Washington, June 21 (Xinhua/UNB) -- An international team led by Chinese scientists explained why deer are less likely to develop cancer, how reindeer adapt to the harsh environments, and how they produce more Vitamin D. The answers could have far-reaching medical implications.
A trio of reports published on Thursday in the journal Science mapped out the genomes of 44 ruminant species, a group of multi-stomached mammals including deer, cow and goat.
Researchers from more than 20 organizations including Northwestern Polytechnical University, Northwest A&F University and Chinese Academy of Sciences published their initial findings with the Ruminant Genome Project, producing an evolutionary tree of the ruminant group.
They also found significant declines in ruminant populations nearly 100,000 years ago when humans migrated out of Africa, revealing early humans' impact on ruminant species.
In the second paper, the researchers used the genome map and found the growth of antlers -- as much as 2.5 centimeters a day -- was only made possible as those headgear-bearing ruminant animals utilized cancer-linked molecular pathways and highly expressed tumor suppressing genes. The findings lend a clue to a new protective mechanism against cancer.
Reindeer thriving in harsh Arctic conditions like extreme cold and prolonged periods of light and dark have been scrutinized in the third paper. They turned out to acquire a gene mutation that deprives the reindeer of the circadian clocks so that they can live without sleeping disorder through long nights and long days.
It may inspire scientists to design a drug to cure sleeping diseases or help astronauts adjust their biological clocks during space travel.
Also, the researchers revealed how supercharged Vitamin D-using genes in reindeer were evolved to help them absorb more calcium, which made the antler rapid growth possible. This can be a potential molecular mechanism used to treat brittle-bone disease, according to the study.
The findings provide vital insights into genetic adaptations that are responsible for ruminant animals' biological success, said Stanford researcher Yang Yunzhi, who wrote a perspective article in the journal to review the three papers.
"Understanding the evolution of ruminant animals can improve our research in regenerative medicine, tumor biology, sleeping disorder and osteoporosis, and it may also help us breed new livestock in the future," the paper's corresponding author Wang Wen, researcher of Kunming Institute of Zoology under Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Xinhua.
Alaska, June 20 (AP/UNB) — It's not America's Top 40, but it's a cutting edge song.
Federal marine biologists for the first time have recorded singing by one of the rarest whales on the planet, the North Pacific right whale.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers used moored acoustic recorders to capture repeated patterns of calls made by male North Pacific right whales.
It's the first time right whale songs in any population have been documented, said NOAA Fisheries marine biologist Jessica Crance on Wednesday from Seattle. She spoke to southern right whale and North Atlantic right whale experts to confirm that singing had not previously been documented.
Researchers detected four distinct songs over eight years at five locations in the Bering Sea off Alaska's southwest coast, Crance said.
Only about 30 of the animals remain. Whalers nearly wiped out the slow-moving whales, which remain buoyant after they are killed.
Humpback, bowhead and other whales are known for their songs. During a field survey in 2010, NOAA Fisheries researchers first noted weird sound patterns they could not identify.
"We thought it might be a right whale, but we didn't get visual confirmation," Crance said.
The researchers reviewed long-term data from acoustic recorders and noted repeating sound patterns. Seven years of frustration followed, Crance said, as they could never positively confirm that the sounds were coming from the scarce right whales.
The breakthrough came in 2017. Crance and her team heard one of the whale songs in real time from the acoustic recorders on buoys. Researchers can receive sound from up to four buoys at once and point them toward the source. That allowed them to triangulate the position of the whale making the song. From previous surveys and genetic studies, they identified it as a male right whale.
"It was great to finally get the confirmation when we were out at sea that yes, it is a right whale, and it's a male that's singing," Crance said.
Right whales make a variety of sounds. A predominant call sounds like a gunshot. They also make upcalls, downcalls, moans, screams and warbles.
To be a song, the sounds have to contain rhythmically patterned series of units produced in a consistent manner to form clearly recognizable patterns, Crance wrote in a paper for the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.
"It's a series of sounds that are reproduced in a stereotyped, regular manner that are repeated over and over," she said.
Structurally, in timing and number of sounds, right whale songs resemble those of the Atlantic walrus, she said. Both are filled with impulses, with walruses substituting knocking sounds for gunshot sounds.
The discovery almost raises more questions than answers, Crance said.
"Is it the only population to sing or does it occur in other species and populations?" she asked.
"It could be that there are so few of them left, they feel the need to call more frequently or sing," Crance said. "This is entirely speculation, but perhaps they're copying humpbacks, a little bit. Our right whales are frequently seen associating with humpbacks."
The remote Bering Sea makes studying right whales a challenge. Their range remains unknown. Some years NOAA Fisheries researchers see no right whales on their summer voyages. They spotted what they believe was a juvenile in 2017 but the last Bering Sea mother-calf pairing was seen in 2004, Crance said.
A singing male may be trying to attract a female, she said.
"With only 30 animals, finding a mate must be difficult," Crance said.
New York, Jun 8 (AP/UNB) — You've heard about the International Space Station for years. Want to visit?
NASA announced Friday that the orbiting outpost is now open for business to private citizens, with the first visit expected to be as early as next year.
There is a catch, though: You'll need to raise your own cash, and it won't be cheap.
A round-trip ticket likely will cost an estimated $58 million. And accommodations will run about $35,000 per night, for trips of up to 30 days long, said NASA's chief financial officer Jeff DeWit.
"But it won't come with any Hilton or Marriott points," DeWit said during a news conference at Nasdaq in New York City.
Travelers don't have to be U.S. citizens. People from other countries will also be eligible, as long as they fly on a U.S.-operated rocket.
Since the space shuttle program ended in 2011, NASA has flown astronauts to the space station aboard Russian rockets. The agency has contracted with SpaceX and Boeing to fly future crewed missions to the space station. Private citizens would have to make travel arrangements with those private companies to reach orbit.
"If a private astronaut is on station, they will have to pay us while they're there for the life support, the food, the water, things of that nature," DeWit added.
Depending on the market, the agency will allow up to two visitors per year, for now. And the private astronauts will have to meet the same medical standards, training and certification procedures as regular crew members.
The space station has welcomed tourists before by way of Russian rockets. In 2001, California businessman Dennis Tito became the first visitor by paying for a journey and several others have followed.
Friday's announcement marks the first time NASA is allowing private astronauts on board. The space agency will not be selling directly to customers. Instead it will charge private companies that ferry passengers, which can pass on the costs to visitors, NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz said in an email.
The program is part of NASA's efforts to open the station to private industries, which the agency hopes will inherit the orbiting platform someday.
Eventually, the space station will become too expensive for the government to maintain, said Bill Gerstenmaier, a NASA associate administrator. So the idea is to let the private sector start using the station now and perhaps eventually take it over, he said.
The NASA officials said some revenue from commercial activities will help the agency focus its resources on returning to the moon in 2024, a major goal of the Trump administration. The agency said this will also reduce the cost to U.S. taxpayers for this next lunar mission.
New Delhi, May 22 (Xinhua/UNB) -- The Indian space research organisation (ISRO) Wednesday morning successfully launched a radar imaging earth observation satellite RISAT-2B, officials said.
The satellite was launched from Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) in Sriharikota, off the Bay of Bengal coast located in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh at 5:30 a.m. local time.
The launch of satellite was broadcast live from the center.
Television images showed the rocket blasted off from the launch pad emitting a bright orange flame from its tail and moving upwards in the sky.
Officials said RISAT-2B was placed into an orbit of 555 km at an inclination of 37 degree.
Chairman ISRO Kailasavadivoo Sivan was monitoring the launch along with top scientists.
Following the launch, Sivan congratulated the fellow scientists and lauded their role in launching the satellite during his address at the centre.
Cape Canaveral, May 15 (AP/UNB) — NASA's chief said Tuesday that the Trump administration's proposed $1.6 billion budget boost is a "good start" for getting astronauts back on the moon within five years.
Administrator Jim Bridenstine addressed employees a day after the White House introduced the budget amendment.
During an hourlong town hall from NASA headquarters in Washington, Bridenstine said $1.6 billion is enough for 2020. But more money will be needed in the years ahead to land "the next man and the first woman" at the south pole of the moon by 2024.
NASA is once again turning to Greek mythology for the name of the project. It's being called Artemis, after the twin sister of Apollo. Apollo was the name of NASA's moonshot program that, 50 years ago this summer, achieved the first manned lunar landing.
NASA landed 12 men on the moon over six Apollo missions. For the next go-around, the space agency wants its moonwalkers to reflect today's more diverse astronaut corps, thus the name of Apollo's sister. Artemis was goddess of the hunt as well as the moon.
"I have a daughter, she's 11 years old, and I want her to see herself in the same position that our current, very diverse astronaut corps currently sees itself, having the opportunity to go to the moon," Bridenstine said. "In the 1960s, young ladies didn't have the opportunity to see themselves in that role. Today, they do."
Bridenstine said he's heartened by the fact that the extra money, if approved by Congress, will come from outside NASA, rather than being taken from the International Space Station or other departments within the space agency.
The administration seeks to use money from Pell Grants for college education, for NASA's new spending.
Bridenstine said he's already heard criticism of how the new spending will be "dead on arrival" in Congress because neither NASA nor the administration worked in advance with Congress on it. As a former congressman from Oklahoma, he said he knows how the process works and assured the space agency's 17,000 employees that would not be the case.
"This is a good out-of-the-gate first start, a very honest proposal from the administration that keeps us all together, moving forward," he said.
He also plugged NASA's ongoing Space Launch System megarocket and Orion spacecraft, both under development, and a proposed outpost in the vicinity of the moon, called Gateway.
A few hours later, Bridenstine found himself before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, talking up the Artemis moon plan. The space agency envisions that the effort will involve private industry as well as other countries. Just last week, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos introduced a mock-up of his own planned lunar lander for his Blue Origin space company.
In March, Vice President Mike Pence urged NASA to accelerate its moon-landing program, moving it up from 2028 to 2024.
NASA has flip-flopped between the moon and Mars, a victim of changing presidential administrations. More recently, President Barack Obama targeted Mars as astronauts' next big destination, while President Donald Trump has favored the moon.