Researchers “edit” human embryo’s DNA

China has undertaken three promising experiments in this technology. But the Oregon researchers were the first U.S.-based scientists to do so, said Jun Wu, a collaborator at the Salk Institute.

Genome-changing technology that could modify a human fetus’s DNA in utero to prevent deformities or diseases underwent a successful test demonstration at the University of Oregon, the MIT Technology Review reported Wednesday. The experiment, in which the researchers led by Oregon geneticist Shoukhrat Mitalipov altered human DNA in single-cell embryos, is the first of its kind in the United States.

China has undertaken three promising experiments in this technology. But the Oregon researchers were the first U.S.-based scientists to do so, said Jun Wu, a collaborator at the Salk Institute.

Mitalipov and his team used the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology. This method entails locating targeted genes in a cell’s genome and using an enzyme called Cas9 that cuts into the strand to remove the genes. The cell recognizes that damage has occurred and induces a repair process, and the human researchers guide the repairs to make sure that new, healthier genes grow in place of the old ones.

The Oregon researchers did not invent CRISPR. But the report said that they significantly scaled it up, stating that they broke new ground “both in the number of embryos experimented upon and by demonstrating that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases.”

They also solved a problem the. Hey near studies had encountered and called “mosaicism,” in which some cells in the embryo took up the desired changes but other cells did not. Mitalipov and his team injected CRISPR into the eggs at the moment when they were fertilized with sperm, and the end result was very little mosaicism.

Dogs’ fondness for humans has genetic basis, new study says

Unique genetic insertions, called transposons, on the Williams-Beuren syndrome critical regions (WBSCR) were strongly associated with social traits, such as seeking out humans for physical contact.

A new study pinpoints genetic variations in dogs that distinguish them from wolves and account for their natural sociability with humans.

An interdisciplinary team that included researchers from Princeton University sequenced a region of chromosome 6 in dogs, according to a university statement. They discovered many sections of canine DNA associated with social behavior.

Unique genetic insertions, called transposons, on the Williams-Beuren syndrome critical regions (WBSCR) were strongly associated with social traits, such as seeking out humans for physical contact.

Interestingly, the congenital human disorder, Williams-Beuren syndrome, which causes hyper-social behavior such as extreme talkativeness, is caused by the deletion, rather than the insertion, of genes from the genome.

“It was the remarkable similarity between the behavioral presentation of Williams-Beuren syndrome and the friendliness of domesticated dogs that suggested to us that there may be similarities in the genetic architecture of the two phenotypes,” said lead co-author Bridgett vonHolt, an assistant professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton.

The team analyzed behavioral and genetic data from 18 domesticated dogs and 10 captive gray wolves that were socialized to interact with humans.

By a series experiments to test the canines’ sociability traits, the researchers found that the domestic dogs showed a greater tendency to seek out humans and engage in human-oriented behavior. They also found that only dogs had transposons on the WBSCR.

“We haven’t found a ‘social gene,’ but rather an important component that shapes animal personality and assisted the process of domesticating a wild wolf into a tame dog,” vanHolt said.

The study is published in Science Advances.

Moon wetter than previously thought

Earth’s Moon may look bone-dry, but new satellite data indicates large volumes of water “hotspots” trapped within the lunar dust.

Earth’s Moon may look bone-dry, but new satellite data indicates large volumes of water “hotspots” trapped within the lunar dust. The water may have come from appears ancient volcanic eruptions or from meteors and space debris that collided with the Moon, according to the study’s researchers, who recommend new lunar missions to investigate lunar water further.

“The lunar mantle is wetter than our previous thoughts [suggested],” said Shuai Li, co-author of the study from Brown University.

Li and colleagues published their findings in the journal Nature Geoscience. They based their study on data from Chandrayaan-1, an Indian lunar probe that launched in 2008 with a Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument in tow.

Trace amounts of water molecules are present in much of the Moon’s surface, the researchers found. They also found certain “hotspot” areas of much larger concentrations of water. These hotspots range in size from a few square feet to thousands of square miles.

Other astronomers have reviewed the satellite’s data before, but the trapped water escaped their notice because thermal radiation from deeper within the Moon obstructed it from view.

Astronomers also already knew if some quantities of water trapped within the Moon’s surface. But they did not know how extensive the trapped water was and assumed that almost all lunar soil was utterly barren and that lunar soil samples that had water molecules were not representative of the Moon’s surface as a whole.

This study challenges these assumptions and calls for some rethinking of our theories about the Moon’s internal structure and how the Moon formed, Li said.

Moon is wetter than previously thought, new study suggests

A new study from scientists at Brown University finds surprisingly large amounts of water trapped inside volcanic deposits on the moon. The research is published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

A new study from scientists at Brown University finds surprisingly large amounts of water trapped inside volcanic deposits on the moon. The research is published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Scientists long believed that the moon had been almost completely depleted of water and other unstable compounds. Then, in 2008, researchers from Brown found trace amounts of water in some volcanic glass beads returned to Earth from the Apollo 15 and 17 lunar missions, according to a university statement appearing in Phys.org. Further study in 2011 showed that the volcanic beads contain similar amounts of water as some basalts on Earth.

The main question for the new researchers was whether the Apollo samples represented unusually water-rich lunar regions or a more widespread phenomenon.

“By looking at the orbital data, we can examine the large pyroclastic deposits on the Moon that were never sampled by the Apollo or Luna missions,” said lead author Ralph Milliken, an associate professor at Brown’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, in the statement. “The fact that nearly all of them exhibit signatures of water suggests that the Apollo samples are not anomalous, so it may be that the bulk interior of the Moon is wet.”

Evidence is growing that water in the moon’s interior may have been transported there by comets or asteroids before the moon had completely solidified, said co-author Shuai Li, a recent Brown Ph.D. graduate. “The exact origin of water in the lunar interior is still a big question,” Li added, however.

Gigantic ocean sunfish is first new species found in over 100 years

A team of scientists has identified a fourth ocean sunfish species — making it the first new sunfish species to be discovered in 130 years.

A team of scientists has identified a fourth ocean sunfish species — making it the first new sunfish species to be discovered in 130 years.

The rarely seen fish, nicknamed Hoodwinker, remained elusive despite its huge size. It can grow as long as 10 feet and weigh as much as two tons, according to a report by Newsweek.

In 2009, Marianne Nyegaard, a postdoctoral student at Australia’s Murdoch University, and her team determined from DNA samples taken from more than 150 sunfish that there are four separate species of sunfish. However, because scientists only had skin samples from three species, the researchers concluded that an as yet undiscovered fourth species must exist.

“We retraced the steps of early naturalists and taxonomists to understand how such a large fish could have evaded discovery all this time,” said Nyegaard, in the Newsweek report. “Overall, we felt science had been repeatedly tricked by this cheeky species, which is why we named it the Hoodwinker.”

In 2014, Nyegaard saw her first Hoodwinker, or Mola tecta, after getting a tip from a fishery about four gigantic sunfish stranded on a beach near Christchurch, New Zealand. Then, for the next few years, she scoured the southern hemisphere for more Hoodwinkers. With the help of local fishermen, she collected 27 samples.

Hoodwinker has a slimmer adult body than other sunfish species and lacks their protruding snout and bumpy, swollen back fin, Nyegaard says. It also is quite a bit larger than other species.

Nyegaard’s discovery is detailed in a paper published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

Nine-year-old stumbles on million-year-old stegomastodon

A nine-year-old boy was roaming around the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces, New Mexico, with his family in November when he literally stumbled on a rare paleontological find: the fossilized skull of a million-year-old stegomastodon.

A nine-year-old boy was roaming around the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces, New Mexico, with his family in November when he literally stumbled on a rare paleontological find: the fossilized skull of a million-year-old stegomastodon.

Jude Sparks, now 10, said at first the object he tripped on looked like “fossilized wood,” according to a report by The New York Times.

“It was just an odd shape,” Jude told the Times in a phone interview. “I just knew it was not something that you usually find.”

Jude showed his parents what he had found and because the skull-like object was so unusual, they emailed a photo of it to Peter Houde, a biology professor at New Mexico State University. Houde knew right away what Jude had discovered was the fossilized tusk of an ancient stegomastodon that lived at least 1.2 million years ago.

After months of preparation and getting a permit, a team finally excavated the skull in May.

Stegomastodons resembled mastodons in their elephant-like appearance. They belong to the family Gomphotheres and were distant cousins of ancient mammoths and modern elephants, a report by National Geographic said.

According to Dr. Houde, a find like Jude’s is “very unusual” because most prehistoric remains do not survive exposure to the elements. When Houde visited the site with the Sparks family the day after Jude’s discovery, they carefully reburied the fragile remains.

The cause of the stegomastodon’s extinction may have been climate change, according to Houde.

“They existed during a time when it was wetter and cooler,” said Houde, in a National Geographic report. “Las Cruces is now a desert.”

California farmers replace workers with robots

So as the existing pool of laborers grows older and more of them retire, not enough new immigrant workers are arriving to replace them.

California farms’ labor pool is shrinking, and farmers are turning to robots to ease the shortfalls. Robotic fruit-pickers, crop-spraying drones, and iPhone-enabled apps and sensors are gaining circulation as more and more human laborers age out and retire.
“California agriculture just isn’t going to look the same,” Ed Taylor, a UC Davis rural economist, told the LA Times. “You’re going to be hard-pressed to find crops grown as labor-intensively as they are now.”
California’s farm sector has a half-million labor jobs, and it has long relied on immigrant laborers to fill many of them. But decades of government crackdowns on undocumented workers have taken a toll on the influx of labor, especially after 2014, according to the Pew Research Center.
So as the existing pool of laborers grows older and more of them retire, not enough new immigrant workers are arriving to replace them. Nor are native-born Americans stepping up to take the vacant jobs, farmers report, even though farms have raised wages for farm laborers 13% from 2010 to 2015—higher than the average for labor across the state’s economy.
Consequently, many farmers hope to deploy better technology in order to do more work with fewer humans—or else risk losing entire crops. The berry-grower Driscoll’s, for example, is shifting away from traditional berry cultivation in garden plots toward growing berries in table-top troughs, which make the berries easier for both machines and humans to pick. Other farms are growing fewer labor-intensive crops like grapes and opting for almonds, which require less human care and can be harvested by machines that shake them from their trees.

Humans arrived in Australia much earlier than thought

New excavations of an aboriginal rock shelter called Madjedbebe push back the date when humans first came to Australia by between 5,000 and 18,000 years.

A new study published in the journal Nature is re-writing the history of human occupation of Australia. Archaeologists have found evidence suggesting that the forebears of Aboriginal Australians arrived in the northern part of the continent as far back as 65,000 years ago, or even earlier.

“This is the earliest reliable date for human occupation in Australia,” said Peter Hiscock, an archaeologist at the University of Sydney who was not involved in the study, in an email to The New York Times. “This is indeed a marvelous step forward in our exploration of the human past in Australia.”

New excavations of an aboriginal rock shelter called Madjedbebe push back the date when humans first came to Australia by between 5,000 and 18,000 years. It also means that people coexisted with giant Australia megafauna, such as enormous wombats and monster lizards, for longer than previously believed and may not have been responsible for hunting them to extinction.

“We were gobsmacked by the richness of material that we were finding at the site: fireplaces intact, a ring of grind stones around it, and there were human burials in their graves,” said lead author Chris Clarkson, an archaeologist at the University of Queensland, in the Times report. “No one dreamed of a site so rich and so old in Australia.”

The team used radio carbon dating and a technique called optically stimulated luminescence to date the items.

Dr. Clarkson and his team unearthed more than 11,000 artifacts from the earliest layers of the excavation site, including an ancient campfire, painting material, archaic mortars and pestles, axes, and flaked stone tools. They also found examples of edge-ground axes that are 20,000 years older than any others found in the world.

Saudi police arrest woman for wearing miniskirt

A woman who appeared in an online video wearing a miniskirt was arrested by Riyadh police Tuesday for violating Saudi Arabia’s strict dress code.

A woman who appeared in an online video wearing a miniskirt was arrested by Riyadh police Tuesday for violating Saudi Arabia’s strict dress code.

The video was first uploaded to Snapchat over the weekend and showed the woman — identified online as Khulood — wearing miniskirt and crop top, a report in The New York Times said. The clip shows the woman walking through the ancient ruins of a fort in Najd Province.

Under Saudi law, women must wear the abaya, which covers the entire body except hands, feet, and face. They also are required to keep their heads covered.

Riyadh police turned her case over to the public prosecutor’s office, Saudi Arabia’s state-run television reported on Twitter. The tweet used an Arabic hashtag that translates to, “We demand a trial for the model Khulood.”

A spokesman for the Riyadh police said the woman told authorities she visited the ancient ruins with her legal guardian and that the video was posted to Snapchat without her knowledge.

The video has sparked debate and exposed dissent in Saudi society. Some accused their country of hypocrisy for celebrating the beauty of foreign women — such as Melania and Ivanka Trump, who both wore clothing that exposed their legs and did not cover their heads during President Trump’s state visit to Saudi Arabia in May.

“If she were a foreigner, they would sing about the beauty of her waist and the enchantment of her eyes,” wrote Fatima al-Issa as she shared the video. “But because she is Saudi they are calling for her arrest.”

Police shoot and kill Australian tourist in Minneapolis

A Minneapolis police officer shot and killed an Australisn woman Saturday night for unknown reasons, according to the mayor’s office.

A Minneapolis police officer shot and killed an Australisn woman Saturday night for unknown reasons, according to the mayor’s office. Mayor Betty Hodges said that she is “heartsick and deeply disturbed by what occurred” and that she intends to find out exactly what happened and why.
The victim was Justine Ruszczyk, and she was a Minneapolis resident. An Australian man named Zach Damond publicly identified himself as the woman’s future step-son in a Facebook video in which he explained that his father, Don, was engaged to Ruszczyk. He said that on the night of the shooting, she had called 911 to report a noise in the ally outside her home.
Police arrived after her phone call, and they shot her with no known explanation. The officers were not wearing body cameras at the time of the shooting—despite Minneapolis law that requires all officers to wear and activate body cameras whenever they “reasonably anticipate that they may become involved in a situation for which activation is appropriate,” such as a shooting.
“Basically my mom’s dead because a police officer shot her for reasons I don’t know,” Damond said in the video. “I demand answers. If anybody can help, just call police and demand answers. I’m so done with all this violence.”
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed that an Australian had died of gunshot wounds, but it only acknowledged that the victim was Ruszcyk after her family had gotten other notification of her death. The agency said that it will provide her family with consular assistance.
Meanwhile, Minneapolis residents held vigils around the victim’s home, sometimes drawing as much as 200 people. Neighbors at the vigil told reporters that they were “shocked” by her death, and some linked it to other fatal officer-involved shootings in the state in recent years.