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New eDNA technique may reduce pathogens in international aquatic animal trade

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June 24 (UPI) — A Washington State University researcher has developed new ways to detect the genetic signatures of disease in the international aquatic animal trade.

The methods call for the screening of environmental DNA, or eDNA — genetic material collected from the environment — not an animal’s cells, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Scientific Reports.

Bats and livestock aren’t the only animals carrying potentially harmful diseases — fish and amphibians can also carry zoonotic pathogens.

With aquaculture now the fastest growing sector of animal protein production, the international trade of aquatic animals could pose a growing threat to human health. Diseases transported through the international pet trade can also threaten native fish and amphibian populations.

Every year, 225 million live animals are imported into the United States. Screening all of these animals individually would be cost and labor prohibitive, researchers say.

To tackle the problem, researcher Jesse Brunner, a professor of disease ecology at Washington State, developed a pair of more efficient screening methods.

According to Brunner, test samples could be batched before analysis. Scientists could also survey water samples from animal tanks for the presence of dangerous pathogens.

“The best way to prevent the emergence of these pathogens, and the diseases that come from them, is to keep them from getting here in the first place,” Brunner said in a news release. “It’s an important goal but a really hard one because of the scale of the problem. With the eDNA method, you are theoretically sampling an entire population at once, so you are more likely to detect whatever is there, and you can do that much more efficiently than with traditional approaches.”

Like humans, animals infected with pathogens shed pieces of the virus or invading bacteria. These DNA fragments will end up in the water in which they’re living.

Batrachochochytrium salamandrivorans, or Bsal, is one of the pathogens that scientists could use eDNA screening methods to detect, researchers say.

The fungus is a major threat to amphibian species. It was recently introduced to native salamander populations in Europe by pets imported from Southeast Asia. In 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned the importation of 201 species of salamanders into the United States.

In her paper, Brunner used statistical formulas to determine the volume of samples that would need to be analyzed in order to be confident that imported animals were free of harmful pathogens.

Researchers are currently using real samples to test the efficacy and efficiency of Brunner’s screening methods.

“The problem that we’re having with amphibians is also the same problem that we’re having with all sorts of wildlife and with human disease,” said Brunner. “I think if we can solve this problem, we’ll be in much better shape to solve others.”



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Apple recalls shipment of iPhone 6 Plus due to photo glitch

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CUPERTINO, Calif., Aug. 23 (UPI) — Apple has recalled a shipment of its iPhone 6 Plus due to a technological glitch that produces blurry photos in the device’s camera, the company announced.

The recall affects a small number of iPhone 6 Plus devices, Apple said in a statement, which have demonstrated a glitch in the iSight camera.

Apple said it’s “a component that may fail causing your photos to look blurry.”

Apple created a web page where users can enter their phone’s serial number to determine if they are affected by the recall.

The iPhone 6 and larger iPhone 6 Plus were released last September.



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‘Invisible’ words reveal common structure among famous stories

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Aug. 7 (UPI) — Storytelling requires a narrative arc, but the trajectory of a dramatic arc isn’t always obvious.

By tracing the abundance of “invisible” words — pronouns, articles and other short words — researchers were able to identify patterns shared by a diversity of stories, from Shakespeare to Spielberg, according to a study published Friday in Science Advances.

“Over the years, these ‘invisible’ words have been found to be related to a whole mess of psychological processes — how people use small words like articles and pronouns tell us about a person’s mental health, thinking style, their social status, and even how well they get along with other people,” study lead author Ryan Boyd told UPI.

“In many ways, it was a natural progression to look at what these words can tell us how the nature of stories,” said Boyd, a lecturer in behavioral analytics at the University of Leeds.

For the study, Boyd and his colleagues used a range of statistical techniques to analyze the abundance and distribution of invisible words in 40,000 fictional texts, including short stories, novels and movie scripts.

The analysis revealed a common structure — a so-called narrative curve — featuring three distinct phases.

During the “staging” phase, authors use prepositions and articles in greater abundance, peppering their prose with “a” and “the.” These words are more useful at the beginning, when authors must set the scene and provide the audience with basic information.

The middle phase is defined by plot progression, which is revealed by a greater abundance of auxiliary verbs, adverbs and pronouns — or interactional language. During this phase, “the house” from the staging phase becomes “her home” or “it.”

During the third phase, cognitive tension is ramped up as the narrative arc reaches a climax. As the author guides the reader or viewer through the process of conflict resolution, cognitive-processing words like “think,” “believe,” “understand” and “cause” begin to crop up in greater numbers.

Researchers found this three-phase narrative shape remained consistent, regardless of a stories length.

“A 25,000 word story has the same shape as a 250 word story,” said Boyd, lead author of the new study. “It seems, then, that we are able to do a good job of structuring our stories in an optimal way regardless of how much space we have to do it in.”

The researchers set up a website showing the shapes of staging, plot progression and cognitive tension in eight texts at The Arc of Narrative website.

The patterns left by invisible words proved both good and bad stories — tales spun by amateurs, as well as professionals — utilize similar structures.

“Our results confirm what people have long believed about stories,” Boyd said. “Like DNA, we knew about it long before we could actually see it and measure it. With these new methods, we are able to see and measure the ‘DNA’ of stories and understand them in more objective, scientific ways.”

According to Boyd, studying the patterns of stories can offer insights into cognitive processes unique to humans.

“What these story shapes seem to tell us is that we have, to some degree, evolved to process information in certain ways,” he said. “We need to understand the ‘who’ and ‘what’ in order to understand the ‘why’ of our everyday lives and the lives of others.”

The authors of the latest story are already mining text for other language patterns that might help researchers determine whether a story-teller is telling the truth, or perhaps reveal the secrets to a “good” story.



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Florida Current study confirms decline in strength of Gulf Stream

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Aug. 7 (UPI) — New research suggests the strength of the Florida Current, which forms the beginning of the Gulf Stream, has weakened considerably over the last century.

The findings, published Friday in the journal Nature Climate Change, corroborate the predictions of several models that suggest the Gulf Stream has slowed over the last several decades.

The Florida Current is a thermal ocean current that flows from west to east around the tip of Florida, joining the Gulf Stream off Florida’s east coast.

Scientists have been tracking the strength of the Florida Current since the early 1980s — not long enough to identify multi-decadal or centennial trends.

To better understand the current’s historical changes, Christopher Piecuch, researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, decided to study the relationship between coastal sea level and the strength of near-shore currents.

While researchers have only been measuring the Florida Current for a few decades, scientists have been recording sea level data since the early 1900s. Piecuch was able to use the data to predict historic changes in the strength of near-shore currents.

“In the ocean, almost everything is connected,” Christopher Piecuch, sole author of the new study, said in a news release. “We can use those connections to look at things in the past or far from shore, giving us a more complete view of the ocean and how it changes across space and time.”

The statistical analysis performed by Piecuch showed the Florida Current and Gulf Stream are the weakest they’ve been during the last 110 years.

The findings are in agreement with ocean current models that suggest climate change has caused a slowdown of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, of which the Gulf Stream is a part.

Piecuch said he hopes his research will help other scientists use coastal current data to study changes in bigger currents like the Gulf Stream.

“If we can monitor something over the horizon by making measurements from shore, then that’s a win for science and potentially for society,” he said.



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