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 on: Today at 03:31 PM 
Started by Kerri Taylor - Last post by Kerri Taylor
Just a quick question regarding Pluto's south node and the aspects it makes to natal determine the phase is the south node of Pluto your starting point?

Thank you,

 on: Today at 01:17 PM 
Started by Rad - Last post by The Otherside

I have to ask, considering that there are many many "Trumps" on this planet yet a very small percentage of people have actually made that deal, what are the reasons or signatures that you see that makes you say that Trump has made that deal in some previous life? Certainly he is full of himself and narcissistic  beyond compare, he is consumed and drunk with the desire for money and power, he obviously doesn't care about anyone but himself but so many people are like that? Makes you start questioning everything...


 on: Today at 10:27 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Gene-swapping means you have alien DNA inside you

Normally genes get passed down from parents to their young. But sometimes they can jump around, moving from one species to another

By Martha Henriques
31 May 2016

What if a gene from an insect insinuated itself straight into your DNA? What if more than a hundred genes from bacteria did? Would that make you some kind of horrible Franken-human?

No. It would make you exactly what you are today.

It turns out that genes are quite capable of hopping from one organism into a completely different species. Not only do these genes jump, but when they land in a new host they can actively change it. This can give the host species new abilities, sending it down a new evolutionary path. Even humans play host to alien genes, and it seems they have shaped our evolution.

Genes have to keep copying themselves into new hosts, or they will be destroyed when their current host dies.

    Darwin drew a sketch of a branching tree, where each new twig was a new species

The usual route is to pass straight down the generations. When you have children, you pass on some of your genes to them, and so those genes find a new host.

Sometimes the genes get altered along the way. These changes, known as mutations, help ensure that the offspring are different to their parents. Over many generations, enough mutations can build up to create a whole new species – and in the long run, all the diversity of the natural world.

In On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin laid out how this process of evolution works. He drew a sketch of a branching tree, where each new twig was a new species born of accumulated mutations. This is what biologists call the "tree of life".

But there's another way for genes to find a new host.

Sometimes a gene can jump directly from one organism to another organism, which might belong to a completely different species. This process is called horizontal gene transfer.

    The tree of life looks a bit like a strangling fig

That means Darwin's image of the tree of life isn't quite right. If genes can hop about between organisms that are on different branches of the tree, we have to draw lines linking those separate branches.

As a result, the tree becomes a convoluted network of branches and twigs, all knotted together. "The degree of horizontal gene transfer we're finding means the tree of life looks a bit like a strangling fig," says Alastair Crisp of the University of Cambridge in the UK.

That said, these gene transfers are rare. That's because any gene trying to move into a new organism faces a lot of barriers.

Imagine a rogue gene, a loose strand of DNA, is trying to get into a pigeon.

First it has to get inside one of the pigeon's cells intact. Then the cellular machinery might incorporate it into the cell's DNA.

    That's a lot of ifs

But the gene actually faces a bigger challenge than that. If it is to be transferred to the pigeon's offspring, and stand a chance of long-term survival, it has to get into an egg or sperm cell, or an early embryo. These are buried deep inside the pigeon's body.

Even if the gene does get into an embryo, the embryo still has to survive to adulthood and reproduce, passing the gene on. Only then does the gene have a chance of spreading to the wider population.

That's a lot of ifs, so it's far from easy for a jumping gene to become established in another animal's DNA. But if species live close together for long enough, genes can start moving.

Some genes seriously get around. Scientists have tracked some genes from a virus that first jumped into parasitoid wasps called braconids, and then into the wasps' prey: caterpillars.

The virus DNA jumped into the tiny parasitoid wasps around 100 million years ago. It wasn't just one or two stray genes: almost the entire virus genome was incorporated into the wasp's DNA.

    Very occasionally, a caterpillar survives a wasp encounter

Braconid wasps lay their eggs inside the young of other insects, such as caterpillars. The young hatch inside the caterpillars and eat them from within. Once they are mature enough, they eat their way out of the dead caterpillar.

The wasps have evolved to make use of the viral genes. Each female makes virus-like particles, which she injects into a caterpillar along with her eggs.

These particles incapacitate the caterpillar's immune system, rather like HIV in humans. That allows the wasp's offspring to munch their way through the caterpillar unimpeded.

But very occasionally, a caterpillar survives a wasp encounter.

"One interesting feature is when wasp development inside the larva fails for some reason," says Michael Strand of the University of Georgia in Athens. "Many of these wasps attack insects that are not ideal hosts for them."

These lucky caterpillars can sometimes develop normally and metamorphose into adult butterflies. But they don't always manage to get rid of the wasp's viral genes.

    Some gene jumps can have huge ramifications

"Occasionally a viral gene gets transferred into a moth or a butterfly, and it's there," says Strand. "It's like it escapes from the wasp and the virus, literally changing host populations."

This illustrates a key point: transferred genes are sometimes just along for the ride. Wasp hosts have a use for their viral genes, but caterpillar hosts might not get any benefit.

"There are lots of transfer events, most of which don't have adaptive significance that anybody knows of," says Strand.

That said, some gene jumps can have huge ramifications. One species-hopping gene encodes lethal weapons.

In a 2014 study, a team led by Seth Bordenstein of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, found a gene in a virus that shouldn't have been there.

    New viruses then burst out of the cell and can go to infect more victims

Viruses are tiny packets of genetic information encased in a microscopic shell. They are so simple, they can't even replicate themselves. Instead, they must infect an organism that has the tools they need.

A virus will barge its way into a living cell and make thousands or millions of copies of itself. These new viruses then burst out of the cell and can go to infect more victims.

Bordenstein's group were studying the way a particular virus breaks down the cell walls of bacteria in order to infect them. They found that the gene the virus used to do this had spread to other life forms, including fungi, plants and insects.

The gene had even settled in single-celled organisms called archaea that live by boiling hot, pitch-dark and acidic deep-sea vents.

    It's a gene with a universal function

"Our theory is that this kind of transfer is probably a lot more common than we thought," says Bordenstein. "This could be the tip of the iceberg for understanding transfers across the tree of life."

The group conducted a series of experiments to check that the organisms hadn't simply evolved the gene independently.

It's clear why this gene has been so popular. "An antibacterial gene looks quite obviously like something that could cross the domains of life and spread quite easily," says Bordenstein. "It's a gene with a universal function in all organisms: to compete with bacteria."

Rather ironically, this gene that is used to destroy bacteria originally came from bacteria.

The gene encodes a complex molecule called a lysozyme, which chemically weakens cell walls. Bacteria use lysozymes, in moderation, when they divide into two new cells.

    Another gene may have profoundly influenced its new host's evolution

But when other organisms got hold of the gene, they found it was even more useful. They used it to make enough lysozyme to make bacteria burst.

Even humans have a gene for lysozyme, which we secrete in tears, mucus and milk. However, it's not clear whether this gene also came from bacteria or whether it's something we evolved for ourselves. "The science isn't there yet," says Bordenstein.

Regardless, the lysozyme gene has evidently changed a lot of organisms. But it only made one change, giving them one extra ability. Another gene may have gone further, and profoundly influenced its new host's evolution.

In May 2015, it emerged that a single bacterial gene had jumped into the sweet potato genome around 10,000 years ago. This might be somehow linked to our ancestors' domestication of sweet potatoes.

    It causes abnormal growths called galls

Professor Jan Kreuze at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru and his colleagues were studying how sweet potatoes fend off viral infections.

"While I was looking through my data, I found these genes that actually came from bacteria," says Kreuze. "When I looked a bit closer, I saw they were genes only usually found in Agrobacterium."

Agrobacterium is a common bacterium that causes diseases in plants. It causes abnormal growths called galls, which are visible as lumpy swellings on tree trunks.

To do this it transfers its own DNA into its plant host.

"At some point Agrobacterium must have infected an ancestral sweet potato," says Kreuze. "Those cells that were infected and were transgenic might have formed a gall. But they also generated a new plant, which was then able to transfer these Agrobacterium genes to the next generation."

    Maybe the genes somehow helped to make sweet potatoes tasty

His group tested nearly 300 types of modern sweet potato, and they all had genes from Agrobacterium.

Those genes aren't found in any of the sweet potato's wild relatives. So Kreuze thinks they are linked to the plant's domestication. "Why else would you find them present in all domesticated varieties but not in the wild ones?"

Maybe the genes somehow helped to make sweet potatoes tasty. But for now we don't know for sure that Kreuze is right. "It's not proof," he says. "Correlation is not causation."

Even if the Agrobacterium genes really did contribute to the domestication of sweet potatoes, transferred genes can never be as important as those passed from parent to offspring.

At least for complex organisms like animals and plants, parents are still the most important source of genetic information. Among multicellular organisms in particular, horizontal gene transfer is the exception rather than the rule.

In other words, these genes are very few compared to the ones we've evolved for ourselves. But even in humans, horizontally transferred genes can be found, and in surprisingly large numbers.

    These genes from other organisms are making proteins which are useful to us

In 2015, Crisp and his colleagues found that there are about 145 alien genes nestling in the human genome. They seem to have arrived relatively recently from plants, animals, fungi and bacteria.

Horizontal gene transfer is "being detected more and more", says Kreuze. "It's been an important part of the evolution of different species across the whole planet, including ourselves."

The genes Crisp found aren't just along for the ride: they are active. "These genes from other organisms are making proteins which are useful to us," says Crisp. "That's why these genes can persist."

Some of the genes are involved in determining our blood type, while others are important in metabolism. But there are others performing even more intimate jobs.

In the first few days of your life, you may have been churning out copies of one of the newest viruses to integrate into our genome.

The HERV-K virus infected humans about 200,000 years ago, around the time of the origin of our species. However, it had been infecting primates long before, and made its way into our ancestors many times.

    HERV-K could be protecting the embryo from infections from viruses

Not everyone has it. But in those who do, it seems to play a role in the early development of embryos.

Edward Grow of Stanford University in California and his colleagues studied unused IVF embryos. They found that HERV-K genes were turned on for a short time after the egg was fertilised, but before the embryo implants into the wall of the mother's womb.

It's not clear what the viral genes are doing, but one idea is that they protect the embryo from other viruses.

"We're being infected by them all the time," says Grow. "HERV-K could be protecting the embryo from infections from viruses expressed in other cells or new viral infections."

Viral genes also seem to be crucial in the next stage of pregnancy.

One of the big problems with giving birth to live young, as we do, is controlling what goes into the foetus while it's developing. The mother needs to send the foetus nutrients and oxygen, but not harmful chemicals.

    Genes from viruses have shaped our evolution

In humans and in other mammals, the mother uses an organ called the placenta to share useful chemicals with the foetus. The placenta has a special layer called the syncytiotrophoblast, made up of cells fused together, that acts as a protective barrier for the foetus.

In 1999, it emerged that the syncytiotrophoblast expresses viral genes that our ancestors picked up over 45 million years ago. One of these genes codes for a protein called syncytin, which helps the cells fuse together.

Clearly, genes from viruses have shaped our evolution.

"There is a massive cloud of virus genetic information, which is raining down and modifying us," says Luis Villarreal of the University of California, Irvine in the US. "It's not just transmitting information from one host to another, but it's actually originating novelty."

    Our relationships with the other life-forms on Earth are much closer than we thought

Everything from viruses to insects has given us genes, and those genes have changed the ways our bodies work and helped us evolve. Even our most distant cousins have been involved in the evolution of our species.

Horizontal gene transfer tells us that our relationships with the other life-forms on Earth are much closer than we thought. However different from us an organism may be, it seems their genes can often be remarkably useful to us.

We are only starting to discover just how many alien genes we have and what they are doing for us.

 on: Today at 06:37 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
U.S. Elections

A Bombshell Letter Exposes Donald Trump’s Hated For And War On Disabled Veterans

By Jason Easley on Sun, May 29th, 2016 at 5:36 pm

While Trump is campaigning on his love of the troops a letter that Trump once wrote trying to deny disabled vets an opportunity to make a living sheds light on his real feelings.

The New York Daily News reported on Trump’s decades-long war on New York’s disabled veteran street peddlers:

    But Trump has time and again pushed New York to limit laws on peddling — including by veterans, who can get special vendor licenses from the Department of Consumer Affairs in thanks for their service.

    “While disabled veterans should be given every opportunity to earn a living, is it fair to do so to the detriment of the city as a whole or its tax paying citizens and businesses?” Trump wrote in a 1991 letter to John Dearie, then-chairman of the state Assembly’s Committee on Cities.

    “Do we allow Fifth Ave., one of the world’s finest and most luxurious shopping districts, to be turned into an outdoor flea market, clogging and seriously downgrading the area?” Trump demanded.


    He complained in a letter to then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg that the ambiance of Fifth Ave. — the address of his gleaming Trump Tower headquarters — was being wrecked by peddlers, including some he accused of only posing as vets.

Trump questions the service records of veterans while treating them like street trash. Donald Trump accused disabled veterans of downgrading the area. He basically whined that disabled veterans an eyesore who were lowering the status of his property.

Trump has spent decades trying to prevent the city’s disabled vets from earning a living.

This is not a man who any veteran should trust.

Donald Trump has shown nothing but contempt for veterans did what he was too cowardly to do. These vets served and were permanently disabled in service of their country. Donald Trump refused to serve and was able to use his family’s wealth to avoid going to Vietnam.

A man who is capable of showing such hatred and contempt for disabled veterans is not someone who the majority of the voters should want serving as Commander In Chief.

Actions speak louder than words, and Trump has acted like a man who has no respect for disabled veterans.


Bernie Sanders Is Sounding A Lot Like A Guy Who May Want To Be Vice President

By Jason Easley on Sun, May 29th, 2016 at 5:09 pm

After listening to Bernie Sanders dodge a question about being Hillary Clinton's running mate, it is clear that Sen. Sanders sounds a lot like someone who may really want to be VP.
Bernie Sanders Is Sounding A Lot Like A Guy Who May Want To Be Vice President

After listening to Bernie Sanders dodge a question about being Hillary Clinton’s running mate, it is clear that Sen. Sanders is sounding a lot like someone who may really want to be VP.

Here was the exchange between Sanders and Chuck Todd on Meet The Press:


    Would you take the call if Hillary Clinton asked you to be her running mate?


    Well, right now, again, here we are in California, I’m knocking my brains out to win the Democratic nomination.


    Yes, you are.


    That’s where I am right now. What happens afterwards, we will see. But right now, my focus is on winning the nomination.


    Well, that was a very political type of answer that says you’re not answering the question. Fair enough, you’re not ruling it out.


    What I am saying right now is our focus is on winning the Democratic nomination.

Sen. Sanders has yet to say no when asked if he would be interested in being Hillary Clinton’s running mate, which raises the question if those who are speculating about the end game for Bernie Sanders have got it all wrong?

Sanders definitely wants to be the Democratic nominee, but what does he have to gain by giving up his leverage until he has to? What if Bernie Sanders wants to be on the Democratic ticket? Sanders knows that even if Clinton wins the White House and Democrats take back the Senate, it could be tough sledding.

Sen. Sanders lived through the early Obama years of endless McConnell obstruction. If Democrats win less than 60 seats, the Senate could be facing a future of more Republican blocking of everything. Sanders has already been there and done that.

The Senator from Vermont could offer Clinton an immediate unification of the party, and the services of an attack dog running mate who would love to spend the fall campaign circling the country and taking on Donald Trump. If the Clinton campaign looks up in July and still sees a somewhat close race with Trump, they will have to give the chances of a Clinton/Sanders ticket some thought.

Bernie Sanders doesn’t sound like a guy who is ready to go back to the Senate. In fact, he sounds a lot like someone who might be very interested in being VP.

 on: Today at 06:31 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Egyptian girl dies during banned female genital mutilation operation

Authorities investigate after 17-year-old died under general anaesthetic in a private hospital, despite FGM being illegal in the country

Agence France-Presse
Tuesday 31 May 2016 03.00 BST

Egyptian prosecutors are investigating the death of a teenage girl during a female genital mutilation operation at a private hospital.

Mayar Mohamed Mousa, 17, died in a hospital in the province of Suez on Sunday while under full anaesthesia, said Lotfi Abdel-Samee, the local health ministry undersecretary.

“This is something that the law has prohibited,” stressed Abdel-Samee.

Despite the ban in 2008, female genital mutilation (FGM) is still widespread in Egypt, especially in rural areas. It is practised among Muslims as well as Egypt’s minority Christians.

The law led to the first prison sentence against a doctor in Egypt in January 2015, with the girl’s father in that case given a three-month suspended sentence.

On Sunday, Mousa’s sister had just undergone the operation before she was sent in for surgery.

The girls’ mother is a nurse, while their late father was a surgeon. The operation was being carried out by a registered female doctor, according to Abdel-Samee.

Authorities shut down the hospital on Monday after transferring patients to other hospitals as prosecutors questioned the hospital manager and medical staff involved in the operation, Abdel-Samee said.

They have also spoken to the mother, a prosecution official said.

The case was opened after a health inspector reported the circumstances of the girl’s death.

Medical examiners have carried out an autopsy, and are due to report the cause of death, said Abdel-Samee.

While 200 million women and girls worldwide have been subjected to the practise, there have been major strides in Egypt, as well as Liberia, Burkina Faso, and Kenya against FGM, according to Claudia Cappa, the lead author of a February UN children’s agency report on the issue.

“The latest figures from the Egypt Demographic and Health Survey show that we’re winning,” the United Nations Development Programme said in a report last year.

“Mothers’ attitudes are changing, too,” UNDP said.

While 92% of mothers had undergone the procedure, only 35% of them “intend to circumcise their daughters,” according to the UNDP report.

Victims of the procedure are left to cope with a range of consequences from bleeding and pain while urinating, extreme discomfort during sex, fatal complications in childbirth and deep psychological trauma.


Ifrah Ahmed: helping Somalia's government end FGM

We talk to the Irish woman who survived female genital mutilation as a child as she becomes the Somali prime minister’s adviser on gender issues.

Ifrah Ahmed
Friday 27 May 2016 16.29 BST

    At 17 years old, Ifrah Ahmed left Somalia because of the war. With the help of medical professionals in Ireland, her new home, she came to terms with the horror of Female Genital Mutilation she underwent at eight years old. Her determination to highlight the truths about the barbaric practice have brought her full circle, back to Somalia, as an adviser to the government there. She visited the Guardian offices in London to tell us more about her new job.

Why me?

I first went back to Somalia in March 2013 after years as a FGM campaigner in Europe, mainly to visit my grandmother. I also visited camps for internally displaced people, where I met so many beautiful young girls. One morning, a girl told me that she and two other girls were to be cut the following Friday.

    A girl told me that she and two other girls were to be cut the following Friday

They showed me the hut where they were going to stay and it was shocking. My heart broke for them and so I called a friend and asked what should I do. He said to me: “Follow your heart and do what you think is right.” I was lucky enough to save these girls by giving the family money in return for which they swore on the Qur’an that FGM would not be in their future.

But I couldn’t stay in the camp as I was scared that a lot of people would appear with girls saying they too were at risk of FGM, and I knew I just couldn’t help them all.

Working with the Somalian government

On a trip to the EU parliament for a conference, I met with the former Somalian minister of women and human rights, who told me that my voice was needed in Somalia. She asked me to come back and work at the Ministry for Women where I would be part of the development of child rights programmes, including the ratification of the convention on the rights of the child in Somalia, particularly FGM.

I was lucky to have the support of the minister of women Khadijah Mohamed Dirrie. With her backing, I started engaging directly with communities to promote the prevention of FGM as well as with religious leaders.

‘All mothers want the best for their daughter’s future’

The communities are difficult to deal with because mothers still believe that FGM is a generational tradition and some are convinced that girls go through a religious experience with it. After many months of researching and working with the Ifrah Foundation, we developed a very simple, basic belief that all mothers want the best for their daughter’s future. We came up with the Dear Daughter campaign. A letter of commitment and promise, a pledge almost, that each and every mother can write to her daughter to promise her a future free of FGM.

My country of birth is often quoted statistically as the country with the highest incidence of FGM. How could I tackle the task of eradicating FGM across a country slowly emerging from the ravages of a 30-year war? Understandably, the government is dealing with all sorts of immediate emergencies, the religious leaders are engaging with hardline reactionary issues. The day-to-day life of Somalis, so many of whom have been displaced because of the war, is very hard.

To focus their attention on FGM as a human rights issue has taken years. To tackle awareness, I set up conventions and symposiums intended to provide education, with the support of Amison and the University of Mogadishu. I solicited the backing of key government ministers, who are now so supportive that they have appointed me gender coordinator on behalf of the government. The prime minister himself has spoken out publicly of his support for FGM legislation and even signed the AVAAZ petition, (1 million signatures), at a meeting in Rome last month. He has undertaken to pass the legislation before the end of the next parliamentary session. As a result, a number of aid groups with infrastructure on the ground in Somalia have undertaken to partner with the Ifrah Foundation and the Somalian government to implement a national FGM abandonment programme, focused on education and empowerment.

It’s only the beginning, but I am optimistic that the future for girls in Somalia will be very different to my own.

Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation - Ifrah Ahmed- End FGM #ZeroFGM:

 on: Today at 06:23 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
How child sexual abuse became a family business in the Philippines

Tens of thousands of children believed to be victims of live-streaming abuse, some of it being carried out by their own parents

by Oliver Holmes in Manila
Tuesday 31 May 2016 03.11 BST

When Philippine police smashed into the one-bedroom house, they found three girls aged 11, seven and three lying naked on a bed.

At the other end of the room stood the mother of two of the children – the third was her niece – and her eldest daughter, aged 13, who was typing on a keyboard. A live webcam feed on the computer screen showed the faces of three white men glaring out.

An undercover agent had infiltrated the impoverished village two weeks before the raid. Pretending to be a Japayuki, a slang term for a Filipina sex worker living in Japan, she had persuaded a resident to introduce her to the children, who played daily in the gravel streets.

Her guise was intended to put them at ease, to show them she worked in the same industry; she was one of them. She became close to the eldest, referred to as Nicole although that is not her real name. After a few days of chatting, Nicole causally told the agent about their “shows”.

“It was the first time we heard of parents using their children,” said the middle-aged woman.

Authorities considered that operation in 2011 to be a one-off case. But the next month, another family was caught in the same area. Then more cases of live-streaming child abuse appeared in different parts of the Philippines.

Philippines child sex abuse: one young girl’s story of online trauma: <iframe src="" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Now, the United Nations says, there are tens of thousands of children believed to be involved in a rapidly expanding local child abuse industry already worth US$1bn.

In some areas, entire communities live off the business, abetted by increasing internet speeds, advancing cameraphone technology, and growing ease of money transfers across borders.

And while perpetrators used to download photos and videos to their hard drives – providing authorities with a virtual paper trail and usable evidence – criminals have found anonymity in encrypted live-streaming programs.

International police agencies are mobilising. The Virtual Global Taskforce, a partnership of international law enforcement agencies and Interpol, has dedicated 2016 to combatting the live-streaming of child abuse.

Next month, Unicef will launch a campaign to educate young people about the risks of the online world. The UK’s #WeProtect project, an international alliance to fight online child abuse, has promised £10m to the campaign.

‘It is big money’

Stephanie McCourt, the south-east Asia liaison officer for the UK’s National Crime Agency, said the Philippines provided a perfect storm to allow the crime to develop, with its entrenched poverty and high level of internet access for a developing country. But there is one thing that she said was absolutely key: a widespread knowledge of the English language.

“They can communicate with offenders. After we’d been scratching our heads, the penny dropped,” she said. “That’s not to say that it won’t move to other countries … There is probably a huge amount we don’t know.”

It is hard to estimate the size of an industry involving small anonymous payments, roughly $5-$200 a show, conducted in people’s homes and mostly operated by families rather than large crime syndicates.

“We think that what we are seeing, what we are dealing with, is a small part of what is out there,” she said. “It is big money. Big business.”

Children are made to perform around the clock, with morning live-streams catering to Europeans and Americans, and later in the day, an Australian-based clientele.

The number of ongoing live-streaming criminal cases in the Philippines is rising, from 57 in 2013, growing to 89 in 2014, and up to 167 in 2015.

    The business is nearly always immune to policing and almost never results in a conviction

But those numbers belie the true scale, according to Det Supt Paul Hopkins, the head of the Australian Federal Police team in Manila who has spent the past two years investigating the crime. Wearing a short-sleeved, Filipino-style shirt, he described the size of the trade as “monstrous”.

One indication of how much is being missed is the number of “cybertips”, reports of sexual exploitation against children collected by the US-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). In 2015 alone, NCMEC forwarded nearly 15,000 tips to the Philippine Office of Cybercrime and 80% referred to the online exploitation of children. .

That is not to say the perpetrators are only based there. The Dutch NGO Terre des Hommes analysed the industry by constructing a virtual 10-year-old Filipino girl called “Sweetie” and used the computer model to entrap more than 1,000 adults who paid for her to perform sex acts. The charity identified adults from more than 71 countries seeking out Sweetie’s services.

“If you do any research you’ll see it is from anywhere,” Hopkins said.

Yet the business is nearly always immune to policing and almost never results in a conviction. In the Philippines, there have been only two convictions for this type of abuse. All other cases are still pending.

Unlike previous forms of child sexual abuse, there are no photos uploaded to the internet that police can track. Instead, the conversations are live and encrypted through Skype, and payment is made by anonymous wire transfers.

And while children have historically testified against sex traffickers in court, they have proved unwilling to incriminate their parents.

Children see abuse as normal

In the 2011 case, the police thought the children would welcome the operation. But the undercover agent says Nicole did not feel rescued; she felt betrayed.

“I know that she is angry with me,” the woman said.

Apart from the scene witnessed as the raid took place, police say they had a video showing the mother sexually abusing her children. It was submitted by an anonymous source from a western country who used his phone to film the abuse on his computer screen.

All six of the mother’s children – three boys and three girls – were moved to a rescue centre, a row of one-storey houses on a quiet path set back from the noise of the main roads. Trees surround the houses, and the staff have planted orchids by the path. In front of the children’s house is a small playground.

The day they arrived, the children played on the swings. Unlike others at the shelter, they showed no overt signs of abuse, their social worker explained. The staff, who had never dealt with a case like this before, wondered if they should be kept in the same shelter as other children who had been physically abused by paedophiles.

The children appeared oblivious to the fact that they had been exploited and it could affect them badly to realise they were abused like others around them.

The three-year-old continued to do “sexualised dancing” in front of other children, who complained to the staff.

“It was a struggle for the children to try to understand what their parents did,” said the social worker, sitting in the house where they live. “When one would start crying, the other children would collectively cry. They always converged in a small huddle.”

Directly after the arrest, the eldest boy, 16 at the time, did appear to be in shock, the psychologist Rosemarie Gonato said, but not from the abuse. “He was quite traumatised by the rescue operation.”

The two younger daughters had no idea that the abuse was anything but normal. “They said it was a business in the neighbourhood. It seemed natural to be involved in this as the other children were doing it,” she said. Police found that it was the children who first heard about live-streaming as a money maker when playing with their friends.

While the children have flourished – on the wall are photos of them, the two eldest beaming while wearing graduation hats and gowns – they are still unable, five years later, to understand the crime.

One child, now 14, told the Guardian her parents wanted the best for them. “I’d like to stay here and finish my course. Then I’d like to go home,” she said.

Gonato said: “In all the sessions I had [with the children], they still wanted their parents to get out of jail.” A couple of years after the raid, the children wrote a letter to Gonato, which read: “We hope you find the ability to forgive our parents.”

‘I accept that I have to suffer’

Five years after her arrest, and only a few miles from the family home, the mother of the children lives in the female quarters of a prison. Wearing a yellow T-shirt, blue eye makeup, lipstick and earrings, she gave birth to her seventh child behind bars. She denies the charges against her.

In her account, the children were naked as they were getting ready for a bath before school. Nicole was on Facebook, she said.

“I don’t think about the case. I have faith in God,” she said in the first interview since her detention. However, she added, “I accept that I have to suffer”.

Her two eldest children, including Nicole, have visited every Christmas and, last year, a judge allowed all six to come for the first time. “It was a joyful occasion,” she said, breaking in to tears in the small jail office where she is guarded by an officer. Money she earns through a prison work programme is sent to the children.

Live-streaming has turned policing on its head. Interpol currently has an eight-step process to identify victims of child abuse, with step two being that the crime is documented by the abuser with photos and videos. Such documentation does not exist with live-streaming.

“When we see a money transfer from the Netherlands to the Philippines of €20, in court we might be able to prove it was for a webcam session. But the other side can say it was with an adult woman,” said the Dutch police attache in Manila, who asked to remain anonymous to comply with Netherlands police procedure.

Even when there is video evidence, such as in the 2011 case, the Philippines’ strong privacy laws make convictions hard to achieve.

The anti-wiretapping act means evidence collected from computers – even video footage of the abuse – cannot always be used in court. And a police offer can only get permission for a warrant if they have personal knowledge of the abuse.

This is why the undercover agent had to confirm that the parents were abusing their children.

Victims entangled in own abuse

On top of that, there are questions about whether a parental conviction is the best outcome for the victims. Both Gonato and the paediatrician who treated the children, Naomi Navarro-Poca, believe it is in the children’s interests to be reunited with their parents and live at home rather than in a shelter.

Even the prosecutor, who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity to protect the identities of the children, said she was hoping for a plea bargain to get a reduced sentence.

“We really want reunification with the family,” she said, adding that the minimum sentence for the parents would be 12 years, with five already served. The youngest child would be eight when they were released. How the parents would be prevented from reoffending is not known.

A plea bargain rests on the mother admitting to the crime, a move the prosecutor said she hoped to achieve this year by asking Nicole to convince her mother. Yet cooperation with the children is proving frustratingly hard to achieve.

The social workers, doctors, police, legal team and psychologists working with the children initially assumed they were trying to protect their parents out of love. But it became apparent there were other reasons for them holding back, especially the eldest.

    They saw the neighbours making money. They suggested it to their parents

Several factors about the crime did not make sense. For one, the parents are unable to speak the level of English needed to communicate with perpetrators abroad, even though they are considered to be the instigators of the crimes.

And in therapy sessions, the eldest boy said their lives had changed for the better since they started the “shows”: the family had more money, they could eat at the local fast food chain Jollibee, and their mother could stop working in a factory.

Slowly, what had happened became apparent. “They saw the neighbours making money. They suggested it to their parents,” the prosecutor said. And at 13, it was Nicole who spoke to the paedophiles online, not her mother.

There were even times when the children did it without their parents present, the prosecutor said.

“It is such a sad story. Such a poor family needing money,” said Hopkins. “Mum was educated to grade one. This is the irony of it – the mother was just as vulnerable. The eldest daughter had a higher level of education.

“I’ve heard of other cases where the elder kids had very much been part of it. They need psychological support to know that it is wrong.”

While no blame can ever be attributed to children in these cases, the Philippines is struggling to understand how to punish crimes where the victims are deeply entangled in their own abuse, especially if parents are putting pressure on them to find an income.

“Children will do anything for their parents,” said Lotta Sylwander, the Unicef representative to the Philippines who is leading the online safety campaign.

“We need to raise awareness and vigilance of this issue, so that parents and others understand that child abuse – in any form – is not just morally wrong, it is also extremely harmful to children’s health and development.

“Unfortunately, at the moment the situation is getting worse, not better.”

 on: Today at 06:16 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Iceland plans Airbnb restrictions amid tourism explosion

Move to tax people who rent out properties through website as officials and residents express concerns over visitor impact

Caroline Davies
Monday 30 May 2016 08.28 BST

Iceland is poised to curb an Airbnb explosion as it tries to balance record tourist numbers with the protection of its spectacular unspoilt landscape and traditional lifestyle.

Proposed legislation, which could become law this week, seeks to restrict the number of days residents can offer Airbnb rentals in their properties to 90 days a year before they must pay business tax.

The move comes as the island’s 335,000-strong population is set to welcome 1.6 million visitors this year – a 29% increase on last year – drawn by the glaciers, fjords, lava fields, hot springs, hiking trails and midnight sun.

It is one of a series of measures aimed at controlling the rapid rise in visitors, including Game of Thrones fans flocking to the drama’s shooting locations.

Tourism has been the salvation of the North Atlantic island where the economy, built on fishing, was seriously damaged after the catastrophic collapse of its banking industry in the 2008 global recession.

Now, as the building of hotels struggles to keep pace with tourism growth, many Icelanders are cashing in through Airbnb and other short-term rental websites, especially in central Reykjavík, where the majority of tourists stay.

One report estimates a 124% increase in Airbnb rentals in one year, with more than 100 flats available on the capital’s main street alone. The result has been a dramatic increase in house prices in central Reykjavík, and a paucity of long-term rentals.

Elvar Orri Hreinsson, a research analyst at Íslandsbanki who recently produced a report on the impact of tourism in Iceland, said the ratio of short-term holiday lets to properties in the central capital was “really high” compared with other countries with larger populations.

One thousand new hotel rooms were needed this year, yet only 300 were planned, he said.

“We are only building 30% of what we need in the capital area,” he said, making it impossible to keep up. But he cautioned against “following the growth at that pace”.

Tourism now accounts for 34% of Iceland’s export revenues, compared with 18% in 2010. As such, Hreinsson said, the economy would be hit more heavily now by a setback such as a volcanic eruption, than i9t was after the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull.

In April, the supreme court ruled that anyone in an apartment block needed permission from other residents before renting their apartment through Airbnb. Two municipal councils, Kirkjubæjarklaustur and Vík í Mýrdal, have already implemented measures to restrict short-term tourist accommodation. The latter reportedly has rooms for 1,300 guests, but a population of just 540.

The new law, which is in the final stages of review, would apply across Iceland. Áshildur Bragadóttir, the director of Visit Reykjavík, said she was quite confident it would be passed “because everyone sees that something needs to change. We don’t want downtown Reykjavík to be tourists only, with no locals”.

Local media have reported complaints that “puffin shops” – those aimed at tourists – and Viking-themed enterprises were taking over in downtown Reykjavík.

Ólöf Ýrr Atladóttir, the director of the Icelandic Tourist Board, said there were “some challenges, but not heavy tensions”, and recent research showed Icelanders were positive towards visitors and tourism itself, despite some concerns. But, she said, “we need to monitor [it] very closely and take care that we don’t, for example, create a city centre devoid of citizens”.

She said the legislation was not an attempt to ban Airbnb, because many tourists preferred that experience to hotels, but to establish controls and “to give it a place within the [tourism] sector where it has to adhere to rules”.

Inadequate infrastructure has also led to some tensions between residents and visitors, in particular over the lack of public toilets and parking at the most popular sights, including the Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir geothermal spring, and Þingvellir national park. There have been accusations of tourists urinating and defecating on the graves of famous Icelandic poets, and driving rental cars off-road over fragile protected sites.

Gunnar þór Jóhannesson, an associate professor in geography and tourism at the University of Iceland, said the lack of infrastructure was a challenge. With Keflavík as its one gateway airport, Iceland was “struggling to distribute our tourists around the island”. Some hotspots were under pressure in the high season, and there were concerns that “the city centre is being hollowed out, becoming sort of Disneyfied”.

A cap on tourist numbers on the most popular hiking trails, such as the Laugavegur, might be an option, he said, but a cap would not work for towns or the city. “We are not there yet and I don’t think it’s the right way to go.”

The government is looking at introducing direct international flights to Egilsstaðir in the east and Akureyri in the north, which, said Atladottír, would help even out visitor numbers around the country throughout the year, and make less-visited areas of the island more accessible, particularly during winter months.

Platforms, barriers and trails could help increase the number of visitors to key sites and protect them at the same time, Johannesson said.

“We have to take care in not going too fast, and we have to have the time and space to gather the information and data we need to make the best decision we can.

“It is easy to paint a rather bleak picture of what is happening, because it happened so fast, that Iceland is getting swamped in tourists. But it is not necessarily like that. It is a huge challenge, and in all fairness, the government is trying now and taking a firm grip on things,” he said. “It is growing pains.”

 on: Today at 06:11 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
When global warming made our world super-hot

55 million years ago, temperatures on Earth rose dramatically in one of the most dramatic examples of climate change on record. The world was never the same again

By Colin Barras
31 May 2016

In the late 1980s, as the world's governments were waking up to the problem of climate change, the mud at the bottom of the ocean near Antarctica revealed a surprise. Earth had lived through rapid global warming before.

About 55 million years ago global temperatures spiked. Then, as now, sea levels rose, the oceans became more acidic, and species disappeared forever.

Little wonder, then, that researchers view this ancient event – known as the "Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum" or PETM – as a potential goldmine of useful information for understanding modern climate change.

We now know that the PETM was one of the most rapid and dramatic instances of climate change in Earth's history. Its causes are still up for debate, but there seem to be eerie parallels with the causes of modern climate change. What is absolutely clear is that the PETM's effects were far-reaching. It may have altered the course of life on Earth.

The geologists who studied those Antarctic sediments in the 1980s published their findings in 1991. They reported that the shells of tiny planktonic fossils in the muds had betrayed the rapid temperature swings.

    The PETM seems to have been caused by greenhouse gases just like modern-day climate change

More precisely, it was the oxygen isotopes locked away in those shells. At around the 55-million-year mark, the amount of "heavy" oxygen-18 in the shells rose relative to "lighter" oxygen-16.

That greater abundance of oxygen-18 is a sure sign that conditions were getting warmer. Water evaporates more readily at higher temperatures, and it's the "light" oxygen-16 that is most easily vapourised. This means that warmer water contains more oxygen-18, and the plankton living in warmer water incorporate more of the stuff into their shells.

Those planktonic shells turned out to be useful for another reason. They hinted at exactly why ocean temperatures rose.

This is because of the carbon they contain.

    Today's global warming is not simply a rerun of the PETM

Like oxygen, carbon exists in different isotopic forms. At exactly the same time that the plankton shells became rich in oxygen-18, they also began carrying much more carbon-12 relative to carbon-13. The oceans must suddenly have gained a big supply of carbon-12.

This is something that generally happens after a massive injection of carbon-rich greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide (CO2) or methane – into the atmosphere.

In other words, the PETM seems to have been caused by greenhouse gases just like modern-day climate change.

But today's global warming is not simply a rerun of the PETM. Earth was a very different place 55 million years ago.

One of the biggest concerns today is that the Antarctic ice sheet is shrinking because of climate change. This wasn't a problem during the PETM, because there probably was no Antarctic ice sheet. Even before the onset of the PETM, global temperatures were several degrees warmer than they are now.

    All researchers agree that the unusually warm conditions lasted about 170,000 years

Some researchers think the pace of climate change during the PETM distinguishes the event from today too. A controversial study published in 2013 made the case.

Researchers examined another set of muds that formed at the bottom of the ocean 55 million years ago, this time in the north-west Atlantic. They found banding in the muds that they argued was formed by annual cycles.

When they traced the oxygen and carbon isotope blips associated with the PETM, they found that they were contained in just 13 bands. This means, they said, that the PETM temperature surge came in just 13 years.

This does not imply that the PETM came and went in little more than a decade. All researchers agree that the unusually warm conditions, with global temperatures at least 5 °C above average, lasted about 170,000 years.

    Modern climate change doesn't have such a dramatic trigger

What it would imply is that global temperatures ramped up to that 5 °C figure in just 13 years. Today, in contrast, global temperatures have risen about 1 °C since the late 19th century.

If PETM climate change really were so rapid, there would be implications for the event that triggered the warming. To create such a rapid rise in global temperature, the atmosphere would have had to be flooded with greenhouse gases almost literally overnight.

Perhaps the release of gases from the melting of a huge carbon-rich comet that flew too close to the Earth would do the trick. Modern climate change doesn't have such a dramatic trigger.

But it's important to stress that many researchers strongly reject that 13-year figure.

There are all sorts of problems with the idea, says Richard Zeebe at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Most importantly, it is physically impossible for the oceans to heat up that quickly.

    Most researchers think the PETM warming really took place over a long period

The Earth's oceans contain a vast amount of water, and heating it up takes time. Even if there was a massive and sudden injection of CO2 into Earth's atmosphere, the oceans simply could not heat up in just 13 years.

"You can heat up the atmosphere relatively quickly, but it takes centuries to millennia to heat up the oceans," says Zeebe.

Other researchers now suggest that the 13 bands in the rock must each represent centuries, not single years. That's if the bands are real at all: some sediment drilling experts say they might simply be an artefact of the drilling process the researchers used to extract the muds.

Most researchers think the PETM warming really took place over a  long period, but exactly how long is still up for discussion.

One 2011 estimate suggests that the carbon was released over a period of perhaps 20,000 years.

Such a slow release is very different from today. It might indicate that the greenhouse gases came from the relatively gradual release of gases from volcanic activity.

    It looks like the carbon was released into the atmosphere over about 1500 years

Research published in 2014 points to a middle ground. Gabriel Bowen at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and his colleagues examined the carbon isotopes preserved in soils that formed 55 million years ago in what is now Wyoming.

Whereas the ocean sediments tell us about conditions in the PETM oceans, the soils sample the PETM atmosphere, which responds more rapidly to climate change.

The by-now-familiar surge in carbon-12 popped up again, this time preserved in carbonate nodules that grew in the soil. In this case, it looks like the carbon was released into the atmosphere over about 1500 years: a timescale that looks more similar to today's atmospheric changes.

The ancient soils also indicate the pace of carbon emissions.

The researchers calculated that something approaching 1 billion tonnes of carbon entered the ancient atmosphere each year. That is within an order of magnitude of the current annual release rate of 9.5 billion tonnes.

In light of these findings, the PETM looks like a more reasonable model for today's climate change.

    When the oceans warm up a little, vast deposits of methane that are "frozen" in the seabed begin to melt

Bowen and his colleagues made another discovery in Wyoming. They realised that there were actually two distinct pulses of warming 55 million years ago.

A few thousand years before the PETM itself, a vast quantity of carbon-rich greenhouse gases entered the atmosphere from an unidentified source, again at a rate of about 1 billion tonnes per year.

The environment seemed seems to have almost brushed off this "pre-onset event". Atmospheric temperatures rose, but within a couple of thousand years they fell again. Conditions had apparently returned to normal.

The fall in atmospheric temperatures probably came about because the oceans absorbed the heat from the pre-onset event. That might have paved the way for the PETM itself.

When the oceans warm up a little, vast deposits of methane that are "frozen" in the seabed begin to melt. The methane – a potent greenhouse gas – bubbles up, enters the atmosphere and raises global temperatures.

    I think that in general the jury is still out

This leads to more ocean warming, triggers more methane release from the seabed, and causes atmospheric temperatures to rise more, and so on. Soon the planet becomes very warm, which is exactly what happened 55 million years ago during the PETM.

Something similar might be happening today. As the modern oceans warm there is good evidence that methane is once again bubbling up from the seabed. The PETM offers us a preview of where that can lead.

However, all of these explanations for the onset of the PETM are still just proposals. There is no scientific consensus on the exact cause of the PETM, beyond the fact that it clearly involved a release of greenhouse gases from somewhere.

"I think that in general the jury is still out," says Bowen.

    While the PETM's exact cause is still elusive, its effects are clear

Under the more controversial scenarios, like the idea of a passing comet, the trigger for the event and the pace of climate change have very few parallels with the warming our planet is now experiencing.

Under the more plausible scenarios, like the snowballing release of methane from beneath the sea, the parallels with today are clear.

Regardless, while the PETM's exact cause is still elusive, its effects are clear.

Even back in 1991 when it was first described, it was evident that the PETM was a killer.

    Other microbes may have taken advantage of those oxygen-poor conditions

Some of the microfossil species preserved in the Antarctic sediments disappeared as the warming began. The species impacted were those that lived deep in the oceans. They experienced their most severe extinction in tens of millions of years.

Curiously, many microscopic species that lived in the shallower ocean waters actually flourished – an early sign that there were winners and losers as the climate changed.

It was probably a combination of factors that killed the deep-sea species. The warmer temperatures would have been unwelcome, but there may also have been less oxygen available in that warmer water.

However, other microbes may have taken advantage of those oxygen-poor conditions.

Some oceanic sediments from the time contain high quantities of an iron-rich magnetic mineral called magnetite. Some species use magnetite in their bodies: either because of its hardness (it makes good teeth) or its magnetic properties (it can allow some species to orientate themselves with the Earth's magnetic field).

    The world's coral reefs faced one of their five greatest crises since they first evolved

Iron can build up in poorly-oxygenated water, so the conditions in the PETM oceans might have led to a radiation of microscopic species using magnetite.

Seawater changed in other ways that were clearly harmful. When the oceans absorb greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, the process produces a mild acid in the water, lowering the pH: a phenomenon known as ocean acidification. We know it is happening in the world's oceans today, and it happened 55 million years ago too.

Then, as now, ocean acidification was bad news for marine species that build skeletons out of calcium carbonate, because this solid mineral begins to dissolve when the pH drops. Acidification might have been a factor in the deep-sea extinction, and it also affected some shallow living species.

In particular, the world's coral reefs faced one of their five greatest crises since they first evolved 550 million years ago.

There were changes on land too.

In the Arctic, plenty more rain than usual fell during the PETM, probably because stronger ocean evaporation in the tropics delivered more water vapour to higher latitudes.

    Seas might have risen by as much as 30m

Geologists have also found evidence, from the styles of rock that formed 55 million years ago, that dry coastal environments were deluged by rising sea levels.

There was little ice to melt, so the sea level rise was probably modest: perhaps in the region of 5m, caused by the expansion of water as it becomes warmer. However, in a worst-case scenario the sea level rise could have been more severe.

For instance, there was magmatic activity in the north Atlantic at roughly this time. That might have warmed up the ocean crust and pushed it upwards, making the oceans shallower than usual and accentuating any sea level rise. Consider factors like this and seas might have risen by as much as 30m.

For life on land, the warm PETM conditions led to dramatic changes.

In Wyoming, plant ranges shifted hundreds of kilometres north as temperatures rose. Conifers apparently disappeared from the area entirely, only returning as temperatures fell after the PETM.

    There is strong evidence that about 40% of the mammalian fauna got smaller during the PETM

Some plant species disappeared from the tropics too, but there is evidence that plant diversity actually rose overall here. That may have been a consequence of both the warmer conditions and higher levels of the carbon dioxide plants use to make their food.

The PETM also marks the moment when many of the mammal groups that dominate the world today – including horses, cattle and other hoofed animals – appeared and spread across the northern continents. They probably did so probably in response to the warmer conditions.

But members of these familiar animal groups would have looked odd to our eyes.

"There is strong evidence that about 40% of the mammalian fauna got smaller during the PETM," says Ross Secord at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. "Nothing appears to have gotten larger."

Some mammals became very small indeed.

In 2012, Secord and his colleagues looked at fossils of Sifrhippus sandrae, a species of early horse that lived in what is now Wyoming.

At the onset of the PETM, when horses first appeared in the fossil record, Sifrhippus was diminutive: it weighed about 5.6kg.

As the temperatures rose, Sifrhippus became even smaller. 130,000 years into the PETM, some adults probably tipped the scales at about 3.9kg: a modest weight for a domestic cat.

At the end of the PETM, as temperatures dropped, Sifrhippus grew again.

Other mammalian herbivores shrank too, and so did some mammalian carnivores.

These size changes might be down to something called Bergmann's rule, says Secord. This says that warm-blooded animals tend to be relatively small in warm regions and larger in cold ones.

    When atmospheric CO2 levels rise, the leaves and shoots of plants may become less nutritious

That could be because, in cold regions, it is useful to have a larger body – and a smaller relative surface area – to prevent losing too much body heat.

But Bergmann's rule is usually used to explain why animals in the tropics are smaller than those at higher latitudes, not to explain why animals grew to different sizes as a response to global warming.

Other researchers have suggested other reasons for the PETM changes in mammal size.

In 2013, Philip Gingerich at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor suggested the mammals might have been responding to changes in vegetation brought on by the PETM.

    We have learned a lot about the PETM in the quarter-century since its discovery

When atmospheric CO2 levels rise, the leaves and shoots of plants may become less nutritious and harder for herbivores to digest. If that happened during the PETM, it could have led to slower animal growth, and herbivores might have begun to shrink. Carnivores, forced to target smaller prey, might have followed suit.

Peter Stiling at the University of South Florida in Tampa has investigated this. In 2007 he found that, in a high-CO2 atmosphere, oak leaves did carry less nitrogen. "As a result, herbivores often eat more to compensate," he says.

But there's no direct evidence as yet that herbivores, or the carnivores that eat them, grow more slowly and become smaller adults as a consequence.

We have learned a lot about the PETM in the quarter-century since its discovery, but clearly there are plenty of questions left to answer.

    Our particular branch of the primate tree had flourished to such a degree that the world really had become the planet of the apes

One of the most intriguing is whether the warming 55 million years ago was instrumental in the evolution of the first true primates: the group that ultimately gave rise to our species.

Modern primates appeared and spread at the beginning of the PETM, alongside horses and other hoofed animals. Their early fossil record is patchy, but they appear at almost exactly the same time in Asia, Europe, the Americas and Africa.

Within a few tens of millions of years, our particular branch of the primate tree had flourished to such a degree that the world really had become the planet of the apes. About 5 million years later, the first upright apes we recognise as our direct ancestors appeared.

Would primates have become so successful if the PETM had never happened? No one can say for sure.

 on: Today at 06:04 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

    Catastrophes Extinction
When a volcanic apocalypse nearly killed life on Earth

At one point in history, almost all species on land and sea disappeared. Now we know why
By Nic Fleming
31 May 2016

If there is ever a competition for best-named geological phenomenon, the Great Dying is surely a contender.

Over a relatively short period of time some 70% of vertebrates living on land and around 90% of ocean species were killed off. The end-Permian mass extinction, as it is more formally known, was quite simply the biggest disaster ever to hit life on Earth.

Until around a decade ago, the trigger for this deadliest of catastrophes 252 million years ago was often presented as the greatest murder mystery of all time, with scientists offering up some half a dozen “suspects”.

More recently, advances in dating techniques and new geological evidence have provided a very prominent smoking gun. Most earth scientists now agree the greatest of the Earth’s “Big Five” mass extinctions was triggered by 1 million years or so of intense volcanic activity.

Mystery solved then? Not entirely.

Yes, somewhere in the range of 5 million cubic km of lava spewed out across what is now northwestern Siberia – enough to cover the Earth’s surface to a depth of about 10 metres – and it did so shortly before the start of the mass extinction. This triggered the release of huge volumes of greenhouse gases that drove global warming and critically disrupted the Earth’s life support systems.

    The end-Permian mass extinction was quite simply the biggest disaster ever to hit life on Earth

However, the precise details of how this caused so many life forms to die out remain the subject of scientific discussion.

These debates are no mere academic dispute. The catastrophic event played a major role in shaping the flora and fauna we see today. Moreover, there are clear parallels between the environmental changes that occurred back then and those being seen today. Some say improving our understanding of a time when life almost died could boost the long-term survival prospects of our species.

In 1980, Luis and Walter Alvarez, a father and son team at the University of California, Berkeley offered new and compelling evidence that the most famous of the mass extinctions – the one that did for the dinosaurs 66 million years ago – was the result of a massive asteroid impact. This triggered a wave of interest in the causes of the other mass extinctions, including the much larger end-Permian one.

Back then, western “extinction hunters” had less evidence to go on because many sites with sections of rock of the right age were in locations that were difficult to access, such as China and Russia. This did not stop them offering up a variety of theories.

    The idea at the time was that the end-Permian mass extinction was spread over millions of years

Some pointed to the knock-on effects of the formation of the super-continent Pangaea, such as the reduced extent of shallow marine environments that are home to most marine species. Others emphasised evidence of severe oxygen depletion in late Permian rock samples and falling sea levels – both of which could explain why marine species were so hard hit.

Still others proposed there had been a massive release of methane from the sea floor – while others maintained that the intense volcanism that left behind so much volcanic rock in Siberia must have been a factor. Each successive lava flow spread over the preceding one, producing what today is a series of step-like hills. This feature earns the lavas their common name – the Siberian Traps – from the Swedish word “trappa” meaning steps.

“The idea at the time was that the end-Permian mass extinction was spread over millions of years,” says Paul Wignall, a geologist at the University of Leeds, who published a book about mass extinctions called The Worst of Times in September 2015.

After collecting samples in the Dolomites, Italy, Wignall and Anthony Hallam, of the University of Birmingham, concluded in a paper published in 1992 that the extinction in fact lasted more like tens of thousands of years.

    We just don’t have the geological evidence for an impact

This shorter time frame encouraged some to look for a short, sharp catastrophe to explain the extinction – which seemed to suggest an asteroid impact as the cause.

In favour of the idea, some researchers pointed to rare grains of shocked quartz in Australia – sand grains that were suggested to have been beneath the site of the proposed impact, and that had been physically stressed by the experience. Other researchers, working in Antarctica, found helium and argon with isotopic ratios similar to those in a type of carbon-rich meteorite formed in the early solar system.

Yet no impact crater was found and these claims were soon being challenged.

“We just don’t have the geological evidence for an impact or any other major event capable of causing an extinction on this scale except the Siberian Traps,” says Jonathan Payne, a geologist who specialises in mass extinctions at Stanford University in California, US.

As dating techniques improved and more samples were gathered, a consensus formed around volcanism as the primary culprit – particularly when other scientists concluded the Siberian Traps were formed over about 1 million years, not 10-50 million years, as previously believed.

The death toll from the Siberian Traps was extreme. The effects were greatest in the oceans, especially on the sea floor.

    Some 40% of late-Permian insect families were wiped out

Many groups were wiped out entirely, including one of the earliest known arthropod groups – the trilobites – as well as primitive rugose and tabulate corals, and the nut-shaped blastoid echinoderms – relatives of today’s sea urchins and starfish. Others, such as brachiopod shellfish, bryozoan “moss animals”, squid-like ammonoids, and flower-like crinoids, lost most of their species.

The swimmers fared better, though: acanthodian and placoderm fishes went extinct but many other fish and the eel-like conodonts survived relatively unscathed.

Land-based organisms were also devastated. Numerous major groups were wiped out including the gorgonopsians, the dominant predators of the time with sabre tooth cat-like fangs, and the large, bulky herbivororous pareiasaurs.

According to Dmitry Shcherbakov of the Paleontological Institute in Moscow, some 40% of late-Permian insect families were wiped out. Many equatorial groups, such as cockroaches and cicadas, moved north as temperatures rose.

Among plants there is evidence that forest species virtually disappeared.

Many groups of the dominant seed-producing gymnosperm plants went into decline. No coal was produced for around 10 million years, indicating the extinction of peat-forming plants. Another sign of uniquely deadly nature of the devastation among plants is the “fungal spike” – a huge increase in fossilised fungi spores.

“This is interpreted as the result of an explosion of fungi living on dead or dying trees,” says Barry Lomax of the University of Nottingham, UK.  “It’s something that’s not been seen at any other geological boundary.”

    Enormous volumes of both greenhouse and other harmful gases were belched out with the lava

Analysis of precisely what died out and when it did so offers some of the best clues to explain how the Siberian Traps had such a massive impact.

When Wignall and colleagues at the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan looked in detail at samples that revealed the fates of 537 marine species in China, they found 92% were wiped out. More usefully, however, they discovered the extinctions came in two phases separated by around 180,000 years.

The first of these was especially deadly for shallow water inhabitants like corals, seafloor-dwelling microscopic animals called fusulinids and plankton called radiolarians. Extinctions during the second pulse were focused in the ocean depths.

New species evolved fairly rapidly after the first pulse, but the recovery was much slower following the second – suggesting the longer term causes that undermined the basis of so many ecosystems occurred later in the crisis. Other evidence from plant remains recovered in both Greenland and Antarctica support the idea of it having been a double whammy mass extinction.

So what was it about the volcanism in Siberia that wreaked so much devastation to life in its various Permian guises?

Most importantly, enormous volumes of both greenhouse and other harmful gases were belched out with the lava. These included large quantities of CO2 and sulphur dioxide that helped raise temperatures.

    Most geologists now blame the land-based devastation on the large-scale release of noxious CFC-like gases

Heating up the oceans would have reduced their capacity to hold oxygen, and currents that normally bring oxygen to the depths would have slowed or stopped. This lack of oxygen is widely thought to have been a primary cause of marine extinction – something revealed by rock samples at the border between the two geological periods at sites across the world.

“Almost everywhere you look the sediments switch from oxygen-rich, life-rich to oxygen-poor, life-poor,” says Mike Benton, a palaeontologist at the University of Bristol, and author of the 2003 book When Life Nearly Died. “It’s just an absolute line as thin as a knife blade you can just point to.”

Some have emphasised that as the increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere were taken up by the oceans, the water would have become more acidic, making it harder for many marine organisms to make their shells. Higher CO2 levels would also force ocean animals to work harder to take in oxygen and expel CO2.

“Many people talk about a deadly trio of warming, acidification and deoxygenation,” says Payne, who argues the acidification could have lasted tens of thousands of years. “All of these things affect the ability of marine animals to function because of the way they impact metabolism and oxygen use. My take is they were probably equally important.”

Wignall, however, downplays the role of ocean acidification. “There is no doubt you will acidify the surface of the ocean, but most organisms are quite capable of still making their shells because they make them within their bodies not in contact with ambient sea water,” he says.

    Heating up the oceans would have reduced their capacity to hold oxygen – a primary cause of marine extinction

Warming would have had significant impacts on land too – but could probably not have accounted for extinctions on the scale of those seen among animals and plants at the time. Most geologists now blame the land-based devastation on the large-scale release of noxious CFC-like gases like chloromethane.

These gases are believed to have been generated when layers of coal and salt were heated up as magma forced its way up to the Siberian surface. This would have caused huge ozone layer destruction, triggering significant increase in exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet B radiation.

Evidence to support this theory came in 2004, when Henk Visscher at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands reported evidence of a substantial increase in levels of fossilised mutated spores from lycopsids, or club mosses, at the time of end-Permian mass extinction.

Others have proposed that environmental stressors such as increased aridity – not increased radiation exposure – could have caused the mutations.

Lomax, however, backs Visscher’s theory. “There have been other periods of prolonged aridity and we don’t see evidence of those being associated with plant spore mutations, so it seems more logical for it to be linked to increase in exposure to UVB radiation.”

    In effect we are creating or forcing an end-Permian mass extinction

The gases coming from the volcanoes would have generated carbolic, sulphuric and other acids that would have fallen as acid rain, adding another environmental hazard. This illustrates how environmental causes could kill off species both directly and indirectly.

“The loss of plants from UV radiation and acid rain would have removed the basis of the food chain on land, leading firstly to death from starvation for herbivores, which in turn would have removed food sources for carnivores,” says Benton.

Many believe such ecosystem interconnections are among the things 21st-Century humans should bear in mind as our activities drive carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere to the highest levels since measurements began. The end-Permian mass extinction does offer contemporary lessons, but they don’t necessarily provide easy ammunition to one side or another.

“In effect we are creating or forcing an end-Permian mass extinction,” says Wignall. “However it takes a long time to heat up oceans and the models suggest the oceans will be in trouble in 200-300 years in terms of dissolved oxygen content and we might see issues related to ocean circulation in a couple of thousand years. Who knows what we’ll be doing by then.”

Payne points out that the end-Permian mass extinction can be seen as beneficial to life in the long run – the total number of species on Earth ultimately rose to a new high after the event – but that the time scales involved mean that’s no reason for complacency.

“The biggest extinction event we have in the history of life has a lot in common with the environmental changes occurring today and that we anticipate in the next 100 to 1,000 years,” he says. “In fact in the long run, it had a stimulating effect on ecosystem diversity, but the recovery took millions of years to kick in, so loss of diversity is not something that should be thought of as useful or relevant to human society.”

    If this is still one crime scene, it’s an increasingly complex one

In his 1993 book The Great Paleozoic Crisis, US palaeobiologist Doug Erwin likened the task of evaluating the potential causes of the end-Permian mass extinction to the position facing Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express. Agatha Christie’s detective eventually concludes that all the passengers on the train were involved in the murder.

Wignall, in his recent book, describes the Poirot “everyone did it” conclusion as “lazy”. He instead turns to Sarah Lund, the star of the Danish crime drama The Killing, for analogy. In the first series, a growing list of possible suspects for a murder are presented as episodes go by, before she finds the one single killer. Wignall’s killer is volcanism, along with its knock-on effects of warming, ocean de-oxygenation and ozone destruction.

Yet as scientists get access to more and more data of greater and greater accuracy, attempting to separate out the differences in the precise combinations of causal factors behind extinctions in different ecosystems, groups and species may not provide straightforward answers. If this is still one crime scene, it’s an increasingly complex one with large numbers of bodies killed with a variety of different but inter-dependent weapons.

“Environmental causes can have multiplicative rather than just additive effects, making it hard to isolate the effect of one versus the other,” says Payne.

This is not a failure of science, more an indictment of our tendency to demand easy answers of it. Perhaps it is time for the murder mystery as an analogy for the end-Permian mass extinction to become extinct.

 on: Today at 05:57 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
The horse that can endure Siberian winters

In a few short centuries, the Yakutian horse has gained a large body and long, mammoth-like shaggy hair, allowing it to survive truly harsh conditions   

By Jane Palmer
31 May 2016

Local legend has it that when the god of creation flew around the world to distribute riches, he dropped all of his treasures when he arrived in the Yakutian region of Siberia. His hands were simply numb with cold.

The myth is an attempt to explain why Yakutia has such an abundance of precious diamonds, but it is easy to see why the story developed. This republic of Russia gets very cold indeed. Temperatures can dip to -70 °C (-94 °F) and its capitol, Yakutsk, is the coldest city in the northern hemisphere.

There is life in the freezer though, including a population of stocky, shaggy steeds known as Yakutian horses. The Yakuts would undoubtedly have perished if not for these beasts. Locals relied on the horses for transportation, food in the form of horsemeat, and clothing made from horse hides. Horses have played a central role in the region's economy for hundreds of years.

It turns out that these horses adapted to the extreme Siberian climates with astonishing speed.

Averaging about 150cm, the Yakutian stands a little smaller than most horses. Its winter hair can reach about 10cm in length and it has a thick bushy tail and long mane that, like a shawl, covers both its neck and shoulders.

    We could really track the whole temporal line

In short, its appearance is a little like the woolly mammoth version of a horse. It is clearly well suited to the brutal and enduring Siberian winters.

But how long has it taken the Yakutian horses to adapt to this extreme environment? Are they ancient natives to the region, like the now-extinct mammoths? Or did the Yakuts bring them to the area when they fled Mongolia in the 13th or 14th Century to escape Genghis Khan?

To answer such questions, scientists recently turned to genome sampling.

"We wanted to take horses from today, horses from after the 13th century, and from prior to the 13th century," says Ludovic Orlando of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, the lead author of the study. "Because that way, we could really track the whole temporal line and see whether or not those population of horses are actually the same through time."

The team sampled the genomes of nine modern day Yakutian horses, one genome from an early 19th Century horse, and another from a horse that lived in the region 5,200 years ago. The scientists then compared the genomes to one another and to existing sequences for dozens of domestic horses, wild Przewalski's horses that are native to the steppes of central Asia, and ancient horses.

    They have adapted to their new environment in just 800 years

The findings of the study were unequivocal. In the genomes of the modern Yakutian horses the researchers found a strong signal of a "founder effect": a reduction in genetic variation that results when a small population is used to establish a new colony. The precise level of genetic variation indicates that the small founding population of horses arrived in the Yakutian region about 800 years ago, in the 13th Century.

"We can exclude the possibility that the Yakutian horses descended from the horses that existed in Yakutia in ancient times," Orlando says.

The team's analyses placed the nine modern-day Yakutian horses and the Yakutian horse from the 19th century within the "evolutionary tree" of domesticated horses. They fall closest to the Mongolian, Fjord and Icelandic horses, with the Mongolian horses their most likely ancestors.

But the Yakutian horses differ significantly in appearance to these Mongol horses. They have adapted to their new environment in just 800 years.

"This is blink-of-an-eye evolution," says Doug Antczak, a veterinarian and equine scientist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. "What really captures peoples' imaginations from this research is the evidence for rapid adaption to the environment – in this case a cold, harsh, dry environment."

    It shows that there are only so many ways a mammal can get adapted to such environments

Focusing on the variation in the Yakutian horse genome, the team identified the key biological functions involved in the adaptive process: those that modified the morphology, hormones and metabolism of the horses. They found variations in the gene pathways involved in hair development, limb length and body size, explaining the Yakutian horses' unique appearance.

Icelandic and Fjord horses are also squat and fat with thick hair coats, whereas horses that live in the desert, such as Arabian horses, have shorter and finer hair coats. "There's an infinite gradation between the horses that have fine hair coats and the Yakutian horses," Antczak says.

The geneticists also found genes associated with the metabolism of sugars including glucose, which can have anti-freezing properties in the blood.

In July 2015, a team of scientists compared the genomes of ancient woolly mammoths to those of elephants to determine the features that contributed to the mammoth's appearance and ability to withstand extreme cold. The researchers found similar variations in hair growth, metabolism and stature.

"It shows that there are only so many ways a mammal can get adapted to such environments," Orlando says.

But typically, a mammal would take millennia to reach the level of hardiness that Yakutian horses exhibit today.

"It is amazing that in just 800 years, which is only about a hundred generations for horses, you can get from a regular horse, a type of Mongolian horse, to the Yakutian horses we have today," Orlando says. "It tells you how fast evolution can go."

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