Scientists find 1,600-year-old sheep mummy, seismometers can trace stray elephants

Representative image | PTI

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New Delhi: A team of geneticists and archaeologists from Ireland, France, Iran, Germany and Austria sequenced the DNA of a 1,600-year-old sheep mummy from a former salt mine Iranian woman known as Chehrabad.

This specimen revealed sheep farming practices in the ancient Near East, as well as how natural mummification can affect DNA degradation.

The Chehrabad Salt Mine is known to preserve biological material. It was in this mine that the human remains of the famous “Salt Men” were recovered, who were most likely killed in the salt mine disaster around 1,700 years ago.

The new research confirms that this natural process of mummification – where water is removed from a corpse, preserving soft tissue that would otherwise be degraded – also preserves the animal’s remains.

The research team extracted DNA from a small section of mummified skin from a leg recovered from the mine. While ancient DNA is typically damaged and fragmented, the team found that the DNA of the sheep mummy was extremely well preserved with longer fragments and less damage that would typically be associated with such an ancient age.

The group attributes this to the mummification process, with the salt mine providing ideal conditions for the preservation of animal tissue and DNA.

The mummified animal was genetically similar to modern breeds of sheep in the region, suggesting that there has been continuity of sheep ancestry in Iran for at least 1,600 years.

The team also exploited the preservation of sheep’s DNA to study genes associated with a woolly fleece and a big tail, two important economic traits in sheep.

The team built a genetic impression of the sheep and found that the mummy did not have the genetic variant associated with a woolly coat, while fiber analysis found microscopic details of the hair fibers consistent with breeds with coats. hairy or mixed.

The mummy carried genetic variants associated with fat-tailed breeds, suggesting that the sheep were similar to the fur-and-fat-tailed sheep seen in Iran today.

Using a combination of genetic and microscopic approaches, the team succeeded in creating a genetic picture of what sheep the races in Iran 1,600 years ago may have looked and how they may have been used.


Read also : Riemann hypothesis: 161-year-old physicist from Hyderabad waits to prove he has solved


DNA testing can help determine if your chocolate bar is the product of child labor

Scientists have developed a new method of DNA testing on cocoa beans that can identify the farm where the cocoa was grown, as well as the processing unit where an individual chocolate bar was made.

This breakthrough could revolutionize the chocolate industry, further reassure consumers about the origins and ethics of their beloved comfort food, and give the global cocoa industry a precision tool to help end the slavery and child labor.

Through this research, activists, NGOs and governments will be able to prove whether the chocolate bar you buy from your local store contains cocoa grown on farms that abuse the environment or employ children or labor. strength.

The cost of DNA sampling is only a tiny fraction of the chocolate industry’s revenue, the researchers say. Creating a database in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire – which is the source of over 70 percent of global cocoa production – would ensure that the industry does not end up supporting millions of people. child laborers working on farms in West Africa.

The majority of the world’s cocoa is collected by small traders and transported to larger trading facilities, where large quantities are traded in international markets. Tracing the beans back to the farm of origin is a challenge due to the number of different parties aggregating and mixing crops at the start of the supply chain.

Biochemical “bar codes” extracted from plant DNA – offer a way to solve this problem.

These biomarkers are unique indicators of a plant and the particular environment in which it is grown. Biomarkers in cocoa beans can survive industrial processes used in Chocolate manufacturing, allowing the identification of individual cocoa beans from a mixture of different origins in the final products.

Sharp-clawed dinosaur discovered in Spain

A team of researchers has identified a new species of sharp-clawed dinosaur excavated from a site in Catalonia, Spain.

The dinosaur was originally found in what was described as a prehistoric cemetery in 1998, but only recently has it been studied in depth.

The dinosaur was about eight meters long. It was named Portellsaurus sosbaynati and dates back around 130 million years.

The fossil the researchers found was a jawbone. The dinosaur probably had several sharp claws, some sticking out of its “thumbs” and others of its “fingers”. The researchers said these claws would have been useful in combating predators, as well as slicing open fruit.

However, they would not have been used to kill prey, as the dinosaur ate only plants. The researchers note that the dinosaur also had very large nostrils, which indicated that it likely had a highly developed sense of smell, which was likely beneficial for foraging.

He also had a very large tail, which would have been carried vertically to maintain balance. In a standing position, the researchers estimate that he would have been a little over three meters tall and that he would have weighed at least 3,600 kilograms.

New AI tool can predict protein structures in minutes

Scientists at the Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington have created an artificial intelligence system that can accurately predict protein structures based on limited information within 10 minutes.

Without the help of such software, it can take years of lab work to determine the structure of a single protein.

Called RoseTTAFold, the freely available software can now be used by scientists around the world to create protein models to speed up their own research.

Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids that fold into complex microscopic shapes. These unique forms in turn give rise to almost all chemical processes inside living organisms.

By better understanding the forms of proteins, scientists can accelerate the development of new treatments for cancer, COVID-19 and thousands of other health disorders.

The RoseTTAFold software tool can reliably calculate a protein structure in as little as ten minutes on a single gaming computer.

The team used RoseTTAFold to calculate hundreds of new protein structures, including many poorly understood proteins in the human genome. They have also generated structures directly relevant to human health, including those for proteins associated with problematic lipid metabolism, inflammatory disorders, and cancer cell growth.

Seismometers can be used to accurately locate elephants

Researchers at the University of Oxford were able to accurately determine the location of the elephants by measuring the vibrations in the ground caused by their growls,

To do this, the team used seismometers, which are typically used to measure earthquakes and explosions.

Seismic waves pass through many different solid materials between source and sensor, unlike acoustic waves. It was a surprise that seismic sensors worked as well as acoustic sensors in locating elephants.

Acoustic and seismic equipment was installed around a water point known to be frequented by elephants at the Mpala research center in Kenya, and coupled with camera traps to provide additional data.

The researchers found that the seismic dataset led to a more precise location of the elephants than the acoustic dataset.

From a conservation point of view, using seismic sensors offers another way to assess wildlife activity.

Knowing whether or not elephants are present in protected areas, or whether they go to higher risk environments, allows reactive responses and can limit human-elephant conflict.

(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)

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