03.10.2022
Liverpool was once the ‘Serengeti of northwest Europe, ancient footprints reveal

Hundreds of ancient footprints found on a beach in Merseyside reveal wolves, lynx and wild boar roamed the area alongside humans before a major decline in biodiversity 5,500 years ago.

The first date back almost 9,000 years and the youngest are about 1,000 years old, researchers claim.

The study reveals how the coastal environment transformed over thousands of years, as sea levels rapidly rose and humans settled permanently by the water.

University of Manchester experts found that the area close to the modern shoreline in Formby was a hub of human and animal activity in the first few thousand years after the last glacial period.

It was such a biodiversity hotspot with large grazers and predators that it has been dubbed a ‘northwest European Serengeti’.

The sandy stretch of the north-west England coast is already known to be home to one of the largest collections of prehistoric animal tracks on Earth.

But now, with the hope of radiocarbon dating, the most species-rich footprint beds at Formby Point have been found to be much older than previously thought.

The beds record a key period in the natural history of Britain from Mesolithic to Medieval times (9,000 to 1,000 years ago).

They show that as global sea levels rose rapidly after the last ice age, humans formed part of rich intertidal ecosystems alongside aurochs, red deer, roe deer, wild boar, and beaver, as well as the predators wolf and lynx.

In the agriculture-based societies that followed, human footprints dominate the Neolithic period and later footprint beds, alongside a striking fall in large mammal species richness.

This, the researchers say, could be the result of several drivers, including habitat shrinkage following sea level rise and the development of agricultural economies, as well as hunting pressures from a growing human population.

The size and shape of one of the human footprints discovered suggest it belonged to a young man — perhaps a teenager.

It features a very distinct protrusion of a bunion on its little toe, which Dr Alison Burns, who spent six years undertaking the field research, said was ‘a tailor’s bunion’.

She added: ‘They were habitually barefoot, so when they sat down, the little toe would have rubbed on the ground.’

In total, there are 31 footprint beds, which point to a period of dramatic change in the area’s ecosystem.

‘Up to about 6,000 years ago, there was a very diverse landscape with all those animals,’ Professor Jamie Woodward, from the University of Manchester, told BBC News.

‘Then after about 5,500 years ago, we see lots of human footprints, some deer and dogs, but not much else.

‘So what we’re seeing – through the footprints – is a landscape transforming with sea-level rise, and also with the arrival of agriculture that probably put a lot more pressure on this ecosystem.’

He added: ‘Assessing the threats to habitat and biodiversity posed by rising sea levels is a key research priority for our times — we need to better understand these processes in both the past and the present.

‘This research shows how sea level rise can transform coastal landscapes and degrade important ecosystems.’

Dr Burns said: ‘The Formby footprint beds form one of the world’s largest known concentrations of prehistoric vertebrate tracks. Well-dated fossil records for this period are absent in the landscapes around the Irish Sea basin.

‘This is the first time that such a faunal history and ecosystem has been reconstructed solely from footprint evidence.’

Footsteps that were taken thousands or even million years ago have left tracks in many parts of Britain’s coastline, which scientists have been able to find, study and turn into a deeper understanding of our ancient history.

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  • 1 час, 43 минуты назад 01.12.2022Science
    Mars megatsunami 3.4 billion years ago may have been caused by an asteroid collision

    A megatsunami on Mars 3.4 billion years ago may have been caused by an asteroid half the size of Kilimanjaro that sparked waves up to 820ft high, new research suggests.

    It is believed the tsunami in an ancient ocean may have shaped the Red Planet’s landscape and left deposits that could hint at whether it was once habitable.

    Researchers think the catastrophic flooding event may have been sparked by an asteroid collision similar to the Chicxulub impact on Earth, which wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

    They analysed maps of Mars’ surface, created by combining images from previous missions to the planet, and identified an impact crater that could have caused the megatsunami.

    This crater – named Pohl – has a diameter of 68 miles (110km) and is located within an area of the northern lowlands that previous studies suggested may have been covered by an ocean, in a region around 393ft (120m) below its proposed sea level.

    Alexis Rodriguez and colleagues at the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona believe Pohl may have formed around 3.4 billion years ago based on its position above and below rocks previously dated to this time.

    They simulated asteroid and comet collisions with this region to test what type of impact that could have created Pohl and whether this could have led to a megatsunami.

    The authors found that the simulations that formed craters with similar dimensions to Pohl were caused by either a 5.5 mile (9 km) wide asteroid encountering strong ground resistance – releasing in 13 million megatons of TNT energy – or a 1.8 mile (3 km) space rock encountering weak ground resistance – releasing 0.5 million megatons of TNT energy.

    The latter is about half the height of Mount Kilimanjaro on Earth.

    As a TNT comparison, the amount of energy released by Tsar Bomba – the most powerful nuclear bomb ever tested – was approximately 57 megatons of TNT energy.

    Both simulated impacts formed craters measuring 68 miles (110 km) in diameter and generated megatsunamis that reached as far as 932 miles (1,500 km) from the centre of the impact site.

    Analysis of the megatsunami caused by the 5.5 mile-wide asteroid impact indicated that this tsunami may have measured up to approximately 820ft (250m) tall on land.

    The authors suggest that the aftermath of the proposed Pohl impact may have had similarities with the Chicxulub impact on Earth, which previous research has suggested occurred within a region 656ft (200m) below sea level, generated a crater with a temporary diameter of 62 miles (100 km), and led to a megatsunami that was 656ft (200m) high on land.

    A previous study by the same researchers also suggested that Mars may have ben hit by two megatsunamis triggered by a pair of meteor impacts millions of years apart.

    Between the two impacts, Mars went through a period of frigid climate change with liquid water turning to ice.

    The first impact sparked a tsunami wave that was composed of liquid water.

    The second, however, saw a tsunami form rounded lobes of ice whose structure suggested that an ancient ocean on Mars was briny.

    Experts believe that if this ocean was the right temperature it could therefore once have harboured life.

    The new research has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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  • 1 час, 43 минуты назад 01.12.2022Science
    Scientists develop a smartwatch for COWS that can monitor their health, reproductivity and location

    From vibrating yoga leggings to temporary smart tattoos, a range of weird and wonderful wearable gadgets have hit the headlines in recent years.

    Now, a study claims that wearables could also be used by cows on the farms of the future.

    Researchers from Southwest Jiaotong University in China have developed a smartwatch that can be used to monitor cows’ health, reproductivity and location.

    ‘Monitoring environmental and health information of cattle can help prevent diseases and improve the efficiency of pasture breeding and management,’ said Zutao Zhang, co-author of the study.

    In the study, the team set out to develop a wearable device that could be used to collect vital information on cows.

    ‘This information can include oxygen concentration, air temperature and humidity, amount of exercise, reproductive cycles, disease, and milk production,’ explained Mr Zhang.

    The smart devices are worn around the cows’ necks and ankles.

    They contain a unique motion enhancement mechanism that uses magnets and a pendulum to amplify small movements the cows make.

    Once captured, the kinetic energy from the cow’s movements is stored in a lithium battery and used to power the device.

    This means the device doesn’t need to be charged like a traditional smartwatch.

    ‘There is a tremendous amount of kinetic energy that can be harvested in cattle’s daily movements, such as walking, running, and even neck movement,’ said co-author Yajia Pan

    To put the device to the test, the researchers tested it on human participants.

    The tests revealed that even a light jog was enough to power temperature measurements on the device.

    Beyond cows, the researchers say that the smart device could have a range of application in huamns.

    This includes in sports monitoring, healthcare, smart homes, and wireless sensor networks.

    ‘Kinetic energy is everywhere in the environment—leaves swaying in the wind, the movement of people and animals, the undulation of waves, the rotation of the earth—these phenomena all contain a lot of kinetic energy,’ said Zhang.

    ‘We shouldn’t let this energy go to waste.’

    Beyond the smartwatch, studies suggest that cows on the farms of the future could also be fed seaweed.

    A study last year found that feeding seaweed to cattle could reduce the amount of methane they produce by up to 80 per cent without affecting the flavour or quality of their meat.

    Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases, trapping 25 times more heat than carbon dioxide and every time a cow burps or passes wind a small amount of the gas is released into the atmosphere – globally this is a serious problem.

    Combined, cattle are responsible for around half of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by livestock globally, the University of California, Davis team explained.

    Now, a type of algae, known as Asparagopsis taxiformis, could be used to tackle this problem after supplements fed to cattle revealed it was able to curb the amount of methane cows’ produce by neutralising enzymes in their digestive system.

    Researchers only tested the seaweed on bulls, not cows, so milk quality or taste hasn’t been tested, but a panel found meat was as tasty as those on classic diets.

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  • 1 час, 43 минуты назад 01.12.2022Science
    Plant-based beef tenderloin with protein fibres that mimic real meat goes on sale for £40

    If you’ve got any vegans coming round for Christmas dinner, you may be frantically wracking your brains to think of something delicious to cook for them.

    The solution could finally be here in the form of a totally vegan beef tenderloin – that is, if you’re willing to splash out £40 ($47) for it.

    The ‘Whole-Cut Loin’ is the latest from Slovenian firm Juicy Marbles, which released its first product, a fake filet mignon, earlier this year.

    It weighs nearly two pounds (756g) and consists primarily of sunflower oil and protein from soy and wheat.

    ‘With nearly 2lbs of 100 per cent plant-based meat, this cut enables anyone from the novice cook to the experienced chef to create steaks, broths, bowls, roasts, and sandwiches,’ the company say.

    The beef tenderloin is an oblong muscle which extends along the rear portion of the cow’s spine within the loin.

    It is widely known as the most tender, and expensive, portion of beef, with cuts from a butcher costing anywhere from £30 to £100.

    While the Juicy Marbles version falls within that price range, no animals were harmed in its creation.

    Instead, its inventors used their ‘Meat-o-Matic 9000’ machine, which layers proteins into linear fibres from the bottom up, mimicking muscle structures.

    This creates a texture that imitates the fibres found in beef tissue, resulting in juicy chunks that ‘softly tear away’.

    These fibres are made of water, soy protein, wheat protein, salt and beetroot powder, the latter giving the deep red colouring of cow flesh.

    Juicy Marbles used sunflower oil to replicate the tenderloin’s marbling – the webbing of creamy white fat that makes beef so juicy.

    The vegan cut comes ‘raw and unseasoned’, so promises to work just as well as real beef in classic dishes like Wellingtons, roasts and steak sandwiches.

    Each 3.5 oz (100 g) portion contains 175 calories and 22.8 g of protein, comparable to that of a Sainsbury’s beef fillet which has 192 calories and 24.5 g of protein.

    The Juicy Marbles website says that you ‘shouldn’t need to be a culinary genius’ to create ‘delicious and satiating meals’ using their product.

    The tenderloin can be cut into chunks, slices or fillets, and cooked in the oven, on a grill or in a frying pan.

    ‘Once you see a royal brown, you have attained the signature Marbles’ crust,’ the meatless food company says.

    The interior of the meat is intended to stay pink, to give the taste and texture of a medium-rare steak.

    Juicy Marbles was launched in the UK last year, and can now count pop star Lizzo as one of its fans after the success of its Thick Cut Filet.

    More people are turning towards vegetarian and vegan diets as they become more aware of the mistreatment of farmed animals and the meat industry’s impact on climate change.

    As a result, many researchers are trying different ways to create meat and dairy substitutes that do not rely on animal products.

    These include meats made from insects, cheese made from peas and sausages grown in the lab from just a few animal cells.

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  • 1 час, 43 минуты назад 01.12.2022Science
    Boy, 5, dies after eating seeds of a plant containing a poison THIRTY times more toxic than ricin

    A 5-year-old boy died within 24 hours of eating the seeds of a highly toxic plant called rosary pea.

    The child’s 7-year old brother, who also ingested the poisonous seeds, was saved by doctors at a hospital in New Delhi, India. He’s now in stable condition.

    Scientifically known as Abrus Precatorius, rosary peas are one of the planet’s most toxic plants. Native to India and warmer parts of Asia, the plant is also seen throughout Florida and Hawaii.

    The plant’s seeds are red with a black spot on one end. The poison, abrin, has been shown to be 30 times more lethal than ricin in tests on mice. It’s so toxic that it is used in medical research due to its potential to kill cancer cells.

    If a person swallows just one rosary pea seed, it’s enough to kill them.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, abrin works by getting inside a person’s cells and preventing them from making the proteins they need. Without these proteins, the cells die. This process eventually harms the entire body and can lead to death.

    The impact also depends on whether the abrin is swallowed, breathed in or injected. Death can take place within 36 to 72 hours of exposure.

    A person who swallows the abrin, they would develop vomiting and diarrhea that may become bloody.

    That would be followed by severe dehydration and low blood pressure. Other signs could include hallucinations, seizures and blood in the urine.

    A few more days after that, a person’s liver, spleen, and kidneys might stop working, and they could die.

    ‘When we received the child, I was surprised to find that he .. was poisoned by a poison called abrin, which is released by seeds of a plant called Abrus Precatorius, also known as Ratti or Gunchi in India,’ Dhiren Gupta, a senior consultant in the department of pediatric emergency and critical care at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. told the Times of India.

    The hospital said in a statement: ‘The child was unconscious, irritable, suffering from encephalopathy (swelling in the brain) and unstable vitals (high pulse rate with shock). The challenge before us was that he was presented to us after 24 hours of ingestion and we lost the golden hour and unavailability of definitive antidote.’

    Gupta explained the ideal treatment is a complete cleaning of the stomach within hours of ingesting the poison. He also said the toxin is as fatal as snake venom.

    If a person inhales a powdered form of it, the likely signs within a few hours would include difficulty breathing, fever, cough, nausea and tightness in the chest. Heavy sweating may come next as well as fluid building up in the lungs.

    Excess fluid in the lungs would diagnosed by X-ray. Low blood pressure and respiratory failure could then occur, leading to death.

    Other treatments for abrin poisoning can include intravenous fluids, activated charcoal, helping victims breathe and washing out their eyes.

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  • 1 час, 43 минуты назад 01.12.2022Science
    Woman talks to her past self in ‘trippy’ conversation

    If we could talk to our younger selves, what would we say, what advice would we impart and how would it feel?

    Well, one woman has an idea after she created an artificial intelligence chatbot of herself as a child by training it to learn what she was like based on a diary written when she was young.

    ‘Creative coder’ Michelle Huang used source material from 10 years’ worth of entries and combined it with the OpenAI language model Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 (GPT-3).

    She told people on Twitter that she created the AI system so that she ‘could engage in real-time dialogue’ with her ‘inner child’.

    ‘Overall, this was a very trippy but also strangely affirming / healing experience that i didn’t realise that i had access to using real data from my past self allowed me to connect with her in deeper + more tangible ways than i typically have,’ she tweeted.

    ‘Conversing with “younger michelle” reminded me of the parts of myself that have stayed constant through the years, but also of the parts that i forgot or buried as life went on it was like holding a mirror to an unapologetic, more earnest, and pure version of my own essence.’

    She revealed that she had kept diaries for more than 10 years of her life and wrote them almost everyday about her ‘dreams, fears and secrets’.

    ‘The content ranged from complaining about homework, to giddiness i felt from talking to my crush some days were very mundane, some rather insightful,’ Ms Huang tweeted.

    ‘After scribing a ton of journal entries and feeding them into the model, i got working responses that felt eerily similar to how i think i would have responded during that time.’

    Ms Huang said she asked her younger self about her world view, before allowing the chatbot to reply with its own questions.

    ‘This specific interaction felt very similar to a normal texting conversation – as if i were texting my past self in real time i felt like i was reaching through a time portal, disguised as a chatbox,’ she wrote.

    Ms Huang highlighted two key interactions that were most memorable.

    ‘I told her that she was loved, cared for, and safe: the words that my past self always wanted to hear,’ she tweeted.

    ‘It felt like i was reaching into the past and giving her a giant hug, and i felt it ripple back into the present.’

    The other was when she prompted her younger self to write her a letter ‘into the present day’.

    ‘While reading this, i felt the rumination spirals — the ones that i fall into sometimes when i feel shame or disappointment — melt away a little,’ Ms Huang said.

    ‘These interactions really elucidated the healing potential of this medium: of being able to send love back into the past, as well as receive love back from a younger self.

    ‘The stuckness becoming unstuck, of finding closure with past guilt or stories that we had of ourselves.’

    She later shared a tutorial for other people to create their ‘inner child’ chatbot using GPT-3 after receiving a lot of interest about her AI experiment.

    GPT-3 is an autoregressive language model that uses deep learning to produce human-like text.

    Developed by OpenAI, it requires a small amount of input information to generate large volumes of relevant and sophisticated machine-generated text.

    Anyone can use it but it does require a lot of work, with a tutorial from Ms Huang included below.

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  • 3 часа, 33 минуты назад 01.12.2022Science
    NASA cancels expensive GeoCarb greenhouse gas monitoring satellite – but not all is lost

    NASA has announced that it is cancelling a greenhouse gas monitoring satellite due to its expected costs and technical concerns, and is now exploring more efficient and cost-effective alternatives. The Earth-observation mission — dubbed the Geostationary Carbon Cycle Observatory (GeoCarb) — was to be positioned over the Americas, and would have monitored both the region’s concentration of carbon-bearing gases as well as the health of vegetation. GeoCarb had originally been planned to be mounted on a commercially-operated satellite operated by SES S.A., a Luxembourgish–French telecommunications firm. But difficulties with such resulted in NASA instead looking to seek a standalone spacecraft to carry the instrument, before the mission was finally abandoned. NASA have said that they will be collaborating with the principal investigator team at the University of Oklahoma to bring the project to an orderly close.

    NASA’s associate administrator for science, Thomas Zurbuchen, said: “Decisions like this are difficult, but NASA is dedicated to making careful choices with the resources provided by the people of the United States.”

    He added: “We look forward to accomplishing our commitment to state-of-the-art climate observation in a more efficient and cost-effective way.”

    According to the space agency, new approaches to monitoring greenhouse gas emissions now present themselves that were not previously available when GeoCarb was conceived back in the latter part of 2017.

    These include, for example, the Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation — or EMIT, for short — which was deployed up to the International Space Station (ISS) back in July and is capable of measuring atmospheric methane levels.

    The space agency has said that it is planning to augment its greenhouse gas observations by prioritising a greenhouse gas mission as the first of its “Earth System Explorers” missions, by obtaining data from its international and commercial partners, conducting additional airborne observations and by extending the operating life of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 instrument on board the ISS, which began operating in 2019 and was expected to run for ten years.

    Furthermore, NASA’s “Earth System Observatory” missions, which are slated to launch by the end of the decade, are set to “provide a three-dimensional, holistic view of our planet to help better understand what its changes mean for humanity.”

    NASA’s Earth Science Division Director, Karen St. Germain, said that the agency “prioritises understanding how our home planet is changing — and greenhouse gases play a central role in that understanding.

    “We are committed to making key methane and carbon dioxide observations, integrating them with measurements collected by other national, international, and private sector missions, and making actionable information available to communities and organisations who need it to inform their decisions.”

    NASA said that it reached a decision to cancel the GeoCarb mission “because of technical concerns, cost performance and availability of new alternative data sources, as well as to keep the Earth Science portfolio aligned with overall science priorities.”

    The agency added that the current estimated cost of the GeoCarb concept was more than $600million (£493million). This, they noted, “is more than three times the life cycle cost at the time of selection, which was capped at $170.9million (£140million).

    “The increased costs and delays of GeoCarb would have a detrimental impact on NASA’s Earth Science portfolio, including delays of up to two years for the Earth System Observatory, which addresses the highest priorities for Earth Science as described by the National Academies.

    “For decades, NASA’s satellite missions in space, airborne and field campaigns have provided information about climate change, including melting glaciers, sea level rise and greenhouse gas emissions.”

    The space agency concluded: “NASA remains committed to being a world leader in studying greenhouse gases, understanding how the planet is changing, helping communities understand that information, and how to apply it in a changing climate.”

    On the subject of budgetary constraints affecting future NASA missions, this week has also seen the UK Astronomer Royal, Professor Martin Rees, lay out his argument that the Artemis lunar exploration programme could prove the last for the space agency’s astronauts.

    Rather than launching a new Apollo era , he believes that the Artemis programme will be more of a swansong for NASA astronauts — with the space agency destined to focus instead on cheaper, safer and more efficient robotic missions.

    Prof. Rees said: “Within the next one or two decades, robotic exploration of the Martian surface could be almost entirely autonomous, with human presence offering little advantage.”

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Science Liverpool was once the 'Serengeti of northwest Europe, ancient footprints reveal