|Российская наука и мир|
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)
Палеонтологи Дмитрий Щербаков (Палеонтологический институт имени А.А.Борисяка РАН) и Рассел Бикнел (Университет Новой Англии, Австралия) описали новый вид ископаемого подковообразного краба возрастом 200 млн лет, найденного на Урале, и назвали его Attenborolimulus superspinosus - в честь известного британского натуралиста и защитника природы Дэвида Аттенборо.
By human standards, 95-year-old David Attenborough might be considered an "old fossil". But the beloved nature broadcaster is still a spring chicken compared to his new namesake.
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Researchers have identified a new species of horseshoe crab that lived around 200 million years ago, and named it Attenborolimulus superspinosus.
"We named this fossil crab after the famous naturalist and documentary host Sir David Attenborough, in honour of his contributions to conservation and science communication," study co-author and University of New England paleobiology researcher Russell Bicknell wrote for The Conversation.
Bicknell and his co-author Dmitry E. Shcherbakov of the Russian Academy of Sciences announced their new find in the journal Paleontology and Evolutionary Science Wednesday. The species is a relic of a time when horseshoe crabs displayed much more biodiversity. Currently, there are only four species of horseshoe crab that are all relatively similar to each other. However, 250 to 200 million years ago, during the Triassic period, there were a variety of different horseshoe crabs known as the austrolimulids.
Bicknell and Shcherbakov discovered the new austrolimulid in Russia's Ural Mountains during trips in 2018 and 2019. What set it apart from the rest of the austrolimulids was the unique placement and shape of its spines - more developed on its head section and more rounded and less prominent elsewhere. It was smaller than contemporary horseshoe crabs and probably lived in freshwater or a mixed fresh and marine ecosystem. This sets it apart from contemporary horseshoe crabs, which only live in the ocean.
Studying austromolids is important because they emerged as part of the recovery after the Permian extinction, in which 95 percent of marine life went extinct.
"Examining ecological recovery from the 'mother of all extinctions' (the end-Permian extinction) during the Triassic is important for understanding how biological systems can redevelop after major devastating events," the authors wrote in the study.
Today's horseshoe crabs are threatened by a different mass extinction, which is why the researchers decided to name their ancient ancestor for a noted conservationist.
"This is especially important for horseshoe crabs now, as two of the four living species are considered endangered," Bicknell wrote for The Conversation. "And this is due to negative interactions with humans, including habitat modification and harvesting for their blood (which has applications in modern medicine)."
This is not the first time Attenborough has had a fossil named for him. In 2017, for one, researchers called a 430-million-year-old crustacean Cascolus Ravitis, Cascolus being the Latin equivalent of the Old English version of Attenborough, as BBC News reported at the time.
"The biggest compliment that a biologist or palaeontologist can pay to another one is to name a fossil in his honour and I take this as a very great compliment," Attenborough told BBC News in response.
All in all, the naturalist has given his name to more than 12 species, living and extinct, including a dragonfly, a pitcher plant and the fossil of a marsupial lion, as SBS reported.
Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty / July 05, 2021
As Siberia's Permafrost Thaws, Scientists Marvel At The Mammoth Treasures Beneath
Таяние вечной мерзлоты, покрывающей 95% площади Якутии, выносит на поверхность множество интересных находок, привлекающих исследователей со всего мира.
Paleontologist Valery Plotnikov reached into an industrial freezer to retrieve a Styrofoam box and lifted the lid. Inside, curled up into a ball as if comfortably napping, was a brown, furry creature resembling nothing alive on the planet today.
"We initially thought it was a cave wolf, or a bear of some sort," said Plotnikov, a researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences branch in Yakutsk, capital of Russia's Sakha Republic, or Yakutia. "But its teeth don't match, and it has fewer toes."
The animal had been dead for thousands of years, but it was discovered almost perfectly preserved in the Siberian permafrost. It has not yet been dated by scientists, but Plotnikov estimates that it may have been frozen more than 50,000 years ago, which would make it one of the oldest finds analyzed by his laboratory.
That would be quite an achievement. Plotnikov's lab is packed with so many ancient bones and specimens that it is struggling to find space for the Ice Age remains that are rising to the surface as the climate warms. And the pace of discovery is accelerating as the frozen ground that covers 95 percent of Yakutia thaws, and attracts scientists from around the world to this remotest of regions.
It's also attracting a booming trade in mammoth tusks, which sell for tens of thousands of dollars in neighboring China. Sakha residents scour the land in search of windfall - and usually illicit - profits, and in the process they unearth dozens of ancient carcasses preserved in the ice, which shed light on the history of the human race and many of the species that have become extinct.
"The revolution that's happened in DNA sequencing technology is insane. It's been a struggle to keep up," said Love Dalen, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Palaeogenetics in Stockholm. "It's probably one of the most rapid shifts in technology that has ever happened in science."
"We used to sequence results that you could print out on an A4 page in Arial font," he said. "Today, if we printed out the DNA codes we sequence, it would get you to the moon and back - twice."
Chasing The Mammoth
Using these advances in technology, Dalen and other scientists have reached new conclusions about the evolution and historical lineage of animals alive today, and stoked an intensifying and controversial race to use the DNA from ancient bones to genetically reengineer the most mythic ancient creature of all - the woolly mammoth.
A project led by geneticist George Church at Harvard University is working to edit the genes of the African elephant, the mammoth's closest living relative, to recreate a mammoth-like creature with fur, small ears, and a thick layer of fat to withstand the Siberian cold. A synthetic uterus under development in Church's laboratory would become the first ever to produce a mammal of any sort - let alone one with a 22-month gestation period.
Some hope the project will help humans atone for their role in driving the creature to extinction between 10,000 and 4,000 years ago. Others say resurrecting the mammoth in a warming climate would be akin to repeating those sins all over again.
Dalen has made 10 field trips to Siberia since he began collaborating with Plotnikov and other Russian researchers in the early 2000s. At least 80 percent of the world's known mammoth remains are thought to be in Yakutia, and half of its intact Ice Age specimens. During a visit in 2018, the team took DNA samples from the head of a Pleistocene-era steppe wolf, a large intact mammoth foot, and the body of a cave lion cub that was frozen for 28,000 years and is probably the best-preserved Ice Age animal ever found.
But the as-yet-undated brown-furred animal found last summer still poses a mystery, and Dalen plans a return trip to Yakutsk in August to take samples so he can study the creature's DNA at his lab in Stockholm. "From the photos I've seen, it looks like a cat of some sort," he said. "But we can't be sure."
The pace of discovery may be a boon for researchers like Dalen, but it also testifies to a troubling reality. The world's permafrost covers an area twice the size of the United States, and its carbon emissions are accelerating as the climate warms. It's the kind of vicious feedback loop that characterizes many of the processes of warming in the Arctic.
The wintertime thaw in Siberia is paradoxically exacerbated by snow, which preserves summer heat in the soil like a blanket. As the active layer stops freezing in winter, the extra warmth allows microbes in the soil to chomp on the thawing organic material, emitting carbon dioxide or methane - a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent - year-round.
The warmth spreads deeper into the permafrost, accelerating its thaw, and in built-up areas it weakens the foundations of homes that stand on stilts dug deep into the ground, forcing some residents to evacuate. Temperature records in Russia have been obliterated in recent years, fueling raging wildfires in Siberia and heatwaves in its traditional "poles of cold."
In the far northeastern corner of Yakutia, about 1,600 kilometers from Yakutsk, ecologist Sergei Zimov and his son Nikita have created what they call Pleistocene Park, a 145-square-kilometer plot of land that they have turned into a live experiment in reversing the effects of climate change. To halt the thawing of permafrost, they are repopulating the area with the wild animals - bison, muskox, reindeer, horses - that roamed those plains in the last Ice Age. As they tamp down the deep snow and allow the trapped heat to escape, the animals are also locking the cold inside the frozen earth.
"It is very hard to agree to reduce industrial CO2 emissions. Reducing permafrost emissions [is] much easier," Sergei Zimov wrote in a 1988 manifesto laying out his bold ambition. "All [that's] needed is to cross mental barriers, accept that pasture ecosystems have a right for living and freedom, and return part of the territory which our ancestors took from them."
Pleistocene Park now has around 200 grazers, which Nikita Zimov says is already keeping the soil cooler than in the surrounding area. To really slow climate change, however, the Zimovs will need hundreds of thousands of animals across millions of acres in the Arctic. They'll also, they say, need mammoths. Having teamed up with Harvard's Church, they hope to one day have them stomping around Pleistocene Park, toppling trees and clearing the area for steppe.
That could be decades away, if it ever happens. But for many of the scientists working in Yakutsk, it's a vision worth cheering.
At the city's Mammoth Museum, which specializes in ancient specimens, Sergei Fyodorov has spent years studying the mammoth remains kept in a room-size freezer behind the main museum hall. He says he has never gotten used to the cloying smell of mammoth meat, which clings to his clothes and elicits glances from his fellow bus passengers.
The Yakut language, Fyodorov says, has words for camel and lion but no word for mammoth. He suggests that may indicate that the ethnic group is not indigenous to the region but native to climes further south.
Yet it may be the Yakuts who will one day become the masters of a new mammoth steppe. There is no region better suited to reintroducing the extinct creature, according to Plotnikov.
"The climate of central Yakutia has many of the characteristics of the Pleistocene Period, with forests, valleys, and grassland," he said.
For Fyodorov, seeing the enormous beasts again roam the Siberian flatlands would be a culmination of a life of research.
"If we manage to recreate the mammoth," he said. "Yakutia is ready to host it."
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty © 2021 RFE/RL, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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Nature / 06 July 2021
Mounting evidence suggests Sputnik COVID vaccine is safe and effective
Russia’s vaccine is in use in nearly 70 nations, but its adoption has been slowed by controversies and questions over rare side effects, and it has yet to garner World Health Organization approval.
Данные из России и других стран, использовавших вакцину против COVID-19 «Спутник V», позволяют утверждать, что она безопасна и эффективна. Остаются вопросы о тщательности отслеживания возможных побочных эффектов.
Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik, has been the subject of fascination and controversy since the Russian government authorized its use last year, before early-stage trial results were even published. Evidence from Russia and many other countries now suggests it is safe and effective - but questions remain about the quality of surveillance for possible rare side effects.
Sputnik V - also known as Gam-COVID-Vac - was the first COVID-19 vaccine to be registered for use in any nation, and it has since been approved in 67 countries, including Brazil, Hungary, India and the Philippines. But the vaccine - and its one-dose sibling Sputnik Light - has yet to receive approval for emergency use from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) or the World Health Organization (WHO). Approval by the WHO is crucial for widespread distribution through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative, which is providing doses for lower-income nations.
Developed by scientists at the Gamaleya National Research Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, the vaccine was authorized for use by the Russian Ministry of Health on 11 August 2020, more than a month before phase I and II trial results were published, and before the phase III trial had even begun.
The scientific community greeted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of the vaccine’s registration with outrage. "If the government’s going to approve a vaccine before they even know the results of the trial, that does not build confidence," said epidemiologist Michael Toole at the Burnet Institute in Melbourne, Australia.
Access to full data
Some of that concern was allayed when the phase III trial results (1), published in February by the vaccine’s developers, suggested that it is 91.6% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infection and 100% effective at preventing severe infection. However, some scientists criticized the authors for failing to provide access to the full raw data from the early-stage trials, and also voiced concerns about changes in the vaccine’s administration protocol and inconsistencies in the data.
The authors responded by saying that they had provided the regulatory authorities with all the data necessary for obtaining approval, and that the data (2) included with the paper were enough for readers to confirm the reported vaccine efficacy. They also addressed the protocol queries, and said numerical inconsistencies were "simple typing errors that were formally corrected".
Despite the absence of approval from the EMA or the WHO, several countries, including South Korea, Argentina and India, are already manufacturing Sputnik V. And India plans to pump out at least 850 million doses, to help speed up the vaccination of its embattled population. Many other countries, such as Hungary and Iran, are importing Sputnik V, and it has become a key plank of their vaccination campaigns.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Brazil’s health regulator rejected an application to import Sputnik V in April over concerns at a lack of data on safety, quality and effectiveness. That decision was reversed in June, but the vaccine has been approved only for healthy adults.
Two viral vectors are better than one?
Sputnik V is an adenovirus vaccine, which means that it uses an engineered adenovirus - a family of viruses that generally cause only mild illness - as a delivery mechanism for inserting the genetic code for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein into human cells.
It is similar to the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. But instead of using one engineered adenovirus, as those two vaccines do, Sputnik V uses different adenoviruses, called rAd26 and rAd5, for the first and second doses, respectively.
Dmitry Kulish, a biotechnology researcher at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in Moscow, who is not involved in the development of Sputnik V, says the scientific reasoning would have been to increase efficacy. The two adenoviruses have slightly different methods of introducing their genetic material into a host cell, he says, which would theoretically improve the success rate of getting the viral genetic material where it needs to go.
The two preliminary studies from the vaccine developers, published (2) in September 2020, involved 76 healthy adults who received the two doses with different viral vectors three weeks apart. All participants produced antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, and adverse events reported were mainly mild pain at the injection site, fever, headache, fatigue and muscle aches - adverse events typical of other SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.
In the randomized phase III trial, published in interim form in February, 14,964 adults received the two-dose vaccine and 4,902 received two doses of placebo. Only 16 subjects in the vaccine group developed symptomatic COVID-19, compared with 62 in the placebo group, representing a vaccine efficacy of 91.6%. Furthermore, there were no cases of moderate to severe disease in the vaccine group, but 20 in the placebo group.
Unpublished data on 3.8 million Russians vaccinated with two doses also point to an efficacy of 97.6%, according to an April press release from the Gamaleya Institute. Figures released by the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Health, on some 81,000 individuals who had received two doses of the vaccine, suggested 97.8% efficacy in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 and 100% efficacy in preventing severe disease.
Russia’s phase III study also found that even one dose was 73.6% effective at preventing moderate to severe disease. This led the Russian health authorities to approve the one-dose Sputnik Light - which uses the rAd26 vector - in May, on the basis of data from the country’s own vaccination programme, which suggested that it was 79.4% effective at preventing symptomatic disease.
Since then, an as-yet unpublished study from the Buenos Aires health ministry in Argentina, involving 40,387 vaccinated and 146,194 unvaccinated people aged 60-79, found that a single dose of Sputnik Light reduced symptomatic infections by 78.6%, hospitalizations by 87.6% and deaths by 84.7%.
Sputnik’s side effects are also becoming clearer; studies so far suggest that they are similar to those of the other adenovirus vaccines, with the notable exception of rare blood-clotting conditions. Unlike for both the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, there have been no reports of these disorders from Russian health authorities or from the other nations using Sputnik V.
A preprint (3) from the Italian Hospital of Buenos Aires in Argentina reported no cases of clotting disorders or adverse events of special interest among 683 health-care workers vaccinated with Sputnik V. And an analysis of 2.8 million doses of Sputnik V administered in Argentina reported no deaths associated with vaccination, and mostly mild adverse events. Furthermore, a study posted as a preprint in May, from the republic of San Marino, found no serious adverse events in 2,558 adults who received one dose of Sputnik V and 1,288 who received two doses (4).
Virologist Alyson Kelvin at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, says there is a theory that the clotting disorder is associated with viral-vector vaccines, but adds, "I don’t think we have exact causation of what component of those vaccines are causing it", or whether Sputnik might also be affected. She notes that although the phase III study of Sputnik V enrolled only 21,977 people, and thus was too small to pick up rare adverse events, the vaccine is now in widespread use globally, which means that reports should appear "if a safety signal comes up".
It is not clear whether Russia is in a position to detect such rare events. Those associated with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine first came to light through adverse-event monitoring in Austria, which prompted the EMA to review the vaccine’s safety.
But Russia’s adverse-event monitoring might be less effective, Kulish argues, partly because of a cultural resistance to seeking medical care. "Most Russian people will call [the] doctor only when they cannot breathe any more," he quips. Furthermore, doctors in remote regions of Russia might not connect a stroke caused by blood clots, for example, to a recent vaccination, he says.
Argentina has not reported any clotting events, despite receiving more than four million doses of the vaccine, Kulish notes. Serbia, which has also been using Sputnik V widely, has so far reported no cases of the blood-clotting condition reported with other adenovirus vaccines.
WHO and EMA wait to authorize Sputnik
Scientists say that concerns over side-effect monitoring could be why the WHO and EMA are yet to issue emergency-use authorization. The WHO has requested more data from the Gamaleya Institute, and inspections by the agency of Russia’s vaccine-manufacturing and clinical-trial facilities are ongoing. So far, nine sites have been inspected, and the WHO has flagged concerns over one manufacturing site. Similarly, the EMA lists the vaccine’s authorization as being under "rolling review".
Sputnik’s developers have accused the European Union of being biased, citing a comment from EU internal-market commissioner Thierry Breton in March that the EU has "absolutely no need of Sputnik V".
Kulish suggests there is also a "pro-Pfizer" stance within the EMA that is hampering Sputnik’s quest for authorization - a reference to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine co-developed by Pfizer in New York City and BioNTech in Mainz, Germany. A spokesperson for the EMA responded to that suggestion by pointing out that "the same standards" apply to all COVID-19 vaccine applicants, "no matter where in the world they are located".
Toole says he suspects the EMA’s main concern is that "they’re not that comfortable" with Russia’s adverse-event surveillance.
There are also concerns about Sputnik in Russia, which has high rates of COVID-vaccine hesitancy. A survey in March suggested that 62% of Russians did not plan to get vaccinated, and Russia is now introducing mandatory vaccinations for some government and other workers to boost vaccination rates. As of 28 June, only around 15% of Russia’s population of more than 140 million had received one dose of a vaccine.
Several other studies are currently under way in countries that have approved Sputnik, including in Argentina, Venezuela, Russia and Turkey, which should help to build a more accurate picture of the vaccine’s safety and efficacy.
© 2021 Springer Nature Limited.
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Al-Monitor / July 9, 2021
4,000-year-old city discovered in Iraq
A group of Russian archaeologists made an impressive discovery in Iraq’s Dhi Qar governorate, where an ancient settlement about 4,000 years old was found.
Российские археологи обнаружили в Ираке остатки городского поселения возрастом около 4 тысяч лет. Предположительно, город может быть столицей государства, возникшего в результате политического кризиса в конце старовавилонского периода.
A group of Russian archaeologists discovered June 24 an ancient settlement about 4,000 years old in Dhi Qar governorate in southern Iraq. The discovery was made in the area of Tell al-Duhaila, which is home to more than 1,200 archaeological sites, including the Great Ziggurat of Ur site from the Sumerian era, and the royal tomb. Treasures similar to the ones that were found in the tomb of Egypt’s Tutankhamun’ tomb were unearthed.
Alexei Jankowski-Diakonoff, head of the Russian excavation mission, told Al-Monitor, "The works started in April 2021, which was the first full round of field archaeological research in southern Mesopotamia. The first two rounds took place in 2019 and 2020."
He said, "The discovered city is an urban settlement in Tell al-Duhaila, located on the banks of a watercourse. According to initial speculation, the city could be the capital of a state founded following the political collapse at the end of the ancient Babylonian era [around the middle of the second millennium B.C.], which caused the systematic destruction of the Sumerian civilization’s urban life."
Commenting on the significance of research in the area, he noted, "Researching the cities of southern Mesopotamia at the end of the ancient Babylonian era - and the Tell al-Duhaila site in particular - opens the secret of an unknown page in the history of the oldest civilization on the planet. The area of Tell al-Duhaila and the ancient city of Mashkan Shabir survived the mass robberies that began in 1991."
Jankowski-Diakonoff added, "This site also reveals the first development in agriculture using silt in Mesopotamia. The site contains remains of the material from the period that preceded the emergence of the Sumerian civilization."
He expects a real opportunity to "find cuneiform documents in an undisturbed archaeological context, which will be extremely important not only to Russian scientists but Mesopotamian archaeologists as well."
The mission also discovered an ancient port where ships used to anchor and the remains of a temple wall about 4 meters (13 feet) wide. "We also discovered an oxidized arrowhead, traces of tandoor stoves and clay camel statues dating back to the early Iron Age," he said.
Talking about the history of the discoveries, the Russian archaeologist said, "According to the study of the oldest architectural building in the city and based on the design features and huge construction blocks, the edifice was most likely built during the ancient Babylonian era. It mainly reflects slave culture, the Neolithic period and Early Copper ages."
Jankowski-Diakonoff said, "In 2019, the joint Russian-Iraqi mission obtained an official permit from the Directorate of Antiquities within the Iraqi Ministry of Culture to conduct archaeological research at two sites in southern Iraq - in the governorates of Maysan and Dhi Qar, which cover the modern delta area in Mesopotamia, the cradle of the most ancient history on earth."
Amer Abdel Razak, antiquity director in Dhi Qar, told Al-Monitor, "The discovered city is located 70 kilometers [43 miles] southwest of the city of Nasiriyah [in the south] in the Sulaibiya depression, which is home to a large number of unexcavated archaeological sites. It is close to the city of Eridu - the oldest and greatest city where kings are said to have descended from heaven, according to Sumerian legends."
He said, "The site was discovered before the arrival of the Russian mission. It was registered in the Dhi Qar Antiquity Department as an extremely significant archaeological site."
Abdel Razak noted that, despite the hardships and obstacles in working on-site because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Russian mission was able to make important discoveries.
"Land surveys showed that the site dates back to the ancient Babylonian era. The mission, however, believes that it might go back to more ancient ages given the pottery pieces and statues in the form of camels and other animals that were found on-site," he said.
Abdel Razak added, "Dhi Qar is expecting visits by international universities and museums in October, including 10 Italian, American, French, British and Russian missions that are set to explore this vast area."
Gaith Salem, professor of ancient history and civilization at Al-Mustansiriya University, told Al-Monitor, "There are many cities that have been discovered in southern Iraq over different periods of time but there has not been much talk about them."
He called for "the development of systematic work within a fixed program to unearth the treasures of history, which are not important only to Iraq, but all humanity."
He said, "This recent discovery is of paramount importance because it introduces the world to one of the Sumerian cities overlooking the seaports. Most cities used to have a view to the sea but have turned today into a vast desert."
Karrar al-Rawazeq, an archaeologist and member of the Muthanna antiquity rescue team, who participated in several excavations, told Al-Monitor, "Exploration and excavation works in the area will yield economic and cultural benefits only if the site was turned into a tourist and investment destination, which would attract funds and tourists."
In this regard, Sumaya al-Ghallab, head of the Culture, Tourism and Antiquity Committee in the Iraqi parliament, spoke to Al-Monitor and called for "securing the necessary funds and protection for excavation teams, and following a strategy for an excavation and research process covering the entire archaeological map in Iraq."
© 2021 Al-Monitor, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Science Times / Jul 13, 2021
Genetic Markers That Control Sunflower Oil Traits Discovered in New Study
Российские и американские ученые проанализировали генетические профили 601 линии выращиваемого в России подсолнечника и выявили маркеры, по которым можно определить содержание жирных кислот в будущем подсолнечном масле.
A study between Russian and American researchers revealed how specific genetic markers can help predict the composition of sunflower oil.
Researchers from the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) and the University of Southern California conducted genetic analysis on a Russian sunflower collection and made the discovery. The findings from this effort is expected to help guide agriculture by predicting which specific crops yield which kind of oil-based on its genetic profile alone.
Their methods and findings appear in the research article "Genotyping and lipid profiling of 601 cultivated sunflower lines reveals novel genetic determinants of oil fatty acid content," published in the July issue of the BMC Genomics journal.
A Novel Method of Predicting Sunflower Oil Varieties
Genomic selection has been the focus of a significant body of research over the past decade, mainly due to its far-reaching applications in the field of agriculture. Through this method, new crop varieties and new breeding programs are being created. Additionally, as noted in a 2016 review article in the journal Frontiers in Genetics, the emerging technology also creates opportunities to increase the overall genetic gain of complex, and sometimes rare, traits against time and cost. Genomic selection involves DNA sequencing and genotyping to find genetic markers of interest.
"Our work is the first large-scale study of the Russian sunflower genetic collection and one of the first attempts to create new varieties using genomic selection," explains Alina Chernova, lead author of the study from Skoltech, in a news release. She additionally shares that the ability to predict what a plant would be like before actually planting it is growing to be the norm in several countries, thanks to technology.
"Classical breeding can hardly cope with the challenges posed by the global climate change, growing human needs, and evolving food quality requirements. To get a head start, we should turn to genetics," Chernova adds.
A Long Term Examination of Sunflower Species
The new study is a long-term research project carried out by Skoltech professor Philipp Khaitovich together with collaborators from the University of Southern California, the avilov All-Russian Institute of Plant Genetic Resources, and Pustovoit All-Russian Research Institute of Oil Crops, and breeders from Agroplasma - an industrial plant breeding and nutrition company.
Researchers examined sunflower species from two Russian gene banks as well as those from Agroplasma collections. Covering some 601 lines of cultivated sunflower to find genetic markers, they also examined diversity against the global collection. Researchers also compared the results of chemical tests conducted on the sunflower oil produced by these lines. After gathering the data, researchers found specific genetic markers that help determine the fatty acid content from the resulting sunflower oil.
Study co-author and Skoltech Ph.D. student Rim Gubaev explain that their choice of sunflower was due to the significance of its vegetable fats and that Russia is currently the world's leading supplier of sunflower oil. By finding which sunflower strains produce which type of sunflower oil, they can better identify which of these plants are suitable for specific applications.
© Copyright 2021 The Science Times. All Rights Reserved.
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Free News / July 14, 2021
The new program identifies human emotions from the text
В Сибирском федеральном университете разработали программу, которая может распознавать эмоциональную окраску текста, а также самостоятельно генерировать тексты с определенным настроением.
Scientists have created a program to determine the emotional color of the text.
Scientists of the Siberian Federal University (SFU) have developed a program that can not only flexibly assess the nature of certain materials, but also generate texts with the right mood for education and other areas. During their work, the authors analyzed how individual words and whole texts give rise to emotions in the reader and, on the basis of the data obtained, developed a flexible computer system for classifying texts by the nature of emotional coloring.
"Emotional computing is in demand in robotics, digital medicine, transportation, gaming and education. Our system allows not only to determine the emotional coloring of the text by a variety of signs, but also helps to generate materials with a given mood. We have already managed to apply it to teaching Russian to foreign students: it turned out that joyful texts give a noticeably less educational effect than sad ones" (Anastasia Kolmogorova, Head of Research, Head of the Department of Romance Languages and Applied Linguistics, Siberian Federal University).
In order to train the algorithm, the authors used 15 thousand posts from three groups of the VKontakte network, distributed over eight emotions. During the study, two thousand participants in the study were presented with four thousand randomly selected texts for evaluation using a special interface.
The authors continue to work on the algorithm and plan to turn it into a multifunctional commercial application. Affective or emotional computing will allow artificial intelligence to recognize human emotions and tune the work of high-tech systems in accordance with the state of people.
Copyright © 2021.
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Биологи Томского государственного университета присоединились к российско-германскому проекту ICARUS, целью которого является мониторинг миграции животных по всей планете с помощью новых технологий, в том числе космических. В этом году томские ученые будут следить за двумя видами кукушек, популяция которых в последнее время сокращается.
TSU Biological Institute researchers have joined an international project, ICARUS. Initiated by Russia and Germany, it aims to monitor animal migration patterns on the planet using new technologies. Ornithologists say that this partnership will open doors in the field of bird migration. It will enable scientists to find previously unknown migration patterns and wintering grounds with the possibility of organizing conservation areas for rare species. The scientists will be able to more precisely identify birds’ life span and cause of death, trace migration patterns of infectious diseases, and even use them as an early warning system for climate change, pandemics, and natural disasters.
"We were able to integrate into such a major project because of the previous research work conducted by the ornithologists of the TSU Zoological Museum and established professional contacts," explains Nina Moskvitina, head of the Laboratory of Biodiversity Monitoring at TSU Biological Institute. "The educational and research station ‘Kolarovo Training Ground’ also plays a major role. For many years it provided a place for systematic animal research done in collaboration with Russian and international colleagues."
TSU biologists are contributing to the project in 2021 by researching two species of cuckoos. The first, the common cuckoo, can be found all over Eurasia, from Kamchatka to Great Britain, while the second, the oriental cuckoo, nestles in forest areas from the Far East to Eastern Europe. The choice of objects has two key reasons, the first being the decline of the common cuckoo population in Western Europe. European colleagues are trying to find the cause of the decline analyzing the situation along the route of migration and on wintering grounds, which scientists 10 years ago could not locate precisely. The second reason is that the size of cuckoos best suits this kind of research.
"ICARUS transmitters weigh 5 grams and are half the size of a matchbox, with a solar battery and 15 cm wire antennae. The transmitter should weigh no more than 5% of the bird’s mass for birds that weigh more than 100 grams. The bird should be able to freely fly and feed carrying that load, so not all species are fit for this experiment. A cuckoo is the size of a pigeon; it hardly notices the additional weight, so the research results show no signs of interference," says Sergey Gashkov, Candidate of Science in Biology, head of the Education Department of the Zoological Museum, Assistant Professor at the Department of Invertebrate Zoology and Ecology of TSU.
Together with colleagues from the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Karelian Research Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences, TSU biologists have caught and marked 15 birds (13 common cuckoos and 2 oriental cuckoos). For now, smart transmitters record all information, and when the birds cross the 55th parallel of latitude, the data will go to the antenna on the Russian segment of the International Space Station. Then the data will be transmitted to the earth station and become available for researchers. The results are published in the open database MoveBank. Siberian cuckoos’ tracks are expected to appear in the database in September.
The sensors can track not only the birds’ route and stops, but also their body temperature, speed, and direction, as well as atmospheric pressure, air temperature, and humidity. That way the scientists are able to "see" birds online, when they move, eat, or sleep, and, additionally, assess the impact of the environment on the birds’ vital functions. The transmitters are equipped with a solar battery, allowing the transmitter to work longer and track a bird’s movements all its life.
The results of this research will help verify several hypotheses. For example, scientists think that birds from different Siberian populations travel to Africa differently. It is supposed that common cuckoos from southern populations of Western Siberia fly via the Middle Asia mountainous area, while cuckoos from Eastern Siberia travel through Mongolia, China, and India. The project will inform us where birds from different breeding grounds in Russia settle on the African continent, how migration pattern and conditions affect their population, and which infections they can transmit.
"The information researchers gather with ICARUS seems astounding. For example, it was discovered that the bar-tailed godwit on the route from Alaska to New Zealand can fly non-stop for 9 to 11 days. Ornithologists could not even imagine it. New technologies can upend our view of fauna and broaden it significantly," says Sergey Gashkov.
ICARUS stands for International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space. Scientists taking part in the ICARUS initiative are working together to develop a satellite-based system to observe small animals such as birds, bats, and turtles.
It is coordinated by the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior (Radolfzell, Germany) and the Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow, Russia). The technical part of the research is carried out by S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation "Energia" (Russia) and SpaceTech GmbH (Germany) under the agreement between State Space Corporation (Roscosmos) and German Aerospace Center (DRL).
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Popular Mechanics / Jul 18, 2021
50 Years Later, the Soviet Union’s Luna Program Might Get a Reboot
Luna 25, Russia’s latest lunar mission, hopes to revive one of the greatest space programs in history.
Спустя почти 50 лет после последней лунной миссии российские ученые надеются вернуться к исследованию и освоению спутника Земли. Автоматическая станция "Луна-25" может отправиться в космос в ближайшие два года.
On August 23, 1976, a small probe streaked through Earth’s atmosphere, crash-landing in a remote region of Siberia, 124 miles southeast of Surgut. On board was precious cargo - soil from our planet’s only natural satellite. It had been scooped up by a robotic lander and launched homeward three days earlier. Now, with its priceless payload successfully delivered, Luna 24’s mission was over. It would prove to be the Soviet Union’s final trip to the moon.
Beginning in January 1959 with the launch of Luna 1, the Luna program scored a number of historical firsts, but it also came with its fair share of failure. Soviet secrecy covered up 21 failed robotic launches directed at the moon - meaning Luna 24 was really Luna 45. And that doesn’t include the dozens of other missions during the 1960s that tested hardware to put a cosmonaut on the moon - an aspiration that never came to pass.
Nearly 50 years since that last lunar mission, Russian scientists hope to revive the historic work of their Soviet predecessors. The 21st-century incarnation of the Luna lander bears an uncanny resemblance to its Luna forebears with its clustered tanks and cylinders - a signature look of all spacecraft designed by the legendary NPO Lavochkin design bureau. But with modern electronics, the new Luna lander will be dramatically scaled down, and it also comes with a brand-new instrument module with vertically positioned solar panels.
Its mission will be different, too. While previous Luna missions primarily explored middle-latitude regions of the moon, Luna 25 is going to its south pole, a geological area that interests NASA and Jeff Bezos alike. If Luna 25 discovers these ancient deposits of ice, scientists will write a new chapter in the geological history of the moon - a fitting legacy for one of humanity’s greatest space programs.
The Soviet Luna program hid four generations of progressively larger and sophisticated probes, whose achievements read like the chronology of the Space Age itself.
The very first series of probes, developed in the late 1950s under the codename E1, were built to test the capability of the Soviet R-7 ballistic missile. These probes were topped with an extra booster to escape Earth’s gravitational field and push payloads toward the moon. After three failed attempts in 1958, the fourth probe, retrospectively named Luna 1, passed near the moon in October 1959 but missed its target (becoming the sun’s first artificial satellite). After another launch failure, Luna 2 finally reached the moon in September 1959. Clouds of sodium intentionally released from the inert rocket stages that carried the probes confirmed the success.
Following these first rudimentary probes, a far more sophisticated one, called Luna 3, succeeded in taking the very first photo of the far side of the moon. The ingenious machine developed the photo on board and beamed it to mission control - an incredible feat of engineering at the time. U.S. intelligence was so fascinated with Luna 3 that it organized an elaborate "kidnapping" of its copy for an overnight examination before returning it without incident.
The Soviet space program, having crashed probes into the moon and snapped photos of its surface, moved on to a much more difficult mission - designing a probe that could land on the moon and survive the experience. From early 1963 to the end of 1965, the USSR fired 11 rockets carrying small, flower-shaped E6 landers equipped with inflatable air bags to soften the landing. They all failed.
So the development of planetary spacecraft was transferred to Semen Lavochkin, who was famous for his World War II fighter planes. Like some other Soviet aircraft designers, Lavochkin shifted to rocket science after the war. Lavochkin died from a heart attack in 1960 and never saw the stunning success of the bureau that carried his name.
And those successes happened immediately. Lavochkin’s engineers succeeded on their first try at a "soft landing" with Luna 9, which touched down on the moon on February 3, 1966. The same team then modified its off-the-shelf probe to create the first ever lunar orbiter, which beamed back the melody of "The Internationale," the anthem of the USSR. The E6 landers also confirmed that the lunar surface was indeed solid and not blanketed in a deep layer of dust capable of swallowing entire spaceships (as Arthur C. Clarke colorfully described).
In other words, it was possible to land humans on the moon.
The Race To The Moon
The Soviets’ lunar expedition scenario called for prepositioning of a backup return vehicle on the moon ahead of the arrival of a lone pilot - the maximum human payload the Soviet moon rocket could deliver at the time. In this scenario, a cosmonaut needed to cross the treacherous lunar terrain from a stricken landing ship to a spare escape rocket. That’s where the Lunokhod rover came in.
Not surprisingly, Lavochkin developed the rover, its landing platform, and the rollout ramp. But the project required expertise far beyond what the space industry could provide. So Soviet engineers who worked on military tanks contributed to the design of the chassis, while nuclear specialists provided a heater fueled by highly radioactive polonium.
The Soviet space program now had its rover and eager cosmonauts, but it was missing one vital piece of equipment - a reliable rocket to get them there. In 1969, two test launches of the giant N1 rocket ended with disastrous crashes, seriously derailing the Soviet Union’s dream of putting bootprints on the moon. In a last-ditch attempt to steal the limelight from NASA’s Apollo program, Lavochkin engineers configured the Lunokhod for remote control operations.
Lavochkin also hastily designed a small return rocket compatible with Lunokhod’s lander and ordered an ingenious drilling mechanism capable of extracting lunar soil and loading it into a sealed capsule at the top of the return rocket. This latter invention, known in Russian as lunocherpalka (lunar scooper), was intended to bring back lunar rocks automatically, proving the Soviet idea that exploration of the moon could be done faster, safer, and cheaper with robots.
Despite working in three shifts and on weekends at Soviet rocket factories and design bureaus throughout 1969, a familiar problem reared its ugly head: The Proton rocket, responsible for launching Lavochkin’s probes, was far from reliable. After several delays and a launch failure on June 14, Soviet engineers finally managed to put the Luna 15 scooper on a path to the moon on July 13, 1969, just three days before Apollo 11 blasted off from Kennedy Space Center.
If Luna 15 could pull off the soft landing and drilling, it still had a chance of bringing lunar samples back ahead of Apollo 11. But the probe suddenly cut communications with ground control during its descent. Its exact fate remains unknown, but it likely crashed into the moon’s surface.
Nearing The End
A total of five Soviet attempts to return samples failed between 1969 and early 1970. The very first Soviet Lunokhod rover was also destroyed in a launch mishap in February 1969, triggering a frantic operation to recover its radioactive heat source. (Thankfully, it survived the fiery crash without being breached.)
Finally, Luna 16 succeeded in bringing "moon rocks" back to Earth in September 1970. The 1,666-pound rover completed a record-breaking 6.5-mile trek across the moonscape in 10 months of operation. Despite moving no faster than 1.25 miles per hour, the eight-wheeled robot exceeded the time and distance covered by the Apollo expeditions.
While a cosmonaut never made it to the moon, Soviet engineers succeeded with seven soft landings of robotic probes, drove two robotic rovers on its surface, and got their hands on three capsules with precious lunar samples - a dress rehearsal for what NASA would attempt on Mars years later. But the spectacular exploits of Apollo astronauts on the moon largely overshadowed these amazing advancements in robotic space exploration.
The crushing blow for the Soviet lunar program wasn’t that Apollo 11 crossed the finish line first; it was that the U.S. lost interest after achieving its primary mission of beating the Soviets. After NASA’s last astronauts left the lunar surface on December 14, 1972, as part of the Apollo 17, the Soviet Union’s robotic lunar exploration program continued for years afterward, culminating with the final Luna 24 mission in August 1976.
Some nearly completed hardware from the E8 series were stuck on the ground, and even more designs were left on the drawing board. One completed copy of the Lunokhod ended up in the demo room at Lavochkin. Despite some interesting proposals for new generation E8 probes, Lavochkin was primarily consumed with the monumental, top-secret, and ultimately fruitless effort to return soil samples from Mars - something that nobody has been able to accomplish to this day.
With the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Russia’s ambitions for the moon mostly disappeared for three decades.
Luna 25: A Celestial Sequel
Russian planetary scientists spent much of the post-Soviet decades looking for commercial applications for their expertise and piggybacking their instruments and experiments on American and European spacecraft - but the world wasn’t standing still. Emerging space powers, including Europe, Japan, China, India, Israel and South Korea - along with the new crop of private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin - set their sights on the moon.
While there were initial attempts to jump-start several lunar projects that lingered on the drawing board, the Roscosmos State Corporation had to start largely from scratch, as many Soviet-era veterans had retired or died. A new generation of engineers at NPO Lavochkin emerged, taking advantage of much lighter electronics and other new systems to develop a smaller, lighter lunar lander.
Responding to the latest discoveries of potential ice deposits in the lunar polar regions, Russian scientists now aimed their lander to the moon’s south pole, which still remains largely unexplored.
Luna 25’s multiple cameras will image the lunar surface from orbit during the descent and beam back stereo panoramas of the landing site. A miniature robotic arm will transport soil samples to the analytical sensors and test the mechanical properties of the surface. And most importantly, the 66-pound suite of scientific instruments will perform chemical and spectral analysis of the surrounding regolith with the primary goal of finding lunar water.
But Luna 25 also has more terrestrial aims. The Kremlin hopes the mission can boost Russia’s standing as a major space power, a reputation that has undergone decades of erosion. The official Russian strategy is for Luna 25 to be the first in a whole new crop of orbiters and landers that will carry 21st-century versions of the Soviet Lunokhods and sample-return rockets. There is also a plan to preserve lunar soil during drilling in its original cryogenic state so that potential water and other easily evaporating chemicals can be retained during the return trip.
Now, the big question: When will it launch? Roscosmos says as soon as October 2021, but if history is any indicator, that date is unlikely. Don't expect Luna 25 to launch skyward until 2022 - or beyond. Only time will tell if the name "Luna" will once again inspire the world to explore the cosmos.
© 2021 Hearst Magazine Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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Phys.org / July 20, 2021
New X-ray pulsar discovered
С помощью телескопов ART-XC и eROSITA международная группа астрономов во главе с Александром Лутовиновым из Института космических исследований РАН обнаружила новый рентгеновский пульсар с низкой светимостью.
Using ART-XC and eROSITA telescopes onboard the Spectrum Roentgen Gamma (SRG) mission, an international team of astronomers has detected a new pulsar. The newly found object, designated SRGA J204318.2+443815, turns out to be a long-period, faint X-ray pulsar in a distant binary system. The finding is reported in a paper published July 12 on arXiv.org.
X-ray pulsars (also known as accretion-powered pulsars) are sources displaying strict periodic variations in X-ray intensity, consisting of a magnetized neutron star in orbit with a normal stellar companion. In these binary systems, the X-ray emission is powered by the release of gravitational potential energy as material is accreted from a massive companion. X-ray pulsars are among the most luminous objects in the X-ray sky.
Now, a team of astronomers led by Alexander Lutovinov of the Space Research Institute (IKI) of Russian Academy of Sciences, reports the finding of another X-ray pulsar. Using the ART-XC telescope, they discovered a relatively bright X-ray source in November 2020, about 26,000 light years away from the Earth. Follow-up observations of this source, which received designation SRGA J204318.2+443815 (or SRGe J204319.0+443820) with space telescopes like XMM-Newton, NICER and NuSTAR allowed the team to confirm the pulsar nature of this source and reveal its properties.
"In this paper, we reported a discovery of a new X-ray pulsar, SRGA J204318.2+443815/SRGe J204319.0+443820. The source was found by both instruments, ART-XC and eROSITA, on board SRG during second and third all-sky surveys," the astronomers wrote in the study.
The observations revealed pulsations of SRGA J204318.2+443815 with a period of about 742 seconds. The source has a bolometric luminosity at a level of 400 decillion erg/s, hard X-ray spectrum with the exponential cutoff; a number of emission lines were detected in the optical and infrared spectra of its companion star.
These findings suggest that SRGA J204318.2+443815 is a new persistent low-luminosity X-ray pulsar in a distant binary system. The pulsar's companion is a Be-star most likely of the B0-B2e spectral type. The astronomers assume that SRGA J204318.2+443815 may be a new member of the subclass of persistent low-luminosity Be X-ray binary (BeXRB) systems presumably accreting from the "cold" accretion disk.
Summing up the results, the researchers noted that the discovery of SRGA J204318.2+443815 demonstrates how useful the SRG spacecraft is when it comes to the search for faint X-ray sources of this type.
"Taking into account that the sensitivity of the SRG telescopes are exceeding any previous and currently working surveying instruments, the SRG observatory allow us to unveil the hidden population of faint persistent objects including the population of slowly rotating X-ray pulsars in BeXRB. The potential of SRG to reach this goal is demonstrated by this paper as well as by the discovery of several other new XRPs in the Magellanic Clouds and our Galaxy (see e.g., Haberl et al. 2020; Maitra et al. 2020; Doroshenko et al. 2021)," the authors of the paper concluded.
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The Guardian / Tue 20 Jul 2021
"Airpocalypse" hits Siberian city as heatwave sparks forest fires
Monitoring suggests toxic smoke in Yakutsk is one of world’s worst ever air pollution events.
Лесные пожары в Якутии, продолжающиеся с начала мая, привели к тому, что многие населенные пункты оказались в дыму. Мониторинг атмосферы показал, что загрязнение воздуха в столице региона Якутске, - один из самых серьезных случаев в мире. В последние дни содержание в токсичном дыме твердых частиц и химических веществ превышает норму более чем в 40 раз.
A heatwave in one of the world’s coldest regions has sparked forest fires and threatened the Siberian city of Yakutsk with an "airpocalypse" of thick toxic smoke, atmospheric monitoring services have reported.
High levels of particulate matter and possibly also chemicals including ozone, benzene and hydrogen cyanide are thought likely to make this one of the world’s worst ever air pollution events. Local authorities have warned the 320,000 residents to stay indoors to avoid choking fumes from the blazes, which are on course to break last year’s record. Satellite analysts say regional levels of PM2.5 - small particles that can enter the bloodstream and damage human organs - have surged beyond 1,000 micrograms a cubic metre in recent days, which is more than 40 times the recommended safe guideline of the World Health Organization.
On Tuesday, live air quality monitors for Yakutsk measured PM 2.5 levels of 395 micrograms. This fell into the extreme category of "airpocalypse", which is defined as "immediate and heavy effects on everybody". Russian social media accounts have shown images of readings that are more than 17 times worse than the average in even the most polluted cities of India and China.
Scientists see human-caused climate disruption as an important factor. Yakutsk, the capital of Russia’s north-east Sakha Republic - also known as Yakutia - is the coldest winter city on the planet, but due to global heating, summer temperatures here have been rising at least 2.5 times faster than the world average.
Last year, during an unusually prolonged heatwave in the wider Siberian region temperatures remained more than 5C above average from January to June, causing permafrost to melt, buildings to collapse, and sparking an unusually early and intense start to the forest fires season. Scientists said this was made 600 times more likely by exhaust fumes, industrial emissions, deforestation and other human activities.
The record-breaking trend resumed this spring, earlier than usual and slightly further south than last year, near more populated areas such as Yakutsk. Much of the surrounding area is dense taiga forest, which ignites more easily when hot and dry.
The Siberian Times reported the first fire in the beginning of May outside Oymyakon in north-east Yakutia, which is known as "the pole of cold" for its record low temperatures. As the blazes widened, more than 2,000 firefighters were deployed across the region and drafted in from outside.
Military planes have been used to douse forests with water and seed clouds with silver iodide and liquid nitrogen to induce rainfall. Some desperate communities have reportedly even drafted children into the fight to hold back the flames. Overall, this has been described as the biggest fire-fighting operation in the region since the end of the Soviet Union.
Despite these efforts, dozens of fires rage out of control. Horrifying video from the region shows dense black smoke and red flames alongside the Kolyma highway, which was known as the Road of Bones during the Soviet era. This trunk road has since been closed. Tourists on a boat on the Lena River have posted phone clips of their cruise past burning hiillsides.
Last week Sakha’s emergencies ministry said more than 250 fires were burning across 5,720 sq km - an area about twice the size of Luxembourg. Satellite images from the US space agency Nasa have shown vast plumes rising into the atmosphere.
Based on satellite observations, the European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service reported that forest fires in the Sakha Republic have released 65 megatonnes of carbon since 1 June, which is well above the average for 2003-2020. This is already the second highest total ever and it could beat last year’s record if the current trend continues until the usual end of the fire season in late August.
The forest smoke contains more toxins than even the most polluted urban centres. Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at Copernicus, said analysis of atmospheric aerosols from Sakha’s fires suggested surface levels of PM2.5 levels above 1,000 micrograms a cubic metre of air, in addition to other potential constituents such as ozone, ammonia, benzene, hydrogen cyanide and organic aerosols. By comparison, the annual average in famously smoggy cities like Beijing, Hotan, New Delhi and Ghaziabad is between 100 and 110.
Parrington said climate change was helping to create the conditions for more fires in northern boreal forests in Siberia, Canada, and northern Europe - all of which are heating faster than the global average. This is in keeping with a broader global trend of fires moving from grasslands to fuel-rich forests, which emit more carbon.
Alexey Yaroshenko, head of the forest department in Greenpeace Russia, said poor forest management, weak regulation and budget cuts had compounded the fire risks. "For many years, propaganda has made people think that the climate crisis is a fiction, and if not fiction, that it will only benefit Russia, since it will become warmer and more comfortable. Now the situation is starting to change," he wrote in an email.
"Little by little, people are beginning to understand that the climate is really changing, and the consequences are really catastrophic. But the majority of society and the majority of politicians are still very far from understanding the real scale of the problem."
© 2021 Guardian News & Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.
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Ladders / July 22, 2021
Scientists may have found a solution for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease
Уральские химики синтезировали вещества, которые, возможно, способны остановить дегенерацию нейронов при тяжелых патологиях головного мозга. Соединения ряда индолил- и пирролилазина могут стимулировать способность организма бороться с накоплением амилоидных бляшек в головном мозге при болезнях Альцгеймера и Паркинсона.
Scientists in Russia claim they have developed a chemical compound that can stop the degeneration of neurons in severe brain pathologies. The study, which appears in the European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, says that new molecules developed could activate the body’s ability to fight amyloid plaque buildups in the brain.
And these are one of the leading causes of brain diseases in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
"Our compounds activate the synthesis of specific heat shock proteins and cause their accumulation in the cell," said Irina Utepova, professor of the Department of Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry at Ural Federal University.
"Proteins of this type make it possible to protect neuronal tissue from an excess of toxic amyloids and to protect cells from various types of stress, including proteotoxic stress characteristic of neurodegenerative diseases."
Is this safe?
The new molecules - pryrrolflazine and indolylazines - are deemed safe to use with patients because they have low toxicity. Researchers said the most effective treatment - pryrrolflazine - was tested on living tissues of rats dealing with brain injuries.
In the animal testing, results showed how the pryrrolflazine treatment worked; it allowed the rats to "avoid the appearance of movement disorders," and degeneration of neurons in the hippocampus, the area of the brain where learning and memory happens.
In both brain diseases - Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s - neurons are the casualty and eventually die off, which results in cognitive malfunctions like memory loss, ability to think, and ability to speak. Experts say that more than 115 million people worldwide could develop dementia by 2050.
Other Alzheimer’s news
Recently, an Alzheimer’s disease drug mired in controversy was approved by the FDA. The drug, Aduhelm, is the first drug approved to fight Alzheimer’s disease in nearly two decades. However, the side effects of the drug and its priciness - it will cost $56,000 a year, according to its maker, Biogen - has been the subject of discussion, with several medical experts questioning if the drug, which was once rejected by a panel, even works.
© 2021 Ladders, Inc.
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CNET / July 23, 2021
A global dust storm on Mars canceled winter on the red planet
When a dirty blanket enveloped the Martian disc, spring came early in the south.
Три года назад обычная пылевая буря на Марсе приняла невероятные масштабы, накрыв всю планету. Изучив данные с орбитальных аппаратов, российские и американские астрономы пришли к выводу, что в результате этого катаклизма южное полушарие Марса осталось без зимы - слой пыли над поверхностью сработал как утеплитель, вызвав преждевременную весну.
In June 2018, a number of small dust storms on Mars converged to form one massive, swirling squall that engulfed the entire planet, practically hiding its entire surface from the view of spying orbiters. Now researchers say the mega-storm also squashed an entire season, bringing the southern winter to an abrupt and early end.
You may recall this as the dust storm that dealt a death blow to NASA's solar-powered Opportunity rover.
"This was a perfect opportunity to investigate how global dust storms impact the atmosphere at the Martian poles, which are surrounded by powerful jets of wind in winter," explained Paul Streeter of the UK's Open University, in a statement.
Streeter and colleagues from the university, NASA and the Russian Academy of Sciences looked at data from Martian orbiters and a climate model of the planet to examine the impacts of the storm on the Martian atmosphere. They found the storm had vastly different effects on the southern and northern halves of the planet.
The storm moved more dust toward the southern pole, destroying a vortex of cold air and bringing an early spring to the hemisphere. It's almost as if the blanket of dust that appeared to cover the planet actually had the same warming quality as a real blanket.
The storm had less of an impact in the northern hemisphere, where seasons progressed nearly as expected.
Streeter presented the findings Friday at the virtual National Astronomy Meeting of the UK Royal Astronomical Society. He says Martian dust storms like the one in 2018 will continue to be events worth watching closely.
"It has implications for how dust is deposited at the north and south poles and our understanding of the planet's climate history."
© 2021 CNET, A Red Ventures Company. All Rights Reserved.
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Artnet / July 26, 2021
Archaeologists Have Unearthed a Rare Cache of 6th-Century Coins Hidden in the Ancient Greek City of Phanagoria
Researchers believe the coins were stowed away prior to a devastating attack by the Huns or the Turks.
При раскопках в Фанагории, древнегреческом городе на юго-западе России, археологи обнаружили тайник с медными монетами VI века н. э. Судя по всему, клад был спрятан незадолго до того, как в городе в результате нападения врагов вспыхнули пожары.
Archaeologists have unearthed a cache of sixth-century coins in Phanagoria, an ancient Greek city located in what is today southwestern Russia.
80 copper staters - a type of Greek coin - were found in an amphora buried for centuries in the ashes of a calamitous fire. Researchers think they were stashed in the vessel prior to an attack, likely from the Huns or the Turks, that resulted in large sections of the city being torched.
The discovery was announced by the Russian Academy of Science’s Institute of Archaeology.
"Treasures [like this] are not often found," said archaeologist Vladimir Kuznetsov, who heads the institute’s now three-year-long Phanagoria dig, in a statement. "As a rule, they are evidence of catastrophic events in people’s lives, as a result of which the one who hid money or valuable items was unable to return and use their savings."
Kuznetsov added that "the very context of his find speaks of the extraordinary circumstances under which [the objects were] hidden, of the sudden attack of enemies. In a hurry, a resident of Phanagoria hid a bundle with 80 coins in the throat of an old broken amphora that had turned up under his arm and covered the hole with earth."
The scientist and his team determined that the copper coins were likely minted in the late third or early fourth century, in the Bosporan Kingdom, but continued to circulate as cheaper alternatives to gold currency through to the sixth century. They were pulled from a layer of debris where the remains of fire-damaged wooden floors, dishes, and a broken baptismal font have also been uncovered. The latter object suggests an early Christian basilica was destroyed in the conflagration.
In 2019, at the same site, Kuznetsov found an example of a gold coin made during the reign of Byzantine emperor Justinian I, also lost in the debris of a sixth century fire. With this month’s discovery, the researchers were able to conclude that there were actually two separate fires.
The first likely came about during a region-wide revolt against the Hunnic leader Gord in 528 or 534. The reason for the second, which scientists date to the second half of the century, is a mystery.
"The gold coin of Justinian I found two years ago in Phanagoria serves as proof that the new treasure is associated with the second, late fire of the sixth century. But who exactly - the [Huns] or the Turks - destroyed the capital of the Phanagorian diocese, remains unknown," the archeologist said.
"The new treasure from Phanagoria is an invaluable evidence of historical events and the economy of the early Middle Ages," he added.
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Borneo Bulletin Online / July 29, 2021
Partnership inked to foster research collaboration
Технологический университет Брунея и Сибирский федеральный научный центр агробиотехнологий РАН подписали меморандум о взаимопонимании. Стороны намерены начать сотрудничество в таких областях, как продовольственная безопасность, управление ресурсами, использование искусственного интеллекта в сельском хозяйстве и других.
University partnerships at international level provide huge opportunities for students and staff alike. Along with research opportunities and cultural awareness, institutions can offer international experiences, including study abroad programmes and staff exchanges.
Universiti Teknologi Brunei (UTB) through the Centre for Research on Agri-Food Sciences and Technology (CrAFT) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Siberian Federal Scientific Center of Agrobiotechnology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (SFSCA-RAS), a Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences, the largest academy of research and development and scientific educational institution in the Eastern Russia, on potential collaboration between the two institutions.
Vice-Chancellor of UTB Professor Dr Hajah Zohrah binti Haji Sulaiman was the guest of honour, joined by Chargé D’affaires of the Russian Federation Timur Munchaev.
Signing on behalf of UTB was Director of CrAFT Professor Dr Beston Nore while SFSCA-RAS was represented by its director Professor Dr Kirill S Golokhvast.
Prior to the signing, welcoming remarks were delivered by the Director of CrAFT, Director of SFSCA-RAS and Vice-President of Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) Professor Dr Valentin Parmon.
Director of CrAFT said that CrAFT as a research-based centre for agri-food sciences and technologies, acts as a network platform to facilitate agri-food sector in the country, which potentially contribute in developing agro-biz beneficial for Brunei’s economy.
"This network offers additional dimension of opportunities for all inter-connected parties, including academic professionals at SFSCA-RAS, to identify projects and develop efficient solutions for Agri-Food sector and to boost research engagement with UTB students and researchers," said Professor Dr Nore.
Under the MoU, both institutions will focus on areas of partnership, scientific cooperation and data exchange and sharing. A niche area of research has been identified for tackling issues and challenges on climate change: "Global Climate Change Impact on Agriculture and Environment".
Proposed specialised areas include the application of artificial intelligence to reduce the impact of global agriculture on climate changes, climate-smart agriculture to tackle food insecurity issues and sustainable resource management.
© 2013 Borneo Bulletin Online.
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Gizmodo / July 29, 2021
Russian Module Unexpectedly Fires Thrusters After Docking to ISS
The ISS moved out of its normal orientation by around 45 degrees, requiring countermeasures.
29 июля «Наука», первый российский модуль за 10 лет, пристыковался к Международной космической станции. Не обошлось без происшествий: через три часа после стыковки двигатели модуля самопроизвольно включились снова, в результате чего станцию развернуло на 45 градусов.
Serious drama unfolded in low Earth orbit today when the newly arrived Nauka module, for reasons unknown, began to fire its thrusters after docking to the ISS. Mission controllers are now working to control what appears to be an ongoing situation.
Nothing appears to be damaged, and NASA says the crew is safe, but things got really weird about three hours after Russia’s Nauka module reached the International Space Station at 9:29 a.m. EDT this morning.
After the rendezvous and docking, ISS crew members went to work, checking for leaks at the interface point, opening the hatch, and integrating computers on the newly arrived Nauka module, also known as the Russian Multipurpose Laboratory.
Suddenly and without warning, at around 12:45 p.m. EDT, Nauka’s thrusters unexpectedly and inadvertently began to fire. This caused the ISS to lose attitude control to the tune of 45 degrees, according to a livestream on NASA TV. It is not yet known what caused the situation to happen. One possibility is that Nauka’s computers thought it was still docking, resulting in the thrusters being fired, but that’s not confirmed.
Flight controllers re-oriented the space station by performing a counterbalancing "roll control" procedure. They did this by firing thrusters on the Russian Zvezda module and a Progress cargo ship currently docked to the ISS. This recovery effort worked, and the ISS has returned to its normal orientation. The station is now back in full attitude control, and no damage or injuries to crew members have been reported. NASA went on to say that crew members were never in any danger during the incident.
At one point, Drew Morgan from NASA mission control asked the astronauts to look outside to see if they could spot any debris floating around, or if they could see any damage to the station. NASA says the ISS is currently in a stable configuration, and recovery operations are ongoing.
This work, it should be pointed out, is being done with a partially fueled Nauka docked to the station, so the thrusters could still go into action. UPDATE 3:49 p.m. EDT: According to Anatoly Zak, a reporter with Russian Space Web, Nauka has burned through all its propellent, so the threat of further firings by the thrusters seems to have passed.
Rumors are already swirling that tomorrow’s launch of an uncrewed Boeing Starliner will be canceled as a result of this incident. UPDATE: 3:54 p.m. EDT: It’s official: Friday’s launch of Starliner has been canceled. We are now awaiting a new date for lift off.
Regular activities for the day have been canceled at the ISS as the crew and mission controllers on the surface continue to monitor the situation. Again, it’s not known why Nauka’s thrusters began to fire, and an investigation is now pending. This is unfolding incident, and we will update this article as we learn more.
© 2021 G/O Media Inc.
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