Two New Species of African Mole-Rats Discovered in Tanzania

Scientists working in Tanzania have discovered and named two new species of the mole-rat genus Fukomys . The research was published in the journal PeerJ .

The Hanang mole-rat ( Fukomys hanangensis ). Image credit: Chris Faulkes.
African mole-rats of the family Bathyergidae are burrowing rodents that occur throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with much of their range subdivided by the Great Rift Valley.
Also known as blesmols, they have been widely studied because of the variation in their social and reproductive behaviors.
More recently, the naked mole-rat ( Heterocephalus glaber ) has also emerged as a model species for the study of longevity and cancer resistance.
“A clear understanding of African mole-rats’ biodiversity and evolutionary relationships has become increasingly important, not lea… Read more

DNA Study Sheds Light on Evolution of Dog Breeds

Genetic material from 161 modern breeds helped a team of researchers at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) of the National Institutes of Health assemble the most comprehensive evolutionary tree of dogs. The results are published in the journal Cell Reports .

Representatives from each of the 23 clades of breeds. Breeds and clades are listed for each picture from left to right, top to bottom: (A) Akita/Asian spitz; (B) Shih tzu/Asian toy; (C) Icelandic sheepdog/Nordic spitz; (D) Miniature schnauzer/schnauzer; (E) Pomeranian/small spitz; (F) Brussels griffon/toy spitz; (G) Puli/Hungarian; (H) Standard poodle/poodle; (I) Chihuahua/American toy; (J) Rat terrier/American terrier; (K) Miniature pinscher/pinscher; (L) Irish terrier/terrier; (M) German shepherd dog/New W… Read more

Regular Consumption of Sugary Beverages Affects Brain

Researchers using data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS), a joint project of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and Boston University, have shown that people who more frequently consume sugary beverages such as sodas and fruit juices are more likely to have poorer episodic memory, smaller hippocampal and total brain volumes. The authors have also found that people who drank diet soda daily were 3 times as likely to develop stroke and dementia when compared to those who did not consume diet soda.

According to Pase et al , regular consumption of sodas, fruit juices and artificially sweetened sodas affects the brain. Image credit: Bruno Glaetsch.
Excess sugar is known to have adverse effects on health. Diet soft drinks are often touted as a healthier alternative to regular soda.
However, bo… Read more

New Womb-Like Device May Transform Care for Extremely Premature Infants

A unique womb-like environment designed by pediatric researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — which is in an experimental stage using animal models — could transform care for extremely premature babies: after birth, they would be immersed in lab-made amniotic fluid — and kept underwater for weeks.

Most previous attempts at creating a womb-like device used artificial pumps to drive the blood through the system, causing heart failure. In the system invented by Partridge et al , the fetal heart is the only pump. It is different in other key ways. Use of the bag, rather than a more open container, nearly eliminated the infection issues that contributed to previous failures. And while previous attempts relied on blood vessels in the neck, the authors figured out how to quickly and successfull… Read more

Three New Species of Fungus-Farming Ants Discovered in South America

Three new species of the ant genus Sericomyrmex have been discovered in Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

Sericomyrmex radioheadi , worker. Image credit: A. Ješovnik & T.R. Schultz, doi: 10.3897/zookeys.670.11839.
The genus Sericomyrmex belongs to the fungus-farming ants (tribe Attini), a New World group of over 250 species, all of which cultivate fungus gardens for food. These ants provide the fungus with the substrate on which it grows, either organic detritus or fresh vegetation, thus effectively practicing agriculture.
Like the majority of attine-ant genera, Sericomyrmex has a wide Neotropical distribution, ranging from Mexico southward to Bolivia, Paraguay, and Paraná, Brazil.
Sericomyrmex species can be found in a variety of habitats, from dry savanna to tropical wet… Read more

Physical Activity Can Lower Risk of Heart Damage, Says New Study

According to a new study, physical activity can lower the risk of myocardial damage in middle-aged and older adults and reduce the levels of myocardial damage in people who are obese.

Physical activity is inversely associated with chronic subclinical myocardial damage, according to a study by Florido et al . Image credit: Skeeze.
“Physical activity is associated with reduced risk of heart failure, particularly among obese people,” the team behind the study said.
“Heart failure may be caused by subclinical myocardial damage, in which there is damage to the heart muscle but a patient does not show sign or symptoms.”
The scientists studied 9,427 participants aged 45-64 years without cardiovascular disease and a body mass index of more than 18.5 kg/m2.
Physical activity was categorized per American H… Read more

Wax Moth Caterpillars Found to Eat Polyethylene

An international team of researchers from Spain and the United Kingdom has found that a caterpillar of the greater wax moth ( Galleria mellonella ) — commonly known as a wax worm — has the ability to biodegrade polyethylene.

Polyethylene degradation by wax worms. Left: plastic bag after exposure to about 100 wax worms for 12 hours; Right: magnification of the area indicated in the image at left. Image credit: Bombelli et al , doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.02.060.
Polyethylene is the most commonly used plastic in the world: about 80 million tons are made annually.
It is largely utilized in packaging: nearly 50% of polyethylene is used to produce plastic films for food storage as well as agricultural and environmental use; the remainder is used to produce plastic bottles and injection-molded products.
Polye… Read more

Study: Oxygen-Deprived Naked Mole-Rats Turn into ‘Plants’

Deprived of oxygen, African naked mole-rats ( Heterocephalus glaber ) can survive by metabolizing a type of sugar called fructose just as plants do, a new study says.

Prof. Gary Lewin holding a naked mole-rat ( Heterocephalus glaber ). Image credit: Roland Gockel, MDC.
The naked mole-rat is a nearly hairless and nearly sightless burrowing rodent found throughout most of Somalia, central Ethiopia, Djibouti, and much of northern and eastern Kenya.
The species lives in large colonies, which vary in number from 75 to 300 individuals, deep underground in hypoxic conditions.
The colonies are extended family groups, with overlapping generations. Reproduction is restricted to a single reproductive female (the queen), and at most three breeding males.
Adults are 3-4 inches (7-10 cm) long and weigh 30-35… Read more

Pigeons May Share Human Ability to Build on Work of Others

A team of researchers at the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology has shown that the elements of the capacity of humans to build on the work of others may also be present in homing pigeons ( Columba livia ).

Single flying pigeon. Image credit: Takao Sasaki.
The ability to gather, pass on and improve on knowledge over generations is known as cumulative culture.
Until now humans and, arguably some other primates, were the only species thought to be capable of it.
“At one stage scientists thought that only humans had the cognitive capacity to accumulate knowledge as a society,” said team member Dr. Takao Sasaki, a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow at the Department of Zoology (OxNav Group), the University of Oxford, and first author of a paper reporting the results in the journal Nature Communications . Read more

Frog Skin Peptide ‘Urumin’ Kills H1 Influenza Viruses

An international team of scientists from the United States and India has discovered that a component of the skin mucus secreted by a South Indian fungoid frog can destroy many strains of human influenza viruses and protect mice against influenza infection. The discovery is reported in the journal Immunity .

This image shows the Wide-spread fungoid frog ( Hydrophylax bahuvistara ) in its native environment in southern India. Image credit: Sanil George / Jessica Shartouny.
“Different frogs make different peptides, depending on where their habitat is,” said study senior author Dr. Joshy Jacob, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Emory Vaccine Center and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Emory University School of Medicine.
“You and I make host defense peptides… Read more

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