Sunday, January 26, 2020

Giant Bugs Ruled the Skies

Fossil of a Meganeuridae

The largest known insect resembled a dragonfly and fed off of other insects. The name "Meganeura" means large-nerved, which refers to the network of veins on the insect's wings.

Meganeura fossils were first discovered in France in 1880. The fossil was described and assigned its name by the French Paleontologist, Charles Brongniart in 1885. In 1979, another fine specimen was discovered at Bolsover in Derbyshire, England.

There were two species of this now extinct flying insect. The largest was Meganeuropsis permiana from the Early Permian, as indicated by the name.

The ‘griffinflies’ or Meganisopterans lived from the Late Carboniferous to the Late Permian, roughly 317 to 247 million years ago.

Read more here.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Trilobite Migration or Conga Line?

Ampyx priscus in linear formation (Moroccan Lower Ordovician Fezouata Shale). Credit: Jean Vannier, Laboratoire de Geologie de Lyon: Terre, Planètes, Environnement (CNRS / ENS de Lyon / Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1)

Arthropod fossils dating back 500 million years show the creatures died in an orderly line 'while migrating'

Fossils of ancient arthropods discovered in linear formation may indicate a collective behavior either in response to environmental cues or as part of seasonal reproductive migration. The findings, which are being published in Scientific Reports this week, suggest that group behaviors comparable to those of modern animals existed as early as 480 million years ago.

Read more here.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Two New Species of Cyanobacteria

In the past, microorganisms called "cyanobacteria" were grouped by looking at their shape under a microscope. Now researchers also use DNA to classify them.

Researchers collected 26 samples of water, soil, and bone for analysis, from varied cold-weather locations around the globe (Antarctica, the Arctic, Greenland, Sweden, and Germany), each suspected to contain different types of cyanobacteria in the genus Phormidesmis. Phormidesmis priestleyi is a cyanobacterium found throughout the cold regions.

They grew Phormidesmis from each sample in the laboratory, and then analyzed each using a heavy-duty microscope to characterize their shapes and compare them to known cyanobacterial cells.

DNA is a very long molecule made of four “bases” and the order of those bases is unique for each living thing. The cyanobacteria’s DNA was then extracted and isolated from each sample and the base order for each DNA strand was determined. This is referred to as genome sequencing. The authors sequenced a gene known as the “16S rRNA gene” that is commonly used for classification of bacteria. Those gene sequences were compared to other gene sequences in large public databases of already-identified sequences to see if there was a match.

Based on these DNA results, the researchers were able to provide better classification of cyanobacteria. They also unexpectedly discovered two new species of cyanobacteria based on visual observations and DNA testing. These new organisms were named Phormidesmis arctica and Phormidesmis communis, and the scientists reclassified one species that was previously in the genus Leptolyngbya to Phormidesmis. This species is now Phormidesmis nigrescens.

A new genus was also suggested, Leptodesmis, as the genome is not easily recognizable by its shape and appears to belong to more than one taxonomic group. The importance of properly classifying all life forms gives scientists a better understanding of the interrelationships of these organisms and is the necessary basis for other studies. Humankind must understand the smallest living organisms in order to fully understand all living things.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

42,000 Year Blood Found in Frozen Siberian Foal

Researchers who found the frozen body of a 42,000-year-old foal in the Siberian permafrost have retrieved liquid blood from the animal.

In August 2018, the perfectly preserved remains of the young male foal were discovered in the Batagaika crater in Yakutia, northern Russia.

The fossilized specimen is believed to be a foal of the extinct Lenskaya horses that roamed Yakutia in the Upper Paleolithic (Late Stone Age). It was only one or two weeks old when it died, and even its hair was preserved.

Researchers at the Mammoth Museum, part of the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk, discovered much of its insides were also kept in incredible condition due to favorable burial conditions.

Dr Semyon Grigoryev, head of the Mammoth Museum, told The Siberian Times,"The autopsy shows beautifully preserved internal organs. Samples of liquid blood were taken from heart vessels… The muscle tissues preserved their natural reddish color."

Read more here and here.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Christina Koch on Her Record

NASA astronaut Christina Koch made history Saturday, December 28 by breaking the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman. 

Koch, a North Carolina State University graduate, has been on the International Space Station for 289 days, beating the previous 288-day record held by Peggy Whitson. She says that she hopes to see her record beaten by another woman soon.

Speaking of her time in space, Koch told CNN's Christi Paul, "It’s a wonderful thing for science... We see another aspect of how the human body is affected by microgravity for the long term, and that’s really important for our future spaceflight plan going forward to the moon and to Mars.”

According to NASA’s schedule, Koch will remain on the station until February 2020, falling just shy of the longest single spaceflight by a NASA astronaut: 340 days, set by Scott Kelly. Astronauts normally stay on the station for six months.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Gender Parity in Biblical Archaeology?

Robert Cargill
Editor of Biblical Archaeology Review

The field of biblical archaeology, and biblical studies in general, has always had a “woman problem.” Women have long been a minority. To be sure, there have always been notable exceptions—such as Gertrude Bell, Kathleen Kenyon, Martha Joukowsky, Susan Alcock, Jodi Magness, Ann Killebrew—but for the most part the field has been dominated by men—often charismatic, loud, entertaining, obnoxious, and mostly white men.

And this is just the way it has always been.

However, over the past decades many scholars and administrators have decided to address this issue and have begun making concerted efforts to increase the number of women in field archaeology and biblical studies. Because of these efforts, we have seen an increase in the number of women enrolled in archaeology and biblical studies programs, presenting papers at professional conferences, publishing cutting-edge research, and receiving academic positions. The American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) even named Susan Ackerman its first female president in 2014.

Progress is being made with regard to gender parity in archaeology and the academy. Therefore, you can understand why I am continually baffled—and women all the more so—when all-male conference panels (“manels”) are assembled, all-male edited volumes (“manthologies”) are published, and all-male festschrifts (“festicles”) are printed. It is 2019, and women are still being regularly excluded!

I hear many excuses when these all-male offerings appear, one of the most frequent being: “I invited several women, but none of them accepted my invitation, so I filled those spots with men.” There are several problems with this excuse.

First, if women repeatedly turn down invitations to work with a particular man or organization en masse, it may indicate a serious problem with the individual or organization. Is there some more disquieting reason why many women don’t want to work with certain male scholars beyond the courteous excuse of being overcommitted?

Second, many women scholars are overcommitted because the few of them working in our field are asked to contribute to so many committees and volumes. Women reserve the right to decline invitations. Women are not obligated to compensate for centuries of marginalization by committing to every invitation.

Third, when women decline invitations to present or write for a project, they don’t owe an explanation. Scholars don’t have to give a reason why they do not wish to participate in a project; they can simply decline.

Finally, men should not publicly name any woman who turned down an invitation, especially to cover for the fact that they were unable to achieve gender parity in a publication, panel, or event. I am outraged when male scholars blame women by name for the lack of women contributors in their professional panels or volumes by saying, “Well I invited Scholar X, Scholar Y, and Scholar Z, but they declined …” Publicly shaming women scholars by name does nothing to assuage the fact that only men were included in a volume or conference.

Even if a dozen women decline an invitation, a male editor is still responsible for the lack of gender parity in his volume—not those women who declined. The editor or organizer must simply work harder to achieve his goal and do a better job of encouraging women to participate.

As Editor of BAR, I believe it is my responsibility to support the amplification of women’s scholarly voices through publication, not simply through invitation. Scholarship is not stunt riding, and editors are not Evel Knievel; we shouldn’t be credited simply for the attempt even if we fail. We cannot define “due diligence” as inviting an acceptable quota of women to participate. The bar must be higher than that.

My work and my organization should be judged by the number of women actually appearing in the published product, not simply the number of women originally invited.

Gender parity is still a problem in the academy. To change this, we must promote programs that cultivate women scholars from a young age, establishing gender parity as a priority from the outset of any project, be it a conference, edited volume, or magazine issue.

From here.

Related reading:  Introducing the New BAR

Friday, December 13, 2019

Assessing the Health of Bee Colonies

Honey is full of proteins, but sugars in the sticky substance make those proteins hard to study. Now, one scientist has figured out a way to pull proteins from the honey, revealing the world bees encounter.

The biochemistry researcher Rocío Cornero of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., is examining proteins in honey. Cornero described her unpublished work December 9 at the annual joint meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology and the European Molecular Biology Organization.

Amateur beekeepers often don’t understand what is stressing bees in their hives, whether lack of water, starvation or infection with pathogens, says Cornero, whose father kept bees before his death earlier this year. 

Cornero says, “What we see in the honey can tell us a story about the health of that colony.”

Bees are like miniature scientists that fly and sample a wide variety of environmental conditions, says cell biologist Lance Liotta, Cornero’s mentor at George Mason. As bees digest pollen, soil and water, bits of proteins from other organisms, including fungi, bacteria and viruses also end up in the insects’ stomachs. Honey, in turn, is basically bee vomit, Liotta says, and contains a record of virtually everything the bee came in contact with, as well as proteins from the bees themselves.

Read more here.