Scientists pledge to sequence the DNA of all 1.5 million known species on Earth

April 25, 2018 by  
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You may have heard of the Human Genome Project, but an international group of researchers has recently announced plans to go one step further. The Earth BioGenome Project is a massive effort to sequence the DNA of every single one of the 1.5 million species on Earth – and it will officially be the largest genome sequencing project ever undertaken. Ultimately, scientists hope that it will help us understand and protect the plants, animals, and fungi that call our planet home. Researchers announced their ambitious plans this week at the World Economic Forum , writing that “increasing our understanding of Earth’s biodiversity and responsibly stewarding its resources are among the most crucial scientific and social challenges of the new millennium. These challenges require fundamental new knowledge of the organization, evolution, functions, and interactions among millions of the planet’s organisms.” Related: Atacama ‘alien’ skeleton’s identity revealed by genetic testing So far, we’ve sequenced just 0.2 percent (about 2,500) of the eukaryotic species on Earth, so we have a long way to go to before reaching the 1.5 million known species – and that doesn’t even take into account the estimated 10 to 15 million undiscovered ones. The entire project is estimated to take about 10 years and $4.7 billion to complete. While that may sound like a ton of money, sequencing a genome is just a fraction of the cost that it used to be. In fact, today sequencing a new species costs just $30,000, compared to the $2.7 billion it cost to sequence the first human genome. Once completed, the data will be made available as part of the public domain. Via Gizmodo Image via Nikola Jovanovic and Deposit Photos

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Scientists pledge to sequence the DNA of all 1.5 million known species on Earth

EPA to consider burning wood a ‘carbon neutral’ energy source

April 25, 2018 by  
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Earlier this week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new policy which will classify the burning of wood as a ‘carbon neutral’ fuel source. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt unveiled this policy shift to an audience of timber industry leaders in Georgia, who have a vested interest in whether they can market wood-based fuel products as ‘green energy.’ Pruitt supported his decision by claiming that forest regrowth will lead to greater absorption of carbon dioxide and somehow counteract the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions resulting from deforestation and burning wood. Scientists, none of whom were consulted in this policy change, disagree. “Today’s announcement grants America’s foresters much-needed certainty and clarity with respect to the carbon neutrality of forest biomass,” Pruitt said in a  press release . A study published by British think-tank Chatham House concluded that when all emissions and carbon absorption is accounted for, harvesting energy from burning wood produces carbon pollution equivalent to that of coal . Further, using this method of energy to create steam may be 50 percent more carbon intensive than coal. Scientist William Moomaw, who focuses on forests and their role in climate change, told Mashable that the policy was announced with “zero consultation” of agency scientists or the EPA’s Science Advisory Board. “It’s a bad idea because anything that has carbon in it produces carbon dioxide when you burn it,” Moomaw said. “This is horrific.” Related: Iceland is replanting its forests 1,000 years after vikings razed them The EPA’s decision to inaccurately classify burning wood as carbon neutral may have global consequences. “Between this and the Europeans [who constitute the largest market for bioenergy], it means no chance of staying within the 2-degree limit,” Moomaw explained. Even if the forests do grow back to their original state, the damage will already be done. “The carbon dioxide in the air will have warmed the planet. … When the tree regrows, the glacier doesn’t regrow,” Moomaw said. “The climate change effects are irreversible. Carbon neutrality is not climate neutrality.” Via Mashable Images via Depositphotos (1)

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EPA to consider burning wood a ‘carbon neutral’ energy source

DNA analysis reveals there are no wild horses left in the world

February 23, 2018 by  
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Researchers are examining the DNA of horses – and what they’ve discovered upends everything we thought we knew. A new study claims the last “ wild ” horses on the planet are actually descendants of horses domesticated in Kazakhstan 5,500 years ago by people of the Botai culture. This also means that today’s domesticated horses don’t come from the Botai, as previously thought. In fact, the origins of domesticated horses are now a mystery. Przewalski’s horses, thought to be the last truly wild horses on Earth, are actually descended from domesticated horses, which means that the last wild horses probably went extinct hundreds or thousands of years ago. Przewalski’s horses nearly went extinct, but 15 individuals were rounded up and protected a century ago. It is these horses that all modern Przewalski’s horses descend from. Until now, scientists believed that modern domesticated horses descended from horses bred by the Botai people. But if Przewalski’s horses come from the Botai, it means that modern domesticated horses don’t. That leaves scientists scratching their heads about where domesticated horses descend from. Related: These are the last truly wild horses on Earth From a research standpoint, this finding is both exciting and disappointing. It points to a huge loss in biodiversity, and it means that all the information we’ve been gathering on “wild horses” is actually information on feral animals. The findings were recently published in the journal Science by Sandra Olsen from the University of Kansas and Ludovic Orlando from the National Center for Scientific Research . + Science Via Gizmodo Images via NCSR and Flickr

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DNA analysis reveals there are no wild horses left in the world

This restaurant in London has a gorgeous living wall that purifies air and absorbs noise

November 21, 2017 by  
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This restaurant in London has a daylit greenhouse at its heart with a beautiful living wall made of terracotta cells. Architecture studio Fusion DNA designed this verdant structure for Nando’s Putney Kitchen restaurant, creating a space that offers a moment of relaxation and peace amidst London’s bustling urban activity. The vertical garden occupies the restaurant main hall and features a glass roof that provides ample daylight that allows plants to thrive. The wall is made of terracotta cells, with a single pipe located at the top providing necessary water that is evenly distributed by gravity through a non-woven fabric. Cells are filled with a special substrate that stores water. Related: This living wall uses artificial intelligence to purify indoor air The green wall has several functions–it absorbs the noise produced by the customers, as well as volatile organic pollutants in order to improve indoor air quality . The project, completed in collaboration with Spanish landscape and vertical garden specialists Singulargreen and Urbanarbolismo won the 2017 Bar and Restaurant Design Award, a globally recognized competition dedicated to the design of food and beverage spaces. + FUSION Design & Architecture + Singulargreen + Urbanarbolismo

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This restaurant in London has a gorgeous living wall that purifies air and absorbs noise

Researchers shocked to discover protein that conducts electricity

November 1, 2017 by  
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In a new study from researchers at Arizona State University , scientists have documented that a particular protein known as  alphaVbeta3 has the ability to conduct electricity. Proteins serve as building blocks for cells, but until now, none have been observed conducting electricity. “If it’s true, it’s amazing,” said lead researcher Stuart Lindsay, according to Science Daily . “What this paper is mainly testing out are all the alternative explanations of our data, and ruling out all of the artifacts.” In the past four years since their initial discovery, the team at ASU, whose work was published in the journal  Nano Futures, has been vigilant in checking and rerunning the experiment to determine if there was an alternative explanation. Nonetheless, the most likely conclusion remains that the protein was conducting electricity . The research team first began the work that led to their shocking discovery several years ago when experimenting with DNA and amino acid readers developed by Lindsay, who is a biophysicist and ASU Regents’ Professor. These DNA readers incorporate a technology known as recognition tunneling, which traps individual molecules between electrodes. Curious as to how a whole protein would react to such a process, the team placed the glue-like integrin protein domain alphaVbeta3 and found that it demonstrated “remarkably high electronic conductance.” Through further experimentation and research, the team determined that the protein could become either an electrical conductor or an electrical insulator based on electrical fluctuations. “In our experiments, we were seeing this weird behavior in this huge protein conducting electricity, but it is not static. It’s a dynamic thing,” said Lindsay. “Below a certain bias, it’s just an insulator, but when the fluctuations start kicking in, they are huge.” Related: 10 vegan sources of protein you can grow at home The electrically conductive protein may open up an entirely new way of understanding proteins, how they may be used in nanotechnology , and how treatment for protein-related diseases might be improved. After years of experiments and questions, the team remains curious but cautious. “I believe the data now, but it’s only one protein so far,” said Lindsay. More work will be required before this phenomenon can be harnessed in the medical field and beyond. + Nano Futures Via Futurism Lead image via Depositphotos , others via  Weisi Song/Biodesign Institute/Arizona State University  and Depositphotos

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Researchers shocked to discover protein that conducts electricity

Researchers detect 100-million-year-old virus in pregnant women’s blood

October 9, 2017 by  
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Here’s a startling thought: the human genome contains ancient viruses . Researchers recently detected a 100-million-year-old virus called a human endogenous retrovirus (HERV)—that would have infected our ancestors when dinosaurs roamed the Earth—in the blood of pregnant women. They are still puzzling over how retroviruses might affect us in the long term. Eight percent of the human genome is made up of ancient viruses and scientists are still trying to puzzle out their function. Three scientists, led by Gkikas Magiorkinis of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens , wrote an article available online the end of September for Trends in Microbiology , delving into the mystery behind HERVs. They said, “Are they merely fossils that, like mosquitoes in amber, were stuck and preserved in large host genomes while their functions decayed?” They noted the 100-million-year-old retrovirus, first detected by another research group, “became a human gene that is expressed in embryos and cancers , and can be detected in the blood of pregnant women.” Related: University of Queensland scientists uncover an ‘explosion’ of new life forms Retroviruses insert a DNA copy of their RNA into a genome, according to IFLScience – this has devastating consequences with the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV , for example. The 100-million-year-old HERV looks to be inactive during most stages, with low expression in many normal tissues, but it is expressed in the placenta, some stem cells, and cancer tissues like those of ovarian cancer, according to the scientists. The expression pattern “suggests potential roles for manipulation of stem cells and early life events, which could have very important impacts on adult diseases.” IFLScience points out the find has raised more questions than it solves – the three researchers suggest a hypothesis at the end of their paper, but no definitive conclusions. They say scientists should explore the roles of endogenous retroviruses to pin down potential anticancer treatments. Via IFLScience Images via freestocks.org on Unsplash and Pixabay

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Researchers detect 100-million-year-old virus in pregnant women’s blood

Muscle-packed pigs in Cambodia raise alarms

October 9, 2017 by  
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Videos and images of Cambodian pigs with extremely muscular physiques have gone viral in recent weeks, raising concerns and questions over the origin and well-being of these augmented animals. Although PETA claims that these animals have been genetically modified , there is no clear evidence to confirm this theory. It is possible that the animals were simply bred to display these characteristics. “We could do this through breeding,” said Jin-Soo Kim, a researcher at Seoul National University, “but then it would take decades.” Regardless of the specific reason for the pigs’ appearance, one can certainly add this to the already long list of unsettling happenings in the meat industry. In 2015, Kim and his peers at  Seoul National University led an experiment in which pigs were genetically modified to posses “double muscles” by altering the myostatin gene, a relatively minor tweak to the genetic code. By changing the amount of lean meat on an animal, these modifications could increase profits for animal producers. The pigs in Cambodia could have come from the same lineage. However, there is no evidence yet to confirm that this is the case. Related: Chinese scientists genetically engineer muscular superdogs While the US Food and Drug Administration has declared that GMO salmon is as safe to eat as natural salmon, no other GMO animal product has yet been approved for human consumption in the United States. However, pigs have been genetically modified in the past, for meat production or otherwise. The EnviroPig is a trademarked, genetically modified organism created in Canada that has been altered to produce waste that contains less phosphorus, which decreases the environmental costs of hog raising. Scientists in Japan have spliced spinach genes into pigs to create a less fatty animal. While the pigs in Cambodia may appear disturbing, there may be benefits to humans and the environment from genetic modification. However, further study is needed and animal welfare standards must be improved around the world. Via Newsweek Images via Facebook/Duroc Cambodia and  Xi-jun Yin

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Muscle-packed pigs in Cambodia raise alarms

University of Queensland scientists uncover an ‘explosion’ of new life forms

September 15, 2017 by  
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The Tree of Life just got bigger. University of Queensland scientists found thousands of organisms that don’t into any known phylum. They acquired 7,280 bacterial genomes and 623 archaeal genomes, raising the number of known genomes by nearly 10 percent. Scientist Gene Tyson, who was part of the effort, said, “The real value of these genomes is that many are evolutionarily distinct from previously recovered genomes.” There are some 80,000 genomes in genome repositories, according to the university. This new work, published online in September by Nature Microbiology , recovers almost 8,000 genomes – what the university called an explosion in the number of life forms we know about. Related: Tree of Life redesigned to reflect thousands of new species The scientists drew on the technique metagenomics, which is relatively new, according to Futurism. Researchers sequenced all the DNA in a sample – including water, feces, or dirt – to generate a metagenome. They were then able to reconstruct individual genomes of new bacteria and new archaea . Around a third of those microorganisms were distinct, allowing the researchers to create three archaeal phyla and 17 bacterial phyla. Microbes can be hard to scrutinize; scientists can only culture under one percent, according to Tyson. Utilizing metagenomics may offer a new method of studying microorganisms researchers can’t grow in a laboratory – and such research could be vital as microbes are opposing our life-saving antibiotics , and we face antibiotic resistance . According to Futurism, it’s possible some of these new species could be used in better antibiotics. And there could be more discoveries to come – study lead author Donovan Parks said in a statement, “We anticipate that processing of environmental samples deposited in other public repositories will add tens of thousands of additional microbial genomes to the tree of life.” Via Futurism and the University of Queensland Images via Pixabay and Parks, Donovan, et al.

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Antony Gibbons modern Trine treehouse is a tranquil nature retreat

September 15, 2017 by  
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Designer Antony Gibbon merges natural materials with modern design in his latest tree house design—the Trine house. Completed as part of his Roost treehouse series, this freestanding cluster of bulbous buildings forms a triangular formation elevated into the forest canopy. Slatted timber surrounds the living spaces to allow for light and views, creating an immersive experience in nature. The proposed Trine house comprises four elevated pod-like spaces that bear resemblance to budding flowers with long stems. The treehouses are accessed from the forest floor via a winding staircase in the central pod building that serves as an outdoor room and viewing tower. Three treehouses branch out of the main pod and are connected with canopy walkways. Related: Antony Gibbon unveils a new light-filled treehouse designed for the ground The triangular formation of the Trine house “distributes the support across all of the structures creating a sound and stable frame when high up in the elements,” wrote Gibbon. “The tree houses are accessed through the central staircase building which follows the form of the tree houses. The slatted wood design created a semi transparency to the building allowing the light and wind to pass through it.” The three peripheral treehouse pods contain a large open-plan living area with floor-to-ceiling windows, a bathroom on the lower floor, and an accessible top deck. Water pipes and wiring for energy needs would be installed through the supporting treehouse stems. You can explore more of Antony Gibbon’s work on his website and on Instagram . + Antony Gibbon Designs Images via Antony Gibbon Designs

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Antony Gibbons modern Trine treehouse is a tranquil nature retreat

Humans may have lived in America 115,000 years earlier than we thought

April 27, 2017 by  
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For years, scientists have believed that humanity was a relatively recent visitor to the North American continent, migrating from Siberia only 15,000 years ago. Now, more accurate dating of mastodon fossils from California shows that an early human ancestor likely existed on the continent 130,000 years ago , far further back than even the most extreme estimates made by previous researchers. The fossils consist of elephant-like teeth and bones, which were discovered in Southern California during the construction of an expressway in 1992. The fossils bear clear signs of deliberate breakage using stone hammers and other early human tools – but until recently, dating technology was not sophisticated enough to accurately pinpoint the era from which they originated. Related: Archaeologist suggests ancient humans helped catalyze the Sahara’s desertification Using new methods to measure traces of natural uranium in the bones, researchers with the US Geological Survey and the Center for American Paleolithic Research found these bones were far older than the era when humans are generally accepted to have lived in America. While these people were clearly somehow related to modern-day humans, and were advanced enough to create and use stone tools, researchers say that they wouldn’t have been Homo sapiens as we know them. Our species didn’t leave Africa until 80,000 to 100,000 years ago. Instead, some likely candidates are Homo erectus, the Neanderthals, or perhaps a little-known hominid species called the Denisovans , whose DNA can still be found in Australian aboriginal populations today. It’s likely this ancient human population died out before Homo sapiens eventually crossed the Pacific. It’s believed they did not interbreed with modern humans and likely are not direct ancestors of any Native American groups. The new findings have been published in the journal Nature . Via Phys.org Images via San Diego Natural History Museum

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Humans may have lived in America 115,000 years earlier than we thought

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