103 HPV Vaccine, Fossil Death Pit, Superbug Fungus, and so much more

We welcome back our very own Amrita Sule. Hey, that’s Doctor Sule to you, buddy! She was out there in the world doing all that science-y stuff like traveling, going to conferences, socializing, networking. Oh, and doing science. It’s our privilege to present Amrita, Nevena Hristozova, and Tom Di Liberto for our 103rd episode.

On This Week’s Show

  • Walking whales
  • New Yorker article carks it in fossil death pit
  • Planet survives death of its sun…barely
  • Public health success story in Scotland

Science News with Dr. Amrita Sule and Nevena Hristozova

Fossil of ancient four-legged whale found in Peru

Amrita Sule

Researchers have found well-preserved bones of an ancient whale along the coast of Peru.

This is a 42.6 million-year-old fossil of a whale, which had legs with hooves and was a land-dwelling mammal.

Olivier Lambert, from Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels and his team, had been digging around the barren coastal regions of Peru. His team found a jawbone with very large teeth. They kept digging to find bone after bone.

Although the bones were millions of years old, they were well preserved. When assembled and put together the skeleton, the hip and limb structure made the whale  look like an animal which once walked on the land.

But its long appendages and tailbones made them look like an otter and suggest swimming proficiency.

What makes the evolution of whales fascinating is that we usually think of mammals evolving out of the sea onto the land. However, for whales, this process happened backwards. And this discovery will certainly help us understand how earth’s largest mammals made the transition from land to sea.

This is the first evidence of a four-legged or quadrupedal whale in all of the southern hemisphere and the Pacific.

Until now it was thought that ancient whales travelled to North America from Africa before migrating to South America. However, location of this specimen suggests that ancient whales travelled across South America before travelling up to North America.

It’s kinda cool how fossils not only are the missing links in evolutionary history but also provide information when and how a certain organism traversed to different parts of the world.

The team which made this discovery have named it Peregocetus pacificus, meaning “the travelling whale that reached the Pacific”.

BBC Science and Environment, Live Science

Fossil ‘Death Pit’ Preserves Dino Extinction Event … But Where Are the Dinosaurs?

Nevena Hristozova

I honestly don’t get that story but at all – for me this is nothing more about a journalistic blunder and nothing to do with science.

So the actual science behind this story is about a paleontological site in North Dakota (part of the fossil-rich Hell Creek Formation). Turns out that this place contains almost every Cretaceous fossil that we can think of – from living things which were all buried at once(creepy I know).

What’s amazing about it is that it came into existence just minutes and hours following the asteroid impact that extinguished much of life on Earth around 66 million years ago.

The issue is that the New Yorker, which allegedly reported on this exact research publication by Dr DePalma and colleagues, quotes the finding of a bunch of dino fossils, while in actuality, there were very few to be found at the site, according to the peer-reviewed publication.

May be the reporters from the New Yorker dreamt the pile of dino fossils at the site, or they just really wanted them to be there, but the fact is that for some reason, appart from a hip-bone, so far no dinos have been found there… Does this mean that the dinos might have died out before the big splash of the Chicxulub impact? Or that dinos just didn’t like North Dakota and hung out elsewhere? Who’s to say!


Planet survives the death of its sun

Amrita Sule

Before we travel into the intergalactic world let’s take a moment and think what will happen if OUR SUN dies?

First, it will run out of all of its nuclear fuel. It will swell up to 100 times of its size to become a red giant and in that process swallow Mercury and Venus and maybe even Earth.

And finally, it will collapse, shedding it’s out layers until it turns into a dense glowing sphere about the size of earth. This is what we call the white dwarf.

We can only guess how our solar system will look like after the sun dies. but, a new discovery might provide some insight.

Christopher Manser at the University of Warwick in Coventry, UK and his colleagues have discovered remains of a planet orbiting around a dead star – a white dwarf, around 410 light years away.

The team were observing a dusty ring which is formed around the star post the explosion of the dying star. They noticed a fluctuation in the wavelength of the dust and this signal was repeated every two hours suggesting that something was moving around the white dwarf very rapidly.

Manser says that this is most probably an asteroid or piece of a planet with a radius of around 400 Km. It is probably very close to the white dwarf as it completes a full orbit in just 2 hours.If you compare that to our solar system, it would be inside the sun.

This piece of the planet it probably made of a very dense metal like iron or so which is why it hasn’t disintegrated yet in spite of being so close to this white dwarf.

Most of the planets in the galaxy are composed of the same elements we could share the same fate when our sun dies which is estimated to be in 5 billion years or so.  Currently, the thought is that mercury, Venus and earth will most certainly not survive the explosion, but Mars and the outer planets might.

So, I suppose the search for life on other planets continues.

New York Times, New Scientist

Scotland’s HPV vaccine linked to ‘near elimination’ of cervical cancer

Nevena Hristozova

Those damn vaccines are causing biodiversity loss, JD! However, THAT type of biodiversity loss I’m all in for, ‘cause I’m just being silly and talking about eradicating a whole type of cancer, and that’s my favourite type of news!

The place – Scotland and the cancer – cervical.

According to the World Cancer Research Fund, Cervical cancer is the 4th most commonly occurring cancer in women and the 8th most commonly occurring cancer overall. There were over 500,000 new cases in 2018.

Virtually all cervical cancers are associated with the human papilloma viruses (HPV). And while being one of the very prevalent and scary types of cancer, we seem to be best equipped to fight it, as the 5-year survival rate (while varying between countries and races) is steadily above the 50%, as well as is the early detection rate.

One of the best things about this types of cancer is that we actually have a working vaccine against it.

Some very good news came out in the Journal New Scientist in relation to this vaccine. In the UK, ten years ago, a preventive vaccination programme was started where all girls from the age of 12 onwards were given the chance to be vaccinated with the HPV vaccine, now we have some very convincing statistics to support the health benefits of the vaccine. In Scotland (currently part of the UK), health authorities reported 90% reduction on pre-cervical cancer conditions detected in girls who were part of that programme, as compared to girls born earlier, who were at the vaccination age before the vaccine became available.

The original study is published in the British Medical Journal and the health officials reported that they will expand the vaccination programme to boys too in the coming months.

So yeah – vaccines work!

New Scientist

The Climate Lounge

Where are the mosquitos going?

Tom Di Liberto

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, smack smack,,,,bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. WILL SOMEONE SHUT THAT DAMN WINDOW! Smack. Ow!

Annnnddd scene! Thank you! This was from a reading of my one person play “Tom and the Mosquitos” soon to be playing on any number of warm humid buggy days this spring and summer in Washington DC.

I’m not alone in hating mosquitos. Besides being disease carriers, they also suck….blood out of your body. See what I did there? Honestly, how many outdoor activities were ruined because these suckers decided to go vampire on you? Plenty. Well guess what, climate change impacts just how far north these suckers can go. Because of course climate change does. Let’s dig deepers.

In a new study released in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases looks at how the habitat and range of two types of mosquitoes Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus will change in a warming world. These two types of mosquitoes can carry diseases like dengue and yellow fever, as well as several emerging threats like chikungunya, Zika, West Nile, and Japanese encephalitis.

The scientists found that “within the next century, nearly a billion people could face their first exposure to viral transmission from either mosquito in the worst-case scenario, mainly in Europe and high-elevation tropical and subtropical regions”

The scientists used four climate change scenarios to see how the evolution of temperatures changes the viral transmission of diseases from the mosquitoes. Specifically, the use the temperatures in an empirically parameterized model of viral transmission to predict the cumulative monthly global transmission risk in curren climates and compares that to the projected risk in 2050 and 2080.  

Simply put, the both Aedes aegptyi and Aedes albopictus will range farther north. However, there is important nuance here as just because a mosquito can range farther north doesn’t mean that the habitat is good for them. For one, this range north will be led by the albopictus (asian tiger mosquito) because they are more adapted to the cold. However, at the same time, they would die out in the tropics where temperatures become too hot.

But also, even if these mosquitos range north to Alaska they would only last a week or two before dying, a small amount of time to deliver diseases.

The greater risk are therefore not on the fringes of the new mosquito habitat but on those places where the mosquito threat becomes year round due to a rise in temperature including major cities in China, the US and Europe. Exposing a huge population to a threat it has no built-up immunity for.

As one of the authors of the paper Colin Carlson said in a piece on NPR “If you have a population that has no vaccination, no protection and one person comes in with measles, you get a huge explosive outbreak. Mosquito-borne disease works the same way.”

And, he says, while “there’s no guarantee that any introduction leads to an explosive outbreak,” climate change makes it a whole lot more likely.

That seems like an apt metaphor, comparing this to measles, as currently we have a bunch of people totally fine with measles outbreaks so long as it doesn’t affect them.


Pub Quiz

The latest science news in quiz form. Can you beat the Blue Streak team?

In Closing

That concludes this episode of the Blue Streak Science Podcast.

If you have any suggestions or comments email us at podcast@bluestreakscience.com

You can subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast any other podcast player of your choice.

If you have an iOS device like an iPhone or an iPad you can get the Blue Streak Science app from the App Store.

This show is produced by the Blue Streak Science team, and edited by Pro Podcast Solutions.

Our hosts today were Amrita Sule, Nevena Hristozova, and Tom Di Liberto.

I’m JD Goodwin.  

Thank you for joining us.

And remember…follow the science!

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