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Today, you can send a tube of spit to a lab to learn about your ancestry and the health risks you’re predisposed to. Soon, scientists hope to create a similar tool for giant sequoias and coast redwoods—a 23andMe for trees.
“That’s my dream,” says David Neale, plant scientist at the University of California, Davis. Now, he and a team of scientists from UC Davis, Johns Hopkins University, and Save the Redwoods League have completed the first major step to accomplishing this dream: sequencing the entire genomes of the two trees. “Getting a reference genome sequence for an organism for the first time is that necessary step to enable discoveries,” says Neale.
The two species call the West Coast home. The coast redwoods range from Southern Oregon to Central California, hugging the coastline for its mild temperatures and moist, foggy air. They’re the tallest organisms on the planet; in 50 years, they can grow up to 150 feet, and many later top 300. The tallest coast redwood, named Hyperion, stands more than 379 feet tall somewhere deep in Redwood National Park in Northern California, its location kept secret.
Giant sequoias aren’t quite as tall, but they are the largest living things by volume. The hulking trees dot the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. The largest sequoia is named the General Sherman Tree and boasts a 36.5-foot diameter at its base and is 52,508 cubic feet in volume.
UC Davis Professor David Neale and research assistant Brian Allen look at a coast redwood tree Ann Filmer/UC Davis
As impressive as they are, these trees are vulnerable to the effects of our forest management and a warmer, drier, more-fiery future. Giant sequoias normally welcome a regular, small fire to clear underbrush and add nutrients to the soil. But as fires have grown bigger and hotter, they’re threatening to cook even these massive trees. Coast redwoods may also lose some of their precious fog, which they are able to tap into for water during the region’s dry summers, as temperatures go up.
On top of these individual threats, some of the trees’ natural resilience might have already been chopped away. 95 percent of old growth coast redwoods have been logged, along with a third of giant sequoias. Scientists worry that this loss of genetic diversity also means the loss of genes that may have encoded traits to make the trees more drought or heat tolerant. “We really don’t understand how much the forest was affected from a genomic perspective from all of those decades of forest management,” says Emily Burns, director of science for Save the Redwoods League.
These concerns are fueling the Redwood Genome Project, which launched in 2023. To determine the genomes, scientists first took samples from an individual tree from each of the species and isolated their DNA. Then, they used computer algorithms to arrange the messy DNA into a clean, organized sequence of base pairs. This second step was challenging because of the size and complexity of the trees’ genetic information, says Neale. “This genome was much more difficult than probably any genome that had ever been sequenced.”
The two genomes, made available to the public today, are big. The coast redwood genome has nine times the number of base pairs as ours, and the sequoia’s has three times as many. This makes the coast redwood’s one of the largest recorded, second only to the axolotl salamander. Making things even more complicated, coast redwood parents each pass on three sets of chromosomes to their seedlings, making the trees hexaploids, with six sets of chromosomes. Giant sequoias, like humans, are diploids, with one set of chromosomes from each parent.
Scientists aren’t really sure why these trees’ genomes are so big. Neale says they have roughly the same amount of genes that code for proteins as us. “It may very well be related to their long life cycles,” he adds. “The two trees that were sequenced were in excess of 2,000 years old.”
Butano State Park’s redwoods Save the Redwoods League
By the end of the five-year project, the scientists want for it to be possible for a forest manager to send leaf samples to the lab and get a report back on the health of the trees and their vulnerability to things like drought and warmer temperatures. The information can be used to protect genetically diverse and resilient stands of trees. It can also improve restoration, by telling scientists which trees have the best odds of surviving in a given area.
And the genetic test can also help inform fire management efforts. After many decades of us actively putting out forest fires, California’s forests are much more dense with trees than they were historically. Now, efforts are underway to cut down some of these extra trees, to free up water and sunlight so others grow bigger and healthier. Testing tree genomes could help managers decide which trees to preserve in such thinning efforts. “We don’t want to be reducing the genomic diversity at the same time,” says Burns.
Now that they have a base genome identified, the scientists are sequencing 100 more trees from each species this year in an effort to correlate which genes are associated with which traits. Next year, says Burns, the team will work with officials from California State Parks and the National Parks Service to start collecting and analyzing leaf samples.
Beyond improving forest resiliency, Burns thinks the information will reveal all sorts of arboreal secrets. “I have a feeling we’re going to be learning for many years to come all kinds of interesting things about the redwood genome,” says Burns. “I hope we learn secrets as to why these trees are so tall and so big—they really are trees that spark all of all of our imaginations.”
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On Monday, scientists announced their observation of weather on a Jupiter-like exoplanet for the first time. The planet is a gas giant named HAT-P-7 b, and it orbits a star approximately 1,044 light-years away, and it turns out it might be covered in clouds of corundum––a mineral that makes up rubies and sapphires.
Led by David Armstrong of the University of Warwick, the team analyzed data on some 100,000 stars observed by the Kepler telescope. They studied the light reflected by HAT-P-7 b and found that the brightest point on the planet moves around over months and years. To Armstrong and his team, this indicates that clouds are moving around in the planet’s atmosphere, changing how much light the world reflects.
The light from the exoplanet HAT-P-7 b changes over months and years. Scientists think it’s because of clouds shifting around in the gas giant’s atmosphere. Armstrong et al./Nature Astronomy 2024A windy world
HAT-P-7 b is tidally locked, meaning that only one side of the planet ever faces its star. That side gets really hot (around 2,600 degrees Celsius) while the dark side stays relatively cool. Those temperature differences should cause strong winds to circle the planet.
Ordinarily, scientists wouldn’t expect clouds to exist on the bright side—it’s so hot they should evaporate. But scientists do expect clouds to form on the cold side, says Armstrong, and “because of the wind, we think some of those clouds are getting to the day side, and that’s what’s changing the brightness on the planet.”
Armstrong and his colleagues suspect the clouds might be comprised of corundum, a colorless mineral that’s typically found in rubies and sapphires. Corundum condenses at temperatures similar to those seen on the gas giant’s day side.
HAT-P-7 b is too hot for humans to visit. And since it’s a gas giant, it doesn’t really have a surface to stand on. But if we could touch down there and look up at the sky, Armstron says, the view would probably be incredible. “You’d be seeing these big, roaring cloud banks being pushed onto the day side and then heating up and getting very bright before burning away.”The forecast
This isn’t the first time scientists have detected weather on an exoplanet. Earlier this year, a different team announced that 55 Cancri e—a rocky world about twice the size of Earth—has a hot side and a cold side. Today we learn what the weather’s like on a completely different kind of world.
To study weather on distant worlds, our telescopes need a clear view of the exoplanet over a long period of time. Thankfully, that should get easier a lot easier very soon. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, slated for launch in 2023, should give us a closer view of exoplanet atmospheres and what they’re made of. And around 2024, the European Space Agency’s PLATO (Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars) observatory will also help to characterize these mysterious worlds.
“We see a huge diversity of exoplanets—rocky ones, gaseous ones, hot ones, cold ones, all kinds of different types,” says Armstrong. “Way more than we see in the solar system. There’s no reason that shouldn’t extend to their atmospheres, too.”
TPM Windows devices aren’t that safe, according to researchers
Even though Microsoft preached the enhanced safety we were going to receive via TPM chips, an attack is not even remotely impossible.
If one of our windows 11 devices were to fall into the wrong hands, the device itself and the network it’s connected to would be compromised.
Experts proved that, with the right set of skills, even the TPM 2.0 security chips can become easy prey for malicious entities looking to extract our data.
Microsoft might want to take a closer look at these security features and maybe even revise its strategy, while there is still time do so.
Needless to say, ever since the Redmond tech company first announced Windows 11 as the future OS, there has been endless talk about some of the hardware requirements that devices need to fulfill.
Many didn’t agree with the imposed TPM 2.0 restrictions and this subject has sparked reactions of all kinds from Windows users.
Microsoft held its ground and kept reassuring people that this TPM requirement is for their own safety, because of the enhanced level of protection it was going to offer.
However, some experts recently found that even with these security chips in place, we still can’t be entirely safe from malicious entities, on the off chance that someone gets their hands on our Windows 11 device.We’re not as safe as Microsoft wants you to think
The tech giant showed an iron will when it came to not cracking under public pressure, especially after the backlash that the TPM 2.0 requirement brought with it from the community.
Trusted Platform Module (TPM) technology is designed to provide hardware-based, security-related functions. A TPM chip is a secure crypto-processor that is designed to carry out cryptographic operations. The chip includes multiple physical security mechanisms to make it tamper-resistant, and malicious software is unable to tamper with the security functions of the TPM.
Experts from Dolos Group found out that, in fact, if one of us were to lose his laptop or have it stolen, TPM could do little to prevent hackers from wreaking havoc.
At the time of this writing, BitLocker does not utilize any encrypted communication features of the TPM 2.0 standard, which means any data coming out of the TPM is coming out in plaintext, including the decryption key for Windows. If we can grab that key, we should be able to decrypt the drive, get access to the VPN client config, and maybe get access to the internal network.
By using this exploit together with other ingenious schemes, researchers were able to take a stolen corporate laptop (as a scenario) and effectively gain access to its associated corporate network, leaving data exposed and vulnerable.
As they further described, after cracking open said laptop, a pre-equipped attacker would use a SOIC-8 clip instead of individual probes, in order to compromise the TPM security chip.
The clip would make it extremely simple to connect to the chip and shave a couple of minutes off a real-world attack.
The entire process is explained in full detail and it is an interesting read if you have a vast technical background and are into this kind of knowledge.
This is disconcerting news, considering that Microsoft made such a big deal about us upgrading to devices that already have such security features integrated.
With that being said, the Redmond-based tech company could do a better job at offering a more secure future for BitLocker, one where such hacking methods are no longer possible.
You might also like to know that you can install Microsoft’s upcoming operating system even without the imposed TPM requirement.
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Dead Trees and PCs: HP’s Innovation Challenge
It’s tough to be too enthusiastic about HP’s plan to merge its printer and computing groups into a single unit. Former EVP of the PSG group Todd Bradley will lead the freshly-minted Printing and Personal Systems Group, as HP attempts to cut costs and “drive innovation” of its product range. Yet HP’s track record in creating exciting, distinctive devices is hardly glowing, and there are some serious pitfalls ahead that could easily derail the new strategy.
“Combining these two entities will rationalize HP’s go-to-market strategy, branding, supply chain and customer support worldwide” HP said of the change. “This will lead to a better customer experience and drive innovation across personal computing and printing. This realignment is expected to provide opportunities for cost savings and accelerate HP’s ability to pursue profitable growth and reinvest in the business.”
That reinvestment could well be throwing good money after bad. Printers haven’t been sexy in years – if, in fact, they were ever sexy – and are generally hulking plastic giveaways intended to get consumers hooked on expensive ink. Post-PC, meanwhile, might be a Steve Jobs buzzword but it’s undoubtedly a sign of the direction the consumer market is going: shifting away from traditional desktops, laptops and netbooks as tablets and oversized smartphones occupy the multimedia, browsing and messaging niches most PCs were used for.
Still, there are potential upsides to the shift. Corporate sniping and mixed management messages were among the factors blamed for the dire handling of webOS and the short-lived TouchPad, with insiders claiming control of the group became a prize to be won rather than a serious challenge to the iPad and Android. There’s no denying, too, that HP’s PC line-up has been underwhelming of late too; the few outliers, such as the Folio 13 ultrabook, are awash in a sea of me-too laptops and desktops.
[aquote]Bradley must look beyond what seems a good idea but, underneath, is poorly thought-through[/aquote]
We asked HP about the ability to choose an individual page or range of pages back at ePrint’s launch in mid-2010. The company’s reps nodded and said it was a good idea, something they’d definitely look into; then they pretty much left ePrint alone and moved onto The Next Big Thing instead.
Ditching webOS and the TouchPad was similarly short-sighted, with the tablet axed and the platform put out to open-source pasture in the space of a few cash-hemorrhaging months. The lingering impression was that HP had no long-term strategy beyond its “make ’em cheap and get ’em out the warehouse” model, that it didn’t have anything in the way of longer-term perspective. If something isn’t immediately successful, bin it and try something completely different: in short, pivot so fast that centrifugal force throws away anything good you’ve developed along with anything bad, and hope that it slips everyone’s attention.
People will inevitably always need printers, at least for the foreseeable future, and businesses – and some subset of regular consumers – will need traditional PCs too. Those mundane markets, though, don’t appear to be what HP is hoping to chase. If the new Printing and Personal Systems Group is to do better than its disparate forebears, HP will need to remember and learn from its mistakes, rather than do as much as possible to forget about them.
Killed Mosquitoes about to Undergo a Lab Analysis for Diseases, 1976
All you have to do is write in. A nonprofit malaria research organization, the Medicines for Malaria Venture, is offering boxes for free that each contain samples of 200 substances that the venture has determined are promising as malaria cures. The Malaria Box is meant to be a starting point for researchers at universities or small companies, who wouldn’t otherwise have access to a starting ground of 200 promising molecules.
The Malaria Box takes a cue from large pharmaceutical companies, which have long had a clever way of discovering new medicines. Companies perform what are called high-throughput screens, using robots to test thousands of chemicals to see if any kill a bacteria species, for example. At this step, it doesn’t matter why a chemical works, just that it does. Once a screen has identified a smaller number of interesting chemicals, human researchers at the company might perform more detailed tests on them.
A Malaria Box
The Malaria Box helps researchers at smaller facilities skip right to the step where a human comes in to do more detailed work on screened molecules. It’s likely only a few of the chemicals in the box, if any, would be good as medicines. The success rate of high-throughput screens is usually very low, below one percent. But like that guy or girl you know who maximizes his chances with romance partners by asking out a looot of people, high-throughput screens count on the luck of sheer volume.
The 200 Malaria Box chemicals came out on top after the Medicines for Malaria Venture and cooperating companies screened 4 million molecules. Scientists at the nonprofit found 200,000 promising chemicals after an initial screen, then chose their final 200 by looking for those that were structurally the least like malaria drugs already on the market, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports. The differences could help any new drugs that come from Malaria Box research overcome drug resistance in malaria, one of the box’s creators, Thomas Spagenberg, told Deutsche Welle. The box also includes 200 screened chemicals that are promising as helpers for malaria research, though not directly as cures.
Researchers may order the Malaria Box for free from the Medicines for Malaria Venture website. One major condition for use is that any research from the Malaria Box must be openly published for other scientists to read. The box campaign started two years ago, but it will be years yet before the venture knows whether the box yielded any cures.
Trees may seem sedentary, but movement is a big part of their lives. To reproduce, many trees rely on wind to move their pollen and seeds around, says Matthew Kling, a postdoctoral researcher in plant biogeography at the University of California, Berkeley.
A study led by Kling, published on April 27 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examines how wind patterns affect the exchange of DNA between populations of trees. Their findings suggest that factors such as wind strength and direction can help mold the genetic makeup of forested landscapes.
As the climate heats up, some plants won’t thrive as well in their current environments, and will need to be in historically cooler locations to stay within a comfortable temperature range, says Kling (for many plants, this is already happening). But plenty of questions remain around precisely how the plants will get there, he says, “and one of the biggest areas of uncertainty in plant movement is related to wind,” because wind dispersal can be tricky to measure at large scales.
Kling and his coauthor David Ackerly, a professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley used 72 previously published scientific papers to gather genetic data on nearly 2,000 populations of trees belonging to nearly 100 different tree species around the globe. The researchers took this genetic data and compared it to a “windscape” model they developed, which pulls from three decades of hourly wind data.
The wind model provides a prediction for the way we would expect dispersal of seeds and pollen to take place across large geographic scales and long time periods, says Kling. “And the genetic data provides a measured estimate, totally independent of the wind data, of the way that the seeds and pollen have dispersed across large landscapes in the past.” The authors then compared the predictions made by the wind model to the observed genetic patterns, allowing them to test whether the wind was actually driving them.
[Read more: Your lost shipment could be trashing a beach thousands of miles away]
“We found evidence that migration of seeds and pollen tends to happen preferentially in the direction of the prevailing wind,” says Kling. In other words, the seeds and pollen are carried downwind more often than they’re carried upwind. They also found that populations located downwind—or in the direction the wind is blowing—were typically more genetically diverse overall. In addition, they found that distinct tree populations connected by stronger winds were more similar to one another than populations connected by weaker winds, suggesting that migration is happening between those populations.
“In many ways the findings of the paper are predictable—many plant-focussed researchers have understood the links between wind dispersal of pollen and seed, and how those factors can contribute to or limit reproduction, dispersal, connectivity, and genetic diversity,” wrote Jasmine Janes, an evolutionary biologist at Vancouver Island University who was not involved in the research, in an email to Popular Science. “What’s interesting about this paper is that it brings many of these ideas together and tests them on a range of data sets,” so that scientists and forest managers can gain a deeper understanding of broad patterns.
Understanding how quickly the location range of a species of trees can migrate in response to climate change is important, says Kling, but it’s also important to consider how different genetic adaptations may be able to travel between populations of a given tree species. “We can imagine that over time, perhaps populations in different climates and different parts of the species range have evolved different adaptations to survive better in those particular climates,” says Kling.
“As climate warms, it’s going to be important for those genetic variants to be able to move around different populations in the species range, to help those other populations be better adapted to the warmer conditions of the future.”
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