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Rapid genomic tests are poised to change the way doctors diagnose and treat infections, but their cost may limit widespread use.

A lab worker prepared to sequence genomes at the University of California San Francisco. Across the country, researchers and engineers are racing to perfect new tests that could revolutionize how doctors diagnose and treat infections.Credit...James Tensuan for The New York Times
Ryan Springer’s mystery illness began last summer with a dull ache in his chest. Over the next few days, the symptoms grew more alarming: sharp pain with every breath, a rapid heartbeat and a spiking fever.

Emergency room doctors at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, Ill., were stumped. They ordered up a lung biopsy and started Mr. Springer, 47, on a broad-spectrum antibiotic. But his condition worsened, and doctors feared he might not survive the five or more days it would take to get the lab results back.

There was one more option: a new genomic test that can offer much faster results by rapidly sorting through the DNA in a blood sample and picking out the pathogen most likely making a patient sick. It is part of a rapidly growing new generation of lab tests under development that could revolutionize the way doctors diagnose and treat infections.

The usual method, based on growing and analyzing germ cultures in a lab, has barely changed since the 1880s, when Julius Petri came up with a way to grow germs in a gelatinous bed of algae set between two nesting discs of glass.

The new genomic diagnostics work by matching the DNA or RNA of microbes in a patient’s bodily fluid against vast databases of all known bacteria, viruses or fungi that can sicken humans. Many of the tests produce results in hours, a marked contrast to traditional cultures, which can take days or even weeks to get results — when they work at all. The turnaround in getting test results has become even more urgent with the coronavirus epidemic in China that is spreading around the world.

“We’re still using 19th-century technology for most microbiology diagnostics and they just don’t work well for many patients,” said Kevin Outterson, a professor of health law at Boston University and the executive director of CARB-X, a nonprofit focused on combating antimicrobial resistance. “These new technologies advance what we do by more than a century.”

Dr. Amir Khan, an infectious disease specialist, sent Mr. Springer’s blood to Karius, a San Francisco-area company that is among a dozen American start-ups developing genomic diagnostic tests.

Less than 48 hours later, the results came back: Mr. Springer had tularemia, or rabbit fever, a rare bacterial infection transmitted by animals and ticks that sickens fewer than 200 Americans a year. It is tough to diagnose — and it can be fatal if untreated.
“The previous case I saw was three years earlier, and it was diagnosed after an autopsy,” Dr. Khan said.
The cure was simple: the antibiotic doxycycline. Mr. Springer took it and was discharged five days later.

The coronavirus outbreak has ratcheted up interest in rapid genomic tests. Developers of the some of the devices say that once the genetic sequence of a novel pathogen has been made publicly available, the information could be quickly uploaded and used to identify those infected.

“With a traditional reference lab, by the time a clinic takes a sample and ships it off, you’ve lost 12 to 24 hours,” said Dr. Jack Regan, the chief executive of LexaGene, a Massachusetts company that hopes to sell its coffee maker-size instrument to airports, schools and clinics. “We can get results in under an hour, which makes a huge difference during deadly outbreaks.”

A wider rollout of these tests faces a number of hurdles. Most of the tests identify a patient’s infection 80 to 90 percent of the time — regulators would like that figure to be closer to 100 percent — and many of them are still awaiting a green light from the F.D.A. But health experts say a larger impediment to their widespread use is economics: Most of the tests run $500 to $3,000 (the test used to diagnose Mr. Springer was $2,000) and because few private insurances companies cover them, the costs are largely borne by hospitals or patients.

“The technology is incredibly promising but the challenge right now is how to get insurers to pay for it,” said Prof. Outterson of Boston University. “We need a system in which hospitals can at least break even for doing the right thing.”

John A. Prendergass, associate director of digital health at Ben Franklin Technology Partners, who invests in medical device start-ups, said he was concerned by the high costs, false negatives and low sensitivity of the tests he had looked at.
The cure was simple: the antibiotic doxycycline. Mr. Springer took it and was discharged five days later.

The coronavirus outbreak has ratcheted up interest in rapid genomic tests. Developers of the some of the devices say that once the genetic sequence of a novel pathogen has been made publicly available, the information could be quickly uploaded and used to identify those infected.

“With a traditional reference lab, by the time a clinic takes a sample and ships it off, you’ve lost 12 to 24 hours,” said Dr. Jack Regan, the chief executive of LexaGene, a Massachusetts company that hopes to sell its coffee maker-size instrument to airports, schools and clinics. “We can get results in under an hour, which makes a huge difference during deadly outbreaks.”

A wider rollout of these tests faces a number of hurdles. Most of the tests identify a patient’s infection 80 to 90 percent of the time — regulators would like that figure to be closer to 100 percent — and many of them are still awaiting a green light from the F.D.A. But health experts say a larger impediment to their widespread use is economics: Most of the tests run $500 to $3,000 (the test used to diagnose Mr. Springer was $2,000) and because few private insurances companies cover them, the costs are largely borne by hospitals or patients.

“The technology is incredibly promising but the challenge right now is how to get insurers to pay for it,” said Prof. Outterson of Boston University. “We need a system in which hospitals can at least break even for doing the right thing.”

John A. Prendergass, associate director of digital health at Ben Franklin Technology Partners, who invests in medical device start-ups, said he was concerned by the high costs, false negatives and low sensitivity of the tests he had looked at.

In addition to saving lives, the new tests could also ameliorate the growing crisis of drug-resistant infections, because pinpointing infections quickly would show doctors which antibiotic to use, rather than resorting to the shot-in-the dark dispensing of broad-spectrum antibiotics for patients with hard to diagnose infections.

Broad-spectrum antibiotics that act on a wide array of bacteria are commonly used in emergency rooms and intensive care units to combat bloodstream infections, or sepsis, which kill 270,000 Americans a year, accounting for a third of all hospital deaths. Septic shock is also quick to kill, with mortality increasing 8 percent each hour an infection goes untreated.

But at least half of all antibiotics are wrongly prescribed, researchers have found, and some studies suggest that a third of antibiotics prescribed by doctors are unnecessary, many of them dispensed without having a diagnosed infection. Such overuse is one of the major causes of mounting antibiotic resistance as germs mutate to survive.

“We believe patients should be treated based on what they’re infected with, not what doctors think they might have,” said Tom Lowery, the chief scientific officer of T2 Biosystems, a Boston company whose bacteria panel test has been the first to pass muster with the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

It’s not just what you eat, but when you eat that could be holding you back from your weight loss goals.

A new study, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, said eating a big breakfast can help burn more calories throughout the day.

Scientists studied a group of healthy young men with normal body fat and found they burned twice as many calories when they ate a bigger breakfast and a smaller dinner, compared to the other way around.

According to the study, the amount of energy needed to process a meal is higher in the morning than at night. Health experts also said planning for breakfast is key to starting the day right.

For those trying to lose weight, a mix of carbs and protein is recommended. Carbs give the body energy and the brain the fuel it needs to tackle the day.

Experts said that one of the biggest mistakes is not eating enough protein. Protein keeps us feeling full until the next meal and also keeps muscle mass strong, and metabolism working.

The American Heart Association said people who eat breakfast have lower rates of heart disease. Despite that, one in four Americans say they don’t even eat breakfast, so this new study is likely to get the debate going again.


 U.S. President Donald Trump will seek $2.5 billion from Congress to fight the coronavirus epidemic and U.S. and South Korean militaries are considering scaling back joint training as the virus spreads in Europe and the Middle East.
Countries around the world are stepping up efforts to prevent a pandemic of the flu-like virus that originated from China late last year and has now infected more than 80,000 people, 10 times more cases than the SARS coronavirus.

The White House said more than $1 billion of the requested virus budget would go toward developing a vaccine, while other funds would be used for therapeutics and the stockpiling of personal protective equipment such as masks.

The U.S. and South Korean militaries said on Monday they may cut back joint training due to mounting concerns about the spreading coronavirus, in one of the first concrete signs of the virus’s fallout on global U.S. military activities.

The disclosure came during a visit to the Pentagon by South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, who acknowledged following talks with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper that 13 South Korean troops had tested positive for the virus.

“We do regard this situation as a serious one,” Jeong told a news conference, adding he had suspended military vacations and off-base leave.

“We have also limited their movement across the nation.”

Earlier on Monday, the U.S. military said a 61-year-old woman in South Korea who tested positive for the virus had recently visited a U.S. military base in the southeastern city of Daegu.

The woman, who was the widow of a former U.S. servicemember, visited a store at Camp Walker on Feb. 12 and 15, the military said. It was the first infection connected to U.S. Forces Korea, which counts about 28,500 American troops on the peninsula.

U.S. Forces Korea said it was raising the risk level to “high” across the country. It urged U.S. troops to limit travel and “use extreme caution when traveling off-installation.”

South Korea - which remains technically at war with the nuclear-armed North - has the most virus cases in Asia outside China and reported 60 new cases on Tuesday, increasing the total number of infected patients in the country to 893.

Of the new cases, 16 were in the southeastern city of Daegu, where a church at the center of the outbreak is located, and 33 were from North Gyeongsang Province, health officials said.

Americans should avoid all nonessential travel to South Korea due to the coronavirus outbreak, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday.

Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said it was too early to talk about cancelling the Tokyo Summer Olympics, which start on July 24, due to the coronavirus. Japan has 850 cases, most from a cruise ship, and has recorded four deaths.

Questions have risen about whether the Olympics should be moved or canceled, with one London mayoral candidate saying London was ready to host the games if needed.


China reported a rise in new coronavirus cases in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, on Tuesday while the rest of the country saw a fourth-straight day of declines.

Hubei had 499 new confirmed cases on Feb. 24, the National Health Commission said, up from 398 a day earlier and driven mainly by new infections in the provincial capital of Wuhan.

Mainland China reported 508 new cases, up from 409 on Feb. 23, bringing the total number to 77,658.

The epidemic in China peaked between Jan. 23 and Feb. 2 and has been declining since, said the World Health Organization (WHO). China’s actions of locking down cities and severely restricting the movement of people has probably prevented hundreds of thousands of cases, it said.

“They’re at a point now where the number of cured people coming out of hospitals each day is much more than the sick going in,” said head of the WHO delegation in China, Bruce Aylward.

Italy on Monday became the new frontline in the fight against the coronavirus with 220 cases reported from just three on Friday. The death toll in Italy stands at seven.

Slideshow (14 Images)
Italian authorities have sealed off the worst-affected towns, closed schools and halted the carnival in Venice, where there were two cases.

Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Afghanistan and Iraq reported their first new coronavirus cases, all in people who had been to Iran where the toll was 12 dead and 61 infected. Most of the Iran infections were in the Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Qom.

Asian share markets were trying to stabilize on Tuesday after the surge of cases outside mainland China and fears of a pandemic sent global markets into a tailspin.

Some dealers cited a Wall Street Journal report on a possible vaccine as helping sentiment, though human tests of the drug might not start until the end of April.

European equities markets suffered their biggest slump since mid-2016 on Monday, gold soared to a seven-year high and oil tumbled 4%.

The Dow Jones Industrials and S&P 500 posted their biggest one-day percentage drops in over two years and Nasdaq had one of its worst days since December 2018.

Wall Street’s fear gauge, the CBOE Volatility Index , jumped to a one-year high.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the word “pandemic” did yet not fit the facts.

“We must focus on containment while preparing for a potential pandemic,” he told reporters in Geneva, adding that the world was not witnessing an uncontained spread or large-scale deaths.

Outside mainland China, the outbreak has spread to about 29 countries and territories, with a death toll of about two dozen, according to a Reuters tally.

source: Reuters

Arianespace’s Vega rocket is on track to conduct its Return To Flight (RTF) mission in March after stacking operations began at the European Spaceport in French Guiana. Vega suffered the first failure of her career during the July 2019 launch of Falcon Eye-1.

Vega’s return will involve the lofting of numerous satellites, with the manifest of passengers growing as the mission heads towards a March 23 launch date.

The SSMS POC flight is a rideshare mission, involving tens of satellites ranging from 10 Astrocast 1 smallsats to a Royal Thai Air Force CubeSat and numerous Dove spacecraft.

Planet Labs was the latest to confirm their involvement with the launch.

“Following on the heels of the successful launch of Flock 4p in November of 2019, Planet’s first launch of 2020 will be on Arianespace’s European-made Vega rocket, a first for the Doves. The 26 SuperDoves, Flock 4v, are scheduled for lift-off on March 23, 2020 from the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana,” noted the company.

The 26 Flock 4v SuperDoves will be split into two batches on the same launch, with 14 of them will be housed inside and deployed from ISL’s QuadPack deployers and the remaining 12 will be deployed from D-Orbit’s InOrbit Now (ION) free-flying deployment platform.

Planet Labs also noted over 200 Dove satellites have successfully deployed from ISL’s QuadPack system, although this will be the first flight of D-Orbit’s ION system, and those satellites will be deployed over a handful of weeks.

Signs the launch was on track came via photos showing stacking operations taking place at the launch center.

Teeth damaged by trauma or disease require treatment to look and feel as good as new, but the restorative materials available to dentists don't always last and can be costly for patients.

Fernando Luis Esteban Florez, an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, College of Dentistry, is conducting research at the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) at the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to try to change that.

Neutron scattering at ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor was used to study the effectiveness of dental implants. Neutron imaging radiographs illustrate restorative materials bound to the tooth structure via Esteban Florez’s experimental adhesive resins, which contain differing concentrations of metal oxide nanoparticles. Credit: ORNL/Hassina Bilheux

Current dental biomaterials have limitations, according to Esteban Florez. New materials will not only be able to bond more tightly with the enamel structures they're designed to repair but also repel the bacteria that attack fillings and implants.

"In fact, the replacement of failed restorations accounts for 70% of dentists' chair time at a yearly cost of $298 billion worldwide," said Esteban Florez. "Our focus is to create smart restorative dental biomaterials that are less expensive and do not need to be replaced every five to seven years."

Neutron scattering research provides insights that may lead to the development of novel materials for implant dentistry, he said.

"A dental implant can cost as much as $4,500 per tooth. And that doesn't include the cost of repairs should the procedure fail; therefore, developing biocompatible polymer- or ceramic-based materials to replace those metals could greatly benefit patients," he said. "Creating novel materials that are more biocompatible with the human body would be a great asset to dentistry, and neutrons may be the perfect tool for assessing potential materials for this purpose."

Esteban Florez already has performed neutron scattering experiments at ORNL to explore the surface-modification and functionalization of metal oxide nanoparticles in experimental dental adhesive resins. The nanoparticles have long-term antibacterial and bioactive properties. Now, he wants to see if neutron scattering can help him better understand exactly how different restorative materials interact with enamel, dentin, and collagen within teeth.

Specifically, he used the IMAGING instrument at HFIR to study a small collection of human teeth that had been restored either with a dental amalgam, or a resin composite. These materials were bound to the sample tooth structures using his experimental dental adhesive resins, which contain varying concentrations of metal oxide nanoparticles.

He is now working with Hassina Bilheux, senior neutron imaging scientist at HFIR, to reconstruct his data into three-dimensional renderings he can use to observe the interactions between restorative dental biomaterials and tooth structures.

"Neutron tomography is a powerful technique for exploring the internal aspects of organic materials such as biological tissues. These samples contain a great deal of hydrogen; and since neutrons are particularly sensitive to hydrogen, we can generate very detailed images of their microstructures," said Bilheux.

"Neutrons can be used to probe structures within organic tissues in a nondestructive way and allow me to understand how restorative dental biomaterials interact with the entire tooth system," said Esteban Florez.

Esteban Florez said his research is focused on the development of polymer-based restorative materials with non-leaching and long-term antibacterial and bioactive properties that can be enhanced using visible light irradiation. Once fully developed, these materials hold the promise to kill penetrating bacteria, naturally bond to organic and inorganic components of teeth, and guide the growth of hydroxyapatite (the building blocks of bone and teeth) to seal the tooth/biomaterial interface.

If successful, they will increase the durability of current polymer-based restorative materials and decrease the costs of oral health care.

"There's still a great deal of research to be done on this topic, but we're hopeful that our work will have a significant and positive impact on the field of restorative dentistry," he said.

Finding fossils of creatures that lived millions of years ago is one thing, but some parts of our planet offer scientists the unique opportunity to discover ancient creatures that are essentially frozen in time. Siberia is one such place, and researchers working in the region have discovered all manner of animals that have remained frozen for tens of thousands of years before being uncovered.

Recently, an incredibly well-preserved bird was found locked away in a layer of permafrost in north-eastern Siberia. Scientists analyzed the bird’s remains and found it to be around 46,000 years old. The research was published in
As CNN reports, the bird has been identified as a species of horned lark. By diving into the bird’s genetic information, the scientists studying the remains have linked it to species of lark that are still around today, one of which is often found in northern Russia.

As you might imagine, finding such a perfectly intact specimen after nearly 50,000 years locked away in frozen ground is a rare occurrence, and it gives scientists an exciting glimpse into what the planet was like during the Ice Age.

“The fact that such a small and fragile specimen was near intact also suggests that dirt/mud must have been deposited gradually, or at least that the ground was relatively stable so that the bird’s carcass was preserved in a state very close to its time of death,” Nicolas Dussex, lead author of the research, said in a statement. Going forward, the scientists plan to dig deeper into the bird’s genome and paint a clearer picture of how it relates to modern species.

If this story sounds somewhat familiar it’s probably because a similar discovery was made in late 2019 in the same region. In November, a tiny puppy was found frozen in the ground in Siberia, and researchers believed it was around 18,000 years old.

This is the first animal on Earth proven to have no mitochondrial genome and no way to breathe.

Spores of the parasite H. salminicola swim under a microscope. Those alien "eyes" are actually stinger cells, one of the few features this organism hasn't evolved away. (Image: © Stephen Douglas Atkinson)

When the parasitic blob known as Henneguya salminicola sinks its spores into the flesh of a tasty fish, it does not hold its breath. That's because H. salminicola is the only known animal on Earth that does not breathe.

If you spent your entire life infecting the dense muscle tissues of fish and underwater worms, like H. salminicola does, you probably wouldn't have much opportunity to turn oxygen into energy, either. However, all other multicellular animals on Earth whose DNA scientists have had a chance to sequence have some respiratory genes. According to a new study published today (Feb. 24) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, H. salminicola's genome does not.

A microscopic and genomic analysis of the creature revealed that, unlike all other known animals, H. salminicola has no mitochondrial genome — the small but crucial portion of DNA stored in an animal's mitochondria that includes genes responsible for respiration.

While that absence is a biological first, it's weirdly in character for the quirky parasite. Like many parasites from the myxozoa class — a group of simple, microscopic swimmers distantly related to jellyfish — H. salminicola may have once looked a lot more like its jelly ancestors but has gradually evolved to have just about none of its multicellular traits.

"They have lost their tissue, their nerve cells, their muscles, everything," study co-author Dorothée Huchon, an evolutionary biologist at Tel Aviv University in Israel, told Live Science. "And now we find they have lost their ability to breathe."

That genetic downsizing likely poses an advantage for parasites like H. salminicola, which thrive by reproducing as quickly and as often as possible, Huchon said. Myxozoans have some of the smallest genomes in the animal kingdom, making them highly effective. While H. salminicola is relatively benign, other parasites in the family have infected and wiped out entire fishery stocks, Huchon said, making them a threat to both fish and commercial fishers.

When seen popping out of the flesh of a fish in white, oozing bubbles, H. salminicola looks like a series of unicellular blobs. (Fish infected with H. salminicola are said to have "tapioca disease.") Only the parasite's spores show any complexity. When seen under a microscope, these spores look like bluish sperm cells with two tails and a pair of oval, alien-like eyes.

Those "eyes" are actually stinging cells, Huchon said, which contain no venom but help the parasite latch onto a host when needed. These stinging cells are some of the only features that H. salminicola has not ditched on its journey of evolutionary downsizing.

"Animals are always thought to be multicellular organisms with lots of genes that evolve to be more and more complex," Huchon said. "Here, we see an organism that goes completely the opposite way. They have evolved to be almost unicellular."

So, how does H. salminicola acquire energy if it does not breathe? The researchers aren't totally sure. According to Huchon, other similar parasites have proteins that can import ATP (basically, molecular energy) directly from their infected hosts. H. salminicola could be doing something similar, but further study of the oddball organism's genome — what's left of it, anyway — is required to find out.



Laurent Hébert-Dufresne, a complexity scientist at the University of Vermont. He co-led new research, published in the journal Nature Physics, that shows how diseases such as Ebola, influenza, and coronavirus may interact with other diseases and social behavior in ways that makes predicting their path more complex than many current models would suggest. Credit: Joshua Brown/UVM

Interacting contagious diseases like influenza and pneumonia follow the same complex spreading patterns as social trends. This new finding, published in Nature Physics, could lead to better tracking and intervention when multiple diseases spread through a population at the same time.

"The interplay of diseases is the norm rather than the exception," says Laurent Hébert-Dufresne, a complexity scientist at the University of Vermont who co-led the new research. "And yet when we model them, it's almost always one disease in isolation."

When disease modelers map an epidemic like coronavirus, Ebola, or the flu, they traditionally treat them as isolated pathogens. Under these so-called "simple" dynamics, it's generally accepted that the forecasted size of the epidemic will be proportional to the rate of transmission.

But according to Hébert-Dufresne, professor of computer science at University of Vermont, and his co-authors, Samuel Scarpino at Northeastern University, and Jean-Gabriel Young at the University of Michigan, the presence of even one more contagion in the population can dramatically shift the dynamics from simple to complex. Once this shift occurs, microscopic changes in the transmission rate trigger macroscopic jumps in the expected epidemic size—a spreading pattern that social scientists have observed in the adoption of innovative technologies, slang, and other contagious social behaviors.

Star Wars and sneezing

The researchers first began to compare biological contagions and social contagions in 2015 at the Santa Fe Institute, a transdisciplinary research center where Hébert-Dufresne was modeling how social trends propagate through reinforcement. The classic example of social reinforcement, according to Hébert-Dufresne, is "the phenomenon through which ten friends telling you to go see the new Star Wars movie is different from one friend telling you the same thing ten times."

Like multiple friends reinforcing a social behavior, the presence of multiple diseases makes an infection more contagious that it would be on its own. Biological diseases can reinforce each other through symptoms, as in the case of a sneezing virus that helps to spread a second infection like pneumonia. Or, one disease can weaken the host's immune system, making the population more susceptible to a second, third, or additional contagion.

When diseases reinforce each other, they rapidly accelerate through the population, then fizzle out as they run out of new hosts. According to the researchers' model, the same super-exponential pattern characterizes the spread of social trends, like viral videos, which are widely shared and then cease to be relevant after a critical mass of people have viewed them.

Dengue and antivaxxers

A second important finding is that the same complex patterns that arise for interacting diseases also arise when a biological contagion interacts with a social contagion, as in the example of a virus spreading in conjunction with an anti-vaccination campaign. The paper details a 2005 Dengue outbreak in Puerto Rico, and Hébert-Dufresne cites an additional example of a 2017 Dengue outbreak in Puerto Rico where failure to accurately account for the interplay of Dengue strains reduced the effectiveness of a Dengue vaccine. This in turn sparked an anti-vaccination movement—a social epidemic—that ultimately led to the resurgence of measles—a second biological epidemic. It's a classic example of real-world complexity, where unintended consequences emerge from many interacting phenomena.

Although it is fascinating to observe a universal spreading pattern across complex social and biological systems, Hébert-Dufresne notes that it also presents a unique challenge. "Looking at the data alone, we could observe this complex pattern and not know whether a deadly epidemic was being reinforced by a virus, or by a social phenomenon, or some combination."

"We hope this will open the door for more exciting models that capture the dynamics of multiple contagions," he says. "Our work shows that it is time for the disease modeling community to move beyond looking at contagions individually."

And the new study may shed light on the spread of coronavirus. "When making predictions, such as for the current coronavirus outbreak occurring in a flu season, it becomes important to know which cases have multiple infections and which patients are in the hospital with flu—but scared because of coronavirus," Hébert-Dufresne says. "The interactions can be biological or social in nature, but they all matter."

Scientists discovered dozens of new coral species on a recent voyage along the length of the Great Barrier Reef.

A team of scientists completed a 21-day trip from the Capricorn Bunkers off Gladstone to Thursday Island in the Torres Strait late last year.

“On almost every dive we were finding species that aren’t in the books,” said Professor Andrew Baird from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University (Coral CoE at JCU).

Scientists from Queensland Museum (QM), University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia were also part of the expedition.

Prof Baird said the discoveries are timely as recent molecular advances reveal that much of the existing classification of corals is deeply flawed.


“One hard coral species, Acropora hyacinthus, was previously thought to be found on almost every reef crest along the length of the reef,” Prof Baird said.

But the recent molecular advances plus a closer look at the morphology, or shape of the coral, has overturned this assumption.

“What we once thought was a single species is potentially five different species—some with a very limited geographical range,” Prof Baird said.

The team also found a number of species not previously seen on the reef.

“The new species we found means that the biodiversity of some groups is up to three times higher than we had thought,” said Dr Francesca Benzoni, from KAUST.

JCU PhD student Jeremy Horowitz was on the voyage. He said much of what they found was new.

“Despite the economic and ecological importance of black corals this is the first survey of this group on the reef. It’s amazing how much remains unknown and how much more work needs to be done,” Mr Horowitz said.

The end of the voyage is just the beginning of a lot of hard work to formally describe this treasure trove.

“The volume of new material is overwhelming,” Prof Baird said.

“We need more trained taxonomists—biologists who can group organisms into categories—and more funds to reassess the taxonomy of common groups found on the reef, including hard, soft and black corals.”

“Australia is the custodian of the world’s largest coral reef system and as a World Heritage-listed site it is the nation’s obligation to manage it well.”

“Understanding the diversity of species on the reef underpins virtually every area of research and conservation,” Prof Baird said.

“It is vital to ensure we have a robust understanding of species diversity and their distributions, but taxonomy isn’t currently a research priority. This has to change.”

“You can’t manage the Great Barrier Reef if you don’t know how many species you have, how common they are, or where they are found.”


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NASA’s InSight lander has detected hundreds of “marsquakes” on Mars, including about 20 tremors that were relatively significant. Compared to quakes here on Earth, the marsquakes were pretty puny, but the new data could provide planetary scientists with more information about the interior of Mars.

The initial results of the mission were published on Monday in the journals Nature Geoscience and Nature Communications. The lander, which touched down on Mars via supersonic parachute in 2018, detected its first possible marsquake in April 2019.

Many of the quakes that InSight detected were small enough that they probably wouldn’t be felt if they happened on Earth, Philippe Lognonné, principal investigator for one of the lander’s instruments, said in a press conference. “Mars is a place where we can probably say the seismic hazard is extremely low,” Lognonné added. “At least at this time.”

The 24 largest quakes discussed in the paper only reached a magnitude 3 or 4, which on Earth, might be powerful enough to be felt as a rumble on the ground but usually aren’t strong enough to cause serious damage. But unlike on Earth, where quakes can happen closer to the surface, it appears that the marsquakes InSight detected tended to originate far deeper in the planet (30 to 50 kilometers). The deeper the quake, the less shaking is felt on the surface.

The researchers had hoped to register larger quakes, which would have given them a more detailed look at the interior of the planet — and even potentially the core — but that hasn’t happened yet.

“The general cause of marsquakes is the long-term cooling of the planet,” Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator, said in a press call on Friday. The interior of Mars, like Earth, has been cooling down since it was formed. As the planet cools down, Banerdt says, it contracts and the brittle crust of the planet cracks, causing the surface to shudder.

That’s the general outlook, but the specific cause of each quake is still unknown. “The details of the particular mechanisms for these quakes is still for us a mystery,” Banerdt says. “We don’t have any conclusions of the mechanisms on any individual quakes yet.”

They may not know what drives each quake, but they've measured a lot of them. In the papers, the authors discuss data from 174 marsquakes collected before September 30th, 2019. Since then, the instrument on board InSight that measures quakes has detected about 450 rumblings. NASA says the “vast majority” of these are probably quakes.

Other sensors were also working while InSight’s seismometer was registering quakes. One detected thousands of whirlwinds near the lander, while another recorded strong magnetic signals coming from underground rocks. Another instrument, a self-hammering probe that was supposed to measure the interior temperature of Mars, hasn’t been as lucky. It was supposed to burrow into the surface, but it encountered trouble last fall when it popped back out of the planet. As a last-ditch attempt to salvage this part of the mission, NASA plans to try to push the probe into the surface in late February and early March.

InSight’s mission lasts for nearly another year, and the team here on Earth will continue to gather more data about the inner workings of the Red Planet until then.


Business & Entrepreneurship / Re: Building on our success
« on: March 31, 2019, 06:05:00 PM »
Thanks for your Very Nice and Informative post.

Business & Entrepreneurship / Re: In need of reform
« on: March 31, 2019, 06:04:43 PM »
Thanks for your Very Nice and Informative post.

Business & Entrepreneurship / Re: Do we really need more vehicles?
« on: March 31, 2019, 06:04:15 PM »
Very Nice and Informative post.

Business & Entrepreneurship / Re: When students can teach
« on: March 31, 2019, 06:04:03 PM »
Very Nice and Informative post.

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