Dinosaur footprints, new research


This 2018 video says about itself:

World’s Largest Dinosaur Footprints

The National Park Toro Toro is a blast from the Jurassic era, and almost like the movie Jurassic Park. Join me in one of Bolivia’s least visited places and hidden gems.

From Brown University in the USA:

Different tracks, same dinosaurs: Researchers dig deeper into dinosaur movements

July 1, 2020

When picturing dinosaur tracks, most people imagine a perfectly preserved mold of a foot on a firm layer of earth. But what if that dinosaur was running through mud, sinking several inches — or even up to their ankles — into the ground as it moved?

Using sophisticated X-ray-based technology, a team of Brown University researchers tracked the movements of guineafowl to investigate how their feet move below ground through various substrates and what those findings could mean for understanding fossil records left behind by dinosaurs.

They found that regardless of the variability in substrates, or the guineafowl moving at different speeds, sinking at different depths or engaging in different behaviors, the birds’ overall foot movement remained the same: The toes spread as they stepped onto the substrate surface, remained spread as the foot sank, collapsed and drew back as they were lifted from the substrate, and exited the substrate in front of the point of entry, creating a looping pattern as they walked.

And part of what that means is that fossilized dinosaur tracks that look distinct from each other, and appear to be from different species, might instead come from the same dinosaurs.

“This is the first study that’s really shown how the bird foot is moving below ground, showing the patterns of this subsurface foot motion and allowing us to break down the patterns that we’re seeing in a living animal that has feet similar to those of a dinosaur,” said Morgan Turner, a Ph.D. candidate at Brown in ecology and evolutionary biology and lead author of the research. “Below ground, or even above ground, they’re responding to these soft substrates in a very similar way, which has potentially important implications for our ability to study the movement of these animals that we can’t observe directly anymore.”

The findings were published on Wednesday, July 1, in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

To make the observations, Turner and her colleagues, Professor of Biology and Medical Science Stephen Gatesy and Peter Falkingham, now at Liverpool John Moores University, used a 3D-imaging technology developed at Brown called X-ray Reconstruction of Moving Morphology (XROMM). The technology combines CT scans of a skeleton with high-speed X-ray video, aided by tiny implanted metal markers, to create visualizations of how bones and muscles move inside humans and animals. In the study, the team used XROMM to watch guineafowl move through substrates of different hydration and compactness, analyzing how their feet moved underground and the tracks left behind.

Sand, typically a dense combination of quartz and silica, does not lend itself well to X-ray imaging, so the team used poppy seeds to emulate sand. Muds were made using small glass bubbles, adding various amount of clay and water across 107 trials to achieve different consistencies and realistic tracks.

They added metal markers underneath the claws of the guineafowl to allow for tracking in 3D space. It’s these claw tips that the researchers think are least disturbed by mud flow and other variables that can impact and distort the form of the track.

Despite the variation, the researchers observed a consistent looping pattern.

“The loops by themselves I don’t think are that interesting,” Gatesy said. “People are like, ‘That’s nice. Birds do this underground. So what?’ It was only when [Turner] went back into it and said, ‘What if we slice those motion trails at different depths as if they were footprints?’ Then we made the nice connection to the fossils.”

By “slicing” through the 3D images of the movement patterns at different depths, the researchers found similarities between the guineafowl tracks and fossilized dinosaur tracks.

“We don’t know what these dinosaurs were doing, we don’t know what they were walking through exactly, we don’t know how big they were or how deep they were sinking, but we can make this really strong connection between how they were moving and some level of context for where this track is being sampled from within that movement,” Turner said.

By recognizing the movement patterns, as well as the entry and exit point of the foot through various substrates, the team says they’re able to gain a better understanding of what a dinosaur track could look like.

“You end up generating this big diversity of track shapes from a very simple foot shape because you’re sampling at different depths and it’s moving in complicated ways,” Gatesy said. “Do we really have 40 different kinds of creatures, each with a differently shaped foot, or are we looking at some more complicated interaction that leaves behind these remnants that are partly anatomical and partly motion and partly depth?”

To further their research, the team spent time at the Beneski Museum of Natural History at Amherst College in Massachusetts, which is home to an expansive collection of penetrative tracks discovered in the 1800s by geologist Edward Hitchcock.

Hitchcock originally believed that his collection housed fossil tracks from over 100 distinct animals. Because of the team’s work with XROMM, Gatesy now thinks it’s possible that at least half of those tracks are actually from the same dinosaurs, just moving their feet in slightly different ways or sampled at slightly different depths.

“Going to museum together and being able to pick out these features and say, ‘We think this track is low in the loop and we think this one is high,’ that was the biggest moment of insight for me,” Turner said.

Turner says she hopes their research can lead to a greater interest in penetrative tracks, even if they seem a little less pretty or polished than the tracks people are used to seeing in museums.

“They have so much information in them,” Turner said, “and I hope that this gives people a lens, a new way to view these footprints and appreciate the movement preserved within in them.”

This work was supported by the US National Science Foundation (EAR 1452119 to SMG and PLF; IOS 0925077 to SMG), a Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship within the 7th European Framework Programme to PLF, and the Bushnell Research and Education Fund to MLT.

COVID-19 and food industry, worldwide


This 28 April 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

Workers call for closure of meatpacking plant to avoid COVID-19

Some employees at JBS Beef in Tolleson fear catching COVID-19.

From the World Socialist Web Site, 30 June 2020:

Lawsuit charges Tyson foods culpable in death of three workers at Iowa pork plant

A lawsuit on behalf of the families of three workers who died of COVID-19 at Tyson’s largest pork-processing facility in Waterloo, Iowa was filed June 25. Sedika Buljic, aged 58, Reberiano Garcia, aged 60 and Jose Ayala, Jr., aged 44, died during the period April to May from the coronavirus under conditions where the company knowingly put workers at risk.

The Spence Law Firm is charging that the company was aware of the spread of the virus to the Waterloo plant, but concealed the information. As the contagion grew, management failed to implement safety measures. Lastly, in what an AP report called an “explosive claim,” Tyson, “allowed workers and subcontractors from another Iowa plant that had closed due to a coronavirus outbreak to begin working in Waterloo in April. Plant supervisors told employees that their sick coworkers had the flu and warned them not to discuss coronavirus at work.”

In an April newspaper ad, the company’s CEO John Tyson issued a warning that coronavirus and plant closures were leading to a breakdown in the “food supply chain” and there would be meat shortages. Meanwhile, Tyson’s exports of pork to China during the same month increased.

COVID-19 increase at UK’s 2 Sisters, Rowan and Kober meat processing factories. By Tony Robson, 1 July 2020. Inadequate and unsafe forms of transport, poor working conditions, and rundown accommodation are class issues bound up with the wealth extraction demanded by capitalism.

From daily News Line in Britain today:

Super-exploitation in Covid-infected meat factories

THE LINK between outbreaks of Covid-19 at meat processing plants and the sector’s widespread exploitation of migrant workers on low pay and insecure contracts ‘must be addressed’, the union Unite said yesterday.

Although conditions within refrigerated meat processing factories have been cited as a risk factor for coronavirus transmission, Unite said there is also a direct correlation between the treatment of migrant staff as ‘disposable assets’ and the spread of the disease in such environments.

This is particularly true in meat processing factories that do not provide staff who need to self-isolate with company sick pay or any other form of financial support, as it increases the danger of individuals with Covid-19 going into work because they cannot afford to take time off.

The union also raised concerns about track and trace record keeping for agency workers, such as production line staff and cleaners, who often work at multiple sites and whose contact details may not be available or could be overlooked during infection control procedures.

Industry employment standards are also directly linked to overcrowded housing which is a contributing factor to the risk of outbreaks within factories.

A recent Unite survey of 20 per cent of the workforce at a Covid-19 impacted meat processing plant staffed overwhelmingly by migrant workers, found that 43 per cent of respondents live with two or more colleagues (at least three to a house) and 11 per cent live with five or more.

Nearly 65 per cent of the 150 respondents said they have attended work whilst unwell, with 69 per cent of those doing so because they could not afford to lose pay. Just 10 per cent of respondents said they have been tested for Covid-19.

Unite national officer Bev Clarkson said: ‘Exploitation driven by corporate greed is a major factor in the public health emergencies amongst meat processing plants here and in other countries.

‘Migrant workers, who often do not speak English and are scared to speak out because they fear losing their jobs, suffer under a relentless system that long pre-dates Covid-19 in which they are treated without dignity or respect. Exploitation is so rife within the sector that Unite is also concerned that some workers are vulnerable to modern slavery.

‘This issue is now being brought to public attention because of its impact on the UK’s ability to stem the virus. People can see that the treatment of staff in the sector as disposable assets is unjust, unsustainable and a danger to public health.

‘As a priority, employers and government must end the terrible situation where workers are having to choose between self-isolating or going into work because they cannot afford to be ill.

‘It is imperative that ministers and industry commit to a root and branch reform of the meat processing sector. The dire working conditions, low pay and insecure employment that blight the industry and have now come back to bite the nation’s efforts to defeat the coronavirus must be addressed.’

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

At fish processor ProFish in Twello in Gelderland province, 43 workershave been infected with the coronavirus in recent weeks.

”I can get another job. I can’t get another life”. Food processing plants in Ohio and New York hit with outbreaks. By Alex Findijs, 1 July 2020. Outbreaks at salad and fruit processing plants in Springfield, Ohio, and Oswego, New York, show the vulnerability of food workers to the deadly disease.

Russian soccer, Israel, Palestine, coronavirus pandemic news


This 17 April 2020 video says about itself:

As the surge in cases of coronavirus continues, cultural diversity has led to different approaches and even misunderstandings in the fight against #COVID19 around the world. As part of our determination to keep connected in this time of global isolation, we are joined by internet influencers from the U.S., the UK, Italy, Iran, Japan, and Israel.

Social influencer from Israel, Raz Galor, shares stories of mask donation between China and Israel.

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel has risen sharply, with 859 confirmed infections in the past 24 hours.

Meanwhile, 980 cases, the Times of Israel writes.

That is the largest increase in one day since the outbreak began. The number of confirmed cases in the country now stands at 25,547.

In another report, the Times of Israel reports that the Palestinian Authority is also concerned about the spread of Covid-19. A lockdown in the West Bank will apply for five days from Friday, a spokesperson said. All government buildings are closing and shops must also keep the doors closed, except supermarkets and pharmacies. Travel for nonessential reasons is prohibited during lockdown.

Also translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

The problems pile up in the football league of Russia. FK Orenburg refuses to continue playing under the current circumstances.

For the second time in four days, the club is absent from a competition game because of the many infections within the selection. Ten Orenburg players and staff members are already battling covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

FK Rostov, where six players tested positive and which had to quarantine the entire squad, gave way a week and a half ago under the pressure of the Russian Federation and sent a youth team against FK Sochi to fulfil their duty. The result was a record loss (10-1) and a Champions League ticket that is at risk.

Stand firm

At Orenburg, however, they stand firm. Then no football. “Such matches will not be of interest to fans and in our opinion will damage both our club and Russian football,” the statement said.

There are still five rounds to finish. Zenit Saint Petersburg is ahead with a street length, but for both the distribution of European tickets and the battle at the bottom, the mutual differences in the rankings are minimal.

Before the first cancellation, Orenburg already got a regulatory 0-3 defeat, which means that the club is now last in the highest division. The game against Ural would be played on Wednesday afternoon, about which the league will decide later.

How puffins and related seabirds fly, swim


This 2020 video is called Mating Dance of the Puffin.

From eLife:

Scientists shed new light on how seabirds cruise through air and water

June 30, 2020

New insight on how four species of seabirds have developed the ability to cruise through both air and water has been published today in the open-access journal eLife.

The study reveals that these birds, from the Alcidae family which includes puffins, murres and their relatives, produce efficient propulsive wakes while flying and swimming. This means that the animals likely spend relatively low amounts of metabolic energy when creating the force they need to move in both air and water. The findings suggest that alcids have been optimised for movement in very different environments through the course of their evolution.

“Birds that use their wings for ‘flight’ in air and water are expected to fly poorly in both environments compared to those that stick to either air or water only,” explains first author Anthony Lapsansky, a PhD candidate at the Field Research Station at Fort Missoula, Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana, US. “In other words, these jacks-of-all-trades should be the masters of none. Interestingly, however, alcids seem to contradict this notion of a trade-off between aerial and aquatic flight performance, and we wanted to investigate this further.”

To gain a better understanding of the potential evolutionary trade-offs between these two types of flight, Lapsansky and his team tested whether alcids exhibit ‘efficient Strouhal numbers’ when flying in water and air. Animals move in these environments by using oscillating appendages. The Strouhal number describes the frequency at which an animal produces pulses of force with these appendages to power its movement. Only a narrow range of Strouhal numbers are efficient — if a bird flaps its wings too fast or too slow, for a given amplitude and flight speed, then it wastes energy. But most birds have converged on this narrow range of Strouhal numbers, meaning that selection has tuned them to exhibit efficient flapping and swimming movements.

Additionally, Lapsansky and his team were interested to see whether birds that fly in air and water use their muscles in the same way in both environments. “Muscles typically consist of fibers which are tuned for specific activities, but this hardly seems possible when the same muscles are used for movement in two drastically different environments,” Lapsansky says. “We hypothesised that alcids maintain efficient Strouhal numbers and consistent stroke velocities across air and water, which would allow them to mitigate the costs of being able to cruise through both environments.”

The team used videography to measure the wing movements of four species of alcids that differ substantially in body mass (450g to 1kg) and represent distant branches of the alcid family tree. Their measurements showed that alcids cruise at Strouhal numbers between 0.10 and 0.40 in both air and water, similar to animals that stick to air or water only, but flap their wings approximately 50% slower in water. This suggests that the birds either contract their muscles at inefficient velocities or maintain a two-geared muscle system, highlighting a clear cost to using their wings for movement in air and water.

“Our work provides detailed new insight into how evolution has shaped alcid flight in response to competing environmental demands in air and water,” concludes senior author Bret Tobalske, Professor and Director of the Field Research Station at Fort Missoula, Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana. “Further research is now needed to understand the necessary changes that take place in the flight muscles of these birds to allow them to transition between air and water and back again.”

How baby marsupials and monotremes drink milk


This 2019 video says about itself:

Mom Platypuses Laying Eggs And Cute Platypuses Moments

The platypus, sometimes referred to as the duck-billed platypus, is a semiaquatic egg-laying mammal endemic to eastern Australia, including Tasmania. Together with the four species of echidna, it is one of the five extant species of monotremes, the only mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth to live young.

The animal is the sole living representative of its family and genus, though a number of related species appear in the fossil record. The first scientists to examine a preserved platypus body judged it a fake, made of several animals sewn together.

From eLife:

Hints at jaw evolution found in marsupials and monotremes

June 30, 2020

Infant marsupials and monotremes use a connection between their ear and jawbones shortly after birth to enable them to drink their mothers’ milk, new findings in eLife reveal.

This discovery by researchers at King’s College London, UK, provides new insights about early development in mammals, and may help scientists better understand how the bones of the middle ear and jaw evolved in mammals and their predecessors.

Marsupials such as opossums, and monotremes such as echidnas, are unusual types of mammals. Both types of animal are born at a very early stage in development, before many bones in the body have started to form. Opossums latch on to their mother’s nipple and stay there while they finish developing. Monotremes, which hatch from eggs, lap milk collected near their mother’s milk glands as they grow. But how they are able to drink the milk before their jaw joint is fully developed was previously unclear.

“Given the lack of a jaw joint in marsupials and monotremes at birth, scientists have previously suggested that the animals may use a connection between the middle ear bones and jaw bones to allow them to feed,” explains lead author Neal Anthwal, Research Associate at the Centre for Craniofacial & Regenerative Biology, at King’s College London’s Faculty of Dentistry, Oral & Craniofacial Sciences in the UK.

To find out if this is true, Anthwal and his colleagues compared the jaw bones in platypus, short-beaked echidnas, opossums and mice shortly after birth. Their work revealed that, soon after echidnas hatch, their middle ear bones and upper jaw fuse, eventually forming a joint that is similar to the jaws of mammal-like reptile fossils. The team found a similar connection in mouse embryos, but this disappears and the animals are born with functioning jaw joints.

Opossums, by contrast, use connective tissue between their middle ear bones and the base of their skull to create a temporary jaw joint that enables them to nurse shortly after birth. “This all shows that marsupials and monotremes have different strategies for coping with early birth,” Anthwal says.

The findings suggest that the connection between the ear and jaw dates back to an early mammal ancestor and persisted when mammals split into subgroups. Marsupials and monotremes continue to use these connections temporarily in early life. In other mammals, such as mice, these connections occur briefly as they develop in the womb but are replaced by a working jaw joint before birth.

“Our work provides novel insight into the evolution of mammals,” concludes senior author Abigail Tucker, Principal Investigator and Professor of Development & Evolution at the Centre for Craniofacial & Regenerative Biology, King’s College London. “In particular we highlight how structures can change function over evolutionary time but also during development, with the ear bones moving from feeding to hearing. The recent availability of monotreme tissue for molecular analysis, as showcased here, provides an amazing future opportunity to understand the biology of these weird and wonderful mammals, which we are keen to explore.”

United States COVID-19 news today


This 30 June 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

Shutdowns across the US are picking up again as coronavirus cases spike. John Iadarola and Emma Vigeland break it down on The Damage Report.

“In an about-face, Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey has ordered the state’s bars, gyms, movie theaters and water parks to shut down for at least 30 days amid thousands of new coronavirus cases in the state.

Ducey issued the order Monday to go into effect from 8 p.m. local time, citing concern over a recent spike in new cases — including a one-day record of more than 3,800 in the state on Sunday. It was the seventh time in the past 10 days that new cases in Arizona exceeded 3,000. He also ordered public schools to delay the start of classes until Aug. 17.

“Our expectation is that our numbers next week will be worse,” he said, describing the state’s coronavirus data as “brutal.”

Most of the state’s bars and nightclubs reopened after Ducey’s stay-at-home orders expired in mid-May. The original order allowed bars with food service to reopen even earlier than White House guidelines recommended.”

OVER 500,000 PEOPLE HAVE DIED OF CORONAVIRUS Johns Hopkins University reported Sunday night that at least 500,000 people have now died of the coronavirus, a somber milestone as cases continue to surge throughout the United States and officials warn the pandemic is far from over. Over the weekend, worldwide coronavirus infections hit the 10 million mark. Infection rates in the U.S. remain among the most troubling in the world. Cases are surging in more than half of the states, prompting some governors to rein in reopening plans and to issue orders mandating people wear masks outside. [HuffPost]

DESANTIS DOUBLES DOWN Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Republican) insisted Tuesday that he would not reintroduce COVID-19 restrictions despite a resurgence of coronavirus cases following a reopening of the state’s economy. “We’re not going back, closing things,” the governor told reporters, adding that he didn’t believe the state’s economic reopening was the cause of the virus spread but rather that it was social interactions among younger Floridians. “I mean, people going to business is not what’s driving it,” he said. “I think when you see the younger folks, I think a lot of it is just more social interactions, and so that’s natural.” [HuffPost]

KANSAS CITY MAYOR CALLED RACIST SLUR AFTER DECLARING FACE MASKS MANDATORY Kansas City’s mayor said Monday that he was called a racist slur and told he should “swing from a tree” after he announced mandatory face masks in the Missouri city. Mayor Quinton Lucas, who is Black, on Twitter shared a screenshot of the texts, which came after he announced Friday that masks will be required in Kansas City when 6 feet (2 meters) of separation isn’t feasible. “You walked with RIOTERS not wearing a mask idiot,” a text read, according to a screenshot Lucas shared. “You should swing from a tree, I’m not threatening it, but would love to see it.” [AP]

MOST AMERICANS FAVOR MASK REQUIREMENTS Most Americans favor requirements to wear face masks in public, a HuffPost/YouGov survey finds. By 62% to 28%, Americans say they’d favor a government rule in the area where they live requiring people to wear a face mask when they are in public and around other people. By 69% to 24%, they say they’d favor local stores instituting policies that require people to wear a face mask while shopping. Support varies along partisan and demographic lines, with Democrats in denser areas most in favor of mask requirements and Republicans in less-dense areas the most resistant. [HuffPost]

EX-BUSH AIDE: ‘THIS IS TRUMP’S PLAGUE NOW’ The blame for the second spike of the coronavirus in the United States can be squarely laid on President Donald Trump, said an ex-speechwriter for former President George W. Bush. “The first coronavirus spike, in late April, can be blamed on President Donald Trump’s negligence. The second spike, in June, is his own doing,” David Frum argued Monday in a new column for The Atlantic. “This is Trump’s plague now,” he added. Frum noted how the earlier sacrifices made by people mandated to stay at home had been thrown away with the premature reopening of the country. [HuffPost]

PENCE CANCELS CAMPAIGN EVENTS IN FLORIDA, ARIZONA Vice President Mike Pence canceled campaign events in Florida and Arizona, as the number of COVID-19 cases in both states surge. Pence backed out of the scheduled appearances on Saturday, just a day after falsely claiming that the nation is “flattening the curve.” The U.S. reached a new record number of coronavirus cases — more than 42,000 — on Saturday. Florida had nearly 9,600 new cases, and Arizona tallied an additional 3,951 cases. This comes as reports are saying the Trump campaign peeled social distancing stickers off in the arena before the president’s Tulsa rally, and a GOP senator pleads with the president to wear a mask. [HuffPost]

EX-CDC HEAD: CASE SURGE DUE TO NEW SPREAD, NOT MORE TESTING Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the recent surge in coronavirus cases across parts of the country is the result of the virus’s spreading, not increased testing, as President Donald Trump has argued. “As a doctor, a scientist, an epidemiologist, I can tell you with 100% certainty that in most states where you’re seeing an increase, it is a real increase,” Frieden told Fox News Sunday. He added: “It is not more tests. It is more spread of the virus. … The numbers you’re seeing are just a tip of the iceberg of even more spread.” [HuffPost]

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

United States tourists are not welcome on Sint Maarten after all. The island would open again today for vacationers from the US, but that has now been postponed by two weeks because of the sharp increase in the number of coronavirus infections in the United States.

Earlier, the government of the French part of the island, Saint Martin, had already said that the border with the Dutch part would be closed if Americans would come again. As of today, tourists from Europe and Canada are welcome on the island again.

Citing COVID-19 spread, European Union denies US citizens entry to Europe. By Alex Lantier, 29 June 2020. The American ruling elite’s catastrophic handling of the COVID-19 pandemic is undermining Washington’s position overseas, with far-reaching implications.

OFFICIALS TRACE OVER 100 COVID-19 CASES TO MICHIGAN BAR At least 107 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been linked to a bar in Michigan. Some 95 people who visited Harper’s Restaurant & Brewpub in East Lansing June 12-20 have now tested positive for COVID-19, Ingham County Health Department announced Monday. A further 12 people “who were in contact with a primary case but did not go to Harper’s themselves” have also been infected with the virus, per a statement released by the department. This comes as cases spike all over the country, following Republicans’ push to reopen the economy. [HuffPost]

New York is ending its lockdown. I’m not sure I’m ready to end mine.

John Oliver breaks down COVID-tied eviction catastrophe “just around the corner.”

Studying coral with microscopes, new method


This July 2016 video says about itself:

A new microscope mimics the human eye to study the intimate lives of coral

A new microscope gives unprecedented access to the lives of coral, from feeding to kissing, on the ocean floor.

Video Editor: Leigh Anne Tiffany

Video provided by: Jaffe Lab for Underwater Imaging, Scripps Institution for Oceanography at UC San Diego

Music: Blue Dot Sessions via Creative Commons

From the Marine Biological Laboratory in the USA:

Microscope allows gentle, continuous imaging of light-sensitive corals

June 30, 2020

Summary: Many corals are sensitive to bright light, so capturing their dynamics with traditional microscopes is a challenge. To work around their photosensitivity, researchers developed a custom light-sheet microscope (the L-SPI) that allows gentle, non-invasive observation of corals and their polyps in detail over eight continuous hours, at high resolution.

Corals are “part animal, part plant, and part rock — and difficult to figure out, despite being studied for centuries,” says Philippe Laissue of University of Essex, a Whitman Scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory. Many corals are sensitive to bright light, so capturing their dynamics with traditional microscopes is a challenge.

To work around their photosensitivity, Laissue developed a custom light-sheet microscope (the L-SPI) that allows gentle, non-invasive observation of corals and their polyps in detail over eight continuous hours, at high resolution. He and his colleagues, including MBL Associate Scientist and coral biologist Loretta Roberson, published their findings this week in Scientific Reports.

Coral reefs, made up of millions of tiny units called polyps, are extremely important ecosystems, both for marine life and for humans. They harbor thousands of marine species, providing food and economic support for hundreds of millions of people. They also protect coasts from waves and floods, and hold great potential for pharmaceutical and biotechnological discovery.

But more than half of the world’s coral reefs are in severe decline. Climate change and other human influences are gravely threatening their survival. As ocean temperatures rise, coral bleaching is afflicting reefs worldwide. In coral bleaching, corals expel their symbiotic algae and become more susceptible to death.

“The L-SPI opens a window on the interactions and relationship between the coral host, the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, and the calcium carbonate skeleton they build in real time,” Roberson says. “We can now track the fate of the algae during [coral] bleaching as well as during initiation of the symbiosis.”

Roberson is also using Laissue’s imaging technology to measure damage to corals from “bioeroders” — biological agents like algae and sponges that break down a coral’s skeleton, a problem exacerbated by ocean acidification and increasing water temperatures.

Big prehistoric penguin-like seabirds, new research


This 29 June 2020 video says about itself:

Five-foot-tall penguin-like birds that roamed the Northern Hemisphere 37 million years ago had ‘doppelgangers’ in New Zealand, bone fossils suggest.

Plotopterids, an extinct family of flightless seabirds, had strikingly similar bone fragments to the ‘monster penguins’ that lived in New Zealand more than 60 million years ago. Although they existed at different times, both types of ‘megafauna’ had long beaks with slit-like nostrils, and similar chest and shoulder bones and wing structures.

This suggests they were both strong swimmers that used their wings to propel themselves deep underwater in search of food. Kiwi biologists say the similarity can help explain how birds such as today’s penguins developed the ability to swim with their wings and became less competent flyers. Plotopterids like Copepteryx, which were endemic to Japan around 25 million years ago, looked remarkably like penguins.

From the Canterbury Museum in New Zealand:

New Zealand’s ancient monster penguins had northern hemisphere doppelgangers

June 30, 2020

New Zealand’s monster penguins that lived 62 million years ago had doppelgangers in Japan, the USA and Canada, a study published today in the Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research has found.

Scientists have identified striking similarities between the penguins’ fossilised bones and those of a group of much younger Northern Hemisphere birds, the plotopterids.

These similarities suggest plotopterids and ancient penguins looked very similar and might help scientists understand how birds started using their wings to swim instead of fly.

Around 62 million years ago, the earliest known penguins swam in tropical seas that almost submerged the land that is now New Zealand. Palaeontologists have found the fossilised bones of these ancient waddlers at Waipara, North Canterbury. They have identified nine different species, ranging in size from small penguins, the size of today’s Yellow-Eyed Penguin, to 1.6 metre-high monsters.

Plotopterids developed in the Northern Hemisphere much later than penguins, with the first species appearing between 37 and 34 million years ago. Their fossils have been found at a number of sites in North America and Japan. Like penguins, they used their flipper-like wings to swim through the sea. Unlike penguins, which have survived into the modern era, the last plotopterid species became extinct around 25 million years ago.

The scientists — Dr Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum, Frankfurt; James Goedert of the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture and University of Washington, USA; and Canterbury Museum Curators Dr Paul Scofield and Dr Vanesa De Pietri — compared the fossilised bones of plotopterids with fossil specimens of the giant penguin species Waimanu, Muriwaimanu and Sequiwaimanu from Canterbury Museum’s collection.

They found plotopterids and the ancient penguins had similar long beaks with slit-like nostrils, similar chest and shoulder bones, and similar wings. These similarities suggest both groups of birds were strong swimmers that used their wings to propel them deep underwater in search of food.

Some species of both groups could grow to huge sizes. The largest known plotopterids were over 2 metres long, while some of the giant penguins were up to 1.6 metres tall.

Despite sharing a number of physical features with penguins both ancient and modern, plotopterids are more closely related to boobies, gannets and cormorants than they are to penguins.

“What’s remarkable about all this is that plotopterids and ancient penguins evolved these shared features independently,” says Dr De Pietri. “This is an example of what we call convergent evolution, when distantly related organisms develop similar morphological traits under similar environmental conditions.”

Dr Scofield says some large plotopterid species would have looked very similar to the ancient penguins. “These birds evolved in different hemispheres, millions of years apart, but from a distance, you would be hard-pressed to tell them apart,” he says. “Plotopterids looked like penguins, they swam like penguins, they probably ate like penguins — but they weren’t penguins.”

Dr Mayr says the parallels in the evolution of the bird groups hint at an explanation for why birds developed the ability to swim with their wings.

“Wing-propelled diving is quite rare among birds; most swimming birds use their feet. We think both penguins and plotodopterids had flying ancestors that would plunge from the air into the water in search of food. Over time these ancestor species got better at swimming and worse at flying.”

Fossils from New Zealand’s giant penguins, including Waimanu and Sequiwaimanu are currently on display alongside life-sized models of the birds in Canterbury Museum’s exhibition Ancient New Zealand: Squawkzilla and the Giants, extended until 16 August 2020.

This research was partly supported by the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Marsden Fund.

German slaughterhouse millionaire, no football boss anymore


This 29 June 2020 German video says about itself (translated):

Schalke fans protest against board member Clemens Tönnies

Football club fans have formed a human chain in front of the home arena in Gelsenkirchen. They demonstrated against the management of the association, which also includes meat entrepreneur Clemens Tönnies.

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

Controversial meat baron Tönnies resigns as director of Bundesliga club Schalke 04

Clemens Tönnies leaves as chairman of the board at Schalke 04 after almost twenty years, the German football club reports on its website. The 64-year-old businessman is under attack for the disappointing sports performance of Schalke 04 and the recent coronavirus outbreak at his meat factory Tönnies Fleisch.

Schalke 04 did not win the last sixteen Bundesliga matches, finished in twelfth place and again did not qualify for European football. It is the worst series in history. Even before the coronavirus crisis, the club from Gelsenkirchen balanced on the verge of bankruptcy. …

Coronavirus outbreak

Two weeks ago, a major coronavirus outbreak was diagnosed at a branch of the Tönnies meat factory in Rheda-Wiedenbrück (in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia). More than 1,500 people tested positive in the slaughterhouse, making it Germany’s biggest source of infection.

According to the authorities, Tönnies violated the coronavirus rules, endangering the entire region. About 7000 people had to be quarantined. In the slaughterhouses of Tönnies, many foreign workers work under appalling conditions.

Mr Tönnies also got much criticism, including by Schalke players, for his anti-African racism.

Online Tour de France cycling, 4 July


This 29 June 2020 video says about itself:

Official Virtual Tour de France 2020 – Cycling Race | Zwift

The Virtual Tour de France is coming to Zwift. The top men’s and women’s teams from across the world will compete for the ultimate prize. With Virtual L’Etape du Tour rides on new courses and high octane pro races to watch, this is cycling history in the making. #TDFVirtual

Watch the world’s best Zwift racers take on some ‘first-ever’ courses in the new France and Paris maps. Women and men pros are racing on Saturday and Sunday for three consecutive weekends beginning July 4th.

23 men’s teams and 17 women’s teams will participate.

Among the male participants will be former Tour de France winners Chris Froome, Egan Bernal, and Geraint Thomas. Greg Van Avermaet, Olympic champion and online Tour of Flanders victor this year, will also participate. Among the women, there will be Marianne Vos, Kirsten Wild, Olympic champion and 2018 world champion Anna van der Breggen, all from the Netherlands; and Chloé Dygert-Owen, from the USA, track cycling pursuit world champion.

The cyclists will ride on their home trainers at home. So, no coronavirus risk.

This virtual Tour de France will be six races, during the next three weekends. The start will be on 4 July: first the ladies, then the gentlemen. Both on a virtual hilly landscape based on the surroundings of Nice city in southern France.

The fifth stage will be climbing the famous Mont Ventoux mountain.

The sixth and final stage will be on the Champs Elysees in Paris.

TV stations in 130 countries will report about it.

The teams

Women

Alé BTC Ljubljana
Team Arkéa
Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team
CANYON//SRAM Racing
CCC-Liv Team
Ceratizit – WNT Pro Cycling
Drops
FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope
Lotto Soudal Ladies
Parkhotel Valkenburg
Rally Cycling
TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank
Trek-Segafredo Women
TWENTY20 Pro Cycling
Team Sunweb
Valcar Travel & Service

Men

AG2R La Mondiale
Arkéa Samsic
Alpecin-Fenix
Astana Pro Team
B&B Hotels-Vital Concept
Team Bahrain McLaren
Bora Hansgrohe
CCC Team
Team Cofidis
Circus-Wanty Gobert
Deceuninck – Quick-Step
EF Education First Pro Cycling
Groupama-FDJ
Israel Start-Up Nation
Team INEOS
Team Jumbo-Visma
Lotto-Soudal
Mitchelton-SCOTT
NTT Pro Cycling
Rally Cycling
Team Sunweb
TOTAL Direct Énergie
Trek-Segafredo