Taiwan’s pangolins suffer surge in feral dog attacks

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Pangolins, usually prized for their scales, brave a different danger in conservation-conscious Taiwan — a surging feral dog population.

In most of its habitats, the heavily trafficked pangolin’s biggest threat comes from humans. But in Taiwan, the scaly mammals brave a different danger: a surging feral dog population.

Veterinarian Tseng Shao-tung, 28, has seen firsthand what a dog can do to the gentle creatures during his shifts at a hospital in Hsinchu.

Last month he worked to save the life of a male juvenile pangolin who had been lying in the wild for days with half of its tail chewed off.

“It has a big open wound on its tail and its body tissue has decayed,” Tseng said as he carefully turned the sedated pangolin to disinfect the gaping injury.

It was the fifth pangolin Tseng and his fellow veterinarians had saved this year, all from suspected dog attacks.

Chief veterinarian Chen Yi-ru said she had noticed a steady increase of pangolins with trauma injuries in the last five years—most of them with severed tails.

Pangolins are covered in hard, overlapping body scales and curl up into a ball when attacked. The tail is the animal’s most vulnerable part.

“That’s why when attacked, the tail is usually the first to be bitten,” Chen explained.

Wildlife researchers and officials said dog attacks, which account for more than half of all injuries since 2018, have become “the main threat to pangolins in Taiwan” in a report released last year.

Most trafficked mammal

Pangolins are described by conservationists as the world’s most trafficked mammal, with traditional Chinese medicine being the main driver.

Although their scales are made of keratin—the substance that makes up our fingernails and hair—there is huge demand for them among Chinese consumers because of the unproven belief that they help lactation in breastfeeding mothers.

That demand has decimated pangolin populations across Asia and Africa despite a global ban and funded a lucrative international black market trade.

All eight species of pangolins on both continents are listed as endangered or critically endangered.

Taiwan has been a comparative conservation success story, transforming itself from a place where pangolins went from near-extinct to protected and thriving.

Chan Fang-tse, veterinarian and researcher at the official Taiwan Endemic Species Research Institute, said the 1950s to 1970s saw massive hunting.

Pangolins are described by conservationists as the world’s most trafficked mammal, with traditional Chinese medicine being the main driver.

“Sixty thousand pangolins in Taiwan were killed for their scales and hides during that period,” he told AFP.

A 1989 wildlife protection law ended the industry, while rising conservation awareness led the public to start embracing their scaly neighbours as something to be cherished, rather than a commodity.

The population of the Formosan or Taiwanese pangolin, a subspecies of the Chinese pangolin, has since bounced back with researchers estimating that there are now between 10,000 to 15,000 in the wild.

But the island’s growing feral dog population—itself a consequence of a 2017 not to cull stray animals—is hitting pangolins hard, Chan warned.

“Pangolins are most affected because they have a big overlap of roaming area and pangolins don’t move as fast as other animals,” Chan said.

Picky eaters

Pangolins are also vulnerable because of how few offspring they have.

The solitary Formosan pangolins mate once a year and only produce one offspring after 150 days of pregnancy. Captivity breeding programmes have had little success.

“It may be more difficult to breed pangolins than pandas,” Chan said.

The rise in injured pangolins has created another challenge for animal doctors: finding enough ants and termites to feed the picky eaters who often reject substitute mixtures of larvae.

Piling into a truck with three other vets, Tseng headed to a tree to retrieve an ant nest he had recently spotted.

“We have to be constantly on the lookout and go search for ants nests every couple of days now because we have more pangolins to feed,” Tseng said.

A pangolin can eat an ant nest the size of a football each day.

The government has also called for residents to report nest locations to help feed the pangolins until they can be released back into the wild.

But the injured in Tseng’s care will likely have to be sent to a zoo or government facility for adoption after it recovers.

“It will have difficulty climbing up trees and won’t be able to roll itself into a ball shape,” Tseng said.

“It has lost the ability to protect itself in the wild.”

© 2022 AFP

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Artificial cell membrane channels composed of DNA can be opened and locked with a key

Graphic shows the bilayer structure of a living cell membrane, composed of phospholipid. A phospholipid consists of a hydrophilic or water-loving head and hydrophobic or water-fearing tail. The hydrophobic tails are sandwiched between two layers of hydrophilic heads. At the center, a channel is shown, permitting the transport of biomolecules. The new study describes a process for creating artificial channels using segments of DNA that insert into cell membranes and allow the reversible transit of various cargo, including ions and proteins. Credit: Biodesign Institute at ASU

Just as countries import a vast array of consumer goods across national borders, so living cells are engaged in a lively import-export business. Their ports of entry are sophisticated transport channels embedded in a cell’s protective membrane. Regulating what kinds of cargo can pass through the borderlands formed by the cell’s two-layer membrane is essential for proper functioning and survival.

In new research, Arizona State University professor Hao Yan, along with ASU colleagues and international collaborators from University College London describe the design and construction of artificial membrane channels, engineered using short segments of DNA. The DNA constructions behave much in the manner of natural cell channels or pores, offering selective transport of ions, proteins, and other cargo, with enhanced features unavailable in their naturally occurring counterparts.

These innovative DNA nanochannels may one day be applied in diverse scientific domains, ranging from biosensing and drug delivery applications to the creation of artificial cell networks capable of autonomously capturing, concentrating, storing, and delivering microscopic cargo.

“Many biological pores and channels are reversibility gated to allow ions or molecules to pass through,” Yan says. Here we emulate these nature processes to engineer DNA nanopores that can be locked and opened in response to external “key” or “lock” molecules.”

Professor Yan is the Milton D. Glick Distinguished Professor in Chemistry and Biochemistry at ASU and directs the Biodesign Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics. He is also a professor with ASU’s School of Molecular Sciences.

The research findings appear in the current issue of the journal Nature Communications.

All living are enveloped in a unique biological structure, the . The science-y term for such membranes is phospholipid bilayer, meaning the membrane is formed from phosphate molecules attached to a fat or lipid component to form an outer and inner membrane layer.

These inner and outer membrane layers are a bit like a room’s inner and outer walls. But unlike normal walls, the space between inner and outer surfaces is fluid, resembling a sea. Further, cell membranes are said to be semipermeable, allowing designated cargo entry or exit from the cell. Such transport typically occurs when the transiting cargo binds with another molecule, altering the dynamics of the channel structure to permit entry into the cell, somewhat like the opening of the Panama Canal.

Semipermeable cell membranes are necessary for protecting sensitive ingredients within the cell from a hostile environment outside, while allowing the transit of ions, nutrients, proteins and other vital biomolecules.

Researchers, including Yan, have explored the possibility of creating selective membrane channels synthetically, using a technique known as DNA nanotechnology. The basic idea is simple. The double strands of DNA that form the genetic blueprint for all are held together through the base pairing of the molecule’s 4 nucleotides, labelled A, T, C and G. A simple rule applies, namely that A nucleotides always pair with T and C with G. Thus, a DNA segment ATTCTCG would form a complimentary strand with CAAGAGC.

Base pairing of DNA allows the synthetic construction of a virtually limitless array or 2- and 3D nanostructures. Once a structure has been carefully designed, usually with the aid of computer, the DNA segments can be mixed together and will self-assemble in solution into the desired form.

Creating a semipermeable channel using DNA nanotechnology, however, has proven a vexing challenge. Conventional techniques have failed to replicate the structure and capacities of nature-made membrane channels and synthetic DNA nanopores generally permit only one-way transport of cargo.

The new study describes an innovative method, allowing researchers to design and construct a synthetic membrane channel whose permits the transport of larger cargo than natural cell channels can. Unlike previous efforts to create DNA nanopores affixed to membranes, the new technique builds the channel structure step-by-step, by assembling the component DNA segments horizontally with respect to the membrane, rather than vertically. The method permits the construction of nanopores with wider openings, allowing the transport of a greater range of biomolecules.

Further, the DNA design allows the channel to be selectively opened and closed by means of a hinged lid, equipped with a lock and key mechanism. The “keys” consist of sequence-specific DNA strands that bind with the channel’s lid and trigger it to open or close.

In a series of experiments, the researchers demonstrate the ability of the DNA channel to successfully transport cargo of varying sizes, ranging from tiny dye molecules to folded protein structures, some larger than the pore dimensions of natural channels.

The researchers used and transmission electron microscopy to visualize the resulting structures, confirming that they conformed to the original design specifications of the nanostructures.

Fluorescent dye molecules were used to verify that the DNA channels successfully pierced and inserted themselves through the cell’s lipid bilayer, successfully providing selective entry of transport molecules. The transport operation was carried out within 1 hour of formation, a significant improvement over previous DNA nanopores, which typically require 5-8 hours for complete biomolecule transit.

The DNA nanochannels may be used to capture and study proteins and closely examine their interactions with the biomolecules they bind with or study the rapid and complex folding and unfolding of proteins. Such channels could also be used to exert fine-grained control over biomolecules entering cells, offering a new window on targeted drug delivery. Many other possible applications are likely to arise from the newfound ability to custom design artificial, self-assembling transport channels.

More information:
Swarup Dey et al, A reversibly gated protein-transporting membrane channel made of DNA, Nature Communications (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-28522-2

Artificial cell membrane channels composed of DNA can be opened and locked with a key (2022, May 10)
retrieved 11 May 2022
from https://phys.org/news/2022-05-artificial-cell-membrane-channels-dna.html

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Research team develops new tool to help farmers make crop input decisions thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Research team develops new tool to help farmers make crop input decisions

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and nitrogen water pollution from agriculture are top environmental priorities in the United States. Key to achieving climate goals is helping producers navigate carbon markets, while also helping the environment and improving farm income.

A new tool developed by a University of Minnesota research team allows farmers to create a budget balance sheet of any reduction plans and see the economic and environmental cost, return and margins, all customized to fields under their management.

“With these numbers in mind, farmers can make more informed decisions on nitrogen mitigation that not only saves them money, but also significantly reduces pollutants to the environment,” said Zhenong Jin, who led the research and is an assistant professor in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering (BBE) in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS).

Previous tools did not allow for customized predictions for every field in the U.S. corn belt, as the computational and storage costs of running these crop models at large scale would be very expensive.

As outlined in an article published in IOPscience, the research team built a series of machine-learning-based metamodels that can almost perfectly mimic a well-tested crop model at much faster speeds. Using the metamodels, they generated millions of scenario simulations and investigated two fundamental sustainability questions—where are the mitigation hotspots, and how much mitigation can be expected under different management scenarios.

“We synthesized four simulated indicators of agroecosystem sustainability—yield, N2O emissions, nitrogen leaching, and changes in soil organic carbon—into economic net as the basis for identifying hotspots and infeasible land for mitigation,” said Taegon Kim, CFANS research associate in the BBE department. The societal benefits include from GHG mitigation, as well as improved water and air quality.

“By providing key sustainability indicators related to upstream crop production, our metamodels can be a useful tool for food companies to quantify the emissions in their supply chain and distinguish mitigation options for setting sustainability goals,” said Timothy Smith, professor of Sustainable Systems Management and International Business Management in CFANS’s BBE department.

The study, conducted in the U.S. Midwest corn belt, found that:

  • Reducing nitrogen fertilizer by 10% leads to 9.8% fewer N2O emissions and 9.6% less nitrogen leaching, at the cost of 4.9% more soil organic carbon depletion, but only a 0.6% yield reduction over the study region.
  • The estimated net total annual social benefits are worth $395 million (uncertainty ranges from $114 million to nearly $1.3 billion), including a savings of $334 million by avoiding GHG emissions and water pollution, $100 million using less fertilizer, and a negative $40 million due to yield losses.
  • More than 50% of the net social benefits come from 20% of the study areas, which thus can be viewed as hot spots where actions should be prioritized.

“Our analysis revealed hot spots where excessive can be cut without yield penalty,” said Jin. “We noticed in some places that reducing nitrogen-related pollution comes at a cost of depleting in soil, suggesting that other regenerative practices, such as cover cropping, need to be bundled with nitrogen management.”

In the future, the team will expand the framework presented in this study and develop more advanced and accurate carbon qualification models through a combination of process-based models, artificial intelligence and remote sensing.

More information:
Taegon Kim et al, Quantifying nitrogen loss hotspots and mitigation potential for individual fields in the US Corn Belt with a metamodeling approach, Environmental Research Letters (2021). DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/ac0d21

Research team develops new tool to help farmers make crop input decisions (2021, July 15)

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