• Could genetically modified mosquitos prevent mosquito-borne illnesses?

    When people think of genetically modified organisms, food crops like GM corn and soybeans usually come to mind. But engineering more complex living things is now possible, and the controversy surrounding genetic modification has now spread to the lowly mosquito, which is being genetically engineered to control mosquito-borne illnesses.

    A U.K.-based company, Oxitec, has altered two genes in the Aedes aegypti mosquito so that when modified males breed with wild females, the offspring inherit a lethal gene and die in the larval stage. The state agency that controls mosquitos in the Florida Keys is awaiting approval from the federal government of a trial release of Oxitec’s genetically modified mosquitos to prevent a recurrence of a dengue fever outbreak. But some people in the Keys and elsewhere are up in arms, with more than 155,000 signing a petition opposing the trial of genetically engineered mosquitoes in a small area of 400 households next to Key West. 

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  • El Niños and Bunny Booms

    At times during the past 10,000 years, cottontails and hares reproduced like rabbits and their numbers surged when the El Niño weather pattern drenched the Pacific Coast with rain, according to a University of Utah analysis of 3,463 bunny bones. The study of ancient rabbit populations at a Baja California site may help scientists better understand how mammals that range from the coast to the interior will respond to climate change, says anthropology doctoral student Isaac Hart. He is first author of the study to be published in the July issue of the journal Quaternary Research.

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  • Connecting Elevation and Evolution

    About 34 million years ago, global temperatures took a dive, causing a sudden wave of extinctions among European mammals. In North America, however, life went on largely unscathed. A new study explains why: The rise of the Rocky Mountains had forced North American mammals to adapt to a colder, drier world.

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  • Birds imitate alarm calls of others to warn of hawks

    New research has found that the 6 gram brown thornbill mimics the hawk alarm calls of neighbouring species to scare a nest predator by convincing it that a much bigger and scarier predator - the brown goshawk - is on its way.

    Currawongs, which raid the nests and hunt the chicks of thornbills, are also prey to goshawks. Although currawongs normally benefit from listening in on hawk alarm calls of other species, thornbills exploit this and turn it against them.

    As well as issuing their own hawk alarm call, thornbills mimic those of the local species to create the impression of an impending hawk attack, which in turn distracts the pied currawong - a predator 40 times larger than the thornbill - providing thornbill nestlings with an opportunity to escape.

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  • Critically Endangered Ocean Giant is Reproducing Without Sex in the Wild

    Are males truly essential for reproduction? Female birds, reptiles and sharks living in captivity have sometimes surprised their keepers by giving birth even though, as far as anyone can remember, they have never been housed with a male. Scientists used DNA analysis to solve this mystery some time ago, showing that these offspring were produced by asexual reproduction, a process called parthenogenesis, or “virgin birth.” Although these events have captured tremendous public interest, it was unknown if this ever occurred in wild populations of these animals.

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  • New research explains why is it difficult to treat Lyme disease

    Northeastern University researchers have found that the bacterium that causes Lyme disease forms dormant persister cells, which are known to evade antibiotics. This significant finding, they said, could help explain why it’s so difficult to treat the infection in some patients.

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  • Good news for Amur Tigers

    The population of the Amur tiger in Russia has increased to as many as 540 individuals over the last ten years, according to figures released by the Russian government.
     
    “I am pleased to see that the number of Amur tigers in Russia has increased in all the key areas where WWF has been working for many years,” said Igor Chestin, Head of WWF-Russia. “This success is due to the commitment of Russia’s political leadership and the tireless dedication of rangers and conservationists in very difficult conditions.”

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  • The important role of diatoms in the oceans

    A glass of seawater is teeming with life, and recent research reveals more about what ocean water contains. Microscopic creatures in the world's oceans weigh more than all of the fish in the sea and produce about half of Earth's oxygen.

    Yet the ecology of marine microbes, which are crucial for everything from absorbing carbon dioxide from the air to regulating the productivity of major fisheries, are only beginning to be understood.

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  • Siaga population cut in half in less than a month

    No one knows what's killing them, but scientists estimate that almost half of the world's saiga (Saiga tatarica) have perished since May 10th. To date, researchers on-the-ground unofficially estimate that 120,000 saiga have died in Kazakhstan from what appears to be a wildly virulent disease, although no cause has been ruled out. Saiga are bizarre-looking, Ice Age antelopes that once roamed Central Asia in the millions, but are now listed as Critically Endangered. 

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  • Larvae Parasite May Contribute to Declining Honey Bee Colonies

    Biologists at UC San Diego have discovered that a tiny single-celled parasite may have a greater-than expected impact on honey bee colonies, which have been undergoing mysterious declines worldwide for the past decade. In this week’s issue of the journal PLOS ONE, the scientists report that a microsporidian called Nosema ceranae, which has been known to infect adult Asiatic and European honey bees, can also infect honeybee larvae.

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