Perhaps altering a central tenet of biology, researchers have discovered evidence for a new path of evolution, and with it a deeper understanding of how quickly organisms such as viruses can adapt to their environment. Biologists conducted a series of experiments with a bacterial virus and found that it could infect “normal” hosts, as expected, but also — through a process previously unseen in evolution — acquire an ability to infect new host targets. The researchers say their findings, which address longstanding mysteries of how genes acquire new functions and how mutations arise to ease transmission from one host to another, could be applied to investigations of viral diseases such as Zika, Ebola and bird flu. The researchers are now looking for further examples of their newly discovered evolutionary phenomenon and seeking evidence for how common it is. They are also moving down in scale to probe the details of the new pathway to focus on the processes of individual molecules.
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Imagine a year in Africa when summer never arrives. The sky takes on a gray hue during the day and glows red at night. Flowers do not bloom. Trees die in the winter. Large mammals like antelope become thin, starve and provide little fat to the predators (carnivores and human hunters) that depend on them. Then, this same disheartening cycle repeats itself, year after year. This is a picture of life on Earth after the eruption of super-volcano Mount Toba in Indonesia about 74,000 years ago. In a paper published this week, scientists show that early modern humans on the coast of South Africa thrived through this event. The effect of the Toba eruption would have certainly impacted some ecosystems more than others, possibly creating areas, or refugia, in which some human groups did better than others throughout the event. Whether or not your group lived in such a refuge would have largely depended on the type of resources available.
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On Friday, 02 February 2018, the much hyped Nunes Memo was finally released (Ward & Aleem, 2018). Partisan politics took centre stage as the Democrats and Republicans marched out some of their respective party’s best deceivers to make their case to the American people. Watching it was akin to watching some weird, perverse Kabuki performance. In typical kabuki-style play acting, minority leader Nancy Pelosi was singing and dancing that the release of the memo would lead to a “constitutional crisis” (Carruthers, 2018). While on the other side of the aisle, President Trump and the Republicans were claiming total vindication of any wrongdoing (Stewart, 2018).
Informed Americans were concerned about the contents of the Nunes memo. They were even more concerned about the bizarre way the political elites were acting prior to the memos release. Obviously, there was something else going on behind the scenes. Something was dramatically wrong in Washington! With the disclosure of hundreds of text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok and bureau attorney Liza Page, people were wondering; who in the hell was running the country? It certainly wasn’t the president or the congress! More and more it looked like the bureaucrats were in charge with no oversight by the Congress. Congress and the President were merely passengers along for the ride!
The American two-party system is destroying the country. The Republicans and Democrats are organized and operate in a manner similar to a criminal syndicate. The Democrats are comparable to a drug cartel which ideologically believes all actions are legitimate; the end justify the means. Whatever goals the senior leadership set, the rank and file blindly accept and work to achieve. Pelosi and the Democrats have set the goal of delegitimizing President Trump no matter what the ultimate cost is to America. The narrative Pelosi has given to the Democrats: the election was stolen from Clinton and the Democrats with the help of the Russians. That’s their story and they’re sticking to it even if that means manufacturing information to support it.
The Republicans on the other hand are akin to the traditional Italian mafia portrayed in Hollywood gangster movies. They follow a more rules-based conduct, grounded in some imaginary moral code. Like the Democrats, they also believe the end justifies the means. Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans don’t necessarily wish for Trump to be impeached. That doesn’t mean they support the President, in fact they appear to be divided in their support for, and defence of Trump (Pew Research Center, 2017). Given President Trumps background and inexperience in politics, he is viewed by the Republicans as an anomaly in Washington, an interloper who must be endured. As with the Democrats, the Republican’s ideology is winning at all costs. Consequently, they will come to Trumps defence in small numbers in order to protect the party. But when/if it becomes politically viable, the Republicans undoubtedly will throw President Trump under the bus the Democrats are driving. It’s all about the “party” and it’s all about winning.
The days when either party stood on principle are gone. Neither party stands for anything anymore, the focus is solely on winning at all costs. The result? The American people have become an inconvenience which both parties must deal with to win and remain in power. This attack on Trump concerning Russian collusion is something different. The Republicans and Democrats have dug their heels in and escalated their attacks on each other. It’s different from the typical knife fight. It’s a fight to the death. What’s the cause of this mentality? What’s really going on in Washington? Why continue with this insane narrative that Trump is a Russian stooge who colluded to hack the election?
Did Trump help the Russians hack the election? Much to Pelosi and the Democrats dismay, NO (Strohm, 2018)! A federal grand jury working as part of the Mueller probe, recently indicted 13 Russian nationals who were part of a vast scheme to interfere in the 2016 election and allegedly help Trump win (Strohm, 2018). Why allegedly? Their intent appears more and more as though it was to create discord, disruption and chaos within the political institutions in America (Datoc, 2018). As if the American political system needed help from the Russians to become dysfunctional! If that was their intent, then it was a very successful operation on their part!
The indictment alleges these Russians were accused of travelling to the United States to conduct research and then employ specialists to fine-tune disparaging social media posts about Hillary Clinton (Mangan & Calia, 2018). They were also accused of making denigrating comments against Republican primary opponents Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio to ensure Trump secured the nomination (Mangan & Calia, 2018). The FBI and DOJ’s findings affirm that Trump and his campaign were not involved. (Mangan & Calia, 2018). Following Trump’s election, the same group of Russians were accused of organizing rallies protesting the result (Mangan & Calia, 2018). Mueller found no evidence that any Americans were involved with this scheme nor that the actions of the Russians influenced the outcome of the election in any way (Mangan & Calia, 2018). [READ MORE]
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ROBERT Friedland, the boss of Ivanhoe Mines, a large Canadian firm that digs out copper and zinc in Africa, is not one for pessimism. In his speech to an annual mining industry jamboree, Mining Indaba, in Cape Town, his promises about the potential of the business were as copious as the ore bodies his firm mines. But amid the hyperbole about electric cars, Chinese consumers and the “most disruptive copper discovery in the world” there was a note of panic. Money, he warned, is “a coward”, and may be about to flee.
The cause of fear is a new mining code that was passed by parliament in the Democratic Republic of Congo on January 24th. Congo is Africa’s biggest copper producer; its reserves, mostly in the southern copper belt, are among the world’s richest. As important, it has emerged recently as the world’s leading producer of cobalt, a by-product of copper smelting that is used in batteries for electric cars. It also produces gold, zinc, tin and diamonds.
The new law, which has yet to be signed by Joseph Kabila, the…Continue reading
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Dark drama “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” was the big winner with four Golden Globes awards on Sunday on a night marked by scathing jokes about sexual harassment and passionate odes to those breaking their silence.
Mother-daughter comedy “Lady Bird” was named best comedy film and the indie A24 movie’s star Saoirse Ronan won for comedy actress.
Gary Oldman was named best drama movie actor for his role as British wartime leader Winston Churchill in Focus Features’ “Darkest Hour” and Frances McDormand took home the award for drama actress for her role as an angry mother seeking vengeance in Fox Searchlight’s “Three Billboards.”
James Franco won the comedy actor award for his cult movie homage “The Disaster Artist,” also from A24. Mexican director Guillermo del Toro won best director for magical fantasy “The Shape of Water.”
However, the night was dominated not by who took home prizes but by jokes and speeches about the sexual misconduct scandal that has rocked Hollywood.
“Happy New Year Hollywood! It’s 2018. Marijuana is finally allowed and sexual harassment finally isn‘t,” quipped Globes host Seth Meyers in his opening remarks, bringing wild applause from the A-list audience in Beverly Hills.
Multiple allegations against actors, filmmakers and Hollywood agents since October 2017 have led to many of the accused being fired, forced to step down, or dropped from creative projects.
Referring to the male nominees gathered in Beverly Hills for the top television and movie awards, Meyers said: “This is the first time in three months it won’t be terrifying to hear your name read out loud.”
The evening began with the normally colorful red carpet transformed into a sea of black gowns as every actress showed solidarity with victims of sexual harassment inside and outside the entertainment industry. Many have given their own harrowing accounts. [L1N1P300D]
Women kept up the theme inside the Beverly Hilton ballroom.
“This year, we became the story,” Oprah Winfrey said in a rousing speech while accepting the annual lifetime achievement award.
McDormand said she was proud to be a woman in the industry. “It’s great to be here and be part of the tectonic shift in our industry’s power structure,” she said.
Laura Dern, a supporting actress winner for “Big Little Lies,” said: “May we teach our children that speaking out without retribution is our culture’s new north star.”
The HBO TV series was one of several female-driven winners on Sunday.
The Golden Globes ceremony, the first of the major awards shows in the run-up to the Oscars in March, marked the first big test for how Hollywood would handle the scandal.
Meyers joked that, as the first of the hosts, he felt like “the first dog they shot into outer space.”
He appeared to have found the right balance, getting cheers in the room and warm early reviews. Industry website Deadline.com said Meyers “deftly executed a seemingly impossible task,” while E! News said he “made lemonade out of lemons.”
Dystopian tale “The Handmaid’s Tale” won best TV drama series and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Amazon’s new series about a 1950s housewife who become a stand-up comedian, took best TV comedy or musical series. [L1N1P3046]
Fox Searchlight and parent company Twentieth Century Fox were the big winners in terms of studios, with their films winning seven awards. Indie movie studio A24 had three.
Additional reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy and Nichola Groom; Editing by Sandra Maler and Paul Tait
Scientists from UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory in Dorking – currently tracking a mysterious cigar shaped vessel as it journeys through our Solar System – now think the distressed looking object may have passed through a car-wash.
Scientists had originally thought the object was just an unusual shaped asteroid passing close to earth but now think it may have been an alien space craft looking for a quick wax and shine. For several days the battered, elongated pock marked object had baffled scientists at the UCL Laboratory who could not understand why an alien spaceship with super advanced technology could be in such a dilapidated condition.
It was not until project researcher Jason Beesley’s Renault Clio emerged from a wax and shine at his local carwash in Luton that the answer became apparent. Jason said the Clio needed a rinse to wash the gritting salt off the paintwork: ‘ And when it emerged it looked exactly like that asteroid thing’.
Operatives at the Luton based car wash say they did vaguely remember a customer who drove a vehicle make they did not recognise. ‘Come to think of it, the guy did have green scaly skin, four bulbous eyes and gave off a putrid smelling slime’ said operative Jake Wills. ‘But it’s Luton and we thought nothing else of it. We just assumed he was one of the locals’.
Strangers could be communicating with children through smart toys by hacking Bluetooth connections, consumer group Which? has warned. It says an investigation found no password and little technical knowledge was needed to hijack loudspeakers built into the toys.
Popular Christmas gifts including the I-Que Intelligent Robot, Furby Connect, Toy-fi Teddy and CloudPets cuddly toy had “worrying security failures” when investigated. Which? has now called on retailers to stop selling the toys with “proven issues.”
Which? found there was no authentication required between the toys and the devices they could link with via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. The lack of authentication means that, in theory, any device within physical range could link to the toy and take control or send messages, the watchdog said.
“In each of the toys, the Bluetooth connection had not been secured, meaning during the tests the hacker didn’t need a password, PIN code or any other authentication to get access,” the report read. “In addition, very little technical know-how was needed to gain access to the toys to start sharing messages with a child.”
In collaboration with German consumer group Stiftung Warentet, Which? tested connected toys on sale at major retailers. The investigation found that people could use a toy to communicate with a child in four out of the seven devices tested.
Furby Connect, sold by Argos, Amazon, Smyths and Toys ‘R’ Us, was found to be connectable by anyone within a 10-30 meter (33-98ft) Bluetooth range when it’s switched on, with no physical interaction required. It does not use any security features when pairing. The connection can be made through a laptop, opening up more opportunities to control the toy. “Our security experts were able to upload and play a custom audio file on the Furby,” the report said.
The I-Que Intelligent Robot, which has featured on the Hamleys top toys Christmas list, uses Bluetooth to pair with a phone or tablet through an app, with an unsecured connection. Anyone can download the app, find one of the talking robots within Bluetooth range, and start chatting using the robot’s voice by typing into a text field, the Which? investigation found.
CloudPets is a stuffed animal and enables friends to send messages to a child, which are played back on a built-in speaker. Which? found someone could hack the toy via its unsecured Bluetooth connection and make it play their own voice messages.
Toy-fi Teddy allows a child to send and receive personal recorded messages over Bluetooth via a smartphone or tablet app. The Bluetooth feature lacks any authentication protection, however, meaning hackers can send voice messages to a child and receive answers back.
Imagine you could teleport to any forest on Earth. When you land, you have a 50 per cent chance of being within half a kilometre of the forest’s edge. That is how badly our planet’s forests have been sliced and diced.
A new study shows that 85 per cent of animals are being affected by living in these dismembered forests. The findings will help conservationists figure out how best to protect these species.
While the fragmentation of forests is known to affect biodiversity and ecosystems, the effects studied so far are local and specific to particular species, making for a chaotic picture. Marion Pfeifer of Newcastle University in the UK and her colleagues came up with a new method to make sense of the data.
Instead of simply separating regions into forest and non-forest, they also took into account changes to the land that surrounds the forests. Using existing population data, they mapped the abundances of 1673 vertebrate species – including amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals – in 22 tropical regions in the Americas, Asia and Africa. These included many threatened species such as the Sunda pangolin and Baird’s tapir.
Of the species whose abundance changed near forest edges, 46 per cent have become more abundant over the last few decades, compared with 39 per cent that became less abundant. This may be good news for some species, although life on the forest edge may well change their behaviours.
However, others that prefer to live deep in the forest only reached their peak abundances more than 200 to 400 metres from the forest edges. These species seem to be dependent on large, continuous forests. If forests continue to be fragmented, these species may be driven out.
“It’s a tremendously important study, because it integrates such a large amount of data for nearly 2000 vertebrate species,” says William Laurance of James Cook University in Queensland, Australia. “In some ways, it confirms our worst fears.”
Laurance emphasises that forests in tropical developing nations will be particularly affected by the fast pace of road-building there. In a paper published last week, he and his colleagues estimated that, of the projected 25 million kilometres of paved roads that will be built by 2050, about 90 per cent will be in these regions (Current Biology, doi.org/cfpw).
“Roads typically open up a Pandora’s box of environmental problems for forest species,” says Laurance. The problems include fragmentation, hunting, logging, deforestation and illegal mining. In the Amazon, 95 per cent of all deforestation occurs within 5.5 kilometres of a legal or illegal road.
Many of these roads will be poorly built, so they will be washed away in heavy rainfall, or become riddled with holes. Rather than having a positive impact on development, maintaining them may be a financial drain on these nations.
Roads, and forest fragmentation in general, may also affect us – in a dramatic way. “Tropical forest edges are much more susceptible to wildfires,” says Jos Barlow of Lancaster University, UK. A 2015 study found that fires occur more often at forest edges, such as beside roads or clearings, striking there every 11 years compared with every 82 years in dense jungles. According to Barlow, preventing the fragmentation of forests may be a vital step in reducing the incidence of wildfires.
Journal reference: Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature24457
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