Male mammoths were much more likely than females to engage in risky behavior

A group of European researchers have found that male mammoths were more likely to get caught in traps like holes and bogs than their female counterparts, according to a new study published in Current Biology.

The team made this discovery by conducting an analysis of woolly mammoth DNA, which revealed that nearly 70 percent of the genomes looked at in the study were from males. That is a huge imbalance that suggests many more male mammoths were preserved at death.

To explain that, researchers postulated that males were more likely than females to die in ways that preserved their bodies. That would have included falling into tar pits or getting trapped in bogs.

“Most bones, tusks, and teeth from mammoths and other Ice Age animals haven’t survived,” explained study co-author Love Dalén, a researcher at Stockholm University, in a statement. “It is highly likely that the remains that are found in Siberia these days have been preserved because they have been buried, and thus protected from weathering. The new findings imply that male mammoths more often died in a way that meant their remains were buried, perhaps by falling through lake ice in winter or getting stuck in bogs.”

Though researchers are not sure, they believe that trend occurred inexperienced males traveled alone, which caused them to fall into the traps that made preservation more likely.

That theory may sound odd, but it makes sense when you look at modern elephants. Most elephants live in herds that are made up of both females and young elephants. However, males typically live alone or with other bachelors, which leads them to take more risky behavior.

“Without the benefit of living in a herd led by an experienced female, male mammoths may have had a higher risk of dying in natural traps such as bogs, crevices, and lakes,” added Dalén, according to Gizmodo.

This study shows that woolly mammoths were similar to modern elephants in terms of their behavior, and that fossil remains may help researchers learn more about the ancient beasts.


T. Rex may have used arms for slashing, study reports

Steven Stanley, a paleontologist from the University of Hawaii in Maui, has found evidence that suggests T. Rex used its short arms to slash and rend prey.

Though T. Rex’s short arms are an iconic part of the large dinosaur, scientists have never been able to agree on what they were used for. Some believe the animals used them to grasp prey, while others think the arms could have helped the massive beasts push themselves up off the ground or mate.

However, in the new study, Stanley found evidence that the ancient reptiles used their claws for close-contact slashing in the same way as other, smaller species, Tech Times reports. He believes T. Rex would have mounted their prey, grasped it, and then slashed out repeatedly with their arms.

He came to this conclusion by looking at fossilized arm bones. That analysis showed that, not only were T Rex’s arms strong, but they also had ball-and-socket joints that allowed them to move in different directions. Such features suggest the arms had a great amount of mobility and were likely used quite a bit.

In addition, T. Rex also lost one of its three claws throughout evolution. That change would have made the remaining two claws stronger, and given them more powerful slashing ability.

“Its short, strong forelimbs and large claws would have permitted T. rex, whether mounted on a victim’s back or grasping it with its jaws, to inflict four gashes a meter [three feet] or more long and several centimeters [more than an inch] deep within a few seconds,” explained Stanley, according to National Geographic. “And it could have repeated this multiple times in rapid succession.”

While the study does give ample evidence that T. Rex slashed with its claws, many paleontologists are still skeptical of the data. They believe that the arms were simply too short to reach prey, and that jaws would have been a more effective way to attack.

Even so, the skeptics also state that it is possible T. Rex’s forearms were bigger before it shrunk down during the course of evolution. However, more research is needed before such claims can be made.

“Infliction of damage by slashing was widespread among other theropod taxa,” added Stanley, according to Science Alert“So in light of its formidable weaponry, why should T. rex not have engaged in this activity?”


Rare metal may kill cancer cells without harming the body

The metal iridium — which likely existed in the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs — may be able to target and destroy cancer cells, a new study published in Angewandte Chemie reports.

Iridium comes from the same family as platinum. It is brittle, yellow, and has a melting point of over 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. More importantly, it is the most corrosion-resistant metal in the world.

Scientists first found the substance in 1803 and, while it is does not naturally occur on Earth, it is quite common in meteoroids. In fact, it is found in the Earth’s crust from around 66 million years ago: the same time the dinosaur-killing Chicxulub asteroid crashed to Earth.

In the new study, a group of researchers from the University of Warwick analyzed the metal and found it is able to kill cancer cells without causing harm to healthy tissue.

To do this, doctors created a compound made of iridium and organic metal that can directly target cancer cells. It does that by turning the oxygen inside harmful cells into a singlet oxygen, which then kills them. The team administered the new substance to the cells through a process known as photochemotherapy.

By using that process — which uses laser light to fight the disease — the team in the study managed to use the iridium compound to destroy the proteins for key molecules in cancer.

“It’s certainly now time to try to make good medical use of the iridium delivered to us by an asteroid 66 million years ago,” said study co-author Peter Sadler, a researcher from the University of Warwick, according to Tech Times

This process is important because it could lead to new cancer treatments and help create more efficient forms of chemotherapy down the line. The scientists hope to continue their testing to see how the compound affects the body long-term, and what other applications the metal might have.

“This project is a leap forward in understanding how these new iridium-based anti-cancer compounds are attacking cancer cells, introducing different mechanisms of action, to get around the resistance issue and tackle cancer from a different angle,” said study co-author Cookson Chiu, a postgraduate researcher in Warwick’s Department of Chemistry, in a statement.


Red Cross pilfered millions of ebola aid dollars

Red Cross staff stole almost $6 million from their organization’s efforts against ebola, the organization acknowledged in a statement Friday. An internal investigation uncovered evidence that fraud was the cause of the disappearance of millions of Red Cross dollars in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and other locales where Red Cross staff were fighting the 2014 epidemic that killed more than 11,000 Africans.

Red Cross staff probably colluded with local bank officials to move funds out of the Red Cross’s coffers, the Red Cross said in a statement. It added that it is “outraged” at the losses and would waive immunity from prosecution for any culpable staff as it is “committed to holding all those involved in any form of fraud to account, and to reclaiming all misappropriated, diverted, or otherwise illegally taken funds.”

The investigation determined that more than $2.1 million disappeared from Red Cross efforts in Sierra Leone and that Guinea efforts lost $1 million for fake and inflated customs bills. This follows an earlier investigation’s discovery that inflation of payrolls and the prices of relief goods bled Liberia’s relief operations of around $2.6 million.

The Red Cross gave out tens of millions of dollars in cash to affiliate organizations on the ground during the outbreak, which ran from March 2014 until early 2016. These large sums of money moving through largely untested channels created opportunities for fraud, according to sources

Sources added that corruption is a common problem in the wake of humanitarian disasters. Unscrupulous officials or aid workers occasionally find ways to dip into relief funds or to steal supplies and sell them at marked-up prices on the black market. Nigeria’s president recently sacked a civil servant on charges that he had inflated the value of humanitarian aid programs.



EPA replaces its advisory boards’ scientists with industry reps and state officials

The Environmental Protection Agency appointed dozens of officials from regulated states and businesses Friday to its advisory boards. The incoming appointees are replacing career scientists that Scott Pruitt, EPA administrator, fired following his implementation last week of a new rule prohibiting scientists who receive EPA grants from serving on the boards.

A total of 66 new experts took up vacant seats on the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, Clean Air Safety Advisory Committee, and Board of Scientific Counselors. Some are from state governments that received EPA grants—Pruitt exempted representatives of state, local, and tribal governments from the no-grantee rule.

Other appointees hail from companies such as Dow Chemical, Procter & Gamble, and the French petroleum company Total. The new advisors also include some current or former members of the American Chemistry Council, the leading lobbying group for the chemical industry.

Pruitt said that the new ban on scientists who had received grants would prevent “conflicts of interest” and that he was seeking industry and state government advisors to get greater “diversity” of opinion.  But environmental-conservation groups blasted his replacement choices as opening the door to a much bigger conflict of interest—i.e., actual polluters advising the EPA on pollution.

“Pruitt is turning the idea of ‘conflict of interest’ on its head,” Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Centre for Science and Democracy at the Union for Concerned Scientists, said in a statement. “He claims federal research grants should exclude a scientist from an EPA advisory board but industry funding shouldn’t.”

The advisory boards don’t write EPA policies. But the agency calls on them to assess scientific research and new regulation proposals.


Hidden structure found inside the Great Pyramid of Giza

Modern particle physics have allowed scientists to discover what they believe to be a large, secret space hidden within the Great Pyramid of Giza, a new study in the journal Nature reports.

The chamber — which measures roughly 100 feet long — sits above a tall, cathedral-like room known as the Grand Gallery. As a result, it could be the first significant internal structure found within the Great Pyramid since the 19th century. However, despite its size and importance, the room has remained a secret until now.

A team of international scientists uncovered the areas with an imaging technique that uses tiny particles known as muons to look inside enclosed spaces. Such molecules are created when cosmic rays from deep space hit atoms in the upper atmosphere. From there, they rain down to Earth and begin to decay as they pass through various materials.

Scientists can analyze that process to count the number of muons coming through space and see if the material inside of an object is solid or empty. In the recent study, the team used sheets of muon-detecting film to look into two rooms known as the the King’s Chamber and the Grand Gallery. However, to their surprise, they stumbled upon the empty area as well.

The discovery was such a shock that they double checked the finding with two other muon-detection techniques.

“The good news is the void is there,” study co-author Mehdi Tayoubi, a researcher at the HIP Institute in Paris, told NPR. “ Now we are sure that there is a void. We know that this void is big. I don’t know what it could be. I think it’s now time for Egyptologists and specialists in ancient Egypt architecture to collaborate with us, to provide us with some hypotheses.”

Now that the team has confirmed the space, they next want to find a way inside the hidden room without damaging the pyramid. Some have proposed the use of small robots to slip in through cracks or holes, but more study needs to be done before any such steps can be taken. Scientists state they will eventually find a way in, but until that happens the contents of the room will remain a mystery.

“All we know is that we have a void, we have a cavity, and it’s huge, which means possibly intentional and certainly worthy of further exploration,” said Peter Der Manuelian, an Egyptologist at Harvard University who was not involved in the study, in a statement.


Gut bacteria could help cancer patients respond to certain drugs

Cancer patients with high levels of good gut bacteria may be more likely to respond to immunotherapy in a positive way than those who have low levels of such microbes.

This finding, which comes from researchers at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, could be important for future research. It is also one of the latest examples of the significance of the microbiome — the community of microbes living inside the human body — and suggests that patients may one day be told to actively nurture their good bacteria when taking PD-1 drugs for serious diseases.

“You can change your microbiome, it’s really not that difficult, so we think these findings open up huge new opportunities,” explained study author Jennifer Wargo, a researcher at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, according to Reuters.

Manipulating the microbiome is fairly simple. You just need to change your diet, avoid antibiotics, or take probiotics. Such alterations could be key in aiding future studies because positive bacteria help prime immune cells for PD-1 drugs.

Currently, only 20 to 30 percent of patients respond to new wave cancer medication. As a result of that low number, researchers have tried to find better ways of identifying people that could benefit from groundbreaking treatments. The new information laid out in the study could be a way to make that happen.

This research builds on past trials conducted in 2015 that looked at the connection between immunotherapy drug responses and the gut bacteria in mice. The team hopes to further such studies by next running a clinical trial to test the benefits of combining immunotherapy with microbiome modulation. That process could open up new ways to use modern medicines that, while highly effective, only work in certain patients.

“Our hypothesis is if we change to a more favorable microbiome, you just may be able to make patients respond better,” added Wargo, according to BBC News. “The microbiome is game-changing, not just cancer but for overall health, it’s definitely going to be a major player.”

The findings are detailed in a pair of scientific papers published in the journal Science.


Sea slug species uses never-before-seen type of predation

A sea slug species that lives near the bottom of the ocean has shed light on a brand new hunting technique, known as kleptopredation.

Typically, nudibranchs — a family of colorful sea slugs — feast on a coral-like super organisms known as hydroid colonies. Such colonies are made up of a wide collection of individual polyps that capture and eat both plankton and small crustaceans.

In the study, a group of researchers from the University of Portsmouth discovered that, despite common belief, the slugs do not eat randomly. Rather, they prefer to prey on polyps that have recently consumed a large meal. That then allows them to both feast on the polyp and the food that polyp just are. 

“Effectively we have a sea slug living near the bottom of the ocean that is using another species as a fishing rod to provide access to plankton that it otherwise wouldn’t have,” explained lead author Trevor Willis, a senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth, according to UPI.

This type of predation is completely unique and has never been recorded before. Some species show kleptoparasitic behavior — when one species takes food killed by another — but that is not directly stealing food through consumption. In this case, the predator is eating both its own prey and the prey that animal had captured.

Researchers first found this behavior during a study aimed to look at the consumption patterns of nudibranchs. As they only eat one organism, the team worried the slugs might eat their way out of existence by depleting their only source of nutrients.

However, the study shows that hydroid polyps only make up a small percentage of the sea slug’s diet. Nudibranchs mostly eat zooplankton, which they get through consuming hydroid polyps.

These findings could lead to a new understanding of sea slugs and shed new light on animal behavior. Though this predation has only been noted in nudibranchs, there is a chance other species employ it as well.

“This is very exciting, we have some great results here that rewrite the text book on the way these creatures forage and interact with their environment,” added Willis, in a statement.

The new research is detailed in the journal Biology Letters.


New orangutan species is critically endangered

Scientists have identified a new orangutan species living in the rain forests of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The population is the most critically endangered of all the great apes, with only about 800 individuals left in the wild.

The discovery is detailed in the journal Current Biology.

“I discovered the population south of Lake Toba in 1997, but it has taken us 20 years to get the genetic and morphological data together that shows how distinct the species is,” said co-author Dr. Erik Meijaard, a conservation scientist affiliated with Australian National University, in a report by The New York Times.

The new species, called the Tapanuli orangutan, or Pongo tapanuliensis, inhabits a small part of the rain forest, taking up only about 425 square miles.

Researchers discovered the new species when they were able to study parts of the skeleton of a male orangutan killed by residents in a North Sumatran province. They were surprised to find unique characteristics in the skull along with other traits that differed from other Sumatran orangutans.

“When we realized that Batang Toru orangutans are morphologically different from all other orangutans, the pieces of the puzzle fell into place,” said team member Dr. Michael Krützen, a professor at the University of Zurich, in the Times report.

After conducting what researchers described as the “largest genomic study of wild orangutans to date,” they found that the Tapanuli orangutan populations became isolated from other Sumatran orangutans between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago. They also discovered that the Tapanuli orangutans are an ancient lineage — about 3 million years old.

“We have learned how little we know about orangutan evolution despite man decades of research and how much more there is to learn,” said Dr. Meijaard. “Orangutans are ancient creatures, as old as the very first members of our own genus Homo.”


Human migration may have doomed Neanderthals

Researchers from Stanford University have found evidence that Neanderthals died off as a result of steady human migration, according to a new paper released in the journal Nature Communications.

Neanderthals lived across both Europe and Asia until about 40,000 years ago when modern humans began to spread out of Africa. Though a lot is known about the species, nobody is quite sure what caused their demise. This new study could provide one of the first answers to that question.

In the research, scientists ran a computer simulation that looked at both ancient human and Neanderthal populations. It randomly chose some groups to go extinct and then replaced them with another randomly chosen population.

While none of the groups were assumed to have any advantage, the data showed that modern humans were supplemented by migrations pushing up out of Africa. In contrast, Neanderthals had no such reinforcements. That stream was not large, but the incoming bands were likely enough to give humans the edge over Neanderthals. In fact, the now-extinct species died-off in almost every simulation.

“It [survival] was rigged by the fact that there’s recurring migration,” said study author Oren Kolodny, a researcher at Stanford University, according to Fox News. “The game was doomed to end with the Neanderthals losing.”

The new finding is compelling, but, as such shifts are hard to locate in the fossil record, there is not a lot of evidence that such migrations took place. However, if they did occur they are likely the reason modern humans beat out Neanderthals in the long run.

The team hopes their study will help scientists figure out the different factors that led to the Neanderthal extinction. Many theories have been proposed over the years, but this is the first to explain the reason without assuming behavioral differences between Neanderthals and our ancestors. Such differences used to be the basis of the research, but they have been largely disproven since that time

“It’s not that Neanderthals were these brutish, wide-shouldered, sort of advanced apes that roamed the land until we came over and beat them,” added Kolodny, according to The Washington Post. “It’s more that it was a companion hominin species that was very similar to us.”