Researchers analyze prehistoric viruses in animals dug out from the Siberian permafrost.
- Scientists in a Siberian laboratory in Russia began studying ancient viruses.
- The viruses come from prehistoric animals dug out from the melting permafrost.
- The research lab used to be a center for the development of biological weapons.
A state lab in Russia's Siberia is beginning research into prehistoric viruses preserved in the remains of animals found in melting permafrost.
Spearheaded by the Vector State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology and the University of Yakutsk, the study will start by analyzing tissues from a prehistoric horse from at least 4,500 ago. These remains were located in the region of Siberia called Yakutia, where Paleolithic animals like mammoths are often found.
Other prehistoric animals the researchers aim to study include elk, dogs, partridges, hares, rodents, the 28,800 year old Malolyakhovsky woolly mammoth, and more. Some of the remains are up to 50,000 years old. All the animals were found because of the thawing permafrost.
One might wonder if this kind of research is in some way's opening a Pandora's box to ancient viruses, but this it not the first time such viruses have been studied. In fact, with the Arctic warming at twice the global average rate, the melting permafrost is likely to reveal more of its frozen content.
Maxim Cheprasov, head of the Mammoth Museum laboratory at Yakutsk University, explained in a press release that the animals being examined have undergone bacterial studies previously. However, "We are conducting studies on paleoviruses for the first time," Cheprasov shared.
Vector scientist Dr. Olesya Okhlopkova explained that "the team of Vector Virology Centre is keen to find paleo-viruses that would allow to start development of paleo-virology in Russia and conduct leading researched in virus evolution."
The world's only known woolly mammoth trunk.
Credit: Semyon Grigoryev/NEFU
So far there has only been limited research on soft issues but the Vector team is looking to monitor the infections in the animals by segregating out total nucleic acids and sequencing the genomes to get more information on the biodiversity and the microorganisms in the ancient beasts.
"Should nucleic acids preserve, we ought to be able to get data on their composition and establish how it changed, shared Okhlopkova. "We will be able to determine the epidemiological potential of currently existing infectious agents."
During Soviet times, the Vector laboratory, located in Novosibirsk, used to be a center for the development of biological weapons. It's one of the two places in the world that currently stores the smallpox virus. It has also developed Russia's second coronavirus vaccine - the EpiVacCorona.
A mineral made in a Kamchatka volcano may hold the answer to cheaper batteries, find scientists.
- Russian scientists discover a new mineral in the volcanic area of Kamchatka in the country's far east.
- The mineral dubbed "petrovite" can be utilized to power sodium-ion batteries.
- Batteries based on salt would be cheaper to produce than lithium-ion batteries.
Researchers from St. Petersburg University in Russia found a beautiful new mineral species called "petrovite," created in the volcanos of the remote region of Kamchatka in the country's far east.
The research team that found petrovite was headed by crystallography professor Stanislav Filatov, who studied the minerals of Kamchatka for over 40 years. The area offers amazing mineralogical diversity, with dozens of new minerals found there in recent years, according to the university's press release.
Specifically, Filatov focused his attention on scoria (or cinder) cone volcanos and lava flows formed after the eruptions of the Tolbachik Volcano in 1975-1976 and 2012-2013.
Excited Russian scientists at the edge of the volcanic area in Kamchatka where the mineral was found.
Credit: St. Petersburg University / Filatov
Petrovite, the blue and green mineral Filatov's team discovered, with the chemical formula of Na10CaCu2(SO4)8, contains oxygen atoms, sodium sulphur, and copper in a porous framework. "The copper atom in the crystal structure of petrovite has an unusual and very rare coordination of seven oxygen atoms," explained Filatov.
The scientists think its structure of voids connected by channels, which can pass through small sodium atoms, holds potential for ionic conductivity. The mineral may be adaptable as cathode material in sodium-ion batteries. Due to the abundance of salt, sodium-ion batteries could be a very inexpensive alternative to lithium-ion batteries you can commonly find in many devices today.
"At present, the biggest problem for this use is the small amount of a transition metal – copper – in the crystal structure of the mineral," added Filatov. "It might be solved by synthesizing a compound with the same structure as petrovite in the laboratory.'
Crystal structure displaying sodium migration pathways.
Credit: Filatov et al., Mineralogical Magazine, 2020
The mineral was named "petrovite" not in honor of (as you might first guess) Peter the Great, the founder of St. Petersburg, but in recognition of Professor Tomas Petrov, a crystallographer at the university. He was part of the team that was first in the world to synthetically grow malachite.
Besides researchers from St. Petersburg University, other Russian scientists involved came from the Institute of Volcanology and Seismology of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Grebenshchikov Institute of Silicate Chemistry.
Check out the new study published in Mineralogical Magazine.
President Vladimir Putin announces approval of Russia's coronavirus vaccine but scientists warn it may be unsafe.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin announced on Tuesday, August 11 that his country was the first to approve a coronavirus vaccine, provoking skepticism from Russian and international scientists. Putin said the vaccine has met the Health Industry's standards and was even tested on his own daughter. Others aren't so sure, pointing to the lack of evidence from Russia and the seeming fact that the vaccine did not undergo the necessary phase 3 trials and was only administered to dozens of people. Such a sample is not enough to determine the vaccine's effectiveness on a large scale, but the Russian authorities will start giving the vaccine to doctors on the virus frontlines first and move on to mass vaccination as early as October.
Putin, leading a country that has had almost 900,000 cases of COVID-19 by this point, stood by the vaccine's effectiveness:
"I know it has proven efficient and forms a stable immunity," said the Russian President. "We must be grateful to those who made that first step very important for our country and the entire world."
Putin also claimed that the vaccine was tested on one of his daughters, sharing that the day of the first injection her temperature reached 100.4 degrees but then fell to a bit over 98.6 degrees the following day. The second shot also led to a slight fever. Overall, this resulted in the daughter developing a "high number of antibodies," according to President Putin.
Russia's own Association of Clinical Trials Organizations offered a note of caution, stating that "Fast-tracked approval will not make Russia the leader in the race, it will just expose consumers of the vaccine to unnecessary danger," as reported by the Associated Press.
International scientists were also much more guarded with their optimism, pointing out that without a phase 3 trial, which usually engages tens of thousands of people and lasts months, you can't truly tell if the vaccine is safe and works. By comparison, American vaccine trials require 30,000 people each during final stages. Several such studies are currently underway.
A new coronavirus vaccine on display at the Nikolai Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia.
Credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/ Russian Direct Investment Fund via AP
Professor Danny Altmann of Imperial College London, shared his reservations about releasing an ill-researched vaccine:
"The collateral damage from release of any vaccine that was less than safe and effective would exacerbate our current problems insurmountably," he commented in a statement.
Rushing a vaccine can be damaging to the health of millions and contribute to the further spread of COVID-19 by fostering a false sense of protection. It can also erode trust in vaccines in the general population.
Medical workers draw blood from volunteers participating in a trial of a coronavirus vaccine at the Budenko Main Military Hospital outside Moscow, Russia.
Credit: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
The developers of the Russian vaccine have used a technology that's similar to what is being studied by other labs looking to stop the coronavirus spread – Oxford University, AstraZeneca, and China's CanSino Biologics. This method involves modifying the adenovirus, which causes the common cold, to transport genes for the protein coating the coronavirus. This essentially prepares the body to spot a real COVID-19 infection if it comes.
The vaccine is being researched by the Gamaleya Institute in Moscow with help from Russia's Defense Ministry. The goal of the vaccine is to provide immunity of up to two years.
Further trials of the Russian vaccine will begin shortly, with thousands of participants not just from Russia but the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines. Brazil might also participate.
It's one of the nation's worst oil spills on record.
- The accident occurred in the Siberian city of Norilsk.
- The company said thawing permafrost caused a fuel tank to collapse.
- Thawing permafrost poses a major threat to Russia's oil industry, which is the world's third largest.
Russian President Vladimir Putin recently declared a state of emergency after an industrial accident spilled more than 20,000 tons of diesel into the Arctic environment.
The accident occurred when a fuel tank collapsed at a power plant on May 29 in the Siberian city of Norilsk, located 1,800 miles northeast of Moscow. At least 17,000 tons of diesel fuel spilled into the Ambarnaya River, turning it crimson, while another 6,000 tons leaked into the soil.
Greenpeace Russia said it's the "first accident of such a scale in the Arctic," comparing it to the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska in 1989. That accident spilled 39,000 tons of fuel into the Pacific Ocean.
On Thursday, Russian officials said the leak had been contained with booms placed in the river.
"We have stopped the spread of the petroleum products," a spokesperson for the task-force in charge of the clean-up said. "They are contained in all directions, they are not going anywhere now."
Although the spill is contained, the accident likely caused long-term damage to the environment.
"The incident led to catastrophic consequences, and we will be seeing the repercussions for years to come," Sergey Verkhovets, coordinator of Arctic projects for WWF Russia, said in a statement. "We are talking about dead fish, polluted plumage of birds and poisoned animals."
Greenpeace said the clean-up won't do much good:
"The booms that were set up will only collect an insignificant part of the pollution, so we can assert that almost all of the diesel fuel will remain in the environment."
Norilsk Nickel, the owner of the power plant, said the fuel tank collapsed because of "abnormally mild temperatures" in the permafrost.
“The company is working painstakingly to understand what happened ... we suspect that abnormally mild temperatures… https://t.co/yg6svZvbBG— Nornickel (@Nornickel)1591116838.0
Alexei Knizhnikov, a leader with the Russian arm of the World Wildlife Fund, said that while climate change is affecting the nation's permafrost, the company could've prevented the accident if it had followed proper protocol. Russian law requires companies to install containment structures around fuel reservoirs.
"A lot of the blame lies with the company," Knizhnikov said.
During a teleconference on Wednesday, Putin criticized a Norilsk Nickel manager over the company's handling of the accident.
“I think decontamination will cost Nornickel billions of roubles, but I’m speaking not as a businessman, but as a h… https://t.co/DpArnia48m— Nornickel (@Nornickel)1591366244.0
"Why did government agencies find out about this only after two days?" Putin asked. "Are we going to find out about emergencies from social media now?"
Norilsk Nickel president Vladimir Potanin said the company would pay the costs of cleaning up the skill, estimated to be $146 million. At least one worker at the power plant has so far been arrested. He's charged with violating environmental regulations and faces up to five years in prison.
How climate change threatens Russian oil
Russia, the world's fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The nation is warming two and a half times faster than the rest of the planet, and in recent years it's suffered costly floods and wildfires.
Thawing permafrost in Siberian regions poses a major threat to Russia's oil industry, which is the world's third largest. One key reason, as evidenced by last week's accident, is that melting permafrost jeopardizes the structural integrity of oil-field infrastructure.
Of course, when oil infrastructure is jeopardized, so is the environment. That's why Greenpeace Russia is calling for increased environmental regulations and unscheduled audits of oil producers in the nation's Arctic region.
"Environmental control should be strengthened, and the operation of facilities should be under special control to prevent accidents, especially in the conditions of melting permafrost due to global climate change," the organization said in a statement.
Strange bone circles made from mammoths revealed clues about how ancient communities survived Europe's last ice age.
- Archaeologists found new clues to the purpose of the bone circles in Russia and Ukraine from the last Ice Age.
- The previous theories assumed they were used for dwellings.
- The new finds indicate they were used partially for fuel and had remains of different plants.
Researchers have made significant progress in figuring out the purpose of the 70 mysterious circular structures made of mammoth bones. These Ice Age curiosities were found in Ukraine and the west Russian Plain. A new study shows one of site's bones to be over 20,000 years old, making it the oldest such structure in the region.
The majority of the bones belonged to mammoths and came from animal graveyards during the last ice age, which lasted in Northern Europe from 75,000 to 18,000 years ago. At the Russian Plains site Kostenki 11, outside the modern village of Kostenki (500km south of Moscow), the researchers had a well-preserved example of this type of circle, as it was built around the coldest part of this ice age, which according to the press release from the University of Exeter, was from around 23,000 to 18,000 years ago. The bitter cold is probably the reason the bone circles were eventually abandoned.
At the Kostenki site, the scientists located 51 lower jaws and 64 mammoth skulls, which were used to create the walls of a 30 foot by 30 foot structure. They were also located throughout the interior.
Besides the mammoths, some bones from horses, bears, reindeer, wolves, red and arctic foxes were also uncovered by archaeologists from the University of Exeter, who carried out the study.
Over time, the circle became hidden by sediment, about a foot below the surface. What was remarkable in the current find by the archaeologists is that for the first time they discovered among the bone circles some charred wood and remains of non-wooden plants. This tells us that people who lived there were using wood and bones for fuel and foraged for plants to be utilized for food, medicine and fabric. The charred seeds also spotted at the location were likely employed for cooking and eating.
Kostenki 11 site in the Russian Plains.
Credit: Alex Pryor
The study was led by Dr. Alexander Pryor who called the site Kostenki 11 a "rare example" of how Paleolithic hunter-gatherers lived in a pretty unforgiving environment. He thinks mammoths and humans were probably both drawn to the site by a natural spring that would not freeze during winter.
"These finds shed new light on the purpose of these mysterious sites," he explained. "Archaeology is showing us more about how our ancestors survived in this desperately cold and hostile environment at the climax of the last ice age. Most other places at similar latitudes in Europe had been abandoned by this time, but these groups had managed to adapt to find food, shelter and water."
The previous theory about the purpose of the circles pegged them as dwellings, occupied for months. The new evidence shows that there wasn't enough intense activity at the Kostenki site to indicate such long-term events.