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Fossil of New Big Cat Species Discovered: Oldest Ever Found

The oldest big cat fossil ever found -- which fills in a significant gap in the fossil record -- was discovered on a paleontological dig in Tibet, scientists announced today.

A skull from the new species, named Panthera blytheae, was excavated and described by a team led by Jack Tseng -- a PhD student at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at the time of the discovery, and now a postdoctoral fellow at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York.

"This find suggests that big cats have a deeper evolutionary origin than previously suspected," Tseng said.

Tseng's coauthors include Xiaoming Wang, who has joint appointments at USC, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM) and the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, the AMNH, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS); Graham Slater of the Smithsonian Institution; Gary Takeuchi of the NHM and the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits; Qiang Li of the CAS; Juan Liu of the University of Alberta and the CAS; and Guangpu Xie of the Gansu Provincial Museum.

DNA evidence suggests that the so-called "big cats" -- the Pantherinae subfamily, including lions, jaguars, tigers, leopards, snow leopards, and clouded leopards -- diverged from their nearest evolutionary cousins, Felinae (which includes cougars, lynxes, and domestic cats), about 6.37 million years ago. However, the oldest fossils of big cats previously found are tooth fragments uncovered at Laetoli in Tanzania (the famed hominin site excavated by Mary Leakey in the 1970s), dating to just 3.6 million years ago.

Using magnetostratigraphy -- dating fossils based on the distinctive patterns of reversals in Earth's magnetic field, which are recorded in layers of rock -- Tseng and his team were able to estimate the age of the skull at between 4.10 and 5.95 million years old.

The new cat takes its name from Blythe, the snow-leopard-loving daughter of Paul and Heather Haaga, who are avid supporters of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

The find not only challenges previous suppositions about the evolution of big cats, it also helps place that evolution in a geographical context. The find occurs in a region that overlaps the majority of current big cat habitats, and suggests that the group evolved in central Asia and spread outward.

In addition, recent estimates suggested that the genus Panthera (lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, and snow leopards) did not split from genus Neofelis (clouded leopards) until 3.72 million years ago -- which the new find disproves.

Tseng, his wife Juan Liu, and Takeuchi discovered the skull in 2010 while scouting in the remote border region between Pakistan and China -- an area that takes a bumpy seven-day car ride to reach from Beijing.

Liu found over one hundred bones that were likely deposited by a river eroding out of a cliff. There, below the antelope limbs and jaws, was the crushed -- but largely complete -- remains of the skull.

"It was just lodged in the middle of all that mess," Tseng said.

For the past three years, Tseng and his team have used both anatomical and DNA data to determine that the skull does, in fact, represent a new species.

They plan to return to the site where they found the skull in the summer to search for more specimens.

"We are in the business of discovery," said Wang, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the NHM; adjunct professor of geoscience and biology at USC; and research associate at AMNH. "We go out into the world in search of new fossils to illuminate the past."

Source:Science Daily

N.Haj.Khidr 

As Mars Goes, So Goes Earth?

 

NASA is set to launch MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution), a small scientific satellite, to do some chemical meter-reading in the Martian atmosphere.

"MAVEN will provide key knowledge for understanding how all atmospheres, even our own, have changed since the formation of the solar system," says Paul Withers, a College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of astronomy, who is one of a BU trio working on the project. Unlike studies of quicker, human-induced climate change, MAVEN will study "the longer, natural changes that occur as every planet's atmosphere slowly boils away."

Billions of years ago, scientists believe, water coursed over the Red Planet's face. Today, its arid surface may be a textbook on how solar heat not only evaporated that liquid, but also thinned the atmosphere by bleeding off nitrogen and carbon dioxide.

When MAVEN takes off from Florida's Cape Canaveral today, Withers will attend his first space launch, with "fingers crossed that all goes well," he says. He'll be joined by John Clarke and Michael Mendillo (GRS'68,'71), both CAS astronomy professors. Clarke, director of BU's Center for Space Physics, has been part of MAVEN's planning for eight years and now works with its instrument team.

MAVEN's goal is to "detail the processes that lead to atoms and molecules escaping into space," Clarke says, "so that we can extrapolate back in time to tell what the conditions were like when Mars was young." Erosion channels on the planet suggest surface water earlier in its history, and the thicker atmosphere and warmer climate that would have gone with it, meaning, he says, "Mars may have begun its history looking much more like Earth," and possibly hosting some form of life.

Another BU study was the first to tie simultaneous ionospheric disruptions on Earth and Mars to a large solar flare, Mendillo says, showing that the sun's effects on Mars could be instructive for the future of Earth's atmosphere.

MAVEN is the first project of its kind, says NASA: rather than crawl on the surface, the satellite will hang out in orbit, using its sensitive instruments "to pinpoint trace amounts of chemicals," according to the space agency. Clarke says BU is the only New England institution assisting the project, which is being led by the University of Colorado at Boulder.

MAVEN will reach Mars in 10 months and then take readings for two years (that's by Earth's calendar; only one Martian year will pass).

Source: science daily

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Eating Fish, Nuts May Not Help Thinking Skills After All

Contrary to earlier studies, new research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may not benefit thinking skills. The study is published in the September 25, 2013, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. Omega-3s are found in fatty fish such as salmon and in nuts.

"There has been a lot of interest in omega-3s as a way to prevent or delay cognitive decline, but unfortunately our study did not find a protective effect in older women. In addition, most randomized trials of omega-3 supplements have not found an effect," said study author Eric Ammann, MS, of the University of Iowa in Iowa City. "However, we do not recommend that people change their diet based on these results. Researchers continue to study the relationship between omega-3s and the health of the heart, blood vessels, and brain. We know that fish and nuts can be healthy alternatives to red meat and full-fat dairy products, which are high in saturated fats."

The study involved 2,157 women age 65 to 80 who were enrolled in the Women's Health Initiative clinical trials of hormone therapy. The women were given annual tests of thinking and memory skills for an average of six years. Blood tests were taken to measure the amount of omega-3s in the participants' blood before the start of the study.

The researchers found no difference between the women with high and low levels of omega-3s in the blood at the time of the first memory tests. There was also no difference between the two groups in how fast their thinking skills declined over time

Source : Science Daily

N.H.Khider

Emissions of CO2 driving rapid oceans 'acid trip'

The world's oceans are becoming acidic at an "unprecedented rate" and may be souring more rapidly than at any time in the past 300 million years.

In their strongest statement yet on this issue, scientists say acidification could increase by 170% by 2100.

They say that some 30% of ocean species are unlikely to survive in these conditions.

The researchers conclude that human emissions of CO2 are clearly to blame.

The study will be presented at global climate talks in Poland next week.

In 2012, over 500 of the world's leading experts on ocean acidification gathered in California. Led by the International Biosphere-Geosphere Programme, a review of the state of the science has now been published.

This Summary for Policymakers states with "very high confidence" that increasing acidification is caused by human activities which are adding 24 million tonnes of CO2 to oceans every day.

Pickled waters

The addition of so much carbon has altered the chemistry of the waters.

Since the start of the industrial revolution, the waters have become 26% more acidic.

"This is the state of the art," said Prof Jean-Pierre Gattuso, from CNRS, the French national research agency.

"My colleagues have not found in the geological record, rates of change that are faster than the ones we see today."

What worries the scientists is the potential impact on many ocean species including corals

.Studies carried out at deep sea vents where the waters are naturally acidic thanks to CO2, indicate that around 30% of the ocean's biodiversity may be lost by the end of this century.

These vents may be a "window on the future" according to the researchers.

Continue reading the main story       

"You don't find a mollusc at the pH level expected for 2100, this is really quite a stunning fact," said Prof Gattuso.

"It's an imperfect window, only the ocean's acidity is increasing at these sites, they don't reflect the warming we will see this century.

"If you combine the two, it could be even more dramatic than what we see at CO2 vents."

The effect of acidity is currently being felt most profoundly felt in the Arctic and Antarctic oceans. These chilly waters hold more CO2 and increasing levels of the gas are turning them acidic more rapidly than the rest of the world.

The more acidic they become, the more damaging they are to the shells and skeletons of marine organisms.

The researchers say that by 2020, ten percent of the Arctic will be inhospitable to species that build their shells from calcium carbonate. By 2100 the entire Arctic will be a hostile environment.

Sea snail Pteropods like this are already feeling the corrosive impact of acidic waters in the Antarctic

These effects are already visible says Prof Gattuso.

"In the Southern Ocean, we already see corrosion of pteropods which are like sea snails, in the ocean we see corrosion of the shell.

"They are a key component in the food chain, they are eaten by fish, birds and whales, so if one element is going then there is a cascading impact on the whole food chain."

The authors warn that the economic impact of the losses from aquaculture could be huge - the global cost of the decline in molluscs could be $130bn by 2100 if emissions of CO2 continue on their current pathway.

Adding alkaline substances such as crushed limestone to the waters has been mooted as a potential way of mitigating the worst impacts of acidification. But Prof Gattuso says it would only have a limited effect.

"Maybe in bays which have a restricted exchange with open oceans it may work, it may give some local relief.

"But the latest research is showing that it is not really practical at a global scale. It is very expensive and very energy intensive."

Marine protection zones would also give some short term benefit, but the scientists say that in the long term only significant cuts in emissions will slow the progress of acidification. 

By Matt McGrath Environment correspondent, BBC News.

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First Virtual Surgery with Google Glass

A University of Alabama at Birmingham surgical team has performed the first surgery using a virtual augmented reality technology called VIPAAR in conjunction with Google Glass, a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display. The combination of the two technologies could be an important step toward the development of useful, practical telemedicine.

VIPAAR, which stands for Virtual Interactive Presence in Augmented Reality, is a UAB-developed technology that provides real time, two-way, interactive video conferencing.

UAB orthopedic surgeon Brent Ponce, M.D., performed a shoulder replacement surgery on Sept. 12, 2013 at UAB Highlands Hospital in Birmingham. Watching and interacting with Ponce via VIPAAR was Phani Dantuluri, M.D., from his office in Atlanta.

Ponce wore Google Glass during the operation. The built-in camera transmitted the image of the surgical field to Dantuluri. VIPAAR allowed Dantuluri, who saw on his computer monitor exactly what Ponce saw in the operating room, to introduce his hands into the virtual surgical field. Ponce saw Danturuli's hands as a ghostly image in his heads-up display.

"It's not unlike the line marking a first down that a television broadcast adds to the screen while televising a football game," said Ponce. "You see the line, although it's not really on the field. Using VIPAAR, a remote surgeon is able to put his or her hands into the surgical field and provide collaboration and assistance."

The two surgeons were able to discuss the case in a truly interactive fashion since Dantuluri could watch Ponce perform the surgery yet could introduce his hands into Ponce's view as if they were standing next to each other.

"It's real time, real life, right there, as opposed to a Skype or video conference call which allows for dialogue back and forth, but is not really interactive," said Ponce.

Ponce says VIPAAR allows the remote physician to point out anatomy, provide guidance or even demonstrate the proper positioning of instruments. He says it could be an invaluable tool for teaching residents, or helping surgeons first learning a new procedure.

"This system is able to provide that help from an expert who is not on site, guiding and teaching new skills while enhancing patient safety and outcomes," he said. "It provides a safety net to improve patient care by having that assistance from an expert who is not in the room."

"VIPAAR brings experts or collaborators to the site of need, in any field where a visual collaboration would be beneficial," said Drew Deaton, CEO of VIPAAR. "VIPAAR uses video on mobile devices to allow experts or collaborators to connect in real time and not only see what might need to be fixed, corrected or solved, but also be able to reach in, using tools or just their hands, and demonstrate. It's like being there, side by side with someone when you might be a thousand miles, or 10 thousand miles away."

"Today, you can't imagine having a phone without the capability to take picture, or a video," he said. "I can't imagine, five years from now, not being able to use a smart phone to connect to an expert to solve my problem. And have that person reach in and show me how to solve that problem, because the technology is advancing rapidly and we're bringing this technology to market today."

Source: science daily

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