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Giant tortoise thought extinct for 100+ years found on Galapagos island

giant tortoise
© Reuters/Ints Kainins
Galapagos Giant Tortoise
A species of giant tortoise thought to have gone extinct over a century ago was found on the Galapagos island of Fernandina, stunning researchers and bringing hope to conservationists.

According to Ecuador's Ministry of the Environment, the female Fernandina Giant Tortoise found Sunday is likely over 100 years old. While genetic tests are still being conducted, the experts at the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative (GTRI) say they have made the first confirmed sighting of the species since 1906.

Cell Phone

World's most innovative company: Chinese app beats Apple and Amazon

Chengdu, China Fireworks
© Global Look Press
Fireworks in celebration of the Lantern Festival in Chengdu, China
The world's two most innovative companies this year are both from Asia, with Chinese tech platform Meituan Dianping unseating 2018 champion and Silicon Valley giant Apple, according to ratings by US business magazine Fast Company.

While Washington keeps saying that Beijing is stealing its technology and uses this mantra to justify the ongoing trade war, the Chinese "transactional super app" claimed top spot among 50 of the most innovative companies in the world. It is the first time that a non-US company has emerged on top since Fast Company started running the rankings in 2008.

In its "definitive list of who matters in 2019," Fast Company gave the crown to Beijing-based Meituan Dianping, which was making its debut in the ratings. The app-based service expedites the booking and delivery of services such as hotel stays, movie tickets, and food.

The Chinese platform was followed by Singapore-based Grab, which forced American rival Uber out of the region in 2018 and acquired its local operations. The company now not only includes ride-hailing, ride-sharing services, food delivery and travel booking, but also offers its 130 million users financial services and will soon add healthcare services. Grab hit $1 billion in revenue last year and is likely to expand further after it managed to attract more than $3 billion in fresh funding.


Chinese jet mirrors x-ray tech only seen in US jets

Chinese jet
© Chaoji Da Benying
After months of complaints by the US administration that China is stealing intellectual property from companies in the United States, a picture of a Chinese fighter jet has been publicized on social media featuring key technology systems developed for the American F-35.

Critics have previously noted that the Chengdu J-20 is all but a mirror copy of Lockheed Martin's F-22, an air superiority aircraft that is no longer in production. According to a report by the Washington Times, an anonymous user recently posted new images of the J-20 on Chinese military websites showing two key technologies that have long been touted as unique features of US fighter aircraft.

One of the technologies that apparently originated in the United States was the Distributed Aperture System (DAS), which is supposed to be one of the F-35's most important sensors (the aircraft itself is often colloquially described as a flying computer). DAS has been billed by advocates as a revolutionary capability allowing a pilot to see exactly what's going on 360 degrees around the aircraft - all but eliminating blind spots.


Scientists succeed in making synthetic DNA with 4 additional letters

synthetic dna
© Indiana University School of Medicine
Earth might have a dizzying array of life forms, but our biology ultimately remains a solitary data point - we simply don't have a reference for life based on DNA different from our own. Now, scientists have taken matters into their hands to push the boundaries on what life could be like.

Research funded by NASA and led by the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in the US has led to the creation of an entirely new flavour of the DNA double helix, one that has an additional four nucleotide bases.

It's being called hachimoji DNA (from the Japanese words for 'eight letters') and it includes two new pairs to add to the existing partnerships of adenine (A) paired with thymine (T), and guanine (G) with cytosine (C).

This work to expand on nature's own genetic recipe might sound a little familiar. The same scientists already successfully squeezed in two new letters in 2011. Only last year yet another version of an extended alphabet, also with six letters, was made to function inside a living organism.

Now, in what might seem like a case of overachievement, researchers have gone back to the drawing board to develop even more non-standard nucleotides.

They have a purpose for doubling the number of codes in the recipe book, though.


Japanese spacecraft Japan probe Hayabusa2 touches down on asteroid, collects samples

japan land asteroid
© JAXA via Associated Press
The asteroid is about 900 metres in diameter and 280 million kilometres from Earth
The spacecraft is on a mission to collect material that could provide clues to the origin of life and the solar system.

17 hours ago The asteroid is about 900 metres in diameter and 280 million kilometres from Earth [JAXA via AP] more on Japan

A Japanese spacecraft has successfully touched down on an asteroid some 280 million kilometres from the Earth, on a mission to collect material that could provide clues about the origin of life and the solar system.

Blue Planet

World's biggest bee feared extinct found alive on island in Indonesia

Wallace's giant be
© Clay Bolt
A single female Wallace's giant bee was found
The world's biggest bee has been re-discovered, after decades thought lost to science.

The giant bee - which is as long as an adult's thumb - was found on a little-explored Indonesian island.

After days of searching, wildlife experts found a single live female, which they photographed and filmed.

Known as Wallace's giant bee, the insect is named after the British naturalist and explorer Alfred Russel Wallace, who described it in 1858.

Scientists found several specimens in 1981 on three Indonesia islands. It has not been seen alive since, although there was a report last year of two bee specimens being offered for sale online.

Comment: These rediscoveries are particularly important considering the documented collapse of insects elsewhere in the world. Are we seeing a resurgence of some and the extinction of others or was this just a lucky find? Plummeting insect numbers 'threaten global collapse of nature'

See also:


China's CRISPR twins might have had their brains inadvertently enhanced

New research suggests that a controversial gene-editing experiment to make children resistant to HIV may also have enhanced their ability to learn and form memories.

The brains of two genetically edited girls born in China last year may have been changed in ways that enhance cognition and memory, scientists say.

The twins, called Lulu and Nana, reportedly had their genes modified before birth by a Chinese scientific team using the new editing tool CRISPR. The goal was to make the girls immune to infection by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Now, new research shows that the same alteration introduced into the girls' DNA, deletion of a gene called CCR5, not only makes mice smarter but also improves human brain recovery after stroke, and could be linked to greater success in school.

"The answer is likely yes, it did affect their brains," says Alcino J. Silva, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, whose lab uncovered a major new role for the CCR5 gene in memory and the brain's ability to form new connections.

Comment: See also: Entirely new form of communication observed in the brain: non-linear information transfer via self-propagating electric fields


Chinese state news agency unveils its first female AI anchor modeled after a human presenter

female AI anchor

China's state-run press agency Xinhua on Tuesday unveiled its first female AI anchor, Xin Xiaomeng, who will join its growing team of virtual presenters
China's state-run press agency has welcomed its first female AI anchor who will join its growing team of virtual presenters.

The female AI newsreader will make her professional debut during the upcoming meetings of the country's national legislature and top political advisory body in March, according to Xinhua at a press conference on Tuesday.

Modelled after the agency's flesh-and-blood journalist Qu Meng, the AI newsreader was jointly developed by Xinhua and search engine company Sogou.com and can 'read texts as naturally as a professional anchor'.

'Hello everyone, I am the world's first female AI presenter developed by Xinhua News Agency and Sougu. My name is Xin Xiaomeng,' says the journalist in an introductory video.

She joins the digital doppelgangers of English-language anchor Zhang Zhao and his Chinese-language counterpart Qiu Hao, who were unveiled in November during the 2018 World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province.


Details of how proteins evolve finally solved? Not so fast

Christina Cheng, University of Illinois
© L. Brian Stauffer, via EurekAlert!
Christina Cheng, University of Illinois
How did proteins evolve? It is a difficult question because, setting aside many other problems, the very starting point - the protein-coding gene - is highly complex. A large number of random mutations would seem to be required before you have a functional protein that helps the organism. Too often such problems are solved with vague accounts of "adaptations" and "selection pressure" doing the job.

But this week researchers at the University of Illinois announced ground-breaking research that provides a step-by-step, detailed, description of the evolution of a new protein-coding gene and associated regulatory DNA sequences. The protein in question is a so-called "antifreeze" protein that keeps the blood of Arctic codfish from freezing, and the new research provides the specific sequence of mutations, leading to the new gene.

It would be difficult to underestimate the importance of this research. It finally provides scientific details answering the age-old question of how nature's massive complexity could have arisen. As the paper triumphantly declares, "Here, we report clear evidence and a detailed molecular mechanism for the de novo formation of the northern gadid (codfish) antifreeze glycoprotein (AFGP) gene from a minimal noncoding sequence." Or as lead researcher, professor Christina Cheng, explained, "This paper explains how the antifreeze protein in the northern codfish evolved."


20-year-old SOHO data suggests Earth's atmosphere stretches out beyond the MOON

geocorona earth moon
© European Space Agency
Earth's geocorona (the illustration is not to scale).
The outermost part of our planet's atmosphere extends well beyond the lunar orbit - almost twice the distance to the Moon.

A recent discovery based on observations by the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, SOHO, shows that the gaseous layer that wraps around Earth reaches up to 630,000 km away, or 50 times the diameter of our planet.

"The Moon flies through Earth's atmosphere," says Igor Baliukin of Russia's Space Research Institute, lead author of the paper presenting the results.

"We were not aware of it until we dusted off observations made over two decades ago by the SOHO spacecraft."

Where our atmosphere merges into outer space, there is a cloud of hydrogen atoms called the geocorona. One of the spacecraft instruments, SWAN, used its sensitive sensors to trace the hydrogen signature and precisely detect how far the very outskirts of the geocorona are.

Comment: Whoa!