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SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket blasts Elon Musk's personal Tesla into solar orbit

AstronomyAt 3:45 p.m. Tuesday, Eastern Time (2045 UTC), the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, United States. Its cargo: a US$100,000 Tesla sportscar, the personal property of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, which he hopes will soon be in its own orbit around the Sun. This is the most powerful rocket since the Saturn V of Project Apollo was retired in 1970. The rocket is meant to follow a course called a Hohmann transfer orbit.

Healthy cloned monkeys born in Shanghai

BiologyIn findings published Wednesday in the scientific journal Cell, a team of scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai, China have announced the first-ever cloning of a primate from post-embryonic cells, namely two macaque monkeys. They used somatic cell nuclear transfer, the same method that was used to create Dolly the sheep in 1996.

In somatic cell nuclear transfer, scientists remove the nucleus, which is the organelle that contains the chromosomes, from an unfertilized ovum, or egg cell, and implant the nucleus from a somatic cell, or non-reproductive cell, into that ovum. The ovum is then stimulated and develops in the normal way, growing into a whole organism that has the same nuclear DNA as the donor organism, though it will have all of the ovum's mitochondria and other cellular machinery. Clones like these have been described as identical twins to their donors, but younger.

British surfers catch more than waves: Scientists find antibiotic-resistant bacteria

British surfers catch more than waves: Scientists find antibiotic-resistant bacteriaIn findings published Sunday in Environmental International, a team from Britain's University of Exeter reports that surfers and bodyboarders are roughly three times as likely to house antibiotic-resistant Escherichia coli and other bacteria that could easily become resistant, than other people who recreate in the coastal waters of the United Kingdom.

The epidemiological study was nicknamed the "Beach Bum Survey". The project was performed on 143 regular surfers, body surfers and bodyboarders from around the United Kingdom. Each surfgoing participant was asked to recruit a non-surfing friend of the same sex and approximate age and who lived in the same part of the country to serve as a control, which resulted in a control group of 130.

All participants mailed in rectal swabs, and the researchers cultured the E. coli from those samples with a common antibiotic called cefotaxime. The antibiotic failed to kill the bacteria in about 9% (13 out of 143) of surfer and bodyboarder samples and 3% of the samples from the control group (4 out of 130). A deeper look into the genomes of the specific strains of bacteria found in the study volunteers showed that bacteria from surfers were four times as likely to possess genes that can be transferred from one bacterial strain to another, which can help antibiotic-susceptible bacteria become resistant. The study also involved examination of water samples from the coasts of England and Wales to estimate the risk of surfers and other beachgoers ingesting E. coli.

E. coli is a regular resident in the guts of humans and other animals. Most strains are harmless but others can cause serious disease. Like other bacteria, E. coli can undergo horizontal gene transfer, swapping genes from one bacterium to another. This can give the altered strain the ability to cause disease, survive in the presence of antibiotics or both.

Although, the researchers expressed concern surfers might spread dangerous bacteria, Dr. Will Gaze, the University of Exeter Medical School professional who supervised the project, urged people not to avoid the beach: "We are not seeking to discourage people from spending time in the sea, an activity which has a lot of benefits in terms of exercise, well-being and connecting with nature", he said. "It is important that people understand the risks involved so that they can make informed decisions about their bathing and sporting habits. We now hope that our results will help policy-makers, beach managers, and water companies to make evidence-based decisions to improve water quality even further for the benefit of public health."

Mysterious dimming of Tabby's star likely due to space dust, not alien superstructures, say scientists

AstronomyOn Wednesday, a team of over 200 scientists led by astronomer Tabetha Boyajian announced the mysterious dim-and-recover behavior of stellar object KIC 8462852, also called "Boyajian's Star" or "Tabby's Star," is likely to be due to clouds of color-warping space dust and not a planet, another star or, as some astronomers have hypothesized, a giant structure built by a distant civilization.

"If a solid, opaque object like a megastructure was passing in front of the star, it would block out light equally at all colors," Dr. Boyajian told the press. "This is contrary to what we observe." And, in a separate statement, "Dust is most likely the reason why the star's light appears to dim and brighten. The new data shows that different colors of light are being blocked at different intensities. Therefore, whatever is passing between us and the star is not opaque, as would be expected from a planet or alien megastructure."

The research team analyzed 22 months of data collected by an array of ground-based telescopes that covered many wavelengths of light. The study period lasted from March 2016 to December 2017, which included a number of decreases in brightness. The first dip started on the night of Thursday May 18. A robotic 14-inch Celestron telescope at Fairborn Observatory in Arizona watched Tabby's star lose brightness by a dramatic 3% by Friday, confirming a prediction the star would undergo its unusual dimming events once every 750 days. Other major telescope projects and citizen astronomers confirmed these findings. That dip was complex and continued through to the following Sunday, after a brief rise in brightness over the weekend. It ended a few days later, with Boyajian and fellow astronomer and co-author of the recent paper Jason Wright discussing the phenomena with the public via Twitter: "will we have a flurry of dips to come? Stay tuned!"

Researchers report rapid formation of new bird species in Galápagos islands

BiologyA study published on Thursday in the journal Science reported on formation of a new bird species on the Ecuadorean Galápagos Islands. Researchers from Princeton University in the United States and Uppsala University in Sweden reported the new species evolved in just two generations, though this process had been believed to take much longer, due to breeding between an endemic Darwin finch, Geospiza fortes, and the immigrant cactus finch, Geospiza conirostris.

Princeton University scientists B. Rosemary Grant and Peter Grant, who were conducting their field work on the island of Daphne Major, noticed a non-native male bird — cactus finches — on the island in 1981. The research team said they believe the immigrant bird was native to Española Island, which is located about 100 kilometres (60 miles) southeast of the Galápagos archipelago. Cactus finches have bigger body and beak as compared to other finch species living on the island at the time.
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