New pterosaur fossil shows birds and winged dinosaurs flew side-by-side

Some pterosaurs were the largest flying animals ever seen on Earth. These extinct flying reptiles that lived above the dinosaurs’ heads could grow wingspans of up to 11 metres and dominated the skies of the late Cretaceous period, the last age of the giant reptiles.

Earlier pterosaurs are also known to have been as small as a metre across, but few such fossils from this period have been found. This has led to the idea that small-bodied pterosaurs disappeared because they were out-competed by early birds who forced them to evolve into much bigger animals.

But an exciting new pterosaur fossil has added to the growing body of evidence that small pterosaurs did continue to exist alongside their much bigger cousins.

The new find is not the prettiest of fossils. Discovered in British Columbia, Canada, and described in a paper in the journal Royal Society Open Science, it consists of a partial skeleton with a humerus (arm bone), some vertebrae, and some possible limb fragments.

It was found on Hornby Island by a collector and volunteer, who then donated it to the Royal British Columbia Museum.

Vertebrate fossils in this area are rare and, as the rock was laid down under the sea, fossils of land-based creatures are even more uncommon.

The fact that the fossil has a notarium, a section of fused vertebrae found in later pterosaurs to help support flight and wing musculature, shows it is indeed a pterosaur and not a bird (fossils of which have also been recovered from Hornby Island).

Because the specimen is incomplete, it’s a bit harder to pin down what type of pterosaur it is. But my colleagues and I concluded that it is most likely anazhdarchid pterosaur, from the same family as the larger animals.

The exciting thing about this fossil is its size.

With a humerus just 75 mm long, this little critter had a maximum wingspan of just 1.5 metres. That may seem big by modern standards, but against the 10-metre giants from this time it would seem pretty tiny.

Relative size. 

One question we had to answer was whether it was simply a baby. In order to determine the age of the animal, we looked at the microstructure of the humerus’s bone tissue. We took a very thin section of the bone and looked at it under polarised and non-polarised light.

This revealed that the animal’s tissue was likely still growing but had already begun to slow down, suggesting it wasn’t a young animal.

We also found evidence of secondary tissues laid down after the initial bone tissue; remodelling of bone showing it had changed; and a tissue layer that is only found in azhdarchid pterosaurs that are close to full grown.

For this reason, we don’t think this animal would have grown much more, making it among the smallest pterosaurs that we know of living at the end of the Cretaceous period.

Palaeontologists have had a big debate about what happened to pterosaurs during this time because few small fossils have been found.

Older studies typically found no link between the decline of pterosaurs and the rise of birds, but recent work has suggested small pterosaurs just couldn’t compete with birds and only the biggest creatures survived.

However, this new specimen adds to some previous finds suggesting that small-bodied pterosaurs did exist during this time – it’s just that their fossils have rarely been found. Pterosaur fossils in general are notoriously poorly preserved because their bones were hollow and more easily damaged.

This bias against pterosaur preservation, combined with the fact that places like the Dinosaur Park Formation exhibit a documented preservation size biasagainst small animals, with small dinosaurs and vertebrates rarely being found, means the odds are stacked against a small pterosaur being preserved and then discovered.

We’ve also found very few young, large-bodied pterosaurs for the same reasons.

All this suggests that pterosaurs may have been more diverse at the end of the Cretaceous than previously thought, living side-by-side with their bird contemporaries.



A dog has just given birth to the world’s first identical twin puppies

An Irish wolfhound has just given birth to the first identical twin puppies on record, delivered by veterinarian Kurt de Cramer at South Africa’s Rant en Dal Animal Hospital.

The pups are a rare example of monozygotic, or ‘identical’, twinning in mammals – something that’s been reported in horses and pigs before, but appear to be incredibly uncommon in most species except for humans and armadillos.

Twins can be either monozygotic (identical), meaning they develop from the same zygote (or egg cell), which is fertilised by the same sperm cell; or they can be dizygotic (fraternal), meaning they develop from two different egg cells, each fertilised by separate sperm cells.

When de Cramer delivered the pups from the same placenta via a Caesarean section, he suspected he had the first monozygotic dogs known to science on his hands.

“When I realised that the puppies were of the same gender and that they had very similar markings, I also immediately suspected that they might be identical twins having originated from the splitting of an embryo,” he told Melissa Hogenboom from BBC News.

pup-birthNewborn pups with their single placenta. 

But there was one problem – the pups didn’t look entirely identical. They had slightly different markings on their paws, the tip of the tail, and chest, and seeing as pups from the same mum often look very similar, he needed more proof.

At two weeks old, the pups had blood samples taken and these were sent to reproductive specialists Carolynne Joone from James Cook University in Australia and Johan Nöthling from the University of Pretoria in South Africa, and they confirmed de Cramer’s suspicions.

“DNA profiles of twins A and B were identical at all 40 genetic markers,” the researchers conclude in Reproduction in Domestic Animals. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report of monozygotic twinning in the dog confirmed using DNA profiling.”

The researchers explain that, just like in humans, animals can be identical twins without being entirely identical, because the genes that encode certain physical differences can be expressed in different ways.

If you know a pair of identical twins, you can often pick out subtle variations between the two, such as slight differences in height or a mole on one and not the other. The same thing goes for identical twin dogs with slightly different colour patterns.

“Human identical twins also have the same genes, but because those genes are expressed differently in each person, they have different freckle and fingerprint patterns,” de Cramer told the BBC.

pupsThe pups with mum. Credit: Kurt de Cramer

So if humans have a 1 in 330 chance of birthing identical twins, why is the phenomenon so incredibly rare in most other animals?

There team offers up two explanations.

The first is that monozygotic twins might not be all that uncommon at conception, but because they put such an incredible strain on the mother by having to fit into the same placenta, and then share nutrients throughout the pregnancy, it’s thought that many don’t make it to term.

“For instance, identical twin foetuses have been reported in horses, but none have survived,” Hogenboom explains. “A horse’s placenta is not efficient enough to transport oxygen for two foetuses.”

The other explanation is that maybe they’re not as rare as we think. Just because these little wolfhounds are the first ever identical twin dogs known to science doesn’t mean there haven’t been others that have gone unnoticed.

Think about how many pups are born on the streets, or in the basement of their owner away from view. Dogs tend to eat their placentas once they’ve given birth, which hides the evidence that tipped off de Cramer, and considering identical twin pups can differ in appearance, there might be a bunch of identical twin pups running around and we don’t even know it.

But given the fact that no vet has ever delivered one – and de Cramer himselfaverages about 900 Caesarean sections every year – it’s safe to say that even if we’ve missed some, they’re still incredibly rare.

“There have been rumours about twins in dogs before,” Joone told the BBC. “We just happened to be lucky enough to be able to confirm it genetically.”


Researchers just found a second ‘Dyson Sphere’ star

When astronomers discovered a strange pattern of light near a distant star called KIC 8462852 back in October, it was like nothing anyone had observed before.

When a planet passes in front of star, the star’s brightness usually dips by around 1 percent, but KIC 8462852 has been experiencing dips of up to 22 percent, suggesting that something huge is zooming past. And now a second star with strange dips in brightness has been identified.

Named EPIC 204278916, the star is estimated to be about the size of our Sun in diameter, but has only half its mass.

It was discovered by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft in 2014, and ever since, a team of astronomers led by Simone Scaringi from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany have been keeping tabs on its dips in light, or ‘light curves’.

And this thing is even stranger than KIC 8462852.

The researchers report that over 78.8 days of observations, EPIC 204278916 displayed irregular dimming of up to 65 percent for around 25 consecutive days.

As we mentioned above, something as huge as a planet orbiting a star will cause it to dim just 1 percent, so what could possibly be big enough to cause a dimming of 65 percent?

Back when researchers were trying to explain the irregular and large dips in brightness of KIC 8462852 – also known as Tabby’s star – they came up with two plausible explanations and one… not-so-plausible explanation.



RNA therapy has shown real promise against psoriasis in its first human trial

A phase 1 trial involving a new type of RNA therapy has shown that the treatment could be used to fight psoriasis, a debilitating skin condition that affects nearly 3 percent of the world’s population.

At the American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting in Philadelphia last week, researchers announced that AST-005, a type of RNA therapy, is safe to use in humans, and were optimistic about the drug’s dose-dependent response in psoriasis patients.

Psoriasis is an auto-immune disease, triggered when the body creates too much of a normally healthy protein, tumour necrosis factor-α (TNF-α). The immune system attacks this protein, causing red, itchy, and scaly skin patches.

Right now, there is no cure, and very limited treatments, but RNA could be the key to controlling it.

In every one of your cells, RNA acts as a messenger between your DNA and protein. Although DNA stays in the nucleus at all times, RNA moves around the cell, directing the creation of various proteins.

One of the ways scientists have been able to limit protein creation – such as the overproduction of TNF- α – is by destroying RNA genes using a relatively new technique called RNA interference, or RNAi. RNAi enters the cell, destroys the regular RNA, and less protein is created.

While we’ve been able to use RNAi in animal models pretty effectively, as Robert Service explains at Science Magazine, this has been difficult to get right in humans:

“The trouble is that traditional antisense RNA drugs [synthetic RNAi] usually don’t work. To date, only two antisense RNA therapies have been approved in the United States, despite decades of effort and dozens of clinical trials.

Among other problems, most introduced RNA snippets get chopped up before they reach their target by enzymes that patrol the cell for foreign material.”

But there’s renewed hope that this technique could work in humans, with the development of a new type of RNAi, called spherical nucleic acid (SNA).

Developed by researchers at US-based company, Exicure, AST-005 is a gel made up of SNAs, which has been shown in the past to lower the amount of TNF-α in animal trials. And unlike previous synthetic RNAis, the SNA’s structure is not chopped up by enzymes in the cell.

Back in April, researchers from Exicure announced treatment of its first patients for a phase 1 clinical trial for the AST-005 gel, which they hoped would lower the amount of TNF-α protein produced by the corresponding gene, and therefore limit patients’ symptoms.

“This clinical trial will enable our team to study safety and tolerability of AST-005 while demonstrating that the SNA technology can be used to treat diseases locally using a nucleic acid therapy. We are excited to bring this approach to patients in need,” said David Giljohann, CEO at Exicure, when the trial was first announced.

The results are looking promising. At the ASC meeting, one of the team, Chad Mirkin, explained that AST-005 has been found to be safe in humans, and shows a dose-dependent response to TNF-α.

This means that although there is more work to do in finding the correct dose, the researchers are hoping that a treatment could be on the way for those suffering psoriasis.

The researchers didn’t go into much detail, as it is still very early days yet. The initial observations have only been discussed at the ASC meeting, there has been no paper published in a peer reviewed journal, so unfortunately we can’t explain much more about the trial, or get too excited just yet.

But if the treatment continues to show promise in this and other follow-up trials, it’s just the beginning for similar SNA therapies, with the potential for more new drugs based on this technique to target cancer-causing genes, and a number of auto-immune diseases.

Although this is just an initial observation, we’re looking forward to seeing the final results.

Scientists might have just figured out why we get the ‘vacation effect’

Everybody knows that going on holiday is a great way to reduce the stress of daily life, but just how much better do vacations really make us feel, and why?

A new study comparing the biological effects of vacationing and meditation has found that both activities confer significant, and in some cases long-lasting, physiological benefits – with the best results seen in those who do both at the same time.

“It’s intuitive that taking a vacation reduces biological processes related to stress,” said psychiatrist Elissa S. Epel from the University of California, San Francisco, “but it was still impressive to see the large changes in gene expression from being away from the busy pace of life, in a relaxing environment, in such a short period of time.”

To gauge how vacationing and meditation affect biomarkers related to processes such as ageing and general health, the researchers recruited 94 healthy women aged between 30 and 60 to take part in a six-day retreat at a resort in California.

Among the participants, 64 were not regular meditators. This group was randomly assigned to either simply enjoy their time at the resort with no further obligations – and they call this science! – or enroll in a meditation training program while at the resort.

The remaining 30 participants were classified as “experienced” meditators, and this group was asked to take part in the meditation training program for the duration of the retreat.

The researchers took blood samples from all the participants immediately before and after the vacation. They also surveyed the participants before and after the retreat to assess their mental state, with follow-up surveys taking place one month and 10 months after the vacation.

When comparing the before-and-after blood samples, the researchers examined some 20,000 genes to track changes in gene expression induced by the effects of vacationing and mediation.

They found all three groups showed significant improvements in stress levels and the functioning of the immune system. For the experienced meditators, biomarkers associated with antiviral activity also showed a boost.

“[O]ur results point to both a significant ‘vacation effect’ that benefitted all groups, and a suppression of stress-related responses and immune function related to acute-phase wound healing and inflammation,” the authors write inTranslational Psychiatry.

“We also identified a ‘meditation effect’ within the regular meditator group, characterised by a distinct network of genes with cellular functions that may be relevant to healthy ageing.”

The post-resort surveys indicated that all participants reported increased feelings of well being even a month after their holiday, and again the biggest benefits were seen in those who took part in meditation while on the retreat – with novice meditators reporting fewer feelings of depression and less stress even 10 months after the retreat.

The findings could help shed some new light on the physiological and long-term effects of meditation – an area that scientists have long studied and debated, but which is still turning up some surprises.

“Based on our results, the benefit we experience from meditation isn’t strictly psychological; there is a clear and quantifiable change in how our bodies function,” said neurologist Rudolph Tanzi from Harvard University.

“Meditation is one of the ways to engage in restorative activities that may provide relief for our immune systems, easing the day-to-day stress of a body constantly trying to protect itself,” he added. “The prediction is that this would then lead to healthier ageing.”

The findings come on the back of research from earlier in the year that found that meditation could lead to reduced levels of a key inflammation biomarker – called Interleukin–6 – which has previously been linked to diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s, and autoimmune conditions.

A prior study from 2014 also suggested that practising meditation and yoga can influence our cellular activity.

Researchers in Canada found that telomeres – which form part of our chromosomes and are thought to be responsible for controlling how we age – could be affected by taking part in meditation or support group activities.

In the study, breast cancer survivors who practised meditation or were part of a support group showed no shortening of their telomeres, while shortening was seen in a control group that didn’t engage in the activities. The finding could be significant, because shorter telomeres are associated with a greater risk of disease, in addition to cellular ageing.

“We already know that psychosocial interventions like mindfulness meditation will help you feel better mentally, but now for the first time we have evidence that they can also influence key aspects of your biology,” said one of the researchers, Linda E. Carlson from the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, at the time.

While the results of the latest study are also promising, the researchers acknowledge that their relatively small experiment will need to be confirmed by larger samples, so we can find out what’s really going on here.

In the meantime, there’s no reason at all not to book that vacation you’ve had lingering in the back of your mind. Based on the evidence here, getting away from it all does us a world of good.


South Carolina just obliterated millions of bees by accident

Reports out of South Carolina have indicated that when officials approved the spraying of local farmlands with insecticide to prevent the spread of Zika-carrying mosquitos, it accidentally wiped out millions of bees too.

The insecticide in question, called Naled, is known to be “highly toxic” to bees, and these vital pollinators appear to be the latest collateral damage in the fight against Zika.

In response to the ensuing outcry from local farmers after last Sunday’s bout of aerial spraying in Dorchester County, the local administrator’s office announcedthat the state health department had reported four travel-related cases of Zika virus in the Summerville area of Dorchester County on Friday 26 August.

While the health department reported that no one has been infected from a local mosquito bite to date, Dorchester County officials justified the accidental bee cull on the grounds that the mosquito population remained a threat.

“Dorchester County is concerned about the safety of its citizens,” a statement from the County Administrator’s Office reads. “This includes protecting citizens from insect bites from pests such as mosquitoes that carry viruses including West Nile and Zika.”

The spraying commenced at 6:30am last Sunday morning, and the effects on bees were reportedly instant.

“Stressed insects tried to flee their nests, only to surrender in little clumps at hive entrances,” Ben Guarino reports for The Washington Post“The pattern matched acute pesticide poisoning. By one estimate, at a single apiary – Flowertown Bee Farm and Supply, in Summerville – 46 hives died on the spot, totalling about 2.5 million bees.”

The decision to conduct aerial spraying with Naled – something that’s never been done in South Carolina before – is of course highly controversial, but what’s perhaps even more contentious is the fact that local officials claim to have warned farmers ahead of Sunday.


Moon Express: The US Government Just Gave A Private Company Permission To Land on the Moon


FAA grants Florida-based, privately-funded space company, Moon Express approval to land on the moon. This sets legal precedent for future private space travel endeavors.


For the first time, a private organization was granted US government approval to venture out to the moon.

Moon Express, a Florida-based company intends to send a robotic lander onto the moon by 2017 as they compete in Google’s Lunar XPRIZE competition which could let them win as much as $25 million.

Moon Express’ mission is to deliver a lander (roughly the size of a suitcase) for a two-week mission to the moon by next year. The spacecraft will contain several science experiments, as well as commercial cargo, specifically human ashes from paying customers who want loved ones’ remains buried on the moon. The lander will also send videos and pictures from its mission back to Earth.

An artist’s conception of Moon Express’s MX-1 lander on the moon. 


While unprecedented, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) decision to approve the Moon Express mission establishes a legal and regulatory framework for future commercial spaces expeditions—not just to the moon but to asteroids and, eventually, Mars.

Prior to their approval of the Moon Express, no government agency has been given authority to grant permissions for missions that go outside of Earth’s orbit. According to the New York Times, “The Outer Space Treaty reads, “The activities of nongovernmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate state party to the treaty.”

To date, no other organization has dared to take on the technical and engineering challenges leaving Earth’s orbit evidently presents. However, companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, known for launching satellites into Earth’s orbit and flying supply mission to the International Space Station (ISS), intends to fly a spacecraft to Mars in 2018. In addition, companies likeVirgin Galactic and Blue Origin are already working making space tourism a reality.

Scientists have created a gigantic molecule from just two atoms

Two physicists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology were able to create diatomic molecules the size of bacteria – like E. coli, for example – proving hypothesis about such molecules were correct.

Diatomic molecules, such as H2H2 or O2O2, typically come in a size that is less than 1 nanometre across.

But in a paper published in Physical Review Letters, scientists Johannes Deiglmayr and Heiner Saßmannshausen described how they were able to create two-atom molecules that are 1 micrometre in size – 1,000 times the size of a typical molecule – using exotic atoms that attract one another very weakly.

Previous research has shown that giant, two-atom molecules can be created if the atoms are put in a Rydberg state – in which the outer electron is boosted to a high quantum state, allowing it to orbit far from the atom’s nucleus.

For this new effort, the two physicists chilled two caesium atoms to nearly absolute zero temperature, which they then bound using a pulse of laser light to excite a small fraction of the atoms.

2398469-atomIn this sketch, two caesium atoms in high Rydberg states form a weakly bound molecule about 1 micrometre across. Credit: APS/Alan Stonebraker

Another pulse of light followed – but this time only with a smaller amount of energy – just enough to put the atoms into a Rydberg state.

To make sure that had succeeded, the pair tried to detect the ions created when one of the atoms decayed to the lower Rydberg state. The physicists said the result of their experiment may have a place in quantum computers that use atoms as quantum bits.

“Before, maybe it wasn’t clear if this is really a molecule in the sense that it’s vibrating and rotating. It could have been just two atoms sitting there with very weak interactions or no interactions,” said Deiglmayr.

The Shocking Reason Why You Should Never Eat Hot Dogs Again.

Hot dogs are without a doubt delicious, and people in the US eat approximately 7 billion hot dogs in the summertime alone! Hot dogs are a processed meat, and as with all processed meats, they are unhealthy. In fact, as you will hear in the video you are about to watch below, eating hot dogs puts your health in serious danger.

Although, some hot dog sausages may not be as unhealthy as others, by and large these mixtures of pork, beef and chicken meat also contain fillers, additives and preservatives. Most of the cheaper brands use parts of animals that aren’t “choice”, which includes legs, claws and fat. The additives are carcinogenic; large amounts of salt, monosodium glutamate, corn syrup and some use a substance known as carmine.

Carmine is made of powdered insect bodies that are boiled in a sodium carbonate solution or ammonia! Hot dogs contain cancer-causing nitrites, which is also found in other processed meat. According to research done at the University of Hawaii these Nitrites raise your chances of developing pancreatic cancer by 67%! This is nothing to be scoffed at! There are many other delicious and healthy things that can be barbecued, and traditions should be enjoyed, but not at the risk of your’s and your family’s health!

Check out the video which makes this message quite clear and so important.


Everything Is Rigged: The Biggest Price-Fixing Scandal Ever

The Illuminati were amateurs. The second huge financial scandal of the year reveals the real international conspiracy: There’s no price the big banks can’t fix. Conspiracy theorists of the world, believers in the hidden hands of the Rothschilds and the Masons and the Illuminati, we skeptics owe you an apology. You were right. The players may be a little different, but your basic premise is correct: The world is a rigged game. We found this out in recent months, when a series of related corruption stories spilled out of the financial sector, suggesting the world’s largest banks may be fixing the prices of, well, just about everything.

You may have heard of the Libor scandal, in which at least three – and perhaps as many as 16 – of the name-brand too-big-to-fail banks have been manipulating global interest rates, in the process messing around with the prices of upward of $500 trillion (that’s trillion, with a “t”) worth of financial instruments. When that sprawling con burst into public view last year, it was easily the biggest financial scandal in history – MIT professor Andrew Lo even said it “dwarfs by orders of magnitude any financial scam in the history of markets.” That was bad enough, but now Libor may have a twin brother. Word has leaked out that the London-based firm ICAP, the world’s largest broker of interest-rate swaps, is being investigated by American authorities for behavior that sounds eerily reminiscent of the Libor mess. Regulators are looking into whether or not a small group of brokers at ICAP may have worked with up to 15 of the world’s largest banks to manipulate ISDAfix, a benchmark number used around the world to calculate the prices of interest-rate swaps. Interest-rate swaps are a tool used by big cities, major corporations and sovereign governments to manage their debt, and the scale of their use is almost unimaginably massive. It’s about a $379 trillion market, meaning that any manipulation would affect a pile of assets about 100 times the size of the United States federal budget.

Word has leaked out that the London-based firm ICAP, the world’s largest broker of interest-rate swaps, is being investigated by American authorities for behavior that sounds eerily reminiscent of the Libor mess. Regulators are looking into whether or not a small group of brokers at ICAP may have worked with up to 15 of the world’s largest banks to manipulate ISDAfix, a benchmark number used around the world to calculate the prices of interest-rate swaps. Interest-rate swaps are a tool used by big cities, major corporations and sovereign governments to manage their debt, and the scale of their use is almost unimaginably massive. It’s about a $379 trillion market, meaning that any manipulation would affect a pile of assets about 100 times the size of the United States federal budget.

Interest-rate swaps are a tool used by big cities, major corporations and sovereign governments to manage their debt, and the scale of their use is almost unimaginably massive. It’s about a $379 trillion market, meaning that any manipulation would affect a pile of assets about 100 times the size of the United States federal budget.