“Biological clock” scientists win 2017 Nobel Medicine Prize

Winners of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (L-R) Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young are pictured on a display during a press conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm on October 2, 2017. The 2017 Nobel prize season kicks off with the announcement of the medicine prize, to be followed over the next days by the other science awards and those for peace and literature. (AFP)
Updated 02 October 2017
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“Biological clock” scientists win 2017 Nobel Medicine Prize

STOCKHOLM: US-born scientists Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling our biological clocks, the award-giving body said on Monday.
The mechanisms help explain issues such as why people traveling long distances over several time zones often suffer jet lag and they have wider implications for health such as increased risk for certain diseases.
“(The three scientists’) discoveries explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s revolutions,” the Nobel Assembly at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said in a statement.
The laureates used fruit flies to isolate a gene that controls the normal daily biological rhythm and showed how this gene encoded a protein that accumulates in the cell during the night and degrades during the day.
“The clock regulates critical functions such as behavior, hormone levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism,” the Assembly said on awarding the prize of 9 million Swedish crowns ($1.1 million).
Thomas Perlmann, secretary at the Karolinska Institute Nobel Committee, described the reaction of Rosbash when first informed of the award: “He was silent and then he said ‘you are kidding me’.”
Medicine is the first of the Nobel Prizes awarded each year. The prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace were created in accordance with the will of dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel and have been awarded since 1901.
Nobel medicine laureates have included scientific greats such as Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, and Karl Landsteiner, whose identification of separate blood types opened the way to carrying out safe transfusions.
The prize has not been without controversy, especially with the benefit of hindsight, such as with 1948 award for the discovery of DDT, a chemical that helped battle epidemics but was later banned due to its harmful environmental impact. ($1 = 8.1622 Swedish crowns)


Drones fly to rescue of Amazon wildlife

Updated 16 August 2018
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Drones fly to rescue of Amazon wildlife

  • With the help of drones, researchers are able to watch the Amazon’s pink river dolphins in a heavily flooded Amazon reserve
  • The expedition is using new thermal imaging cameras to allow work to continue at night

MAMIRAUA RESERVE, Brazil: A hoarse sound abruptly wakes visitors staying at a floating house that serves as a base for environmentalists on the Jaraua river in the Amazon rainforest.
During flood season, the Mamiraua Sustainable Development Reserve — located 500 kilometers (310 miles) from the Amazonas state capital Manaus — fills with water.
For researchers from the Mamiraua Institute and WWF-Brazil, that means their nearest neighbor is a caiman they call Dominique. It has decided to squat for the day at the end of their house.
But the surprising noise was something else.
“Don’t worry! That’s just the river dolphins breathing. It’s scary in the middle of the night, right?” biologist Andre Coelho says.
The next day, scientists got into two boats, slowly navigating the endless spread of water-filled forest.
In this primeval landscape, the researchers used a drone to help them watch the Amazon’s pink river dolphins, whose scientific name is Inia geoffrensis.
The voyage in late June, which AFP was invited to follow, was the last in the series of a project called EcoDrones, which monitors populations of the pink river dolphin and another type, the tucuxi, or Sotalia fluviatilis.
“We need to understand their behavior and habits so that we can propose policies for their preservation,” said Marcelo Oliveira, from the World Wildlife Fund-Brazil.
Drones “are a tool that will reduce costs and speed up the investigations,” said oceanographer Miriam Marmontel, from the Mamiraua Institute.
The expedition is using new thermal imaging cameras to allow work to continue at night.
“We can observe the animals at times when before it was impossible,” Oliveira said.
Some of the research will be sent to the University of Liverpool in association with WWF-Brazil, with hopes of developing an algorithm that will allow scientists to identify every one of the dolphins during their observations.
“There are many different Amazons in what we call the Amazon jungle,” said Marmontel.
“Our monitoring means we can understand how to preserve animals in each region — what are the dangers and how they can be faced.”