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Decoded: How hummingbirds detect sweetness

Written By kom nampultig on Jumat, 22 Agustus 2014 | 22.33

NEW YORK: Hummingbirds are highly specialized nectar feeders and you cannot even fool them by sugar substitute that sweetens most diet cola.

Now, scientists have discovered how hummingbirds' ability to detect sweetness evolved from an ancestral savoury taste receptor that is mostly tuned to flavours in amino acids.

After cloning the genes for taste receptors from chickens, swifts and hummingbirds, researchers needed to test what the proteins expressed by these genes were responding to.

They showed that in chickens and swifts, the receptor responds strongly to amino acids — the umami flavours -— but in hummingbirds only weakly.

But the receptor in hummingbirds responds strongly to carbohydrates — the sweet flavours.

"This is the first time that this umami receptor has ever been shown to respond to carbohydrates," said Maude Baldwin from Harvard Medical School.

They found 19 mutations, likely to be contributing to this sweet switch.

"It is a really nice example of how a species evolved at a molecular level to adopt a very complex phenotype," said Stephen Liberles, an associate professor of cell biology.

A change in a single receptor can actually drive a change in behaviour and, we propose, can contribute to species diversification, he added.

Sensory systems give us a window into the brain to define what we understand about the world around us.

The taste system is arguably a really direct line to pleasure and aversion, reward and punishment, sweet and bitter.

Understanding how neural circuits can encode these differentially gives us a window into other aspects of perception, researchers added.

The paper appeared in the journal Science.

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Climate change puts Europe at dengue risk

LONDON: Dengue fever could make headway in popular European holiday destinations if climate change continues on its predicted trajectory, according to an alarming research.

The study by University of East Anglia (UEA) used current data from Mexico where dengue fever is present and information about the European Union (EU) countries in order to model the likelihood of the disease spreading in Europe.

They found that coastal regions in around the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas, the Po Valley and North East Italy were most at risk.

"Our study has shown that the risk of dengue fever is likely to increase in Europe under climate change," said lead researcher Paul Hunter from UEA's Norwich Medical School.

For this study, researchers wanted to estimate how likely the disease is to become established in Europe as its climate changes up to the end of the century.

The results of the long-term projections found an increased risk of the disease when compared to baseline conditions.

The incidence rate is predicted to go from two per 100,000 inhabitants to 10 per 100,000 in some places.

The areas anticipated to be at most risk were found to be along the Italian cost and Po Valley in Italy, the Spanish Mediterranean and southern Spain in general.

Each year, dengue infects 50 million people worldwide and causes approximately 12,000 deaths, mostly in south-east Asia and the western Pacific.

(The study appeared in the journal BMC Public Health.)

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Polluting industries along Ganga will be monitored 24x7

Written By kom nampultig on Kamis, 21 Agustus 2014 | 22.33

NEW DELHI: Making it clear that pollution of the Ganga will not be allowed, environment minister Prakash Javadekar on Thursday said industries along the river bank would be monitored round-the-clock.

The Central Pollution Control Board will be handling the real-time monitoring of the industries, he told reporters here.

"We are setting up real-time 24x7 monitoring of polluting industries along the bank of river Ganga and the Central Pollution Control Board will be handling this. We will put up sensor. Pollution of the Ganga will not be allowed," he said.

Both the environment and the water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation ministries have decided to work in close tandem for Ganga rejuvenation after a meeting today.

Both the ministries will ensure minimum e-flow into the river and will check industrial pollution of river Ganga to ensure the protection of its bio-diversity and habitat including natural species in the upper reaches of the river.

Online monitoring of treatment of industrial waste by the industry will begin within six months.

It was also decided that both the ministries will strictly follow the ban on various activities on the 130-km stretch on river Ganga from Gomukh to Uttarkashi.

Meetings with the representatives of various industries will also be held on the banks of river Ganga to prevent the flow of industrial waste into the river.

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Ancient microbe colonies found living under 800m ice in Antarctic

In a major breakthrough, scientists have finally proved that life exists in a lake buried under half a mile (800 meters) of ice on the west Antarctic ice sheet. Lake Whillans where 4000 types of micro-organisms were found has not seen sunlight or felt a breath of air for millions of years.

Many of the microbes are single-celled organisms known as Archaea, said Montana State University professor John Priscu, the chief scientist of the US project called WISSARD that sampled the sub-ice environment. The microorganisms that live beneath the enormous Antarctic ice sheet survive by converting ammonium and methane into the energy required for growth.

"It's the first definitive evidence that there's not only life, but active ecosystems underneath the Antarctic ice sheet, something that we have been guessing about for decades. With this paper, we pound the table and say, 'Yes, we were right,'' lead author Brent Christner said. The paper is published in the latest issue of Nature.

The Antarctic ice sheet covers an area 1 ½ times the size of the United States and contains 70% of earth's freshwater, and any significant melting can drastically increase sea level. Lake Whillans, one of more than 200 known lakes beneath the Antarctic Ice Sheet and the primary lake in the WISSARD study, fills and drains about every three years. The river that drains Lake Whillans flows under the Ross Ice Shelf, which is the size of France, and feeds the Southern Ocean, where it can provide nutrients for life and influence water circulation patterns.

Although he was not really surprised about the discovery, Priscu said he was excited by some of the details of the Antarctic find, particularly how the microbes function without sunlight at subzero temperatures and the fact that evidence from DNA sequencing revealed that the dominant organisms are Archaea, one of three domains of life, the others being Bacteria and Eukaryote.

Many of the subglacial archaea use the energy in the chemical bonds of ammonium to fix carbon dioxide and drive other metabolic processes. Another group of microorganisms uses the energy and carbon in methane to make a living.

According to Priscu, the source of the ammonium and methane is most likely from the breakdown of organic matter that was deposited in the area hundreds of thousands of years ago when Antarctica was warmer and the sea inundated west Antarctica.

The Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) project officially began in 2009. The researchers drilled down to the lake in January 2013.

Christner said species are hard to determine in microbiology, but "We are looking at a water column that probably has about 4,000 things we call species. It's incredibly diverse."

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South Australia keen on 'Clean Ganga' project

Written By kom nampultig on Rabu, 20 Agustus 2014 | 22.34

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ambitious 'Clean Ganga' project received a shot-in-the-arm with the South Australia government showing its interest in cleaning up the river, which is considered sacred by many Indians.

South Australian premier Jay Weatherhill said on Wednesday that his government would propose a plan to clean the mighty Ganga.

"We have the expertise to clean rivers and we are interested in taking up the 'Clean Ganga' project. We are also planning to meet India's water resources ministry and the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs to give them our proposal," said Weatherhill during a promotional campaign of the South Australian government for the 2015 Cricket World Cup.

'Clean Ganga's is one of Modi's pet project. The prime minister, through his MyGov site is also calling for suggestions to clean the Ganga. The Modi government is keen on seeking to bring about a radical change in the river's condition.

Union water resources minister Uma Bharti also claimed Wednesday that Ganga would be free from most of its pollution within three years.

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Tripura to set up elephant reserve in Gomati district

AGARTALA: Tripura government will set up an elephant reserve at Gandhari in Gomati district for better conservation of the jumbos whose population was dwindling in the state.

The reserve would be spread over 123.8 sqkm area in Gomati district at the initiative of the state government and the site has been selected where there is no human habitation, Tripura Information Minister Bhanu Lal said today. The decision to set up the elephant reserve was taken in the meeting of the council of ministers yesterday, Saha said.

"The area encompasses Baramura and Devtamura hill ranges and there is no human habitation. As many as 25 elephants of Asian varieties were found to be living in the proposed reserve areas which is ideal for habitation of elephants," the minister said.

Meanwhile, forest officials in a raid at the house of one surrendered insurgent of banned National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), Rathindra Debbarma at Tuisidrabari in Khowai district on Monday recovered two tusks of an elephant and four skulls of deer, Divisional Forest Officer Shaktiman Sinha told reporters.

Sinha said the price of the tusks in the black market is at least Rs 10 lakh and added that cases against Debbarma had been filed.

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New method to recycle old batteries into solar cells

Written By kom nampultig on Selasa, 19 Agustus 2014 | 22.33

WASHINGTON: Researchers have proposed a system that recycles materials from discarded car batteries — a potential source of lead pollution — into new, long-lasting solar panels that provide emissions-free power.

The system is based on a recent development in solar cells that makes use of a compound called perovskite — specifically, organolead halide perovskite — a technology that has rapidly progressed from initial experiments to a point where its efficiency is nearly competitive with that of other types of solar cells.

"It went from initial demonstrations to good efficiency in less than two years," said Angela M Belcher, the W M Keck Professor of Energy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Already, perovskite-based photovoltaic cells have achieved power-conversion efficiency of more than 19 per cent, which is close to that of many commercial silicon-based solar cells.

Initial descriptions of the perovskite technology identified its use of lead, whose production from raw ores can produce toxic residues, as a drawback.

But by using recycled lead from old car batteries, the manufacturing process can instead be used to divert toxic material from landfills and reuse it in photovoltaic panels that could go on producing power for decades.

Since the perovskite photovoltaic material takes the form of a thin film just half a micrometre thick, the team's analysis shows that the lead from a single car battery could produce enough solar panels to provide power for 30 households.

The production of perovskite solar cells is a relatively simple and benign process.

"It has the advantage of being a low-temperature process, and the number of steps is reduced compared with the manufacture of conventional solar cells," Belcher said.

Today, Belcher said, 90 per cent of the lead recovered from the recycling of old batteries is used to produce new batteries, but over time the market for new lead-acid batteries is likely to decline, potentially leaving a large stockpile of lead with no obvious application.

In a finished solar panel, the lead-containing layer would be fully encapsulated by other materials, as many solar panels are today, limiting the risk of lead contamination of the environment.

When the panels are eventually retired, the lead can simply be recycled into new solar panels.

The work clearly demonstrates that lead recovered from old batteries is just as good for the production of perovskite solar cells as freshly produced metal, researchers said.

The study is published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science.

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Earth's resource budget for 2014 already spent: Report

PARIS: In under eight months, humanity has used up its yearly quota of replenishable Earth resources, according to a report published on Tuesday by an environmental thinktank that monitors mankind's impact on the planet.

"August 19 is Earth Overshoot Day 2014, marking the date when humanity has exhausted nature's budget for the year," the Global Footprint Network said in a statement.

"For the rest of the year, we will maintain our ecological deficit... We will be operating in overshoot."

The organisation tracks humanity's demands on the planet against its ability to replenish resources like food and timber, and absorb waste like carbon dioxide from burning fuel for energy.

The cutoff point has been arriving earlier every year — in 1993 Earth Overshoot Day fell on October 21, in 2003 on September 22, and last year on August 20.

In 1961, the organisation said, humans used about three-quarters of the Earth's annual resource budget.

This changed by the early 1970s, when economic and population growth increased our footprint beyond what the planet could renew in a year.

"Today, 86 per cent of the world population lives in countries that demand more from nature than their own ecosystems can renew," the network said.

It calculated that 1.5 Earths would be needed to produce the renewable resources needed to support current consumption.

"Moderate population, energy and food projections suggest that humanity would require the biocapacity of three planets well before mid-century," the network warned.

"This may be physically unfeasible." The costs of unsustainable consumption can be seen in deforestation, water scarcity, soil erosion, species loss and a buildup of planet-warming CO2 in the atmosphere that threatens human well-being and countries' economic stability, said the organisation.

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Artist accused of damaging environment in Mexico

Written By kom nampultig on Senin, 18 Agustus 2014 | 22.33

AP | Aug 17, 2014, 06.38PM IST

In this undated photo, provided by the Polish artist Agata Oleksiak, shows her setting up her installation over an underwater sculpture at the Cancun Underwater Museum near Cancun, Mexico. The artist known as Olek, famed for slipping crocheted covers around unlikely objects has run afoul of environmental authorities in Mexico for slipping her brightly colored work around the underwater sculptures. (AP Photo)

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MEXICO CITY: A Polish artist famed for slipping crocheted covers around unlikely objects has run afoul of environmental authorities in Mexico for slipping her brightly colored work around underwater sculptures near Cancun.

Agata Oleksiak says she intervened at the Cancun Underwater Museum this month to call attention to the dangers facing species such as the whale shark.

But museum director Jaime Gonzalez says she herself actually may have damaged marine life growing on the sculptures in the environmentally protected area. Gonzalez says prosecutors are preparing to lodge charges against her.

The New York-based artist known as Olek says she was simply trying to "send positive messages."

In the past, she's put crocheted covers around a bus and a Wall Street statue of a bull.

Article continues
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Kanpur zoo to get new animals

KANPUR: In the near future, the Kanpur zoo will have new additions in its animal kitty. The new animals to join the Kanpur zoo include wolf, fox and wild boar.

Separate enclosures would be constructed for these wild animals. RS Bhadauria, former zoo director and member of Central Zoo Authority inspected the zoo for the purpose of seeing the locations where these new enclosures would be constructed.

Sources in the zoo informed that the enclosure for wolf and fox would be made close to the first railway station, while enclosure for wild boar would tentatively be made next to the chitals' enclosure.

The former director came to the zoo to give his expertise for the construction of the new enclosures. He gave certain suggestions to zoo authorities regarding construction and maintenance of the animal enclosures.

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