and see their breath in the bitter cold. What was once a substantial woolly mammoth had fallen.
Traces on the mammoth’s bones indicate scavenging from both predators and rodents, numerous breaks, circular cuts along a tusk, and embedded objects within some of the bones, most notably in the shoulder. The intriguing question is: Did humans leave these marks?
Olga Potapova, a paleontologist with The Mammoth Site in South Dakota and an associate researcher with the Pleistocene Park Foundation, Academy of Sciences of Sakha (Yakutia) and Russian Academy of Sciences, presented details of this research during a virtual poster session at the recent annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists. Paleontologists, paleogeneticists, an archaeologist, and others teamed up to get a better understanding of this particular fossil.
The team made several field trips to the frigid island in recent years, led by the project’s scientific advisor Albert Protopopov, head of the Department for Study of Mammoth Fauna, Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). On one of these trips, Innokenty Pavlov excavated the mammoth skeleton and recognized the marks on its bones as possible human hunting marks. Pavlov, according to Potapova, is "a talented field worker, taxidermist and artist/sculptor," and he led the field work.
This remote island currently supports a Russian military base, the source of transport for the scientists who travel there. Protopopov, in an email translated from Russian to English by Potapova, described the Kotelny Island as "covered by Arctic deserts. Summer lasts only one and a half months, and in summer there is often snow. The usual temperature is 5 degrees C at the end of July (the warmest period). There are no mosquitoes here; it’s very cold for them to live here." Polar bears and walruses, however, are numerous.
Protopopov described the unintended discovery of the Pavlov mammoth. "Our expedition team went to dig up the carcass of the Golden mammoth [another known mammoth in the area] in the north of Kotelny Island in the spring of May 2019," he wrote, "but due to the early melting of the snow, the place where the carcass lay was already under the water and could not be excavated. The failure of the expedition was saved due to help of local fishermen, who showed us a place 10 kilometers from the carcass of the Golden Mammoth, where they once saw the bones of a mammoth. A group led by Innokenty Pavlov went there and found dozens of mammoth bones."
Much of the skeleton was recovered, and all of the bones have marks on them. These marks provide invaluable clues. They do not, however, immediately point to human interaction. Consider natural processes that occur over thousands of years when anything is buried: the shifting of sediments, geological pressure that can cause damage to the bones, not to mention scavenging from other animals and possible trampling by other megafauna at any point in the decaying process. Deciphering these marks has been an important aspect of this research and one that these scientists hope to continue with other experts in the field.
Potapova is no stranger to working with remarkable specimens found in Siberia. Some of them include the Yuka Mammoth, the Yukagir Bison, and the Yukagir Horse, incredibly well-preserved natural mummies from the Pleistocene.
"Unlike other isolated fossil bones found in this particular region and in Northeast Siberia in general," she explained in an email, "almost every bone of the Pavlov mammoth had tens and hundreds of cut marks and very little indication of [scavenger] gnawing. Many scratches, indeed, will be hard to classify. However, unlike random scratches in many directions caused by sediments and animals’ trampling (and sometimes wear), the large number of long and very thin cuts clustered in parallel fashion are typically recognized by archeologists as being of human origin."
It’s the location of many of these cut marks that offers insight. Marks around specific bones reflect possible skinning and the removal of fleshy areas that may have been of interest for human consumption.
"For example," she continued, "the clusters of parallel cut marks around the nasal opening (upper maxillary bones) indicate purposeful de-fleshing in this area. [T]his particular skull area supports the base of the trunk, and it is logical to suggest that these cuts reflected the human activity of separating the meaty and boneless trunk from the head."
A number of cut marks are also seen along a section of the cranium, suggesting either defleshing of the bone in that area or disarticulating the jawbone from the skull.
The high number of cut marks led Kathryn Krasinski, assistant professor of anthropology at Adelphi University, to question the skills of those particular human hunters.
"When butchering something," she said in a video chat with Gizmodo, "you actively avoid hitting the bone, because it dulls your tools, so you expect few cut marks on bone."
She’s not entirely convinced the marks indicate human hunting and is eager to read more once the paper is published. Krasinski and her colleagues studied various ways in which cracks and marks can be made on the bones of proboscideans - a term that encompasses mammoths, elephants, mastodons, and others - using the remains of elephants from Zimbabwe that had died naturally, as well as those that had been culled decades ago. But it’s rare to be able to study post-mortem effects on today’s elephants, as these animals are ecologically threatened. Interpreting marks on proboscidean fossils is highly subjective, making claims about human hunting somewhat controversial.
Although not discovered with a wealth of human artifacts around it, material in and around the bones offer intriguing evidence that there is more to this mammoth than meets the eye. Embedded stone objects remain in the tusk, and an embedded bone object is lodged in the scapula (shoulder), after which the bone healed, which may be the remnants of a weapon made from bone.
"What is most exciting to me about the Pavlov mammoth, yet needs verification, was the apparent lithic embedded in a tusk fragment," Krasinski said, referring to the embedded stone fragment. "While ivory processing was common in the Paleolithic, it is equally plausible this could have occurred millennia after the mammoth died, as ivory from the far north preserves well. That is to say, the death of the mammoth need not be synchronous with the processing of the faunal remains. We have many examples of this kind of scavenging, particularly across Beringia and into Alaska, where people were picking up fossil ivory hundreds and even thousands of years after the death of the animal. In fact, this still happens today."
Scientists have yet to find any remains of ancient people on Kotelny Island. This mammoth research provides the first evidence that humans lived that far north.
Chris Widga, paleontologist at the Center of Excellence in Paleontology at East Tennessee State University and someone who has spent a great deal of his career studying proboscideans, is encouraged by the information provided by the researchers.
"Looking at the authors," Widga wrote in an email to Gizmodo, "these are people who primarily work on the European and Russian/Siberian record. As such, they are very familiar with the Paleolithic record of mammoth hunting."
"The modified bone images are fuzzy, but if their descriptions hold out, this is definitely a strong candidate for a human-butchered mammoth," he said. "There are flakes embedded in bones, chop marks, and circular cuts on the tusk. These are things that we see in other mammoths, as well as elephants that have been butchered in experimental archaeology projects."
Potapova maintains that the cut marks appear deliberate and that these traces are in very specific locations on the bones and are often parallel to each other. The breaks on the bone, much like the marks, do not suggest the random effects of geological pressures. Rather, they seem strategic.
"According to our study of the Pavlov mammoth skull," Potapova wrote in an email, "its damage was quite different from these random-broken bones."
Of particular note, she said, is the example learned from a site in the Russian Plain referred to as the "Yudinovo" site, where evidence of mammoth hunting by humans is well documented. The broken skulls of 32 mammoths suggest humans valued the mammoth brain as food. The Pavlov mammoth skull has similar breakage. Areas where the tusks are connected to the skull are also broken, indicating tusk removal.
The scientists turned to their colleagues at the Centre for Palaeogenetics in Sweden for ancient DNA analysis of the shoulder bone and the bone object embedded within it. They were able to pull almost 8 million reads of mitochondrial DNA from the scapula and a little over that same amount for the embedded object. Those numbers might seem enormous, but Marianne Dehasque, PhD candidate and aspiring paleogeneticist, explained that something like a well-preserved mammoth might offer over 600 million reads.
"What we do here [at the Centre for Palaeogenetics] in Stockholm is we basically [place] all the DNA that we have on a sequencing instrument, and then we look at what appears there. This is called ‘shotgun sequencing.’ You just sequence everything. We also use this approach to generate high-quality genomes," she said in a video chat. "And in that respect, less than 10 million [reads] is actually not that much."
But they don’t need much, she explained, to determine basics about the animal. With a little ancient DNA, they can determine the sex. The Pavlov mammoth, they learned, was male.
While the number of mitochondrial DNA reads seemed large, the percentage of endogenous material - DNA that originates from the animal or object in question - seemed shockingly sparse. The poster lists a mere 6% of endogenous material from the scapula; 3% from the embedded object.
"When we try to extract DNA and sequence it, we will see that some part of the DNA will be of the organism of interest, but a large part of the DNA that we retrieve will often be bacterial contamination. But sometimes they’re also caused by people handling it," Dehasque explained and then laughed. "I’m pretty sure there’s a little bit of my DNA in there, for example."
Ancient DNA could not prove that the scapula and embedded object were from different individuals, which would offer more conclusive evidence that the embedded object was foreign material introduced into this mammoth. In other words, more proof that this mammoth was hunted.
"There’s a ton of research to do here," Krasinski noted, "and I’m glad that people are working on questions of bone taphonomy, because if we’re really going to understand mammoth extinction and human interactions with these big creatures, we need to continue studying all of the mammoth collections we can. This poster is an excellent contribution in that direction."
Widga mirrors that enthusiasm.
"I’m really looking forward to a full report on this mammoth," he wrote. "This is clearly a detailed, complex, interdisciplinary project with lots of moving parts. A poster just doesn’t do it justice. This is yet another site that is bringing the question of ‘how did people hunt and butcher mammoths?’ into better focus. This question is harder to answer than it would seem - and in the last few years, as we have discovered some really good northern mammoth butchery sites, we have made a lot of progress on the issue."
If ancient humans did hunt woolly mammoths and other animals on this island, what else can we learn about that ancient ecosystem and those that lived there?
"We view [the Arctic] region as holding clues to the earliest human population in Western Beringia, with direct ties to that of the North American population," Potapova wrote. "I personally also hope that this find and our research will deepen people’s perception of the Arctic during the Last Glacial Maximum. Due to a drop in sea levels, [land] expanded far north, forming a massive Arctic plain in Western Beringia covered by grasslands. Attracted by its high numbers of megafauna, this region provided a habitat for the Paleolithic human population that was well adapted to the extreme climate and capable of successfully hunting the woolly mammoths. We speculate that during the Last Glacial maximum, Kotelny Island was host to the human population that may have been the Native American founder population, whose origin remains unknown."
The island is largely inaccessible most of the year under normal circumstances, and certainly more so during a global pandemic, but the team intends to return regularly as soon as they can. They hope to uncover further evidence of Paleolithic hunters, from the remains of the animals they felled to the camps themselves. The relatively few researchers who have access to this area, and thus the comparatively few discoveries that have been made so far in an area that "froze during the time of mammoths about 15,000 years ago," per Protopopov, almost ensures exciting future revelations.
© 2020 G/O Media Inc.
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BBC / 11 December 2020
Covid: Trials to test combination of Oxford and Sputnik vaccines
Британские и российские ученые объединились для совместных испытаний оксфордской вакцины, разработанной в партнерстве с AstraZeneca, и российской вакцины «Спутник V», чтобы выяснить, может ли их комбинация улучшить иммунный ответ населения.
UK and Russian scientists are teaming up to trial a combination of the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Sputnik V vaccines to see if protection against Covid-19 can be improved. Mixing two similar vaccines could lead to a better immune response in people.
The trials, to be held in Russia, will involve over-18s, although it's not clear how many people will be involved.
Oxford recently published results showing their jab was safe and effective in trials on people. The researchers are still collecting data on the effectiveness of the vaccine in older age groups while waiting for approval from the UK regulator, the MHRA.
AstraZeneca said it was exploring combinations of different adenovirus vaccines to find out whether mixing them leads to a better immune response and, therefore, greater protection.
Are two vaccines better than one?
The hope is combining different vaccines will give either stronger or longer-lasting immunity to the virus. There are reasons to think this might be beneficial for the Oxford and the Sputnik V jabs. Both use harmless viruses to deliver the important part of the vaccine (a bit of the coronavirus' genetic code) into the body. The risk is the body becomes immune to the "viral postman" making the second or booster jab less effective.
This is one explanation for why Oxford had better results from giving someone a half dose followed by a full one, rather than two normal doses. Other vaccine combinations are also planned in the hope that approaching the challenge from different angles will lead to better results.
The British-made Oxford vaccine, developed in partnership with AstraZeneca, and the Russian Sputnik vaccine, developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute in Moscow, are similar because they both contain genetic material from the Sars-CoV-2 spike protein.
They work differently to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has been approved in the UK, Canada, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and recommended for approval by medical experts in the US.
Early results from late-stage trials of the Sputnik vaccine have shown promising results.
Russia was the first country to register a Covid vaccine for emergency use - in August, despite only having been tested on a few dozen people. It is now being offered to Russians as part of a mass vaccination campaign.
AstraZeneca said it was "working with industry partners, governments and research institutions around the world, and will soon begin exploring with Gamaleya Research Institute in Russia to understand whether two adenovirus-based vaccines can be successfully combined".
© 2020 BBC.
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Forbes / Dec 14, 2020
Russia Is Developing A Covid-19 Vaccine For Pets And Mink
Российский Федеральный центр охраны здоровья животных завершает клинические испытания вакцины от Covid-19 для кроликов, кошек, норок и других животных. Необходимость в вакцине возникла после того, как выяснилось, что животные могут заражаться коронавирусом и в некоторых случаях заражать людей.
Scientists in Russia are close to completing clinical trials on a Covid-19 vaccine for pets and mink, Reuters reports, a development which could reassure a floundering fur industry that has been left reeling after several of the world’s largest producers of mink, which are prized for their fur, culled millions of the animals in order to control outbreaks of Covid-19 that sometimes spread back to humans.
The vaccine, which Russia’s Federal Center for Animal Health began developing after authorities had determined the ability of domestic animals to catch Covid-19, is aimed at rabbits, cats, mink and other animals.
Clinical trials are due to finish in January, and will be followed by a regulatory approval process in February, says aide to the head of Russia’s agricultural safety watchdog, Yulia Melano, Reuters report.
The vaccine will likely be of commercial interest to mink farmers around the world, many of whom are worried about extreme government policies to control virus outbreaks, such as Denmark’s decision to cull its entire 17-million-strong mink herd over fears of a mutated mink virus spreading back into humans.
While a vaccine for animals may seem very low down on the list of priorities in the midst of a global pandemic that has killed over 1.6 million people worldwide, safeguarding vulnerable animal populations can have a long term benefit in controlling the disease, preventing dangerous new mutations from emerging and protecting the livelihoods of farmers and entire industries (though this last point is rather controversial when it comes to mink). Mink are, by far, the most farmed animals for their fur and are particularly susceptible to coronavirus. The situation is worsened in farms where they are kept in large numbers in close proximity, increasing the chances of disease spreading. Outbreaks have torn through herds around the world, and, in some cases, jumped back into human populations, where dangerous mutations can emerge. In Europe, France, Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark have all implemented culls to contain the disease in mink and to stop it spreading back to humans. Outbreaks have also been reported in Canada and Poland. Denmark’s reaction to the outbreak was particularly drastic and is feared by farmers elsewhere. In Denmark, the prime minister ordered the cull of the country’s entire 17-million-strong mink herd after a mutant strain of Covid-19 was discovered that could possibly undermine efforts to develop a vaccine. Though much of the country’s mink have been killed and scientists believe the dangerous strain to now be extinct, the agriculture minister resigned after the government admitted it did not have the legal authority to order the cull. Unfortunately, many Danish mink have risen from the dead en-masse due to poorly dug graves, threatening local water supplies.
What to watch for
News of a mink vaccine will likely be celebrated in the fur industry, which has been shaken by outbreaks of Covid-19 that have seen two leading producers of mink - the Netherlands and Denmark - taken out of action, possibly permanently. Further European culls could push even more production to China, which is already a major producer. It is unclear how Chinese mink herds have been affected by the pandemic.
Animal rights activists are actually celebrating the mink culls, believing that they signify the end of a cruel and unnecessary industry. Kopenhagen Fur, one of the largest fur auction houses, announced it would be closing in light of the cull. PETA celebrated the news with "virtual champagne corks," considering it a signal that "fur is well and truly dead." Humane Society International responded similarly, and urged governments to focus on supporting fur farmers as they move to more humane endeavors. "There was never going to be a happy ending for the 60 million mink exploited for fur annually," the group said, "but stopping breeding them altogether would be the best way to prevent animals suffering in the future for the fickle whims of fashion."
© 2020 Forbes Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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PRNewswire / Dec 14, 2020
Results of the Great Norilsk Expedition Presented by the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Сибирское отделение РАН подвело итоги Большой Норильской экспедиции, продолжавшейся с 27 июля по 21 августа. Экспедиция, в которой приняли участие сотрудники 14 институтов СО РАН, была организована при поддержке компании «Норникель» и занималась изучением последствий разлива дизельного топлива на Таймыре в мае этого года. Ученые оценили масштаб загрязнений и пришли к выводу, что критичного воздействия на экосистему не случилось.
The findings of the Great Norilsk Expedition were presented by the experts from the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (SBRAS). The Expedition lasted from July 27 to August 21, 2020, and was conducted by specialists from the Institute of Soil Science and Agrochemistry of Novosibirsk to examine terrestrial floodplain ecosystems and changes in biodiversity of the Bezymyanny brook, Daldykan, Ambarnaya, Pyasina, Dudypta, and Tareya rivers, as well as the southern and northern shores of Lake Pyasino.
The Expedition, supported by Nornickel, marks the first time an initiative of such scale was undertaken to analyse the state of the local ecosystems. Nornickel has pledged that similar expeditions will be organized on a regular basis to ensure the sustainability of biodiversity and favourable geological indicators in the northern regions of Russia.
The ultimate goal of the expedition was to create a comprehensive timeline of the anthropogenic pollution in Taimyr in the wake of the May accident at TPP-3 near Norilsk. Studies conducted at the sites confirmed the initial hypothesis that permafrost thawing resulted in the accident. The thawing itself is likely to have been caused by underground drainage from a nearby lake.
The report highlighted that no significant damage was recorded, while partial degradation of plant communities has been observed in the study area with some damage in the floodplains of Daldykan and Ambarnaya rivers has been confirmed. "The actual biodiversity of the entire region is relatively low. Moreover, no changes caused by the fuel spill were observed in the sampled organisms" - the scientists concluded. The results of the analysis of water samples taken at the sites determined that the local microflora is adapted to oil products and is capable of breaking down their elemental constituents.
The results of the expedition and consequent analysis of samples confirm that the Norilsk industrial region is a major geochemical anomaly. The natural geochemical background of the local environment is anomalous for nickel and copper, and is characteristic of deposits accumulated before the start of settlement and technological development in the region.
Further studies north of the site found no possibilities of oil spills into the Arctic Ocean or even into the central and northern parts of Lake Pyasino. No significant impacts on the ecosystems of Lake Pyasino and the Pyasina River have also been identified.
Andrey Bugrov, Senior Vice President at Nornickel, commented: "The Company will carefully study the report presented at the Academy of Sciences and will continue collaboration with fundamental science to introduce new approaches to economic management in the Arctic in the face of increasing environmental requirements from the government and growing public demand for cleaner production."
Upon delivery of the comprehensive report, Nornickel, headed by Vladimir Potanin, has stated that plans for setting up a permanent camp with geophysical and biological analysis stations in the regions are being considered.
While studying the ecosystems of Taimyr and the Norilsk industrial region, the SBRAS and Norilsk Nickel signed an agreement on the joint implementation of a long-term programme to eliminate the consequences of the oil spill in Norilsk, as well as to develop regulations for industrial production in the Russian Arctic, taking into account the principles of sustainable development.
Copyright © 2020 Cision Ltd.
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The New York Times / Dec 16, 2020
How Russia Wins the Climate Crisis
Climate change and its enormous human migrations will transform agriculture and remake the world order - and no country stands to gain more than Russia.
По всему миру изменение климата вызывает засухи, наводнения, сильную жару и прочие катаклизмы, в результате которых обширные регионы могут стать малопригодными для жизни. Но в некоторых северных странах глобальное потепление ведет к тому, что наиболее холодные регионы становятся более умеренными. Если оптимальные условия для жизни человека сместятся к полюсу, это вызовет массовую миграцию - одну из крупнейших в истории человечества. Россия имеет в данном случае наиболее выгодное расположение, и то, как она решит в новых условиях демографические, миграционные, экономические и политические проблемы, может способствовать возвращению ее статуса сверхдержавы.
It was only November, but the chill already cut to the bone in the small village of Dimitrovo, which sits just 35 miles north of the Chinese border in a remote part of eastern Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region. Behind a row of sagging cabins and decades-old farm equipment, flat fields ran into the brambly branches of a leafless forest before fading into the oblivion of a dreary squall. Several villagers walked the single-lane dirt road, their shoulders rounded against the cold, their ghostly footprints marking the dry white snow.
A few miles down the road, a rusting old John Deere combine growled on through the flurries, its blade churning through dead-brown stalks of soybeans. The tractor lurched to a halt, and a good-humored man named Dima climbed down from the cockpit. Dima, an entrepreneur who farms nearly 6,500 acres of these fields, was born in the Liaoning Province of northeastern China - his birth name is Xin Jie - one of a wave of Chinese to migrate north in pursuit of opportunity in recent years. After Dima’s mostly Chinese laborers returned home this year amid the Covid-19 pandemic, he has been forced to do much of the work himself. Bundled against the wind in a camouflage parka, he bent to pick a handful of slender pods from the ground, opening one to reveal a glimpse at Russia’s future.
A great transformation is underway in the eastern half of Russia. For centuries the vast majority of the land has been impossible to farm; only the southernmost stretches along the Chinese and Mongolian borders, including around Dimitrovo, have been temperate enough to offer workable soil. But as the climate has begun to warm, the land - and the prospect for cultivating it - has begun to improve. Twenty years ago, Dima says, the spring thaw came in May, but now the ground is bare by April; rainstorms now come stronger and wetter. Across Eastern Russia, wild forests, swamps and grasslands are slowly being transformed into orderly grids of soybeans, corn and wheat. It’s a process that is likely to accelerate: Russia hopes to seize on the warming temperatures and longer growing seasons brought by climate change to refashion itself as one of the planet’s largest producers of food.
Around the world, climate change is becoming an epochal crisis, a nightmare of drought, desertification, flooding and unbearable heat, threatening to make vast regions less habitable and drive the greatest migration of refugees in history. But for a few nations, climate change will present an unparalleled opportunity, as the planet’s coldest regions become more temperate. There is plenty of reason to think that those places will also receive an extraordinary influx of people displaced from the hottest parts of the world as the climate warms. Human migration, historically, has been driven by the pursuit of prosperity even more so than it has by environmental strife. With climate change, prosperity and habitability - haven and economic opportunity - will soon become one and the same.
And no country may be better positioned to capitalize on climate change than Russia. Russia has the largest land mass by far of any northern nation. It is positioned farther north than all of its South Asian neighbors, which collectively are home to the largest global population fending off displacement from rising seas, drought and an overheating climate. Like Canada, Russia is rich in resources and land, with room to grow. Its crop production is expected to be boosted by warming temperatures over the coming decades even as farm yields in the United States, Europe and India are all forecast to decrease. And whether by accident or cunning strategy or, most likely, some combination of the two, the steps its leaders have steadily taken - planting flags in the Arctic and propping up domestic grain production among them - have increasingly positioned Russia to regain its superpower mantle in a warmer world.
For thousands of years, warming temperatures and optimal climate have tracked closely with human productivity and development. After the last ice age, human colonization of Greenland surged with a period of warming only to sharply contract again during a period of abrupt cooling. More recently, researchers have correlated a quickening economic pulse in Iceland with years that had above-average temperatures, just as suffocating heat waves in the global South have tempered growth. There is an optimum climate for human productivity - average annual temperatures between 52 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - and much of the planet’s far north is headed straight toward it.
Marshall Burke, the deputy director of the Center for Food Security and the Environment at Stanford University, has spent the better part of a decade studying how climate change will alter global economies, mostly focusing on the economic damage that could be wreaked by storms and heat waves and withering crops. A 2015 paper he co-wrote in the journal Nature made the geographic implications clear: Draw a line around the planet at the latitude of the northern borders of the United States and China, and just about every place south, across five continents, stands to lose out. Productivity, Burke found, peaks at about 55 degrees average temperature and then drops as the climate warms. He projects that by 2100, the national per capita income in the United States might be a third less than it would be in a nonwarming world; India’s would be nearly 92 percent less; and China’s future growth would be cut short by nearly half. The mirror image, meanwhile, tells a different story: Incredible growth could await those places soon to enter their prime. Canada, Scandinavia, Iceland and Russia each could see as much as fivefold bursts in their per capita gross domestic products by the end of the century so long as they have enough people to power their economies at that level.
For two years The New York Times and ProPublica have been reporting on the great global climate migration that is already underway. By 2070, more than three billion people may find themselves living outside the optimum climate for human life, causing tens of millions of migrants to press northward into the United States and Europe. (Most migrants do move north, where there is the greatest land mass and economic opportunity). The U.S. itself, the reporting showed, is likely to undergo its own vast demographic transformation as heat, drought and rising sea levels displace millions of Americans. In this final installment of our three-part series, the focus is on who benefits - looking at where the planet’s masses will most likely end their journey in the pursuit of a stable climate. The optimal niche for human life will eventually move beyond the U.S. and Europe, toward the pole, and people will move with it.
This could present an extraordinary opportunity for the world’s northernmost nations - but only if they figure out how to stem their own population decline while accommodating at least some of a monumental population push at their borders. Take, for example, Canada: It is flush with land as well as timber, oil, gas and hydropower, and it has access to 20 percent of the world’s fresh water. It has a stable, incorrupt democracy. And as the climate warms, Canada will move into the ecological sweet spot for civilization, benefiting from new Arctic transportation routes as well as an expanded capacity for farming. But there are only 38 million people in Canada, and Canadians are dying at a faster rate than they are being born. Burke’s research suggests climate change will, by 2100, make Canadians two and a half times richer in terms of per capita G.D.P. than they would be if the planet were not warming. Canada may be able to seize that opportunity only if it welcomes a lot more people.
This is why a group of Canadian business executives and academics have called on their government to turn the country’s immigration system into a magnet for the planet’s most talented people, hoping to nearly triple Canada’s population by 2100. The government has signaled some receptivity, increasing its immigration targets this year by 14 percent, in part reflecting a public sentiment that recognizes the importance of immigration to Canada’s economy. Whether today’s Canadians are truly ready to see migrants outnumber them two to one, though, remains to be seen.
The story is similar in the northern nations of Europe, where low birthrates and aging populations are out of step with the projected needs of agriculture and other industries. The countries of Western and Central Europe are among the world’s largest growers of food, but native population declines force a heavy reliance at harvest time on migrant workers from places like Belarus and Romania. Norway and Sweden, too, could soon see a longer growing season and an increased harvest for their vegetable, fruit and berry crops as temperatures warm, but even now they can’t harvest them without bringing in 15,000 to 30,000 migrant workers apiece, says Arne Bardalen of the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research, an expert on agriculture, food security and climate change.
Wrapped up in all of this - the farming, the migration, the warming - is a larger game of global influence. The issue of national security, for any of these countries as well as the United States, is inextricably interlinked not only with immigration and border policies but also with food security. The race for prosperity in a climate-changed world is about achieving domestic self-reliance and also expanding geopolitical influence. But, as John Kerry, who is President-elect Biden’s incoming climate czar and a former U.S. secretary of state, put it to me recently, both are dependent on how the accessibility or usability of territory - whether Arctic passages or thawing land - changes over time. The scarcer food and other resources become on a global level, the more the ability to produce food domestically becomes a tool of power. And the more nations can keep themselves afloat in this changing world, the more they stand to benefit just by watching others sink. "It could be very tense," Kerry said, "a really, really messy process." All of that makes the flow of people - whether you call them climate refugees or human capital - an inseverable part of the geopolitical power struggle driven by climate.
Russia has been explicit about its intention to come out ahead as the climate changes; in its national action plan on climate released in January, it called on the country to "use the advantages" of warming and listed Arctic shipping and extended growing seasons among things that would shower "additional benefits" on the nation. Russia may be no better positioned, politically speaking, to welcome large numbers of migrants than the U.S. or Canada; in fact, xenophobia is probably even more prevalent there. But how it tackles migration and its own demographic challenges will have tremendous consequences for the U.S. and the rest of the world. Russia has always wanted to populate its vast eastern lands, and the steady thawing there puts that long-sought goal within reach. Achieving it could significantly increase Russia’s prosperity and power in the process, through the opening of tens of millions of acres of land and a flourishing new agricultural economy.
When Nadezhda Tchebakova, a leading Russian climate ecologist, moved to Siberia to research shifts in the region’s climate, she followed in the footsteps of Gulag prisoners who had been banished to a land considered so inhospitable that the mere prospect of crossing it would prevent escape. In time she found a rapidly warming countryside of forests and inviting and temperate hills. In a study she published last summer in the journal Environmental Research Letters, with the co-writers Elena Parfenova and Amber Soja, an American from NASA, Tchebakova estimated that by 2080, Russia’s permafrost in the Asian part of the country will be reduced by more than half, at least in the active layer within six feet of the surface. One-third of its land mass would begin to switch from "absolute extreme" in its inhospitality to "fairly favorable" for civilization - and quite hospitable - she wrote, adopting the ecological terminology that the Russian government itself had invented to dictate how much hardship pay settlers banished to the region should receive. One of the coldest and most ecologically hostile places on the planet, she found, is fast becoming pleasantly livable.
Land’s ability to support life boils down to basic biology. Organisms need enough light and heat to produce compounds that living creatures can consume in order to build a web of food. Permafrost stalls much of that process, but as it thaws, the cycle can begin. It’s difficult to pinpoint just how much a single degree of warming opens up new lands in the north, but Tchebakova’s research suggests that if humans continue to emit carbon dioxide at high rates, roughly half of Siberia - more than two million square miles - could become available for farming by 2080, and its capacity to support potential climate migrants could jump ninefold in some places as a result. Not all thawed land will work; poor soils in many places won’t be arable or will require loads of fertilizer to make things grow. And the change won’t come overnight; soils in the process of thawing are an inherently unstable recipe for mayhem as roads and bridges crack and buildings collapse with the seasonal heaves and sinks of the earth. For a while, thawing regions may be nearly impassable. Eventually, though, the thaw will be complete and a new equilibrium reached that makes the land buildable and plantable again.
The wait may not be especially long. This season, crops of winter wheat and canola seed outside Tchebakova’s own city of Krasnoyarsk in southern Siberia produced twice the yields as the year before. "It’s exactly what we predicted," she said, "except we predicted it by midcentury." As Vladimir Putin himself once glibly put it, a couple of degrees of warming might not be so bad: "We could spend less on fur coats, and the grain harvest would go up."
Agricultural dominance is just a small part of what Russia’s climate optimists say the country has to look forward to. The steady melting of the Arctic sea ice will open a new shipping lane that would cut transit times from Southeast Asia to Europe by up to 40 percent and also shorten travel time to the United States, positioning Russia to profit by controlling this route between China and the West. With a few exceptions, St. Petersburg among them, Russia’s largest cities and most important military bases are also far less vulnerable to inundation from sea-level rise than those of, say, the United States, which has its largest cities on the water and will inevitably divert trillions of dollars in coming decades to fortify or relocate strategic assets. Even the savings in energy that will come from warming temperatures amounts to a mild economic stimulus.
But agriculture offers the key to one of the greatest resources of the new climate era - food - and in recent years Russia has already shown a new understanding of how to leverage its increasingly strong hand in agricultural exports. In 2010, when wildfires and drought conspired to ruin Russia’s grain harvests, Putin banned the exporting of wheat in order to protect his own people, then watched as global wheat prices tripled. The world reeled in response. From Pakistan to Indonesia, poverty increased. High prices rocked delicate political balances in Syria, Morocco and Egypt, where about 40 percent of daily caloric intake is from bread. The shortages poured fuel on Arab Spring uprisings, which eventually pushed millions of migrants toward Europe, with destabilizing effect - a bonus for Russian interests. And much of this turmoil began with wheat. As Michael Werz, a senior fellow for climate migration and security at the Center for American Progress, says, "There’s a reason people demonstrated with baguettes in Cairo."
When Europe and the United States imposed sanctions on Russia after the downing of a Malaysian passenger jet over Ukraine in 2014, Russia countered by imposing sanctions on European imports. It seemed self-punishing at first, but the move was meant to give Russia’s own domestic food producers an opening and prod them to fill the supply gap. When Putin addressed his Federal Assembly the following December, he boldly proclaimed Russia would soon be "the largest world supplier" of healthful foods, referring to his goal of keeping Russian foods mostly G.M.O.-free. By 2018, Putin’s sanctions had paid enormous dividends: Since 2015, Russia’s wheat exports have jumped 100 percent, to about 44 million tons, surpassing those of the United States and Europe. Russia is now the largest wheat exporter in the world, responsible for nearly a quarter of the global market. Russia’s agricultural exports have jumped sixteenfold since 2000 and by 2018 were worth nearly $30 billion, all by relying largely on Russia’s legacy growing regions in its south and west. In Africa, Putin told attendees of the Russia-Africa Economic Forum held in Sochi last fall, "We are now exporting more agricultural products than weapons."
In the decades to come, as Russia’s grain and soy production rise as a result of climate change, its own food security will give it another wedge to drive into global geopolitics, should it wish to use it. Russia’s agricultural dominance, says Rod Schoonover, the former director of environment and natural resources at the National Intelligence Council and a former senior State Department analyst under the Obama and Trump administrations, is "an emergent national security issue" that is "underappreciated as a geopolitical threat."
To American intelligence experts, two things have become clear: Certain parts of the world might one day use the effects of climate change as rungs on a ladder toward greater influence and prosperity. And the United States, despite its not-unfavorable position geographically, is more likely to lose than win - not least because so many of its leaders have failed to imagine the magnitude of the transformations to come.
For John Podesta, the profound geopolitical challenges posed by climate change first became clear in July 2008, not long before he took charge of President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team. That month, he took part in a war game hosted by the Center for New American Security, a Washington-based research group. The room was full of people who were, like him, awaiting their chance to re-enter influential positions in the American government. Around the table in a private conference room at the Newseum in Washington, were former U.S. military officials, a former E.P.A. administrator, advisers to Chinese intelligence officials, analysts from McKinsey and the Brookings Institution and at least one European diplomat. "Let me be very clear," Podesta told the gathering, in his assigned role as the United Nations secretary general. "Our time is running out."
The exercise was set in 2015, with the climate crisis becoming violently apparent. A Category 5 hurricane had struck Miami shortly after a cyclone killed 200,000 people in Bangladesh. The scenario was designed by a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security named Sharon Burke, who would later become an assistant U.S. secretary of defense; her game plan suggested that a wave of climate migrants would be driven from their homes, part of the climate-caused displacement of as many as a billion people by 2050. One significant question put to the group then was how the United States, Europe, China and India would respond to that enormous migration and whether they could agree on what obligations under international law nations should have to care for migrants.
It wasn’t easy. None of the countries involved wanted to open the door to being obliged to take climate migrants in, Burke told me. The participants clashed over whether climate migrants could be called "refugees" at all, given the U.N.’s insistence on reserving that term for those persecuted or forced to flee. They wound up deciding the word should be applied only to victims of climate-driven disasters, not those suffering from slow-onset change like drought. In the end, the players were reluctant to face the migration challenges in depth - a worrisome sign that, in the real world, wealthy nations like the United States would be likely to cling to the status quo even as large-scale humanitarian crises begin to unfold. "One of the insights we got was that migration was just an absolute no-go zone," Burke said. "I wasn’t expecting that."
The game marked a turning point of sorts in how some U.S. officials viewed the security threats posed by climate change. In 2010, in what was a rare and early official assessment of climate risk, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Quadrennial Defense Review warned that climate change "could have significant geopolitical impacts," contributing to poverty, starvation, drought and the spread of disease, all of which would "spur or exacerbate mass migration." By 2014, the Defense Department had applied the term "threat multiplier" to climate change, describing how it would make many of the security establishment’s greatest nightmares even worse. By the time Podesta went to China in late 2014 to negotiate an emissions agreement - a diplomatic feat that laid the groundwork for the Paris climate accord - he had come to believe that it was climate-driven food scarcity that posed the dominant threat to global security and to American interests. He saw that scarcity, and the migration it would cause, as leading to a fundamental, perhaps dangerous shift in the geopolitical balance of the world. "We were just at the beginning of the imagining of how big the problem was," Podesta told me.
America’s strategic challenges from climate change don’t just revolve around food. Sea-level rise, for one, could displace 14 million Americans by 2050, even with modest warming, while in Russia fewer than two million people are at risk. American military installations around the world are also particularly vulnerable. According to a 2018 Defense Department analysis, about 1,700 of them might need to be moved out of the way of flooding rivers and coastlines and of hurricanes. And the enduring reluctance in right-wing political circles to talk about sea-level rise and warming has hamstrung U.S. strategy and made it difficult for the country’s leaders to see around the curve. If you take any factor out of your calculus, you create blind spots. One telling example: Russia has 34 icebreakers, and China, which is nowhere near the Arctic, has four; the United States has just two, one of which is nearly a half-century old. When it comes to climate, the defense establishment "has been more of a reactive than a proactive entity," said John Conger, a former deputy under secretary of defense and now the director of the Center for Climate and Security. "So emergencies and crises get more attention than opportunities and possibilities."
But in the long term, agriculture presents perhaps the most significant illustration of how a warming world might erode America’s position. Right now the U.S. agricultural industry serves as a significant, if low-key, instrument of leverage in America’s own foreign affairs. The U.S. provides roughly a third of soy traded globally, nearly 40 percent of corn and 13 percent of wheat. By recent count, American staple crops are shipped to 174 countries, and democratic influence and power comes with them, all by design. And yet climate data analyzed for this project suggest that the U.S. farming industry is in danger. Crop yields from Texas north to Nebraska could fall by up to 90 percent by as soon as 2040 as the ideal growing region slips toward the Dakotas and the Canadian border. And unlike in Russia or Canada, that border hinders the U.S.’s ability to shift north along with the optimal conditions.
Marshall Burke projects that over the next 80 years, per capita G.D.P. in the United States will drop by 36 percent compared to what it would be in a nonwarming world, even as per capita G.D.P. in Russia will quadruple. A recent study led by researchers at Columbia University found that a disruption in U.S. agriculture would quickly propagate throughout the world. After just four years of a Dust Bowl-like event - a time when some crop yields dropped by 60 percent - global wheat reserves would be cut by nearly a third, and U.S. reserves would be almost entirely gone. And as the livability and capacity of American land wanes, U.S. influence in the world may fade along with it.
The lyrics to Russia’s modern anthem suggest that at least some of its leaders have anticipated this moment: "Wide spaces for dreams and for living are opened for us by the coming years." As if to fulfill that vision - and perhaps with the expectation of needing more land to execute his climate ambitions - Vladimir Putin declared in 2013 that the remaking of Russia’s East "is our national priority for the entire 21st century," and that "the goals that have to be attained are unprecedented in their scope." In laying out that ambition, he surely had history in mind. There was the outpost Russia built at the Sea of Okhotsk in the 1700s; efforts to drive out Chinese settlers of the Qing dynasty in the 1800s; the founding of the Jewish Autonomous Region, which ultimately brought as many as 40,000 Yiddish-speaking Jews to the area around Birobidzhan, in 1934; and even the longstanding banishment of workers and prisoners alike to Siberia and the Far East under Stalin and afterward.
All these efforts at settlement, though, have been focused on resettlement - on moving Russia’s own citizens eastward to exploit this new land of opportunity. The current plan invites any Russians willing to relocate themselves in Siberia and the Far East, including in the Birobidzhan area of the Jewish Autonomous Region, to buy properties at 2 percent interest. Russians willing to move there can also apply for free plots of farmland. College and trade training can also be free.
And yet none of these efforts to encourage internal migration have had much of an impact. The government says that it has distributed nearly 150,000 acres to roughly 86,000 people, but only 14 percent of them did not already live in the region. Since 1991 the population of the states that have traditionally made up the Far Eastern Federal District has decreased by 25 percent; the decline has slowed, but it remains a drip in the wrong direction. The situation is considered so dire that the government has a bureau to address it, the Department of Human Capital. (The department rebuffed repeated requests for an interview.)
Andrey Shvalov’s story helps to illustrate why. In 2016, Shvalov applied for land through the resettlement program, abandoning his life as a photographer to pioneer rural land in the Far East. He filled out an application online and was quickly granted five acres of woodland outside Blagoveshchensk, a small city on the Chinese border about 260 miles northwest of Dimitrovo. It was only after arriving there, with his wife and two young children, that he discovered all the challenges the program could not solve.
"My first problem was where to get water," he says. Shvalov watched YouTube videos to learn how to drill a well, erect a house and cut and dry his own firewood. First, he built a chicken house, and the family camped inside of it. Now, four years in, his wife keeps an apartment in town while Shvalov and the children sleep in a temporary hut as he builds the house. "In the city," he says, "we all thought about motivation and goals. Here, the main thing is what you will drink and eat." The biggest problem? There is no infrastructure to connect to and, despite official claims that the government is supporting the settlers, not enough government money to build it. Near Shvalov’s place, the Amur district has been losing about 1,600 people each year; Russia’s national demographics department refers to it as a "donor" region. The Jewish Autonomous Region surrounding Dimitrovo is in similar decline. There is simply no one to do the work.
It’s no surprise, then, that the region has become increasingly dependent on what Anatoly Vishnevsky, director of the Institute of Demography at the National Research University in Moscow, has called "replacement migration" for labor. In fact Russia’s own demographic statistics show the net population decline in its eastern regions in spite of small but steadily increasing foreign migration - not just the Chinese, North Koreans and Japanese who have made homes in the region but also migrants from the Caucuses and Central Asian states and even some from India, Turkey and Afghanistan.
In late October I spoke on a video call with Sergei Karaganov, founder of Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and an influential adviser to Russian presidents, including Putin. Karaganov, who is normally pictured in suit and tie but who also describes himself as a hunter, sat in the pine-walled dining room of his dacha an hour and a half outside Moscow, where he was isolating to avoid Covid-19. Behind him an enormous bear skin was stretched out on the wall next to the bust of a six-point elk. Russia needs so much labor in the east, he told me, that it has even contemplated flying workers in from India: "We think about the lower hundreds of thousands."
There is an underlying sense, though, that sooner or later there will be more human capital available than Russia knows what to do with. Asian Russia sits atop a continent with the largest global population, including not just the Chinese but also nearly two billion South Asians - from the flooding Mekong Delta and Bangladesh to the sweltering plains of India - many of whom will inevitably be pushing northward in search of space and resources as the climate gets hotter and sea levels continue to rise. Russia is "not willing to bring in too many Chinese," Karaganov said. "But when it comes, it will come from there and Central Asia, the Caucuses. This is a problem, but it could be the greatest opportunity."
In the near term, while Russia may prefer its migrants to come from Central Asia and other countries farther south, it’s the Chinese who seem most likely to come. They’ve already settled throughout Siberia and the Far East, sometimes through intermarriage with Russian citizens - which makes them eligible for land-disbursement benefits - or by leasing lands from Russians who received it under government giveaways. At one point, Russian news articles described more than 1.5 million Chinese living in southern Russian territories, though precise numbers don’t exist; some experts say the number is probably much lower. This year, many returned to China amid fears of the closure of the border because of the coronavirus. But most people, including Karaganov, expect they’ll be back, tantalizing Russians with prospects for growth while at the same time triggering the age-old racist tendencies that have clouded Russia’s efforts to assimilate outsiders of non-Russian descent.
When Dima first came from the city of Shenyang, at 26, adventurous migrants were chasing opportunities across the Russian frontier. He had taken a train to Khabarovsk, the largest city in the Russian East, and then continued west on rumors of free arable land. Quickly enough he found work on a collective near Dimitrovo and hustled produce to buyers along the railroad to make a living until, five years later, the collective folded and most of the Russians moved away.
Dima saw it as an opportunity. The China he’d left was urban, crowded and poor, and this part of Russia was like the wild east, flush with subsidies, space and opportunity. His wife, a Russian citizen, qualified for a cheap loan: enough for farm equipment and 50 acres to grow soybeans and barley for feed. By 2020 Dima had tilled profits into more land until he was running two large combines over nearly 6,500 acres of soybeans and employing 15 mostly Chinese workers to do it. And throughout it all, he had begun to fit in. "My neighbors see me as Dima," he says, speaking Russian in a thick Chinese accent, "although I can’t hide the fact I don’t speak well."
Dima says he is confident that, once the pandemic ends, more of his countrymen will be drawn to the region, probably with bigger investors and bigger companies. "You can’t retreat," he says, noting that they’ve wagered too much money here. "They will come." These days, much of the Chinese money is in Vladivostok, a breezy and moneyed port city scattered over rolling hills on the shoreline of the Sea of Japan, about nine hours by jet from Moscow. It’s through here that Chinese companies have begun channeling billions of dollars toward Russian land leases and farm operations, and from here that the farms are shipping thousands of tons of soybeans and corn and wheat south to Chinese cities. By video call from his office’s modern glass-walled conference room at the Russian Far East Investment and Export Agency in Vladivostok, Absamat Dzhanboriev, the agency’s agricultural investment director, describes a steep rise in agricultural production that can come only from large-scale corporate farming. In 2018 more than 900,000 tons of soybeans were exported from the East. Soon, he says, the region will harvest two million tons of soybeans from 3.7 million acres of farmed land - an area roughly the size of Connecticut. And the more the land warms, the farther north the industry will be able to push, eventually doubling farmed land again, producing nearly six million tons or more each year.
Chinese money supports 14 percent of new farm development in the region, more than any other foreign source. Last year, for example, Chinese investors, including a state-owned company, used a Russian subsidiary to start developing 123,000 acres for soy and other crops in an area near Vladivostok and to build a soy-processing plant that would handle 240,000 tons a year. The deal makes the Chinese venture one of the largest private landholders in the Russian east; according to local news reports, it is likely to employ a number of Chinese workers, rely on Chinese technology and sell its products in China. In exchange, Russia says it will earn income tax (after a decade-long abatement) and that a Russian development bank also has a 20 percent stake in the project. (By law, Dzhanboriev said, such joint ventures are supposed to hire Russians to do at least 80 percent of the work.)
For now, at least, these deals seem to be pushing the Chinese and Russian governments closer together. The groundwork was laid in May 2015, when Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to form a $2 billion agricultural fund for trade partnerships in Russia’s east. Investments like these support loans and farming and the construction of badly needed roads and electrical lines in Russian villages like Dimitrovo, while also opening the literal back door - Russia’s remote southeastern border - to China’s colossal market, a market that Putin has coveted. Since then the money has continued to flow, with nearly $14 billion reportedly invested by 2017 across Russia’s resource sectors and another $10 billion pledged by Xi for cross-border infrastructure efforts. This year, the first major bridge linking the two countries across the Amur River was completed.
Given that China appears to siphon much of the profits and products from these ventures, it has not always been clear to Russians in the east that the deals are worth it. But analysts point out that the goals of the two countries - at least for the moment - are complementary. Russia gets long-term growth and the establishment of a durable industry in a region that it has failed to develop in the past and does not have the resources or the technology to do so now on its own. It also gets, according to an analysis by Angela Stent for the Brookings Institution, China’s "unequivocable support" for its programs and policies, something that has become invaluable following the sanctions imposed by the West after the Crimean invasion.
Ultimately, it is the clumsy maneuvering of the United States that might prove most responsible for making Putin’s eastern development agenda a success. American tariffs, imposed as part of the Trump administration’s trade war with China, led to China’s own retaliatory tariffs on U.S. soybeans, creating the largest catalyst for Chinese buyers to look north for new markets. According to the U.S. Congressional Research Service, China’s total food and agricultural imports from Russia increased 61 percent in 2017 and 2018, yet another example of the U.S. failure to see the chessboard when it comes to the intricate geopolitical implications of climate change.
"The U.S. has made a few historic mistakes, and I don’t think they are able to repair them," Karaganov told me. The first was what he characterized as the rejection of Russia’s bid some two decades earlier to strengthen ties with the West. "The second was helping to bring Russia and China together." With China’s wealth paired to Russia’s resources, and the political trajectories and climate-related interests of the two countries more or less aligned, there is nothing short of a new world order at stake - an order, Brookings Institution analysts say, based not only on economic alignment but also on the two countries’ common commitment to supplanting Western hegemony.
Whether this great Eastern alliance can endure, though, remains an open question, in part because of the underlying and unresolved issue of human migration and the colonization of the Asian north. As strong as the China-Russian partnership appears to be - China has become Russia’s largest trading partner for oil, arms and more - it is an asymmetrical one. Russians continue to distrust Chinese intentions, particularly in the East. The boon in investment is accelerating Russia’s development goals but with trade-offs that stoke rising resentment and fear.
Two centuries ago much of the Russian Far East was a part of China. As recently as 1969, there were border clashes there. After the fall of the Soviet Union, fears of a Chinese invasion were rekindled. And while those fears have since softened, suspicions toward the Chinese linger, a mark of Russia’s famously xenophobic outlook on many non-Russian-speaking immigrants but also a vestige of its history with its southern neighbor. The fear of Chinese overrun in the East is a perennial one; it comes and goes throughout the years - and is sometimes overstated - but it never quite goes away.
And as climate change increasingly drives mass migration, the eventual pressure from the population to the south is quite real. Northeastern China, a report from the U.S. National Intelligence Council warns, will face water shortages and droughts that could drive its population into Russia "in large numbers," potentially unsettling the entire region. Chinese migrants might be pulled into the Russian Far East by economic opportunities today, the council stated, but by as soon as 2030 the dynamic could flip to one in which they will instead be pushed out of China for lack of basic resources.
And it won’t just be from China. Water shortages and more frequent droughts across Central Asia and Mongolia and south as far as India could push large numbers of people north. A 2015 study by Russian demographers published in The Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences looked at how unabated climate change would force the "resettlement of millions" of Vietnamese, many of whom might also come to Russia, as sea levels inundate the Mekong Delta by the end of this century.
If there is any lesson to be learned from the instability that has already been caused by climate-driven migration around the world, whether drought-stricken Guatemalans at the U.S. border or Syrians pressing into Europe, it’s that a strategy of accommodating migrants would almost certainly be more to Russia’s benefit than one that attempts to keep them out. Accommodation, an abundance of migration research shows, stands a better chance of preserving Russia’s own sovereignty while improving the stability of its surrounding regions; exclusion is likely to lead to endless conflict and chaos on its borders, which risks spilling across in destabilizing ways.
The fact is that the people of Asia have long ventured north - into Siberia, the Far East and beyond - as the climate has undergone cyclical change through the course of history. Around 3,000 years ago a drought in central China drove Mongol herders a thousand miles north into the steppes of Khakassia, in Siberia, where they remained raising horses and sheep for centuries. The likelihood of that process repeating as the climate warms is now inevitable, said Amber Soja, a scientist who has examined the migration of ancient civilizations in north Asia as a research fellow at the NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia. One way or another, she says, "people are going to move. Because people need to eat."
© 2020 The New York Times Company.
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QS WOW News / December 20, 2020
Results of "Project 5-100" Discussed at VUZPROMEXPO-2020
Итоги Проекта 5-100 обсуждались на панельной дискуссии в рамках 7-й ежегодной национальной выставки «ВУЗПРОМЭКСПО-2020», проходившей в Москве 10-11 декабря.
Results of Project 5-100 were discussed at panel discussion within the framework of the exhibition "VUZPROMEXPO-2020". The goal of Project 5-100 is to maximize the competitive position of a group of leading Russian universities in the global research and education market.
Vice-governor of St. Petersburg, Vladimir Knyaginin, who was the moderator, began the discussion with the question: "Is the Project being closed completely or is it moving into a new quality?"
Deputy Minister of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation Andrey Omelchuk was the first to answer, "The project is still ongoing. And with today’s discussion, we open the discussion of the results that 5-100 gave. Much of what the Project has achieved is based on a new concept of the Program of Strategic Academic Leadership with a large number of participants. 5-100 as the project ends, but immediately after it closure, a new one is being opened. Which, in our opinion, is no worse, and in many respects, even better than the one we have implemented now".
Alevtina Chernikova, Rector of NUST MISIS, noted that each university has its own development strategy, which is based on priority areas and unique competencies, but thanks to Project 5-100, it was possible to transform profoundly all areas of its activities, create a competitive infrastructure that attracted scientists, teachers, and schoolchildren.
Eduard Galazhinsky, rector of Tomsk State University, said that the Project launched the essential processes related to two main points. On the one hand, 5-100, according to their ideology, touches all areas: science, education, economics, management, infrastructure, innovative development. On the other hand, it awakened the management’s thinking and understanding of his own identity. The main thing is that there has been a systemic shift in education; universities have begun to form their future meaningfully. In addition, any subsequent program is a resource for making your future.
Nikolay Kudryavtsev, Rector of MIPT, added that the program on improving the competitiveness made it possible for Russian universities to present themselves in international rankings, draw the attention of the world university community, and achieve great success. Now there is another task: for the domestic economy to enter the world top, for our education and science to be included there. Universities need, together with the results of ratings and publications, to obtain the results that can be quickly introduced into production and practice.
Rector of ITMO University Vladimir Vasiliev, "The project has certainly accomplished all its tasks. From 2013 to 2020, dramatic changes took place in each of the higher education institutions participating in the program. 5-100 sets the stage for the next phase. Of course, there is sustainability. Teams are ready to participate in the Strategic Academic Leadership Program competition, ready for a change, adaptation".
Isak Frumin, scientific director of the Institute of Education of the HSE, reminded that when the launch of the project was just being discussed, many in the scientific community drew attention to the fact that "the presence in the international ranking" is a simple indicator because universities have many different indicators. However, there was no better offer. He believes that 5-100 has not fully realized its potential. After all, similar foreign programs are planned for at least 10 years. This is a prerequisite for projection of staff. If the project had lasted another 3 years, it would have been possible to achieve greater sustainability in the transfer of experience. The participants also discussed the challenges they faced during the coronavirus epidemic and forced telecommuting.
Daniil Sandler, First Vice-Rector for Economics and Strategic Development of the Ural Federal University named after the first President of Russia B.N. Yeltsin, drew attention to the fact that, despite the pandemic, none of the universities reduced the share of foreign students. It was necessary to reduce slightly the scientific rates of foreign teachers, but the necessary funding to continue this activity was found. During the panel discussion, representatives of the universities of Project 5-100 outlined their main achievements and key indicators of the development strategy.
Andrey Omelchuk also made a presentation of the results of Project 5-100 in facts, summing up, "Today we have got more specialized universities that work according to priorities, without losing the competencies that were accumulated earlier. Of course, we have made a qualitative shift in terms of our presence in international rankings, publication activity, R&D funding."
"We understand what results we got from 5-100. All the best that was in the next will remain with us in the next period. We will slightly expand the list of participants. Universities that should be in the area of attention and support of the state are not only a pool of clear leaders, but also those who, competing with them, will move forward".
© QS Quacquarelli Symonds Limited.
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The Maritime Executive / 12-22-2020
Russia Launches Unusual Floating Science Station for the High Arctic
Петербургские «Адмиралтейские верфи» спустили на воду самоходную плавучую полярную станцию «Северный полюс», завершение строительства которой планируется в 2022 году. Предполагается, что не имеющая аналогов в мире платформа с 15 лабораториями и вертолетной площадкой на борту будет дрейфовать в Северном Ледовитом океане непрерывно в течение двух лет и возвращаться обратно, позволив ученым круглогодично осуществлять мониторинг океана, проводить исследования и эксперименты.
Russia's Admiralty Shipyard has launched one of the most unusual ships to go down the ways in 2020. The future Severnyy Polyus (North Pole), also known as Project 00903, is as much a floating installation as it is a self-propelled vessel. The bulbous ship is designed to the Russian Arc8 ice class standard, one step down from the top Arc9 rating, and it is intended for multi-year drifting deployments in very high latitudes.
Steel cutting for the one-of-a-kind project began in late 2018. Its hull is shaped to reduce ice pressure by deflecting it downwards, much like the Arctic drilling rig Kulluk, a bowl-shaped floating platform designed to ride up over encroaching ice. Unlike Kulluk, Project 00903 has its own propulsion and is intended to self-deploy through heavy ice, without an icebreaker escort.
The $100 million ship will be operated by the Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring and the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute. It will deploy for up to two years at a time as a floating research platform, resupplied with goods and personnel by helicopter and by icebreaker.
According to Roshydromet, the Severnyy Polyus will restore a capability that the agency lost in 2013, the last year it was able to find ice stable enough to support drift expeditions with scientists camped out on ice floes. With 15 laboratory spaces and a full range of sensors for geological, acoustic, geophysical and oceanographic research, the vessel will give the agency's staff a long-term platform for ocean monitoring and experimentation.
"For high-quality forecasts, we need constant data from the Central Arctic. It is especially important that scientists will soon be able to obtain this data, being in comfortable conditions on the ship, and not in a tent on the ice," said Roshydromet in a statement.
The vessel's completion and commissioning is scheduled for 2022.
© Copyright 2021 The Maritime Executive, LLC. All rights reserved.
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E&T Magazine / December 23, 2020
Soil properties could be identified at any depth using radar
Ученые из РУДН и Почвенного института имени В.В.Докучаева предложили простой и недорогой способ анализа почв, залегающих на больших глубинах. Заменой взятию образцов керна может стать георадар, поскольку длина отраженного от слоя почвы микроволнового излучения меняется в зависимости от цвета слоя. После этого отраженное излучение можно откалибровать, создав корреляционную цветовую модель.
A team of scientists from RUDN University and the Dokuchyaev Soil Science Institute have developed a method for identifying the soil colour and structure at any depth using ground-penetrating radar. This allows for the identification of the chemical composition of soil without digging.
Colour is one of the key indicators of soil properties. Based on soil colour, it is possible to identify soil type, humus (fine organic matter) content, soil density, humidity, salinity, and other properties. For instance, black soil is rich in humus, while reddish tones indicate a high iron content.
In order to analyse soil colour, however, it is necessary to dig a soil section. Presenting an alternative to this labour-intensive process, Russian scientists have proposed using ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to determine soil colour at various depths.
"Colour is one of the main properties of soils that has been used for their classification for a long time; that is why many names of soils are associated with colour. Moreover, colour is an integral indicator of many other characteristics of soils," said Professor Igor Savin of RUDN University. "Theoretically, this parameter could be measured with GPR. We wanted to confirm a correlation between colours of soil layers and GPR profiling data."
Savin and his colleagues conducted an experiment in Kamennaya Steppe in Western Russia; this area is recognised for its large variety of soil types and is home to a soil research institute. The scientists probed the soils in seven sites with GPR and took 30 soil samples from each (at 10cm intervals down to a maximum depth of 3m). These soil samples were dried and ground to identify colour.
The DPR readings were compared with the soil sample colours, allowing the team to develop a correlation model. The colours calculated with the model matched the actual colours in 80 per cent of cases. This model could allow for the chemical composition of soils to be identified without digging, with applications spanning construction, agriculture, and mining.
Although the model is at present only applicable to this area (due to being calibrated based on the samples from Kamennaya Steppe), the researchers hope to adapt it to other areas.
"Our models cannot be used in territories with different soil coverings. However, it is not a disadvantage but rather a peculiarity of our method," explained Savin. "To secure modelling accuracy, the model should include information about soil colours that are typical for the area of the study. In the initial stages, control soil sections would still have to be made using traditional methods.
"However, as soon as we accumulate enough field data, we would be able to eliminate this step, and no digging would be required to identify soil colour at any depth."
© 2021 The Institution of Engineering and Technology.
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PreventionWeb / 23 Dec 2020
Study suggests great earthquakes as cause of Arctic warming
Академик Леопольд Лобковский предположил, что быстрое потепление в Арктике могло быть спровоцировано серией крупных землетрясений в Алеутской дуге, ближайшего к Арктике сейсмически активного района. Анализ исторических данных показал, что в 20-м веке Алеутская дуга была местом двух серий сильных землетрясений, каждая серия - за 15-20 лет до начала резкого подъема температуры. Рассчитав скорость распространения тектонических волн, ученый предположил, что, дойдя до арктического шельфа, они нарушили структуру газовых гидратов в вечной мерзлоте, что стало причиной выхода метана.
A researcher from MIPT has proposed a new explanation for the Arctic’s rapid warming. In his recent paper in Geosciences, he suggests that the warming could have been triggered by a series of great earthquakes.
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Global warming is one of the pressing issues faced by civilization. It is widely believed to be caused by human activity, which increases the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, this view does not explain why temperatures sometimes rise fairly abruptly.
In the Arctic, one of the factors driving climate warming is the release of methane from permafrost and metastable gas hydrates in the shelf zone. Since researchers began to monitor temperatures in the Arctic, the region has seen two periods of abrupt warming: first in the 1920s and ’30s, and then beginning in 1980 and continuing to this day.
Leopold Lobkovsky, who authored the study reported in this story, is a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the head of the MIPT Laboratory for Geophysical Research of the Arctic and Continental Margins of the World Ocean. In his paper, the scientist hypothesized that the unexplained abrupt temperature changes could have been triggered by geodynamic factors. Specifically, he pointed to a series of great earthquakes in the Aleutian Arc, which is the closest seismically active area to the Arctic.
To test his hypothesis, Lobkovsky had to answer three questions. First, did the dates of the great earthquakes coincide with temperature jumps? Second, what is the mechanism that enables the lithospheric disturbances to propagate over more than 2,000 kilometers from the Aleutian Islands to the Arctic shelf region? Third, how do these disturbances intensify methane emissions?
The answer to the first question came from historical data analysis. It turned out that the Aleutian Arc was indeed the site of two series of great earthquakes in the 20th century (more details below the text). Each of them preceded an abrupt rise in temperature by about 15 to 20 years.
It took a model of lithospheric excitation dynamics to answer the second question. The model used by the researcher describes the propagation of so-called tectonic waves and predicts that they should travel at about 100 kilometers per year. This agrees with the delay between each of the great earthquake series and the subsequent temperature hike, as it took the disturbances 15 to 20 years to get transmitted over 2,000 kilometers.
To answer the third question, the researcher proposed the following explanation: The deformation waves arriving in the shelf zone cause minor additional stresses in the lithosphere, which are sufficient to disrupt the internal structure of the metastable gas hydrates and permafrost storing captured methane. This releases methane into the water of the shelf and atmosphere, leading to climate warming in the region due to the greenhouse effect.
"There is a clear correlation between the great earthquakes in the Aleutian Arc and the phases of climate warming. A mechanism exists for physically transmitting the stresses in the lithosphere at the appropriate velocities. And these added stresses are capable of destroying metastable gas hydrates and permafrost, releasing methane. Each of the three components in this scheme is logical and lends itself to mathematical and physical explanation. Importantly, it explains a known fact - the abrupt rise in temperature anomalies in the Arctic - which remained unaccounted for by the previous models," Lobkovsky commented.
According to the researcher, his model will benefit from discussion and will likely be improved, and there is much to be done in order to confirm or rule out the proposed mechanism.
Phys.Org / December 29, 2020
Scientists turn toxic pesticide into treatment against antibiotic-resistant bacteria
Российским микробиологам удалось превратить токсичный пестицид в лекарство от устойчивых к антибиотикам бактерий. В результате проведенной учеными модификации азотсодержащие циклические соединения N-Арил-C-нитроазолы стали менее токсичными для человека и продемонстрировали способность подавлять рост ряда резистентных патогенов.
N-Aryl-C-nitroazoles are an important class of heterocyclic compounds. They are used as pesticides and fungicides. However, these substances could be toxic to humans and cause mutations. As they are not frequently used, there is little data about them in the medicinal chemistry literature. However, it has been suggested recently that the groups of compounds that are traditionally avoided can help to fight pathogenic bacteria.
Yet, to reduce toxic effects, a great amount of work must be carried out at the molecular level, including accurate optimization of the molecular environment of the nitro-heteroaromatic 'warhead.' The validity of this approach was demonstrated in the early 2000s through the development of anti-tuberculosis drugs delamanid and pretomanid, currently approved for medical use. They act like prodrugs, that is, the substance itself is inactive, but acquires new properties when it enters the human body.
In terms of this work, scientists from the Baltic Federal University together with colleagues from St. Petersburg State University, the L. Pasteur Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, and the Research Institute of Phthisiopulmonology in St. Petersburg, are looking for new, effective antibacterial drugs, studying various nitrogen heteroaromatic compounds with a nitro group which might be used in medicine further.
The compound OTB-021 was found to work well against drug-sensitive strains of tuberculosis pathogens, but was powerless against strains of pathogens that belong to the so-called ESKAPE panel. ESKAPE is an abbreviation for the names of bacterial species most often developing resistance to antibiotics: Enterococcus faecium, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Acinetobacter baumannii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Enterobacter aerogenes. It is a kind of a pun: 'eskape' sounds like 'escape,' and the bacteria of this panel are known to be resistant to most of the known antibiotics-that is, they seem to 'escape' from drugs.
To understand how to modify the compound so that it could act on these pathogenic bacteria the scientists constructed two isomeric (identical in atomic arrangement) series based on OTB-021. Side amino groups changed their position to make the aromatic nitrogen-rich core of the substance more compact, which should reduce the toxicity of the substance. The sensitivity of microorganisms to a new compound was tested via disk diffusion method. Zones of the inhibition of bacterial growth by antibiotic disks and dried solution of the compound in Petri dishes were measured.
It turned out that the ESKAPE bacteria were easily suppressed by the new substances. The minimal concentration of the chemical that prevents the growth of bacteria (μg/ml) for the tested substance shows a result comparable to the use of a ml of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin: for example, 0.3 μg/ml of an antibiotic for Enterococcus acts the same as 2 μg/ml of one of the new substances.
"Starting from the structure of the antimycobacterial OTB-021 which has no activity against ESKAPE pathogens, we developed, synthesized, and tested two isomeric series of novel analogs with an amino group that changes its position in the structure." These compounds can inhibit the growth of all ESKAPE pathogens.
"Probably, they will help to develop new effective drugs against bacterial diseases which are sometimes very difficult to treat," says Mikhail Krasavin, Doctor of Chemical Science, Professor of the Russian Academy of Sciences, professor and researcher at the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University.
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Science Times / Dec 29, 2020
Russian Archaeologists Create a 3D Model for a Section of the Tepsei Site
Археологи Кемеровского государственного университета создали виртуальную 3D модель одного из участков археологического памятника Тепсей, расположенного в Минусинской котловине. На модели также обозначено расположение наскальных рисунков и мест раскопок.
A team of archaeologists from Kemerovo State University in Russia has created a 3D model representing part of the Tepsei archaeological site as a part of ongoing studies on the location.
Located in the Minusinsk Basin, near the southern part of Siberia, the Tepsei site covers more than 27 square kilometers of land, including Mount Tepsei that towers at about 630 meters (2066.93 feet), and the river valley that runs at its feet. Archaeologists are conducting studies on the site to understand better the culture and history surrounding the site.
With this project, researchers aim to provide an accurate image of what ancient southern Siberia looks like in terms of the gradual changing of its cultures, the migration routes taken around the areas, and the different historical points when the valley saw its beginning its settlements.
Generating a 3D Virtual Model of a Tepsei Site Section
The Kemerovo State University team collaborated with specialists from the Russian RSSDA Laboratory, based in Moscow. Their work resulted in the 3D model of one of the Tepsei site clusters. As a comprehensive and accurate recreation of the site, the virtual model illustrates the exact location of important stone slabs, burial stones, and other sites where pieces of rock art have been discovered. It also includes the different excavation sites over the years and is expected to draw the Tepsei cluster's boundaries.
To turn this 3D virtual model into a reality, researchers used the latest technology over extended periods of time to gather data, survey the site, and generate a database to describe the significant findings in the Tepsei cluster.
The team now used 3D modeling and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to conduct a visual inspection of the site. They also employed a Garmin GPS device in recording the surfaces. Researchers marked each site on Google Maps, noting where the largest clusters of petroglyphs were found, and identified locations that required additional on-site studies.
The visual references, according to the university's press release, is nearing completion. Researchers have already copied and cataloged the prehistoric art found in the river valley at the foot of Mount Tepsei, as well as two ravines. Two additional expeditions, launched in July and September this year, further completed the required inspections with aerial surveys and mappings - using drones for hard-to-reach areas. The team has also completed 3D recreations for fifteen rock art surfaces.
Mount Tepsei: Home to an Ancient Siberian Civilization
The Tepsei region first attracted the Kemerovo State University Department of Archaeology's attention in the 1980s, shortly after a team of archaeologists led by Dr. B.N. Pyatkin discovered the cave art in the region after exploring local petroglyphs. Almost half a decade later, in 1995, the Tepsei rock art became the subject of a collaborative study between French and Russian researchers, respectively led by Yakov Sher and Henry-Paul Frankfor.
In the early 2010s, Kemerovo State University revisited the site for another series of expeditions in uncovering its secrets. Under the leadership of Olga Sovetova, Director of the Institute of History and International Relations at the university.
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