BBC Focus Magazine Philippines
BBC Focus Magazine
Bat-winged dinosaurs could only 'glide clumsily between the trees' - BBC Focus Magazine
Yi qi and Ambopteryx longibrachium struggled to fly, a study has found.
Two tiny dinosaurs species that lived about 160 million years ago struggled to fly despite having bat-like wings, scientists have found. Yi qi and Ambopteryx longibrachium, which roamed the lands in China during the Late Jurassic period, only managed to glide clumsily between the trees. The scientists believe these small dinosaurs, described in the journal iScience, became extinct in a very short period of time as they could not compete with other tree-dwelling dinosaurs and early birds. A reconstruction of Ambopteryx longibrachium in a glide © Gabriel Ugueto/Cell Press Once birds got into the air, these two species were so poorly capable of being in the air that they just got squeezed out, said Dr Thomas Dececchi, assistant professor of biology at Mount Marty University in the US and first author on the study. Maybe you can survive a few million years underperforming but you have predators from the top, competition from the bottom and even some small mammals adding into that, squeezing them out until they disappeared. Both Yi and Ambopteryx were small animals, weighing less than 1kg. Read more about dinosaurs: Researchers say that they are unusual examples of theropod dinosaurs, the group that gave rise to birds. This is because while most theropods were ground-loving carnivores, Yi and Ambopteryx were comfortable in the trees and lived on a diet of insects, seeds and other plants. Previous research has shown that both Yi and Ambopteryx had membranous wings and a styliform, a long and pointed forelimb. Scientists have speculated that membranous wings and elongated forelimb point to a weak flying prowess. To find out more, the researchers examined the fossils of both dinosaurs using a scanning technique known as laser-stimulated fluorescence (LSF). They focused on the soft-tissue details in the fossils that cannot be seen in standard white light. The team then used mathematical models to predict how these birds may have flown, taking into account their wingspan, weight and muscle placement. A map of the skeleton and soft tissues of Yi qi © Thomas Alexander Dececchi/iScience They really cant do powered flight, said Prof Dececchi. You have to give them extremely generous assumptions in how they can flap their wings. You basically have to model them as the biggest bat, make them the lightest weight, make them flap as fast as a really fast bird and give them muscles higher than they were likely to have had to cross that threshold. They could glide, but even their gliding wasnt great. But the researchers said gliding did help these dinosaurs stay out of danger at certain times. If an animal needs to travel long distances for whatever reason, gliding costs a bit more energy at the start but its faster, Prof Dececchi said. It can also be used as an escape hatch. Its not a great thing to do but sometimes its a choice between losing a bit of energy and being eaten. Yi qi © Emily Willoughby/Trends in Ecology and Evolution/PA According to Prof Dececchi and his team, the findings support the general consensus that dinosaurs evolved flight in several different ways before modern birds evolved. They said both Yi and Ambopteryx show a unique but failed flight architecture of non-avialan theropods which may have contributed to their extinction. Once they were put under pressure, they just lost their space, Prof Dececchi added. They couldnt win on the ground. They couldnt win in the air. They were done. Reader Q&A: Whats the largest flying animal? Asked by: Sam Crossley, Bradford In terms of wingspan, the largest birds are those adapted for soaring, long-distance flight. The wandering albatross is the current record holder, with a maximum recorded wingspan of 3.7 metres, but prehistoric animals were even more impressive. Pelagornis sandersi, a bird which lived 25 million years ago, had an estimated wingspan of up to 7.4 metres. Like albatrosses, it probably took to the air by running downhill into a headwind, or launching off cliffs. However, even P. sandersi was dwarfed by some of the pterosaurs, those flying reptiles from the time of the dinosaurs. The largest so far discovered is Quetzalcoatlus northropi, which may have weighed more than 200kg with a wingspan of 11 metres. Thats as wide as a Cessna 172 aeroplane! Computer simulations have shown that Q. northropi could soar at 130km/h and stay aloft for up to 10 days. Read more:
Ancient reptile ‘well-preserved’ in stomach of slightly larger reptile - BBC Focus Magazine
A five-metre-long ichthyosaur ate a four-metre-long thalattosaur around 240 million years ago.
A 240 million-year-old fossil has revealed that dolphin-like ichthyosaurs could gobble up animals almost as big as themselves. Its the first direct evidence of megapredation one large animal eating another in the ancient world. Ichthyosaurs were marine reptiles that lived during the time of the dinosaurs. The fossilised ichthyosaur in this new study was uncovered in a quarry in southwestern China. Its an almost complete skeleton, around five metres long, with the bones of another marine reptile called a thalattosaur preserved inside its stomach. Read more about ichthyosaurs: The thalattosaur was around four metres long and more lizard-like than the ichthyosaur, with four paddling limbs. The bones found in the ichthyosaurs belly correspond to the thalattosaurs middle section, from its front to back limbs. Our ichthyosaurs stomach contents werent etched by stomach acid, so it must have died quite soon after ingesting this food item, said study co-author Dr Ryosuke Motani, a paleobiologist at the University of California, Davis. The stomach of the ichthyosaur contains the mid-section of another marine reptile that in life would have been only slight smaller © Da-Yong Jiang et al/ iScience The researchers dont know for sure whether the ichthyosaur killed the animal itself, or whether it was scavenging following another animals kill. But several pieces of evidence suggest that it was a direct kill, including the fact that the nutritious torso and legs were still intact this probably wouldnt have been the case if another predator had got there first. The quarry where the ichthyosaur was uncovered, now part of the Xingyi Geopark Museum © Ryosuke Motani/University of California The ichthyosaur had relatively small, peg-like teeth, which suggest that, rather than neatly slicing through its victim, it would have gripped it before ripping or tearing it apart. Present-day apex predators such as orcas, leopard seals and crocodiles use a similar technique. The ichthyosaurs teeth, with the broken white line indicating the approximate gum line of the upper jaw © Jiang et al/iScience Now, we can say for sure that [ichthyosaurs] did eat large animals, said Motani. This also suggests that megapredation was probably more common than we previously thought. Reader Q&A: Why were dinosaurs so big? Asked by: David Paylor, Oxford Dinosaurs lived during the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous. During these periods, the climate was much warmer, with CO levels over four times higher than today. This produced abundant plant life, and herbivorous dinosaurs may have evolved large bodies partly because there was enough food to support them. But being large also helps to protect against predators. The giant sauropods had to eat plants as fast as they could, to grow big enough to be safe from carnivores like T. rex and Spinosaurus. Meanwhile, the carnivores were becoming larger just so they could tackle their enormous prey. Another possibility is that the herbivorous dinosaurs were ectothermic (cold blooded), and being huge helped them regulate their temperature. This theory is problematic though because evidence increasingly suggests that the large carnivores were endothermic (warm blooded), which means that dinosaurs would have evolved two different metabolic systems, side by side. Read more:
99-million-year-old fight between ‘hell ant’ and its prey preserved in amber - BBC Focus Magazine
Researchers say the only way prey could be captured in this position is for the ant's mouthparts to move in a direction "unlike that of all living ants".
A stunning, 99-million-year-old fossil has captured a hell ant in the act of attacking its prey. It provides rare evidence for how these extinct insects hunted with their scythe-like mandibles and horn-like headgear. The hell ant belongs to a previously identified species called Ceratomyrmex ellenbergeri. It was preserved in amber found in Myanmar (formerly Burma) along with its insect prey, an extinct relative of the cockroach. Read more fossil findings: Like other species of hell ant, Ceratomyrmex sports a pair of deadly mandibles that snap upwards in a vertical motion, unlike the mandibles of modern ants, which move horizontally. Also unlike modern ants, the hell ants have horns protruding from their heads. The new fossil provides direct evidence that hell ants, which are believed to have become extinct along with the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago, used their headgear to hunt, snapping their mandibles to pin their prey against the horn. The hell ant, belonging to a species called Ceratomyrmex ellenbergeri, and its prey were found in Myanmar preserved in amber © Current Biology/2020 Elsevier Inc/NJIT, Chinese Academy of Sciences and University of Rennes, France To see an extinct predator caught in the act of capturing its prey is invaluable, said study leader Dr Phillip Barden at New Jersey Institute of Technology in the US. This fossilised predation confirms our hypothesis for how hell ant mouthparts worked. The only way for prey to be captured in such an arrangement is for the ant mouthparts to move up and downward in a direction unlike that of all living ants and nearly all insects. I had a great time working with @NJIT design students Oliver Budd, Jackson Fordham, and Victor Nzegwu on recreating hell ants in sculpture. Thank you to Martina Decker for leading the team! More models, digital and physical, on the way! pic.twitter.com/vKTBOkYjpZ Phil Barden (@Haidomyrmex) August 6, 2020 Bardens team thinks that the early ancestors of hell ants would have first gained the ability to move their mouthparts vertically, while the diverse horns evolved later. Some hell ant species had horns with serrated teeth, while one species is believed to have impaled its victims on a horn that was reinforced with metal. The team now hopes to find more ancient ant fossils, with the aim of understanding why hell ants went extinct, while their modern-day equivalents thrived. Reader Q&A: Could we bring back an extinct species using DNA, Jurassic Park style? Asked by: Alec Maddocks, via email To de-extinct an animal, you need a source of the animals DNA, which provides the blueprint for making it. DNA is sometimes preserved in fossils, and the oldest DNA extracted to date comes from a 700,000-year-old horse bone found in the Canadian permafrost. However, DNA breaks down over time, and scientists think that its unlikely to be found in any specimen older than a million years. Dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago. No dinosaur DNA, no dinosaurs. Sorry! Some other species, however, are fair game. In 2003, scientists briefly de-extincted a type of goat, called the bucardo. DNA-laden cells, taken from the last living female before she died, were used to create a clone, and the resulting embryo was transplanted into the womb of a living domestic goat. The bucardo was delivered by Caesarean section, but died shortly after birth due to lung defects. The bucardo was therefore the first animal to be de-extincted, but also the first animal to go extinct twice! Other de-extinction projects include attempts to revive an Australian amphibian called the gastric-brooding frog, a North American bird called the passenger pigeon and the one and only woolly mammoth. These use a combination of cloning, gene-editing and stem cell methods, but dont hold your breath waiting for the pitter-patter of tiny feet. De-extinction is still very much in its infancy, so for now, take solace in the fact that dinosaurs never really left us. Birds are their direct descendants, and theyre everywhere. Read more:
Ultra-black deep-sea fish have skin that can absorb 99.9 per cent of light - BBC Focus Magazine
This intense black colour improves their chances of survival.
You might be able to apply black make-up, dye your hair a dusky tone and drape yourself in black leather, but youll never be as goth as some species of deep-sea fish. A team of scientists from Duke University and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History have found that the skin of some deep-sea fish absorbs more than 99.95 per cent of the light that hits them, making them appear ultra-black. In the dark environment in which they live, where even a tiny bit of reflected light can attract unwanted attention, this intense black colour improves their chances of survival. Read more about fish: Duke Universitys Dr Karen Osborn, who co-led the research, first discovered the incredible properties of the fish when she tried to photograph some of the specimens that shed brought up from the deep sea. Despite high-tech equipment, she could not see any detail in the images. It didnt matter how you set up the camera or lighting they [the fish] just sucked up all the light, she said. The researchers found that the secret to the ultra-black colour is melanin the same pigment that gives human skin and hair its colour and its distribution within the fish skin. The melanin is located inside structures called melanosomes, which are densely packed into cells on the fish skin. Thanks to the shape and arrangement of the melanosomes, any light that reaches a melanosome will be redirected towards another in the cell, to absorb it. The ultra-black Pacific blackdragon (Idiacanthus antrostomus), the second-blackest fish studied by the research team © Karen Osborn, Smithsonian These pigment-containing structures are packed into the skin cells like a tiny gumball machine, where all of the gumballs are of just the right size and shape to trap light within the machine, said Alexander Davis, a co-author of the study and doctoral student at Duke University. So far, the team have found 16 species of fish that use this method to appear ultra-black in the deep sea. As the species are not closely related, it could be a relatively common strategy. It is thought that engineers could take inspiration from the fish to create ultra-black substances for sensitive optical equipment, which is currently expensive and fiddly to produce. Reader Q&A: What is the darkest human-made substance? Asked by: Kate Clegg, Exeter In 2014, researchers at UK-based Surrey NanoSystems unveiled Vantablack, a coating that absorbs up to 99.96 percent of light that falls onto it. Vantablack is made up of millions of carbon nanotubes barely 200 atoms across, and it can be used to absorb stray light in the sensitive instruments of satellite observatories. When it is applied to ordinary objects, however, it creates the illusion of making them look totally flat. This is because no light reflects off an object coated with Vantablack so its impossible for our eyes to make out any three-dimensional features. You can even buy a watch with a Vantablack dial! Read more:
COVID-19 vaccine ready in first half of 2021 if trials go 'really well' - BBC Focus Magazine
Professor Robin Shattock warned there was ‘no certainty’ that any of the vaccines currently being developed will be successful.
A COVID-19 vaccine could be rolled out across the country in the first half of next year if trials are successful, according to a scientist leading research in the UK. Professor Robin Shattock, who heads a team developing a coronavirus vaccine at Imperial College London, said that enough doses would be available for everyone in the UK if trials go really well. But he warned there was no certainty that any of the coronavirus vaccines currently being developed will be successful, as it is dependent on the level of immunity needed to prevent infection. Read more about a COVID-19 vaccine: Appearing on Sky News Sophy Ridge On Sunday, he said: So we anticipate if everything goes really well that well get an answer as to whether it works by early next year. And we have put in place the infrastructure to make that vaccine for the whole of the UK. So, assuming that the funding is there to purchase that vaccine, we could have that vaccine rolled out across the UK in the first half of next year. Some 15 volunteers have been vaccinated for the trial so far, which will be ramped up to include another 200-300 participants in the coming weeks, he said. Scientists developing a vaccine currently do not know what level of immunity people need to prevent infection, which makes the chance of success difficult to predict, according to Prof Shattock. Professor Robin Shattock © Imperial College London/PA If you only need a very small amount of immunity, I suspect most of the vaccines that are being developed will actually work, but if you need a very strong immune response or particular quality of immune response, well see that actually it will be shaking out to some of these candidates, he told the programme. We hope we will be the candidate, one of the candidates, that is successful, but theres no certainty with any individual approach. Although development is also taking place at the University of Oxford, Prof Shattock said that a vaccine being made available by September feels very optimistic partly due to the number of infections falling in the UK. Read more coronavirus news: Asked if there was a chance a vaccine might not work, he replied: Now I think thats a very low, low risk. I think were very lucky in the UK that we have two very strong candidates, the one from Imperial, the one from Oxford, and so were pretty well placed, but theres still not a certainty that either of those two will work. Due to the urgency of the coronavirus crisis, any vaccine will need to be introduced very cautiously, according to Prof Shattock, as the normal full trials will not take place. I think the wire pressure is actually theres such a push to develop a vaccine that normally, we would study a vaccine for two years before we made it widely available to the general public, he told the programme. And of course, we wont have two years of safety for this vaccine or any of the vaccines that are being developed. And so they still will need to be introduced very cautiously, with long-term follow up, as that pressure to get a vaccine in and to get economies up and running is really very strong. How do scientists develop vaccines for new viruses? Vaccines work by fooling our bodies into thinking that weve been infected by a virus. Our body mounts an immune response, and builds a memory of that virus which will enable us to fight it in the future. Viruses and the immune system interact in complex ways, so there are many different approaches to developing an effective vaccine. The two most common types are inactivated vaccines (which use harmless viruses that have been killed, but which still activate the immune system), and attenuated vaccines (which use live viruses that have been modified so that they trigger an immune response without causing us harm). A more recent development is recombinant vaccines, which involve genetically engineering a less harmful virus so that it includes a small part of the target virus. Our body launches an immune response to the carrier virus, but also to the target virus. Over the past few years, this approach has been used to develop a vaccine (called rVSV-ZEBOV) against the Ebola virus. It consists of a vesicular stomatitis animal virus (which causes flu-like symptoms in humans), engineered to have an outer protein of the Zaire strain of Ebola. Vaccines go through a huge amount of testing to check that they are safe and effective, whether there are any side effects, and what dosage levels are suitable. It usually takes years before a vaccine is commercially available. Sometimes this is too long, and the new Ebola vaccine is being administered under compassionate use terms: it has yet to complete all its formal testing and paperwork, but has been shown to be safe and effective. Something similar may be possible if one of the many groups around the world working on a vaccine for the new strain of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is successful. Read more: