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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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US says China is committing genocide against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities | World News

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The US State Department has declared that China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity in a campaign targeting Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. 

In a statement, outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state.”

The designation was made in the dying hours of the Trump administration. But the incoming Biden team had previously voiced its support for such a definition, labelling the repression of Uighurs genocide in August last year.

And although Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has pledged to reverse a host of President Trump’s foreign policy measures, he said that he agreed with Mr Pompeo’s determination.

In his determination of crimes against humanity, Pompeo cited “the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians, forced sterilisation, torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained, forced labour, and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement”.

Mr Pompeo and his top aides are rushing to complete actions they believe will cement their legacy
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Mike Pompeo said he believed the genocide was ongoing

Beijing is likely to react furiously. At a press conference held last week in the Chinese capital, Communist Part official Xu Guixiang said: “This utterly untethered fabrication of ‘genocide’ regarding Xinjiang is the conspiracy of the century.”

Analysis: Condemnation of China might be the only point of consensus between Biden and Trump

The US labelling China’s treatment of Uighurs and other minorities as genocide is the most significant intervention on the issue. It might get lost in the pageantry of today’s inauguration, and the pressing domestic concerns of the US, but it will reverberate for months and years to come.

China’s reaction is guaranteed to be apoplectic. But it will seek to portray the genocide designation as motivated by politics, the last gasp of an outgoing administration and the personal vendetta of Mike Pompeo – public enemy number one in Chinese propaganda.

Critics elsewhere might agree with some of that. The Trump administration was not well known for its protection of minorities and human rights, whether at home or abroad. The US ignored calls to declare Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya as genocide, for example.

And President Trump previously sidestepped human rights issues in his dealings with China, preferring initially to focus on trade. His former national security adviser John Bolton alleged that in July 2019 President Trump told Chinese President Xi Jinping that he was correct to build detention centres for Uighurs.

The designation isn’t too much of a curveball for the Biden administration, which has voiced its agreement – perhaps the only point of consensus between two vastly different administrations. For all the division in the US, it is united on China.

But it might make things more difficult for America’s allies. The British government narrowly defeated an amendment to legislation that would have added a genocide clause to trade bills, a clause aimed squarely at China. And the EU has recently concluded its own massive trade deal with China. The Biden administration may take a dim view of all that, and the genocide designation adds more moral heft.

In practical terms, the designation legally allows the US to take some new measures, although none of those are massive. The power is in the symbolism. And that symbolism may be most apparent in a year’s time, when the 2022 Winter Olympics begin in Beijing.

It’s hard to imagine Team USA competing in a country the US government accuses of ongoing genocide. Would other countries join that boycott?

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Jailed Alexei Navalny releases investigation into Vladimir Putin’s ‘£1bn palace’ | World News

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He may be behind bars, but the Kremlin has not succeeded in silencing Alexei Navalny.

On his first full day in Moscow’s Matrosskaya-Tishina prison, Mr Navalny’s team have released a huge video investigation into the construction and alleged slush fund behind what is known as “Putin’s palace”, a £1bn private residence on Russia’s Black Sea coast.

Calling it “Putin’s biggest secret”, Mr Navalny and his team reveal new details about the sprawling complex near the resort town of Gelendzhik which has long been rumoured to belong to the Russian President.

Alexei Navalny talking about the 'palace' in the video he released after being detained. Pic: YouTube/Alexei Navalny
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Alexei Navalny talking about the ‘palace’ in the video he released after being detained. Pic: YouTube/Alexei Navalny

Drone footage over the grounds which the team says are 39 times the size of Monaco shows an underground ice hockey complex, 2500 square metre greenhouse and underground tunnel leading out to the Black Sea.

Architectural floor plans secured from a contractor shocked at the extent of the luxury reveal a lavish indoor theatre, fully-fledged casino and purple-tinted “hookah bar”.

It is “the most expensive palace in the world”, Mr Navalny says in the narration. “A new Versailles, new Winter Palace.”

Mr Navalny says the idea for the investigation, which he presents from Germany, came during his time in intensive care.

He travels to Dresden to trace Vladimir Putin’s path from lowly KGB operative on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain to the pinnacle of power in the Kremlin, showing how the friends he made in the 1990s have remained the principle beneficiaries of his kleptocratic regime to this day.

“Putin’s personal money is kept by those he met thirty years ago,” the investigation says. “In search of sponsors for the most corrupt ruler in the history of Russia, you need to go to his past.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a video conference call with Chief Executive of Gazprom company Alexei Miller at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia January 19, 2021. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
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The Kremlin has denied that Mr Putin owns a palace in Gelendzhik

He calls the Gelendzhik property the “biggest bribe in the world” and claims to have uncovered a scheme by which money for its construction is funnelled into offshore accounts by Putin’s cronies as payment for lucrative state contracts he has handed them over the years.

“The standout for me is how bizarre and cuckoo-in the head our president is,” says Vladimir Ashurkov, a close ally of Mr Navalny and executive director of his now disbanded Anti-Corruption Foundation. “Why do you need a billion dollar palace which you would never really use, as president?”

The Kremlin has denied that president Putin owns a palace in Gelendzhik.

The almost two hour video investigation ends with a plea to the Russian people to go out and protest. “If 10% of those who are disaffected take to the streets, the government will not dare falsify elections,” Mr Navalny says.

It is a call he repeated in a video message from a Moscow police station on Monday, shortly before he was taken to jail. In a hastily convened court session inside the police station, a judge ruled that his detention should be extended for 30 days, until 15 February.

On 2 February a court will decide whether to convert a three and a half year suspended sentence he was serving for an alleged embezzlement charge into a custodial sentence on the grounds that he violated the terms of his parole whilst convalescing in Germany.

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Navalny calls for protests over his arrest

Mr Navalny says all the various charges he has faced over the years are politically motivated.

His team are calling for a nationwide day of protest this Saturday. Mass gatherings are banned in Russia because of the pandemic and so far in Moscow, just two thousand people have registered as going on the Facebook page.

“The message about Putin’s property will reach people in different formats and different channels,” Mr Ashurkov says.

“It’s unlikely that the regime will change tomorrow and we’ll see hundreds of thousands of people on the streets but it’s a campaign of constant pressure and history teaches us that the only constant throughout the decades is change.”

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Donald Trump’s farewell address: ‘Our movement is only just beginning’ | US News

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Donald Trump will say he will “pray for the success” of Joe Biden’s administration in his farewell address later but that the political movement he created “is only just beginning”.

Before he leaves office tomorrow, the outgoing president said everyone in the US had been “horrified” by the rioting at the Capitol in Washington DC earlier this month.

In extracts released by the White House, he said: “Political violence is an attack on everything we cherish as Americans. It can never be tolerated.”

He added: “As I prepare to hand power over to a new administration at noon on Wednesday, I want you to know that the movement we started is only just beginning.”

Live updates on the final preparations for Joe Biden’s inauguration

Biden inauguration: Watch and follow events on Sky News from 1pm on Wednesday, with the ceremony starting at 4pm

Mr Trump also said he would pray for the success of the new administration in keeping America safe and prosperous, but he did not mention Joe Biden by name.

He went on: “Our agenda was not about right or left, it wasn’t about Republican or Democrat, but about the good of a nation, and that means the whole nation.”

He said his administration had “restored American strength at home – and American leadership abroad”, and it “built the greatest economy in the history of the world”.

Under his leadership, Mr Trump claimed the US had “revitalised our alliances and rallied the nations of the world to stand up to China like never before”.

And he said: “As a result of our bold diplomacy and principled realism, we achieved a series of historic peace deals in the Middle East. It is the dawn of a new Middle East and we are bringing our soldiers home.”

He also said he was “especially proud” to be the first president in decades who has “started no new wars”.

Mr Trump will not attend tomorrow’s inauguration – the first outgoing president to skip the ceremony since Andrew Johnson more than a century and a half ago.

Before leaving the state of Delaware where he was a senator for decades, Mr Biden addressed dozens of supporters in an emotional sendoff.

As the US exceeded 400,000 coronavirus deaths, the president-elect said: “These are dark times. But there’s always light.”

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