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Origins of land plants pushed back in time

Origins of land plants pushed back in time

Science
A seminal event in the Earth's history - when plants appeared on land - may have happened 100 million years earlier than previously thought.Land plants evolved from "pond scum" about 500 million years ago, according to new research.These early moss-like plants greened the continents, creating habitats for land animals.The study, based on analysing the genes of living plants, overturns theories based purely on fossil plant evidence."Land plants emerged on land half a billion years ago, tens of millions of years older than the fossil record alone suggests," said study author, Dr Philip Donoghue of the department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. "This changes perception of the nature of early terrestrial environments, displacing pond scum in favour of a flora that would have t...

Ocean plastic tide 'violates the law'

Science
The global tide of ocean plastic pollution is a clear violation of international law, campaigners say.They have been urging for a new global treaty to tackle the problem.But a new report - to be presented to a Royal Geographical Society conference on Tuesday - says littering the sea with plastics is already prohibited under existing agreements.The report urges those governments that are trying to tackle the issue to put legal pressure on those that are not.The paper has been written by the veteran environment journalist Oliver Tickell.His principal conclusion is backed by ClientEarth, the legal group that successfully sued the UK over failures to meet air pollution laws.Tickell says legal action against big polluters such as China, India and Indonesia can be taken only by a nation state.So...
DNA secrets of how vampire bats became bloodthirsty

DNA secrets of how vampire bats became bloodthirsty

Science
DNA analysis is giving clues to how the vampire bat can survive on blood alone.The bat can drink up to half its weight in blood a day unlike other relatives, which dine on fruit, nectar or insects.Blood is low in nutrients and can harbour deadly viruses.Vampire bats have key differences in genes involved in immunity and food metabolism compared with other bats.The researchers say the bat's gut microbes are also distinct.They found evidence of more than 280 types of bacteria in the bat's droppings that would have made most other mammals unwell."The data suggests that there is a close evolutionary relationship between the gut microbiome and the genome of the vampire bat for adaptation to sanguivory (feeding exclusively on blood)," said study author, Dr Marie Zepeda Mendoza of the University ...
'100,000 orangutans' killed in 16 years

'100,000 orangutans' killed in 16 years

Science
Media playback is unsupported on your deviceMore than 100,000 Critically Endangered orangutans have been killed in Borneo since 1999, research has revealed. Scientists who carried out a 16-year survey on the island described the figure as "mind-boggling". Deforestation, driven by logging, oil palm, mining and paper mills, continues to be the main culprit.But the research, published in the journal Current Biology, also revealed that animals were "disappearing" from areas that remained forested. This implied large numbers of orangutans were simply being slaughtered, said lead researcher Maria Voigt of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. Read also: Saving the orangutans of SumatraDr Voigt and her colleagues say the animals are being targeted by hunters and are b...
New scanning technique reveals secrets behind great paintings

New scanning technique reveals secrets behind great paintings

Science
Researchers in the US have used a new scanning technique to discover a painting underneath one of Pablo Picasso's great works of art, the Crouching Woman (La Misereuse Accroupie). Underneath the oil painting is a landscape of Barcelona which, it turns out, Picasso used as the basis of his masterpiece.The new x-ray fluorescence system is cheaper than alternative art scanning systems - and it is portable, making it available to any gallery that wants it. Details were revealed at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement for Science in Austin, Texas.The Crouching Woman is a painting from Picasso's blue period. Media playback is unsupported on your deviceWhat is remarkable is that the landscape painting beneath - probably by a student artist - is turned 90 degrees. Th...