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New color-generation mechanism discovered in ‘rainbow’ weevil

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Researchers from Yale-NUS College and the University of Fribourg in Switzerland have discovered a novel colour-generation mechanism in nature, which if harnessed, has the potential to create cosmetics and paints with purer and more vivid hues, screen displays that project the same true image when viewed from any angle, and even reduce the signal loss in optical fibres.  Dr Saranathan examined the rainbow-coloured patterns in the elytra (wing casings) of a snout weevil from the Philippines, Pachyrrhynchus congestus pavonius, using high-energy X-rays, while Dr Wilts performed detailed scanning electron microscopy and optical modelling. They discovered that to produce the rainbow palette of colours, the weevil utilised a colour-generation mechanism that is so far found only in squid, cuttlefish, and octopuses, which are renowned for their colour-shifting camouflage. The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Small.

P. c. pavonius, or the “Rainbow” Weevil, is distinctive for its rainbow-coloured spots on its thorax and elytra. These spots are made up of nearly-circular scales arranged in concentric rings of different hues, ranging from blue in the centre to red at the outside, just like a rainbow. While many insects have the ability to produce one or two colours, it is rare that a single insect can produce such a vast spectrum of colours. Researchers are interested to figure out the mechanism behind the natural formation of these colour-generating structures, as current technology is unable to synthesise structures of this size.

“The ultimate aim of research in this field is to figure out how the weevil self-assembles these structures, because with our current technology we are unable to do so,” Dr Saranathan said. “The ability to produce these structures, which are able to provide a high colour fidelity regardless of the angle you view it from, will have applications in any industry which deals with colour production. We can use these structures in cosmetics and other pigmentations to ensure high-fidelity hues, or in digital displays in your phone or tablet which will allow you to view it from any angle and see the same true image without any colour distortion. We can even use them to make reflective cladding for optical fibres to minimise signal loss during transmission.”

Dr Saranathan and Dr Wilts examined these scales to determine that the scales were composed of a three-dimensional crystalline structure made from chitin (the main ingredient in insect exoskeletons). They discovered that the vibrant rainbow colours on this weevil’s scales are determined by two factors: the size of the crystal structure which makes up each scale, as well as the volume of chitin used to make up the crystal structure. Larger scales have a larger crystalline structure and use a larger volume of chitin to reflect red light; smaller scales have a smaller crystalline structure and use a smaller volume of chitin to reflect blue light. According to Dr Saranathan, who previously examined over 100 species of insects and spiders and catalogued their colour-generation mechanisms, this ability to simultaneously control both size and volume factors to fine-tune the colour produced has never before been shown in insects, and given its complexity, is quite remarkable. “It is different from the usual strategy employed by nature to produce various different hues on the same animal, where the chitin structures are of fixed size and volume, and different colours are generated by orienting the structure at different angles, which reflects different wavelengths of light,” Dr Saranathan explained.

Laziness helped lead to extinction of Homo erectus

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New archaeological research from The Australian National University (ANU) has found that Homo erectus, an extinct species of primitive humans, went extinct in part because they were ‘lazy’.

An archaeological excavation of ancient human populations in the Arabian Peninsula during the Early Stone Age, found that Homo erectus used ‘least-effort strategies’ for tool making and collecting resources.

This ‘laziness’ paired with an inability to adapt to a changing climate likely played a role in the species going extinct.

“They really don’t seem to have been pushing themselves.”

“I don’t get the sense they were explorers looking over the horizon. They didn’t have that same sense of wonder that we have.”

Dr Shipton said this was evident in the way the species made their stone tools and collected resources.

“To make their stone tools they would use whatever rocks they could find lying around their camp, which were mostly of comparatively low quality to what later stone tool makers used.”

“At the site we looked at there was a big rocky outcrop of quality stone just a short distance away up a small hill.

“But rather than walk up the hill they would just use whatever bits had rolled down and were lying at the bottom.

“When we looked at the rocky outcrop there were no signs of any activity, no artefacts and no quarrying of the stone.

“They knew it was there, but because they had enough adequate resources they seem to have thought, ‘why bother?’.”

This is in contrast to the stone tool makers of later periods, including early Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, who were climbing mountains to find good quality stone and transporting it over long distances.

Dr Shipton said a failure to progress technologically, as their environment dried out into a desert, also contributed to the population’s demise.

“Not only were they lazy, but they were also very conservative,” Dr Shipton said.

“The sediment samples showed the environment around them was changing, but they were doing the exact same things with their tools.

“There was no progression at all, and their tools are never very far from these now dry river beds. I think in the end the environment just got too dry for them.”

The excavation and survey work was undertaken in 2014 at the site of Saffaqah near Dawadmi in central Saudi Arabia.

Compounds in ‘monster’ radish could help tame cardiovascular disease

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Step aside carrots, onions and broccoli. The newest heart-healthy vegetable could be a gigantic, record-setting radish. scientists report that compounds found in the Sakurajima Daikon, or “monster,” radish could help protect coronary blood vessels and potentially prevent heart disease and stroke. The finding could lead to the discovery of similar substances in other vegetables and perhaps lead to new drug treatments.

Grown for centuries in Japan, the Sakurajima Daikon is one of the Earth’s most massive vegetables. In 2003, the Guinness Book of World Records certified a Sakurajima weighing nearly 69 pounds as the world’s heaviest radish. Radishes are good sources of antioxidants and reportedly can reduce high blood pressure and the threat of clots, a pair of risk factors for heart attack and stroke. But to date, no studies have directly compared the heart-health benefits of the Sakurajima Daikon to other radishes. To address this knowledge gap, Katsuko Kajiya and colleagues sought to find out what effects this radish would have on nitric oxide production, a key regulator of coronary blood vessel function, and to determine its underlying mechanisms.

The researchers exposed human and pig vascular endothelial cells to extracts from Sakurajima Daikon and smaller radishes. Using fluorescence microscopy and other analytical techniques, the research team found the Sakurajima Daikon radish induced more nitric oxide production in these vascular cells than a smaller Japanese radish. They also identified trigonelline, a plant hormone, as the active component in Sakurajima Daikon that appears to promote a cascade of changes in coronary blood vessels resulting improved nitric oxide production.

Marine mammals lack functional gene to defend against popular pesticide

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As marine mammals evolved to make water their primary habitat, they lost the ability to make a protein that defends humans and other land-dwelling mammals from the neurotoxic effects of a popular human-made pesticide.

The implications of this discovery, announced today in Science, led researchers to call for monitoring our waterways to learn more about the impact of pesticides and agricultural run-off on marine mammals, such as dolphins, manatees, seals and whales. The research also may shed further light on the function of the gene encoding this protein in humans.

“We need to determine if marine mammals are, indeed, at an elevated risk of serious neurological damage from these pesticides because they biologically lack the ability to break them down, or if they’ve somehow adapted to avoid such damage in an as-yet undiscovered way,”  associate professor in Pitt’s Department of Computational and Systems Biology, and the Pittsburgh Center for Evolutionary Biology and Medicine. “Either way, this is the kind of serendipitous finding that results from curiosity-driven scientific research. It is helping us to understand what our genes are doing and the impact the environment can have on them.”

a postdoctoral associate in his laboratory, knew from previous research by other scientists that some genes behind smelling and tasting lost their function during the evolution of marine mammals. They set out to see what other genes conserved in land-dwelling mammals had lost function in marine mammals.

By analyzing DNA sequences from five species of marine mammals and 53 species of terrestrial mammals, was the gene that best matched the pattern of losing function in marine mammals while retaining function in all terrestrial mammals. PON1 even beat out several genes responsible for smell and taste, senses that marine mammals don’t rely on much.

In humans and other terrestrial mammals, PON1 reduces cellular damage caused by unstable oxygen atoms. It also protects us from organophosphates, some of which are pesticides that kill insects — which lack PON1 — by disrupting their neurological systems.

Clark and Meyer worked with Joseph Gaspard, Ph.D., director of science and conservation at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, now a scientist emeritus at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Wetland and Aquatic Research Center, to obtain marine mammal blood samples from U.S. and international scientists and conservation biologists. Collaborators at the University of Washington reacted blood samples from several marine mammals with an organophosphate byproduct and observed what happened. The blood did not break down the organophosphate byproduct the way it does in land mammals, indicating that, unless a different biological mechanism is protecting the marine mammals, they would be susceptible to “organophosphate poisoning,” a form of poisoning that results from the buildup of chemical signals in the body, especially the brain.

In an attempt to learn why marine mammals lost PON1 function, the researchers traced back when the function was lost in three different groups of marine mammals. Whales and dolphins lost it soon after they split from their common ancestor with hippopotamuses 53 million years ago; manatees lost it after their split from their common ancestor with elephants 64 million years ago. But some seals likely lost PON1 function more recently, at most 21 million years ago and possibly in very recent times.

“The big question is, why did they lose function at PON1 in the first place?” said Meyer. “It’s hard to tell whether it was no longer necessary or whether it was preventing them from adapting to a marine environment. We know that ancient marine environments didn’t have organophosphate pesticides, so we think the loss might instead be related to PON1’s role in responding to the extreme oxidative stress generated by long periods of diving and rapid resurfacing. If we can figure out why these species don’t have functional PON1, we might learn more about the function of PON1 in human health, while also uncovering potential clues to help protect marine mammals most at risk.”

As an example of the potential real-world consequences of losing function at PON1, the researchers explain in their scientific manuscript that in Florida, “agricultural use of organophosphate pesticides is common and runoff can drain into manatee habitats. In Brevard County, where 70 percent of Atlantic Coast manatees are estimated to migrate or seasonally reside, agricultural lands frequently abut manatee protection zones and waterways.”

The scientists believe the next step is to launch a study that directly observes marine mammals during and shortly after periods of excess agricultural organophosphate run-off. Such a project would require increased monitoring of marine mammal habitats, as well as testing of tissues from deceased marine mammals for evidence of organophosphate exposure. The most recent estimate the research team could find of organophosphate levels in manatee habitats in Florida is a decade old, Clark said.

“Marine mammals, such as manatees or bottlenose dolphins, are sentinel species — the canary in the coal mine,” said Clark. “If you follow their health, it will tell you a lot about potential environmental issues that could eventually affect humans.”

Novel approach to coherent control of a three-level quantum system

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For the first time, researchers were able to study quantum interference in a three-level quantum system and thereby control the behavior of individual electron spins. To this end, they used a novel nanostructure, in which a quantum system is integrated into a nanoscale mechanical oscillator in form of a diamond cantilever. Nature Physics has published the study that was conducted at the University of Basel and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute.

The electronic spin is a fundamental quantum mechanical property intrinsic to every electron. In the quantum world, the electronic spin describes the direction of rotation of the electron around its axis which can normally occupy two so-called eigenstates commonly denoted as “up” and “down.” The quantum properties of such spins offer interesting perspectives for future technologies, for example in the form of extremely precise quantum sensors.

Combining spins with mechanical oscillators

Researchers led by Professor Patrick Maletinsky and PhD candidate Arne Barfuss from the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel report in Nature Physics a new method to control the spins’ quantum behavior through a mechanical system.

For their experimental study, they combined such a quantum system with a mechanical oscillator. More specifically, the researchers employed electrons trapped in so-called nitrogen-vacancy centers and embedded these spins in single-crystalline mechanical resonators made from diamond.

These nitrogen-vacancy spins are special, in that they possess not only two, but three eigenstates, which can be described as “up,” “down” and “zero.” Using the special coupling of a mechanical oscillator to the spin, they showed for the first time a complete quantum control over such a three-level system, in a way not possible before.

Controlling three quantum states

In particular, the oscillator allowed them to address all three possible transitions in the spin and to study how the resulting excitation pathways interfere with each other.

This scenario, known as “closed-contour driving,” has never been investigated so far but opens interesting fundamental and practical perspectives. For example, their experiment allowed for a breaking of time-reversal symmetry, which means that the properties of the system look fundamentally different if the direction of time is reversed than without such inversion. In this scenario, the phase of the mechanical oscillator determined whether the spin circled “clockwise” (direction of rotation up, down, zero, up) or “counter-clockwise.”

Extending coherence

This abstract concept has practical consequences for the fragile quantum states. Similar to the well-known Schrödinger’s cat, spins can be simultaneously in a superposition of two or three of the available eigenstates for a certain period, the so-called quantum coherence time.

If the three eigenstates are coupled to each other using the closed contour driving discovered here, the coherence time can be significantly extended, as the researchers were able to show. Compared to systems where only two of the three possible transitions are driven, coherence increased almost a hundredfold.

Such coherence protection is a key element for future quantum technologies and another main result of this work.

Applications for sensor technology

The work described here holds high potential for future applications. It is conceivable that the hybrid resonator-spin system could be used for the precise measurement of time-dependent signals with frequencies in the gigahertz range — for example in quantum sensing or quantum information processing. For time-dependent signals emerging from nanoscale objects, such tasks are currently very difficult to address otherwise. Here the combination of spin and an oscillating system could provide helpful, in particular also because of the demonstrated protection of spin coherence.

Tickborne diseases are likely to increase, say NIAID officials

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The incidence of tickborne infections in the United States has risen significantly within the past decade. It is imperative, therefore, that public health officials and scientists build a robust understanding of pathogenesis, design improved diagnostics, and develop preventive vaccines.

Bacteria cause most tickborne diseases in the United States, with Lyme disease representing the majority (82 percent) of reported cases. The spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi is the primary cause of Lyme disease in North America; it is carried by hard-bodied ticks that then feed on smaller mammals, such as white-footed mice, and larger animals, such as white-tailed deer. Although there are likely many factors contributing to increased Lyme disease incidence in the U.S., greater tick densities and their expanding geographical range have played a key role, the authors write. For example, the Ixodes scapularis tick, which is the primary source of Lyme disease in the northeastern U.S., had been detected in nearly 50 percent more counties by 2015 than was previously reported in 1996. Although most cases of Lyme disease are successfully treated with antibiotics, 10 to 20 percent of patients report lingering symptoms after effective antimicrobial therapy. Scientists need to better understand this lingering morbidity, note the authors.

Tickborne virus infections are also increasing and could cause serious illness and death. For example, Powassan virus (POWV), recognized in 1958, causes a febrile illness that can be followed by progressive and severe neurologic conditions, resulting in death in 10 to 15 percent of cases and long-term symptoms in as many as 70 percent of survivors. Only 20 U.S. cases of POWV infection were reported before 2006; 99 cases were reported between 2006 and 2016.

The public health burden of tickborne disease is considerably underreported, according to the authors. For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports approximately 30,000 cases of Lyme disease annually in the U.S. but estimates that the true incidence is 10 times that number. According to the authors, this is due in part to the limitations of current tickborne disease surveillance, as well as current diagnostics, which may be imprecise in some cases and are unable to recognize new tickborne pathogens as they emerge. These limitations have led researchers to explore new, innovative diagnostics with different platforms that may provide clinical benefit in the future.

It is also critical that scientists develop vaccines to prevent disease, the authors write. A vaccine to protect against Lyme disease was previously developed, but was pulled from the market and is no longer available. Future protective measures could include vaccines specifically designed to create an immune response to a pathogen, or to target pathogens inside the ticks that carry them.

By focusing research on the epidemiology of tickborne diseases, improving diagnostics, finding new treatments and developing preventive vaccines, public health officials and researchers may be able to stem the growing threat these diseases pose. In the meantime, the authors suggest, healthcare providers should advise their patients to use basic prevention techniques: wear insect repellant, wear long pants when walking in the woods or working outdoors, and check for ticks.

22,000-year-old panda from cave in Southern China belongs to distinct, long-lost lineage

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Researchers who’ve analyzed ancient mitochondrial (mt)DNA isolated from a 22,000-year-old panda found in Cizhutuo Cave in the Guangxi Province of China — a place where no pandas live today — have revealed a new lineage of giant panda. shows that the ancient panda separated from present-day pandas 144,000 to 227,000 years ago, suggesting that it belonged to a distinct group not found.

The newly sequenced mitochondrial genome represents the oldest DNA evidence from pandas.

“Using a single complete mtDNA sequence, we find a distinct mitochondrial lineage, suggesting that the Cizhutuo panda, while genetically more closely related to present-day pandas than other bears, has a deep, separate history from the common ancestor of present-day pandas,” says Qiaomei Fu from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “This really highlights that we need to sequence more DNA from ancient pandas to really capture how their genetic diversity has changed through time and how that relates to their current, much more restricted and fragmented habitat.”

Very little has been known about pandas’ past, especially in regions outside of their current range in Shaanxi province or Gansu and Sichuan provinces. Evidence suggests that pandas in the past were much more widespread, but it’s been unclear how those pandas were related to pandas of today.

In the new study, the researchers used sophisticated methods to fish mitochondrial DNA from the ancient cave specimen. That’s a particular challenge because the specimen comes from a subtropical environment, which makes preservation and recovery of DNA difficult.

The researchers successfully sequenced nearly 150,000 DNA fragments and aligned them to the giant panda mitochondrial genome reference sequence to recover the Cizhutuo panda’s complete mitochondrial genome. They then used the new genome along with mitochondrial genomes from 138 present-day bears and 32 ancient bears to construct a family tree.

Their analysis shows that the split between the Cizhutuo panda and the ancestor of present-day pandas goes back about 183,000 years. The Cizhutuo panda also possesses 18 mutations that would alter the structure of proteins across six mitochondrial genes. The researchers say those amino acid changes may be related to the ancient panda’s distinct habitat in Guangxi or perhaps climate differences during the Last Glacial Maximum.

The findings suggest that the ancient panda’s maternal lineage had a long and unique history that differed from the maternal lineages leading to present-day panda populations. The researchers say that their success in capturing the mitochondrial genome also suggests that they might successfully isolate and analyze DNA from the ancient specimen’s much more expansive nuclear genome.

“Comparing the Cizhutuo panda’s nuclear DNA to present-day genome-wide data would allow a more thorough analysis of the evolutionary history of the Cizhutuo specimen, as well as its shared history with present-day pandas.”

Social media posts may signal whether a protest will become violent

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A USC-led study of violent protest has found that moral rhetoric on Twitter may signal whether a protest will turn violent.

The researchers also found that people are more likely to endorse violence when they moralize the issue that they are protesting  and when they believe that others in their social network moralize that issue, too.

“Extreme movements can emerge through social networks,” said the study’s corresponding author, Morteza Dehghani, a researcher at the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC. “We have seen several examples in recent years, such as the protests in Baltimore and Charlottesville, where people’s perceptions are influenced by the activity in their social networks. People identify others who share their beliefs and interpret this as consensus.  we show that this can have potentially dangerous consequences.”

Utilizing a deep neural network — an advanced machine learning technique — to detect moralized language, the scientists analyzed 18 million tweets posted during the 2015 Baltimore protests for Gray, 25, who died as police took him to jail.

Then, they investigated the association between moral tweets and arrest rates, a proxy for violence. This analysis showed that the number of hourly arrests made during the protests was associated with the number of moralized tweets posted in previous hours.

In fact, tweets containing moral rhetoric nearly doubled on days when clashes among protesters and police became violent.

Social media as a barometer for activism

Social media sites such as Twitter have become a significant platform for activism and a source for data on human behavior, which is why scientists utilize them for research.

Recent examples of movements tied to social media include the marchforourlives effort to seek gun control, the metoo movement against sexual assault and harassment, and blacklivesmatter, a campaign against systematic racism which began in 2014 after the police-involved shooting death of Michael Brown.

A more violent example is the Arab Spring revolution, which began in Tunisia in late 2010, and set off protests in many other countries, including Egypt and Libya, that forced changes in their leadership. In Syria, clashes escalated into a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced a multitude of refugees.

Detecting moralization online

The scientists developed a model for detecting moralized language based on a prior, deep learning framework that can reliably identify text that evokes moral concerns associated with different types of moral values and their opposites. The values, as defined by the “Moral Foundations Theory,” are focused on care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and purity/degradation.

The researchers provided two examples of tweets containing moralized language and the moral foundations with which they are associated.

Sample Tweet 1: Why does the opposition speak only abt black on black crime as a rebuttal to police brutality/murder? AllCrimeMatters, right? FreddieGray

Moral Foundations: Fairness and Loyalty

Sample Tweet 2: regardless of how anyone feels, prayers to the police force and their family

Moral Foundations: Care and Purity

Moralization and political polarization are exacerbated by online “echo chambers” — social networks where people connect with other like-minded people while distancing themselves from those who do not share their beliefs.

Why more protests are violent

“Social media data help us illuminate real-world social dynamics and test hypotheses in situ. However, as with all observational data, it can be difficult to establish the statistical and experimental control that is necessary for drawing reliable conclusions,” said Joe Hoover, a lead author of the paper and Ph.D. candidate studying psychology at the USC Dornsife College.

To make up for this, the scientists conducted a series of controlled behavioral studies, each with more than 200 people, how much they agreed or disagreed with statements about the use of violence against far-right protesters after they had read a paragraph about the 2017 Charlottesville, Va., clashes over the removal of Confederate monuments.

The more certain people were that many others in their network shared their views, the more willing they were to consider the use of violence against their perceived opponents, the scientists found.

Robotic assembly of the world’s smallest house — Even a mite doesn’t fit through the door!

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A French nanorobotics team from the Femto-ST Institute in Besançon, France, assembled a new microrobotics system that pushes forward the frontiers of optical nanotechnologies. Combining several existing technologies, the μRobotex nanofactory builds microstructures in a large vacuum chamber and fixes components onto optical fiber tips with nanometer accuracy. The microhouse construction,  demonstrates how researchers can advance optical sensing technologies when they manipulate ion guns, electron beams and finely controlled robotic piloting.

Until now, lab-on-fiber technologies had no robotic actuators for nanoassembly, so working at this scale inhibited engineers from building microstructures. This innovation allows miniaturized sensing elements to be installed on fiber tips so engineers can see and manipulate different components. With this advancement, optical fibers as thin as human hair can be inserted into inaccessible locations like jet engines and blood vessels to detect radiation levels or viral molecules.

“For the first time we were able to realize patterning and assembly with less than 2 nanometers of accuracy, which is a very important result for the robotics and optical community.”

The French engineers combined all the technological components for nanoassembly — a focused ion beam, a gas injection system and a tiny maneuverable robot — in a vacuum chamber, and installed a microscope to view the assembly process. “We decided to build the microhouse on the fiber to show that we are able to realize these microsystem assemblies on top of an optical fiber with high accuracy,” Rauch said.

Building a microhouse is like making a giant dice from a piece of paper, but nanoassembly requires more sophisticated tools. The focused ion beam is used like scissors to cut or score the silica membrane “paper” of the house. Once the walls fold into position, a lower power setting is selected on the ion gun, and the gas injection system sticks the edges of the structure into place. The low-power ion beam and gas injection then gently sputters a tiled pattern on the roof, a detail that emphasizes the accuracy and flexibility of the system.

In this process, the ion gun had to focus on an area only 300 micrometers by 300 micrometers to fire ions onto the fiber tip and silica membrane. “It’s very challenging to pilot the robot with high accuracy at this cross point between the two beams,” Rauch said. He explained that two engineers worked at multiple computers to control the process. Many steps are already automated, but in the future the team hopes to automate all the robotic stages of assembly.

Now, using the μRobotex system, these engineers are constructing functionalized microstructures to detect specific molecules by attaching their microstructures onto optical fibers. The nanorobotics team is hoping to push the limits of the technology further still, by constructing smaller structures and fixing these onto carbon nanotubes, only 20 nanometers to 100 nanometers in diameter.

25 years of fossil collecting yields clearest picture of extinct 12-foot aquatic predator

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After 25 years of collecting fossils at a Pennsylvania site, scientists at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University now have a much better picture of an ancient, extinct 12-foot fish and the world in which it lived.

Although Hyneria lindae was initially described in 1968, it was done without a lot of fossil material to go on. But since the mid-1990s, dedicated volunteers, students, and paleontologists digging at the Red Hill site in northern Pennsylvania’s Clinton County have turned up more — and better quality — fossils of the fish’s skeleton that have led to new insights.

Academy researchers Ted Daeschler, PhD, and Jason Downs, PhD, who specialize in the Devonian time period (a time before dinosaurs and even land animals) when Hyneria lived, have been able to reconstruct that the predator had a blunt, wide snout, reached 10-12 feet in length, had small eyes and featured a sensory system that allowed it to hunt prey by feeling pressure waves around it.

“Dr. Keith Thomson, the man who first described Hyneria in 1968, did not have enough fossil material to reconstruct the anatomy that we have now been able to document with more extensive collections,” explained Daeschler, curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Academy, as well as a professor in Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Originally, pieces of the fish were collected in the 1950s. Thomson described and officially named Hyneria lindae in 1968, but he had just a few pieces of a crushed skull and some scales to work with.

The new discoveries that Daeschler and Downs (who is an assistant professor at Delaware Valley University) were made possible by years of collecting that turned up, “well-preserved, well-prepared three-dimensional material of almost all of the [bony] parts of the skeleton,” according to Downs.

No single complete skeleton exists of this giant, but enough is there to show that Hyneria would have truly been a monster to the other animals in the subtropical streams of the Devonian Period, roughly 365 million years ago. An apex predator, Hyneria‘s mouth was bristling with two-inch fangs. For reference, that’s bigger than most modern Great White Shark’s teeth.

Due to its sheer size, weaponry, and sensory abilities, Hyneria may have preyed upon anything from ancient placoderms (armored fish), to acanthodians (related to sharks) and sarcopterygians (lobe-finned fish, the group Hyneria belongs to) — including early tetrapods (limbed vertebrates) that are also found at the site.

Since the streams Hyneria lived in were likely murky and not conducive to hunting by eyesight, sensory canals allowed it to detect fish swimming near it and attack them.

“We discovered that the skull roof elements have openings on their surfaces that connect up, forming a network of tubes that would function like the sensory line system in some modern aquatic vertebrates,” Daeschler said. “Similarly, we found a network of connected pores on the parts of the scales that would be exposed on the body of Hyneria.”

All of the new information gleaned about Hyneria is doubly valuable because it provides more information about the ecosystem — and time period — it lived in. The Devonian was a pivotal time in vertebrate evolution, especially since some of Hyneria‘s fellow lobe-finned fish developed specialized fins that would take them onto land and eventually give rise to all limbed verterbates including reptiles, amphibians and mammals.

Hyneria lived in a time and place that is of incredible interest to those of us studying the vertebrate fin-to-limb transition,” Downs commented. “Each study like this one contributes more to our understanding of these ecosystems and what may have played a part in the successful transition to land.”