New Excavations in Sweden Indicate Use of Fertilizers 5,000 Years Ago

Researchers from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have spent many years studying the remains of a Stone Age community in Karleby outside the town of Falköping, Sweden. The researchers have for example tried to identify parts of the inhabitants' diet. Right now they are looking for evidence that fertilisers were used already during the Scandinavian Stone Age, and the results of their first analyses may be exactly what they are looking for.

Using remains of grains and other plants and some highly advanced analysis techniques, the two researchers and archaeologists Tony Axelsson and Karl-Göran Sjögren have been able to identify parts of the diet of their Stone Age ancestors.

'Our first task was to find so-called macrofossils, such as old weed seeds or pieces of grain. By analysing macrofossils, we can learn a lot about Stone Age farming and how important farming was in relation to livestock ranching,' says Axelsson.

Another aim has been to collect animal bone material -- or simply 5,000 year old food remains. The researchers know that pieces of bones from cattle, pigs and sheep can be found at the site.

'By studying the levels of isotopes in the bones, we can for example find out where the animals were raised, which in turn can give important information about their role in trade,' says Sjögren.

The results of the first grain analyses have now been presented, and besides revealing that both barley and wheat were farmed at the site, they point to elevated levels of the isotope N15 (nitrogen 15). The elevated levels may indicate that fertilizers were used in the area of Karleby already 5,000 years ago.

'We will continue our analyses both in the field and in the lab, and are hoping to find more macrofossils. Hopefully we'll find some weed seeds, as they may help confirm that fertilizers were indeed used since the type of weeds found in a field can signal whether fertilizers or some other method was used,' says Axelsson.

Source:Science daily


National Environmental Observatory in Lattakia

LATTAKIA, (ST) -The Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs recently launched the National Environmental Observatory Project in Lattakia. A presentation was made about the observatory project and the project that had been done in the Great Northern River.

Director of Studies Department at the ministry, eng  Mahmoud Haider, said to reporters that the Observatory, which was launched at the national level, will work to accomplish an integrated environmental map for Syria and specific maps and to every governorate and databases for all activities that occur within the framework of sustainable development.

He noted that the observatory includes a collection of digital maps for all aspects of pollution in addition to satellite images, pointing out that a team, composed of all central departments in the governorate, is now rehabilitated for this purpose.

“A range of applications related to environment maps and databases will be accomplished, whereas an integrated study about the Great Northern River has been done in the form of digital maps and databases as constituents of the environmental observatory concerning water resources in Latakia and a study will be conducted about all water sources in the governorate and completed as required,” eng. Haider clarified.

For his part, Director of Agricultural and Environmental Studies at Remote Sensing Association, Dr. Yunus Idris, explained that the importance of the study of the Great Northern River is to bring out the situation of the basin, undulations of the ground, the morphological situation and the mechanics of sewage discharge, industrial, economic and tourist installations and olive presses.

The aim of the National Environmental Observatory, which was initiated in September last year, at the central level in Damascus is to unify the environmental work and continue building  databases and develop data bank to be able to store environmental projects carried out in the ministry, publish the results among bodies concerned according to an agreed system, ensure the safety of networking between the ministry and sub-districts and other institutions concerned in addition to training and rehabilitation of a team of technicians and engineers from the departments of Environmental Affairs in the rest of the governorates.

Sh. Kh.

'Living fossil' coelacanth genome sequenced

Researchers sequenced the genome of the coelacanth: a deep-sea fish that closely resembles its ancestors, which lived at least 300 million years ago.

The study found that some of the animal's genes evolved very slowly, giving it its primitive appearance.

The work also shed light on how the fish was related to the first land-based animals.

The coelacanth has four large, fleshy fins, which some scientists believe could have been the predecessors of limbs.

It had been suggested that this fish was closely related to early tetrapods - the first creatures to drag themselves out of the ocean, giving rise to life on land.

But the study, published in the journal Nature, suggested that another fish called the lungfish, which also has four limbs, had more genes in common with land-based animals.

The coelacanth can reach up to 2m-long and is found lurking in caves deep beneath the waves.

It was thought to have been extinct for millions of years, until it turned up in a trawlerman's net off the coast of Africa in 1938.

Its ancient appearance has earned it the title "living fossil" - but it is so elusive, that it has been hard to study.

To find out more, an international team of researchers sequenced the coelacanth's genome, which contained nearly three billion DNA bases,according to the BBC.

Professor Kerstin Lindblad-Toh, from the University of Uppsala in Sweden and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in the US, said: "What we can see is that while the genome as whole changes, the protein-coding genes - that make the living fish - are much more stable and much more unchanging.

"And if you think about it, this might be correlated to the fact that the coelacanth lives in a rather extreme and stable environment.

"It lives several hundred metres down in the ocean, and it may also be in an environment where it doesn't have a lot of competitors. So maybe it adapted to that environment a long time ago and it doesn't have a huge need for change."

The researchers also used the study to try and solve the long-standing question of whether the first tetrapods were more closely related to the coelacanth or the lungfish.


They compared DNA profiles of both of these fish with modern land-based animals, including mammals, birds and lizards.

"We selected 251 genes that were very similar in all these genomes so we could build this picture of how closely related these species were," Prof Lindblad-Toh explained.

This study is not the only one attempting to understand the coelacanth.

Since the fish was rediscovered in the 1930s, only a few hundred have ever been found, many of these dead caught up in trawls.

Scientists from the French organisation Andromede Oceanology are working with the Natural History Museum in Paris to attach acoustic tracking devices to the fish in order to study their behavior and capture 3D moving images of their fins as they swim.


1st Phase of Integrated Environmental Management Project of al -Abrash River Reviewed

DAMASCUS, (ST) - A meeting was held here recently between the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs and the General Commission for Remote Sensing. Participants reviewed the final results of the first phase of the monitoring project and integrated environmental management of al- Abrash River, which involved a general study of the project area and research materials, its methods and its stages.

Project supervisor from the General Commission for Remote Sensing, Dr. Ahmad Yaghi, pointed out to the recommendations and proposals that were made to address the environmental problems that al -Abrash River was afflicted, according to the Memorandum of Cooperation between the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs and the Commission for Remote Sensing which includes scientific and technical cooperation in the fiel of environmental work at the national level.

Minister of State for Environmental Affairs, Dr. NaziraSarkis, confirmed importance of the participatory action among all national bodies in order to reach the desired outcomes that contribute to improving environmental work, indicating that the project aims to identify environmental problems that afflict al- Abrash River in Tartous and take the necessary actions to solve them in addition to benefiting from the National expertise to reduce pollutants in all its forms.

The minister pointed out that the work is in progress and the Ministry of the Environment is following up all issues and environmental problems and that the ministry continues to work in spite of all the hard circumstances in Syria.

For his part, Director General of the General Commission for Remote Sensing, Dr. Osama Ammar, underlined the integrity of the work and true partnership with the Ministry of Environment through the exchange of experiences between the two parties to improve the environmental situation, calling for appropriate action to reduce pollution at al –Abrash River.

It is worthy noted that the Ministry of Environment and the General Commission for Remote Sensing are carrying out many environmental projects and studies, including the Environmental National a Observatory and Integrated Environmental Management Project of the Northern and the Southern Great Rivers and an environmental integrated study of land use in some governorates as well as training of personnel in the Directorates  of Environment to establish an environmental databank and other projects.

Sh. Kh.

Deadly Effects of Certain Kinds of Household Air Pollution

Almost four million people die each year from household air pollution (HAP) caused by exposure to the combustion of biomass fuels (wood, charcoal, crop residues, and dung), kerosene, or coal. These individuals are among the tens of millions who rely on such products to cook their meals, heat their rooms, and light their homes. Those in lower and middle income countries are among the hardest hit by the effects of HAP exposure, which also causes childhood respiratory infection, chronic lung disease, and cardiovascular disease. Exposure to biomass fuel is associated with low birth weight, asthma, and tuberculosis.

Given these effects, the large populations at risk, and a growing global interest in lower-cost energy sources, researchers from three continents have published a comprehensive overview of the current approaches to HAP assessments, the aims of biomarker development, and the state of development of tests which have the potential for rapid transition from the lab bench to field use. The effort is being led by William J. Martin II, MD, Associate Director for Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, and health institutions, their findings are addressed in the article, "Household air pollution: a call for studies into biomarkers of exposure and predictors of respiratory disease," which is published online by the American Journal of Physiology-Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology.

Current approaches to HAP assessment, challenges

The researchers found that current HAP assessment tools include direct quantitative measurement of products of incomplete combustion, as well as qualitative methods (including use of questionnaires or the categorization of HAP exposure by type). However, direct exposure assessments via personal monitoring are problematic due to the size, portability and recording capacity of equipment, and acceptability to the user.

Despite the new devices currently being field tested and scaled up for commercial use to address these concerns, specific particulate measurement alone cannot differentiate between the multiple sources of pollution such as mixtures of HAP, tobacco smoke, and outdoor pollution. "The grand challenge to the research community is to produce simple and validated tests that better identify populations that are at risk from HAP, and individual responses to exposure reduction strategies," according to Dr. Martin.

The researchers also found that current HAP exposure measurement methods are expensive, technically challenging, difficult to use with large population studies, and have substantial limitations, making an urgent case for the development of biomarkers of both exposure and health effects. These findings have led to their call for studies into biomarkers of exposure and predictors of respiratory disease.

Martin and his colleagues note that further development of biomarkers of susceptibility and effect could facilitate large scale studies examining the impact of HAP on health and disease in human populations. In the end, new biomarkers would: (a) improve epidemiological accuracy in association studies with health effect; (b) reduce the cost and complexity of monitoring intervention studies; (c) provide data for educating the public and policymakers about risk; and (d) inform clinicians and the public health community about human environmental exposures that are not well characterized.

Source: sciencedaily