Vertebrate animals, science and art


This 2016 video is called Skeletons and vertebrates.

From the University of Kansasin the USA:

State-of-the-art imaging techniques reveal heightened detail and beauty of vertebrate life

September 4, 2018

A mingling of science and art, the next-generation photographs of vertebrate skeletons are at once fascinating, eerie, intricate and exquisite.

“People are inherently interested in how these skeletons look”, said W. Leo Smith, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and associate curator at the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum. “In any given scholarly paper, you’d be lucky to have a couple of hundred people read it top to bottom — but a lot more people will look at the images. The more we can improve that, the more people you can get interested in your research.”

Since the 1800s, biologists and paleontologists have taken pictures of specimens to perform comparative anatomical studies. Now, techniques pioneered by Smith and a team of researchers headquartered at KU are giving scientists around the world fresh methods to capture images of vertebrates — a breakthrough enabling better, more useful digital pictures of Earth’s biodiversity.

The team describes the two novel imaging procedures in a new paper appearing in the peer-reviewed journal Copeia.

One new process involves “cleared and stained” specimens, which have been stripped of their muscles in a time-honored technique using cow enzymes. The team discovered how to position such specimens within a glycerine-gelatin mixture for otherwise impossible images.

“The problem we had was we couldn’t pose these animals because we’ve digested away all of the muscles,” Smith said. “They’re flaccid and useless, like a pile of clothes that fold in every direction. We wanted the ability to pose them.”

The researchers hunted for the best ratio of glycerine and gelatin that allowed specimens to be posed in a nondestructive medium that could be simply washed off after photography. Much of the “nitty gritty” work was performed by doctoral student Matthew Girard and intern Chesney A. Buck, an aspiring taxidermist interning with Smith’s group from Van Go Inc., an arts-based employment program for at-risk teens and young adults.

“She was interested in artistic taxidermy, mixing animal parts like have been done with the jackalope“, Smith said. “She knew about clearing and staining and wanted to know how to do it. After her internship, she volunteered for a year more. There was a lot of trial and error. We tried lots of different things.”

Other co-authors on the new paper are Gregory S. Ornay, Rene P. Martin and Girard of KU’s Biodiversity Institute, along with Matthew P. Davis and Sarah Z. Gibson of St. Cloud State University.

Eventually, the team found a 40 percent glycerine mixture that held specimens well and was sufficiently translucent for photography, allowing them new looks at specimens that could “float” within the matrix.

“You can see through this medium and give the specimen structure”, Smith said. “Now you can get a photo of a fish specimen head on and look at it from all these different angles. There’s something different about being able to see anatomical structure in new ways that really does help analysis. Before, we struggled with how to pose these things. For instance, fish are famous for having two sets of jaws, an oral set like ours and then another set of teeth where our voice box is — you couldn’t get a photo of these teeth head-on before now.”

Smith said the new technique could be used on a host of vertebrate species beyond the fishes he studies.

“It’d be great to pose a snake coiled, but before now they just wouldn’t hold in that pose. Or if you were trying to get an image of some structure obscured by the wing of a bird and couldn’t get it out of the way, we’ve often had to cut the wing off, but now you could deflect the wing to show that structure.”

A second method developed by the group employs fluorescent microscopy to examine specimens and create captivating images of alizarin-stained recent and fossil vertebrates. The work hinges on the fact that alizarin, a stain long used in the clearing and staining process to identify bones in a specimen, fluoresces when exposed to the right wavelengths of light — a phenomenon Smith discovered himself. (Another team independently discovered the phenomenon in a paper about zebrafish.)

“Alizarin red is used to dye a specimen’s bones, and it fluoresces like a Grateful Dead poster”, Smith said. “We use lights that have high energy and look for reflections of re-emitted fluorescent wavelength, and the microscope has filters that block all the other light. The skin and everything else disappears because it doesn’t fluoresce — it’s a fast way to clear out all the extra stuff and is incredibly useful when you’re trying to see where bones are connected. It was pure luck to find this.”

The KU researcher reported the fluorescence microscopy finding to colleagues last year at the annual meeting of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, and today other investigators in the field already are using the matrix in their own digital imaging work thanks to the presentation.

“Now lots of people are doing it,” Smith said. “It’s been really rewarding. You feel like you contributed something to make this kind of research more interesting and allow us to study anatomy better.”

While Smith doesn’t consider the how-to descriptions of new imaging techniques to be of equal weight as the scientific papers he regularly produces, he stressed the importance of providing compelling images to conveying information to fellow investigators and the public alike.

“At end of the day, the picture is worth a thousand words,” he said. “Images allow you to fundamentally share how things work and improve your ability to tell someone else about your novel discoveries.”

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Dutch public land closed for royal family hunting


This 2014 video is called Wild boar at Kroondomein het Loo.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Royal domain Het Loo [in the Veluwe region] will be closed to the public again this year from mid-September to the end of December. The nature reserve closes mostly so that members of the royal family can hunt, reports regional broadcaster Omroep Gelderland.

A majority of parliament is opposed to the closure. In April, the House adopted a proposal stating that the estate should remain open throughout the year. But Minister Schouten said that she was unable to implement that proposal. The king himself is the one who manages the royal domain and he can do so at his own discretion.

The Party for the Animals has been trying to prevent closure in the fall for years. The party thinks that the park should not be closed, because the late Queen Wilhelmina donated the park to the Dutch people in 1959. The fact that hunting at the site will probably be impossible if the crown domain remains open also plays an important role.

So, Het Loo is called a royal domain, but is in fact property of the Dutch government; which pays for its management with taxpayers’ money. “So, public property, but the public is not welcome”, a Wiesel village resident said.

This 11 September 2016 video shows a demonstration by the Apeldoorn branch of the Party for the Animals on bicycles against closing Het Loo to the public to facilitate royal hunting.

When we were at Het Loo last year, most parts were inaccessible as well.

Helping Australian freshwater fish


This 2014 video is called Australian Native Pond (fish).

From the University of Queensland in Australia:

A breakthrough for Australia’s fish

September 4, 2018

A research team from the Threatened Species Recovery Hub has made a breakthrough that could help dwindling numbers of Australian freshwater fish species.

Dr Jabin Watson from the University of Queensland says the innovation will allow small and young fish to get past barriers like culverts.

“Simple things like dams, culverts and weirs can be enough to prevent fish from migrating, accessing habitat and even escaping predators“, said Dr Watson.

“These kinds of barriers are a major contributor to the declines and local extinctions of many Australian fish species.”

Native fish in the Murray Darling Basin are estimated to be at only ten per cent of pre European numbers.

“When streams pass through a culvert — the pipes under most roads — the flow is concentrated”, Dr Watson said.

“This fast flow can be impossible for many fish to navigate as they simply can’t swim that fast for that long.

“Small and young fish are particularly impacted.”

The team used a biohydrodynamics laboratory at UQ to test the swimming ability and behaviour of native fish species.

“Many different types of devices have been trialled in Australia to help fish move past barriers like culverts”, Dr Watson said.

“Baffles are frequently used, with the aim of giving fish areas to rest along the way, but our laboratory testing has shown that the turbulence created can really knock fish about and make them disorientated.

“We’ve discovered a completely new approach that has proved very successful in laboratory trials, enabling small and young fish to navigate fast flows.

“We have taken advantage of a property of fluid mechanics called the boundary layer to create a channel of slower flowing water along one side of the culvert”, he said.

“The boundary layer is a thin layer of slower water generated by a fluid moving across a solid surface, such as the bed and walls of a culvert.

“By adding a beam along the culvert wall, we have added another surface close to the culvert corner.

“The boundary layers from these three surfaces merge to create a reduced velocity channel that is large enough for small fish to swim through.

Dr Watson said no native fish species have evolved to cope with things like culverts.

“Strategies that work to improve fish passage provide hope for our freshwater species”, Dr Watson concludes.

Spain stops selling bombs to Saudi Arabia


This 11 May 2018 video says about itself:

Children buried: Saudi strike in Yemen produces heartbreaking images

Six civilians are dead and another injured in Yemen after an airstrike said to be carried out by the Saudi-led coalition hit a family home. The rescue efforts produced dramatic and jarring images of children trapped under the rubble. RT America’s Dan Cohen has this report. WARNING: GRAPHIC FOOTAGE.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Spain stops delivery of bombs to Saudi Arabia because of war in Yemen

Spain has halted the supply of bombs to Saudi Arabia because of concerns about their use in Yemen. The Spanish Ministry of Defense confirms the news to Spanish media, but does not publish any details.

Spain signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia in 2015 on the sale of 400 laser-controlled bombs. 9.2 million euros were paid for this. The Spanish government of Prime Minister Sánchez now wants to cancel the contract and return the money. According to Amnesty International, Spain is one of the main suppliers of war material to the Gulf state.

At least one improvement after the downfall of the corrupt right-wing minority government in Spain, succeeded by Sánchez’s social democratic minority government. Though it would have been still a bigger improvement if Sánchez would have scrapped the record expenses for militarism of his predecessors’ budget.

School bus

Saudi Arabia fights in the bloody Yemeni civil war in a coalition with Sunni alliesSaudi Arabia recently admitted that an air strike by the coalition on a school bus in Yemen, where dozens of children died last month, was not militarily justified.

Human rights organizations have condemned the sale of weapons by Western countries to Saudi Arabia for some time. … According to the United Nations, the war in Yemen, where more than 22 million people lack basic necessities, is currently the most serious humanitarian crisis in the world.