Sixth mass extinction is underway..

Sixth mass extinction is underway..

Evidence from fossil records has suggested that a sixth mass extinction is underway due to a large number of species disappearing within a relatively short period of time. Although extinction is a natural process which scientists suggests effects up to 98% of species., there is growing concern for the rate of modern extinction. The dramatic increase in extinction rate due to human activities such as hunting, trade, development and pollution is 100-1000 times higher than the natural background rate and does not give ecosystems enough time to recover their populations, causing many species to be listed as endangered under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. But are some species more prone to extinction than others? New research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [1] which compared more than 27 000 vertebrates and analysed the relationship between body size and extinction risk found that of the 4000 species threatened with extinction both the heaviest and the smallest...
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One step closer to improved health and productivity of livestock

One step closer to improved health and productivity of livestock

Scientists have discovered new research which may help aid breeding programmes and increase the health and productivity of livestock. In a study carried out by the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, they analysed the RNA produced in each tissue of the sheep’s body. RNA is genetic material responsible for transferring the genetic code into proteins which make up the cells in our body. Sheep have more than 20 000 genes, however not all are expressed at the same time in each tissue. By mapping which genes are turned on and off in different organs of the sheep’s body and analysing the RNA produced in each organ, this study has shed light upon the complex biological structure of the mammal. The results of this project are a major contribution to the Functional Annotation of Animal Genomes (FAANG) initiative which carries out research on domesticated animals and aims to improve livestock, contribute to medical research and maintain the health and...
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THE RAPIDLY EVOLVING GENOME OF THE TASMANIAN DEVIL

THE RAPIDLY EVOLVING GENOME OF THE TASMANIAN DEVIL

The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrishii) is the largest remaining marsupial carnivore. They are found throughout the Australian island of Tasmania and can be found in all native terrestrial habitats. Devils are nocturnal, highly social marsupials but are extremely aggressive towards each other. Tasmanian devil numbers have dramatically reduced since the late 1990s and devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) is the primary cause of this decline. DFTD is a contagious cancer which is passed from devil to devil through biting during social interactions. Tumours grow on the faces and mouths of the infected devil and individuals die within months of infection. DFTD was first seen in 1996 in Mount William in north eastern Tasmania and has since spread to over 65% of Tasmania, with only the populations on the west coast and the far north-west remaining DFTD-free. Over the last 20 years, it is estimated that there has been localised declines in devil populations by as much as 90%, with an overall...
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Unravelling the Zika Virus Genome

Unravelling the Zika Virus Genome

The Zika virus (ZIKV) is an arbovirus from the Flaviviridae family and is primarily transmitted via infected mosquitoes.  However, ZIKV has also been isolated in semen and so the virus can be transmitted sexually through infected partners. The recent on-going outbreak of ZIKV, which originated in Bahia in Brazil in 2015, has spread rapidly across the Americas and has resulted in more than 1.5 million cases worldwide. The recent epidemic in the Americas has dominated the headlines due to the high incidence of babies born with microcephaly to ZIKV-infected mothers. Indeed this outbreak has been characterised by an increased prevalence of neurological syndromes such as microcephaly and Guillain-Barre syndrome. In February 2016 the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the current epidemic to be a global public health emergency, due to the accelerated rate at which ZIKV is spreading, bringing its associated neurological conditions. Once a relatively obscure virus, the recent devastating outbreaks have thrust ZIKV into the scientific spotlight. Recent research, led...
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The Fight to Save Our Ash Trees

The Fight to Save Our Ash Trees

We have 157,000 hectares of ash woodland in the UK, together with approximately 12 million ash trees outside the woodlands in gardens, parklands and along roadsides. These ash trees are associated with and support 1,000 different species, including 12 species of bird, 55 species of mammals and 239 species of invertebrates. But ash trees are now under attack from a deadly enemy - a fungus called Hymenoscyphus fraxineus (previously Chalara fraxinea). This fungal pathogen kills the leaves, then the branches and trunk and eventually the whole tree dies. Ash dieback, as this deadly disease is known, originated in Asia but is spreading across Europe. Ash dieback was first seen in Eastern Europe in 1992 and it now affects more than 2 million square kilometres from Scandinavia to Italy. The disease was first found in the UK in 2012 and has since spread from Norfolk and Suffolk to South Wales. Recent evidence suggests that ash dieback could wipe out all ash trees across Europe unless action...
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The Cheetah: One of Nature’s Great Survivors

The Cheetah: One of Nature’s Great Survivors

The African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is the world’s fastest land mammal. It has numerous physiological adaptations that allow it to reach speeds over 100 km/hr including elongated legs, slim aerodynamic skull, enlarged adrenal glands, liver and heart, and semi-retractable claws that grip the earth. Modern cheetahs range across eastern and southern Africa, with a small population in Iran. But their numbers are declining and there are now less than 10,000 in the wild. This is a drop of 90 percent in the past 100 years. This decline in numbers is mostly due to loss of habitat, illegal trade by hunters, conflict with farmers and road accidents. They are considered highly endangered by wildlife authorities and governments. An international team of researchers led by Stephen O’Brien, of the Theodosius Dobzhansky Centre for Genome Bioinformatics at St.Petersburg State University, and including members of the Beijing Genomics Institute and the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) have recently sequenced the genome from a male Namibian cheetah and...
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