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Chimpanzees have a rare bone in their hearts

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June 10 (UPI) — Scientists have discovered a rare heart bone, known as an os cordis bone, in chimpanzees. The discovery of the tiny bone, found in only a small number of animal species, could help researchers protect chimpanzees from heart disease.

Wild chimpanzees are endangered, and their numbers are expected to continue to fall in the decades ahead. Heart disease is common in chimpanzees, and the development of effective treatments could help protect them.

For the new study, published Wednesday in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers used an advanced imaging method called micro-computed tomography to scan the chests of dozens of chimpanzees.

The survey showed the os cordis bone was more likely to be present in chimpanzees with idiopathic myocardial fibrosis, a type of heart disease that plagues both apes and humans. The condition, the most common form of heart disease in chimpanzees, can cause arrhythmia and trigger sudden death.

“The discovery of a new bone in a new species is a rare event, especially in chimps, which have such similar anatomy to people,” lead study author Catrin Rutland, researcher at the University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, said in a news release. “It raises the question as to whether some people could have an os cordis too.”

The heart bone is regularly found in cattle, oxen and other bovine species. It is also sometimes present in sheep, otters, dogs and camels. In some species, the bone is common, found in most members of a population. In other animals, the bone is less common and associated with heart disease.

Scientists are still working to understand how and why the os cordis bone grows. Researchers have found the bone in male and female chimps, both young and old.

The researchers speculate that it’s possible the bone causes problems, but it’s also possible the bone grows to support the heart, perhaps in response to problems with the heart.

The finding, researchers say, highlights the need for further study of the heart bone.



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Peak viewing Tuesday night for Perseid meteor shower

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The wait is over. For stargazers in North America, one of the most highly anticipated and reliable meteor showers will peak this week.

The Perseid meteor shower will peak on Tuesday night into early Wednesday morning, a reliable meteor shower that puts on a show year in and year out.

The Perseids are the most popular meteor shower as they peak on warm August nights as seen from the northern hemisphere,” the American Meteor Society said on its website.

This year, spectators across the Northern Hemisphere can expect to see between 50 and 75 meteors an hour under dark skies, which averages about one meteor every minute. Areas south of the equator will still be able to see some of the Perseids, but the hourly rates will be lower.

“The Geminid meteor shower in December produces about the same number of meteors. Both showers produce about four times more than any other shower during the year typically does,” AccuWeather astronomy blogger Dave Samuhel said.

One big difference between the Perseids and the Geminids is the weather.

August typically features more comfortable stargazing weather for the Perseids compared to December’s cold and often cloudy conditions around the peak of the Geminids.

As with every meteor shower, the best time to look is when the shower’s radiant point is highest in the sky. The number of meteors able to be seen will gradually increase as the radiant point moves higher in the sky.

“They are called Perseids since the radiant (the area of the sky where the meteors seem to originate) is located near the prominent constellation of Perseus,” the AMS explained.

Contrary to popular belief, sky watchers do not need to look at radiant point to see the meteor shower — shooting stars will be visible streaking across all areas of the sky.

The radiant point for the Perseids will rise above the horizon by around 11 p.m. local time and will continue to climb higher in the sky as the night progresses. However, the moon is set to rise by around 1 a.m. local time and will bring with it natural light pollution, making it more difficult to see some of the fainter meteors.

Because of this, the best window for viewing this year’s Perseid meteor shower will occur between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. local time.

“Even though the Perseids will be most active after midnight, I encourage people to start looking once it gets dark in the evening,” Samuhel said.

“You will be more likely to see a long-lived, bright meteor fly across a large portion of the sky during the evening.”

Onlookers staying out after 1 a.m. to watch the celestial light show should look to the darkest part of the sky away from the moon.

This year, most of the western and central United States will have cloud-free conditions for the peak of the Perseids. Favorable weather is also in the forecast for much of western Canada and the Canadian Prairies.

Folks east of the Mississippi River may have some clouds to contend with, especially across the Ohio Valley to the coast of the mid-Atlantic.

Other areas, such as the Deep South, northern New England and into the St. Lawrence River Valley will have some breaks in the clouds, which could provide opportunities to spot a few shooting stars throughout the night.

Meteors will continue to be visible in the nights following the peak, so those that find themselves under clouds on Tuesday night should plan for a night under the stars later in the week when weather conditions improve. However, the number of meteors visible will gradually decrease each night.

In addition to needing clear weather, a little patience is also required for watching the Perseids.

Dedicate a solid hour to doing nothing but looking for meteors,” Samuhel said. “If you look for only a few minutes, you might not see any.”

It is important not to look at any source of light while out looking for shooting stars this includes cellphone screens.

“Make yourself comfortable. Lay back on a lounge chair or a blanket on the grass. Don’t sit in a normal chair and look up, your neck will quickly get tired,” Samuhel said.

After the Perseids pass, the next moderate meteor shower will not occur until mid-October with the peak of the Orionids.



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Researchers, growers seek vanilla production in Florida

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ORLANDO, Fla., Aug. 11 (UPI) — Growers and researchers in Florida hope the aromatic vanilla bean can provide a lucrative, high-margin crop for the state’s farmers.

The University of Florida is heading research into vanilla, which comes from a tropical orchid and carries a hefty price around the world.

The goal is to determine how well the plants grow in Florida’s subtropical climate, where the dominant crop — citrus — has suffered from destructive diseases and hurricanes that have shut groves and put growers out of business.

Already, the university reports that hobbyists, bakers and breweries are calling to line up more vanilla production.

“The interest in this as a new crop is huge,” said Alan Chambers, assistant professor of tropical plant genetics at the university’s research station south of Miami.

“Our biggest problem right now is growers can’t find enough plants. We have people calling and asking to buy the beans we’re growing, and we say you have to wait a couple of years.”

Chambers knows that vanilla can grow in Florida because four native species of the vanilla orchid plants exist, but none of the native types produces authentic vanilla.

So, he’s started with the most common commercial species, vanilla planifolia, the beans from which Madagascar and Mexico export in large quantities. Chambers has 150 of the plants ready to distribute to community center gardens and other growers as far north as Tampa.

Florida will never be able to compete globally for vanilla due to the cost of labor, but there’s a big demand for specialty vanilla, he said.

“We’d be looking at extremely high quality, similar to the limited vanilla production in Hawaii,” Chambers said. “We’re hearing from brewers, herbalists, bakers and aroma extractors.”

Chambers also helped a Miami area grower, attorney Abrahm Smith, obtain 800 of the vanilla plants for Smith’s small, 8-acre farm. They take up about one-quarter of an acre.

“It’s a hobby farm for me, but if vanilla works, it will be great because it has a very high-profit margin,” Smith said. “I should be able to make as much from that quarter-acre as I do from 6 acres of fruit trees we’ve planted.”

That high margin is what drove the crop to become one of Madagascar’s top exports, but the bean is not processed on the island. Much of the bean crop is processed when it reaches the United States, where it is primarily used as a food and drink flavoring.

The price of vanilla has fluctuated wildly in recent years with weather conditions in Madagascar, from $600 per 2.2 pounds of beans in 2018 to $350 for that amount in June.

The United States is the largest importer of vanilla beans. Given the high value of the crop, and Florida’s struggles with citrus, the University of Florida funded Chambers’ research with a $75,000 grant.

Chambers also advises a separate project led by private industry that collects funds from interested growers to provide thousands of the vanilla plants from a nursery in Orlando.



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Math models developed by Alan Turing help scientists explain bird behavior

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Aug. 11 (UPI) — In a new study, researchers in Britain used math models developed by famed mathematician Alan Turing to figure out why flocks of long-tailed tits separate themselves into different parts of their habitat.

Many birds form what are called home range patterns, but scientists have struggled to explain why non-territorial passerine segregate themselves.

For the study, scientists at the University of Sheffield tracked the movements of long-tailed tits across the woodlands they called home. After collecting enough data for patterns to emerge, researchers used Turing-inspired models to determine what causes the segregation.

The models deployed by Sheffield researchers were similar to those Turing developed to show how patterns in nature, like stripes of a zebra or a leopard’s spots, can emerge naturally from a uniform state.

The new analysis, published this week in the Journal of Animal Ecology, showed long-tailed tits, when segregating themselves across the landscape, were less likely to avoid places where they had previously interacted with relatives.

The passerine birds, however, were more likely to steer clear of places where they’d previously encountered larger flocks. The birds also showed a preference for the center of the woodlands.

“Mathematical models help us understand nature in an extraordinary amount of ways and our study is a fantastic example of this,” Sheffield doctoral student Natasha Ellison, lead author of the new study, said in a news release.

Scientists had previously used Turing models to understand the movement patterns and distribution of territorial animals, but this is the first time the same mathematical models have helped researchers understand the spacing and movements of a non-territorial species.

“Long-tailed tits are too small to be fitted with GPS trackers like larger animals, so researchers follow these tiny birds on foot, listening for bird calls and identifying birds with binoculars,” Ellison said.

“The field work is extremely time consuming and without the help of these mathematical models these behaviors wouldn’t have been discovered,” Ellison said.



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