Artists come from such strange places: Glenn Ligon talks abstraction, discrimination and Nottingham Contemporary

24 Hour Museum - Sun, 2015-05-17 00:00
New York artist Glenn Ligon tells Culture24 about his first curatorial project, which brings diverse influences together for Nottingham Contemporary show Encounters and Collisions
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VIDEO: Saving North Yorkshire's Tansy beetle

BBC test - Sat, 2015-05-16 23:54
A breeding programme is being set up for the rare Tansy beetle, which is threatened with extinction.
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VIDEO: Campaigners 'delight' at pub victory

BBC test - Sat, 2015-05-16 18:04
An east London pub is to start trading again after campaigners fought to save it from being transformed into a flat.
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VIDEO: First clash for Labour leadership candidates

BBC test - Sat, 2015-05-16 18:00
Prospective Labour leaders address the annual Progress think tank conference in London.
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VIDEO: Inside the house that Grayson built

BBC test - Sat, 2015-05-16 10:20
A Grayson Perry designed house in Essex is causing a stir among art critics. BBC Arts Correspondent Will Gompertz went to see why.
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VIDEO: Hopes for new leads in Ben Needham case

BBC test - Sat, 2015-05-16 08:46
The mother of missing Ben Needham has made a new appeal on Greek television over the disappearance of her son 24 years ago.
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VIDEO: Nepal climber ordered home by mother

BBC test - Sat, 2015-05-16 08:37
A Carmarthenshire climber who survived two earthquakes in Nepal has returned home following an emotional plea from his mother.
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VIDEO: Geri Halliwell weds F1 boss

BBC test - Fri, 2015-05-15 20:56
Former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell has married Red Bull F1 team boss Christian Horner in a wedding attended by a string of celebrities from showbiz and motor racing worlds.
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VIDEO: BB King 'one of the most charming people'

BBC test - Fri, 2015-05-15 19:59
Musician and presenter Jools Holland pays tribute to the legendary blues star BB King.
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VIDEO: Poppy seller 'exhausted by requests

BBC test - Fri, 2015-05-15 19:01
A long-serving poppy seller, who was found dead at the bottom of the Avon Gorge near Bristol, felt "under pressure" from charities according to a friend, as John Kay reports.
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VIDEO: Cameron and Sturgeon meet

BBC test - Fri, 2015-05-15 18:25
The prime minister says he will consider giving more powers to Scotland - over and above those already agreed before the general election.
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VIDEO: Woolly wonderland in the woods

BBC test - Fri, 2015-05-15 17:36
A host of woolly flora and fauna has taken up residence and transformed a Cumbrian woodland.
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Clues contained in 500 million-year-old brain point to the origin of heads in early animals

Heritage Daily - Fri, 2015-05-15 14:39
A new study from the University of Cambridge has identified one of the oldest fossil brains ever discovered – more than 500 million years old – and used it to help determine how heads first evolved in early animals.

The results, published today (7 May) in the journal Current Biology, identify a key point in the evolutionary transition from soft to hard bodies in early ancestors of arthropods, the group that contains modern insects, crustaceans and spiders.

The study looked at two types of arthropod ancestors – a soft-bodied trilobite and a bizarre creature resembling a submarine. It found that a hard plate, called the anterior sclerite, and eye-like features at the front of their bodies were connected through nerve traces originating from the front part of the brain, which corresponds with how vision is controlled in modern arthropods.

The new results also allowed new comparisons with anomalocaridids, a group of large swimming predators of the period, and found key similarities between the anterior sclerite and a plate on the top of the anomalocaridid head, suggesting that they had a common origin. Although it is widely agreed that anomalocaridids are early arthropod ancestors, their bodies are actually quite different. Thanks to the preserved brains in these fossils, it is now possible to recognise the anterior sclerite as a bridge between the head of anomalocaridids and that of more familiar jointed arthropods.

“The anterior sclerite has been lost in modern arthropods, as it most likely fused with other parts of the head during the evolutionary history of the group,” said Dr Javier Ortega-Hernández, a postdoctoral researcher from Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences, who authored the study. “What we’re seeing in these fossils is one of the major transitional steps between soft-bodied worm-like creatures and arthropods with hard exoskeletons and jointed limbs – this is a period of crucial transformation.”

Ortega-Hernández observed that bright spots at the front of the bodies, which are in fact simple photoreceptors, are embedded into the anterior sclerite. The photoreceptors are connected to the front part of the fossilised brain, very much like the arrangement in modern arthropods. In all likelihood these ancient brains processed information like in today’s arthropods, and were crucial for interacting with the environment, detecting food, and escaping from predators.

During the Cambrian Explosion, a period of rapid evolutionary innovation about 500 million years ago when most major animal groups emerge in the fossil record, arthropods with hard exoskeletons and jointed limbs first started to appear. Prior to this period, most animal life on Earth consisted of enigmatic soft-bodied creatures that resembled algae or jellyfish.

These fossils, from the collections of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, originated from the Burgess Shale in Western Canada, one of the world’s richest source of fossils from the period.

Since brains and other soft tissues are essentially made of fatty-like substances, finding them as fossils is extremely rare, which makes understanding their evolutionary history difficult. Even in the Burgess Shale, one of the rare places on Earth where conditions are just right to enable exceptionally good preservation of Cambrian fossils, finding fossilised brain tissue is very uncommon. In fact, this is the most complete brain found in a fossil from the Burgess Shale, as earlier results have been less conclusive.

“Heads have become more complex over time,” said Ortega-Hernández, who is a Fellow of Emmanuel College. “But what we’re seeing here is an answer to the question of how arthropods changed their bodies from soft to hard. It gives us an improved understanding of the origins and complex evolutionary history of this highly successful group.”

University of Cambridge

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Did ocean acidification from the asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs cause the extinction of marine molluscs?

Heritage Daily - Fri, 2015-05-15 14:35
New research, led by the University of Southampton, has questioned the role played by ocean acidification, produced by the asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs, in the extinction of ammonites and other planktonic calcifiers 66 million years ago.

Ammonites, which were free-swimming molluscs of the ancient oceans and are common fossils, went extinct at the time of the end-Cretaceous asteroid impact, as did more than 90 per cent of species of calcium carbonate-shelled plankton (coccolithophores and foraminifera).

Comparable groups not possessing calcium carbonate shells were less severely affected, raising the possibility that ocean acidification, as a side-effect of the collision, might have been responsible for the apparent selectivity of the extinctions.

Previous CO2 rises on Earth happened so slowly that the accompanying ocean acidification was relatively minor, and ammonites and other planktonic calcifiers were able to cope with the changing ocean chemistry. The asteroid impact, in contrast, caused very sudden changes.

In the first modelling study of ocean acidification which followed the asteroid impact, the researchers simulated several acidifying mechanisms, including wildfires emitting CO2 into the atmosphere (as carbon dioxide emissions dissolve in seawater they lower the pH of the oceans making them more acidic and more corrosive to shells) and vaporisation of gypsum rocks leading to sulphuric acid or ‘acid rain’ being deposited on the ocean surface.

The researchers concluded that the acidification levels produced were too weak to have caused the disappearance of the calcifying organisms.

Professor Toby Tyrrell, from Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton and co-author of the study, says:

“While the consequences of the various impact mechanisms could have made the surface ocean more acidic, our results do not point to enough ocean acidification to cause global extinctions. Out of several factors we considered in our model simulation, only one (sulphuric acid) could have made the surface ocean severely corrosive to calcite, but even then the amounts of sulphur required are unfeasibly large.

“It throws up the question, if it wasn’t ocean acidification what was it? Possible alternative extinction mechanisms, such as intense and prolonged darkness from soot and aerosols injected into the atmosphere, should continue to be investigated.”

The study, which is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), involved researchers from the University of Southampton and the Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Ecology. The project received funding from the European Project on Ocean Acidification and funding support from NERC, Defra and DECC to the UK Ocean Acidification programme (grant no. NE/H017348/1).

The University of Southampton

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Ancient skeleton shows leprosy may have spread to Britain from Scandinavia

Heritage Daily - Fri, 2015-05-15 14:28
An international team, including archaeologists from the University of Southampton, has found evidence suggesting leprosy may have spread to Britain from Scandinavia.

The team, led by the University of Leiden, and including researchers from Historic England and the universities of Southampton, Birmingham, Surrey, and Swansea, examined a 1500 year old male skeleton, excavated at Great Chesterford in Essex, England during the 1950s.

The bones of the man, probably in his 20s, show changes consistent with leprosy, such as narrowing of the toe bones and damage to the joints, suggesting a very early British case. Modern scientific techniques applied by the researchers have now confirmed the man did suffer from the disease and that he may have come from southern Scandinavia.

Archaeologist Dr Sonia Zakrzewski, of the University of Southampton, explains DNA testing was necessary to get a clear diagnosis: “Not all cases of leprosy can be identified by changes to the skeleton. Some may leave no trace on the bones; others will affect bones in a similar way to other diseases. In these cases the only way to be sure is to use DNA fingerprinting, or other chemical markers characteristic of the leprosy bacillus.”

The researchers tested the skeleton for bacterial DNA and lipid biomarkers to confirm the man had definitely had leprosy and to allow them to carry out a detailed genetic study of the bacteria that caused his illness.

Professor Mike Taylor, a Bioarchaeologist from the University of Surrey, says: “Not every excavation yields good quality DNA, but in this case, leprosy DNA isolated from the skeleton was so good it enabled us to identify its strain.”

The results showed the leprosy strain belonged to a lineage (3I) which has previously been found in burials from Medieval Scandinavia and southern Britain, but in this case it originates from a much earlier period, dating from the 5th or 6th centuries AD.

The identification of fatty molecules (lipids) from the leprosy bacteria confirmed the DNA results and also showed it was different from later strains. Emeritus scientist David Minnikin, from the University of Birmingham, says: “With Leverhulme Trust support, we recorded strong profiles of fatty acid lipid biomarkers that confirmed the presence of leprosy. However, one class of the lipid biomarkers had distinct profiles that may distinguish these older leprosy cases from later Medieval examples.”

Isotopes from the man’s teeth showed that he probably did not come from Britain, but more likely grew up elsewhere in northern Europe, perhaps southern Scandinavia. This matched the results of the DNA, and raises the intriguing possibility that he brought a Scandinavian strain of the leprosy bacterium with him when he migrated to Britain.

Project leader Dr Sarah Inskip of Leiden University concludes: “The radiocarbon date confirms this is one of the earliest cases in the UK to have been successfully studied with modern biomolecular methods. This is exciting both for archaeologists and for microbiologists. It helps us understand the spread of disease in the past, and also the evolution of different strains of disease, which might help us fight them in the future. We plan to carry out similar studies on skeletons from different locations to build up a more complete picture of the origins and early spread of this disease.”

Although leprosy is nowadays a tropical disease, in the past it occurred in Europe. Human migrations probably helped spread it, and there are cases in early skeletons from western Europe, particularly from the 7th century AD onward. However the origins of these ancient cases are poorly understood. The study of the Great Chesterford skeleton provided an important opportunity to shed light on the early spread of leprosy.

The results of the study will be published in the journal PLOS ONE and copies of the paper can be requested from Media Relations.


Categories: General

VIDEO: Will your favourite beach fail new test?

BBC test - Fri, 2015-05-15 14:06
Dozens of British beaches and lakes are at risk of failing to meet tougher European water quality standards this summer.
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VIDEO: 'Restricted licences' for teen drivers?

BBC test - Fri, 2015-05-15 13:47
Road safety campaigners say the risks faced by newly qualified young drivers could be reduced dramatically if a new system of restricted licences were to be introduced.
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VIDEO: Wheelchair user to cross Pennine Trail

BBC test - Fri, 2015-05-15 11:17
Roy Taylor will cross 68 miles of the Trans Pennine Trail in his wheelchair to help raise money to "get rid of obstacles" to give the disabled greater access to the countryside.
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AS: 2,000 Year Old Sock!

Heritage Daily - Fri, 2015-05-15 10:48

Welcome to Archaeoscoop. In this series we bring you breaking news, headlines and interviews from the archaeological world.


Child’s 2,000-year-old sock goes on display:

Isis reaches gates of ancient Syrian city Palmyra, stoking fears of destruction :

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The unique social structure of hunter-gatherers

Stonepages - Fri, 2015-05-15 10:39
Sex equality in residential decision-making explains the unique social structure of hunter-gatherers, a new University College London (UCL) study reveals. Previous research has noted the low level of relatedness in...
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