Antibiotic resistance induced by the widespread use of… antidepressants?

Image of a smiley face with a frown, with the lines drawn using pills.

Enlarge (credit: Larry Washburn)

Jianhua Guo is a professor at the Australian Centre for Water and Environmental Biotechnology. His research focuses on removing contaminants from wastewater and the environmental dimensions of antimicrobial resistance. One of those dimensions is the overuse of antibiotics, which promotes resistance to these drugs.

Guo wondered if the same might hold true for other types of pharmaceuticals as well. His lab found that they definitely do. Specific antidepressants—SSRIs and SNRIs—promote resistance to different classes of antibiotics. This resistance is heritable over 33 bacterial generations, even once the antidepressant is removed.

So much work

Antidepressants are among the most prescribed and ingested drugs there are. They account for roughly 5 percent of the pharmaceutical market share—about the same as antibiotics—and four of the top 10 most prescribed psychiatric meds in the US.

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#antibiotics, #antidepressants, #biology, #drug-resistance, #drugs, #evolution, #science

Researchers look a dinosaur in its remarkably preserved face

Researchers look a dinosaur in its remarkably preserved face

Enlarge (credit: Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology)

Borealopelta mitchelli found its way back into the sunlight in 2017, millions of years after it had died. This armored dinosaur is so magnificently preserved that we can see what it looked like in life. Almost the entire animal—the skin, the armor that coats its skin, the spikes along its side, most of its body and feet, even its face—survived fossilization. It is, according to Dr. Donald Henderson, curator of dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, a one-in-a-billion find.

Beyond its remarkable preservation, this dinosaur is an important key to understanding aspects of Early Cretaceous ecology, and it shows how this species may have lived within its environment. Since its remains were discovered, scientists have studied its anatomy, its armor, and even what it ate in its last days, uncovering new and unexpected insight into an animal that went extinct approximately 100 million years ago.

Down by the sea

Borealopelta is a nodosaur, a type of four-legged ankylosaur with a straight tail rather than a tail club. Its finding in 2011 in an ancient marine environment was a surprise, as the animal was terrestrial.

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#biology, #dinosaurs, #evolution, #features, #paleontology, #science

As egg prices soar, the deadliest bird flu outbreak in US history drags on

Chicken eggs are disposed of at a quarantined farm in Israel's northern Moshav (village) of Margaliot on January 3, 2022.

Enlarge / Chicken eggs are disposed of at a quarantined farm in Israel’s northern Moshav (village) of Margaliot on January 3, 2022. (credit: Getty | JALAA MAREY / AFP))

The ongoing bird flu outbreak in the US is now the longest and deadliest on record. More than 57 million birds have been killed by the virus or culled since a year ago, and the deadly disruption has helped propel skyrocketing egg prices and a spike in egg smuggling.

Since highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A(H5N1) was first detected in US birds in January 2022, the price of a carton of a dozen eggs has shot up from an average of about $1.79 in December 2021 to $4.25 in December 2022, a 137 percent increase, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although inflation and supply chain issues partly explain the rise, eggs saw the largest percentage increase of any specific food, according to the consumer price index.

And the steep pricing is leading some at the US-Mexico border to try to smuggle in illegal cartons, which is prohibited. A US Customs and Border Protection spokesperson told NPR this week that people in El Paso, Texas, are buying eggs in Juárez, Mexico, because they are “significantly less expensive.” Meanwhile, a customs official in San Diego tweeted a reminder amid a rise in egg interceptions that failure to declare such agriculture items at a port of entry can result in penalties up to $10,000.

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#avian-influenza, #biology, #bird-flu, #birds, #h5n1, #infectious-disease, #medicine, #mink, #poultry, #public-health, #science, #viruses

Meet the real zombifying fungus behind the fictional Last of Us outbreak

A vivid visual imagining of what a Cordyceps infected human might become.

Enlarge / HBO’s The Last of Us provides a vivid visual imagining of what a Cordyceps infected human might become. (credit: YouTube/HBO Max)

HBO’s new sci-fi series The Last of Us debuted earlier this week and is already a massive hit. Based on the critically acclaimed video game of the same name, the series takes place in the 20-year aftermath of a deadly outbreak of mutant fungus that turns humans into monstrous zombie-like creatures (the Infected, or Clickers). While the premise is entirely fictional, it’s based on some very real, and fascinating, science.

(Minor spoilers for the series below.)

The first episode showed us the initial outbreak and devastation. Fast forward 20 years, and the world has become a series of separate totalitarian quarantine zones and independent settlements, with a thriving black market and a rebel militia known as the Fireflies making life complicated for the survivors. A hardened smuggler named Joel (Pedro Pascal) is tasked with escorting a teenage girl named Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across the devastated US, battling hostile forces and hordes of zombies, to a Fireflies unit outside the quarantine zone. Ellie is special: She is immune to the deadly fungus, and the hope is that her immunity holds the key to beating the disease.

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#biology, #cordyceps, #gaming-culture, #hbo-max, #hollywood-science, #science, #science-in-pop-culture, #television, #the-last-of-us, #uncategorized, #zombies

Carnivorous oyster mushrooms can kill roundworms with “nerve gas in a lollipop”

Oyster mushrooms growing on tree trunk in forest.

Enlarge / Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) serenely growing on a tree trunk in a forest. But nematodes beware! These oyster mushrooms want to eat you—and they have evolved a novel mechanism for paralyzing and killing you. (credit: Arterra/Getty Images)

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) are a staple of many kinds of cuisine, prized for its mild flavors and a scent vaguely hinting at anise. These cream-colored mushrooms are also one of several types of carnivorous fungi that prey on nematodes (roundworms) in particular. The mushrooms have evolved a novel mechanism for paralyzing and killing its nematode prey: a toxin contained within lollipop-like structures called toxocysts that, when emitted, causes widespread cell death in roundworms within minutes. Scientists have now identified the specific volatile organic compound responsible for this effect, according to a new paper published in the journal Science Advances.

Carnivorous fungi like the oyster mushroom feed on nematodes because these little creatures are plentiful in soil and provide a handy protein source. Different species have evolved various mechanisms for hunting and consuming their prey. For instance, oomycetes are fungus-like organisms that send out “hunter cells” to search for nematodes. Once they find them, they form cysts near the mouth or anus of the roundworms and then inject themselves into the worms to attack the internal organs. Another group of oomycetes uses cells that behave like prey-seeking harpoons, injecting the fungal spores into the worm to seal its fate.

Other fungi produce spores with irritating shapes like stickles or stilettos. The nematodes swallow the spores, which get caught in the esophagus and germinate by puncturing the worm’s gut. There are sticky branch-like structures that act like superglue; death collars that detach when nematodes swim through them, injecting themselves into the worms; and a dozen or so fungal species employ snares that constrict in under a second, squeezing the nematodes to death.

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#biology, #chemistry, #ecology, #fungi, #molecular-biology, #mushrooms, #nematodes, #science, #toxins

See the Largest Flower Ever Found Encased in Amber

A rare flower encased in amber is the largest one ever found and dates from around 40 million years ago

#biology, #paleontology, #plants

Ancient Americans Crossed Back into Siberia in a Two-Way Migration, New Evidence Shows

Scientists have long known that ancient people living in Siberia made their way into what is now North America. Mounting DNA evidence suggests migration also happened in the opposite direction

#anthropology, #biology, #genetics

Why COVID’s XBB.1.5 ‘Kraken’ Variant Is So Contagious

A new variant of the virus that causes COVID has mutations that make it more transmissible, but vaccines are still likely to protect against severe disease

#biology, #epidemiology, #evolution, #health

Man’s eyes turn bloody, yellow after plunge into pee-filled canal

People kayaking and riding boats along a canal in The Hague, Netherlands.

Enlarge / People kayaking and riding boats along a canal in The Hague, Netherlands. (credit: Getty | Yuriko Nakao)

It was his yellow, bloody eyes that gave his illness away. The previously healthy 18-year-old showed up at an emergency department in the Netherlands after two days of fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. His heart was beating rapidly and his abdomen was a bit tender.

The whites of his eyes were splotched with blood, a sign that blood vessels on the surface of his eyes had burst. Areas that weren’t bloodied were a jaundice yellow. Lab tests would later indicate he had acute kidney injury as well as liver dysfunction. But an equally important clue as to what was causing his acute illness was the mention that three weeks prior he had fallen into a canal.

In all, it was a textbook case, according to a report published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine. The man had a rare but severe bout of leptospirosis, which is a bacterial infection marked by fever, jaundice, kidney failure, and hemorrhage. The source: a fall into a canal that was likely tainted with the urine of infected rodents.

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#antibiotics, #bacterial, #bacterial-infection, #biology, #blood, #bloody, #canals, #eyes, #infection, #jaundice, #leptospirosis, #medical-case, #nejm, #netherlands, #rodents, #science, #urine

Aging Is Linked to More Activity in Short Genes Than in Long Genes

A detailed examination of gene activity in various organisms, including humans, reveals a new hallmark of the aging process

#biology, #genetics, #health

There’s more than one way to mummify a dinosaur, study finds

Full-color life reconstruction of <em>Edmontosaurus</em>.

Enlarge / Full-color life reconstruction of Edmontosaurus. (credit: Natee Puttapipat/CC-BY 4.0 )

There’s rarely time to write about every cool science-y story that comes our way. So this year, we’re once again running a special Twelve Days of Christmas series of posts, highlighting one science story that fell through the cracks in 2022, each day from December 25 through January 5. Today: Why dinosaur “mummies” might not be as rare as scientists believed.

Under specific conditions, dinosaur fossils can include exceptionally well-preserved skin—an occurrence long thought to be rare. But the authors of an October paper published in the journal PLoS ONE suggested that these dinosaur “mummies” might be more common than previously believed, based on their analysis of a mummified duck-billed hadrosaur with well-preserved skin that showed unusual telltale signs of scavenging in the form of bite marks.

In this case, the term “mummy” refers to fossils that with well-preserved skin and sometimes other soft tissue. As we’ve reported previously, most fossils are bone, shells, teeth, and other forms of “hard” tissue, but occasionally rare fossils are discovered that preserve soft tissues like skin, muscles, organs, or even the occasional eyeball. This can tell scientists much about aspects of the biology, ecology, and evolution of such ancient organisms that skeletons alone can’t convey.

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#biology, #dinosaurs, #fossils, #geology, #mummies, #paleontology, #science

How humans got a new gene that makes our brains larger

Image of an animated brain with legs and arms, lifting weights.

Enlarge / Building a bigger brain requires new genes, not a workout. (credit: OsakaWayne Studios)

On the DNA level, there’s not a whole lot to distinguish us humans from our closest relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos. At stretches of DNA that line up, human and chimp sequences are well over 90 percent identical. And, for the most part, the DNA does line up at genes; there are very few genes that are either human- or chimp-specific.

That has meant most of the focus on understanding human evolution has been on small changes that can alter the timing or level of gene activity, and thus have an effect that’s not proportionate to the number of bases changed.

But that’s not to say that newly evolved genes are irrelevant to human evolution. A paper released this week looks into how a class of new genes evolved since our split with our simian relatives. After gaining some insight into how this class evolved, the team behind the work looked at one of these newly evolved genes and found that it plays a key role in building bigger brains.

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#biology, #brains, #evolution, #genes, #neurobiology, #rnas, #science

Predators Act like Butterflies’ Eyespots Are Looking Right at Them

Butterfly markings work better when they’re “looking” toward prey

#advances, #animals, #biology

Storm-Chasing Seabirds Ride Out Hurricanes from Inside

Streaked shearwaters head deep into hurricanes to avoid crash landings

#advances, #animals, #biology

Maybe Edward the Black Prince didn’t die from chronic dysentery after all

Effigy of Edward of Woodstock, aka the Black Prince, in Canterbury Cathedral.

Enlarge / Effigy of Edward of Woodstock, aka the Black Prince, in Canterbury Cathedral. (credit: Josep Renalias/CC BY-SA 2.5)

There’s rarely time to write about every cool science-y story that comes our way. So this year, we’re once again running a special Twelve Days of Christmas series of posts, highlighting one science story that fell through the cracks in 2022, each day from December 25 through January 5. Today: A military historian argues that Edward the Black Prince died of malaria and inflammatory bowel disease—not chronic dysentery, as previously believed.

Edward of Woodstock, known as the Black Prince, was a formidable mid-14th century warrior who emerged from multiple battles relatively unscathed—only to be felled by disease at the relatively young age of 45. Historians have long believed he died of chronic dysentery, but James Robert Anderson, a military historian with 21 Engineer Regiment, believes the Black Prince was more likely brought down by malaria or inflammatory bowel disease. He and his co-authors made their case in a short December paper published in the journal BMJ Military Health.

“There are several diverse infections or inflammatory conditions that may have led to his demise,” Anderson et al. wrote. “These might include malaria, brucellosis, inflammatory bowel disease, or long term complications of acute dysentery. However, chronic dysentery is probably unlikely.”

As we’ve reported previously, Edward of Woodstock was the eldest son of King Edward III and heir apparent to the throne. He was educated in philosophy and logic and well-trained in the art of war—skills that proved useful in this particular period of the Hundred Years’ War, when invasion by the French was a constant threat.

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#biology, #forensic-archaeology, #gaming-culture, #history, #history-of-medicine, #medicine, #science, #the-black-prince

Up close and personal: Dolphin POV caught on camera while hunting for tasty fish

"I spy with my dolphin eye... something that looks like prey!"

Enlarge / “I spy with my dolphin eye… something that looks like prey!” (credit: Ridgway et al., 2022, PLOS ONE/CC-BY 4.0)

There’s rarely time to write about every cool science-y story that comes our way. So this year, we’re once again running a special Twelve Days of Christmas series of posts, highlighting one science story that fell through the cracks in 2022, each day from December 25 through January 5. Today: Scientists attached video cameras onto dolphins to capture the sights and sounds of the animals as they hunted for prey to learn more about their feeding behavior.

Scientists attached GoPro cameras to six dolphins and captured the sights and sounds of the animals as they hunted and devoured various species of fish—even squealing in victory at the capture of baby sea snakes, according to an August paper published in the journal PLoS ONE. While sound and video has previously been recorded for dolphins finding and eating dead fish, per the authors, this is the first footage combining sound and video from the dolphins’ point of view as they pursued live prey while freely swimming. The audio element enabled the scientists to learn more about how the dolphins communicated while hunting.

Sam Ridgway and his colleagues at the National Marine Foundation in San Diego, California, have conducted previous research on dolphins. They thought they could learn even more about the animals’ hunting and feeding strategies using inexpensive commercial GoPro cameras to record sounds as well as visuals. The high frames per second (60, 90, or 120 FPS) enabled them to observe changes in behavior frame by frame.

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#animals, #biology, #dolphins, #science

Bees like to roll little wooden balls as a form of play, study finds

This bee seems to having a grand old time rolling this colored wooden ball.

Enlarge / This bee seems to having a grand old time rolling this colored wooden ball. (credit: Samadi Galpayage)

There’s rarely time to write about every cool science-y story that comes our way. So this year, we’re once again running a special Twelve Days of Christmas series of posts, highlighting one science story that fell through the cracks in 2020, each day from December 25 through January 5. Today: Scientists captured bees rolling wooden balls, solely for fun, on video, providing additional evidence that bees might experience positive “feelings.”

Many animals are known to engage in play—usually large-brained mammals (like humans) and birds. Now scientists think they have observed genuine play behavior in bees, which were filmed rolling small colored wooden balls, according to an October paper published in the journal Animal Behavior.

“This research provides a strong indication that insect minds are far more sophisticated than we might imagine,” said co-author Lars Chittka of Queen Mary University of London and author of a recent book, The Mind of a Bee. “There are lots of animals who play just for the purposes of enjoyment, but most examples come from young mammals and birds.”

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#animal-behavior, #animals, #bees, #biology, #ecology, #science

Your Cats Can Tell When You’re Speaking to Them

Felines recognize their owners’ cat-directed baby talk

#advances, #animals, #biology

Electric Countdown Tells Sleeping Spores When to Wake Up

Do sleeping spores dream of electric sheep?

#advances, #biology, #microbiology

Tiny Tyrannosaurs Used the Buddy System

Fossil trackways may show tyrannosaur tykes teaming up

#advances, #biology, #paleontology

Pigeon Neurons Use Much Less Energy Than Those of Mammals

Weirdly efficient neurons power birds’ dense brains

#advances, #animals, #biology, #neuroscience

COVID Vaccines Can Temporarily Affect Menstruation, and Studying That Matters

The COVID vaccines can affect menstrual cycles, but the changes are small and short-lived, research shows

#biology, #health, #physiology, #reproduction

Scientists Created Male and Female Cells from a Single Person

Cells with XX or XY chromosomes provide researchers with a new tool to study how differences in sex chromosomes can influence health and development

#biology, #genetics, #health, #sexgender

6 Fascinating Things We Learned about Pet Dogs and Cats in 2022

This year we learned why dogs come in so many sizes, that puppy dog eyes are a real thing and that cats don’t deserve their aloof rap

#animals, #biology

Dietary Restriction Works in Lab Animals, but It Might Not Work in the Wild

Scientists looking outside typical lab conditions find some surprises when examining the link between eating less and living longer

#animals, #biology

The Biggest Health and Biology Breakthroughs of 2022

From reviving dead pig organs to measuring viruses in our poop, here are some of the most intriguing medical advances of the year

#biology, #evolution, #health, #vaccines

These Male Wasps Use Genital Spines to Scare Off Attackers

In one species of mason wasp, “pseudo stings” on males’ genitals let them mimic females and scare predators

#animals, #biology

Why Your Dog Might Think You’re a Bonehead

The verdict is in: female dogs actively evaluate human competence.

#animals, #biology

Your next pour-over may be Liberica or excelsa

Image of a cappuccino's foam.

Enlarge (credit: Diana Gitig)

Coffee is uniquely vulnerable to climate change. It grows in tropical regions, where temperatures and rainfall are becoming increasingly erratic; it is grown by small farms, which do not have the resources available to weather the coming literal and figurative storms; and despite the fact that coffee is among the most highly traded commodities in the world, little agricultural research time or money has been devoted to it.

Right now, just two species of coffee are grown commercially: Arabica and robusta. Droughts over the past couple of years have reduced coffee yield, even as demand is exploding. Something must be done. Tea plantations are facing similar problems, so switching to tea won’t help. (Molecular coffee might eventually be an option, though.)

But researchers in the UK and Uganda posit that coffee farms can adapt in a number of ways. They can move, they can change their practices, or they can plant different varieties of coffee. These researchers vote for option three. And they have a candidate: Liberica coffee.

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#agriculture, #biology, #caffeine, #climate-change, #coffee, #science

The Clitoris Has Been Lost to Science for Centuries, but It’s Making a Comeback

The vulva has long been ignored in anatomical study. But scientists and doctors are making strides in mapping its pleasure center, the clitoris, and improving sensation for survivors of genital cutting.

#anatomy, #biology, #health

First ‘Vagina-on-a-Chip’ Will Help Researchers Test Drugs

A new chip re-creates the human vagina’s unique microbiome

#biology, #health, #medicine, #microbiology, #technology

Scientists discover a new supergroup of rare single-celled predators

Scientists discover a new supergroup of rare single-celled predators

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

Back in the day, taxonomists had to characterize organisms based basically on how they looked. Molecular phylogeny changed that; once scientists could isolate and amplify DNA, they started classifying organisms based on their genetic sequences. But that still usually required that the organisms be cultured (and thus culturable) in a lab.

High-throughput sequencing technology relieved that constraint. Now researchers can basically throw a drop of pus, pee, or pond water into a DNA sequencer and find a host of previously unidentified microbes.

Yet, rare sequences (and the organisms they come from) are still rare, and thus still hard to find. Microbial eukaryotic predators are single cells with complex internal structures, and they’re among the rarest taxa of all. To find some, researchers enriched seawater samples with bacterial prey to stimulate the growth of protists that ate them. The growth in protists in turn stimulated the growth of predators that fed on them. Only then did the researchers run their metagenomic analysis. They found 10 new predator strains that they say form a new supergroup. They named it Provara (for devouring voracious protists). 

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#biology, #evolution, #genomics, #science

New Human Metabolism Research Upends Conventional Wisdom about How We Burn Calories

Metabolism studies reveal surprising insights into how we burn calories—and how cooperative food production helped Homo sapiens flourish

#biology, #features, #physiology

Officials, experts call for masking as illnesses slam US ahead of holidays

Commuters in a subway in New York on October 25, 2022.

Enlarge / Commuters in a subway in New York on October 25, 2022. (credit: Getty | Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto)

Health officials and experts are renewing calls for masking as respiratory illnesses surge and Americans prepare for holidays.

RSV infections in children appear to be cresting nationally after overwhelming children’s hospitals for weeks, but they remain unseasonably high. Influenza-like illnesses also remain extremely high for this point in the year, with flu-like illnesses accounting for more than 1 in 13 visits to the doctor’s office and hospitalizations continuing to rise. Respiratory infection transmission is high or very high in 42 states.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, meanwhile, are on the rise, signaling the potential start of a much-dreaded winter wave. According to data tracking by The New York Times, cases are up 56 percent over the last two weeks and hospitalizations, which typically lag behind case rises, are up 28 percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that about 9 percent of US counties have high COVID-19 Community Levels, which are based on case numbers and hospital capacity. An additional 35 percent of US counties reportedly have medium community levels.

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#biology, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #masks, #medicine, #public-health, #science

The Moon landing was faked, and wind farms are bad

The Moon landing was faked, and wind farms are bad

(credit: NSF)

Germany ranks third in the world for installed wind power capacity. In 2020, almost a quarter of the country’s energy came from wind, and the government has pledged to double that by 2030, designating 2 percent of Germany’s landmass to become wind farms.

Switching away from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources like wind is essential if we want to try to mitigate some of the worst consequences of the climate change we’ve started, but this switch is extraordinarily difficult for many reasons. Watching how this switch plays out in early adopters of wind power like Germany may help inform how the rest of us decarbonize.

People are generally keen on wind power in the abstract, but a huge NIMBY (not in my backyard) factor comes into play when wind farms have to actually get built in communities. Researchers in Germany wondered what it was, exactly, that made people vote against local wind farms. They found that a tendency toward conspiratorial thinking helped explain a lot of the resistance.

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#behavioral-science, #biology, #conspiracy-theories, #green-power, #renewable-power, #science

Ohio measles outbreak hits partially vaccinated kids, babies too young for shots

Child with a classic four-day rash from measles.

Enlarge / Child with a classic four-day rash from measles. (credit: CDC)

The measles outbreak in Ohio continues to swell, striking a total of 63 children to date. The tally now includes at least three children who were partially vaccinated against the highly contagious virus and 14 who are typically too young to be vaccinated.

The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is a two-dose vaccine, with the first dose recommended between the ages of 12 months and 15 months and the second between ages 4 and 6. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just one MMR dose is estimated to be 93 percent effective against measles. Two doses are 97 percent effective. People who get their two doses on the recommended schedule are considered protected for life.

It’s unclear if the three partially vaccinated children were too young to be eligible for their second dose or contracted measles quickly after getting their first dose, potentially before full protection developed. Health officials in the affected areas of Ohio have been promoting vaccination, which may have led some parents to get their eligible children freshly vaccinated amid the heightened awareness. The affected areas in Ohio span at least two counties: Franklin County, which encompasses Columbus, and Ross County to the south.

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#antivaccine, #biology, #children, #infectious-disease, #measles, #mmr, #ohio, #public-health, #science, #vaccine

DNA from Extinct Human Relative May Have Shaped Modern Papuans’ Immune System

DNA from Denisovans, an extinct human species, that was found in the genomes of Indigenous Papuans may mold their immune system

#anthropology, #biology, #genetics

Deep Dive Ties Together Dog Genetics, Brain Physiology and Behavior to Explain Why Collies Are Different from Terriers

A way to map the ancestry of dog breeds reveals the genetic basis of stereotypical dog behaviors

#animals, #biology

Oldest DNA yet sequenced shows mastodons once roamed a warmer Greenland

Graphic showing an ecosystem showing sparse, small trees, a hare, deer, and mastodons.

Enlarge / An attempt to reconstruct what northern Greenland looked like about 2 million years ago. (credit: Beth Zaiken)

When once-living tissue is preserved in a cold, dry environment, fragments of its DNA can survive for hundreds of thousands of years. In fact, DNA doesn’t even have to remain in tissue; we’ve managed to obtain DNA from the soil of previously inhabited environments. The DNA is damaged and broken into small fragments, but it’s sufficient to allow DNA sequencing, telling us about the species that once lived there.

In an astonishing demonstration of how well this can work, researchers have obtained DNA from deposits that preserved in Greenland for roughly 2 million years. The deposits, however, date from a relatively warm period in Greenland’s past and reveal the presence of an entire ecosystem that once inhabited the country’s north coast.

A different Greenland

Over the last million years or so, the Earth’s glacial cycles have had relatively short warm periods that don’t reach temperatures sufficient to eliminate the major ice sheets in polar regions. But before this time, the cycles were shorter, the warm periods longer, and there were times the ice sheets underwent major retreats. Estimates are that, around this time, the minimum temperatures in northern Greenland were roughly 10° C higher than they are now.

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#ancient-dna, #biology, #dna, #ecology, #environmental-dna, #genomics, #science

World’s Oldest DNA Discovered, Revealing Ancient Arctic Forest Full of Mastodons

Two-million-year-old DNA, the world’s oldest, reveals that mastodons once roamed forests in Greenland’s far northern reaches

#biology, #genetics, #paleontology

Here’s How a Python Jaw Can Fit a Whole Deer

This python’s jaw has a stretchy secret to gape impressively wide

#anatomy, #animals, #biology

6 Weird and Wild Animal Behaviors Revealed in 2022

Octopus outbursts, evading sexual cannibalism, and a human-cockatoo arms race—here are strange animal behaviors we learned about in 2022

#animals, #biology

New find suggests ankylosaur’s tail clubs were for bashing each other

Image of two squat dinosaurs circling each other and swinging their tails.

Enlarge / The tail clubs of ankylosaur species seem to have been used to bash each other rather than predators. (credit: Henry Sharpe)

New research indicates that the tail clubs on huge armored dinosaurs known as ankylosaurs may have evolved to whack each other rather than deter hungry predators. This is a complete shift from what was previously believed.

Prior to the paper published today in Biology Letters, most scientists looked upon the dinosaur’s tail club, a substantial bony protrusion comprised of two oval-shaped knobs, primarily as a defense against predation. The team behind the new paper argues that this is not necessarily the case. To make their case, they focus on years of ankylosaur research, analysis of the fossil record, and data from an exceptionally well-preserved specimen named Zuul crurivastator.

Zuul’s name, in fact, embraces that previous idea. While “Zuul” references the creature in the original Ghostbusters, the two Latin words that make up its species name are crus (shin or shank) and vastator (destroyer). Hence, the destroyer of shins: a direct reference to where the dinosaur’s club may have struck approaching tyrannosaurs or other theropods.

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#ankylosaur, #biology, #paleontology, #science

A Question of Sex

Watch this documentary series about how gender and sex biases skew science

#biology, #sexgender

Here’s how marsh grass shrimp reduce drag while swimming

This is how a free-swimming marsh grass shrimp (Palaemonetes vulgaris) moves forward using metachronal locomotion to reduce drag.

Marsh grass shrimp (Palaemonetes vulgaris) are impressively fast and nimble swimmers, as anyone who’s seen them zipping about tide pools at the beach can attest. Nils Tack, a postdoctoral researcher at Brown University, studies the biomechanics and fluid dynamics of how these little creatures manage the feat. He presented his latest findings at a recent American Physical Society meeting on fluid dynamics in Indianapolis. Essentially, the shrimp uses its flexible and closely spaced legs to reduce drag significantly. The findings will help scientists design more efficient bio-inspired robots for exploring and monitoring underwater environments.

Tack is a biologist by training, currently working in the lab of Monica Wilhelmus. Earlier this year, the group introduced RoboKrill, a small one-legged 3D-printed robot designed to mimic the leg movement of krill (Euphasia superba) so it can move smoothly in underwater environments. Granted, the robot is significantly larger than actual krill—about 10 times larger, in fact. But it’s challenging to keep and study krill in the lab. RoboKrill’s “leg” copied the structure of the krill’s swimmerets with a pair of gear-powered appendages, and Wilhelmus et al. used high-speed imaging to measure the angle of its appendages as it moved through water. Not only did RoboKrill produce similar patterns to real krill, but it could mimic the swimming dynamics of other organisms by adjusting the appendages. They hope to one day use the robot to monitor krill swarms in the wild.

Regarding the marsh grass shrimp’s swimming style, prior studies showed that the creatures could maximize forward thrust thanks to the stiffness and increased surface area of its legs. That research essentially treated the legs (aka pleopods) as paddles or flat plates pushing on water. But nobody looked closely at how the legs bent during recovery strokes. “It’s a very complex system,” said Tack during a briefing at the meeting. “We try to approach [the topic] through two angles, looking at the fluid and looking at the mechanical properties of the legs.”

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#animals, #biology, #biomimicry, #fluid-dynamics, #grass-shrimp, #physics, #robotics, #science

‘Chatty Turtles’ Flip the Script on the Evolutionary Origins of Vocalization in Animals

Recordings of more than 50 species of turtles and other animals help scientists reassess the origins of acoustic communication in vertebrates.

#animals, #biology

Ants Can Produce Milk for Their Young (and Old)

A nutritious fluid secreted by pupating ants helps to feed the rest of the colony and could play a part in the evolution of social structures

#animals, #biology

Ancient Sawfish Help to Illuminate Our Teeth’s Scaly Origins

Weird new evidence on tooth evolution tips the scales even more toward scales

#advances, #biology, #evolution

Over a year later, Musk’s Neuralink still 6 months from human trials

Image of a mannequin on a reclining table, with equipment surrounding its head.

Enlarge / The on-stage demo of the surgical robot practically extended into the audience. (credit: Neuralink)

On Wednesday night, Elon Musk hosted an update from his brain-computer interface company, Neuralink. Most of the update involved various researchers at the company providing overviews of the specific areas of technology development they were working on. But there wasn’t anything dramatically new in the tech compared to last year’s update, and it was difficult to piece the presentations together into a coherent picture of what the company plans to do with its hardware.

But probably the most striking thing is that last year’s update indicated that Neuralink was getting close to human testing. Over a year later, those tests remain about six months out, according to Musk.

Lots of tech

Neuralink involves a large series of overlapping technical efforts. The interface itself requires electrodes implanted into the brain. To connect those electrodes with the outside world, Neuralink is using a small bit of hardware implanted in the skull. This contains a battery that can be recharged wirelessly, and a low-power chip that gathers data from the electrodes, performs some simple processing on it, and then transmits that data wirelessly.

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#biology, #brain-computer-interface, #medicine, #neuralink, #neurobiology, #science

One in 10 Who Menstruate Suffer from Endometriosis. Why Do We Know So Little about It?

Compared with other diseases with similar economic burdens, research on endometriosis is severely underfunded, in large part because we don’t talk about periods.

#anatomy, #biology, #health