Ancient fossils reveal some of Earth’s first animals

A team of scientists led by researchers at the University of California, Riverside have uncovered fossils from two of the first animals on Earth.

The ancient species —  known as Obamus coronatus and Attenborites janeae — lived in shallow oceans between 580 and 540 million years ago. That time frame means they existed with many other simple organisms, including tube-shaped, plant-like creatures and the large, flat Dickinsonia.

O. coronatus was a disc-shaped animal that measured just .5 and 2 centimeters across. It had spiral grooves on its surface and likely stayed in one space on the ocean floor. 

In contrast, A. janeae was a small ovoid less than one centimeter across covered in small ridges and grooves.

Scientists discovered both fossils in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges region. Both soft-bodied animals were preserved in fine-grained sandstone that stood the test of time.

“I’ve been working in this region for 30 years, and I’ve never seen such a beautifully preserved bed with so many high quality and rare specimens, including Obamus and Attenborites,” said one of the lead author’s  Mary Droser, a researcher at the University of California, Riverside, according to Astrobiology Magazine.

Both animals are significant because they both represent the dawn of animal life. They also shed light on the Ediacara Biota — an ancient group that is not yet organized into families. 

As little is known about the prehistoric animals, they could give scientists a glimpse back into the Precambrian period. Further analysis of the species may also help create a better picture of early animal evolution.

“The two genera that we identified are a new body plan, unlike anything else that has been described,” said Droser, according to Science Daily. “We have been seeing evidence for these animals for quite a long time, but it took us a while to verify that they are animals within their own rights and not part of another animal.”

The discovery of Obamus coronatus is published in the Australian Journal of Earth Sciences, while research on Attenborites janeae is set to come out in the same journal.

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Demi Moore becomes victim of credit card faud

Demi Moore’s credit card was used to make at least $169,000 in unauthorized purchases, according to E! News.

David Matthew Read allegedly used Moore’s American Express card to make purchases from online stores and stores in the Los Angeles area, including Nordstrom locations and Saks Fifth Avenue, where he spent about $16 thousand in one visit, according to court documents.

The suspect was caught on surveillance video from several retailers while making purchases.

According to a criminal complaint, Read admitted to obtaining the credit card by reporting it stolen in March and personally picking up the new one when it was delivered through FedEx. Moore and her personal assistant say that neither one of them reported any of Moore’s credit cards as stolen before learning of Read’s shopping spree.

Moore’s assistant called American Express in March to report questionable activity with the credit card, launching the investigation.

A Nordstrom loss prevention investigator told prosecutors that Read used a Chase debit card under his real name to pay off a balance on some transactions, and Read was subsequently arrested outside of a storage unit that he and a potential accomplice, Marc Ian Highley, had rented in early April to house stolen goods. Read is still in jail, according to the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department.

Read had previously been arrested in February 2018 for fraud and vehicle theft after allegedly buying a Mercedes with stolen personal information.

Neither Moore nor her representatives have commented on the incident.

Moore has been featured in Empire, G.I. Jane, and Indecent Proposal. Her latest projects include the upcoming films Love Sonia and Corporate Animals.

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Google removes all Bitcoin mining apps from Play Store

Subsequent to the current cryptocurrency extension bans, Google has recently announced its plans to remove all bitcoin and cryptocurrency mining apps from the Play Store.

Google announced the decision to ban crypto-mining apps on the Play Store’s developer policy page, saying, “We don’t allow apps that mine cryptocurrency on devices. We permit apps that remotely manage the mining of cryptocurrency.”

While users can no longer mine directly from their devices, Google continues to permit developers to release applications that allow mining to be done elsewhere, such as on cloud-based computer platforms.

The popularity of cryptocurrency mining surged in late 2017 during the bull run in the crypto markets. Sales of GPUs skyrocketed to a point where GPU producers, like Nvidia, saw price surges in their stock due to higher than normal earnings.

The process of mining uses up a significant amount of computing power, and the profitability is directly related the amount of processing power a miner can contribute. Access to highly profitable mining rigs is limited due to the tremendous expenses that stem from sizable equipment and electricity costs.

The decision to ban mining extensions from Chrome and mining apps from the Play Store stems from the risks imposed to a device. Both phones and computers can suffer from internal damage due to mining if it is not properly managed.

The risks of mining are highlighted by the effects of mining malware that has been circling through public Wi-Fi networks and websites over the past year.

Google’s director of sustainable ads, Scott Spencer, spoke to CNBC regarding the decision, saying:

“We don’t have a crystal ball to know where the future is going to go with cryptocurrencies, but we’ve seen enough consumer harm or potential for consumer harm that it’s an area that we want to approach with extreme caution.”

Their latest decision to ban apps that mine cryptocurrency from the Play Store is likely due to fears that apps will damage user’s computers or significantly slow computer performance.


Former Fort Worth gymnastics coach accused of child sex abuse

A former gymnastics coach at Sokol Gymnastics in Fort Worth has been arrested near Indianapolis and faces extradition on charges of child sexual abuse, according to Fort Worth police and an attorney hired by the club.

Skipper Glenn Crawley coached at the club for about a year and is accused of sexually abusing several young gymnasts who were members of the same team, said Russ Prince of the Palma & Prince law firm of Tampa, and lawyer for Sokol.

Crawley was wanted by Fort Worth police on a charge of continuous sexual abuse of a child and two charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child, said police spokesman Tracy Carter.

Prince revealed that the allegations were made in late April, and authorities at the school immediately notified police and USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for the sport, which suspended Crawley.

According to the firm, there are three accusers, who Star-Telegram media partner WFAA said range in age from 8 to 13. He added, however, that there shouldn’t be a rush to judgment.

“I speak for the club, and they want law enforcement to thoroughly vet this,” Prince said. “We believe law enforcement will do their job vetting these allegations. We want to take a healthy step back and let formal discovery do its job.”

Crawley was a former gymnast at Richland High School and was inducted into the Birdville ISD Sports Hall of Fame in October 2016, according to a post shared on the BISD high school gymnastics Facebook page.

Police did not say how long Crawley was a fugitive, but posts made as recently as July 31 on his Facebook page said he was in Arlington when he made them. Crawley claimed on Facebook to have been working recently as a master trainer at 24 Hour Fitness in North Richland Hills.


Controversial NFL helmet rule enforced 4 minutes into game

The NFL’s new helmet rule received its first test on Thursday during the opening preseason game of the year. The rule has caused confusion across the league, with officials and teams alike unable to clarify what is a penalty.

Four minutes into the opening game of the 2018 preseason between the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears, Ravens linebacker Patrick Onwuasor was called for illegal use of helmet after a tackle, resulting in a 15-yard penalty.

“Onwuasor did not seem out of control while bringing down Bears running back Benny Cunningham,” NFL Insider reports.

The replay demonstrated how he placed his head down ahead of contact, prompting the official to throw the flag.

While the rule was put in place to make the sport safer, the use of helmet rule has caused difficulties for players, coaches, and officials attempting to figure out just how it will be enforced .

The rule, which bans players from lowering their helmet to initiate contact but confusingly allows for “incidental contact,” has been criticised as vague by detractors, with Fox rules analyst and former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira saying the rule would be “impossible to officiate.”

Officials efforts to clarify the rule have reportedly fallen short — after the Philadelphia Eagles hosted referees for a presentation regarding the new rule, they were apparently left with more questions than answers.

“The refs were kind of like, ‘Hey, we didn’t make the rules.’ Because I think guys were kind of frustrated,” running back Wendell Smallwood said. “Most of the defense was like, ‘Man, how are we supposed to tackle?’ They were frustrated.”

Conclusively, teams will have to learn on the fly as the rule is enforced through the preseason, and adjust to the officials’ tendencies as necessary.


Former QB Trent Dilfer disputes link between football and CTE

Trent Dilfer is no stranger to spewing controversial opinions.

As an ESPN analyst back in 2016, the former Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens quarterback went against the grain and spoke out against Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem demonstrations, saying Kaepernick should be “quiet and sit in the shadows.”

According to the sports network, he was at again this week, condemning the scientific notion that football and CTE are connected and, oddly enough, climate change. After University of North Carolina head football coach Larry Fedora made the ridiculous assertion that “our game is under attack” by false claims linking football to CTE through head injuries, Dilfer jumped on the fake news bandwagon.

On Thursday, Dilfer retweeted a Yahoo Sports article that basically said Fedora was right in denouncing the idea that football causes CTE and added the quote: “Association is not causation,” despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. A Boston University study, for instance, that found that out of the 111 brains of former NFL players analyzed, 110 showed signs of CTE.

Dilfer then went completely off the rails. He replied to one of his Twitter followers who said the CTE issue reminded him of climate change. Dilfer concurred with a simple, “Yep,” dismissing the mountain of evidence that says otherwise.

ESPN’s decision to replace Dilfer with Rex Ryan is making more and more sense these days.


Scientists map genetic variants linked to clinical depression

Clinical depression is a debilitating condition that affects over 300 million people globally, writes science editor Ian Sample for The Guardian. The causes are still largely unknown, but researchers have made headway after mapping out the genetic foundations of the mental disorder in unprecedented detail.

A team of 200 researchers have identified 44 gene variants that raise the risk of depression, 30 of which have never been connected to the condition. Previous work suggests that genetics explains about 40% of depression, with the rest resulting from other biological factors and life experiences, Sample explains. The new work triples the number of gene regions linked to depression, and could help scientists better understand why the disorder affects some but not others, even when faced with similar life experiences.

As Cathryn Lewis, professor of statistical genetics and a lead author on the study at King’s College London, explains it “if you have a lower genetic burden of depression, perhaps you are more resistant to the stresses we all experience in life.” Researchers compared genetic information from 135,000 people who reported having depression, and 345,000 mentally health individuals. The team discovered that some of the gene variants link to neurotransmitters such as serotonin, but others point to new biological mechanisms that could impact the next generation of drugs.

Lewis cautions that there are thousands of genes involved in depression, and the new research finding 44 gene variants is only a small fraction of the total. “There is certainly no single gene for depression.”

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Slack and Atlassian team up on chat software

Atlassian Corporation is selling its corporate chat software to rival Slack Technologies Inc. and taking a small stake in the startup, as they face greater competition from the Microsoft Corporation.

HipChat, the workplace chat app that held the throne before Slack was Slack, is being discontinued. Additionaly discontinuances include Atlassian’s own would-be HipChat replacement, Stride.

News of the discontinuation comes first from Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield. In a series of tweets, Butterfield says that Slack is purchasing the IP for both products to “better support those users who choose to migrate” to its platform.

Butterfield also notes that Atlassian will be making a “small but symbolically important investment” in Slack. Tech Crunch notes that “getting a pre-IPO investment into Slack might end up paying off for Atlassian better than trying to continue competing”.

Atlassian VP of Product Management, Joff Redfern, confirmed the news in a blog post, calling it the “best way forward” for its existing customers. It’s about as real of an example of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” as you can get; even Atlassian’s own employees will be moved over to using Slack.

According to an FAQ about the change, Stride and HipChat’s last day will be February 15th, 2019.

Slack will pay an undisclosed amount over the next three years to acquire Atlassian’s HipChat and Stride assets, chief executives from both companies said. Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield described both the payment and the investment by Atlassian in his company as “nominal” in financial terms but important strategically. He declined to elaborate on the former.


Children with asthma may be helped with protein bars

Children with asthma can be helped to breathe better by a protein bar, according to Health Line. A small research study proposes that it’s a possibility worth exploring further.

Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) found that obese adolescents with asthma who ate two nutrition bars daily for eight weeks experienced improved lung function.

The 56 child subjects, half of whom ate the nutrition bars daily, have also attended weekly classes that emphasized the importance of healthy eating and exercise but were not required to change their diet.

The improvements on a breathing test were modest, but “the fact that this worked at all without controlling for diet was amazing,” study co-author Mark Shigenaga, PhD, told Healthline.

The CHORI bar is composed of ingredients found in a typical Mediterranean diet and was designed to fill nutritional gaps for unhealthy eaters. Joyce McCann, PhD, director of the CHORI-bar project, said that past research has shown a relationship between eating a Mediterranean diet and a reduced risk of asthma.

That said, improvements in lung function were observed only among participants who ate the CHORI bar and had a low level of chronic inflammation, according to researchers. Dr. Sonal R. Patel, a pediatric allergist and immunologist at Adventist Health Physicians Network in Los Angeles, said that while the research was interesting, the idea that the nutrition bar strengthened the lining of the lung was “purely hypothetical.” It will be interesting to see if more research will be done on the subject.

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Scientists breed coral to survive climate change

Scientists at a Florida Keys-based lab are plunging young corals into tanks of highly acidic water, causing all but a few of their subjects to burn and die. The scientists aren’t being cruel—they are trying to save the world’s coral from extinction, using a process of “assisted evolution” to cultivate corals that can better withstand the impacts of climate change, which include a sharp acidification of much of the world’s ocean waters.

The lab, Mote Marine Laboratory, is confronting a widespread die-off of coral reefs within the Florida Keys and other ocean regions worldwide. The Florida Reef Tract has already lost 95% of its coral, according to Mote researchers, who said that now only a major human intervention can stave off total reef extinction.

“We have no choice now,” said Michael Crosby, chief executive of Mote Marine Laboratory, which runs the 19,000-square-foot laboratory on Summerland Key. “These coral are not able to come back on their own. They are really sliding into functional extinction.”

Researchers blame climate change for much of the coral deaths, because the oceans absorb carbon dioxide and store it as an acid. The increasing volumes of carbon dioxide—most of it human-made—have caused oceans to become 30% more acidic over the last 200 years, according to researchers, who link the acidity to widespread a “bleaching” effect that is killing corals en masse from Florida to Australia and beyond.

Mote’s researchers extract young corals from the Florida Reef’s surviving sections and subject them to trial by acid in the lab. Those that make it through the lab regimen intact, the researchers replant in the ocean piece by piece.

Mote has help from the nonprofit Coral Restoration Foundation, which sends divers to hang corals on rows of artificial “trees” made of plastic pipe in an underwater nursery.