Researchers Sequence Long Genomes of White Spruce and Norway Spruce
Researchers announced they have sequenced the long genomes of the White spruce and the Norway spruce. The genomes are ten times larger than the human genome. They each contain 20-30 billion base-pairs.
Prof. Steven Jones, senior author of the white spruce genome study, said in the announcement, "Attempting the sequencing of such a large genome was an incredibly ambitious task and required the development of novel software and innovative use of DNA sequence technology to piece together short DNA sequences to form this massive genome, much like a large jigsaw puzzle."
The genome sequences could lead to new tools for tree breeding. It could also help shorten the spruce breeding cycle. Prof. John MacKay of Universite Laval, a co-author of both studies, says, "A genome-based marker system could serve to reduce the time of a spruce breeding cycle from currently 25 to as short as five year."
The research was published here in the journal Nature and here in the Bioinformatics.
Researchers have announced the discovery of a new small plant-eating dinosaur. Albertadromeus syntarsus is described as a speedy runner. It was about 1.6 meters (5 feet) long and weighed about 16 kilograms (30 pounds). It lived in what is now southern Alberta in the Late Cretaceous, about 77 million years ago. The dinosaur is described by palaeontologists from the University of Toronto, Royal Ontario Museum, Cleveland Museum of Natural History and University of Calgary in a research paper published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. An artist's illustration of what the small dinosaur may have looked like, by Julius T. Csotonyi, is pictured above.
The name Albertadromeus syntarsus means "Alberta runner with fused foot bones." The researchers say its fused lower leg bones would have made it both fast and agile. The researchers say less small dinosaur bones have been discovered on Earth because their bones were more delicate and are often destroyed before being fossilized.
Caleb Brown of the University of Toronto, lead author of the study, said in a statement, "We know from our previous research that there are preservational biases against the bones of these small dinosaurs. We are now starting to uncover this hidden diversity, and although skeletons of these small ornithopods are both rare and fragmentary, our study shows that these dinosaurs were more abundant in their ecosystems than previously thought."
Michael Ryan of The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, says, "Albertadromeus may have been close to the bottom of the dinosaur food chain but without dinosaurs like it, we would not have giants like T. rex. Our understanding of the structure of dinosaur ecosystems is dependent on the fossils that have been preserved. Fragmentary, but important, specimens like that of Albertadromeus suggest that we are only beginning to understand the shape of dinosaur diversity and the structure of their communities."
Scientists Discover New Miniature Spiders in China
Scientists have discovered two new species of miniature spiders in Sichuan and Chongqing, China. The tiny spiders are both less than 2 mm in length. Trogloneta yuensis is as little as 1.01 mm. Mysmena wawuensis (pictured above) was measured at just 0.75 mm. It is among the smallest spiders known on Earth. The two species both have a bizarre body shape with a disproportionately big spherical posterior body.
The two new species found in China are considered endemic to their type localities in the Sichuan and Chongqing. The region of Wawu Mt. National Forest Park - where Mysmena wawuensis was discovered - is also home to a small population of wild giant panda of about 10 individuals.
Endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys kempii) are undergoing acupuncture procedures. The New England Aquarium called in Claire McManus, a licensed acupuncturist, to help the turtles. The turtles became stranded on Cape Cod this winter and were suffering from hypothermia. In a blog post, the aquarium says, "Typically the turtles settle down during the acupuncture treatment and seem to enjoy it."
Scientists Show How Allosaurus Fed Using Multibody Dynamics
Scientists from Ohio University have determined that Allosaurus fed more like a falcon than a crocodile. The research was published here in the journal, Palaeontologia Electronica. The image above shows silhouettes of Allosaurus and a falcon, along with a frightened human for scale.
The scientists used the Allosaurus skeleton known as "Big Al" for the study. Eric Snively, John Cotton, Ryan Ridgely, Lawrence Witmer are pictured with a replica of Big Al above.
Paleontologist Eric Snively, lead author of the new study, said in a statement, "Apparently one size doesn't fit all when it comes to dinosaur feeding styles. Many people think of Allosaurus as a smaller and earlier version of T. rex, but our engineering analyses show that they were very different predators."
Snively and mechanical engineer John Cotton conducted specialized engineering analysis borrowed from robotics called multibody dynamics. This allowed the scientists to run sophisticated simulations of the head and neck movements Allosaurus made when attacking prey and stripping flesh from a carcass. The researchers had to re-flesh the Allosaurus and add soft tissues using clues from the anatomical structure of modern-day dinosaur relatives, such as birds and crocodilians.
Snively says, "Allosaurus was uniquely equipped to drive its head down into prey, hold it there, and then pull the head straight up and back with the neck and body, tearing flesh from the carcass ... kind of like how a power shovel or backhoe rips into the ground."
The researchers say they discovered Allosaurus had a relatively light head after restoring its soft tissues and air sinuses using their reconstruction techniques. The researchers created the following animation of Allosaurus feeding and moving its head. Take a look:
Fossils of Two New Ancient Crocodile Species Discovered
Scientists from the University of Zurich say that 14 different crocodile species existed five million years ago and about seven of them occupied the same region at the same time. The scientists say the deltas of the Amazonas and the Urumaco (a river on the Gulf of Venezuela that no longer exists) was inhabited by an abundance of diverse crocodile species that has remained unparalleled ever since.
Fossils of two new ancient crocodile species have been discovered. They include the Globidentosuchus brachyrostris (pictured below), which belonged to the caiman family and had spherical teeth, and Crocodylus falconensis (pictured above), a crocodile that the researchers assume grew up to well over four meters long.
The scientists say the different alligators that lived in the region were specialized feeders. Globidentosuchus brachyrostris probably fed on shellfish, snails or crabs with its spherical teeth. There were also giant crocodiles during this period the grew up to 12 meters long and ate turtles, giant rodents and smaller crocodiles.
Torsten Scheyer from the University of Zurich says in a statement, "There were no predators back then in South America that could have hunted the three-meter-long turtles or giant rodents. Giant crocodiles occupied this very niche."
The research was published here in Nature Communications.
Pirate Ant: New Species of Ant Discovered in Philippines Has Markings Resembling Eye Patch
Scientists have discovered a new enigmatic species of ant in the Philippines. Cardiocondyla pirata has a bizarre pigmentation pattern that has no equivalent worldwide. The female castes in the ant colonies have a distinctive dark stripe across the eyes that resembles a pirate eye patch, which is the what inspired the name.
The researchers theorize that the pirate-like coloration pattern could serve as a tool to distract and confuse the enemy. The ants have a rather translucent body. Predators may think the anterior and posterior body parts of the ants are two species. The dark patch could also serve as a cue for mating.
Sabine Frohschammer, PhD student Universitat Regensburg, said in a statement, "On a collection trip to the Philippines we looked for different species of the genus Cardiocondyla that is known for its astonishing morphological and behavioral diversity of male ants. Beside already know species we also detected a until then undiscovered species in the cleavage of big stones in a shady streambed. Due to the darkness of the rainforest and the translucent body parts of the tiny ants they were nearly invisible. Under bright light and a magnifier we detected the nice stripe across the eyes and therefore always referred to these species as 'the pirates.'"
Moore Oklahoma Tornado Threw Debris 20,000 Feet Into the Air
The monster tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma yesterday was at least an EF4 with winds up to 200 mph. It may have been an EF5 (winds over 200 mph) but the upgrade won't come until an assessment by the National Weather Service. The Weather Channel's Mike Seidel says he has a feeling it will end up being an EF5:
The tornado carved a path of destruction for over twenty miles and it was at least one-mile-wide. The path of the tornado is fairly similar to the EF5 tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma in May 1999.
Moore and the Oklahoma City region have the unfortunate distinction of being hit by two of the world's worst tornadoes in modern history. There was also a bad one in 2003. This image from the National Weather Service shows the paths of the 1999 and 2013 tornadoes. The red path is yesterday's tornado path. A larger version of the image can be found here.
The tornado's debris ball and hook echo were clearly visible on radar. This is the often case with the most dangerous tornadoes - the kind dubbed "grinders" that literally grind into the earth as they move. You can find some good images of the debris ball on radar here. The debris ball is exactly what it sounds like. It is pieces of homes, trees, dirt, cars, etc lifted by the winds. Radar can detect the flying debris once it is high enough in the air. CNN meteorologist Ivan Cabrera is quoted as saying the debris was lifted into the air as high as 20,000 feet by the tornado.
This video shows the tornado from a video taken with a cell phone. Take a look:
Update: The National Weather Service now says the Moore tornado was an EF5. The first EF5 of 2013.
Burmese Python Nearly 19 Feet Long Sets Record for Longest Ever Captured in Florida
A Burmese python measuring 18 feet and 8 inches was captured in a rural area in South Florida. The python is the longest ever captured in Florida. It beats the previous record of 17 feet, 7 inches by over a foot. The python was a 128-pound female. Scientists at the University of Florida are pictured lying on the floor next to the dead python.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says in a release that Jason Leon saw the snake when he and his friends were driving around at night. Leon stop the car, grabbed the snake and dragged it out of the brush. The python then started to wrap itself around Leon's leg so Leon and his friends killed the large snake with a knife.
Kristen Sommers, Exotic Species Coordination Section Leader for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), said in a statement, "Jason Leonís nighttime sighting and capture of a Burmese python of more than 18 feet in length is a notable accomplishment that set a Florida record. The FWC is grateful to him both for safely removing such a large Burmese python and for reporting its capture."
Florida asks residents to report sightings of exotic species to IveGot1.org. Florida also invited people to hunt and kill pythons in the Everglades earlier this year.
Photo: University of Florida/Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Heat-related Deaths in Manhattan Projected to Rise 20% in 2020s
A new study from Columbia University's Earth Institute and the Mailman School of Public Health projects heat-related deaths in Manhattan to climb 20% in the 2020s. The same study provides worst-case scenarios of heat-related deaths soaring 90% in the 2080s. The study also found that the largest percentage increase in deaths would come not during the traditionally sweltering months of June through August, but in May and September. These periods are generally pleasant today, but will probably increasingly feel like part of the brutal dog days of summer.
The study found the best-case scenario for the 2020s in Manhattan projects a net 15% increase in heat-related deaths. The worst scenario is a rise in heat wave deaths of more than 30%. The worst case scenario would mean 1,000 annual deaths if Manhattan's current population of 1.6 million remains the same. However, a city wide power outage timed with a strong heat wave could cause many more heat-related deaths.
The researchers say daily records from Manhattan's Central Park show that average monthly temperatures already increased by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit from 1901 to 2000. This is substantially more than the global and U.S. trends. Cities tend to concentrate heat as buildings and pavement soak it up during the day and give it off at night. 2012 was Manhattan's warmest year on record.
Dr. Radley Horton, a climate scientist at the Earth Institute's Center for Climate Systems Research, notes that heat waves can kill tens of thousands of people. Horton says the record 2010 heat wave that hit Russia killed 55,000 people and a 2003 heat wave killed 70,000 people in central and western Europe.
Navy Dolphins Find Rare Brass 19th Century Torpedo
The U.S. Navy has been training dolphins to find mines. The dolphins can apparently find 19th century torpedos as well. The L.A. Timesreports that trained dolphins found a rare 19th century torpedo off the coast of California. Only fifty of these brass torpedos - like the one pictured above - were made by Howell between 1870 and 1889. The U.S. Navy thought only one torpedo remained, until the dolphins found another one.
Mike Rothe, who heads the program, told the L.A. Times, "We've never found anything like this. Never."
The torpedo was found by bottlenose dolphins named Ten and Spetz.
1.7 Mile Wide Asteroid 1998 QE2 to Pass Within 3.6 Million Miles of Earth on May 31, 2013
1998 QE2, a 1.7-mile-wide (2.7 km) asteroid, will pass within 3.6 million miles of the Earth on May 31, 2013. The image above shows the orbit of asteroid 1998 QE2.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory says the asteroid is about nine times bigger than the length of the Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) cruise ship. The 1998 portion of the asteroid's name is the year it was discovered. NASA says radar from the Goldstone antenna could resolve features on the asteroid as small as 12 feet.
Lance Benner, the principal investigator for the Goldstone radar observations from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement, "Asteroid 1998 QE2 will be an outstanding radar imaging target at Goldstone and Arecibo and we expect to obtain a series of high-resolution images that could reveal a wealth of surface features. Whenever an asteroid approaches this closely, it provides an important scientific opportunity to study it in detail to understand its size, shape, rotation, surface features, and what they can tell us about its origin. We will also use new radar measurements of the asteroid's distance and velocity to improve our calculation of its orbit and compute its motion farther into the future than we could otherwise."
The budget for NASA"s NEO (Near Earth Object Program) was increased from $6 million to $20 million in 2012. This still seems very small, especially considered the recent Russian meteorite impact. NEO's website can be found here.
Harvard Researchers Grow Microscopic Flower Structures With Chemical Reactions
Harvard researchers grew microscopic flower structures by perfecting chemical reactions in the lab. Wim L. Noorduin, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), discoverd that he could control the growth of crystals by manipulating chemical gradients in a beaker of fluid.
Noorduin said in a statement, "For at least 200 years, people have been intrigued by how complex shapes could have evolved in nature. This work helps to demonstrate what's possible just through environmental, chemical changes."
The researchers used barium chloride and sodium silicate to create the micro flowers.
To create the flower structures, Noorduin and his colleagues dissolve barium chloride (a salt) and sodium silicate (also known as waterglass) into a beaker of water. Carbon dioxide from air naturally dissolves in the water, setting off a reaction which precipitates barium carbonate crystals. As a byproduct, it also lowers the pH of the solution immediately surrounding the crystals, which then triggers a reaction with the dissolved waterglass. This second reaction adds a layer of silica to the growing structures, uses up the acid from the solution, and allows the formation of barium carbonate crystals to continue.
The researchers were able to manipulate the chemical reactions to create the flower-like structures. For example, increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide helps to create broad-leafed structures.
MIT's Cheetah Robot Now Second Fastest Legged Robot
The MIT Cheetah now runs at a speed of 22 km/h (13.67 mph). The robot was developed by the MIT Biomimetic Robotics Lab. Boston Dynamics built a much faster and creepier Cheetah robot for DARPA (see here), but MIT's Cheetah robot runs more efficiently. Neither of the robots yet run tether free.
Automaton says the MIT Cheetah has a cost of transport (COT) of .52. COT is described as power consumption divided by weight times velocity. This is lower than Asimo's COT of 2 and BigDog's COT of 15. Automaton says MIT has plans to reduce the Cheetah bot's efficiency down to .33.
This video shows MIT Cheetah running at 22 km/h and its gait transition from trot to gallop. Take a look:
Scientists Reveal Metamorphosis Inside Living Chrysalis With Time-Lapse CT Scanning
Scientists have observed the metamorphosis inside a living chrysalis using time-lapse CT scanning technology. The scientists studied the pupae of a Vanessa cardui, which is also known as the Painted Lady or Cosmopolitan butterfly. The image above shows scans of the chrysalis at day 16 of development.
Russell Garwood of the University of Manchester, told The Scientist, "It's basically the first time a CT has been used to look at the development of a single individual."
The animation below shows how the metamorphosis progressed each day over a 16-day period. Take a look:
The research was published here in the Journal of The Royal Society.