SciTech Briefs

Chernobyl birds adapt to radiation

Ecologists have found that birds living near Chernobyl are adapting, and even benefiting, from long-term exposure to radiation. While previous studies suggested that exposure to radiation depleted antioxidants and increased oxidative stress, the researchers found the opposite happening in the birds. A greater exposure to ionizing radiation instead increased antioxidants and increased the animals’ resistance to larger doses of radiation. The ecologists captured 152 birds, measured background radiation levels, and then took blood and feather samples before releasing the birds. The results of the study also helped scientists further distinguish between the different species of birds in the area.

Source: ScienceDaily

Worry spreads over emerging virus

As of Friday, there have been 92 deaths and 313 confirmed cases of Middle-Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Most of the cases have been in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the virus can be transmitted between people. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention are preparing for outbreaks in case the virus spreads from the region, such as through air travel.

Scientists believe the virus resides in camels and recently jumped to humans. Currently, it seems that MERS only spreads from one person and then stops transmission.

Source: NPR

Scientists decode tsetse fly genome

Scientists have recently decoded the genome of the tsetse fly, an insect that spreads the parasitic disease, sleeping sickness, in Africa. The scientists specifically looked at the genome of Glossina morsitans, one of the species of tsetse flies. The project took over a decade, partially due to the unique biology of the creature. For example, tsetse flies are the only insects to nurse their young. While other insects give birth to hundreds of eggs, tsetse flies typically hatch only one larvae, which complicates sequencing because geneticists need to look at nearly identical or closely related females flies in order to accurately sequence a genome. Tsetse flies typically only produce 10 progeny in their life span.

Source: The New York Times

FDA may regulate e-cigarettes

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently announced plans to control cigars, pipe tobacco, hookah, and e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes are devices that deliver water vapor with nicotine. The new proposal by the FDA would limit legal purchase of these products to those over 18 years old, similar to regulations put in place regarding chewing tobacco and cigarettes.
While some have touted claims that e-cigarettes are an alternative to help current smokers quit, studies have shown little evidence. Rather, the products might introduce more individuals to tobacco products.

Source: Nature

Y chromosome no longer shrinking

Previous research has shown that the Y chromosome — the sex chromosome found in males — has significantly shrunk over the past hundred million years. Scientists now say, however, that the Y chromosome has been stable for the past 25 million years according to a paper published in Nature. The authors state that in addition to sex determination, genes on the Y chromosome are involved in protein synthesis, gene activation, and gene splicing. Scientists analyzed the Y chromosome in eight mammalian species. They looked at the chromosome in animals that appear relatively early in the fossil record, such as mice, and compared them with those that appear later, such as humans.

Source: Scientific American

Recent liquid is found on Mars

Research by scientists at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden suggests that there was liquid on Mars as recently as 200,000 years ago. The finding can be traced to the discovery of a young crater on the southern hemisphere of the planet. The crater contains well-preserved gullies and debris flow deposits. These formations indicate that the crater was formed by liquid water relatively recently.

The research group compared the landforms in the crater with similar ones on Earth.

Source: ScienceDaily