New Estimate: There are Over 18,000 Bird Species on Earth

A new study published in the journal PLoS ONE suggests that there are 18,043 bird species in the world — nearly twice as many as previously thought.

Toucan. Image credit: Tambako the Jaguar / CC BY-ND 2.0.
Birds (class Aves ) are traditionally thought of as a well-studied group, with more than 95% of their global species diversity estimated to have been described.
Most checklists used by ornithologists as well as by bird watchers say that there are roughly between 9,000 and 10,000 species of birds.
But those numbers are based on what’s known as the ‘biological species concept,’ which defines species in terms of what animals can breed together.
“It’s really an outdated point of view, and it’s a concept that is hardly used in taxonomy outside of birds,” said study lead author Dr. George Barrowclough, an assoc… Read more

Researchers Discover Biological Marker for Concussion

According to new research published in the journal Scientific Reports , the secret to reliably diagnosing concussions lies in the brain’s ability to process sound.

Kraus et al show that children who sustained a concussion exhibit a signature neural profile. Image credit: Pete Linforth.
“Concussions — diffuse, non-penetrating brain injuries following sudden impact — are a public health crisis,” the researchers said.
“An estimated 1.6–3.8 million sports-related traumatic brain injuries occur annually in the United States, and concussions potentially devastate cognition, socioemotional wellbeing, academic achievement, and neurologic function, even after symptoms resolve.”
“Despite widespread scientific and public interest, no single test has been validated to reliably diagnose a c… Read more

Optical ‘Tractor Beam’ Traps Biological Cells

Physicists in Germany have developed a novel technique for trapping biological cells with a laser beam. Using this technique, the researchers obtained super-resolution images of chromosomal DNA within E. coli cells.

Picture of the distribution of the genetic information in an E. coli cell. Image credit: University of Bielefeld.
“One of the problems facing biologists who want to examine biological cells microscopically is that any preparatory treatment will change the cells,” the researchers said.
“Many bacteria prefer to be able to swim freely in solution. Blood cells are similar: they are continuously in rapid flow, and do not remain on surfaces. Indeed, if they adhere to a surface, this changes their structure and they die.”
“Our new method enables us to take cells that cannot be anchored on sur… Read more

Compound Found in Chinese Medicinal Herb Fights Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Artemisinin, a natural compound from the sweet wormwood ( Artemisia annua ), has been found to potentially aid in the treatment of tuberculosis. The study was led by Michigan State University researcher Robert Abramovitch and was published recently in the journal Nature Chemical Biology .

Artemisinin is derived from the sweet wormwood ( Artemisia annua ) and is highly effective against drug-resistant malaria. Image credit: Kristian Peters / CC BY-SA 3.0.
Artemisinin occurs naturally in the leaves of the sweet wormwood, a sweetly aromatic herb with small, yellow flower heads and the source of the Traditional Chinese Medicine ‘ Qing Hao .’
The compound is a potent anti-malarial agent, and can kill highly drug-resistant strains.
In the new study, artemisinin stopped the ability of Mycobacterium tu… Read more

Mesentery: Researchers Reclassify Part of Digestive System as Organ

The mesentery, which connects the intestine to the abdomen, had for hundreds of years been considered a fragmented structure made up of multiple separate parts. However, new research by University Hospital Limerick scientists found the mesentery is one, continuous structure.

Digital representation of the small and large intestines and associated mesentery. Image credit: J Calvin Coffey / D Peter O’Leary / Henry Vandyke Carter.
In a review published in The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology , University Hospital Limerick Professor J Calvin Coffey and his colleague, Dr. D Peter O’Leary, outlined the evidence for categorizing the mesentery as an organ.
“In the paper, we are now saying we have an organ in the body which hasn’t been acknowledged as such to date,” Prof. Coffey said.
Better understa… Read more

Hot Pepper Compound Inhibits Growth of Breast Cancer Cells

Capsaicin, a compound found in peppers of the genus Capsicum , inhibits the growth of breast cancer cells, according to a team of researchers in Germany.

Capsaicin is found in Capsicum peppers. Image credit: Hans Braxmeier.
The team’s experiments were carried out with the SUM149PT cell culture, a model system for a particularly aggressive type of breast cancer, i.e. the triple-negative type.
In the cultivated cells, the researchers detected a number of typical olfactory receptors.
“One receptor occurred very frequently; it is usually found in the fifth cranial nerve. It belongs to the so-called transient receptor potential channels and is named TRPV1 (transient receptor potential vanilloid receptor),” they explained.
“That receptor is activated by the spicy molecule capsaicin as well as by h… Read more

Vitamin D Improves Gut Microbiota, Study Finds

According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology , extra vitamin D can restore good bacteria in the gut, giving hope in the fight against risk factors for diabetes and heart disease.

According to Danmei Su et al ., vitamin D improves gut flora. Image credit: Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
It is well known that a diet high in fat can trigger a metabolic syndrome, characterized as obesity, insulin resistance, and non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases.
An international team of researchers from the United States and China has now discovered that vitamin D deficiency is necessary for this syndrome to progress in mice, with underlying disturbances in gut bacteria.
If the findings can be validated in humans, sun bathing and vitamin D supplements may be feasible and affordable appro… Read more

Pointy-Nosed Blue Chimaera Spotted in North Pacific Ocean

A large deep-water fish that was previously identified in the Southeastern Pacific has recently been found around the Hawaiian Islands and off the coast of Central California, according to a team of marine biologists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), the Pacific Shark Research Center and the California Academy of Sciences.

This pointy-nosed blue chimaera ( Hydrolagus trolli ) was videotaped by MBARI’s remotely operated vehicle Tiburon near Hawaii at a depth of 5,384 feet (1,641 m). Image credit: Amber N. Reichert et al , doi: 10.1186/s41200-016-0095-5.
The fish in question is called the pointy-nosed blue chimaera ( Hydrolagus trolli ).
Also known as the abyssal ghostshark, this species is a large deep-water ghostshark, probably up to 4 feet (1.2 m) in total length, usual… Read more

Alcohol Consumption Associated with Increased Risk of Melanoma

A study by researchers at Harvard Medical School, Indiana University and Brown University reports an association between higher alcohol intake and incidence of invasive melanoma in white men and women. White wine carried the most significant association, and the increased risk was greater for UV-protected parts of the body.

Andrew Rivera et al found that alcohol intake is associated with a modest increase in the risk of melanoma. Image credit: Skitterphoto.
Approximately 3.6% of cancer cases worldwide have been attributed to alcohol, most typically cancers of the aerodigestive tract, liver, pancreas, colon, rectum, and breast.
Previous research has suggested that alcohol can cause carcinogenesis as the ethanol in alcohol metabolizes into acetaldehyde, which damages DNA and prevents DNA r… Read more

Study: Drop in nSR100 Protein Levels Causes Autistic-Like Behavior in Mice

As many as 33% of autism cases could be explained by a scarcity of a protein called nSR100 in the brain, a new study in the journal Molecular Cell has revealed.

Mathieu Quesnel-Vallières et al induced autistic-like behavior in mice by lowering the levels of nSR100 protein, which is important for normal brain development. Image credit: Mathieu Quesnel-Vallières et al , doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2016.11.033.
Known best for altered social behaviors, the degree of which can vary tremendously, autism is a common neurological disorder affecting more than 1% of the population.
While its origins are genetic, the specific causes are known in only a fraction of cases that fall into the autism spectrum disorder (ASD). For the majority of people diagnosed with ASD, the reasons behind their disorder remain unknow… Read more

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