Sciences – Daily News Egypt Egypt’s Only Daily Independent Newspaper In English Thu, 25 Apr 2019 09:00:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Global economy could lose $70tn due to climate change acceleration Thu, 25 Apr 2019 09:00:11 +0000 Certain amount of climate change impacts is inevitable even if we stay below 1.5C, says study’s lead author

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The Arctic region is warming twice as fast as the global average, manifested by a decrease in sea ice, snow and glaciers, and permafrost degradation relative to their benchmark average states for the period between 1979 and 2005.

These changes can accelerate global warming further through a variety of climatic feedbacks. Carbon from thawing permafrost released into the atmosphere results in the permafrost carbon feedback (PCF).

Decreasing sea ice and land snow covers increase solar absorption at high latitudes, causing the surface albedo feedback (SAF). Both feedbacks amplify the anthropogenic signal, according to a new paper in the Nature Communications journal.

The PCF and SAF represent three out of the 13 main tipping elements the Earth’s climate system identified in recent surveys. The risk of triggering the tipping elements is one of the arguments for adopting the ambitious 1.5C and 2C targets in the Paris Agreement.

Therefore, a rigorous quantitative assessment of the climate tipping elements under different scenarios is required to estimate their impacts and narrow down the uncertainties. Our study does this for the tipping elements/feedbacks associated with the loss of Arctic land permafrost, snow, and sea ice.

Carbon emissions

According to the Nature’s paper, carbon released into the atmosphere by the increasing loss of Arctic permafrost, combined with higher solar absorption by the Earth’s surface due to the melting of sea ice and land snow, will accelerate climate change–and have a multi-trillion dollar impact on the world economy.

Researchers explored simulations of complex, state-of-the-art, physical models to quantify the strength of the PCF, driven by the additional carbon released from thawing permafrost, and of the SAF, driven by the extra solar energy absorbed by the Earth’s surface as the white sea ice and land snow cover declines, exposing darker ocean and land.

The interdisciplinary research team hope their assessments will provide a better understanding of the socio-economic risks from climate change under different scenarios, and help guide policy-makers toward prudent decisions on emissions reduction targets.

Previous climate policy studies have tended to assume zero permafrost feedback and constant sea ice and land snow albedo feedback from the current climate, which we refer to as legacy values.  In this paper we show that both Arctic feedbacks are nonlinear (that is, they change in complex ways as climate warms), and estimate their impacts on the global climate and economy compared to their legacy values.

The permafrost feedback gets increasingly stronger in warmer climates, while the albedo feedback peaks for the warming between 1C and 2C (temperature range of the Paris Agreement targets), and then weakens as the summer and spring sea ice and land snow melt.

Combined, these two factors lead to increases in the cost of climate change by 4.0% ($25tn) under the 1.5C scenario, by 5.5% ($34tn) under the 2C scenario, and by 4.8% ($67tn) under mitigation levels consistent with the current national pledges.

Future worlds in which either the 1.5C or 2C targets are met by 2100 are characterised by considerably lower costs of climate change than the futures resulting from current pledges (around 3C in 2100) and business as usual trajectory (around 4C in 2100). Arctic feedbacks further amplify this result.

Considering the nonlinear Arctic feedback, it makes the 1.5C scenario marginally more economically attractive than the 2C scenario (although both are statistically equivalent, there are nearly equal probabilities that one is cheaper than the other).

“Our study therefore advocates pursuing the global warming targets well below 2C as the way of avoiding substantial ecological and socio-economic losses from climate change,” lead author Dmitry Yumashev, from the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business at Lancaster University told Daily News Egypt.

Low emission scenarios in the study include meeting the 1.5C and 2C Paris Agreement targets relative to pre-industrial conditions by 2100, while medium emission scenarios include mitigation levels consistent with current national pledges (NDCs). Under the NDCs, the world is set to warm by around 3C relative to pre-industrial times by 2100.

High emission scenarios, such as the current business as usual trajectory (BaU)-expected to lead to around 4C of warming by 2100 and cause by far the highest impact on ecosystems and societies-are also included. Under these, the strength of the PCF reaches its peak and does not increase further, while the continued weakening of the SAF gradually cancels the warming effect of the PCF.

Climate change impacts

Regarding the main impacts of climate change on the global economy, Yumashev said that climate change impacts global economy through increasing temperatures. While this could have limited benefits for colder countries, a hotter climate is set to have negative effects on warmer countries.

This is because warmer seasonal temperatures and stronger weather extremes reduce human productivity and agricultural output, and require more energy for air conditioning, while damaging infrastructure and so on. Rising temperatures and the associated growing extreme weather events are also expected to have negative impacts on ecosystems and human health.

In addition, coastal megacities and rural communities will be affected by rising sea levels. Finally, there could be highly uncertain extra impacts from social discontinuities (mass migrations, wars) and climate tipping elements other than the those associated with the Arctic.

Overall, the warmer the world gets, the bigger all these impacts are expected to be. The risk of catastrophic large-scale impacts also increases.

The team of researchers have been working on this study for over four years as part of the ICE-ARC project funded by the European Commission. Our co-authors from the United States received funding from the NSF and NASA.

Regarding the methods that the researchers used to reach to the results of the study, Yumashev noted that: “We used two state-of-the-art permafrost models (one from the US, another from the UK) and around 30 climate models (CMIP5). We analysed dozens of simulations of these models on supercomputers to develop statistical emulators of the Arctic feedbacks. These capture the nonlinear behaviour and allow us to quantify the known uncertainties.”

The emulators of Arctic feedbacks were incorporated in a new integrated assessment model PAGE-ICE, which combines simple representations of the climate and economy. PAGE-ICE is the latest version of the PAGE model that was used in the Stern Review of the economics of climate change in 2007. It includes multiple updates to climate science and economics in line with the latest literature, according to the researcher.

He added “We performed hundreds of thousands statistical simulations of PAGE-ICE to generate the results and quantify the associated uncertainties.”

All costs were estimated using simulations in specially developed integrated assessment model PAGE-ICE, which includes simple statistical representations of the Arctic feedbacks derived from complex models. It has multiple updates to climate science and economics, including up-to-date uncertainty estimates.


Answering our question about how can the international community avoid the negative impacts of climate change on the economy, Yumashev explained that this could be possible by pursuing ambitious mitigation efforts to cut carbon emissions and limit the global warming to well below 2C.

There are multiple actions that need to be taken to achieve this, requiring a lot more ambitious policies by governments and behavioural changes by businesses and individuals. “A certain amount of climate impact is inevitable even if we stay below 1.5C, and these will require adaptation. However, mitigation is the priority,” he said.  

Yumashev added further that the paper concludes with a discussion which outlines the areas that need further investigation. These include quantifying other tipping elements in the climate system, quantifying impacts of growing extreme weather events, reducing the uncertainty associated with long-term impacts of climate change on economic growth, and quantifying potential benefits from deep mitigation investments (green growth).

“Our team is working on multiple projects, including potential follow-up from this study. We have been developing collaboration with leading climate research centres such as the Potsdam Institute of Climate for Climate Impact Research (PIK). We hope these efforts would allow us to assess other climate tipping points in similar ways,” Yumashev said.

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Egypt faces water scarcity with renewable sources, virtual water Wed, 24 Apr 2019 18:29:43 +0000 Climate change increases water crisis in Middle East

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The Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, Mohammed Abdel Aty, said on Tuesday that the provision of water is one of the biggest challenges which people and governments in the Arab region is facing.

He added that Egypt is particularly one of the most vulnerable countries for water crisis because of its location within the dry desert belt, where the rainfall rate of less than 100 millimetres per year, as well as with a high demand for water due to urban development, as well as industrial and population growth.

During his speech at the 12th version of the Arab Water Desalination Conference 2019 in Cairo, the minister added that in Egypt “we suffer from water shortage estimated at 90% of the water resources.”

He explained that these amounts of water are compensated by the reuse of 33% of the renewable resources and 55% of the virtual water in the form of crops that are imported in the form of commodities and food items.

Moreover, the minister pointed out to the increasing demand for water, as well as the impacts of climate change which threatens to exacerbate the water crisis, especially in areas that are suffering from water scarcity such as Egypt.

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Megalith tombs reveal secrets of European stone age Wed, 17 Apr 2019 13:00:43 +0000 Researchers found kin relationships among individuals buried in tombs in different countries

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An international research team have discovered kin relationships among stone-age individuals buried in megalithic tombs in Ireland and Sweden, according to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America scientific journal.

The kin relations can be traced for more than 10 generations and suggest that megaliths were graves for kindred groups in stone age north-western Europe.

According to the paper, agriculture spread through migrants from the Fertile Crescent into Europe around 9,000 BCE, reaching north-western Europe by 4,000 BC. Starting around 4,500 BC, a new phenomenon of constructing megalithic monuments, particularly for funerary practices, emerged along the Atlantic façade.

These constructions have been enigmatic to the scientific community and the origin and social structure of the groups that erected them has remained largely unknown.

The international team sequenced and analysed the genomes from the human remains of 24 individuals from five megalithic burial sites, encompassing the widespread tradition of megalithic construction in northern and western Europe.

Mattias Jakobsson, professor of genetics and human evolution at Uppsala University, told Daily News Egypt that he and his team found that stone age people who were buried in megaliths in Ireland, in Scotland, and on the Baltic island of Gotland, were genetically related to other Neolithic groups which colonised the Atlantic coast.

“These groups trace their ancestry back to Anatolia and Anatolian farmers who lived some 10,000 years ago,” he said.

The researchers found that the Megaliths on the British Isles contained more males than females, that many of the individuals were closely related (both men and women), and that there were specific male lines (as seen for specific Y chromosome variants) in the graves.

This all tells us that the individuals buried in the megaliths were part of a stratified society, and that they were likely part of the ruling elite.

“We have been working on this particular genetic investigation for some four years, but some of the tombs were excavated by members of the team some 20 years ago,” Jakobsson noted.

Describing the moment of finding the kin relations, Jakobsson said: “We were quite surprised when we found these kin relations, including some close kin relations, like parent-offspring.”

He added that the team found them by using genetic comparisons of the DNA in the skeletons, and applying techniques common in forensics, but more advanced to be able to utilise the DNA from many thousand-year-old human remains.

“Since we are not investigating every single individual in the tombs, we were not really expecting to see close-kin relations. But we did find it, suggesting that these kin relations are common in the tombs,” said Jakobsson.

Furthermore, Jakobsson and his team extracted DNA from the skeletal remains using advanced molecular genetics strategies and specialised clean labs and procedures. They have thereafter used population-genomic approaches to determine relationships among individuals and their relations to other individuals living at the time.

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Drought increases air pollution through ozone gas Wed, 17 Apr 2019 12:30:19 +0000 Ozone layer acts as shield to protect living creatures on earth from harmful radiation

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In the 1950s, the ozone hole was first discovered. Since then, scientists have been studying the importance of ozone, which is largely found at the bottom of the stratosphere layer of the earth’s atmosphere, and is of a blue colour.

The ozone layer acts as a shield to protect living creatures on earth from the harmful ultraviolet radiation, and the negative effects of the erosion of this important layer.

But ozone gas is a concern for researchers who believe it has negative effects on human health and plants.

Between 2011 and 2015, California was hit by the worst drought in its history: temperatures sharply rose and rainfall declined.

Researchers at a number of United States universities believe that drought conditions have had negative effects on air quality, especially since air contains ozone gas.

In a study recently published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, researchers studied the effects of drought on increased air pollution in ozone gas.

In order to better understand this process, researchers analysed drought and air quality data in two cities contaminated with ozone gas before, during and after the drought in California.

Ozone gas is a transparent gas of at least 1% of the atmosphere, a toxic gas. The ozone gas in the earth’s atmosphere consists of emissions of polluting sources, such as carbon dioxide emitted from vehicle exhaust, volatile organic compounds, solvent use, and methane resulting from agriculture.

Over two years, Sally E. Pusede, an assistant professor at the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, and her team, investigated the effects of the recent major drought in California on ozone air pollution.

They found that severe drought conditions reduced emissions of the ozone-forming organic gases emitted by plants, especially an important biogenic molecule known as isoprene.

Concurrently, they observed a change in ozone-producing chemistry consistent with a significant change in the atmospheric concentrations of ozone-forming organic gases.

Pusede told Daily News Egypt that the observed change in ozone-producing chemistry has two major consequences. The first result is that ozone production itself decreased.

“However, because ozone concentrations remained relatively constant through the drought period, we inferred a decrease in the loss of ozone from the atmosphere caused by uptake by plants, which implies that drought also impacted the ozone sink. Second, ozone pollution will be less responsive to regulations that reduce ozone through controls on nitrogen oxides (a common strategy to lower ozone levels),” she clarified.

There is a lot of interest in understanding how climate change will affect ozone air pollution. One component of this, is understanding how drought conditions impact ozone air pollution, as climate change is expected to increase the drought frequency and severity in many places around the world.

According to Pusede, the drought’s effects on ozone are difficult to study because drought can influence ozone in multiple ways, including impacting atmospheric ozone formation and ozone loss.

“We have been able to show how drought impacts the emissions of biogenic ozone-forming organic gases and the chemistry that produces ozone. This is an important step as this understanding is needed to design effective ozone regulations in a changing climate,” the researcher added.

The researchers analysed data they collected from earth and satellite data in the cities of Fresno and Bakersfield, two ozone-polluting cities after California.

Their finding was that isoprene concentrations did not substantially change during early droughts, but decreased by more than 50% during the most severe droughts. The effects of dehydration on isoprene were also associated with atmospheric temperature.

Drought caused a 20% reduction in ozone production during severe drought. This decline was offset by a similar decline in plant uptake of ozone in general, during the severe drought period.

Regarding the techniques that researchers used to reach to the results of the study, Pusede said: “We have studied 16 years of atmospheric measurements in California and satellite observations of leaf area. We have designed an analysis that allows us to test separate aspects of the drought’s influence on high ozone concentration, especially emissions of natural ozone precursors and ozone formation chemistry.”

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Meteorite impacts release tonnes of water from the moon annually Mon, 15 Apr 2019 18:16:22 +0000 Authors determine that uppermost 8cm of lunar soil is dehydrated

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Water is being constantly released into the tenuous atmosphere of the moon by meteoroid bombardments onto the lunar surface. According to a recent study published in the Nature Geoscience, a very small amount of water is pervasive in lunar subsoil, and preserved from early on in the moon’s history.

Researchers from Maryland University in the United States have discovered that the released water is sourced from a layer of ‘regolith’ that is buried a few centimetres below the surface. We also concluded that this buried water must have been delivered a long time ago or was present during the lunar formation.

“This study is important because it helps complete our view of the global water cycle on the moon: its origin, how it is transported, recycled, or permanently lost. Finally, our findings establish how much water is available in the soil for in-situ resource utilisation by future manned or robotic lunar expeditions,” said Mehdi Benna, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the first author of the study.

Benna told Daily News Egypt that the study relied on observations collected by the Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS) aboard NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE).

The LADEE orbited the moon from October 2013 to April 2014. It also combines a thorough analysis of the data and a high-fidelity numerical modelling of the behaviour of water in the lunar exosphere.

“We started working of this LADEE dataset four years ago. It took us a while to validate and understand what those observations were telling us about the water dynamics in the lunar tenuous atmosphere,” he added.

The authors find that most of these detections coincide with 29 meteor streams during the study period. By studying the amount of water released by meteor streams of different sizes, the authors determine that the uppermost 8cm of lunar soil is dehydrated.

Below this, they calculate that water is uniformly present at concentrations up to about 0.05%. They estimate that meteorite impacting the moon cause the loss of as much as 200 tonnes of water per year.

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We have now seen the unseeable: astronomers release first ever image of black hole Wed, 10 Apr 2019 14:17:01 +0000 Black hole’s mass is 6.5bn folds than that of Sun

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Scientists at the National Science Foundation (NSF) released on Wednesday for the first time, the first ever image of a black hole, too far from our galaxy.

The great breakthrough image was captured after years of cooperation and with a team of more than 200 astronomers running the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) which is a globe-girdling network of eight radio telescopes.

The black hole has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun.

The captured image shows a halo of dust and gas, tracing the outline of a colossal black hole, at the heart of a galaxy called the “Messier 87 galaxy” which lies 55m light years from earth (500m trillion kms away), according to scientists at the press conference at the NSF.

Details about the breakthrough have been also published on Wednesday in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“This is a huge day in astrophysics,” said NSF Director, France Córdova. She added, “We are seeing the unseeable. Black holes have sparked imaginations for decades. They have exotic properties and are mysterious to us. Yet with more observations like this one, they are yielding their secrets. This is why the NSF exists.”

She further added, “We enable scientists and engineers to illuminate the unknown, to reveal the subtle and complex majesty of our universe.”

The EHT Project Director, Sheperd S. Doeleman of the Harvard College Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, said, “We have taken the first picture of a black hole.”

“This is an extraordinary scientific feat accomplished by a team of more than 200 researchers,” Doeleman added.

Over the past two decades, the NSF has directly funded more than $28m in EHT research, which is considered the largest commitment of resources for the project.

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the black hole is a place in space where gravity pulls so much that even light cannot get out. The gravity is so strong because matter has been squeezed into a tiny space. This can happen when a star is dying. We are not able to see the black holes because no light can get out of it.

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Eutrophication, dark side of ‘greenness’ Wed, 10 Apr 2019 08:00:30 +0000 Lake greenness increases methane emissions by 30% to 90% over next 100 years

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Scientists and environmentalists are trying to transform our climate-threatened planet into a green planet by conserving forests and natural habitats as well as increasing afforestation, but green may not always be a good indicator, according to a recent study by researchers from the Protecting Agency Environment in the United States.

The study, published recently in the Nature Communications journal, concluded that the greening of lakes known as ‘eutrophication,’ would cause methane emissions to increase in the atmosphere by 30% to 90% over the next 100 years.

Methane is one of the greenhouse gases that are 34 times more effective than carbon dioxide (CO2). It is produced after algae die and lakes get covered with green spots rich in toxins which degrade in drinking water and contaminate it.

Greenhouse gases include a number of chemical compounds, most notably CO2, methane, and ozone, and increases in the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere pose serious risks, most notably climate change, and global warming.

Researchers estimate that two-thirds of the amount of methane emitted daily in the summer months of Lake Erie-one of the Great Lakes of North America-is the result of algal bloom.

What does eutrophication mean?

The word ‘eutrophic’ stems from (originally) the Greek language, meaning ‘well-nourished’. So eutrophication is essentially a high level of nutrients (for instance, phosphorus and nitrogen) in lakes, which typically results in a high biomass and can lead to toxic algae blooms. Eutrophic lakes are typically greener/darker in colour. These colour differences have an impact on light penetration and essentially the functioning of the lake, in terms of which species dominate and where they hang out in the water column.

Also, when these typically big algae blooms die they accumulate in the lake bottom sediments where microbes degrade this carbon input. This degradation by microbes often consumes oxygen leading to anoxic (oxygen-free) bottom waters. This has obvious consequences for the species in the lake which require oxygen. This oxygen-free environment in the sediments and water column are also ideal locations for methane production.

Co-author of the study, Tonya DelSontro of the Department F-A Forel for environmental and aquatic science, University of Geneva, Switzerland, told Daily News Egypt that this study came about following the publication of a study last year, where she and the same the authors of the current study collected literature data of all greenhouse gas emissions from lakes and reservoirs (CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide) and looked for environmental variables which could be related to these gas emissions.

The team back then had found that ‘chlorophyll a’ (the green pigment in algae and other plankton) correlated strongly and positively with methane emissions. This delivered a clear message to the team that there is likely a link between the amount of algae (and hence the health of the lake) and methane emissions.

They also know that there is a link between the amount of nutrients in a lake and the amount of algae such that when these levels become too high, it is the process of eutrophication, and is an indicator of the lake’s poor health.

Climatic feedback

Authors of the paper believe that their findings are important because it provides-for the first time-a prediction for the climatic feedback of freshwaters due to global environmental change. The increase in nutrients in lakes ultimately cause the eutrophication is anthropogenic, and a result of increasing population (for instance, more agricultural and urban waste runoff).

But this increase will be exacerbated by climate change as well–for instance; more precipitation leading to more runoff, increases in temperature which causes more microbial degradation producing methane, and larger lake surface area. These global environmental changes will ultimately induce more methane emissions from freshwaters, which is a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2, and thus be a positive feedback on climate change.

The authors used a statistical model they created in 2018 which correlates methane emissions with lake size and chlorophyll–which is a measure of high algal biomass stimulated by phosphorus. By using the global distribution of lake size and total lake area, the climatic heating of lakes, future phosphorus concentrations and storm-driven nutrient runoff, they were able to estimate future lake methane emissions, which the authors say has not been previously conducted.

The optimistic outcome is that improved nutrient management practices could reverse the greening or eutrophication of lakes and thereby reduce methane emissions. Additionally, local action to improve water quality could have important global consequences, according to the paper.

In terms of biodiversity, DelSontro told DNE that the paper does not approach that subject but there is a lot of work going on now about how climate change affects planktonic species in lakes. Also, she is working at the University of Geneva on how these species’ changes affect the mixing and light penetration in a lake, which will have consequences for how lakes react to climate change too.

Future predictions  

DelSontro noted that the objective of this second publication was to make some predictions regarding future eutrophication of freshwaters on a global scale, and the potential increase in methane emissions because of that eutrophication.

The researchers used several pieces of literature regarding potential future increases in fertiliser production and nutrient runoff, as well as increases in water temperature and lake area due to climate change, and found that eutrophication could increase almost fivefold in the future.

“We used a more conservative value of threefold as our maximum, and our model from the previous publication to estimate that lake and reservoir methane emissions could double by 2100 if this eutrophication increase were to happen,” said DelSontro.

The study showed that eutrophication in lakes will increase over the next 100 years because of three factors. First, the population is expected to increase by 50% in 2100, resulting in an increase in wastewater and fertilisers used in agriculture.

More fertilisers mean that there are more nutrients in the water and so water borne organisms increasingly grow, which reduces the amount of oxygen in the water, and promotes the production of methane. Eutrophication is sometimes thought of as ‘choking’ a lake, because of the oxygen loss.

The second factor is the increased occurrence of storms and rain and the resulting water runoff that transfers nitrogen from the soil to inland lakes. Thirdly, with the steady rise in temperature, the temperature of the lakes and the warm water will be favourable for the growth of algae.

Researchers predict that eutrophication in lakes will be increased by between 25% and 200% by 2050, according to current population growth rates and climate change.

Reducing impacts

According to the paper eutrophication is bad for many reasons; the biggest reason is the potential for toxic cyanobacteria (algae) blooms. These are toxic to animals and humans, thus creating poor recreational and drinking water quality of freshwaters. The green colour induces changes in the lake in terms of species, functioning, and physics, which we do not yet fully understand, but it has an impact on how we use our freshwaters.

Then the degradation of these algae blooms leads to oxygen consumption in lake bottoms, which causes problems for fish and other aquatic species. The researchers found that green lakes will likely emit more methane-a potent greenhouse gas-and promote further climate change.

In order to reduce the occurrence of eutrophication as individuals, we can be careful with or simply not use fertilisers in our gardens. We can also reduce the amount of water we use, which will reduce sewage runoff. We can also decide to buy only agricultural products which are fertiliser-free, according to the researcher.

She further explained that because much of the runoff will increase because of climate change, anything we do which helps reduce climate change (for instance, use less fossil fuels) will help reduce eutrophication.

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Four-legged ancient whale’s remains discovered in Peru Tue, 09 Apr 2019 08:30:12 +0000 Discovery provides new insight into whales' evolution

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Scientists recently discovered remains of an ancient four-legged whale found in 42.6-million-year-old marine sediments along the coast of Peru. According to the study which has appeared in the journal Current Biology, provided a new insight into whales’ evolution and their dispersal to other parts of the world.

Olivier Lambert of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences told Daily News Egypt that he and his team have discovered a new quadrupedal whale skeleton from the middle Eocene period (nearly 43 million years ago) at the deposits of the Pisco Basin, southern coast of Peru.

He noted that this is the first indisputable four-limbed whale record for the whole pacific and southern hemisphere, probably the oldest for the Americas, and the most complete skeleton of such a whale outside India and Pakistan. This new record demonstrates that cetaceans reached a nearly circum-tropical distribution early in their evolutionary history, and that they reached the New World while retaining the ability to move on land (i.e. being amphibious).

The geological age of the new whale, its place of discovery, and its affinities with more fragmentarily known quadrupedal whale remains from the west coast of Africa also support the hypothesis that amphibious whales crossed the South Atlantic to reach South America, before a northward dispersal along the east coast of the US, according to Lambert.

Responding to our inquiry about how did the team know exactly the features of the old whale, Lambert explained that some features of the discovered remains are directly based on the observation of the skeleton, for example the tight connection between the hip and sacrum, limb proportions, and the presence of small hooves on toes and fingers.

“Other features rely on comparisons with other semi-aquatic mammals, for example the feet and hands being webbed and the significant use of the tail for swimming. Finally, others are much more hypothetical, for example the presence of a tail fluke, as the last tail vertebrae were not recovered,” he said.

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Total of 113 million people faced food insecurity because of climate change, conflicts Wed, 03 Apr 2019 18:08:57 +0000 2018 witnessed world’s most severe food crisis

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More than 113 million people in 53 countries experienced acute food insecurity in 2018, compared to 124 million in 2017 because of conflict and insecurity, climate shocks and economic turbulence, according to a recent report from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

The FAO issued the report on Tuesday jointly with the European Union, and the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

The report pointed out that nearly two-thirds of those facing acute hunger are in just eight countries. The worst food crises in 2018 were, in order of severity, in Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Sudan, South Sudan and northern Nigeria.

These eight countries accounted for two thirds of the total number of people facing acute food insecurity – amounting to nearly 72 million people. In 17 countries, acute hunger either remained the same or increased.

Climate and natural disasters pushed another 29 million people into acute food insecurity in 2018. And 13 countries – including North Korea and Venezuela – are not in the analysis because of data gaps.

According to the report, the figure of 113 million people facing food crises is down slightly from the 124 million figure in 2017. However, the number of people in the world facing food crises has remained well over 100 million in the last three years, and the number of countries affected has risen.

Despite the slight decrease, over the past three years, the report has consistently shown that, year on year, more than 100 million people (2016, 2017 and 2018) have faced periods of acute hunger.

Moreover, an additional 143 million people in another 42 countries are just one step away from facing acute hunger.

High levels of acute and chronic malnutrition in children living in emergency conditions remained of grave concern. The immediate drivers of undernutrition include poor dietary intake and disease. Mothers and caregivers often face challenges in providing children with the key micronutrients they need at critical growth periods in food crises, the report illustrated.

“Food insecurity remains a global challenge. That’s why, from 2014 to 2020, the EU will have provided nearly €9bn for initiatives on food and nutrition security and sustainable agriculture in over 60 countries,” said the European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica.

She added that today’s Global Report highlights the need for a strengthened cooperation between humanitarian, development and peace actors to reverse and prevent food crises, noting that a stronger Global Network can help deliver change on the ground for the people who really need it.   

Noteworthy, the main report mentioned that there are main four drivers of the food crisis.

Conflicts and insecurity

Conflict and insecurity remain the primary drivers of food security crises. The report warns that conflicts in some countries and local insecurity and intercommunal violence in others will continue to disrupt agricultural production and markets and deprive households of their livelihood assets, accentuating their use of negative coping strategies and deepening their vulnerability to shocks.

The report estimates that conflicts and insecurity will contribute toward increasing displacement, internally or towards neighbouring countries, or will ensure people remain displaced for longer periods, which will aggravate -in most cases- the food insecurity of those fleeing as well as the host communities.

Climate shocks

The FAO and its partners predict that weather shocks and extreme climate events will have a severe impact on agricultural and livestock production in several regions, including those already confronting food crises.

For instance, in the Southern Africa region, dry weather has already reduced prospects for the 2019 agricultural output, while the massive destruction of livestock, livelihoods and planted crops following tropical Cyclone Idai in March 2019 will further exacerbate food insecurity in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, dry weather associated with El Niño conditions are expected to affect agricultural production and food prices in Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

Economic shocks

The report predicts that in 2019, local insecurity, or political volatility as a result of conflicts, will continue to undermine the food security status of vulnerable households in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, South Sudan, the Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Venezuela, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

The food security status of the poorest households reveals that it is likely to be the most affected by rising prices of food, fuel, medicines and other essential items, and lack of work opportunities that also weaken the ability of farmers and smallholders to invest in inputs needed to increase crop yields or to build their resilience to shocks.

Disease Outbreaks

Another key cause of food insecurity in the world is the disease outbreaks. The report revealed that in Yemen, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lake Chad Basin and Cameroon’s Anglophone regions protracted or increased conflict is expected to further hinder access to health and nutrition services.

Cholera and measles outbreaks are expected to persist in 2019 in many conflict and displacement affected countries and to potentially rise in settings with poor sanitation infrastructure, contamination of drinking water and lack of health services.

For his part, Christos Stylianides, the EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, said that “food crises continue to be a global challenge, which requires our joint efforts. The EU continues to step up its humanitarian efforts.”

He added that over the last three years, the EU allocated the biggest humanitarian food and nutrition assistance budget ever, with nearly €2bn overall, adding that “food crises are becoming more acute and complex and we need innovative ways to tackle and prevent them from happening. The Global Report provides a basis to formulate the next steps of the Global Network by improving our coordination mechanisms.”

“It is clear from the Global Report that despite a slight drop in 2018 in the number of people experiencing acute food insecurity – the most extreme form of hunger – the figure is still far too high,” said the FAO Director-General, José Graziano da Silva.

Graziano da Silva added that “we must act at scale across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus to build the resilience of affected and vulnerable populations. To save lives, we also have to save livelihoods,”  

David Beasley, the WFP’s executive director, said that “to truly end hunger, we must attack the root causes: conflict, instability, the impact of climate shocks. Boys and girls need to be well-nourished and educated, women need to be truly empowered, rural infrastructure must be strengthened in order to meet that Zero Hunger goal.”

He believes that programmes that make a community resilient and more stable will also reduce the number of hungry people. “One thing we need world leaders to do as well: step up to the plate and help solve these conflicts, right now.”

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Climate change increases exposure to disease-carrying mosquitoes Wed, 03 Apr 2019 11:00:28 +0000 One billion people will be threatened by tropical diseases like dengue fever

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More than a billion people may be exposed to the danger of being bitten by the two most common disease-carrying mosquitoes – Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus – by the end of this century because of global warming. These finds came from a recent study which addressed the monthly changes in temperature and its relationship to tropical diseases, such as dengue fever, chikungunya, and Zika across the globe.

In a study published last week in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, the research team, led by Sadie J. Ryan, a professor of medical geography at the University of Florida, studied the possible outcomes of the adaptation of the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus with temperature changes throughout the ages.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mosquitoes are one of the deadliest animals in the world. Their ability to carry and spread disease to humans causes millions of deaths every year. In 2015 malaria alone caused 438,000 deaths.

The worldwide incidence of dengue has risen 30-fold in the past 30 years, and more countries are reporting their first outbreaks of the disease. Zika, dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever are all transmitted to humans by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the WHO said.

Potential exposure risk

This study is part of a long-term project with all the co-authors, in which they are looking at multiple vector borne diseases and their responses to climate in this context of nonlinear responses and eco-physiological modelling.

The mapping and risk estimation component has become highlighted over the past couple of years, as the world’s attention to climate-health connections in climate change is being raised, and the spectre of novel vector borne disease outbreaks, such as Zika, drew attention to the globalised nature of these issues.

Ryan of the University of Florida explained the conclusions of the study and why it is very important, saying that in this study, she and her colleagues are projecting the potential human risk of exposure to transmission conditions for diseases spread by the aforementioned two mosquito vectors.

“We are just beginning to discover and understand, the Aedes aegypti or yellow fever mosquito, which transmits dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya, Zika virus, and possibly a number of emerging viral diseases, and the Aedes albopictus mosquito, also known as the Asian Tiger Mosquito (in the USA), which also serves as a vector for arboviral diseases. We find that nearly half a billion people will be newly at risk of potential transmission by 2050, and nearly a billion by 2080, however, where those people will be is also important to know.” she told Daily News Egypt.

The researcher further explained that having a tool that can give us geospatial information on where and when this risk will move to, both newly, and by changing seasonality, under climate change futures, gives us a means to plan for interventions, identify potentially vulnerable populations, and set up surveillance ahead of time.

Sweet spot

Notably, by projecting this risk using multiple climate models of future potential change outcomes – both emissions pathways, and global circulation models proposed by different climatological centres – the researchers can also understand the range of potential outcomes, and assess what may occur with different levels of mitigation, or lack thereof.

Global health security is one of the biggest issues which humanity is facing with climate change, and mosquito-borne disease is just one facet of the climate-driven vulnerabilities we need to anticipate. Such geospatial model tools provide us with the capacity to discuss and prepare for these threats, according to the paper.

Regarding the methods that the researchers have used to reach these results, and how do we know that climate change is the main cause for mosquito-borne virus transmission, Ryan said that the response of mosquito-borne disease to temperature is nonlinear – this is rooted in the principles of ecophysiology and thermal biology.

“As temperatures increase, up to a certain point, so does the pace of biting, growing, reproducing, and pathogen replication, however there is an optimal temperature, beyond which, transmission declines quite rapidly,” Ryan noted. This means that there is essentially a ‘sweet spot’ of temperature in which mosquito-borne diseases transmit best, and therefore it is this sweet spot which will move across the landscape as temperature does.

Therefore, under projections of climate change, in terms of global warming, the study estimates that will see increases in the risk – both in intensity, and in season length – but beyond certain boundaries of temperature, this will decrease. In some places, it will become warm enough to support transmission – these are the newly exposed areas. In other places, it may become too warm for transmission, and we will see declining risk.

Mapping exposure risk

For the more heat-tolerant Aedes aegypti transmission, warming scenarios favour more transmission over more areas, meaning novel exposure to risk in places, like Canada and across northern Europe. For the more temperate Aedes albopictus transmission, as we follow a worst-case warming scenario, out to 50-60 years from now, we will start to see declining suitability of some parts of the world, as they become too hot to sustain transmission.

“The methods we used were to empirically parameterise life-history specific temperature-dependent models of arboviral transmission in these two key mosquito vectors, and then project these onto global gridded datasets of monthly temperature in scenarios of current and future climate. We then intersected this with human population density maps for the globe to understand how many people are at how much risk and where, both now and in the future,” the researcher told DNE.

Regarding the most affected regions, Rayan said that in the worst-case (business as usual) scenario, by 2080, Western and Eastern Europe will have the highest (and second highest) population numbers exposed for the first time to suitable transmission climates (1 or more months).

She added that depending on the mosquito species, we see sub-Saharan East Africa and Central Europe being the 3rd and 4th ranked for regional increases. The poleward expansion of suitable climates means that places we currently do not associate with tropical diseases will become the sentinels for surveillance for novel outbreaks.

According to Rayan, the research team does not know if climate change is the key cause for mosquito-borne disease transmission, instead they know that it permits areas to become suitable or change in seasonal suitability for disease transmission. Humans are very good at moving both the mosquitoes and their pathogens around the globe, meaning that introduction of either or both into suitable environments is something that occurs, she added.

“Therefore, it is important that we can understand what the current suitable areas for this type of introduction and establishment, and how that will change in the future with climate change. This allows us to anticipate potential areas and populations at risk and plan for those climate-induced vulnerabilities,” Rayan said.  

Future work

Rayan added that she and her team are currently continuing work on this topic, looking at additional Aedes-transmitted diseases as well as other vector-borne disease systems, and how they will respond to climate change. Understand and disentangling the temperature dependent patterns for additional vector-pathogen pairings will give us a broader view of how risks will shift and change over the coming decades.

“I think a key point that goes beyond this study is that climate change is one of the biggest threats to global public health. Arboviral disease is simply one type of vulnerability that people will face under a changing climate, and having the type of tools, such as geospatial model projection and population risk estimates – which enables policy makers to anticipate the potential threats and intersect these with other threats like other climate-driven diseases, climate-induced human migration patterns, and water and food scarcity – is important, perhaps essential, as we face enormous decisions about climate action and mitigation,” Rayan concluded.   

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Independent studies find likely source of methane on Mars Mon, 01 Apr 2019 19:37:46 +0000 Methane was discovered in Martian atmosphere more than a decade ago

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Researchers succeeded in detecting methane on Mars which is considered as an indicator for potential microbial life on the Red Planet.

In 2013, the Mars Express spacecraft detected methane near Gale Crater on Mars. On Monday, scientists published their findings about the first independent confirmation about methane on Mars in the Nature Geoscience journal.

This finding provides independent confirmation of debated measurements obtained by the Curiosity rover one day earlier.

Methane was discovered in the Martian atmosphere more than a decade ago, and was thought to have been produced biologically by microorganisms or by abiotic geochemical reactions. However, the potential mechanisms for its generation as well as the reliability of existing detections have been the subject of vigorous debate.

Marco Giuranna, a researcher in the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica and the first author of the study, told Daily News Egypt that methane is important because it could be an indicator of microbial life.  

On Earth, methanogenic microbes produce methane. But even if methanogenic forms of life have not developed on Mars, methane can be produced by abiotic processes that are likely on the Red Planet.  

That methane, though not a direct bio-signature of life, can add to the habitability of Martian settings, as certain types of microbes can use methane as a source of carbon and energy.  

Beyond its relevance to potential life on Mars, methane trapped in the Martian subsurface may also constitute a resource for future human activities on Mars, as methane has been discussed as a propellant for return to Earth needs and as a fuel and a chemical/industrial feedstock that could support a sustained human presence, according to Giuranna.

“Prior to our study, methane detections on Mars, being either in situ, from orbit, or from Earth-based telescopes, were not confirmed by independent observations. Our finding constitutes the first independent confirmation of a methane detection,” Giuranna said.

In 2004, the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS) on-board the European mission Mars Express (MEx) reported the presence of traces of methane in the Martian atmosphere. Today, 15 years later, the same instrument reports a peak of methane abundance (15.5 ±2.5 parts per billion by volume) in the atmosphere above the Gale crater.

The observations of PFS are from 16 June 2013. The day before Curiosity, the NASA’s Mars rover, had observed quantities of methane similar to those detected by PFS within the same crater.

While previous observations, including that of Curiosity, have been debated, this first independent confirmation of a methane spike increases confidence in the detections. The Mars Express results have been debated before as well, but now a new observation technique and analysis method was used that significantly increases the confidence in the PFS results.

The contemporaneous detection of methane provided unique information to use in the search for its source locations.

Giuranna further added: “We made two independent analyses to home in on potential source regions of the methane. We divided up a wide region around Gale Crater into grids of about 250 by 250 square kilometres.”

In one study, collaborators from the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy in Brussels applied computer simulations to create a million emission scenarios for each square, in order to predict the probability of methane emission for each of those locations.

In the other parallel study, geologists from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Rome, Italy, and the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, scrutinised the region around Gale Crater for features that might be associated with methane release.

“Remarkably, we saw that the atmospheric simulation and geological assessment, performed independently of each other, suggested the same region of provenance of the methane, which is situated about 500 km East of Gale,” Giuranna said.

He explained that this is very exciting and largely unexpected that two completely independent lines of investigation pointed to the same general area of most likely source location for the methane.

This geological investigation was done independently from the general circulation model (GCM) analysis, by an independent team, without exchange of results prior to the finalisation of both paths of investigation.

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Biofuel for aircraft, missiles could decrease costs, save earth Wed, 27 Mar 2019 16:44:25 +0000 Study opens new general strategy for synthesis of advanced aviation fuel using cellulose

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Chinese scientists have developed a new method to transform plant residues and harvest them into high-quality jet fuel.

This step is thought to help in reducing carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion in aircrafts and missiles.

Cellulose, which is the main component of plant stems, is one of the potential targets for the manufacture of cheap, renewable, and available biofuels in the environment, as it contains cheap polymers.

Previously, scientists have used cellulose derivatives to manufacture aromatic chains of hydrocarbons -which is part of the fuel components- to be used and integrated into the process of manufacturing jet fuel.

According to the study, which was recently published in the Joule energy journal, the proposed fuel is the first of its kind to produce more complex compounds that can be used – alone – as high-intensity aviation fuel.

Aircraft fuels consist of long chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms, derived from fossil fuels, similar to the fuel used in heavy-duty or diesel-powered vehicles, which are costly and environment polluting, as they produce sulphur oxides and carbon dioxide when burnt.

Correspondent author of the study Ning Li from the Dalian Institute for Chemical Physics told Daily News Egypt that the main conclusion of the study is that researchers demonstrated an effective and comprehensive strategy for the synthesis of renewable high-density aviation fuel with cellulose.

First, a ‘2,5-hexanedione’ was produced by the hydrogenolysis of cellulose under mild conditions. Among the investigated catalysts, the combination of hydrogen chloride and palladium on carbon exhibited the best performance. The presence of dichloromethane can improve the ‘2,5-hexanedione’ yield from the hydrogenolysis of cellulose.

Subsequently, Carbon 12 (C12) and Carbon 18 (C18) poly-cycloalkanes were directly produced by the reaction of ‘2,5-hexanedione’ and hydrogen over a dual-bed catalyst system. As a potential application, the C12 and C18 poly-cycloalkanes as obtained can be used as high-density aviation fuel or additives to improve the volumetric heat values of conventional aviation fuels, according to Ning.

He further noted that this study opens a new general strategy for the synthesis of advanced aviation fuel with cellulose. “We have worked for about 1.5 to 2 years on this paper. We have no experience about the suggested fuel. It is a new bio-fuel,” the researcher told DNE.

Clarifying the importance of the proposed biofuel for mitigating CO2 emissions, Ning mentioned two main reasons, “First, as other biofuels, our biofuel is CO2-neutral because it is derived from biomass. Second, compared with conventional aviation fuels, our new biofuel has higher density (or volumetric heat values), which is also an advantage for CO2 emission reduction.”

The utilisation of high-density aviation fuel can significantly increase the range and payload of aircrafts without changing the volume of the oil tank. These characteristics can further decrease the CO2 emissions during airplane take-off and landing (by decreasing flight amounts) or rocket launches, according to the paper.

Ning and his team used various methods to reach the findings of the study. First of all, cellulose was selectively hydrogenolysed to ‘2,5-hexanedione’ in an isolated carbon yield of 71.4%. Second of all, a mixture of C12 and C18 branched poly-cycloalkanes was directly obtained in a carbon yield of 74.6% by the aldehyde alcohol.

The poly-cycloalkane mixture obtained by this process has high density-0.88 g/mL-and at low freezing point –225 K. In real application, they can be used as advanced aviation fuel or as additives to improve the volumetric heat values of conventional aviation fuels.

Although ‘di-chloro-methane’ works well to increase the yield of ‘2,5-hexanedione’ from the hydrogenolysis of cellulose, it is not environment friendly. This may limit the industrialisation of this technology, according to the researcher.

“In the future, we will go on to explore the environmentally friendly and renewable organic solvent which can replace the dichloromethane used in the hydrogenolysis of cellulose to ‘2,5-hexanedione,’” he said.

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Remains of ancient harbour found underwater in eastern port of Alexandria Wed, 27 Mar 2019 16:43:46 +0000 Researchers correlated sea level geomorphological, archaeological, biological indicators

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During the 19th century, remains of an ancient harbour were found underwater at a depth of 5 to 6 metres in the eastern port of Alexandria, northern Egypt. A research programme was undertaken to determine when the harbour of Alexandria was submerged underwater.

In the study, which was recently published in the International Journal for Egyptian Archaeology and Related Disciplines, data was collected through underwater surveys by scuba diving and by coring campaigns on land.

In order to understand changes in relative sea levels during the last six millennia, the research team of French and Egyptian researchers had correlated sea level geomorphological indicators such as notches and pebble beaches, archaeological indicators such as harbour structures, and biological indicators such as marine macrofauna, bioconstructions, and bio depositions.  

Findings of the study indicate that the rate of the relative sea level rise is about 80 mm per century between the middle of the sixth millennium and the 5th6th c. AD. An abrupt relative sea level rise (3.5m + 1.5 m) occurred during the mid 8th c. to the end of 9th c. AD. In the 8th c. AD, a similar phenomenon was observed for Heracleion (25 km east of Alexandria).

Thus, a wide movement of sinking affected in a synchronous manner the western coastal margin of the Nile Delta. Since this 8th- 9th c. AD event, the subsidence has increased around 2m. The role of abrupt sinking events and subsidence remain determining in the deltaic context to anticipate future coastal adaptations and the risk of submersion.

First author of the study Jean-Philippe Goiran told Daily News Egypt that the result of the paper “is important for two main reasons: First, it is answering a very old question. Indeed, during the 19th century, remains of the ancient harbour structures of Alexandria were found underwater at a depth of 5 to 6 metres in the eastern port of Alexandria.”

In regard to the question of when did this ancient harbour structure collapse occur? Goiran said that in the 8th c. AD, a similar phenomenon was observed for Heracleion (25 km east of Alexandria). Thus, a wide movement of sinking affected in a synchronous manner the western coastal margin of the Nile Delta.

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New genetic modification could increase plant’s disease resistance Wed, 27 Mar 2019 16:41:25 +0000 Study findings thought to cause great potential benefit to farmers

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Protecting our plants from diseases has become handy through raising the plants’ resistance to diseases, according to a recent international study identifying specific locations within plants’ chromosomes capable of transferring immunity to their offspring.

The findings of the study, which was published in the eLife journal, could lead to new ways of preventing disease in crops which predicts several great potential benefits to farmers.

Led by the University of Sheffield, the study’s research team included scientists from La Trobe University and Munich University, as well as French and Australian researchers.  

For the first time, the research team has identified specific locations called ‘loci,’ within a plant’s chromosomes which impart disease resistance to their offspring, by undergoing a reversible biochemical modification known as DNA methylation, in response to a pathogen attack.

In the study, four DNA loci which control disease resistance against a common plant pathogen called ‘downy mildew’ were identified. Significantly, this resistance was not associated with any negative side-effects on the growth or resistance against other environmental stresses.

Ritushree Jain, from La Trobe University, said that when plants are repetitively attacked by pathogens, they develop a ‘memory’-known as priming in plants-of this encounter which enables them to efficiently fight when attacked again, according to the university’s statement.

“Our study provides new evidence for epigenetic regulation of heritable disease resistance in plants. We have shown that selected genomic regions with reduced DNA methylation can pass on disease resistance traits to following plant generations,” said Jurriaan Ton, professor of plant environmental signalling at the University of Sheffield, and the first author of the study.

Ton told Daily News Egypt, “This finding highlights how plants can use a reversible biochemical modification to DNA in order to pass on information to their offspring and prime them against plant diseases.  Scientists have debated for years whether, and how, plants are capable of passing on defence traits to their offspring via epigenetic mechanisms.”

He further expressed hope that the study could help to add clarity to these fundamental research questions.  

Working on the study started in 2014 as part of a PhD student’s project.  After the student (Leonardo Furci) had gathered promising preliminary results, the project quickly progressed, “thanks to excellent help and support from our collaborators in France, Germany, and Australia,” according to Ton.   


Regarding the methods that the researchers used to reach to the results of the study, Ton explained that the team studied an Arabidopsis population of ‘epigenetic recombinant inbred lines’ for resistance against downy mildew disease.

“This population, which had been created by our collaborators in France, consists of plant lines that are genetically nearly identical, but that vary considerably in heritable DNA methylation. By following a multidisciplinary approach that combined classic plant pathology with next-generation DNA sequencing and computational analysis of gene expression and DNA methylation data, we identified and characterised four epigenetic loci that control heritable disease resistance,” he said.

When asked about whether there are any points in the study that he believes have not been discussed enough in the paper, Ton said that he and his team hope to use this study to secure future research grants to increase our basic understanding of how specific epigenetic loci in the plant’s genome control so many different defence genes.

“We are also applying for more translational project grants, in order to exploit epigenetics to prime disease resistance in food crops, which are vital to food supplies around the world,” he said, adding that these projects would initially focus on the optimisation of methods to introduce heritable changes in DNA methylation in the genome of crop species without compromising their growth and yield.

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Adapting organic, ecological farming systems: Cuba revolutionises its agriculture sector Wed, 20 Mar 2019 15:45:50 +0000 Country replaces tractors with bulls to plough land due to fuel shortage

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Before 1989, Cuba was an important country in the so-called green revolution, which heavily relied on imported oil from the Soviet Union.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, and under a harsh American blockade, Cuba was exposed to the worst food crisis in its history, which forced them to search for urgent solutions to break the impasse.

The solutions were new and unprecedented. Cities, backyards, balconies, roofs, corridors, schools, hospitals, government and private institutions, and even non-arable areas, were planted using containers or sacks through alternative or movable soil.

Cuba used organic and semi-organic systems to convert organic waste into compost (organic fertiliser) to feed plants. It also relied on the natural control of insect pests, plant diseases, weeds, and completely prevented the use of pesticides in urban agriculture.

Furthermore, Cuba provided untapped lands within cities for long periods of time without rent and opened new markets. It also encouraged enterprises to market their own products to their employees. Agricultural extension departments were established in various Cuban regions. Cooperatives supplied seeds, organic fertilisers, and natural pesticides to people in the Cuban capital. Cuba’s capital Havana has hundreds of urban orchards.

In parallel with the urbanisation of cities, the Cuban government dismantled large farms into smaller ones, to become more manageable and capable of withstanding sustainable agriculture practices. In these farms, Cuba replaced tractors with bulls to plough the land due to the fuel shortage. Some 300,000 bulls are currently engaged in agriculture process in Cuba, in addition to over 200 biological control centres throughout the country, with all biological control agents produced from beneficial bacteria, fungi, and insects.

Over 350,000 farms, including 150,000 family farms, have managed to produce about 97% of their needs of vegetables, such as lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, avocados, cucumbers, herbs, medicinal herbs, and other products, such as poultry and meat. All the rest relied on draining organic waste and turning it into fertilizers.

The experience of ecological agriculture in Cuba has contributed toward reducing both global warming and climate change, since tractors were replaced with bulls, the quality of air improved.

It also led to the provision of hundreds of thousands of jobs. This contributed to crime reduction, especially in informal housing areas.


Professor: Khaled Ghanem

Professor of Organic Agriculture at Al-Azhar University

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Shipping traffic globally could increase invasive species Wed, 20 Mar 2019 15:35:21 +0000 Global maritime traffic to increase by 240% to 1,209% by 2050, compared with 2014 levels

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One of the key questions is how will environmental drivers change over time? While we have good estimates for drivers such as climate change, far less is known about biological invasions.

A recent study by McGill University researchers revealed that rising global maritime traffic could lead to sharp increases in invasive species around the world over the next 30 years.

Findings of the study which appeared on Monday in the Nature Sustainability journal, suggested that shipping growth will far outweigh climate change in spreading non-indigenous pests to new environments in the coming decades.

Previous studies have often focused on the socio-cultural impact of invasive species on indigenous peoples, rather than considering their knowledge, scientific research, and ongoing initiatives to address invasive species and environmental change, more widely.

The study is considered to be the first estimate of global shipping traffic change over time, and the consequences it could have on biological invasions. Other work in invasion ecology has modelled shipping traffic as constant, despite all historical evidence being to the contrary.

In the study, researchers have shown that forecasts for biological invasions could be underestimated by an order of magnitude through not considering the changes in human vectors of transport (i.e. shipping).

“This work is broadly integrative, synthesising data and research across disciplines, including maritime traffic, socioeconomic indicators, quantitative projections of global development and climate change, and invasion models” Anthony Sardain, the researcher at McGill University, and correspondent author of the study, told Daily News Egypt.

Foreseeing impact  

Regarding the importance of the study, Sardain said that it gains its significance from two reasons. First, biological invasions are relevant since they are believed to be one of the major drivers of biodiversity change and cause economic damage costing billions annually. It is a major unanswered question of how they will change in the future.

“Our study finds that, unless appropriate action is taken, we could anticipate an exponential increase in such invasions, which, conceivably, could have unprecedented economic and ecological consequences,” he stated.

“The question of forecasting biological invasions is one which the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is interested in answering,” Sardain added.

The IPBES is the biodiversity equivalent to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

He noted that human vectors of transport are important, since humans are the primary means by which non-indigenous species are moved around the world. Shipping accounts for 80% of world trade, and about 60-90% of marine bio-invasions.

To understand how invasions will change, we need to understand how human movement patterns could change.

For main conclusions of the paper, the researchers expected global maritime traffic to increase from 240% to 1,209% by 2050, compared with 2014 levels. Integrating their predictions with global climate change projections and shipping-mediated invasion models, the researchers forecast invasion risks to surge in middle-income countries, particularly in northeast Asia.

They also discovered that shipping growth will have a far greater effect on marine invasions than climate-driven environmental changes, while climate change might actually decrease the average probability of invasion, and the emerging global shipping network (GSN) could then yield a three to 20-fold increase in global invasion risk.


In order to reach their findings, the researchers used various statistical methods. “Namely, we developed a novel model of global shipping traffic, which we combined with published models of biological invasions and global economic development scenarios prepared as part of the IPCC to derive projections of biological invasions to 2050,” the researcher said.   

He added that the team of researchers began working on this particular study in 2014.

Sardain explained further that invasive species have largely ecological and economic damages. The study concerned all marine species that are predisposed to be transported via shipping traffic, either through ships’ hull fouling or through ballast water release.

According to the paper, particularly damaging examples of worldwide species which have been spread through these channels include: the zebra mussel Dreissena polymorpha and the Asian clam Potamocorbula amurensis in the US, the comb jelly Mnemiopsis leidyi in the Black and Azov Seas, and the toxic dinoflagellate Gymnodinium catenatum and the northern Pacific sea star Asterias amurensis in Australia

Most affected regions

According to the study, the greatest transfer of invasive species will occur along connections with the highest shipping traffic. The researchers detected that connections with middle income economies, in particular northeast Asia, will likely see the greatest increase.

Connections with large, developed economies, e.g. around the Mediterranean, or fast-growing, but less-developed economies – African and Southern South America – will experience more moderate increases.

Meanwhile, smaller, slow-growing economies, such as those in the eastern Indo-Pacific region, will remain relatively low-traffic – and thus experience fewer invasions – all the way through to 2050.

“Science is a stepwise endeavour, and as such we will continue to work on, extend, and improve our model. We will continue to refine our model, for instance looking at within-regional traffic, as well as other environmental consequences of shipping beyond invasive species,” Sardain said.

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Scientists to end China’s hegemony on Rare Earth Elements production Wed, 13 Mar 2019 12:30:19 +0000 One of potential sources of REE is phosphogypsum

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For the past several years, the United States government has been concerned about the supply issues of materials which are critical to technologies including batteries, magnets, and clean energy solutions, such as solar panels and wind turbines.  

For a large class of these elements called Rare Earth Elements (REE), China is by far the world’s largest producer–90% of REE were produced in China in 2011–and so it is of economic and scientific interest to find alternate sources of REE.  

REE are a group of elements which include 17 chemical elements, 15 of which belong to a series of lanthanides found at the bottom of a periodic table, such as lanthanum, neodymium, samarium, atrium, and scandium.

Although they are called rare elements, they are not rare at all, as they are more plentiful and abundant than silver, gold, and platinum, and the least plentiful elements of the REE are leucite and thulium. Extraction of these elements is a highly cost-effective process especially on agricultural land. The process of extracting 1 tonne of these elements costs the world 300 metres of fertile soil.

One of the potential sources of REE is phosphogypsum (PG) which is a waste product of the fertiliser industry, according to a new study published recently in the Journal of Chemical Thermodynamics.

The total amount of REE thrown away by the fertiliser industry counts more than 100kt, and is on the same order of magnitude as the amount of rare earth oxides produced by the entire world (more than 126kt).

“For this reason, we were interested in building up the scientific literature about the leaching of REE from PG in several different acid systems. Results from our study are the first step in making predictions about the cost efficiency of leaching REE from PG in real world industrial applications,” Richard Riman, from Rutgers University and corresponding author of the study, told Daily News Egypt.

Riman added that he and his team used a biologically produced acid called bio lixiviant, which is expected to be less harmful to the environment than traditionally used mineral acids which are very acidic. This bio lixiviant was produced by collaborator researchers from Idaho National Labs and is primarily composed of gluconic acid created by bacteria.

Along with the bio lixiviant, the team tested a pure commercial gluconic acid, sulfuric acid, and phosphoric acid on synthetic PG samples containing the REE, such as yttrium, cerium, neodymium, samarium, europium, and ytterbium.

It was unexpectedly found that at the same pH (2.1 in the study’s case) phosphoric acid and sulfuric acid failed to solvate REE while gluconic acid “did a great job,” according to the paper. pH in chemistry refers to a logarithmic scale used to specify the acidity or basicity of an aqueous solution.

Riman further explained that gluconic acid is a much weaker acid compared to phosphoric and sulfuric acids since at the same concentration it releases a far smaller amount of free proton (H+), so it would usually be expected to solvate less REE. The better leaching results for gluconic acid over the sulfuric and phosphoric acids is due to the chelation of the REE. 

“We also tested the lixivants at equal concentrations (220 mm).  In this scenario it was found that the order of leaching efficiency (from most to least) was sulfuric acid, bio lixiviant, gluconic acid, and then phosphoric acid for all REE except yttrium. Yttrium was almost equally leached by all four lixiviants.  In all cases the bio lixiviant was superior to the commercial gluconic acid in REE leached,” the corresponding author of the study added.

Regarding the methods that the researchers have used to reach the results of the study, Riman said that the main characterisation method used in the study was Inductively Coupled Plasma- Optical Emission Spectroscopy (ICP-OES).  

This tool uses a plasma to ionise the elements making up a solution phase sample. Each ion will then emit light at specific wavelengths for each element. These wavelengths are well tabulated in literature and therefore the amount of each element can be correlated from the intensity of light emitted from the sample.

The researchers used this method to find out “how much of each rare earth element was leached into solution by the acids we tested.”

For the bioleaching work specifically, the experiments were started about a year ago and the paper was written over the summer. Passing the manuscript around to many research collaborators for revisions took a few months after that. For more general work on rare earth phosphate solubility and characterisation as well as some other analysis of phosphogyspum, the research group has been performing experiments for several years with the help of their collaborators who are part of the Critical Materials Institute.

“Regarding the purposes of our work, I believe we did a good job answering the questions we were interested in. However, we made no steps toward assessing the cost effectiveness of our methods in real world extraction processes. We have instead provided important data that could allow others to make a more educated determination about economic viability,” said Riman, stressing that this is a topic that must be considered by any prospective business wanting to benefit of rare earth leaching.

He added that he and his team will certainly be continuing work on the extraction of rare earth elements from waste streams. One of the decisions they will be making in the near future is whether they want to continue studying phosphogypsum as a mineral of interest or other waste products from the fertiliser industry which also contain large amounts of rare earths.

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Grave of 140 slaughtered children in Peru reveals Chimú secrets Wed, 13 Mar 2019 12:00:58 +0000 Great sacrifice was for Chimú ancestors to stop heavy rain

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About 100 metres away from the Pacific coast in Huanchaco province, northern Peru, researchers noted the appearance of bones among the sand in what scientists later found to be a mass grave.

Firstly, Gabriel Prieto, a professor of archaeology at the National University of Trujillo, found the remains of 43 children and 74 llamas in a hole which he later found was used for burial for ancient religious rituals.

After exploring the area, archaeologists and anthropologists uncovered a mass grave for more than 140 children, three adults, and about 200 young llamas.

The grave dates back to over 600 years, and archaeological evidence has shown that children, adults, and llamas were all slaughtered as a sacrifice for the sake of ancient ancestors belonging to the prehistoric Chimú culture.

The Chimú culture had flourished in the region along the north coast of Peru from about 900 until 1470 AD, at the time when the Inca empire invaded the region.


The archaeological site of Huanchaquito-Las Llamas, where researchers found the grave, is one of the largest cases of child sacrifice ever known in the Americas.

A recent study published last week in PLOS One journal explained the results of the study of fossils that were found by the research team from Peru. The study is evidence of previously unknown rituals involving a large sacrifice of children and llamas.

Prieto told Daily News Egypt that this discovery was a shock for him and his colleagues, as they found many skeletons belonging to children. According to the lead researcher in the study, it took five years to reach the findings of the paper, after the analysis of bone DNA.

The Chimú culture was based on a community of master agriculturalists who had developed a sophisticated network of water channels to bring water from the mountains to irrigate fields and deliver fresh water to palaces, gardens, squares, and temples.

The study showed that the children were found wrapped with cotton cloth. The children were buried in groups of three. It was noted that some of the children have red paintings on their heads, while others wore cotton headgear.

Perhaps all the children may have been killed by one horizontal slab, and the structures indicated that many chest cages have been emptied, so scientists believe that the children’s hearts may have been removed shortly after death.

“We cannot prove that, but it was certainly common and important in the Mayans’ rites to take out a still beating heart,” Prieto added.


Little is known about the faith of the Chimú people, since they did not keep written records and their art is very symbolic, so the mystery of the great sacrifice of children and llamas is unclear.

However, scientists pointed out that the children and llamas were buried in a thick layer of mud on top of the sand, suggesting that the sacrifices occurred after heavy rains caused flooding and mudslides in the area.

Although the northern coast of Peru is very arid, the El Niño climatic phenomena can bring heavy rains and unexpected floods to the region.

Scientists believe that the great sacrifice of children and llamas was a sacrifice for the Chimú ancestors to stop the heavy rain that had affected their economy. At that time, the people of Chimú used to believe that their ancestors controlled the rain and climate conditions.

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World oceans face more frequent, faster ‘angry’ summers Wed, 06 Mar 2019 14:39:38 +0000 Marine heatwaves increased by 54% during past 60 years

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Marine heatwaves (MHWs) are increasing in frequency, with 54% surge in heatwave days per year in the period of 1987-2016 compared to 1925-1954, according to a recent paper published on Monday in the Nature Climate Change.

Researchers from a number of Australian and British universities found that these events vary in their physical manifestations, yet all affect key species and ecosystem structure and functioning.

Regional case studies have documented how marine heatwaves can alter the structure and function of entire ecosystems by causing widespread mortality, species range shifts, and community reconfiguration.

The aim of the study was to use a unifying framework that allows marine heatwaves to be compared across latitudes, ocean basins, and ecosystems.

“Our analysis showed that the number of days in any one year that would be classed as MHWs has increased by 54% on average over about 60 years,” Dan Smale, researcher in the UK Marine Biological Association and first author of the study, told Daily News Egypt.

Angry Summers

This increase in heatwaves means that any given population of marine organisms, whether corals, seaweeds, or fish, have likely experienced more extreme ocean temperatures in the early 21st century compared to the middle of 20th century.

Sea temperature has a strong influence over marine organisms, as they evolved to exist within specific thermal levels, and they have optimal temperatures for performance. If sea temperatures get too high, marine organisms may be unable to cope, become stressed, and ultimately die. This may be just a few individuals or entire populations, leading to local extinctions or changing entire ecosystems.

Just as how atmospheric heatwaves can cause forest fires, crop failures, and animal deaths, marine heatwaves can also cause widespread devastation. Regional case studies have shown how MHWs can devastate coral reefs, kelp forests, and seagrass meadows, and cause mass die-offs of fish, lobsters, birds, and mammals if the food web is disrupted.

By impacting ecosystem goods and services, such as fisheries landings and biogeochemical processes, MHWs can also have major socioeconomic and political ramifications. The human-caused climate change is driving the redistribution of species and reorganisation of natural systems, and represents a major threat to global biodiversity, according to the study.

Egypt is one of the countries expected to be affected by the impact of heatwaves. Fisheries alongside coasts are under the threat of increasing temperatures which may cause high loss of fish and other marine creatures.

According to the latest report of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Egypt is facing the impact of rising temperatures which will lead to northwards shifts in ranges of fish species with impacts on fishery production.

The researchers quantified trends and attributes of MHWs across all ocean basins and examined their biological impacts from species to ecosystems. They concluded that multiple regions in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans are particularly vulnerable to MHW intensification, due to the co-existence of high levels of biodiversity, a prevalence of species found at their warm range edges or concurrent non-climatic human impacts.

Findings of the study pointed out that the 21st century has already experienced record-shattering atmospheric heatwaves, such as the 2003 European heatwave, the Australian Angry Summer of 2012-2013, and the European “Lucifer” heatwave in 2017, with devastating consequences for human health, economies, and the environment.

Smale said that his team showed that all of the well-studied MHW events, such as the MHWs observed in the Mediterranean and off Western Australia, had adverse ecological effects and that a range of organisms from plankton through corals to fish and seabirds are affected by these events.

“We showed that MHWs can impact upon ecosystem services provided to human societies. For example, species of fish and crustaceans targeted for human consumption may be locally wiped-out by MHWs, and the carbon stored by seagrasses and mangroves may be released if they are devastated by extreme temperatures,” he added.

Observational datasets

The researchers used a variety of observational datasets to reveal the trend of increasing marine heatwaves, combining satellite data with a range century long datasets taken from ships and various land based measuring stations. They, then, removed the influences of natural variability caused by the El Nino Southern Oscillation, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation to find the underlying trend.

To reach to their findings, the researchers observed trends in the annual number of MHW days and the implications for marine ecosystems globally. They incorporated existing data on marine taxon richness, the proportion of species found at their warm range edges and non-climatic human impacts to identify regions of high vulnerability, where increased occurrences of MHWs overlap with areas of high biodiversity, temperature sensitivity, or concurrent anthropogenic stressors.

The team also conducted a meta-analysis on the impacts of MHWs by examining ecological responses to eight prominent MHW events that have been studied in sufficient detail for formal analysis. During the study, the researchers examined 1,049 ecological observations, recalculated to 182 independent effect sizes from 116 research papers that examined responses of organisms, populations, and communities to MHWs.

“We also explored relationships between the occurrence of MHWs and the health of three globally important foundation species (coral, seagrass, and kelp) from three independent time series that were collected at sufficient spatiotemporal resolutions to explicitly link ecological responses to MHWs. Finally, we reviewed the literature on MHWs for evidence of impacts of these events on goods and services to human society,” said the first author.

Continuous work

“Our working group began in 2014, since when we have published four papers on the subject of marine heatwaves and their impacts. We started working on this particular paper in 2016, so it’s been about three years in the making,” Smale said.

Explaining the importance of the study’s findings to our knowledge about climate change and biodiversity, Smale told DNE that the frequency and intensity of MHWs is strongly influenced by manmade climate change because as the oceans absorb excess heat, they become on average warmer, so that when these events happen, they happen from a hotter starting point.

Ocean systems are facing a number of threats, such as plastic pollution and ocean acidification, but it is clear that extreme warming events can drive abrupt changes in entire ecosystems with widespread consequences. MHWs will have a major impact on the oceans in the coming decades.

About how can we protect our biodiversity from the impacts of climate change, Smale illustrated that impacts can only be minimised by combining a rapid reduction in greenhouse emissions with a more adaptable and pragmatic approach to the management of marine ecosystems.

Our international working group is still active in the research area. Our current research aims to project MHWs into the future, using climate models. This will help us better understand where impacts are likely to be the greatest. We are also developing a forecasting tool that can be used to predict MHWs over short timescales (weeks to months), which may help marine sectors, such as aquaculture and fisheries plan, ahead for these events, Smale said.

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Second-ever HIV patient cured: study Wed, 06 Mar 2019 10:00:30 +0000 It comes 10 years after first case, known as the ‘Berlin Patient’

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Scientists announced on Tuesday the second ever case of a patient experiencing remission from HIV-1 infection, which causes AIDS, was cured after stem-cell transplantation.

According to a paper published in Nature by researchers at the University College of London (UCL) and Imperial College London, the patient has been in remission for 18 months, but the authors caution that it is too early to say that the patient is completely cured of HIV and will continue to monitor his condition.

Researchers used the same method that proved successful for a previous HIV-positive patient in Berlin in 2007.

This case comes 10 years after the first case, known as “Berlin Patient”. Both patients were treated with stem cell transplantation from donors carrying a genetic mutation that prevents expression of HIV receptor CCR5, according to the paper.

“At the moment, the only way to treat HIV is with medications that suppress the virus, which people need to take for their entire lives, posing a particular challenge in developing countries,” said the study’s lead author, Ravindra Gupta, from UCL, UCLH, and University of Cambridge.

He added, “finding a way to eliminate the virus entirely is an urgent global priority, but is particularly difficult because the virus integrates into the white blood cells of its host.”

HIV is a growing concern. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 37 million people are living with HIV worldwide, but only 59% are receiving ARV and drug-resistant. Almost 1 million people die annually from HIV-related causes.

CCR5 is the most commonly used receptor by HIV-1. People who have two mutated copies of the CCR5 allele are resistant to the HIV-1 virus strain that uses this receptor, as the virus cannot enter host cells.

Commenting on the study, professor Graham Cooke, NIHR Research Professor and Infectious Diseases Professor at Imperial College London, said: “This second ‘London patient’, whose HIV has been controlled following bone marrow transplantation, is encouraging. Other patients treated in a similar way since the ‘Berlin patient’ has not seen similar results.”

He added that this work should encourage HIV patients needing bone marrow transplantation to consider a CCR5 negative donor, if possible. If we can understand better why the procedure works in some patients and not others, we will be closer to our ultimate goal of curing HIV. At the moment, the procedure still carries too much risk to be used in patients who are otherwise well, as daily tablet treatment for HIV is able to maintain patient’s long-term health.”

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FAO warns of biodiversity loss, praises biodiversity-friendly practices Wed, 27 Feb 2019 07:00:37 +0000 Rising temperatures will lead to northwards shifts in ranges of fish species in Egypt

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The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned in a recent report that the biodiversity of food and agriculture in the Arab region is under serious danger. This is the first-ever report to analyse the state of plants, animals, and microorganisms that support food and agricultural production – at genetic, species, and ecosystem levels.

It is based on the analysis of global data and reports provided specifically-for this report-by 91 countries. Findings of the report presented mounting evidence that the biodiversity that underpins our food systems, at all levels, is declining around the world.

The report warned that once biodiversity is lost, plant, animal and microorganism species that are critical to our food systems, cannot be recovered, placing the future of our food under severe threat.

A significant number, 75% of the world’s food crops, depend, at least in part, on pollination. But bee colony’s losses are rising; 17% of vertebrate pollinator species are threatened with global extinction, rising to 30% for island species, according to the FAO.

Despite the rise of biodiversity-friendly practices, the report urges more efforts to be exerted to stop the loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture, calling upon governments and the international community to address, amongst other things, the major drivers of biodiversity loss.  

The FAO pointed out the importance of conserving biodiversity, clarifying that 82% of the calories in the human food supply are provided by terrestrial plants, 16% by terrestrial animals, and 1% by aquatic animals and plants. According to the report, 33% of fish stocks are overfished, and 60% have reached their sustainable limit.

Middle East crisis

According to the FAO’s report which addressed the state of the world’s biodiversity for food and agriculture, a number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are suffering of the impact of biodiversity loss on people’s lives and diets.

It has stated that Egypt is facing the impact of rising temperatures which will lead to northward shifts in ranges of fish species, with impacts on fishery production. In Morocco, urbanisation is one of the most serious threats to its biodiversity.

The rapid expansion of human settlements into areas that are rich in biodiversity for food and agriculture, and the removal of sand and rocks from sites such as coastal dunes and wade beds for use in construction are resulting in the loss of habitats and the species they shelter.

Biodiversity for food and agriculture includes both wild and domesticated plants and animals that provide food, feed, fuel and fibre, associated biodiversity, and the myriad of organisms that support food production, including bees and other pollinators; plants, animals and microorganisms (such as forest trees, mangroves, earthworms, ladybugs, rhizobium) that help purify water and air, keep soils fertile, fish and trees healthy, and fight crop pests and livestock diseases, according to the report.

Oman has witnessed a decline in wild foods, such as figs and berries from forest trees over time, because of the loss of pollinator populations, driven in turn by extreme heat, associated with climate change, and the effects of pests and diseases.

The impact of climate change is likely to reduce the availability of wild foods in Jordan, adding to the burden on women from traditional communities who will have to walk longer distances to find wild foods.

The report concluded that the drivers of biodiversity loss for food and agriculture in most countries are changes in land and water use and management, followed by lack of inadequate policies to preserve biodiversity, pollution, overexploitation, overharvesting, and climate change. Forests and coastal habitats are reported to be particularly at risk.

Biodiversity-friendly practices

A considerable amount, 80% of the 91 countries mentioned in the report indicate that they use one or more biodiversity-friendly practices. These practices include organic agriculture, integrated crop–livestock, and agro-forestry systems, aquaponics, and conservation agriculture.

Conservation agriculture is already practised on 180m hectares-over 12% of global arable land-and has been increasing at a rate of 10m hectares per year for the last decade, according to the report.

Some countries in the MENA have implemented steps in the way of biodiversity-friendly practices such as Oman which has started using breeding programmes to improve local wheat and barley landraces, as these have shorter growing seasons and can be managed more flexibly, especially during years with prolonged periods of extreme heat.

Lebanon notes the conservation of a number of invertebrate species on farms because of their role in biological control. In Algeria, citizens are using a ‘ghout’ system, which is a traditional and complex hydro-agricultural system for food production in dry areas, where water is limited. It depends on cultivating lowlands in wades.

Answering Daily News Egypt’s question about why biodiversity-friendly practices are not sufficient despite the fact that they are on the rise, a team of four FAO experts said via email that the practices are on the rise but this is often from a low starting point. A lot of land is being farmed in a biodiversity-unfriendly way. Many fish stocks are being fished unsustainably.

Forest areas in many countries are still declining. Waters are being polluted, including by runoff from agriculture. Many rangelands are being degraded by poor management of grazing livestock. Vital coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, coral reefs, and sea grass beds are being degraded and destroyed.

All of this is being exacerbated by the effects of climate change. It also needs to be borne in mind that there is a lot which is to be learned about how specific management practices affect biodiversity.

In short, while there are some positive developments, their impacts are currently being jeopardised by those of negative drivers. This is why we need both to increase support for the implementation of sustainable practices (including improving research into their effectiveness) and tackle the factors that are driving biodiversity loss.

Responding to the question of how can loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture affect our lives, the researchers explained the following:

In many ways. Many of the crops we eat rely on animal pollinators. Without their natural enemies, the populations of crop pests would increase, threatening food supplies. Forests, grasslands, wetlands, and marine habitats are vital to the world’s carbon cycle. In a world where many people are already suffering as a result of the impacts of climate change, we cannot afford to lose the biodiversity that underpins these processes. Many ecosystems and the biodiversity within them help to purify our water and air, protect us from threats such as floods and storms, and provide habitats for species such as fish that many people depend for their livelihoods.

It was important to know what individuals and governments will do to stop the loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture, so the researchers told DNE:

It is clear that governments have a vital role to play, both in terms of actions at a national level and in terms of international collaboration. Many of the drivers that are negatively affecting biodiversity for food and agriculture require a policy response, whether climate change, destructive land-and water-use practices, use of agricultural inputs at levels that damage biodiversity, or discharge of pollution from industry.

Where promoting sustainable use and conservation is concerned, much more needs to be done to create an ‘enabling framework’: favourable policies and legislation; incentive measures to support sustainable management; establishment of protected areas and support for habitat restoration; enhanced research on the roles of biodiversity in food and agriculture; the impacts of different management practices on biodiversity, and more effective monitoring of the status of species and ecosystems.

The procedures also include better education and awareness-raising on contributions of biodiversity toward food and agriculture, as well as on the use of biodiversity-friendly management practices and strategies. 

In many of these fields, the state of provision is still very inadequate. Funding needs to be improved. People need to be trained so that they have the relevant skills. Collaboration needs improvement within and across the sectors of food and agriculture (i.e. the crop, livestock, forest, fisheries, and aquaculture sectors) between stakeholders involved in food and agriculture and those involved in conservation and environmental management, and between countries.


What individuals can do, clearly depends very much on their individual circumstances. Some are directly involved in the management of biodiversity for food and agriculture such as farmers, fish farmers, livestock keepers, etc. Some have considerable purchasing power that can help create demand for biodiversity-friendly product, Whereas some are in a position to exert political pressure on governments, producers, or suppliers. And then some have the opportunity to undertake voluntary conservation work or to participate as ‘citizen scientists’ in biodiversity monitoring schemes.


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New study warns of hegemony of four main crops Wed, 20 Feb 2019 14:00:54 +0000 We hope to inform specific policy counsel that support crop diversity on country-by-country basis

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Despite the linear increase of the species-level taxonomic diversity of crops that are being cultivated on large-scale agricultural lands over the past 50 years, environmental and socio-economic differences support expectations that temporal changes in crop diversity vary across regions.

An ecological theory also suggests that changes in crop taxonomic diversity may not necessarily reflect changes in the evolutionary diversity of crops, according to a new study published last week in PLOS ONE journal.

The researchers in University of Toronto in Canada used data from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) to assess changes in crop taxonomic and phylogenetic diversity across 22 subcontinental-scale regions from 1961 to 2014.

The paper pointed out that whereas crop diversity has in fact increased, the same kinds of crops being grown but on a much larger scale, meaning that the same commercially valuable crops, such as soybeans, wheat, rice and corn, are now being grown on industrial farms across Asia, Europe, and the Americas, covering almost 50% of agricultural lands.

Daily News Egypt interviewed Adam R Martin, a researcher at the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences at the University of Toronto and the first author of the study. He clarified and explained the main conclusions and methods of the paper, the transcript for which is below, lightly edited for clarity:

Would you please tell us more about the study’s outcomes?

We reached two primary conclusions in the study. The first was that our results suggest crop diversity at regional scales is increasing. For example, here in North America only 93 different crops are now being grown on large industrial scales, versus only 80 in the 1960s.

However, the second finding was that crop diversity at a global scale is decreasing. Specifically, when comparing different regions of the world, such as Asia, Africa, or the Americas, farms have (and are) becoming more homogenous and similar to one another in terms of the crops being grown.

Why are the findings of this study very important?

Because these findings have major implications for the socio-economics of food, as well as for the ecological sustainability of farms. For example, this pattern of global homogenisation raises questions as to what types of food will be available in different parts of the world in the future; these changes in likelihood will contribute to reduced food sovereignty into the future.

These findings of homogenisation also raise the likelihood that farms in different parts of the world are becoming increasingly susceptible to the same types of pests, diseases, or other environmental changes that might threaten crop yields in the future.

Which methods have you used to reach to the results of the study?

We analysed data from the FAO of the United Nations, which documents changes in crop diversity across all regions of the world from 1961-2014.

The research team found that between 1961 and 2014, researchers observed three distinct periods: the first saw a slight change in the diversity of crops from 1961 to the late 1970s, ten years of sharp diversity from the early 1980s, and finally, this diversity of crops began to decline gradually since early 1990s. However, the study indicates that the largest increase in global crop diversity occurred in the 1980s when different types of crops were introduced into new areas.

Most interesting, however, is that researchers found that although the 1970s and 1980s saw regional increases in crop diversity, both periods were also characterised by increased dominance of a few crop species.

How long have you been working on the study?

Approximately one and a half years from conceptualisation to publication.

Why it is a problem to have four major crops? How can this affect sustainable agriculture?

Having four major crops (wheat, maize, soybean, and rice) occupy more than 50% of global farms is problematic because extremely large expanses of agricultural lands are now virtually ecologically identical worldwide. These four crops in particular, are widely acknowledged to be those grown in largest monocultures, where only a single crop species or genetic strain are cultivated under very high chemical inputs and irrigation systems.

From a sustainability perspective, these four crops represent those that contribute the largest to overall environmental impacts of industrial agriculture, including water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and declines in soil fertility. So their continued expansion represents a major environmental threat.

At the same time, these four crops now represent a disproportionately large proportion of calories consumed by people (about 75% according to some reports). So when supplies for these four crops drop due to things like weather-related yield reductions or diversion to biofuels (as in the case with maize), overall food prices can spike dramatically. So the increasing production and reliance on these crops for food represents a major threat to food security.

Why is the decline in global crop diversity an issue?


We think about this from two perspectives. The first is an ecological/environmental perspective that will influence food security. As crop diversity continues to be reduced on a global scale, many different parts of the world are likely to be affected by the same pest and disease outbreaks, or other environmental shifts such as climate change that reduce crop yields.


The second is from a social perspective that will influence food sovereignty. More and more of the world’s farms are now looking the same: monocultures comprised of one or a small number of crops that rely heavily on intensive chemical pesticides and fertilisers. Choosing food that is culturally appropriate, healthy, and produced through sustainable methods (ex not in massive chemically-intensive monocultures), becomes more challenging as global crop diversity – and the range of sustainable farming practices – declines.

What shall we do to overcome our food crisis?


Addressing current and looming food crises in the future will rely on diversifying farms with a wider range of regionally adapted crops. Agro-ecological research suggests that growing multiple crops on the same farm is a key in mitigating the negative environmental impacts associated with large industrial monoculture farming.


From a socio-economic perspective, supporting smallholder farmers is also key in addressing food crises. Small holder farmers (ie those owning and managing less than 1 ha of land) maintain a vast amount of the world’s crop genetic diversity, and are very progressive in adopting new sustainable farming methods. Yet smallholder farms have been highly vulnerable to the expansion of industrial agriculture. Therefore we need policies that support smallholder farms and their key role in dealing with food crises.

Are there any points in the study that you believe have not thoroughly discussed in the paper?


One key idea in the paper that likely has not received as much attention (at least in the media) is the idea that within regions, changes in crop diversity are not simply a result of more land being allocated to agriculture (i.e. agricultural expansion).


To us, this suggests there are two broad policy avenues for promoting sustainable agriculture: one set of policies governs the diversity of crops that are growing (ex crop-specific subsides), while the other governs how much land is allocated to agriculture (ex land-use planning). Recognising these two avenues are fundamentally different is critical in having a more specific discussion on how to best pursue sustainable agriculture policy.

And are you still working on the topic?


Yes, we are planning our follow up to this analysis. Our recent paper assessed crop diversity trends at a regional scale (ex within North America, Central America, North Africa, East Africa, etc) and a global one. Our next step is to assess the change in crop diversity at a country level. In doing so, the hope is that we can then inform specific policy recommendations that support crop diversity on a country-by-country basis (starting here in Canada).

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FAO warns of desert locust raids in Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen Sat, 16 Feb 2019 18:57:25 +0000 Egypt in danger of migratory pest, as groups of mature winged adults, few swarms moved north along coast to southeast Egypt

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The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned of an outbreak of the desert locust populations in Sudan and Eritrea which are rapidly spreading along both sides of the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

According to the FAO’s statement on Friday, the heavy rains and cyclones have triggered the recent surge in desert locust populations. It has called upon all the affected countries to step up their vigilance and control measures in order to contain the destructive infestations, and protect crops from “the world’s most dangerous migratory pest”.  

Since October 2018, heavy rains along the Red Sea coastal plains in Eritrea and Sudan have allowed two generations of breeding, leading to a substantial increase in locust populations and the formation of highly mobile swarms.

In mid-January 2019, one swarm at least crossed the Red Sea to the northern coast of Saudi Arabia, and other swarms followed the first one about one week later.

Egypt is in danger of this dangerous migratory pest, as groups of mature winged adults and few swarms also moved north along the coast to southeast Egypt at the end of January.

The migrated swarms have bred in the interior of Saudi Arabia, while two generations of breeding also occurred in the south-eastern Empty Quarter region near the Yemen-Oman border, after unusually heavy rains from cyclones Mekunu and Luban in May and October 2018, respectively.

The FAO added that aerial spraying operations were mounted in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, and Egypt, treating more than 80,000 hectares since December 2019.

The FAO predicts that breeding will continue in February, generating new swarms. Adult locust swarms can fly up to 150 kilometres per day with the wind, while a very small swarm eats the same amount of food in one day as about 35,000 people.

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Arctic lakes emit less carbon amount than previously thought Wed, 13 Feb 2019 16:17:41 +0000 In many parts of world, lakes receive, break down plenty of terrestrial carbon

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A new research by the University of Washington and the US Geological Survey suggests that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. One of the results of this situation is the thawing of the permafrost, a layer of earth that has remained frozen for thousands of years in some areas.

This frozen soil and vegetation currently holds more than twice the carbon found in the atmosphere, according to the study which was published on Monday in the Nature Geoscience journal.

Matthew Bogard, a postdoctoral associate at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington, and the first author of the study, told Daily News Egypt that there are millions of lakes in high latitude landscapes, but we have very little information about the vast majority of them because they are so remote and difficult to study.  

“The climate of the arctic and the sub-Arctic regions is changing rapidly, so our research provides a benchmark against which to evaluate future changes in lake carbon cycling and their ability to produce and emit greenhouse gases,” said Bogard.

In many parts of the world, lakes receive and break down a lot of terrestrial carbon. Northern lakes are especially important because they cover such a large fraction of the landscape compared to other parts of the world.  

Conclusions of the study show that a subset of northern lakes may deviate from this trend. This subset of lakes is also extremely under-studied, so the paper provides important new information to better understand the overall carbon cycle of circumpolar landscapes.

Given how difficult it is to study remote lakes like this, this was a major team effort that used a unique combination of many different approaches to cover as many aspects of lake carbon cycling as possible.  

“We used field based approaches (flying to remote lakes by float-plane and measuring lake properties on site) and preserved large quantities of water for later analyses at our respective laboratories (using a combination of both standard and cutting edge chemical measurements),” Bogard explained the methods and approaches of the study.  

He further added that the team put equipment in some of the lakes to record conditions every hour, to fill in some of the blanks between spring and fall when the team was physically on site. They then used a survey of published data, plus computer-based mapping and satellite-based remote sensing observations to put these lakes into a broader context worldwide.

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Climate change could have economic opportunity for Arctic nations Wed, 13 Feb 2019 16:10:19 +0000 About 8% of annual sediment input delivered to global oceans comes from Greenland ice sheet

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Despite its bad impact, however nations can also adapt and benefit from some of climatic change effects. One of the most affected places of climate change is the Arctic island, Greenland.

An international team revealed in a new study that the melting glaciers in Greenland leave deposits and river sediment along its shores. Findings of the study were published on Monday in the journal Nature Sustainability.

These sediments were identified by researchers as one of the unforeseen economic opportunities for the Arctic nation: exporting excess sand and gravel abroad, where raw materials for infrastructure are in high demand.

According to the study which was conducted by researchers from CU Boulder, the University of Copenhagen, Arizona State University and the Rhode Island School of Design, the melting Greenland ice sheet delivers an enormous amount of sediments to the coast.

While demand has only increased thanks to global urbanisation and infrastructure investments, the global sand reserves have been rapidly depleted in recent decades.

“In the study we show that Greenland could diversify its economy towards export of its sand resources and the potential impacts on the environment and local way of life,” Lars Lønsmann Iversen, a research fellow at Arizona State University’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability told Daily News Egypt.

“Mette Bendixen-the first author of the study-started working with coastal dynamics in Greenland in 2009 as part of her PhD, I joined the work in 2014. We started working on the published study in March 2018,” Iversen said.

The researchers estimate that the amount of sand delivered to Greenland’s coast each year has a market value equivalent to more than half of the Greenland’s gross domestic product ($2.22bn in 2015) and this value is expected to double within the next 25 years if the global sand prices continue to increase, according to Iversen.

About 8% of the annual sediment contribution delivered to the global oceans comes from the Greenland ice sheet and with continued global warming, this number is expected to increase.

The paper focused on the struggle of arctic nations such as Greenland with the ongoing impacts of climate change, particularly an overreliance on now-vulnerable commercial fisheries and few other large industries.

For years, Greenland has worked on diversifying its economy through mining, oil extraction, and tourism, but progress has been slow, as the country still reports a 10% unemployment rate, and persistent revenue shortfalls.

But the scene is not completely good as some scientists believe that removing this sand could have negative impacts on the environment. The current study itself points out that sand exploitation could be controversial, as it would potentially interfere with the pristine Arctic landscape.

So the researchers recommend a careful assessment of the environmental impact and implementation in collaboration with the Greenlandic society.

Iversen told DNE that the study is a forward-looking in perspective and thereby solely relies on already published knowledge. “However, the paper builds on our research on coastal change in Greenland as a response to the melting of the Greenland ice sheet (we are a collective group of geologist, geographers and ecologist),” he said.

In 2017 the researchers published a study in Nature showing the coast of Greenland is expanding as a consequence of a melting ice sheet and diminishing arctic sea ice cover.

“Yes, certainty,” Iversen said responding to DNE’s inquiry about if there are any points in the study that he believes were not discussed enough in the paper, and whether they are still working on the topic.

“Our results are somewhat forward-looking. Still a great deal of uncertainty exists around what impacts sand mining would have on the local environment and communities.” he said, adding that future research will be essential to document the persistence and quality of sand delivered to the coast and how sand mining impacts local ecosystems and associated ecosystem services.

Furthermore, profitability will be determined by the international market value of sand and the costs of extraction and transport, which may affect whether and when Greenland elects to develop this industry. Detailed market analyses focusing on extraction cost and shipping expenses still needs to be carried out to ensure that the sand industry will be a competitive business with the global market, according to Iversen.

“We are actively initiating research on the future existence of these sand resources as the Greenland ice sheet continues to melt and what role these sand outlets play for local fjord ecosystems,” he explained. The team is also trying to develop collaborations with economist and local agencies in Greenland to better understand the market values, future consumer sources, and local impacts/inclusion of any sand mining in Greenland.

Extraction of sediment (dredging) will surely have some effects on the local environment, the researcher explained. However, much of the disturbance to be caused by dredging does resemble the current condition along the coastal outlets in Greenland.

Known consequences of increasing glacial sediments entering the Arctic ocean due to ice sheet melt are homogenisation of benthic habitats due to deposition and reduced light availability limiting primary productivity, Iversen added. 


Sand extraction via dredging of marine sediments shares many of the same disturbance consequences for the local environment as those mentioned above. Excavation, transportation, and disposal of fresh unconsolidated material enhance dispersal of sediments into the water and changes in seabed surface and turbidity from dredging plumes, ultimately affecting local ecosystems. 


Thus, direct removal of bed sediments could locally enhance or even amplify the ongoing changes in ecosystem dynamics along the coast of Greenland.

But this is something that needs much more work, and environmental impact assessments of sand extraction will be needed in order to secure a minimum impact on the local ecosystems. It is also important to note that the majority of the sand from the Greenland ice sheet comes from a handful of outlets in the south western part of the country. In practice, it might only be one or two places that would be of interest for sand mining.

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Scientists reveal secrets of Denisovans in Siberian cave Wed, 06 Feb 2019 10:00:47 +0000 Findings show that Denisovans, Neanderthals interbred over 100 years ago

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After about a decade since scientists have sequenced the DNA from an ancient bone fragment belonging to a woman from an entirely new species of humans, scientists are now uncovering the first and only confirmed home of the Denisovans.

The home of the Denisovans was discovered where the ancient bone was found in a cave in Siberia in a region close to the Russian, Chinese, Mongolian, and Kazakh borders.

According to two recent studies published in Nature last week, the Denisovans are an ancient group of extinct humans who lived alongside other modern humans and Neanderthals in stone age Eurasia.  

The Denisova cave lies in the Altai mountains of southern Siberia, a few hundred kilometres from the Russian border with Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China. The place is almost magical according to the researchers, with its Alpine-like scenery, wild horses, and soaring eagles.

This has now changed after an international team of researchers published two papers which make it clear that the cave is as extraordinary as its ancient occupants. Not only do the papers give us a better understanding of who lived there and when, but they also reveal some of the objects that its residents made. “Some of the material is beautiful,” says Thomas Higham from the University of Oxford. “We think it might be the earliest of its kind in Eurasia,” he added.

Michael Petraglia from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany stated “It was a great experience,” as he visited the cave last year. “When we were in the cave, it was cold inside, and the excavators told us that the sediments are sometimes frozen. This helps to ensure that the DNA gets preserved,” he added.

Lying at the heart of a large river valley, the cave was also attractive to stone age humans. The new research concludes that Denisovans and Neanderthals both lived there at various points over the past 300,000 years. Our species, Homo sapiens, probably occupied the cave within the past 50,000 years.

The Denisovans are a mysterious group of humans who lived in eastern Eurasia during the stone age. About 765,000 years ago, they shared a common ancestor with Neanderthals and our species.

“We used a method called optical dating in order to estimate the time of deposition of the sediments in the cave. By doing so, we can also obtain dates for the artefacts, as well as animal and plant remains contained in the same sedimentary layers,” Zenobia Jacobs, from the Centre for Archaeological Science at the University of Wollongong in Australia told Daily News Egypt, as she was involved in the two studies.

“We can also obtain a rough estimate of the age of the hominin fossils at the Denisova Cave, but it is better to use other methods in order to date the fossils directly, because they are very small and isolated and could have been moved easily after the initial burial,” she further added.

Moreover, Jacobs pointed out that the tiny size of the fossils is why the researchers used a combination of optical, radiocarbon, and uranium-series dating methods, together with stratigraphic information and relative genetic ages (obtained from the mitochondrial DNA extracted from the fossil bones and teeth), in order to develop a statistical (Bayesian) model for a more reliable chronology for the hominin fossil.

This is the first time that we have a clear timeline for the complete hominin occupation of the Denisova cave across all three chambers (east, main, and south) from about 300,000 years ago. This reliable timeline enables us to link the archaeological, environmental, fossil, and DNA information together across space and time in order to look for patterns of change in the hominin presence, behaviour, as well as their interactions with prevailing climates. This also opens up a lot of opportunities to interrogate the archaeological record with more details.

Noteworthy, Jacobs and her team have been working on the study for seven years since 2012.

Depending on the findings of the two studies, we can now say with certainty that Denisovans have been present in the Denisova cave from at least 200,000 years ago (possibly 300,000 years ago, but we do not have hominin fossils or DNA associated with artefacts of this age) until about 50,000 years ago.

An important consequence of this timeline is that the most recent age estimates for the Denisovans at Denisova cave suggest that they have persisted long enough to have directly encountered modern humans (Homo sapiens) who were migrating through Asia. Certainly, modern humans were present in other parts of Asia about 50,000 years ago, but the nearest modern human fossils to the Denisova cave are located about 1,000 kilometres away at Ust-Ishim on the Siberian plains.

There are no fossil or DNA remains of Homo sapiens at the Denisova cave known at the present time. Therefore, the Denisovan ancestry of the Australian Aboriginals and New Guinean people could, therefore, be the result of direct interbreeding between their ancestors and the Denisovans, but we do not know where this interaction took place.

Moreover, Jacobs stated, “We can also say that the Neanderthals were present starting from at least 190,000 years ago until at least 90,000 years ago, but further fossil discoveries and DNA from the cave sediments may extend the time range of both the Denisovans and Neanderthals at the site. The fossil of mixed ancestry (Denisova 11) is about 100,000 years old, so we can say for certain that the Neanderthals and Denisovans met and interacted with each other at this time, when climatic conditions were especially favourable (relatively warm).”

Previous excavations were almost entirely carried out in the main and east chambers of the Denisova cave. Accordingly, the researchers will continue their study in the third chamber (south chamber) where excavations have only recently begun and are continuing at the present time.

Furthermore, they are also working on a large number of other sites in the Altai region, which contain archaeological and environmental records and some hominin fossils, in order to provide a regional-scale timeline for the hominin occupation and the environmental history of southern Siberia.

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Earth core started to solidify 565m years ago, unlike previous beliefs Wed, 30 Jan 2019 09:30:47 +0000 “There is this huge range of 2bn years which scientists think is time frame when inner core was formed,” says Tarduno

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Earth’s inner core plays a vital role in generating the magnetic field which protects our planet from harmful solar wind—streams of radiation coming from the sun—and makes the Earth habitable. However, scientists had numerous speculations and studies about the age of this inner core.

A recent study conducted by researchers in the University of Rochester indicated that the Earth’s inner core is younger than what scientists thought, offering a new insight into the history of the Earth’s magnetic field and planetary habitability.

The study published by Nature Geosciences on Monday said that the inner core started to solidify only about 565m years ago—relatively younger than our 4.5bn-year-old planet.

“Until this data, the age of the inner core was uncertain,” said John Tarduno, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at Rochester. Tarduno informed Daily News Egypt via email, “There is this huge range of 2bn years, which scientists think is the time frame when the inner core was formed. These are the first field-strength data from the younger part of the range of possibilities suggesting that the inner core is really young.”

Earth’s magnetic field is generated in its liquid iron core via geodynamo—a process during which the kinetic energy of conducting moving fluids is converted into magnetic energy. Researchers believe a weak geodynamo—and a magnetic shield—formed early in Earth’s history, shortly after the event which created the Earth’s moon.

For the next several billion years, the energy to drive the dynamo decreased until a critical point 565m years ago, when “the dynamo was on the point of collapse,” Tarduno said. Despite its drastically weakened state, however, the dynamo did not go away. The researchers conjectured it was at this point in the geological time scale—or sometime shortly after—that the inner core began to form, giving strength to the geodynamo.

“This is a critical point in the evolution of the planet. The field did not collapse because the inner core started to grow and provided a new energy source for the formation of the geodynamo,” Tarduno said.

To know about the evolution of the geodynamo, the researchers of the study measured the strength of the ancient magnetic field locked within single crystals of the mineral feldspar. The samples were collected from the Sept-lles Complex in northern Quebec and contain tiny magnetic needles with ideal recording properties.

“The feldspar protects those needles from later alteration on geological time scales, so we get a much higher resolution record of the ancient strains in the magnetic field by measuring these single crystals,” according to Tarduno.

By studying the magnetism locked in ancient crystals—a field known as palaeomagnetism—the researchers found that the intensity of the magnetic field was extremely low 565m years ago, lower than anything we have ever seen before. This indicates that the inner core may have formed around this time in order to restore strength to the dynamo and, in turn, to the magnetic field.

Our magnetic field is part of what makes Earth a special planet, and, so far, the only one that has life. The evolution of the Earth’s interior and the resulting geodynamo generated within play a critical role in the preservation of life, according to the research.

An improved understanding of this evolution of the Earth’s interior may provide researchers key clues, not only for planet formation and habitability on Earth, but in the search for life on exoplanets which resemble Earth.

“The same factors which drive dynamos on Earth might affect the magnetic shielding on exoplanets. It could be the case that some planets do not have long-lived dynamos and those planets would not have the magnetic shielding we have, meaning that their atmosphere and water might be removed,” Tarduno said.

Besides being a critical point in the evolution of Earth, almost 565m years ago was also a critical time for the major diversification of life on Earth. This is a time of Ediacaran fauna, the first large complex organisms we saw in the geologic record. These are a fundamental change from the microbial life preserved in older rocks.

“It is true that if we have lower magnetic shielding, we would have more harmful radiation coming in to the Earth. That radiation might be harmful for DNA, for example, and there has been speculation that this could stimulate mutations,” Tarduno said. Although, there isn’t a strong evidence of this correlation in the geological record, the new data will certainly stimulate more thoughts on this issue.

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Geopolitics, climate change pose threats to food production Wed, 30 Jan 2019 09:00:25 +0000 Researchers identify 226 food shocks across 134 nations in 53-year period

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Food shocks and their consequences across land and sea pose cumulative threats to global sustainability. These can be the main challenges facing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as they could disrupt food supply and security, livelihoods, and human well-being.

A new research published by Nature Sustainability on Monday has identified 226 food shocks across 134 nations in a period of 53 years. Findings of the study, which was conducted by a team of researchers from Australian and American universities, referred to an increasing frequency of food shocks across all sectors on a global scale.

The study’s lead author Richard Cottrell from the University of Tasmania in Australia told Daily News Egypt that the study focuses on food production shocks which are sudden losses of crops, livestock, or fish due to extreme weather conditions and geopolitical events like war.

“We wanted to know if there was a difference in the frequency and causes of shocks to land-based food production in crops and livestock, versus aquatic food systems, such as wild caught and farmed fish, and also whether there were any links between both of them,” he said.

The researchers analysed 53 years (1961-2013) of crop, livestock, fisheries, and aquaculture data to identify where and when the shocks had occurred. Once identified and knowing which commodity was affected (e.g. wheat), they dug into the literature, scouring scientific publications, or news and NGO reports to find what had happened to that commodity in that country at that time.

The study found that extreme weather conditions and geopolitical crises were the dominant drivers of food shocks, but the effects of these causes varied across sectors. Most of the shocks that affected crop production were caused by extreme weather conditions, reinforcing concerns about the vulnerability of arable systems to climatic and meteorological volatility across the globe.

Extreme weather was found to be a major driver of shocks to livestock by 23%, particularly where reductions to feed occurred. For instance, severe summertime droughts in Mongolia in 2001 and 2010 reduced fodder and feed availability, fluctuated livestock condition and led to mass deaths during extremes winter weather.

Diseases of foot and mouth also contributed to 10% of livestock shocks. However, geopolitical crises, such as economic decentralisation in Europe or conflict in sub-Saharan Africa, accounted for the greatest proportion of 41% of the livestock shocks according to the analysis.

“We found for agriculture (both crops and livestock), that extreme weather (e.g. floods, droughts, storms) and geopolitical events (e.g. conflict or state dissolution) were the most dominant drivers of shocks. For aquatic production, overfishing of wild-caught species and diseases in farmed species were the leading drivers,” Cottrell said.

“We found that shocks to food production have increased through time across all food sectors,” the lead author added.

Cottrell noted that his team found also in many situations, that shocks on land and sea were often connected via joint threats or antagonistic effects. For example, in Ecuador, a flooding associated with the 1998 El-Nino caused widespread damage to agriculture – but between 1998 and 2000, the country’s shrimp farming industry also suffered huge losses because of an outbreak in white-spot disease.

While seemingly unrelated, both the inclement weather on land and the onset of white-spot syndrome are associated with abnormally warm waters, common during El-Nino events in the east Pacific. In contrast, when Dominica’s banana crop was decimated by Hurricane David in 1979, marine fish catch rocketed for a few years as people looked for alternative sources of income. The researchers detected a shock only a few years later in fisheries’ data, when overfishing was reported in nearshore waters.

Synchronised threats to food production across multiple sectors can pose a real threat for food security. Millions of people around the world rely on agriculture and fisheries simultaneously as an adaptation strategy to deal with seasonal fluctuations in resources. The double jeopardy of linked threats can make this impossible. Meanwhile, unanticipated shifts in people’s resource use (particularly across the land-sea divide) during times of crisis, such as in Dominica, provide other sustainability challenges when it comes to managing and protecting natural ecosystems.

Understanding these links will become increasingly important as we strive to meet global sustainability targets but the climate in which we produce food becomes more volatile. Identifying direct and indirect links between land and sea will help prevent negative outcomes for natural ecosystems and biodiversity which can happen when people switch resource use for food or livelihoods. But understanding the major threats to production across each sector, will be key to maintaining stable and safe food production into the future as our population grows.

“We also need to build resilience in our food production systems as shocks become more frequent. With greater frequency, people have less time to recover and acquire assets that help them cope during times of hardship,” the researcher said.

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Environment Minister, SEMED’s managing director discuss COP14, recycling projects Tue, 29 Jan 2019 18:42:19 +0000 Fouad praised level of collaboration between bank and ministry in several environmental projects in Egypt

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The Minister of Environment, Yasmine Fouad, met on Sunday with Janet Heckman, the managing director of Southern and Eastern Mediterranean region (SEMED) at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, in order to discuss the collaboration between the ministry and the bank in recycling wastes.

During the meeting, Fouad praised the level of collaboration between the bank and the ministry in several environmental projects in Egypt. She also stressed the necessity of supporting the wastes recycling manufacturing in order to provide job opportunities for youth, increase the industrial base, boost investments, and protect the environment.

Moreover, the meeting also discussed setting a roadmap for the cooperation between the bank and the ministry in using wastes and agricultural wastes, and using it as a fuel in order to decrease carbon dioxide emissions from Egyptian industries. The meeting also discussed supporting environmental tourism in protected areas and increasing its economic use in accordance with the environmental conditions.  

Fouad further said that her ministry tends to recycle bare palm branches. The meeting also discussed Egypt’s presidency over the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP14), and Fouad’s last visit to Germany in order to benefit from the German experience in recycling wasters in cooperation with the ministries of military production and local development.

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Fouad stresses importance of education in raising environmental awareness Mon, 28 Jan 2019 16:22:22 +0000 Minister announced launching cultural event for environmental topics  

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Minister of Environment Yasmine Fouad said on Sunday that education plays an important role in serving the environment. She added during the celebration of the national environment day, that this year’s celebration has a special topic, “education”.

She added that education helps in achieving sustainable development, and that her ministry is working to integrate the environmental perspective in the plans of the other ministries.

The celebration was organised by the Arab Office for Youth and Environment, hosted by the Al-Ahram institution—it comes on the 40th anniversary of establishing the office.

Fouad said that she has a different perspective for the role of education, saying that despite the success of the ministry in numerous fields such as establishing protected areas, and nets for water and air quality monitoring, but we need more employees in environmental projects.

She noted that her strategy is to train school pupils and students in universities and to integrate the environmental concepts in curricula in order to increase the number of environmental activists.  

The minister stressed that her ministry is collaborating with the United Nations Development Programme – UNDP to implement a campaign for public participation, as well as a strategy for raising environmental awareness. She also announced the launch of a cultural event for environmental topics in the Environmental Cultural and Educational Centre (Cairo House).   

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