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October 8, 2015

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2015 shared by 3 scientists for how damaged DNA is repaired

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2015 shared by 3 scientists for how damaged DNA is repaired

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

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Yesterday, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to three scientists for their work on DNA repair. Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar showed how damaged DNA is repaired and genetic information is safeguarded by the cells at the molecular level. Their collaborative studies have contributed to knowledge behind the functioning of a cell.

Swedish scientist Tomas Lindahl found that DNA molecules decay at a significant rate, which evolution could have not sustained. This led to the discovery of base excision repair, a cellular mechanism that repairs the damaged DNA.



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Three scientists share 2015 Chemistry Nobel Prize for DNA repair research

Three scientists share 2015 Chemistry Nobel Prize for DNA repair research

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Artist’s rendition of damaged DNA being repaired.
Image: Tom Ellenberger.

Yesterday, Göran K. Hansson, permanent secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, announced this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded to three scientists for their work on DNA repair.

Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar showed how damaged DNA is repaired and genetic information is safeguarded by the cells at the molecular level.

Swedish scientist Tomas Lindahl found that DNA molecules decay too quickly for life, or evolution, to be sustainable. This led to the discovery of base excision repair, a cellular mechanism that repairs damaged DNA by removing erroneous sections and replacing them.

Turkish molecular biologist Aziz Sancar mapped nucleotide excision repair, a DNA repair mechanism that targets larger-scale damage caused by mutagens and ultraviolet radiation.

US professor of biochemistry Paul Modrich showed how errors caused during DNA replication are usually rectified. DNA mismatch repair increases the precision of DNA replication when cells divide.

The prize is shared 1/3rd to each scientist.


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  • “2006 Nobel Prize in chemistry for insight into cells” — Wikinews, October 4, 2006

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September 3, 2015

Study estimates Earth has over three trillion trees

Study estimates Earth has over three trillion trees

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

A study published yesterday by Nature estimates the global tree population at just over three trillion. Previous work estimated the total at 400 billion.

A young tree in Saudi Arabia
Image: Francisco Anzola.

The international research, led by Yale University in the US, used satellite images to examine over 400,000 plots of land for estimated tree density. Subarctic regions of Scandinavia, Russia, and North America had the highest densities but the largest forested areas were tropical. The study puts 43% of trees in the tropics, where deforestation is particularly common.

The study also claims the number has been cut by human activity from around six trillion 12,000 years ago. Lead researcher Thomas Crowther said “We have nearly halved the number of trees on the planet, and we have seen the impacts on climate and human health as a result. This study highlights how much more effort is needed if we are to restore healthy forests worldwide.” Crowther was “surprised” to come up with a number as high as the trillions.

The study was made at the request of a United Nations project which wanted an estimate on which to base reforestation targets. As well as numbers and distribution the study looks at what factors might control the density of trees in any given area, such as soil type. The study suggests trees outnumber humans by around 422 to one.

“It’s not like we’ve discovered a load of new trees; it’s not like we’ve discovered a load of new carbon”, cautioned Crowther, speaking to the BBC. “So, it’s not good news for the world or bad news that we’ve produced this new number.” He says the estimate is valuable for lawmakers, academics, and the general public.



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September 1, 2015

Biologist Nick Bos tells Wikinews about \’self-medicating\’ ants

Biologist Nick Bos tells Wikinews about ‘self-medicating’ ants

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Formica fusca, from file.
Image: Mathias Krumbholz.

Nick Bos, of the University of Helsinki, studies “the amazing adaptations social insects have evolved in order to fight the extreme parasite pressure they experience”. In a recently-accepted Evolution paper Bos and colleagues describe ants appearing to self-medicate.

Cquote1.svg I have no doubt that as time goes on, there will be more and more cases documented Cquote2.svg

The team used Formica fusca, an ant species that can form thousand-strong colonies. This common black ant eats other insects, and also aphid honeydew. It often nests in tree stumps or under rocks and foraging workers can sometimes be spotted climbing trees.

Some ants were infected with Beauveria bassiana, a fungus. Infected ants chose food laced with toxic hydrogen peroxide, whereas healthy ants avoided it. Hydrogen peroxide reduced infected ant fatalities by 15%, and the ants varied their intake depending upon how high the peroxide concentration was.

In the wild, Formica fusca can encounter similar chemicals in aphids and dead ants. The Independent reported self-medicating ants a first among insects.

Bos obtained his doctorate from the University of Copenhagen. He began postdoctoral research at Helsinki in 2012. He also runs the AntyScience blog. The blog aims to help address “a gap between scientists and ‘the general public’.” The name is a pun referencing ants, its primary topic, science, and “non-scientific” jargon-free communication. He now discusses his work with Wikinews.

Beauveria bassiana on a cicada in Bolivia.
Image: Danny Newman.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What first attracted you to researching ants?

Nick Bos Me and a studymate were keeping a lot of animals during our studies, from beetles, to butterflies and mantids, to ants. We had the ants in an observation nest, and I could just look at them for hours, watching them go about. This was in my third year of Biology study I think. After a while I needed to start thinking about an internship for my M.Sc. studies, and decided to write a couple of professors. I ended up going to the Centre for Social Evolution at the University of Copenhagen where I did a project on learning in Ants under supervision of Prof. Patrizia d’Ettorre. I liked it so much there I ended up doing a PhD and I’ve been working on social insects ever since.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What methods and equipment were used for this investigation?

NB This is a fun one. I try to work on a very low budget, and like to build most of the experimental setups myself (we actually have equipment in the lab nicknamed the ‘Nickinator’, ‘i-Nick’ and the ‘Nicktendo64’). There’s not that much money in fundamental science at the moment, so I try to cut the costs wherever possible. We collected wild colonies of Formica fusca by searching through old tree-trunks in old logging sites in southern Finland. We then housed the ants in nests I made using Y-tong [aerated concrete]. It’s very soft stone that you can easily carve. We carved out little squares for the ants to live in (covered with old CD covers to prevent them escaping!). We then drilled a tunnel to a pot (the foraging arena), where the ants got the choice between the food with medicine and the food without.
We infected the ants by preparing a solution of the fungus Beauveria bassiana. Afterwards, each ant was dipped in the solution for a couple of seconds, dried on a cloth and put in the nest. After exposing the ants to the fungus, we took pictures of each foraging arena three times per day, and counted how many ants were present on each food-source.

Example of aerated concrete, which provided a home for the subjects.
Image: Marco Bernardini.

This gave us the data that ants choose more medicine after they have been infected.
The result that healthy ants die sooner when ingesting ROS [Reactive Oxygen Species, the group of chemicals that includes hydrogen peroxide] but infected ants die less was obtained in another way (as you have to ‘force feed’ the ROS, as healthy ants, when given the choice, ignore that food-source.)
For this we basically put colonies on a diet of either food with medicine or without for a while. And afterwards either infected them or not. Then for about two weeks we count every day how many ants died. This gives us the data to do a so-called survival analysis.
We measured the ROS-concentration in the bodies of ants after they ingested the food with the medicine using a spectrophotometer. By adding certain chemicals, the ROS can be measured using the emission of light of a certain wave-length.
The detrimental effect of ROS on spores was easy to measure. We mixed different concentrations of ROS with the spores, plated them out on petridishes with an agar-solution where fungus can grow on. A day after, we counted how many spores were still alive.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png How reliable do you consider your results to be?

NB The results we got are very reliable. We had a lot of colonies containing a lot of ants, and wherever possible we conducted the experiment blind. This means the experimenter doesn’t know which ants belong to which treatment, so it’s impossible to influence the results with ‘observer bias‘. However, of course this is proof in just one species. It is hard to extrapolate to other ants, as different species lead very different lives.
Cquote1.svg At the moment it seems that sick ants mostly take care of the problem themselves Cquote2.svg

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Where did the ants and fungus you used come from? How common are they in the wild?

NB For ants, see above about the collection.
This species of fungus does appear in Finland, but we chose to use a different strain from Denmark (with thanks to Prof. J. Eilenberg and the laboratory technician Louise Lee Munch Larsen from the University of Copenhagen). Animals can adapt to local strains (‘local adaptation’), and just to make sure we thought it would be good to use a strain of fungus that the ants definitely did not evolve specific resistances against. This means that the reaction of the ants (to self-medicate) is very likely to be a general response, and not just against their local fungal enemies.

The Univeristy of Helsinki from file.
Image: Smaug.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Are there any ethical considerations around exposing ants to toxins and parasites?

NB Legally, no. Insects do not have any ‘rights’ as such regarding ethics. That said, we do take measures to not make them ‘suffer unnecessarily’. For example, dissections are done when the ants are anesthetized (either by CO2 or Ice), and when ants need to be killed, we do it in alcohol, which kills the ants in a matter of seconds. So while the ants do not have ‘rights’ as such, we still try to handle them with as much respect as possible (even though the experiment involves infecting them with a deadly fungus).
But even though the 12,000 ants in our study sounds like a lot (and it is), this is negligible in the ‘grand scheme of things’. It has been calculated that in the Netherlands alone, nearly a trillion insects die against just the licence-plates of cars every six months. I don’t own a car, so that means I’m excused right? 😉

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png This is the first evidence for self-medicating insects. How widespread do you think this phenomenon could be in reality?

NB It’s not actually the first evidence for self-medication in insects. Moths and fruit flies definitely do it, and there’s evidence in honey bees and bumble-bees as well. So it seems to be quite wide-spread in the insect world. I have no doubt that as time goes on, there will be more and more cases documented. Insects (and animals in general) seem to be quite good at taking care of themselves.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png How might ants locate healing substances in the wild?

NB Very good question. This is something that’s important to know. If they would only do it in the lab, the behaviour wouldn’t be very interesting. We have some guesses where they might get it from, but at the moment we don’t know yet. That said, I plan to investigate this question (among others) further [in] the next couple of years.

Another file photo of Formica fusca, this time showing foraging workers feeding.
Image: Sedeer El-Showk.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png For your PhD you researched ants’ scent-based communications. Could healthy ants perhaps tell other ants are infected and encourage this behaviour?

NB There’s not much known about this. There’s conflicting evidence about whether sick ants actually smell different from healthy ones or not. At the moment it seems that sick ants mostly take care of the problem themselves. Sick ants stop most interaction with nestmates and especially brood, and leave the nest to die in isolation. This is probably for reducing chance of infecting nestmates, but of course it also reduces the work load of their nest-mates, as their corpse doesn’t have to be dragged out etc.
So as an answer to the question, I would find it unlikely that such a behaviour would evolve, but it’s not known yet.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Ants generally avoided the peroxide if they were healthy, but in some circumstances might they try to build resistance against infection in advance?

NB Who knows? Also not known yet unfortunately. That said, there is a very interesting study about resin collection in ants. Wood ants collect tree-resin, which has anti-microbial properties. They collect this even if not infected, and when you infect them, they don’t collect more of the resin than normal. So basically it seems like they collect it in order to keep diseases out of the nest, so they stop the disease before it can actually infect them.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Are there plans to follow this research up? Might you research other species? Other substances?

NB I first want to find out where they get it from in nature. There might be many sources of medicine (recent evidence suggests that tobacco plays a similar role for bumble bees). Dalial Freitak, who is also on this paper is currently running tests with Ph.D. student Siiri Fuchs (who is also on the paper) with other substances to see if any have the same effect as H2O2 [hydrogen peroxide].
Once the behaviour has been well described in this species of ant, I might do a comparison with other species. For example, once we find the source of the medicine in nature… would species without access to this source also have evolved the same behaviour in the lab? And if so… where would they get it from?
Also… can ants medicate their friends? 🙂

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What other research are you working on right now?

NB Phew…lots! 🙂
I still have some questions left unanswered from my Ph.D. work related to how ants recognize who is a friend and who isn’t. I also started collaborating with Prof. Michael Poulsen from the University of Copenhagen on immunity in fungus-growing termites, as well as their chemical recognition abilities. Furthermore we’re working on social parasitism in wood-ants (ants have lots of animals exploiting the nest for shelter and resources, which all somehow have to get in to the fortress without getting killed).



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January 31, 2015

Rare megamouth shark found dead in Pio Duran, Philippines

Rare megamouth shark found dead in Pio Duran, Philippines

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

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  • Wikinews interviews Paúl M. Velazco about new yellow-shouldered bat species
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  • Researcher discovers 39 new cockroach species, increasing genus Arenivaga fivefold

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A megamouth shark was found dead in the Philippines on Wednesday. There have been only fifteen confirmed sightings in the nation and around 60 worldwide.

Preserved head of a megamouth on display in Australia.
Image: “saberwyn”.

The fifteen-foot male was found after reportedly becoming entangled with a fishing net near the Barangay Marigondon neighborhood of Pio Duran, Albay province. Its body was encased with ice pending a necropsy. The cause of death was not immediately clear.

Locals have nicknamed the dead shark ‘toothless’, a How to Train Your Dragon movie reference. In truth megamouths can have up to fifty rows of teeth.

Megamouths reach up to eighteen feet. Their name refers to its large head and mouth, used to filter plankton and other small food from the ocean. Occasionally the prey of other sharks and whales, megamouths are thought to live in the Pacific around Taiwan, the Philippines, and Japan based on previous sightings. Its true range and population size are however unknown. The first such shark identified was accidentally discovered by the US Navy off the coast of Hawaii when it became stuck in a ship’s anchor. Researchers theorise a white strip on the shark’s head illuminates to attract prey.



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October 4, 2014

US scientists find evidence for group selection of spider colonies in the wild

US scientists find evidence for group selection of spider colonies in the wild

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Saturday, October 4, 2014

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A female spider of related but different species Anelosimus crassipes.
Image: Akio Tanikawa.

US biologists from the Universities of Pittsburgh and Vermont have found that social spiders of species Anelosimus studiosus exhibit apparent group selection, determining a trait affecting the colony’s survival. According to one of the researchers, this is the first experimental evidence of group selection in wild populations driving adaptation to local conditions. The study was published in journal Nature on Wednesday.

The researchers found that, depending on the availability of resources at the location of the colony and the size of the colony, the spider colonies have a different composition, promoting colony survival. The collective colony trait the scientists analyzed is the shifting ratio of “aggressive” and “docile” female spiders. The authors suggest two possible causes of colony extinction from inappropriate ratio in a large colony, depending on the availability of resources: egg cannibalism when there are few resources and a high proportion of “aggressive” female spiders, and social parasites when there are abundant resources and a high proportion of “docile” female spiders.

To check whether the self-regulation of spider colonies can be considered an adaptation to local conditions, the scientists placed artificially assembled colonies in different locations, with resource availability similar to or different from their home location. In cases of high risk of extinction, colonies self-regulated the ratio of “aggressive” and “docile” female spiders to match not resource conditions of the site they were placed at, but resource conditions of the home site from which they were taken.

Coauthor Jonathan Pruitt, University of Pittsburgh assistant professor of behavioral ecology, said, “These findings provide compelling evidence that the mechanisms that colonies use to regulate their compositions are themselves locally adapted, presumably because of the survival advantages they confer to the colony”. “They’re continuing to make the phenotypes, the trait at a group level, that would have been advantageous if they had stayed home […] But they seem to have no idea that they’re at a new site and that what they’re doing is going to doom the whole colony. All the friends die”.

Coauthor Charles Goodnight, at the University of Vermont, said: “Biologists have never shown an adaptation in nature which is clearly attributable to group selection […] Our paper is that demonstration.”



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April 21, 2014

Wikinews interviews Paúl M. Velazco about new yellow-shouldered bat species

Wikinews interviews Paúl M. Velazco about new yellow-shouldered bat species

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Paul Velazco with a Vampyrum spectrum.
Image: Marco Tschapka.

Distribution range of species formerly ascribed to Sturnira lilium (gray tone) and the type localities (stars) of species in the S. lilium complex.
Image: Paúl M. Velazco.

Scientists at Chicago‘s Field Museum and New York‘s American Museum of Natural History have discovered three new species of yellow-shouldered bats, genus Sturnira, in the Neotropics. On Wednesday open-access journal ZooKeys published their paper on two of the new species, Sturnira bakeri and Sturnira burtonlimi. The two new species were previously confused with S. ludovici, and S. lilium and S. luisi, respectively. With the discovery, genus Sturnira now has the most species of any genus in family Phyllostomidae, the leaf-nosed bats.

Species S. bakeri was named after Dr. Robert J. Baker, who “has made enormous contributions to our [Authors of the ZooKey paper] understanding of bats, particularly to the evolution of Neotropical phyllostomids”; and S. burtonlimi after Dr. Burton K. Lim, who “collected the type series of this species and has made many other important collections throughout the Neotropics and beyond”, the authors noted in the paper.

Within the New World tropics, the distribution range of the genus, the new species’ known living areas are in Costa Rica and Panama for S. burtonlimi, and Western Ecuador for S. bakeri. The researchers identified differences between different specimens, including those in their teeth, skull shapes, and DNA sequences.

Wikinews interviewed one of the chiropterologists, Paúl M. Velazco of the American Museum of Natural History, about the study.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png The Sturnira genus now has 22 species, over 1.5 times larger than it was a year ago (14 species). Who contributed to this change? Did you participate throughout the entire process, or only the discovery of the last 2 species?

Paúl M. Velazco: The last Mammal Species of the World (Simmons, 2005) recognized 14 species for Sturnira. Since then three new species have been described [S. sorianoi Sánchez-Hernández et al., 2005; S. koopmanhilli McCarthy et al., 2006; and S. perla Jarrín-V. and Kunz, 2011] and one subspecies was elevated to the species level (S. hondurensis) by Gardner (2008). This brought the number of species of Sturnira to 18 by 2011. Along with my coauthor Bruce Patterson, we generated the most comprehensive phylogeny of the genus. For this we sequenced two nuclear and three mitochondrial genes from the liver or muscle tissue that had been frozen or preserved from each bat specimen, isolating nearly 5,000 base pairs of DNA. These sequences were obtained from specimens we have collected in the past (38) and from tissues we borrowed from different natural history collections. We published this phylogeny last year in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. Results of this study found that two subspecies of Sturnira lilium should be recognized as valid species (S. parvidens and S. paulsoni). Additionally we found three new species, two of them described in the ZooKeys paper. The third one hopefully will be published later this year.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The genus is called Sturnira Gray in the paper. I’ve not seen extra adjectives in genus names, before. What is the context for such name?

PMV: Usually in papers that deal with taxonomy and nomenclature, the first time that a genus or species is mentioned in text is accompanied by the authority that describes that taxon. In the case of Sturnira, it was Gray in 1842 that named the genus.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What caused your initial interest in the question in the genus? When did you become interested?

PMV: I have been studying bats for the past eighteen years and I am especially interested in the family Phyllostomidae that is endemic to the Neotropics. This family includes more than 160 species. It is the most diverse family of bats in the Neotropics, which together exhibits more variation in morphological features and feeding ecology than any other family-level group of mammals. Phyllostomid bats exploit an unusually diverse array of feeding habits including sanguivory, insectivory, carnivory, omnivory, nectarivory, pollennivory, and frugivory. Because of all mentioned before, phyllostomids are a really interesting group to work with. Sturnira and Platyrrhinus are members of this family.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The paper mentions that the genus is now the most speciose genus in the Neotropical family Phyllostomidae. What genus did it beat? How many species does it include?

PMV: The other genus with the most species in the family is Platyrrhinus. Currently, it has 20 species, but soon it will increase to 21. Along with another colleague, Burton Lim, we have a paper in press describing a new species based on molecular and morphological data from the Guianan Shield.

Dorsolateral views of the left mandibular toothrows in Sturnira bakeri (A, QCAZ 14635 ♀) and S. burtonlimi (B, ROM 104294 ♂), illustrating taxonomic differences in the shape of the metaconid and entoconid of m1 and m2.
Image: Paúl M. Velazco.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What equipment did you use?

PMV: For the ZooKeys paper, we examined several specimens under the stereoscope. The molecular phylogeny gave us the separation between species, from there our job was to focus on finding morphological differences between these groups.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Did you conduct field study to identify the species’ habits? If so, where and how did you do that?

PMV: I have done fieldwork in Belize and Peru, and my coauthor did field work in Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru, where we collected several specimens of Sturnira (including the third species that has not been described yet). But the two species that were described in the ZooKeys paper are based on specimens collected by our colleagues Dr. Robert Baker from Texas Tech University and Dr. Burton Lim from the Royal Ontario Museum.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png How do you isolate of the living area of the new species from the living area of the old species?

PMV: We used the phylogeny of Velazco and Patterson 2013 (Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution) as a framework for this.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png How long did the study take? What has been the most time-consuming activity?

PMV: It took almost a year. The most time consuming part was spending several hours behind the stereoscope looking for the diagnostic characters.

Sturnira tildae
Image: Burton K. Lim.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Who participated in the study? What were their roles?

PMV: Dr. Bruce Patterson from the [American] Museum of Natural History and I. I was the one in charge of finding the diagnostic characters and together we both worked on the manuscript.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Who do you collaborate with internationally about your study?

PMV: For this study I collaborated directly with Dr. Bruce Patterson from the Field Museum of Natural History, but studies like this cannot be completed without the contribution of scientific collections. We used specimens from the American Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Louisiana State University, Museum of Southwestern Biology, Museo de Historia Natural de la Universidad Nacional de San Marcos, Museo de Zoología of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley, Royal Ontario Museum, Texas Tech University, and the National Museum of Natural History.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What future research do you plan?

PMV: To keep doing what I love, which is going to the field, working at collections, and collaborating with the wonderful collaborators I have, all of this is an effort to try to understand bat diversity and evolution in the Neotropics, especially why phyllostomid bats are so successful at this. There is still much to discover, and hopefully we could, in time, implement conservation actions for species that have small distributions.



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April 4, 2014

Death of captive rhino halts propagation efforts in US

Death of captive rhino halts propagation efforts in US

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Friday, April 4, 2014

Dr. Terri Roth, director of CREW, with Suci.
Image: Cincinnati Zoo.

Dr Roth gave an overview of the Sumatran rhino project at USI less than a week after Suci’s death.
Video: Rfshipman1.

After the death of the Cincinnati Zoo’s female Sumatran rhinoceros last Sunday, Dr. Terri Roth, the director of the zoo’s research facility specializing in propagation, told Wikinews her organization remains committed to the Sumatran rhinos, an animal that is currently listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as critically endangered.

Suci (pictured left with Roth), the last female in captivity in the United States, died and was one of only two Sumatran rhinos in captivity in the United States.

The number of Sumatran rhinos worldwide is now around 100, according to Roth, who is the vice president of Conservation and Science and the director of Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) at Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden in Ohio. She told Wikinews her research facility will continue to work with its partners abroad and focus on genetic diversity.

“Realistically, the odds are against us. This is going to be a tough one to save. It’s been a roller coaster experience and it’s been a challenge,” said Roth.

In the 1980s, Indonesia and the United States entered into a pact to save the animal. According to the plan, Indonesia would enclose captured rhinos in a secure wildlife habitat and provide United States zoos with additional captured rhinos, with the two working together to rebuild the population using the wildlife and captivity. The US program experienced a set back when four out of its seven rhinos died, while zoos were learning to feed them ficus rather than hay.

Roth is an expert on the propagation of the Sumatran rhino. Since the late 1990s, when the Cincinnati Zoo received the last three surviving captive rhinos in the United States, she has studied their mating and pregnancy. This led to the ability to detect pregnancy within sixteen days of conception by ultrasound. After five failed pregnancies, Roth tried hormone treatments of progesterone with success. In 2001, CREW and the Cincinnati Zoo celebrated the first rhino birth in captivity in 112 years, a male named Andalas. The previous Sumatran rhino birth in captivity occurred in 1889 in a zoo in Calcutta, India.

Roth’s work with Emi also produced Suci, a female born in 2004; and Harapan, a male born in 2007. Andalas was returned to Indonesia to sire Andatu, another success in the joint Indonesia-US project. Back in the US, the CREW facility would have to partner Suci with her brother Harapan once he reached sexual maturity between six to seven years age. Suci’s death on Sunday ended that plan.

“We were hoping to produce another calf, for a number of different reasons. One is that the females do lose fertility over time if they don’t get pregnant. So we thought even though were not doing a good genetic match, at least getting her pregnant would preserve her fertility. Although, we never got the opportunity to do that.” Roth said.

Indonesia will not be sending the US zoos any more Sumatran rhinos, Roth said, and for Indonesia it is a matter of national pride to rescue the Sumatran rhino.


SumatranRhino3 CincinnatiZoo.jpg

Sumatran Rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) at Cincinnati Zoo.
Image: Ltshears.

Dr Terri Roth.jpg

Dr. Terri Roth, director of Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife.
Image: Snbehnke.

Dr Terri Roth at USI.jpg

Dr. Terri Roth tells an audience at the annual Marlene V. Shaw Biology Lecture at the University of Southern Indiana about the work of Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW).
Image: Miharris.

Terri Roth's Presentation 2.JPG

Dr. Terri Roth giving her presentation on Sumatran Rhinos.
Image: Snbehnke.



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February 28, 2014

Researcher discovers 39 new cockroach species, increasing genus Arenivaga fivefold

Researcher discovers 39 new cockroach species, increasing genus Arenivaga fivefold

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Friday, February 28, 2014

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Sexual dimorphism in Arenivaga.
Image: Heidi Hopkins.

Arenivaga distribution before and after the study.
Image: Heidi Hopkins.

Heidi Hopkins, a taxonomic researcher and PhD candidate at the Museum of Southwestern Biology of the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States, conducted a four-year study revising the Arenivaga genus of cockroaches, discovering 39 new species in the genus previously thought to contain 9 species. ZooKeys journal published her findings Wednesday.

The study involved examining over 5200 specimens from universities and collections throughout the United States. The researcher had to dissect the specimens’ genitalia to accurately distinguish the species as their external features were often not enough for identification. Hopkins was advised by Dr Kelly Miller during the investigation.

The species are also sexually dimorphic, making morphological association of females with males a challenge. The researcher published a key for adult males in the genus.

The study revealed a vaster distribution area than was previously thought, including additional regions in Southern US and over a half of Mexico.

Hopkins remarked about potential of further studies of the genus and Corydiidae, its parent family, “The extent of the radiation of this genus is quite surprising. These animals have remarkable adaptations that allow them to succeed in some of the harshest places on earth. I suspect that the thorough application of modern collection methods would reveal many more species of Arenivaga across Mexico, and many more species of Corydiidae in the deserts and dry places of the rest of the world.”

The study was a first revisit of the genus since 1920 with only one new species discovered since then. The study was supported by grants from American Museum of Natural History, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, National Museum of Natural History, and University of New Mexico.



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February 25, 2014

Researchers identify protein responsible for malaria transmission

Researchers identify protein responsible for malaria transmission

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

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Plasmodium falciparum gametocytes.

Two groups of researchers have independently identified the the protein responsible for malaria transmission to mosquitoes in studies published in journal Nature on Sunday.

The scientists found a direct relationship between the protein AP2-G’s with malaria gametocytes (male and female sexual forms) production, which is necessary for the transmission. Only the sexual forms infect mosquitoes and sexual reproduction occurs within the mosquito digestive tract.

Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites. The initially separate teams looked at different plasmodium species. One, an international group led by Manuel Llinás of Penn State University in the US, examined Plasmodium falciparum, which is responsible for the worst form of human malarial infections; the other, led by UK scientists Oliver Billker from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in England and Andy Waters from University of Glasgow in Scotland, looked at Plasmodium berghei, which infects rodents.

The P. falciparum group was kickstarted by research in Spain which found different organisms from the same strain with identical DNA had varying levels of AP2-G, with a strong correlation to their levels of sexual activity. The more AP2-G, the higher the rate of gametocyte formation. Researchers in England, later also drawn into the international team, analyzed the genomes of two mutated strains of P. falciparum which were both unable to form gametocytes. They found that the gene responsible for producing the AP2-G protein was the only common non-functioning gene.

The international team found found the AP2-G protein catalyzes the transmission by activating a relevant gene set in the parasite.

Women tend to their malaria-infected babies in Angola.
Image: USAID Africa.

Both teams confirmed the finding by gene therapy — both by adding the gene into a mutated strain and observing its ability to form gametocytes, and the other way round.

The parasites exist in a mosquito, then in a human, and require subsequent transmission for the parasite to spread. The transmission can only happen through gametocytes. The parasite triggers formation of the sexual gametocytes into the human’s circulatory system every two days in small quantities — not wasting energy on the process at the dry time of year when few mosquitoes are available — but little was known about the mechanism.

Dr. Oliver Billker commented on the potential of getting the transmission of malaria under control, unlike the existing focus on addressing the phrase causing the clinical symptoms, “Current drugs treat patients by killing the sexless form of the parasite in their blood — this is the detrimental stage of the malaria lifecycle that causes illness. However, it is now widely accepted that to eliminate malaria from an entire region, it will be equally important to kill the sexual forms that transmit the disease.”

The researchers hope to continue research toward drugs to prevent the transmission of the disease. The science was funded by groups including UK research councils, the Spanish government, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and the European Commission.



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