A total of 754 million domestic passenger trips were made in China in the first seven days of the 8-day National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival holidays, a year-on-year increase of 78.9%. Holiday tourism generated 668.1 billion yuan ($92.80 billion), up 132.6% year-on-year, official data showed on Friday.
The high-altitude pressurized liable building independently developed and built by China Construction Third Engineering Bureau Co. Ltd, China's first "zero-altitude astronomical observation station," held a handover ceremony in the Kizilsu Kirghiz Autonomous Prefecture, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and was officially delivered for demonstration application, authorities confirmed recently.
"Zero-altitude building" refers to the use of pressurization and other technologies to adjust the indoor key human settlement environment indicators to the low altitude level in the plain area, so that the human body feels more comfortable. When used, the altitude inside the building can be set according to the needs of personnel and reduce the impact of altitude sickness.
The observatory is located near Muztagh Ata, the third highest peak of the West Kunlun Mountains in Akto county. It sits at an altitude of 4,526 meters, with a total construction area of approximately 150 square meters, capable of supporting scientific research, residential, and office functions.
The observation station is a scientific research pressurized building specially designed for plateau astronomical work in response to the needs of its cooperative organization, Beijing Normal University. It can increase the overall atmospheric pressure inside the building to one standard atmospheric pressure while solving the problems of low pressure and oxygen deficiency in the plateau.
The facility provides a comfortable and healthy environment for astronomers to work and live in high-altitude areas, lowering the risk of physiological damage caused by the plateau's extreme environment.
It is expected to support a new phase of rapid development in China's astronomical scientific research work, according to media reports.
China saw a fourfold surge of monkeypox cases in July compared to the previous month, but experts reached by the Global Times noted on Friday noted that China's home-developed vaccine will soon enter the clinical trial stage.
They also said that although in most cases people heal on their own, newborns, children, pregnant women and people with immunodeficiency may have a higher risk of developing severe or even fatal conditions.
Due to the mild symptoms caused by the monkeypox virus and the lack of large-scale global outbreaks, research into monkeypox vaccines has been relatively limited worldwide, the experts explained.
Meanwhile, as monkeypox and smallpox viruses have extensive serological cross-reactivity, the existing vaccines used for monkeypox prevention are all smallpox vaccines.
Retrospective studies conducted by the World Health Organization have shown that smallpox vaccine administration has an efficacy of 85 percent in preventing monkeypox. Currently, there are three smallpox vaccines approved for monkeypox prevention in Europe, the US, and Japan, Su Jinfeng, a senior biomedical engineer, told the Global Times.
Su called for accelerated development of new vaccines to protect those at greater risk and to prevent potential outbreaks. However, the expert admitted that the development of vaccines faces several challenges due to the limited number of monkeypox cases in the country and the dispersed population, which makes it difficult to conduct large-scale clinical trials to assess a vaccine's efficacy.
"Currently, the US, Japan and European countries have considered this type of vaccine as a reserve drug. China should also accelerate the development of a new smallpox/monkeypox vaccine, not only to prevent the spread of monkeypox outbreaks but also to protect national security and public health from threats of smallpox virus being used as a bioweapon," a vaccine expert who preferred not to be named told the Global Times.
Given the large genome and complex structure of the monkeypox virus, as well as limited understanding of protective antigens, the development of a protective antigen-based vaccine is challenging, the expert said. Therefore, a better strategy would be to use attenuated live vaccine technology, building upon the existing smallpox vaccine, to develop a safer vaccine in human cells.
As of April 2023, preclinical research on monkeypox vaccines has been conducted primarily by the US and China, said Su. Previous reports have indicated that a total of 14 clinical studies on monkeypox vaccines have been conducted globally.
Currently, three types of vaccine have been approved for the prevention of monkeypox, from Denmark, the US, and Japan.
Research institutions in China have already started developing monkeypox vaccines, mainly focusing on replication-defective monkeypox attenuated live vaccines and monkeypox mRNA vaccines.
In July, the replication-deficient monkeypox vaccine developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group Corporation (Sinopharm) has passed the clinical trial application with the National Medical Products Administration, making it the earliest domestically developed monkeypox vaccine to enter the clinical research stage in China.
The Chinese mainland has reported 491 new monkeypox cases across 23 provincial-level regions, the country's Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed on Wednesday, increasing over fourfold compared to last month.
According to epidemiological reviews, all cases are male with 96.3 percent of them identified as men who had sex with other men, and the risk of transmission through other contact methods is low.
The majority of cases exhibited typical clinical symptoms including fever, rash, and swollen lymph nodes, with no severe or fatal cases.
Neandertals hung out in what’s now northern Spain around 430,000 years ago, an analysis of ancient DNA suggests. That’s an earlier Neandertal presence in Europe, by at least 30,000 years, than many researchers had assumed.
Fragments of nuclear DNA from a tooth and partial leg bone discovered at Sima de los Huesos, a chamber deep inside a Spanish cave, resemble corresponding parts of a previously reassembled Neandertal genome, researchers say in a study published online March 14 in Nature.
Not much nuclear DNA survives in such ancient fossils, say paleogeneticist Matthias Meyer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and his colleagues. Meyer’s group recovered DNA fragments covering a fraction of 1 percent of the newly recovered Neandertal tooth and leg genomes. Just enough DNA remained to enable comparisons with DNA of a Neandertal woman (SN: 1/25/14, p. 17) and a Denisovan woman (SN: 9/22/12, p. 5). Denisovans are considered close genetic cousins of Neandertals.
The early age for the new genetic finds challenges the idea that fossils from Sima de los Huesos, or pit of bones, come from a species called Homo heidelbergensis. Some researchers have suspected that by around 400,000 years ago, H. heidelbergensis gave rise to evolutionary precursors of both Neandertals and Homo sapiens.
An ancient genetic puzzle has also emerged at Sima de los Huesos. On one hand, nuclear DNA — which passes from both parents to their children — pegs the Spanish hominids as Neandertals. But mitochondrial DNA — typically inherited only from the mother — already extracted from one Sima de los Huesos fossil (SN: 12/28/13, p. 8) and described for a second fossil in the new study has more in common with Denisovans.
Denisovans lived in East Asia at least 44,000 years ago, but their evolutionary history is unknown.
If early Neandertals lived in northern Spain roughly 430,000 years ago, “we have to go back further in time to reach the common ancestor of Neandertals and Denisovans,” Meyer says.
The new genetic data from Sima de los Huesos now suggest that Denisovans split from Neandertals perhaps 450,000 years ago, says paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London. Genetic and fossil evidence point to Neandertals and H. sapiens diverging from a common ancestor around 650,000 years ago, he proposes.
But it’s hard to say whether that common ancestor was H. heidelbergensis, Stringer adds. “Research must refocus on fossils from 400,000 to 800,000 years ago to determine which ones might lie on ancestral lineages of Neandertals, Denisovans and modern humans.”
Hominids throughout Eurasia during that time may have shared a mitochondrial DNA pattern observed in Sima de los Huesos Neandertals and Asian Denisovans, Meyer suggests. If that was the case, Neandertals acquired a new form of mitochondrial DNA by interbreeding with modern humans or their direct ancestors from Africa sometime between 430,000 and 100,000 years ago (SN: 3/19/16, p. 6).
Another possibility is that Neandertals traveled to Europe from Asia more than 430,000 years ago, carrying Denisovan mitochondrial DNA with them, says paleogeneticist Carles Lalueza-Fox of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona. Or hybrid descendants of early Neandertals and early Denisovans may have lived at Sima de los Huesos, carrying Denisovan mitochondrial DNA, he speculates.
“We really need more genetic data from Sima de los Huesos, and other sites of that age, to narrow down these scenarios,” Meyer says.
In the 1967 animated Disney film The Jungle Book, the feral boy Mowgli encounters a jazz-singing orangutan named King Louie, who implores Mowgli to teach him the secret of fire. King Louie presented a challenge for the producers of Disney’s live-action, CGI-enhanced remake of the film, opening April 15. “We had this notion that we would be as authentic as we could be to the region,” says producer Brigham Taylor. The problem: Orangutans are not native to India.
In fact, King Louie himself is not native to Rudyard Kipling’s original stories. But instead of scrapping the character, the filmmakers got creative. While researching India’s wildlife, the film’s art department learned that a colossal ape named Gigantopithecus once roamed the region. Various species of Gigantopithecus lived in India, China and Southeast Asia from about 6.5 million years ago until as recently as a few hundred thousand years ago. The ape was truly gigantic — by some estimates, twice as big as a gorilla.
So King Louie morphed from orangutan to Gigantopithecus. The switch was a “fun justification,” Taylor says, to keep the character and play up his size while still staying true to India’s fauna. (Yes, the ape is extinct, but this is a movie about talking animals. And fossil evidence does suggest that the ape at least mingled with the human ancestor Homo erectus.)
Using the scientific information they could find on the Internet, visual effects artists imagined how the animal would look and move, Taylor says. The result: an ape that resembles an overgrown orangutan, Gigantopithecus’ closest living relative. The movie ape has shaggy hair, flaring cheeks and a saggy pouch that hangs from the throat like a double chin — and towers about 12 feet tall.
It’s difficult to judge how accurate Disney’s rendering is. Despite possibly having been the largest primate ever to have lived, Gigantopithecus
left behind few fossils. Scientists have just four lower jaws and over a thousand teeth, says biological anthropologist Russell Ciochon of the University of Iowa. That’s not much to go on, but Ciochon and colleagues made their own reconstruction a couple decades ago.
The researchers took a jaw from China and made an outline of a skull that could fit such a jaw. Because most primate skulls scale to body size, Ciochon says, his group could estimate Gigantopithecus’ weight, 800 to 900 pounds, and height, about 9 feet from head to toe. (The species that lived in India was actually probably smaller.) Adding other details like hair to the animal is a matter of conjecture, Ciochon says.
But the teeth do offer some solid details about the ape’s lifestyle. Wear patterns and microscopic debris stuck to the teeth indicate Gigantopithecus dined on fruits, leaves, shoots, roots and perhaps even bamboo. Last year, researchers confirmed those details after analyzing the ratios of carbon isotopes in teeth found in Southeast Asia. The analysis also determined that Gigantopithecus was a strict forest dweller, even though it also lived near grasslands in some areas. In fact, the researchers contend, Gigantopithecus’ reliance on forests and its big size — and therefore big appetite — may have been the animal’s undoing. As Southeast Asia’s jungles gave way to expanding grasslands during the last glacial period, Gigantopithecus may have been unable to cope.
Perhaps if our ancestors had shared the secret of fire with Gigantopithecus, the giant ape would still be around today.
Corals are in hot water — and may soon lose their ability to handle the heat.
In Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, most past bouts of warming allowed many corals to adjust their physiology and avoid serious damage. But as waters warm even more, corals could run out of wiggle room, researchers report in the April 15 Science.
“One of the things that we have been striving for is trying to figure out the rate and limit of … physiological adjustments that corals have, how far you can push them,” says marine biologist Stephen Palumbi of Stanford University, who was not involved with the study. Corals may not be able to cope with much more ocean warming, Palumbi says. “I would take this paper as being the first real indication that we have half a degree at most.”
If water temperatures surge quickly, corals may bleach, losing the bacterial residents that provide them with nutrients and oxygen (and color). But if waters warm slightly — less than the roughly 2 degrees Celsius above average heat spike where bleaching begins — and then cool for a brief time before heating up to a greater extent, corals are better prepared to survive the heat. In the lab, corals exposed to this two-step heating process experienced less bleaching and less cell death than corals suffering a high initial heat wave, the researchers found.
“We liken it to the idea of training for a marathon,” says study coauthor Scott Heron, a physical oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch in College Park, Md. “If they have a little bit of exposure, and then the recovery period after that … they’re better prepared for the race when it comes.”
From 1985 to 2011, around 75 percent of warming events on Great Barrier Reef sites occurred in this stepwise fashion, probably allowing corals to steel themselves and survive warmer waters. But with climate models predicting a 2-degree increase in sea temperatures by the end of the century, warming events could soon push corals past their bleaching point with no chance to prepare.
Computer simulations predicted that as waters grow warmer, reef heat waves will increase overall. But the fraction of such events that could condition corals to withstand bleaching will fall from 75 percent to 22 percent, the team reports. Most reefs that have experienced preconditioning in the past will start losing the ability to prepare when water temperatures increase by 0.5 degrees, the team predicts. Warming trends suggest that the added half degree should appear within 40 years. “If that protective mechanism does get lost going into the future, then what we’ve seen so far as being bad impacts could become worse,” Heron says.
For now, preparation may help some corals survive in warming seas, but reduced carbon emissions will also be required to sustain coral cover throughout the century, the team’s data suggest. Palumbi says these predictions are very important. “If we get a handle on emissions, there are substantial predicted differences in the way that coral populations live in the future,” he says. “We are still in a position to choose how the future of coral reefs works out.”
In the summer of 2013, an epidemic began sweeping through the intertidal zone off the west coast of North America. The victims were several species of sea star, including Pisaster ochraceus, a species that comes in orange and purple variants. (It’s also notable because it’s the starfish that provided ecology with the fundamental concept of a keystone species.) Affected individuals appeared to “melt,” losing grip with the rocks to which they were attached — and then losing their arms. This sea star wasting disease, as it is known, soon killed sea stars from Baja California to Alaska.
This wasn’t the first outbreak of sea star wasting disease. A 1978 outbreak in the Gulf of California, for instance, killed so many Heliaster kubinjiisun stars that the once ubiquitous species is now incredibly rare.
These past incidents, though, happened fast and within smaller regions, so scientists had struggled to figure out what had happened. With the latest outbreak happening over such a large — and well-studied — region and period of time, marine biologists have been able to gather more data on the disease than ever before. And they’re getting closer to figuring out just what happened in this latest incident.
One likely factor is the sea star-associated densovirus, which, in 2014, scientists reported finding in greater abundance in starfish with sea star wasting disease than in healthy sea stars. But the virus can’t be the only cause of the disease; it’s found in both healthy and sick sea stars, and it has been around since at least 1942, the earliest year it has been found in museum specimens. So there must be some other factor at play.
Earlier this year, scientists studying the outbreak in Washington state reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B thatwarm waters may increase disease progression and rates of death. Studies of California starfish came to a similar conclusion. But a new study, appearing May 4 in PLOS One , finds that may not be true for sea stars in Oregon. Bruce Menge and colleagues at Oregon State University took advantage of their long-term study of Oregon starfish to evaluate what happened to sea stars during the recent epidemic and found that wasting disease increased with cooler , not warmer, temperatures. “Given conflicting results on the role of temperature as a trigger of [sea star wasting disease], it seems most likely that multiple factors interacted in complex ways to cause the outbreak,” they conclude.
What those factors are, though, is still a mystery.
Also unclear is what long-term effects this outbreak will have on Pacific intertidal communities.
In the 1960s, Robert Paine of the University of Washington performed what is now considered a classic experiment. For years, he removed starfish from one area of rock in Makah Bay at the northwestern tip of Washington and left another bit of rock alone as a control. Without the starfish to prey on them, mussels were able to take over. The sea stars, Paine concluded, were a “keystone species” that kept the local food web in control.
If sea star wasting disease has similar effects on the Pacific intertidal food web, Menge and his colleagues write, “it would result in losses or large reductions of many species of macrophytes, anemones, limpets, chitons, sea urchins and other organisms from the low intertidal zone.”
What happens, the group says, may depend on how quickly the disease disappears from the region and how many young sea stars can grow up and start munching on mussels.
It’s hard to believe that it took reality television this long to get around to dealing with space, time and our place in the cosmos.
In PBS’ Genius by Stephen Hawking, the physicist sets out to prove that anyone can tackle humankind’s big questions for themselves. Each of the series’ six installments focuses on a different problem, such as the possibility of time travel or the likelihood that there is life elsewhere in the universe. With Hawking as a guide, three ordinary folks must solve a series of puzzles that guide them toward enlightenment about that episode’s theme. Rather than line up scientists to talk at viewers, the show invites us to follow each episode’s trio on a journey of discovery.
By putting the focus on nonexperts, Genius emphasizes that science is not a tome of facts handed down from above but a process driven by curiosity. After working through a demonstration of how time slows down near a black hole, one participant reflects: “It’s amazing to see it play out like this.”
The show is a fun approach to big ideas in science and philosophy, and the enthusiasm of the guests is infectious. Without knowing what was edited out, though, it’s difficult to say whether the show proves Hawking’s belief that anyone can tackle these heady questions. Each situation is carefully designed to lead the participants to specific conclusions, and there seems to be some off-camera prompting.
But the bigger message is a noble one: A simple and often surprising chain of reasoning can lead to powerful insights about the universe, and reading about the cosmos pales next to interacting with stand-ins for its grandeur. It’s one thing, for example, to hear that there are roughly 300 billion stars in the Milky Way. But to stand next to a mountain of sand where each grain represents one of those stars is quite another. “I never would have got it until I saw it,” says one of the guests, gesturing to the galaxy of sand grains. “This I get.”
In hunting down delicious fish, Flipper may have a secret weapon: snot.
Dolphins emit a series of quick, high-frequency sounds — probably by forcing air over tissues in the nasal passage — to find and track potential prey. “It’s kind of like making a raspberry,” says Aaron Thode of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. Thode and colleagues tweaked a human speech modeling technique to reproduce dolphin sounds and discern the intricacies of their unique style of sound production. He presented the results on May 24 in Salt Lake City at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America.
Dolphin chirps have two parts: a thump and a ring. Their model worked on the assumption that lumps of tissue bumping together produce the thump, and those tissues pulling apart produce the ring. But to match the high frequencies of live bottlenose dolphins, the researchers had to make the surfaces of those tissues sticky. That suggests that mucus lining the nasal passage tissue is crucial to dolphin sonar.
The vocal model also successfully mimicked whistling noises used to communicate with other dolphins and faulty clicks that probably result from inadequate snot. Such techniques could be adapted to study sound production or echolocation in sperm whales and other dolphin relatives.
Researchers modified a human speech model developed in the 1970s to study dolphin echolocation. The animation above mimics the vibration of lumps of tissue (green) in the dolphin’s nasal passage (black) that are drenched in mucus. Snot-covered tissues (blue) stick together (red) and pull apart to create the click sound.
Jupiter’s turbulence is not just skin deep. The giant planet’s visible storms and blemishes have roots far below the clouds, researchers report in the June 3 Science. The new observations offer a preview of what NASA’s Juno spacecraft will see when it sidles up to Jupiter later this year.
A chain of rising plumes, each reaching nearly 100 kilometers into Jupiter, dredges up ammonia to form ice clouds. Between the plumes, dry air sinks back into the Jovian depths. And the famous Great Red Spot, a storm more than twice as wide as Earth that has churned for several hundred years, extends at least dozens of kilometers below the clouds as well.
Jupiter’s dynamic atmosphere provides a possible window into how the planet works inside. “One of the big questions is what is driving that change,” says Leigh Fletcher, a planetary scientist at the University of Leicester in England. “Why does it change so rapidly, and what are the environmental and climate-related factors that result from those changes?”
To address some of those questions, Imke de Pater, a planetary scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues observed Jupiter with the Very Large Array radio observatory in New Mexico. Jupiter emits radio waves generated by heat left over from its formation about 4.6 billion years ago. Ammonia gas within Jupiter’s atmosphere intercepts certain radio frequencies. By mapping how and where those frequencies are absorbed, the researchers created a three-dimensional map of the ammonia that lurks beneath Jupiter’s clouds. Those plumes and downdrafts appear to be powered by a narrow wave of gas that wraps around much of the planet.
The depths of Jupiter’s atmospheric choppiness isn’t too surprising, says Scott Bolton, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “Almost everyone I know would have guessed that,” he says. But the observations do provide a teaser for what to expect from the Juno mission, led by Bolton. The spacecraft arrives at Jupiter on July 4 to begin a 20-month investigation of what’s going on beneath Jupiter’s clouds using tools similar to those used in this study.
The new observations confirm that Juno should work as planned, Bolton says.
By getting close to the planet — just 5,000 kilometers from the cloud tops — Juno will break through the fog of radio waves from Jupiter’s radiation belts that obscures observations made from Earth and limits what telescopes like the Very Large Array can see. But the spacecraft will see only a narrow swath of Jupiter’s bulk at a time. “That’s where ground-based work like the research de Pater has been doing is really essential,” Fletcher says. Observations such as these will let Juno scientists know what’s going on throughout the atmosphere so they can better understand what Jupiter is telling them.