After males of the orb-weaving spider Philoponella prominens mate with a female, they quickly launch themselves away ( Current Biology). Using a mechanism that hadn’t been described before, the male spiders use a joint in their first pair of legs to immediately undertake a split-second catapult action, flinging themselves away from their partners at impressive speeds clocked at up to 88 centimetres per second (cm/s).
The reason the males catapult themselves is simple: to avoid being eaten by the female in an act of sexual cannibalism. The few males the researchers saw that didn’t catapult were promptly captured, killed, and consumed by their female partners. When the researchers prevented males from catapulting, they met the same fate, says a Cell Press release.
Shichang Zhang of Hubei University in Wuhan and colleagues made this discovery while studying sexual selection in this spider, which lives in communal groups of up to 300 individuals in a web complex with many individual webs within it. Of 155 successful matings, they report that 152 ended with the male catapulting. All those catapulting males survived their sexual encounters.
The three males that didn’t catapult were killed. Another 30 prevented by the researchers from catapulting also got killed and eaten by the female. The researchers say that the findings show clearly that the catapulting behaviour is required to avoid sexual cannibalism.
“Females may use this behaviour to judge the quality of a male during mating,” he adds. “If a male could not perform catapulting, then kill it, and if a male could perform it multiple times, then accept its sperm,” Zhang says.
A cross-sectional survey of nearly 6,000 people across age groups including those over 80 years of age carried out through email and social media platforms between February 15 and March 10, 2022 in the midst of the third wave in India that lasted from late December 2021 and lasted till March 2022 has thrown up some interesting findings.
The government had greenlighted a precaution or booster dose to everyone above 60 years with comorbidities and health-care and frontline workers from January 10, 2022. Though the booster dose was to be administered only after nine months following the second dose, there have been accounts of people who had received a booster dose less than nine months after the second dose.
According to the results posted as a preprint (which is yet to be peer-reviewed) on April 28, 2022, of the 2,383 people who received a booster shot, 716 (30%) were infected by the Omicron variant. In comparison, of the 3,505 people who had not received a booster shot, 1,577 (45%) were infected by the Omicron variant. Interestingly, infection in 77% of people during the third wave was two weeks or more after receiving the precaution dose. That would mean that infection had occurred despite there being sufficient time for the immune system to be boosted by the precaution dose.
The increased chances of infection among those who had not received a booster dose could also be because of lower usage of N95 masks. The survey found that only 50% of respondents who did not receive a booster shot used N95 masks compared with 68% in the group that took the booster shot.
“The findings of the survey once again underline the ability of the Omicron variant to cause infection when protection conferred by the booster dose is supposed to be maximum,” says Dr. Rajeev Jayadevan, co-chairman, National IMA COVID Task Force, and a co-author of the preprint. “The higher N95 mask usage too could have played a role in reducing the risk of infection among the boosted group.”
The respondents cited several reasons for not taking a booster shot despite it being available for free. The most important reason mentioned was that infections were commonly reported among people who had taken the precaution dose. The other stated reasons for not taking the booster shot were: 1) belief that prior infection would be protective, 2) lack of enough evidence, 3) adverse experience with prior doses of vaccine, 4) concern that mutations have altered the virus since the vaccine was originally made, 5) two doses were enough, and 6) waiting for mix-and-match booster vaccines.
Another important finding of the survey was regarding the disease severity among people who had taken the booster shot and those who had not. Immaterial of the booster dose status, only less than 1% of the respondents had severe COVID-19 disease and 41.5% had developed moderate disease. Among the 716 people who had taken the booster dose and got infected, 58.5% had mild disease, 37% had moderate disease and 0.3% had severe disease. In comparison, among the 1,577 people who had not taken a booster shot and got infected, 50.8% had mild disease, 43.4% had moderate disease and 0.76% had severe disease.
“Immaterial of whether an individual had received two or three doses, the severity trend of disease was the same. The booster dose only reduced the chances of getting infected,” says Dr. Jayadevan.
This finding once again underlines the effect of full vaccination with two doses in protecting against severe disease, and surprisingly very little additional benefit that the booster dose offers in preventing the progression of the disease especially in the elderly.
“According to the findings of our survey, the booster dose appears to reduce the odds of picking up an infection at least in the early period after the booster shot but does not seem to alter the trend of disease severity,” says Dr. Jayadevan. This finding completely contradicts the general notion that people older than 60 years might be only partially protected by two doses and a booster dose to this group would confer greater degree of protection against disease severity.
One more interesting finding of the survey is the protective effect of the vaccine from infection both in the case of the second dose and the booster dose. “Among those who had recently received their second dose, only 27% (59/221) were positive in the third wave, which was about the same as that following the booster dose (30%). This suggests that infection was less likely among those who had recently received a vaccine dose,” they write.
Another interesting highlight of the survey was the nearly equal protective effect of both Covishield and Covaxin against infection by the Omicron variant. The nearly equal protective effect from either vaccine was seen in people who had taken only two doses of the vaccine and in those who had also received the booster shot.
Other factors including strict adherence to mask wearing and other COVID-appropriate behaviour among people who have received either of the vaccines is not known. While the percentage of people infected is comparable between the two vaccines, the number of respondents who had received Covishield is many times more than those who had taken Covaxin.
As expected, 44% of respondents did not report any known history of COVID-19, which might be a reflection of asymptomatic infection in these people or not getting themselves tested. At the same time, a large number of people (15% of those with a history) reported having COVID-19 more than once.
“Among them, 454 people had it twice, 26 people thrice and 12 individuals reported up to five times,” they authors write. They also add: “The reinfection percentage of 15% is likely to be an underestimate because several respondents clarified that in subsequent episodes with compatible symptoms, testing was not always done.”
The role of “animal reservoirs” in the spread of COVID-19 is still being studied but evidence of zoonosis, or the virus jumping from animals to humans, is growing and scientists are concerned that this new frontier could potentially spawn dangerous, and difficult to monitor mutants.
Some experts supported the theory that the highly mutated Omicron variant, which caused a deluge of cases globally, including India, emerged from animals, potentially rodents, rather than an immune-compromised human.
“As the virus multiplies in infected hosts, it can mutate slightly, and the worry is that over time, minor genomic tweaks in hundreds or thousands, if not millions, of animals, could eventually add up to changes that make the virus more contagious or deadlier in people, or able to evade treatments and vaccines,” US-based public health expert Amita Gupta told PTI.
Although the number of people infected with coronavirus variants evolved in animals has not been quantified yet, the evidence of zoonosis is growing.
Last week, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that at least four people in Michigan, U.S., were infected with a version of the coronavirus observed mostly in minks during the first year of the pandemic.
Flagging the concern, the World Health Organization (WHO) last month said the introduction of SARS-CoV-2 to wildlife could result in the establishment of animal reservoirs of the virus.
The latest U.K. Million Women Study on cellular telephone use and the risk of brain tumours published online on March 29, 2021 in Journal of the National Institute of Cancer confirms the accumulating evidence that cellular telephone use under usual conditions does not increase brain tumour incidence. The topic has added interest now because phone companies plan to launch 5G technologies soon.
During 1996-2001, U.K. Million Women Study recruited 1.3 million women born in the 15-year period between 1935-1950 into the study. Researchers asked questions on their cellular telephone use first in median year 2001 and again in median year 2011. They followed all study participants via record linkage to National Health Services databases on deaths and cancer registrations (including nonmalignant brain tumours).
The researchers linked the independent electronic health records of each participant with his/her behaviour, in this instance, the personal usage of cellular phones.
During 14 years of follow-up of 7,76,156 women who completed the 2001 questionnaire, the study registered 3,268 brain tumours in total. Adjusted relative risks forever vs never cellular telephone use were 0.97 for all brain tumours, 0.89 for glioma, and not statistically significantly different to 1.0 for meningioma, pituitary tumours, and acoustic neuroma.
Compared with never-users, researchers did not find statistically significant associations overall or by tumour subtype, for daily cellular telephone use or for having used cellular telephones for at least 10 years.
Taking use in 2011 as a baseline, the researchers found that there were no statistically significant associations with talking for at least 20 minutes per week or with at least 10 years use. For gliomas occurring in the temporal and parietal lobes, the parts of the brain most likely to be exposed to radio frequency electromagnetic fields from cellular telephones, relative risks were slightly below 1.0.
In a press release from the Science Media Centre, London, Prof Malcolm Sperrin, Oxford University Hospitals noted that this study from Oxford is a welcome addition to the body of knowledge looking at the risk from mobile phones, and specifically in relation to certain types of tumour genesis.
“It is a well-designed, prospective study that identifies no causal link but does recognise that there may have been false correlations arising from previous studies that are retrospective in design. There is always a need for further research work especially as phones, wireless etc become ubiquitous but this study should allay many existing concerns.” he cautioned.
Researchers investigated the associations of cellular telephone use and brain tumours in many studies, as the brain was the most exposed organ. When we keep cell phones very close to our head, the RF-EMF emitted by cell phones penetrate several centimetres into our head; the energy gets absorbed in the tissues in the temporal and parietal lobes of the brain. The well-established biological effect of RF-EMF on tissue is heating. When researchers developed limits for human exposure to RF-EMF for cellular telephones, the prime consideration was to prevent any substantial heating that could lead to adverse health effects.
There were legitimate concerns that there may be adverse biological effects from RF-EMF exposure below those limits, possibly caused through mechanisms other than heat. Researchers added a safety factor of fifty to take care of such unknown mechanisms. In any case, long-term epidemiological studies are defendable.
In an earlier analysis in 2013 after seven-year follow up, the researchers have shown that mobile phone use was not associated with increased incidence of glioma, meningioma or non-CNS cancers. The present study after a 14-year follow up, a 60% increase in numbers of brain tumours, and new analyses by tumour laterality and location within the brain, again confirmed that cellular telephone use under usual conditions does not increase brain tumour incidence.
The researchers found that the more recent generations of wireless technologies emit substantially lower output power, so that on balance a very heavy user of today is unlikely to accumulate the same RF-EMF exposure as a modest user of the first two wireless generations.
We need not lose sleep worrying over brain tumours and cell phone use.
( K.S. Parthasarathy is a former Secretary of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. email@example.com)
“It is a well-designed, prospective study that identifies no causal link but does recognise that there may have false correlations arising from previous studies that are retrospective in design”Prof Malcolm Sperrin
Climate change will result in thousands of new viruses spread among animal species by 2070 and that is likely to increase the risk of emerging infectious diseases jumping from animals to humans, according to a new study.
This is especially true for Africa and Asia, continents that have been hotspots for deadly disease spread from humans to animals or vice versa over the last several decades, including the flu, HIV, ebola and COVID-19.
Researchers, who published their findings on April 28 in the journal Nature, used a model to examine how over 3,000 mammal species might migrate and share viruses over the next 50 years if the world warms by 2°C, which recent research shows is possible.
They found that cross-species virus spread will happen over 4,000 times among mammals alone. Birds and marine animals were not included in this study.
Researchers said that not all viruses will spread to humans or become pandemic like the scale of the coronavirus but the number of cross-species viruses increases the risk of spread to humans. The study highlights two global crises, climate change and infectious disease spread.
Previous research has looked at how deforestation, extinction and wildlife trade lead to animal-human disease spread, but there is less research about how climate change could influence this type of disease transmission., the researchers said at a media briefing on Wednesday.
“We don’t talk about climate a lot in the context of zoonosis — diseases that can spread from animals to people,” said study co-author Colin Carlson, an assistant professor of biology at Georgetown University. “Our study brings together the two most pressing global crises we have,” he said.
Daniel R. Brooks, a biologist at University of Nebraska State Museum and co-author of the book The Stockholm Paradigm: Climate Change and Emerging Disease, said the study acknowledges the threat posed by climate change in terms of increasing risk of infectious diseases.
“This particular contribution is an extremely conservative estimate for potential emerging infectious disease spread caused by climate change,” said Brooks.
Aaron Bernstein, a pediatrician and interim director of The Centre for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the study confirms long-held suspicions about the impact of global warming on infectious disease emergence.
“The study indicates that these encounters may already be happening with greater frequency and in places near where many people live,” Bernstein said.
Study co-author Gregory Albery, a disease ecologist at Georgetown University, said that because climate-driven infectious disease emergence is already happening, the world should be doing more to learn about and prepare for it.
Jaron Browne, organising director of the climate justice group Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, said the study highlights climate injustices experienced by people living in African and Asian nations.
“African and Asian nations face the greatest threat of increased virus exposure, once again illustrating how those on the frontline of the crisis have very often done the least to create climate change," Browne said.
Earth will witness the first partial solar eclipse of the year 2022 on April 30 and a total lunar eclipse on May 16. However, none of the events will be visible from India.
The solar eclipse will be visible from the south and south-western parts of South America, the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and most of the landmass of Antartica. Experts explain that it will not be visible from India and the United States as it will happen during the daytime when the moon itself will not be present in the Indian skies.
The partial solar eclipse will begin around 6:45 pm universal time which will be May 1, 12:15 am IST. The maximum for India will be around 2:11 am on May 1 and end at 4:07 am. As it will be nighttime, no one will be able to see the cosmic event.
India will be able witness the next partial solar eclipse on October 25 and the partial lunar eclipse on November 8.
A solar eclipse occurs on a new moon day when it comes between the Earth and the Sun. It then partially or totally blocks the Sun from the Earth for some time. A lunar eclipse occurs on a full moon night when the cosmic satellite passes through the shadow of the Earth.
A scientist from the Centre of Excellence (CoE) for Bio-resources and Sustainable Development at Kimin in Papumpare district of Arunachal Pradesh has been granted two Indian patents for developing 'Polyherbal formulation for the treatment of painful Diabetic Neuropathy' and 'hybrid cotton patch and a method for its fabrication'.
Dr. Sanjeeb Kalita, the scientist of the centre under the Arunachal Pradesh State Council for Science and Technology (APSCS&T) carried out fundamental research and development for both the inventions at Guwahati-based Institute of Advanced Studies in Science and Technology, official sources said on Friday.
Both the inventions will have a far-reaching impact on the management of painful diabetic neuropathy and broad-spectrum uses as advanced bandage materials respectively, the sources said.
The vast indigenous knowledge systems associated with the ethnic population of Arunachal Pradesh possess a high potential for undertaking systematic, scientific studies to bring out the age-old information on sustainable utilization of natural resources.
Under the leadership of Dr. Debajit Mahanta, Project Director of the centre, biotechnologists are actively pursuing works on protecting the intellectual property rights of the rich indigenous traditional knowledge system of the State.
The CoE is also working on developing a framework for protecting community rights over traditional knowledge, aiming to provide benefits at the community level. The centre is also working on developing valuable inventions by translational research and development on sustainable utilization of the rich bio-resources of the State.
In this regard, a process and product patent has been filed recently by the centre on fermented organic tangerine wine from GI-tagged tangerine of Arunachal Pradesh and an industrially viable preparation method. The filing of patent applications for half a dozen of inventions is in process, the sources said.
"We are confident with the initiatives undertaken by the APSCS&T CoE on development of bio-resources, intellectual property rights, technology transfer, and licensing of the inventions to the prospective entrepreneurs will tremendously help and contribute towards boosting the bio-economy in the State," said Dr. Mahanta.
India is gripped in the throes of a long spell of heatwaves and there is compelling evidence that a significant portion of it is due to human-induced climate change, said scientists who were part of an online webinar on climate change organised as part of the TNQ-Janelia Climate Change Summit on Friday.
Three eminent scientists with expertise in how atmospheric, land and ocean systems were influenced by greenhouse gas emissions, drew upon their decades of research to explain how the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere exacerbated temperatures in the oceans and the land and caused increased glacier melt, heightened sea level rise and led to changes in the biosphere.
Fiamma Straneo of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego drew upon her research in Greenland to demonstrate evidence of warming waters around glaciers and how it was heating even ice sheets, thereby accelerating warming.
““India could cut its pollution by half just by providing clean cooking fuel to rural households in the Indo-Gangetic plains. Societal transformation, mitigating carbon dioxide emissions and adaption were all necessary to buffer against climate change.”Veerbhadran RamanathanScripps Institute of Oceanography
Though global sea-levels were rising only three millimetre a year, it would be a mistake, said Dr Straneo, to dismiss it as a minor rise because even those increases were responsible for driving greater numbers of extreme climate events such as floods that could devastate coastal regions, particularly in India.
Her colleague at Scripps, Veerbhadran Ramanathan, referenced a simulation study jointly undertaken at the Princeton University, Columbia University and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that said if carbon emissions were unchecked, half the planet would be in severe drought by the century end. There was already a three-fold rise in extreme precipitation events in India, a decrease in rainfall in North India and increase in precipitation in south India, he said citing research out of India. Along with carbon dioxide emissions, pollution from biomass burning combined with this and caused 1.5 million deaths annually in India.
“India could cut its pollution by half just by providing clean cooking fuel to rural households in the Indo-Gangetic plains. Societal transformation, mitigating carbon dioxide emissions and adaption were all necessary to buffer against climate change,” he added.
The world would be “fooling itself” if it thought it could contain global temperature rise to 1.5C, as the Paris Agreement aspires, and India should prepare a 10-year plan to ensure that India’s poor, who stood to be most affected by climate change, were protected from heatwaves and wildfires, he opined.
Yadvinder Malhi of the University of Oxford, and an ecologist, drew connections between the biosphere and its role in absorbing carbon dioxide emissions. Nearly a third of emitted carbon dioxide didn’t make it to the atmosphere as they were absorbed back into the soil by forests and other vegetation, thus slowing knock-on temperature rise. Therefore, nature-based solutions, such as increasing forest area, would be valuable to India’s climate adaptation programmes. India, because of its population density, would be hard-put to find regions where forests could be expanded, he said, citing research work conducted on land use change in India since the 1700s but there were regions in Central and Eastern India that could be employed for the purpose. “Nature-based solutions are not just for tackling climate change but also doing it in a way that is ethical, just and also increasing biodiversity,” said Malhi.
Dr Aswathy S is in a hurry. Her patient, who needs immediate attention, is at the hospital and rather irritable. It goes without saying: you don’t keep a python waiting.
Caught in a net and severely injured, the 10-foot-long python, weighing about 12 kilograms, has been brought in by the Forest Department. At her animal hospital in Harippad, Kerala, Aswathy performs a surgery, then puts it on intravenous drips. The python is currently recovering well and waiting to be released back into the wild.
Dr Aswathy opened her hospital in February this year, the realisation of a long-cherished dream to open a centre to treat exotic animals. Over the past months, she has already received an impressive number of patients, including birds, fish and reptiles.
After graduating from Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Pookode, and with a fellowship from the American Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians, Aswathy started her practice in 2016. So far, she has treated iguanas, ball pythons, flap-shell turtles, frogs, ferrets and meerkats as a consultant veterinary doctor at wildlife parks in South India and farms for exotic animals. From routine birth control to a complex surgical procedure on a 12-centimetre-long albino iridescent shark fish, each case she handles is unique.
The job of a wildlife veterinarian may guarantee an adrenaline-rush, but it also involves challenging tussles with uncertainties. When working in a jungle, medical equipment and facilities are often improvised; and yes, there is a always a distinct possibility of the patient trying to eat the doctor. The settings can be varied: a leopard-riddled village in Andhra Pradesh, the open wilds of Wayanad, or the Madras Crocodile Bank in Chennai — but the one consistent factor is a healthy respect for creatures of the wild.
“We adapt procedures based on the animal and its unique conditions,” says Dr Aswathy, explaining how, unlike surgeries on humans performed in super-speciality hospitals, these procedures often have to be done using the best of what is available, on patients with unpredictable temperaments.
By about 10am, Dr Phaneendra Andra had already attended to his morning patients — a babbler bird with an injured wing, a parakeet with a broken leg, a bruised civet cat and an Indian pariah dog with an ear injury. Then came the call for help from Ankampalem village, Andhra Pradesh: A leopard had strayed into the paddy fields.
A veterinary Assistant Surgeon at the Department of Animal Husbandry near Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh, Dr Phaneendra left for Ankampalem immediately. In the meantime, the leopard had already whipped up a frenzy in the village, having attacked three people. As people thronged the area, the scared animal climbed a coconut tree.
“The leopard escaped that day despite our efforts. Then, it was spotted about 70 kilometres away from Ankampalem; it had strayed into a thatched hut. We went armed with the tranquilising equipment and a team of over 200 personnel including a group from the CRPF,” he says. After a 12-hour-drama the leopard was finally captured, its thunderous roars still ringing in Dr Phaneendra’s ears.
“Human and animal conflict has become rampant in rural areas due to dwindling prey base, habitat loss and poaching. And often, the only solution most people want is to kill an animal,” says Dr Phaneendra, who is also a Wildlife Veterinary Consultant with the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department. In the 13 years he has spent on the field, Dr Phaneendra has rescued crocodiles, bison, pythons, terrapin, pangolins and many species of birds in and around Atreyapuram. His clinic Paws N Claws is today a temporary shelter for two baby squirrels, one parakeet and one babbler – all presently undergoing treatment. “I know that their true place lies in their natural habitat. But, if even after treatment, they are unable to take care of themselves, they become my companion at home,” he says.
“It isn’t only about treating an animal or rescuing it. It is about understanding forest ecology and coming up with solutions,” says Dr Arun Zachariah, Chief Forest Veterinary Officer, based in Wayanad and an expert in free-ranging wildlife medicine. Free-ranging wildlife medicine involves designing and conducting field studies, collecting biological samples and disease surveillance.
With a PhD in wildlife medicine from the UK, Dr Arun says things have changed ever since he started working 20 years ago. “Those days, we had to rely largely on observation and experience. Today, the situation has changed. Though human-animal conflicts have increased, we are better equipped to deal with the challenges. We have evolved a way of dealing with conflict management. We train new people coming into the profession to understand the ecology of the forest, the study of animal genomics and above all, have a love for the wild,” he says.
A free-ranging wildlife veterinarian’s life is very different from that of a zoo veterinarian, Dr Arun points out. “There is nothing one can control in the wild. You don’t know the animal’s previous medical history. Everything is left to chance,” adds Dr Arun, who was attacked by a tiger on one of the rescue missions at Wayanad. The four year old tiger had been wounded, and charged at Dr Arun, pinning him down. “I pushed the tranquilising dart into the tiger’s mouth with all my strength and it worked,” he says.
“Only those tigers that are wounded or incapable of natural hunting stray into human habitations,” he says. Dr Arun has captured over 38 tigers, 180 leopards, and over a 100 elephants through darting. The captured tigers and leopards are taken to a rehabilitation centre he was instrumental in setting up in Wayanad in March 2022. “With zoos finding it difficult to take in these animals, there was a need to set up a space for them,” he says. The facility can currently accommodate eight tigers and six leopards. Once the animals recoup, they are reintroduced to the forest.
Dr Ruchika Lakshmanan, the veterinarian of Madras Crocodile Bank and Center for Herpetology in Chennai, is now familiar with the behavioural habits of her patients — crocodiles, snakes, Komodo dragons, iguana, turtles, tortoises and other critically endangered reptilian inhabitants of the bank.
“Mammals have expressive faces. Reptiles do not. So I could not read their expressions,” she says, about her initial days in the Crocodile Bank in November 2021. Luckily, she could rely on entire teams of people who spend their days with each animal and were familiar with their specific behavioral patterns — when they lay eggs, when they shed, how they grab their food and their walking patterns.
Dr Ruchika, who worked with zoo tigers in Chennai as a veterinary student, adapted her approach to the job in keeping with the Croc Bank’s modus operandi. She advises and aids preventive care as much as possible, so that her patients need the least possible direct intervention. “They are meant to live like wild animals. They are conditioned to take their feed, but that’s about it. Being approached by humans too often stresses them, so we don’t go near them unless there is an emergency,” she says.
However, when the time comes to treat an injured crocodile, it has to first be “captured” from its wide natural enclosure, in a process that takes 40 to 45 minutes and multiple strong, tactful hands. Dr Ruchika remembers a certain mugger with an injured eye who was surprisingly cooperative. “We could capture him in just 15 to 20 minutes. He let us treat him without hassle, too. I had to clean the wound, dress it and do everything I could in that one session, since you cannot call a crocodile for a fresh dressing change everyday. But within a week, the reptile was fine,” she recalls.
So would she consider that particular placid mugger her favourite? “I like salt water crocodiles and Nile crocodiles the most: for how large their bodies are, they still manage to move and run beautifully.”
This article forms a part of The Hindu’s Science for All newsletter, which explains all things Science, without the jargon. Subscribe here
Lipidomics is an analytical method that provides detailed insights into the fatty acid profiles in blood plasma. Fatty acids occur in the human organism mainly as part of complex molecules, called lipids. Based on their molecular structure, they are classified into numerous different lipid classes and types. The sum of all of them within an organism is called the lipidome.
Understanding the lipid metabolism plays an important role in better deciphering cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes. However, little is known about the molecular relationships. Using lipidomics, a research team recently identified those lipids that are statistically associated with cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In addition, the scientists found that a diet with an increased proportion of unsaturated fatty acids (FAs) leads to a reduction in risk-associated lipids and an increase in low-risk lipids.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for around 18 million deaths per year. People with type 2 diabetes have a two- to threefold increased risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. Therefore, there is a need to identify biomarkers that can indicate the development of disease at an early stage in order to prevent or at least mitigate its onset. The team found about 69 lipids associated with disease risk. Using lipidomics, researchers aim to identify a lipidomics-fingerprint in the blood that depicts the effects of a test diet and check whether it is associated with long-term risk of cardiovascular disease.
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COVID-19 surge preparedness with AI, genomic surveillance
Why are blue straggler stars different from the norm
Generating energy from banana peel
Can old skin cells be reprogrammed to make them young? Read the answer here
Invasive species threatens wildlife habitats of Western Ghats
When birds transition from drab to colourful
Garbology lessons create a new generation of little waste warriors
Kadungalloor set to launch its own rice brand
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SpaceX launched four astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA on Wednesday, less than two days after completing a flight chartered by millionaires.
It's the first NASA crew comprised equally of men and women, including the first Black woman making a long-term spaceflight, Jessica Watkins.
“This is one of the most diversified, I think, crews that we've had in a really, really long time," said NASA's space operations mission chief Kathy Lueders.
The astronauts were due to arrive at the space station Wednesday night, 16 hours after a predawn liftoff from Kennedy Space Center that thrilled spectators.
“Anyone who saw it realized what a beautiful launch it was,” Lueders told reporters. After an express flight comparable to traveling from New York to Singapore, the crew will move in for a five-month stay.
SpaceX has now launched five crews for NASA and two private trips in just under two years. Elon Musk's company is having an especially busy few weeks: It just finished taking three businessmen to and from the space station as NASA's first private guests.
A week after the new crew arrives, the three Americans and German they're replacing will return to Earth in their own SpaceX capsule. Three Russians also live at the space station.
Both SpaceX and NASA officials stressed they're taking it one step at a time to ensure safety. The private mission that concluded Monday encountered no major problems, they said, although high wind delayed the splashdown for a week.
SpaceX Launch Control wished the astronauts good luck and Godspeed moments before the Falcon rocket blasted off with the capsule, named Freedom by its crew.
“Our heartfelt thank you to every one of you that made this possible. Now let Falcon roar and Freedom ring,” radioed NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, the commander. Minutes later, their recycled booster had landed on an ocean platform and their capsule was safely orbiting Earth. “It was a great ride,” he said.
The SpaceX capsules are fully automated — which opens the space gates to a broader clientele — and they're designed to accommodate a wider range of body sizes. At the same time, NASA and the European Space Agency have been pushing for more female astronauts.
While two Black women visited the space station during the shuttle era, neither moved in for a lengthy stay. Watkins, a geologist who is on NASA's short list for a moon-landing mission in the years ahead, sees her mission as “an important milestone, I think, both for the agency and for the country." She credits supportive family and mentors — including Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space in 1992 — for “ultimately being able to live my dream.” Also cheering Watkins on was another geologist: Apollo 17's Harrison Schmitt, who walked on the moon in 1972. She invited the retired astronaut to the launch, along with his wife. “We sort of consider ourselves the Jessica team," he said, chuckling.
“Those of us who rode the Saturn V into space are a little bit jaded about the smaller rockets," Schmitt said after the SpaceX liftoff. “But still, it really was something and on board was a geologist ... I hope it will stand her in good stead for being part of one of the Artemis crews that go to the moon." Like Watkins, NASA astronaut and test pilot Bob Hines is making his first spaceflight. It's the second visit for Lindgren, a physician, and the European Space Agency's lone female astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti, a former Italian Air Force fighter pilot.
Cristoforetti turned 45 on Tuesday, “so she really celebrates and is very happy with a big smile in the capsule,” said the European Space Agency's director general, Josef Aschbacher. “She's really a role model and she's doing an enormously fabulous job on doing exactly that.” The just-completed private flight was NASA's first dip into space tourism after years of opposition. The space agency said the three people who paid $55 million each to visit the space station blended in while doing experiments and educational outreach. They were accompanied by a former NASA astronaut employed by Houston-based Axiom Space, which arranged the flight.
“The International Space Station is not a vacation spot. It's not an amusement park. It is an international laboratory, and they absolutely understood and respected that purpose,” said NASA flight director Zeb Scoville.
NASA also hired Boeing to ferry astronauts after retiring the shuttles. The company will take another shot next month at getting an empty crew capsule to the space station, after software and other problems fouled a 2019 test flight and prevented a redo last summer.
A celestial spectacle awaits the early riser who wishes to gaze out at the pre-dawn skies. It is the apparent alignment of four of the brightest planets — Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter — in a line. This year, the planets will appear close in the months of April and May. As they move along in their orbits, Saturn will get further away from the others, while Jupiter and Venus will appear really close on May 1, and Jupiter and Mars will look closer on May 29.
The four planets can be seen in the eastern sky before sunrise, from close to 4 a.m. to before sunrise. They are bright so can also be seen in early twilight. “At this time, the planets in order of position from east to west, that is, from the horizon upwards, are Jupiter, Venus, Mars and Saturn,” explains Niruj Mohan Ramanujam, the head of the Science Communication, Public Outreach and Education (SCOPE) section of Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bengaluru.
The four planets appear in a line at this moment in the morning, and as they move in their orbits, some of them can get quite close to one another in the sky. However, this is just an apparent alignment as seen from our perspective on Earth. The actual distances between them are still vast. “This is an excellent occasion for all of us to visually track the positions of these fast-moving planets every day, and appreciate the motivation of all ancient cultures to understand and predict their paths in the sky,” said Dr. Ramanujam.
Since the planets appear close, we on Earth now have a reference against which to observe the motion of these fast-moving planets.
“Because this is an apparent alignment in the sky, this will have no effect on the Earth, or on humans,” he added.
How is it that the four planets that are widely separated in space appear to be in a row? “All the planets move around the Sun in very roughly the same plane, and therefore, their paths on the sky fall within a narrow band, around the ‘Ecliptic’. Because of this, we can see some planets apparently being close together in the sky from time to time,” he explained.
In the first step towards overhauling of the two-decade old IT Act, the government will put up the draft of the proposed new legislative framework for public consultation as soon as next month, Minister of State for IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar told The Hindu.
“There is clearly a need for an overall framework of laws and policies and rules. What we have to do is relook at the IT Act, which is 22 years old. Then there are rules derived from the IT ACT and a series of policies that have non-statutory effect,” the Minister said.
He added that the government is looking at a new legislative framework with the new rulemaking capabilities that deal with various issues related to the digital space, in a very modern, contemporary and harmonized way.
“I cannot not give an exact timeline because public consultation will take time…it could be two months or three months...I can assure you that I already have all the papers…We will bring it out for public consultation very soon…may be in the month of May,” he said.
Hours after billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s takeover of social media platform Twitter, Minister of State for Electonics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar spoke on the need for legislative overhaul of the 22-year old IT Act, stressing on the need to ensure that India is not vulnerable to weaponisation of the Internet.
Our view towards intermediaries has always been the same: that all intermediaries, big or small, have to comply with our expectations of openness, safety and trust and accountability. That is why we have the law and the rules; it doesn’t matter who owns what, we have a standard set of expectations and we keep to it.
The relationship between intermediaries and consumers was bereft of any framework and the rules established some accountability. Is it fully optimised, do we need a legislative overhaul, yes, we do. It is common sense that if you are in 2022 and operating on a law enacted in 2000, you need a relook since 22 years is a long time in Internet history. I think we will continue to see progress in the way we evolve the framework under which everybody on the internet can expect openness, and consumers especially women and children can expect safety and trust and accountability. Those are the basis of the thinking, not just in India but across the world.
We are going to have a trillion dollar digital economy in a few years, and a large number of businesses will be on the Indian Internet, so the Internet becomes an important economic component of our country. So if anybody has the power to unplug the Internet its not a good thing. We don’t like the idea that any country should be, could be, must be, can be, vulnerable to that kind of conduct- politically directed conduct, for any black mail directed conduct.
What can we do? We have to ensure that we cannot be unplugged; intermediaries will have to play by the rules and laws of India. The weaponisation of the Internet, or “splinternet” is something we need to plan not being vulnerable to. It is an objective for us.
There are many things happening and they are complex things, nothing is easy. Increasingly bilateral or multilateral arrangements between countries will have to evolve in a way that nothing can be done in isolation from other countries. A conversation has already started on these issues, on issues that technology intermediaries cannot be left unregulated, also to dispel the belief that the Internet has no boundaries, that no law of any land will be able to reach those who commit crimes in another jurisdiction whereas the victim is in another jurisdiction
Our view is very clear, Article 19(2) carves out the exceptions to freedom of speech. In cyberspace. There is jurisprudence that will move beyond 19(2) because there is also user harm. As long as it meets a certain test, that content will be taken down or the individual de-platformed. What is the test of the law that that person fails? Currently, under certain sections the government has the right to take down content, and as long as the process is transparent, it is a right that is there with every sovereign government.
There is clearly a need for an overall framework of laws and policies and rules. Should we move to a model where you have a new legislative framework, with the new rule-making capability that deals with all related issues in a modern, contemporary way and they are all harmoised with each other. For example, cyber security sits in a silo it will be in a silo of user harm. Nothing will be done in this ministry without public consultation. I cannot give a timeline, but the concept note and what we propose will be out as early as May.
We don’t believe verification of accounts solves anything. We already have the rules for identification of the first originator, which is in litigation, but we are clear on our position. That position is sound in law. I said in Parliament that we do not believe in verification because verification means I know who you are and that will curb your free speech. You cannot say many things if I know who you are. As a government, we don't want to restrict your right to free speech and therefore, you can be anonymous. However, having given you that, if there is a crime, you cannot then say that we will not allow the clauses dealing with identification of first originator.
Twitter Inc is poised to agree a sale to Elon Musk for around $43 billion in cash, the price the chief executive of Tesla Inc has called his "best and final" offer for the social media company, people familiar with the matter said.
Twitter may announce the $54.20-per-share deal later on Monday once its board has met to recommend the transaction to Twitter shareholders, the sources said. It is always possible that the deal collapses at the last minute, the sources added.
Mr. Musk, the world's richest person according to a tally by Forbes, is negotiating to buy Twitter in a personal capacity and Tesla is not involved in the deal.
Twitter has not been able to secure so far a 'go-shop' provision under its agreement with Mr. Musk that would allow it to solicit other bids once the deal is signed, the sources said. Still, Twitter would be allowed to accept an offer from another party by paying Mr. Musk a break-up fee, the sources added.
The sources requested anonymity because the matter is confidential. Twitter and Mr. Musk did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Twitter shares were up 4.5% in pre-market trading in New York on Monday at $51.15.
Mr. Musk has said Twitter needs to be taken private to grow and become a genuine platform for free speech.
The deal would come just four days after Mr. Musk unveiled a financing package to back the acquisition. This led Twitter's board to take the deal more seriously and many shareholders to ask the company not to let the opportunity for a deal to slip away, Reuters reported on Sunday.
The sale would represent an admission by Twitter that its new chief executive Parag Agrawal, who took the helm in November, is not making enough traction in making the company more profitable, despite being on track to meet ambitious financial goals the company set for 2023. Twitter's shares were trading higher than Mr. Musk's offer price as recently as November.
Mr. Musk's negotiating tactics - making one offer and sticking with it - resembles how another billionaire, Warren Buffett, negotiates acquisitions. Mr. Musk did not provide any financing details when he first disclosed his offer for Twitter, making the market skeptical about its prospects.
The first all-private astronaut crew to fly aboard the International Space Station (ISS) headed for splashdown Monday off the coast of Florida, wrapping up a two-week mission that NASA has touted as a landmark in commercial spaceflight.
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A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying the four-man team of Houston-based startup Axiom Space Inc began its return flight about 9 p.m. EDT Sunday (6.30 a.m. IST Monday) as it undocked from the space station orbiting about 420 km above Earth.
The Crew Dragon was expected to parachute into the Atlantic around 1 p.m. EDT on Monday (10:30 pm IST Monday), capping a 16-hour ride home from orbit that had been postponed for several days because of unfavourable weather.
The multinational Axiom team was led by Spanish-born retired NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, 63, the company's vice president for business development. His second-in-command was Larry Connor, 72, a technology entrepreneur and aerobatics aviator from Ohio designated the mission pilot.
Joining them as "mission specialists" were investor-philanthropist and former Israeli fighter pilot Eytan Stibbe, 64, and Canadian businessman and philanthropist Mark Pathy, 52.
Launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Centre on April 8, they spent 15 days aboard the space station with the seven regular, government-paid ISS crew members: three American astronauts, a German astronaut and three Russian cosmonauts.
The ISS has hosted several wealthy space tourists from time to time over the years.
But the Axiom quartet was the first all-commercial team ever welcomed to the space station as working astronauts, bringing with them 25 science and biomedical experiments to conduct in orbit. The package included research on brain health, cardiac stem cells, cancer and aging, as well as a technology demonstration to produce optics using the surface tension of fluids in microgravity.
Axiom, NASA and SpaceX have hailed the mission as a milestone in the expansion of privately funded space-based commerce, constituting what industry insiders call the "low-Earth orbit economy," or "LEO economy" for short.
It was the sixth human spaceflight for SpaceX in nearly two years, following four NASA astronaut missions to the ISS and the "Inspiration 4" flight in September that sent an all-private crew into Earth orbit for the first time, though not to the space station.
SpaceX, the private rocket company founded by Tesla Inc electric carmaker CEO Elon Musk, has been hired to fly three more Axiom astronaut missions to ISS over the next two years. The price tag for such outings is high.
Axiom charges customers $50 million to $60 million per seat, according to Mo Islam, head of research for the investment firm Republic Capital, which holds stakes in both Axiom and SpaceX.
Axiom also was selected by NASA in 2020 to build a new commercial addition to the space station, which a U.S.-Russian-led consortium of 15 countries has operated for more than two decades. Plans call for the Axiom segment to eventually replace the ISS when the rest of the station is retired around 2030.
The Hubble Space Telescope has recorded a stunning image of two merging galaxies in the VV-689 system that appear to be shaped like wings. The two galaxies are currently in the middle of a collision and have been nicknamed Angel Wing. The interaction between the two galaxies is almost symmetrical, hence appearing to resemble wings.
This is a significant development because unlike other galactical alignments, that only “appear” to overlap because of the angle they are viewed from on the earth, these two galaxies in the VV-689 system are actually colliding.
The image was recorded from Hubble observations inspecting “Zoo Gems” -- interesting galaxies under the Galaxy Zoo citizen science project. The crowdsourced astronomy project takes the help of volunteers to explore galaxies.
The Hubble Space Telescope was launched by NASA in 1990 and is named in honour of Edwin Hubble, a revered American astronomer of the early 20th century. The telescope is a space-based observatory and has made significant observations related to interstellar objects, including moons around Pluto and a comet crashing into Jupiter. The telescope has now been in operation for over thirty years.
The World Health Organization said on Saturday that at least one child death had been reported following an increase of acute hepatitis of unknown origin in children, and that at least 169 cases had been reported in children in 12 countries.
The WHO issued the figures as health author