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Beewolves have been living symbiotically with antibiotics for 68 million years, researchers find

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Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, but a species of insect called the beewolf beat him to antibiotics by about 68 million years.

A team of scientist in Germany have discovered how insects team up with symbiotic bacteria which produce an antibiotic cocktail, immunising them against dangerous infections.

The beewolf is neither a bee nor a wolf, but a type of solitary digger wasp which drags paralysed bees into its underground nest where they are eaten by its young.

When the beewolves’ larvae hatch from their eggs they feed on the bees and hibernate in a cocoon in the nest their mother has dug into the ground.

However, while hibernating, the larvae in their cocoons are vulnerable to the spores of dangerous fast-growing fungi which are omnipresent in the soil.

Beewolves have evolved a defence mechanism against this over millions of years, according to a team of scientists from the Johannes Gutenberg University and the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology.

In a symbiotic relationship, the wasps actually breed bacteria in their antennae and rub the bacteria on the walls of the brood cells in which their larvae develop.

When the larvae begin to spin their cocoon they mix the bacteria in with their silk, and the cocktail of antibiotics produced by the bacteria creates a protective layer to prevent the dangerous fungi from infecting the cocoon and killing the larvae.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal reveals that the symbiotic relationship has existed since the Cretaceous period and has changed very little since then.

“We had expected that some beewolf symbionts evolved new antibiotics to complement their arsenal over the course of evolution in order to help their hosts combat new or resistant mold fungi,” said Professor Tobias Engl, the lead author of the study.

However, the researchers discovered that the original antibiotic cocktail seems to have been so powerful that it has not changed since.

Of particular interest to the researchers was how the antibiotic cocktail seems to have been effective against a wide variety of fungi, as despite the ubiquity of antibiotics in the beewolf population there has been no MRSA-like resistant pathogen.

This may be because beewolves live in small populations and frequently relocate, according to Professor Martin Kaltenpoth, who headed the Max Planck Research Group until he became Professor of Evolutionary Ecology in Mainz in 2015.

Professor Kaltenpoth explained that this meant that “resistant pathogens have little opportunity to spread within or between populations”.

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Body of well-known paraglider found in US mountains – weeks after he went missing | UK News

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A well-known paraglider has been found dead in the mountains of Nevada in the US, nearly a month after he went missing.

The body of James “Kiwi” Johnston – who disappeared on 23 August – was found under a tree in the Fish Creek mountains of Eureka County after a passerby noticed a parachute on Wednesday.

Police said the New Zealand paraglider died of multiple injuries from a high-elevation fall, and his family said they were “relieved” that he is believed to have died instantly.

James Johnston's parachute was discovered by a passerby earlier this week. Pic: GoFundMe
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James Johnston’s parachute was discovered by a passerby earlier this week. Pic: GoFundMe

His death was ruled an accident, with no foul play suspected.

A search went on for almost a week after Mr Johnston’s disappearance, but it was suspended on 29 August.

Search and rescue teams discovered his body on Friday after his parachute was recovered.

A GoFundMe page for the missing paraglider raised $97,150 (£50,525) for the resources to find him and “bring him home”.

Mr Johnston, a paraglider with 30 years’ experience, lived in Wyoming and more recently New Orleans in between his flying adventures.

After his body was recovered, a statement from his family said: “This journey and search for our man has been enlightening in so many abstract and glorious ways.

“Today was the culmination of four weeks hard work and dedication, we were finally blessed to see where James came to rest.

“After seeing his equipment combined with knowledgeable opinion we are relieved to believe that James died instantly.

“Although the search to recover him took weeks, it is comforting to know that he did not suffer and was not waiting for us to show to save him.”

James Johnston with family members. Pic: GoFundMe
Image:
James Johnston with family members. Pic: GoFundMe

A day earlier, his family posted about his chute being located.

“The glider was found billowing in the wind 10 to 15 miles from the road by passersby,” the post says.

“It’s in an area that has been heavily searched… We will be in touch with an update as soon as we have one.”

The latest post thanked everyone involved in the search for Mr Johnston: “We cannot thank you enough for your ingenious efforts, the combined intellect and mastery of the team behind the search who formulated possibilities against all odds, was extraordinary.

“The number of people who showed up who never met James, or knew someone that knew James, and the extended community that was affected by his life in some way was powerful to witness.”

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TikTok: Deal to prevent app from being banned in the US is plunged into peril | Science & Tech News

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A deal to prevent TikTok from being banned in the US has been plunged into peril.

The Chinese company ByteDance had reached an agreement with Oracle and Walmart that was designed to allay national security concerns, but Global Times, a newspaper backed by the Chinese state, has suggested Beijing is unlikely to give its approval.

Under the plans, a new US subsidiary would be tasked with running TikTok, a video streaming app that is immensely popular with teenagers.

But the newspaper’s editorial denounced a requirement that four of the five board seats of this company must be held by Americans, with only one reserved for a Chinese national.

“It is clear that these [terms] extensively show Washington’s bullying style and hooligan logic. They hurt China’s national security, interests and dignity,” the article warned.

Another paragraph added: “If the reorganisation of TikTok under US manipulation becomes a model, it means once any successful Chinese company expands its business to the US and becomes competitive, it will be targeted by the US and turned into a US-controlled company via trickery and coercion.”

This isn’t the only threat to the TikTok deal, which requires approval from regulators in both Beijing and Washington.

While ByteDance says it will continue to own 80% of the TikTok Global subsidiary, Oracle has said that the Chinese company won’t have a direct stake in the business.

An AFP collaborator poses for a picture using the smart phone application TikTok on December 14, 2018 in Paris. - TikTok, is a Chinese short-form video-sharing app, which has proved wildly popular this year. (Photo by - / AFP) (Photo credit should read -/AFP via Getty Images)
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The app is especially popular among US teenagers

US President Donald Trump has said that he won’t approve the deal unless he is satisfied that Oracle and Walmart have “total control” over TikTok – and warned he is prepared to scrap it.

“If we can save it, we’ll save it, and if we can’t we’ll cut if off,” he told reporters. “We have to have total security. That’s the only thing, very important, we have to have total security.”

The US Commerce Department had proposed to ban all downloads of the TikTok app in the US from last Sunday, but this measure was delayed by one week to give the companies time to finalise the deal.

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Barack Obama is in these images – but a ‘racially biased’ tool on Twitter cropped him out | Science & Tech News

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Twitter has launched an investigation after users claimed that its image cropping feature favours the faces of white people.

An automatic tool on the social network’s mobile app automatically crops pictures that are too big to fit on the screen – and selects which parts of an image should be cut off.

But an experiment from a graduate programmer appeared to show racial bias.

Twitter has introduced voice tweets
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Twitter has vowed to investigate

To see what Twitter’s algorithm would pick, Tony Arcieri posted a long image featuring headshots of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell at the top and former US president Barack Obama at the bottom – separated by white space.

In a second image, Mr Obama’s headshot was placed at the top, with Mr McConnell’s at the bottom.

Both times, the former president was cropped out altogether.

Following the “horrible experiment” – which came after an image he posted cropped out a black colleague – Mr Arcieri wrote: “Twitter is just one example of racism manifesting in machine learning algorithms.”

At the time of writing, his experiment has been retweeted 78,000 times.

Twitter has vowed to look into the issue, but said in a statement: “Our team did test for bias before shipping the model and did not find evidence of racial or gender bias in our testing.

“It’s clear from these examples that we’ve got more analysis to do. We’ll continue to share what we learn, what actions we take, and will open source our analysis so others can review and replicate.”

A Twitter representative also pointed to research from a Carnegie Mellon University scientist who analysed 92 images. In that experiment, the algorithm favoured black faces 52 times.

Back in 2018, the company said the tool was based on a “neural network” that uses artificial intelligence to predict which part of a photo would be interesting to a user.

Meredith Whittaker, the co-founder of the AI Now Institute, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation: “This is another in a long and weary litany of examples that show automated systems encoding racism, misogyny and histories of discrimination.”

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