Insecticides May Be Giving Songbirds Anorexia and Delaying Their Migrations

By Roni Dengler | September 12, 2019 5:00 pm
white crowned sparrow perched on fence
An experiment with white-crowned sparrows shows that insecticides may be impacting songbirds. (Credit: Phil Lowe/Shutterstock)

Some migrating songbirds may be starving thanks to agricultural pesticides. Neonicotinoids are popular insecticides used in industrial agriculture across the U.S. But the chemicals’ are controversial because of their detrimental impact on bees and other pollinators.

Now, a group of researchers has added heat to the debate, showing that even small amounts of one particular neonicotinoid — a neurotoxic insecticide called imidacloprid — can affect migrating songbirds’ appetites. The birds ate less and stayed longer at stopping points along their migration after being exposed to the pesticides. And the researchers see reason to worry that those delays could affect the birds’ survival.

“Migration is a critical period for birds and timing matters. Any delays can seriously hinder their success in finding mates and nesting, so this may help explain, in part, why migrant and farmland bird species are declining so dramatically worldwide,” University of Saskatchewan biologist Christy Morrissey, senior author on the study, said in a press release. 

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, top posts

Adrenaline Doesn’t Actually Cause the Fight-or-Flight Response, New Study Says

By Jennifer Walter | September 12, 2019 4:49 pm
Fight or Flight
When you’re overcome with fear, it’s not adrenaline making you want to fight or flee. (Credit: Master1305/Shutterstock)

A thrilling high when you’re faced with danger, a boost of energy when you’re going for an intense run – we tend to associate these rushes with adrenaline, a hormone synonymous with our fight-or-flight response. But it turns out adrenaline might not be what activates our brains’ stress reaction after all.

In fact, our bones might be doing more work than we originally thought. A new study, published today in Cell Metabolism, finds that adrenaline is just one component of our response to stress. Of perhaps greater importance in life-or-death situations is a hormone called osteocalcin, which is secreted by our bones.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts

Astronomers May Have Just Discovered an Interstellar Comet Visiting Our Solar System

By Mara Johnson-Groh | September 12, 2019 4:00 pm
Astronomers first found Comet C/2019 Q4 on August 30. The past week of observations, including this image taken by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Hawaii’s Big Island, have increased astronomers confidence that the comet started life in another solar system. (Credit: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope)

A newly discovered comet has astronomers excited. Formally named C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), the object appears to have come from outside our solar system. If confirmed, that would make it the second known interstellar visitor to our solar system, after the space rock ʻOumuamua.

The potential interstellar comet, which so far is only a fuzzy blip, was first seen on August 30 by observer Gennady Borisov. Ever since then, astronomers around the world have been tracking it and mapping its trajectory to determine its origin. The preliminary data suggests that the object could have originated outside our solar system.

While ‘Oumuamua wasn’t seen until it was on its way out of the solar system, C/2019 Q4 is still on its way in — and should remain visible for a year. With current orbit calculations, C/2019 Q4 is expected to reach its closest approach to the Sun in December 2019, providing astronomers with time to observe it more closely. The comet will likely come within 2 AU of the Sun, which is outside the orbit of Mars. Though currently around a brightness magnitude around 18 —too dim to be seen with a small telescope  — the comet is expected to brighten to around 15th magnitude.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: comets, solar system

Many Cancer Drugs Don’t Work Like Scientists Say They Do, New Study Suggests

By Roni Dengler | September 11, 2019 4:00 pm
Cancer Drugs
(Credit: Shidlovski/Shutterstock)

Cancer therapies often fail to work when tested in clinical trials. As a result, a startling 97 percent of drugs designed for specific cancer treatments do not receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Now researchers say they may have figured out part of the reason why. 

In a new study out Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, scientists report many cancer drugs don’t work the way their designers assumed they did. The discovery may explain why so many cancer therapies fail to benefit patients.   

“Our study showed us that a potential issue with the cancer drug development pipeline is that the ways in which some of these new cancer drugs work is incompletely understood,” one of the study’s lead authors, Chris Giuliano, said in a press briefing.

Off-target, Still Working

In two previous studies, Giuliano and co-author Ann Lin showed a protein thought to be essential to multiple kinds of cancer actually had no effect on cancer growth. This protein was the target of a drug therapy aimed at stopping certain kinds of cancer. But, even when the duo removed the protein from cancer cells the drugs were still effective. In other words, the drugs worked, but not in the way they were purported to.

In the new study, the researchers set out to determine whether the same thing would happen with other anti-cancer drugs. The team tested 10 cancer meds that have been in clinical trials or are close to entering clinical trials. The drugs acted on various proteins that cancer cells were thought to need to grow. So, the researchers used the gene editing technology CRISPR to remove the proteins each therapy supposedly targets from cells taken from a variety of cancers.  

“We’re very surprised to find that when we eliminated these proteins from the cancer cells, that the cancer cells continued to grow just fine in spite of what had previously been published,” cancer biologist Jason Sheltzer, who led the research, said at the press briefing. Sheltzer mentored Lin and Giuliano, who completed much of the new work as undergraduate researchers in Sheltzer’s lab. The two are now pursuing graduate studies at Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, respectively.

The findings show that targets of precision medicines often aren’t essential for cancer cell growth, Sheltzer says.

New Cancer Therapies

As in their previous research, the scientists went on to show that the drugs were still able to kill cancer cells even after the team had completely removed the drugs’ targets. The results proved the therapies must be killing the cancer cells in a different, unknown, way says Sheltzer. 

Despite the shocking findings, Sheltzer sees the results as an opportunity. “We can now take these drugs and we can see if we can figure out what they actually do in cancer cells,” he said. “And so if we are able to successfully do that then we might find new vulnerabilities in cancer cells that we can target or new ways to identify the patients who are most likely to respond to a particular therapy.”

The researchers were able show this is possible. In the new study, they determined the true target of an anti-cancer therapy called OTS964 is a protein called CDK11, not one called PBK, as previously suspected. Before this, there were no known drugs that targeted CDK11. The finding may help make clinical trials for cancer therapies more successful by determining which patients might respond well to CDK11 therapy. 

“Knowing how your drug is working to kill the tumor is the only way to predict which patients might benefit from a given treatment,” Giuliano said. 

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: Vaccines & drugs

A ‘Brown Tide’ of Seaweed is Choking the Caribbean and Worrying Scientists

By Rodrigo Pérez Ortega | September 11, 2019 12:51 pm
sargassum beach
Dead seaweed chokes beaches across the Caribbean every year. (Credit: Playa del Carmen/Shutterstock)

(Inside Science) — In the summer of 2018, thousands of tons of a prolific seaweed called sargassum invaded the pristine beaches of the Caribbean. In Mexico, the turquoise waters and clear, smooth sand of the touristy Mayan Riviera turned into a brown mess. The sight of sargassum — a type of brown algae — and its smell scared tourists away, and local ecosystems started to suffer greatly.

This spring, the seaweed invasion was comparable to last year’s, if not worse. In May, Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador instructed the country’s navy to lead the beach-cleaning effort and to prevent the sargassum from reaching the coast. In June, the situation was so bad that the southeastern state of Quintana Roo — home of the tourist destination of Cancún — declared a state of emergency.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts
MORE ABOUT: ecology

Giant Bubbles Spotted Rushing Out from Milky Way’s Center

By Mara Johnson-Groh | September 11, 2019 12:00 pm
The MeerKAT telescope is superimposed on a radio image of the Milky Way’s center. Radio bubbles extend from between the two nearest antennas to the upper right corner, with filaments running parallel to the bubbles. (Credit: SARAO/MeerKAT)

The Milky Way is blowing bubbles. Two giant radio bubbles, extending out from the galaxy for over 1,400 light years, were just discovered in X-ray data. Astronomers think the bubbles started forming a few million years ago due to some type of cataclysmic event near the galaxy’s central supermassive black hole.

The bubbles’ location also closely matches the range of over 100 narrow, magnetized filaments of radio emissions that stretch for tens of light years in length. First discovered 35 years ago, these filaments’ origins have remained a mystery, but the bubbles’ discovery may now provide an answer.

“The filaments have been a mystery for a long time,” said Ian Heywood, astronomer at the University of Oxford and lead author on the new discovery. He says their results hint that the event that created the bubbles could have also produced high-energy charged particles that created the filaments.

The symmetry of the bubbles billowing above and below the galaxy suggests they were formed by an extremely energetic explosion near the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. The most likely explanation is a flare up in the black hole’s activity as it gobbled up extra nearby material and burped out other particles and radiation. The bubbles could also have been created by an extreme burst in star formation that sent a shock wave across the galactic center. Or possibly, it was a combination of both events.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: black holes, cosmology

Astronomers Find Water Vapor in Atmosphere of a Habitable-Zone Exoplanet for the First Time

By Jake Parks | September 11, 2019 12:00 pm
The watery exoplanet K2-18 b is surrounded by water vapor in this artist’s illustration. (Credit: Alex Boersma)

Astronomers have finally uncovered water vapor in the atmosphere of a super-Earth exoplanet orbiting within the habitable zone of its star. The find means that liquid water could also exist on the rocky world’s surface, potentially even forming a global ocean.

The discovery, made with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, serves as the first detection of water vapor in the atmosphere of such a planet. And because the planet, dubbed K2-18 b, likely sports a temperature similar to Earth, the newfound water vapor makes the world one of the most promising candidates for follow-up studies with next-generation space telescopes.

“This is the only planet right now that we know outside the solar system that has the correct temperature to support water, it has an atmosphere, and it has water in it, making this planet the best candidate for habitability that we know right now,” lead author Angelos Tsiaras, an astronomer at University College London, said in a press conference.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

New Massive Pterosaur Named the ‘Cold Dragon of the North’

By Charles Choi | September 11, 2019 10:57 am
cryodrakon boreas
A new pterosaur dubbed the “Cold Dragon of the North” is one of the largest ever. (Credit: David Maas)

(Inside Science) — A new species of giant pterosaur has been discovered in the Dinosaur Park Formation in Alberta, Canada, whose snowy, windy winters gave Cryodrakon its name. Based on the largest vertebra yet found of this species, adults may have possessed wingspans of roughly 10 meters (33 feet).

“That’s an animal probably comparable to a giraffe in height — more than 4 meters [13 feet] — and maybe 200 kilograms [441 pounds] or so, though estimates of mass especially vary a lot for this group,” said study lead author David Hone, a paleontologist at Queen Mary University of London. 

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: paleontology

Explosions May Have Formed Lakes on Saturn’s Moon Titan

By Erica Naone | September 10, 2019 4:30 pm
This artist’s concept of a lake at the North Pole of Titan shows the raised features that inspired the theory that exploding pockets of liquid nitrogen may be forming craters, which become lake basins. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Saturn’s moon Titan is a distant and frigid world, but it also carries intriguing similarities to Earth’s own terrain. Liquid lakes and seas dot its landscape, though the methane and ethane that fill them are a far cry from terrestrial water. Now a new theory suggests that some of these bodies of liquid may have literally exploded into existence. If so, Titan may share another similarity with Earth: climate change.

In a study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, researchers propose that pockets of liquid nitrogen may have exploded from the moon’s crust in response to warming atmospheric conditions. The resulting craters may then have filled with liquid methane.

Study co-author Jonathan Lunine, an astronomer at Cornell University in New York, says that data from NASA’s Cassini mission inspired the new theory. The spacecraft spotted “odd, very striking features” around some of Titan’s lakes. The lakes were surrounded by sharp ridges and ramparts that couldn’t be explained by previous theories about how the lakes formed. But they could be explained as the results of explosions.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: solar system

Over 250 Neanderthal Footprints Reveal Clues to the Ancient Humans’ Social Lives

By Nathaniel Scharping | September 10, 2019 3:15 pm
Neanderthal Footprint
This is one of the Neanderthal footprints discovered at Le Rozel. (Credit: Image courtesy of Dominique Cliquet)

At first glimpse, it looks like the Neanderthals might have just vanished around the corner. Their footprints are engraved in the soft oceanside rock, like photographic negatives of their passage, seemingly ready to be swept away by the nearby ocean.

In reality, the impressions are around 80,000 years old, pressed into ancient sediments by a group of ancient humans and preserved by blowing sands. These footprints, 257 in all, were discovered in Normandy, France, and are the focus of a new analysis by researchers. They are revealing fresh insights into how Neanderthals lived, filling in gaps that bones and artifacts can’t speak to.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: human origins
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