A shocking find: new high-voltage electric eels revealed

A shocking find: new high-voltage electric eels revealed
A picture released by Prof. Dr. Leandro Melo de Sousa on September 9, 2019 shows an electric eel (Electrophorus Voltai). Call it a shock discovery: DNA research has revealed two entirely new species of electric eel in the Amazon basin, including one capable of delivering a record-breaking jolt. (AFP)
Updated 11 September 2019

A shocking find: new high-voltage electric eels revealed

A shocking find: new high-voltage electric eels revealed
  • Electric eels use their shock tactics for a variety of reasons, including hunting prey, self-defense, and navigation
  • The newly discovered species may reveal a “hidden variety” of functions “of interest to the broader scientific community”

TOKYO: Call it a shock discovery: DNA research has revealed two entirely new species of electric eel in the Amazon basin, including one capable of delivering a record-breaking jolt.
The findings are evidence, researchers say, of the incredible diversity in the Amazon rainforest — much of it still unknown to science — and illustrate why it is so important to protect a habitat at risk from deforestation, logging and fires.
“In spite of all human impact on the Amazon rainforest in the last 50 years, we can still discover giant fishes like the two new species of electric eels,” said lead researcher C. David de Santana, a zoologist working with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
The research “indicates that an enormous amount of species are waiting to be discovered in the Amazon rainforest, many of which may harbor cures for diseases or inspire technological innovations,” he told AFP.
The electric eel, in fact a kind of fish rather than an eel, inspired the design of the first electric battery.
For centuries, it was believed that a single species existed throughout the region known as Greater Amazonia, encompassing parts of countries including Brazil, Suriname and Guyana.
But as part of a project to better understand electric eels and map wildlife in remote parts of South America, de Santana and his team decided to test that conventional wisdom.
At first glance, they found little visible difference between creatures collected from different parts of the Amazon basin, suggesting the fish were indeed part of a single species.
But further analysis, including of DNA from 107 samples they collected, upended centuries of assumptions and revealed three different species: the previously known Electrophorus electricus, along with Electrophorus voltai and Electrophorus varii.
And their research also uncovered another stunning result: E. voltai is capable of delivering a jolt of 860 volts — much more than the 650 volts previously recorded from electric eels — “making it the strongest bioelectricity generator known.”

The findings, published Tuesday in the Nature Communications journal, theorize that the three species evolved from a shared ancestor millions of years ago.
The researchers found each of the three species has a clearly defined habitat, with E. electricus living in the Guiana Shield region, E. voltai in the Brazilian Shield, a highland further south, and E. varii inhabiting slow-flowing lowland Amazon basin waters.
And they suggest that the particularly strong electric shock that E. voltai can produce could be an adaptation to life in highland waters, where conductivity is less effective.
Electric eels use their shock tactics for a variety of reasons, including hunting prey, self-defense, and navigation.
They generate electricity from three specialized electric organs that can emit charges of varying strengths for different purposes.
But the discovery of the new species raises the possibility that different types of eels may have evolved different ways of generating electricity, perhaps better suited to their diverse environments.
De Santana hopes to compare the genomes of the three species, searching for clues that could offer insights useful to a variety of fields.
“Electric eel physiology inspired the design of Volta’s first electric battery, provided a basis... for treating neurodegenerative diseases and recently promoted the advance of hydrogel batteries that could be used to power medical implants,” he said.
The newly discovered species may reveal a “hidden variety” of functions “of interest to the broader scientific community.”


Tunisia ‘trailblazer’ in Mediterranean seaweed farming

Tunisia ‘trailblazer’ in Mediterranean seaweed farming
Updated 23 June 2021

Tunisia ‘trailblazer’ in Mediterranean seaweed farming

Tunisia ‘trailblazer’ in Mediterranean seaweed farming

Wading knee-deep in the calm waters of a lagoon, workers in northern Tunisia harvest red seaweed, in a nation dubbed a Mediterranean “trailblazer” in cultivating the in-demand plant.

Red seaweed or algae is used for gelling, thickening and texturing agents that are increasingly a substitute for animal-based products in processed foods, and it is also being used increasingly in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.


Colombia has the world’s largest variety of butterfly species: study

Colombia has the world’s largest variety of butterfly species: study
Photo/Shutterstock
Updated 23 June 2021

Colombia has the world’s largest variety of butterfly species: study

Colombia has the world’s largest variety of butterfly species: study
  • “Colombia is a country with a great diversity of natural habitats, a complex and heterogeneous geography and a privileged location in the extreme northeast of South America,” the report reads in part

BOGOTA: Colombia is home to the world’s largest variety of butterflies, approximately 20 percent of all known species, according to a study published Tuesday by the Natural History Museum in London.
An international team of scientists cataloged 3,642 species and 2,085 subspecies, registering them in a document titled “Checklist of Colombian Butterflies.”
More than 200 butterfly species are found only in Colombia, said Blanca Huertas, the senior butterfly collection curator at the Natural History Museum in London, who was part of the research team.
Project researchers traveled widely in Colombia, analyzed more than 350,000 photographs, and studied information collected since the late 18th century, the museum said.
“Colombia is a country with a great diversity of natural habitats, a complex and heterogeneous geography and a privileged location in the extreme northeast of South America,” the report reads in part.
“These factors, added to the delicate public order in the last century in certain regions, has limited until now, the advancement of field exploration.”
Colombia has endured more than half a century of armed conflict, with some areas controlled by leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary groups or drug lords, and with little government presence.
Protecting butterflies in Colombia will also help protect its forests as well as other, less likeable species, Huertas said.
Between 2000 and 2019 Colombia lost nearly 2.8 million hectares of forest, equivalent to the area of Belgium, according to the National Department of Planning.


Madame Tussauds to open in Dubai later in 2021

Madame Tussauds to open in Dubai later in 2021
Updated 22 June 2021

Madame Tussauds to open in Dubai later in 2021

Madame Tussauds to open in Dubai later in 2021
  • The attraction will feature 7 rooms including a Bollywood-themed area
  • There will be 60 statues of global stars including new faces from the Middle East

DUBAI: Dubai is already known for its manmade islands, iconic sky scrapers, and the world’s first seven-star hotel – the Burj Al Arab, and now it’s getting its own version of the popular tourist attraction Madame Tussauds.

The world-famous waxwork museum is opening its first Middle East venue in Dubai’s Bluewaters Island later this year, Merlin Entertainments Ltd (Merlin), announced Tuesday.

Visitors will be able to take pictures with a selection of wax statues of 60 global stars, including 16 new wax figures from the Middle East region.

The attraction will feature seven themed rooms, including a Bollywood movie, featuring the Badshah of Bollywood, Shahrukh Khan.

Other figures will include Kylie Jenner, Cara Delevingne and footballing legend, Christiano Ronaldo.

“In addition to well-known global figures, the new Madame Tussauds will also be home to figures celebrated in the Middle East including Nancy Ajram and Maya Diab, alongside other figures which we will announce very soon,” said Meike Lippert, Senior Divisional Director Midway Europe and Global New Openings, Merlin Entertainments.

It takes sculptors 12 weeks to create each wax statue, and during that time they document 500 precise body measurements, insert real hair strand by strand, apply countless layers of paints to build up the skin tones.

And it can cost up to $208,000 to create a wax figure, depending on the work involved.

The first Madame Tussauds was opened in 1835 in London, and has remained a popular destination with tourists in the British capital ever since.

There are also branches in Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Shanghai, Wuhan and New York.

“It is a thrilling experience to bring the iconic Madame Tussauds to the UAE,” said Sanaz Kollsrud, General Manager of Madame Tussauds Dubai.

“This will be the 25th edition of our wax attraction and will be a first in the GCC. We intend to bring a whole new entertainment experience to the exciting portfolio of attractions in Dubai and cement Bluewaters’ position as a global tourist destination.” Kollsrud added.


Outgoing Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu gets his first smartphone

Outgoing Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu gets his first smartphone
Updated 21 June 2021

Outgoing Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu gets his first smartphone

Outgoing Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu gets his first smartphone
  • Netanyahu was probably one of the few people who didn’t own a smartphone
  • Former prime minister’s new phone number will remain unknown to many

BEIRUT: Israel’s former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now owns a smartphone for the first time in 12 years, Israeli media reported on Monday.
Unseated as premier in early June, Israel Today said Netanyahu was probably one of the few people who didn’t own a smartphone across the country, highlighting that “today he is proud of the smartphone he has.”
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett succeeded in cobbling together a government in the aftermath of Israel’s fourth consecutive election in two years.
Netanyahu, who served for 12 years as prime minister until Bennett’s government was sworn in last week, has yet to move out of the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem.
The former prime minister’s new phone number will remain unknown to many except for a select few, the newspaper said.
Mentioning the issue of owning smartphones in 2014, Netanyahu was reportedly overheard exclaiming to his entourage prior to filming and interview with an American TV channel: “I do not understand the new world where everybody wants to click photos! When do you live?”
Reporters cited him as saying “everybody takes pictures, that is all what they do! Don’t take pictures, live your life! I lived mine without taking photos. I am the only person, who doesn’t have electronic devices. I am a free man and you are all slaves to your devices.”
According to the newspaper, a friend of Netanyahu claimed that the last time he owned a personal phone was in 2009.
Despite the fact that he has not used a smartphone for more than a decade, he remains one of the most followed people on social media, with over 2 million followers on Twitter and over 2.6 million followers on Facebook.


UK’s Queen Elizabeth II beams as she returns to Ascot after COVID-19 hiatus

UK’s Queen Elizabeth II beams as she returns to Ascot after COVID-19 hiatus
Updated 20 June 2021

UK’s Queen Elizabeth II beams as she returns to Ascot after COVID-19 hiatus

UK’s Queen Elizabeth II beams as she returns to Ascot after COVID-19 hiatus
  • Dressed in a mint-green outfit and matching hat, the queen was applauded by the crowd
  • She smiled broadly as she inspected one of her horses, after it finished a close second

LONDON: Queen Elizabeth II was smiling broadly as she attended the final day of the Ascot races on Saturday, where environmental protesters urged the monarch to press politicians to act faster against climate change.
The 95-year-old queen, a keen racing fan and racehorse owner, has attended Ascot almost every year of her seven-decade reign. She was absent last year, when the event was held without spectators because of the coronavirus pandemic. Her return came two months after the death of her husband, Prince Philip, at 99.


Dressed in a mint-green outfit and matching hat, the queen was applauded by the crowd as she arrived to cheer on four horses she owns that were racing on Saturday. She smiled broadly as she inspected one of her horses, Reach for the Moon, after it finished a close second.
The annual racing meeting west of London is a heady mix of horses, extravagant headwear, fancy dress, champagne and strawberries with cream.
Protesters from environmental group Extinction Rebellion unfurled a banner reading “Racing to Extinction” at the racecourse on Saturday. The group said four women glued themselves to their banner and chained themselves to the fence in a protest intended to be seen by the queen. She was not nearby at the time.