World ‘at a crossroads’ in management of droughts, up 29% in a generation and worsening, reports the UN

The new report, an authoritative compendium of drought-related information and data, helps inform negotiations of one of several decisions by UNCCD’s 196 member states, to be issued 20 May at the conclusion of COP15. Credit: UNCCD

Humanity is “at a crossroads” when it comes to managing drought and accelerating mitigation must be done “urgently, using every tool we can,” says a new report from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

“Drought In Numbers, 2022,” released today to mark Drought Day at UNCCD’s 15th Conference of Parties (COP15, 9-20 May in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire), calls for making a full global commitment to drought preparedness and resilience in all global regions a top priority.

The report, an authoritative compendium of drought-related information and data, helps inform negotiations of one of several decisions by UNCCD’s 196 member states, to be issued 20 May at the conclusion of COP15.

“The facts and figures of this publication all point in the same direction: an upward trajectory in the duration of and the severity of impacts, not only affecting human societies but also the ecological systems upon which the survival of all life depends, including that of our own species,” says Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD.

The report creates a compelling call to action. For example:

  • Since 2000, the number and duration of droughts has risen 29%
  • From 1970 to 2019, weather, climate and water hazards accounted for 50% of disasters and 45% of disaster-related deaths, mostly in developing countries
  • Droughts represent 15% of natural disasters but took the largest human toll, approximately 650,000 deaths from 1970-2019
  • From 1998 to 2017, droughts caused global economic losses of roughly 124 billion US dollars
  • In 2022, more than 2.3 billion people face ; almost 160 million children are exposed to severe and prolonged droughts

Unless action is stepped up:

  • By 2030, an estimated 700 million people will be at risk of being displaced by drought
  • By 2040, an estimated one in four children will live in areas with extreme water shortages
  • By 2050, droughts may affect over three-quarters of the world’s population, and an estimated 4.8-5.7 billion people will live in areas that are water-scarce for at least one month each year, up from 3.6 billion today. And up to 216 million people could be forced to migrate by 2050, largely due to drought in combination with other factors including water scarcity, declining crop productivity, sea-level rise, and overpopulation
  • “One of the best, most comprehensive solutions (to drought) is land restoration, which addresses many of the underlying factors of degraded water cycles and the loss of soil fertility. We must build and rebuild our landscapes better, mimicking nature wherever possible and creating functional ecological systems.”Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary, UNCCD. Credit: UNCCD

    “We are at a crossroads,” says Thiaw. “We need to steer toward the solutions rather than continuing with destructive actions, believing that marginal change can heal systemic failure.

    “One of the best, most comprehensive solutions is land restoration, which addresses many of the underlying factors of degraded water cycles and the loss of soil fertility. We must build and rebuild our landscapes better, mimicking nature wherever possible and creating functional ecological systems.”

    Beyond restoration, he adds, is the need for a paradigm shift from “reactive” and “crisis-based” approaches to “proactive” and “risk-based” drought management approaches involving coordination, communication and cooperation, driven by sufficient finance and political will.

    Needed as well are:

  • Sustainable and efficient agricultural management techniques that grow more food on less land and with less water
  • Changes in our relationships with food, fodder and fiber, moving toward plant-based diets, and reducing or stopping the consumption of animals
  • Concerted policy and partnerships at all levels
  • Development and implementation of integrated drought action plans
  • Setup of effective early-warning systems that work across boundaries
  • Deployment of new technologies such as satellite monitoring and artificial intelligence to guide decisions with greater precision
  • Regular monitoring and reporting to ensure continuous improvement
  • Mobilization of sustainable finance to improve drought resilience at the local level
  • Investments in soil health
  • Working together and including and mobilizing farmers, local communities, businesses, consumers, investors, entrepreneurs and, above all, young people

The new UNCCD report notes that 128 countries have expressed willingness to achieve or exceed Land Degradation Neutrality. And nearly 70 countries participated in the UNCCD’s global drought initiative, which aims to shift from reactive approaches to drought to a proactive and risk-reducing approach.

Thiaw underlined the importance of promoting public awareness about desertification and drought, and letting people know the problems can be effectively tackled “through ingenuity, commitment and solidarity.”

“We all must live up to our responsibility to ensure the health of present and future generations, wholeheartedly and without delay.”

The COP15 decision on drought is expected to touch on five interrelated areas:

  • Drought policies
  • Early warning, monitoring and assessment
  • Knowledge sharing and learning
  • Partnerships and coordination
  • Drought finance


Provided by
United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

World ‘at a crossroads’ in management of droughts, up 29% in a generation and worsening, reports the UN (2022, May 11)
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A promising solution to improve the surface hydrophobicity of hydrophobic membranes

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DNA provides unique look at moa and climate change

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An artist’s rendition of a Haast’s eagle attacking moa. Credit: John Megahan – Ancient DNA Tells Story of Giant Eagle Evolution. PLoS Biol 3(1): e20. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030020.g001

Ancient moa DNA has provided insights into how species react to climate change, a University of Otago study has found.

By analyzing ancient DNA of the extinct eastern moa, researchers from the Department of Zoology found the giant birds altered their distribution as the climate warmed and cooled.

Lead author Dr. Alex Verry says the species was spread across the eastern and southern South Island during the warmer Holocene period, but was restricted to the southern South Island during the height of the last Ice Age about 25,000 years ago.

This is in comparison to the heavy-footed moa, which retreated to both southern and northern regions of the South Island, while the upland moa inhabited four different areas.

“The eastern moa’s response had consequences for its and genetic diversity—the last Ice Age lead to a pronounced genetic bottleneck which meant it ended up with lower than other moa living in the same areas,” Dr. Verry says.

The study, published in Biology Letters, is the first time high throughput DNA sequencing, which simultaneously sequences millions of pieces of DNA, has been used to investigate moa at the .

The findings highlight how past climate change impacted species in different ways and that a “one size fits all” model is not practical.

“It makes us wonder what is going to happen to species as they attempt to adapt to climate change today and into the future? Will they also attempt to move to new areas in order to survive?

“For some species this will not be possible, some species will run out of space, such as alpine species which will have to move upward but can only go so far until there is no more ‘up’,” he says.

Co-author Dr. Nic Rawlence, Director of Otago’s Palaeogenetics Laboratory, says the research is a rare example of the impacts of past on extinct megafauna from New Zealand.

It also demonstrates how and can be used to answer new questions about the past.

“This is really bringing the power of palaeogenomics to New Zealand research questions, whereas previously most research and interest has focused on Eurasian or American . We are really starting to build capacity for this research in New Zealand,” he says.

More information:
Genetic evidence for post-glacial expansion from a southern refugium in the eastern moa (Emeus crassus), Biology Letters (2022). DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2022.0013. … .1098/rsbl.2022.0013

DNA provides unique look at moa and climate change (2022, May 10)
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Fruit flies prioritize mating over survival: study

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Fruit flies continue to mate with each other even when infected with deadly pathogens—reveals a study by researchers at the University of Birmingham.

According to results published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, both male and female infected with bacterial pathogens show normal levels of courtship and success.

Mounting an is energetically ‘costly’, so infections are typically thought to reduce the amount of energy available for other activities such as mating. Surprisingly, however, this study demonstrated that infected fruit flies continued to engage in courtship and mating, regardless of whether either the male or the female fly was infected.

Dr. Carolina Rezaval, the research team leader at the University of Birmingham explains: “Animals have limited that need to be distributed among different activities, like fighting an infection or mating. We were interested to understand how animals prioritize and balance their investment in and reproduction.”

Saloni Rose, a Ph.D. student with Dr. Rezaval, tackled this question using the fruit fly Drosophila. By infecting both male and female fruit flies with different pathogens, ranging in type and severity, she made the surprising discovery that courtship and mating behaviors were similar in both infected and uninfected flies. This was also true when the flies’ was artificially activated using genetic manipulation. Moreover, uninfected flies mated equally frequently with both infected and healthy partners, suggesting that they do not select against mates who are infected.

Flies are not oblivious to infection, however. Previous studies have shown that infected flies can show abnormal locomotion, sleep and feeding behaviors. Consequently, this new study suggests that courtship and mating behaviors are prioritized, even when other behaviors are altered during the development of the infection.

When faced with a potential life threat, some animals respond by investing more into reproduction, likely in attempt to pass on genes to the next generation. This may well be what is happening with flies in the conditions tested in the lab. More work is needed to find out what is going on in the brain to maintain reproductive behaviors in the face of infection.

The team worked in collaboration with Professor Marc Dionne (Imperial College), Dr. Esteban Beckwith (IFIBYNE, Argentina) and Professor Robin May (Birmingham University).

More information:
Pre-copulatory reproductive behaviours are preserved in Drosophila melanogaster infected with bacteria, Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences (2022).

Fruit flies prioritize mating over survival: study (2022, May 10)
retrieved 11 May 2022

This docum

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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

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Research documents domestic cattle genetics in modern bison herds

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports has revealed the strongest evidence to date that all bison in North America carry multiple small, but clearly identifiable, regions of DNA that originated from domestic cattle.

In the study, Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) researchers, led by James Derr and Brian Davis, compared genome sequences among the major historical lineages of bison to 1,842 , establishing that all analyzed bison genomes contained evidence of introgression.

“This comparative study clearly documents that the people responsible for saving the bison from extinction in the late 1800s are also responsible for introducing cattle genetics into this species,” Derr said.

This study updates findings from a series of studies published 20 years ago in which Derr’s team revealed that only a few bison herds existed that appeared to be free of domestic cattle introgression. Now, with better , these researchers have shown that even those herds are not free from hybridization.

“Today, it appears that all major public, private, tribal, and non-governmental organization bison herds have low levels of cattle genomic introgression,” said Sam Stroupe, a Ph.D. student in Derr’s lab and first author of the study. “This includes Yellowstone National Park, as well as Elk Island National Park in Canada, which were thought to be free of cattle introgression based on previous genetic studies.”

Derr said that these new findings will also have ramifications for bison conservation efforts; in this case, their findings could actually make conservation efforts easier, since certain herds will no longer need to be isolated.

Legacy of crossbreeding

This shared genetic ancestry is the result of multiple hybridization events between North American bison and cattle over the last 200 years, which followed the well-documented bison population crash of the 1800s.

Those hybridization events were mostly human-made, as cattle ranchers in the late 1800s intentionally bred domestic cattle with bison in an effort to create a better beef-producing animal. While the crossbreeding was successful, they failed to achieve their main purpose, and the effort was largely abandoned.

At the same time, William Hornaday and the American Bison Society were beginning national conservation efforts, sounding the alarm that North American bison were being driven to extinction. As a result, a national movement began to establish new bison conservation populations and preserve existing bison populations.

However, the only bison available to establish these new conservation herds were almost exclusively animals from the cattlemen’s private herds.

“As a result, these well-intentioned hybridization efforts leave a complicated genetic legacy,” Davis said. “Without these private herds, it is possible bison would have become extinct. At the same time, this intentional introduction of interspecies DNA resulted in remnant cattle footprints in the genomes of the entire contemporary species.

“We now have the computational and molecular tools to compare bison genomic sequences to thousands of cattle and conclusively determine the level and distribution of domestic cattle genetics in bison that represent each of these historical bison lineages,” he said.

According to Derr, it is important to recognize that although hybridization between closely related wildlife species has occurred naturally over time—well-known examples include coyotes and eastern wolves, grizzlies and polar bears, and bobcats and Canadian lynx—the bison-cattle hybridization is almost entirely a purposeful, human-made event that happened to coincide with the tremendous population bottleneck of the late 1800s.

“Two primary events, an extremely small bison population size and widespread interest in developing hybrid animals, changed and shaped the genomes of this species in ways we are just now starting to understand,” Derr said. “Nevertheless, this species did survive and now they are thriving across the plains of North America.”

Reactions from the bison conservation community

As one of the world’s most iconic animals, bison play a number of important, and sometimes conflicting, roles in society.

While some consider them a that shouldn’t be domesticated, others consider them an important economic livestock animal; although bison are raised as wildlife in state and federal parks and wildlife refuges, most bison alive today are owned by private ranchers and are raised for meat and fiber production.

To others, they hold religious and spiritual roles, as well as being icons of continental pride. In 2016, bison were even named the U.S. national mammal.

“Though viewed in different ways, bison conservation is a priority to many different groups, and it is imperative that we agree to use the best available scientific information to make decisions moving forward,” Stroupe said. “These findings clearly show that, using modern genomic biotechnology, we can uncover many historical details regarding the past histories of a species and use this information to provide informed stewardship in establishing conservation policies into the future.”

While many of these livestock herds are rather small with 100 animals or less, there are some exceptions. Turner Enterprises in Bozeman, Mont., is the largest private producer of bison, with over 45,000 animals spread across multiple states.

According to Mark Kossler, vice president of ranch operations, Turner Enterprises will use this new information to further improve its conservation efforts.

“Turner Enterprises has used the bison genetic work of Texas A&M University for the last 20 years to structure genetic management of our maternal herds concerning cattle mitochondrial DNA introgression,” he said. “We were fully aware that advancing technology and mapping of the entire bison genome could reveal that all bison nuclear DNA could have cattle introgression as well.

“Knowing that the North American Bison herd has widespread introgression of cattle DNA, though in small amounts, will allow our operations to structure future genetic management between our herds to maintain broad genetic diversity without the worry of cross contaminating herds that were perceived to be ‘clean’ of introgression,” he said. “This is helpful information for the bison community. We are appreciative of Texas A&M University’s research and diligence in providing the bison community the final answer on this question of bison genetic purity.”

Les Kroeger, president of the Canadian Bison Association, which helped fund Derr’s research, agreed that better information is always a positive step for their sustainability and .

“As research tools improve, we gain a better understanding of the complex history of bison,” he said. “With this information we can continue to lead the way to grow healthy populations of this iconic animal for future generations to enjoy. The commercial bison industry continues to support research and conservation initiatives while continuing to sustainably produce a high-quality protein for consumers to enjoy.”

Chad Kremer, president of the National Bison Association, added that the information will give bison producers across the country better information to manage their herds.

“The National Bison Association welcomes these research findings as we continue to unravel the long and complicated history of the American bison’s genetic lineage,” he said. “Research projects such as this continue to assist producers in their ability to maintain healthy and diverse genetics in bison herds today. Genetics are a cornerstone of modern-day management, and something the National Bison Association promotes heavily in its outreach and education to producers across the continent through our North American Bison Registry. It is our hope that bison producers will utilize this data and technology to continue to improve their own herds’ genetics while continuing to restore to their native landscape.”

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