Author: Uponsci

Fossil Found in Canadian Mountains May Be Earliest Evidence of Animal Life 

A scientist says fossils she collected from an ancient seabed in the mountains of northwestern Canada may be the earliest evidence of animal life on Earth ever discovered. In a study published Wednesday in the science journal Nature, Laurentian University geologist Elizabeth Turner detailed how she found fossilized three-dimensional structures that resemble modern sponge skeletons in thin sections of rocks taken from the remnants of a prehistoric ocean reef.Turner said the surrounding rock was 890 million years old, which would make the fossils she discovered about 350 million years older than the oldest undisputed sponge fossils previously found.Many scientists believe Earth’s first animal groups included simple, soft sponges or sponge-like creatures that lack muscles and nerves but have other features of simple animals, including cells with differentiated functions. But scientists often disagree on specifically what the earliest animal life might have looked like.Turner’s discovery will be carefully vetted by other scientists, and it has been greeted with excitement and skepticism.Paleobiologist Graham Budd of Sweden’s Uppsala University told The New York Times the problem was the 350 million-year gap between Turner’s discovery and the next most recently discovered fossil. “It would be sensational. It would be like finding a computer chip in a 14th-century monastery,” he said.Turner herself told the Times she could be wrong. But other researchers said her study was important.University of Southern California paleobiologist David Bottjer said he thought Turner had a pretty strong case. “I think this is very worthy of publishing – it puts the evidence out there for other people to consider,” he said.Some information in this report came from The Associated Press.
 

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Big Tech Companies to Allow Only Vaccinated Employees into US Offices

Big tech companies are making it mandatory for employees in the United States to get COVID-19 vaccinations before entering campuses, as the highly infectious delta variant of the coronavirus drives a resurgence in cases.Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc. said on Wednesday all U.S. employees must get vaccinated to step into offices. Google is also planning to expand its vaccination drive to other countries in the coming months.According to a Deadline report, streaming giant Netflix Inc. has also implemented a policy mandating vaccinations for the cast and crew on all its U.S. productions.Apple Inc. plans to restore its mask requirement policy at most of its U.S. retail stores, both for customers and staff, even if they are vaccinated, Bloomberg News reported.Apple and Netflix did not immediately respond to requests for comments.Many tech companies, including Microsoft Corp. and Uber, have said they expect employees to return to their offices, months after pandemic-induced lockdowns forced them to shift to working from home.In April, Salesforce said it would allow vaccinated employees to return to some of its offices.Google also said on Wednesday it would extend its global work-from-home policy through Oct. 18 due to a recent rise in cases caused by the delta variant across different regions.”We’ll continue watching the data carefully and let you know at least 30 days in advance before transitioning into our full return-to-office plans,” the company said.   

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Somalia Green Energy Association Touts Clean Power Potential

Somalia lacks a national power grid and relies on imported fuel and wood and charcoal for its energy needs. But energy experts say with the longest coastline in mainland Africa and an average of 10 hours of sunshine per day, Somalia has great potential for onshore wind and solar power. Mohamed Sheikh Nor reports from Mogadishu. Camera: Mohamed Sheikh Nor   Produced by: Marcus Harton
 

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As Britain Reopens, Scientists Warn of Fertile Ground for Coronavirus Variants

As Britons celebrate the lifting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions earlier this month, some scientists warn that the country risks becoming a breeding ground for new variants of the virus that could be more resistant to vaccines.Most restrictions were removed July 19, including social distancing regulations and the compulsory wearing of face masks. Indoor venues such as nightclubs reopened for the first time since March 2020.For many young people in Britain, the changes marked the return of longed-for socializing and partying, a chance to forget the misery of lockdown.“We’ve been the last ones to get the vaccine, we’ve always been to blame, we’ve been blamed for the spread of the COVID. And it’s just nice to get freedom and just brush it all off,” said one clubgoer in the northern city of Leeds, who did not want to give her name.People walks past shops and restaurants at Leadenhall Market in the City of London on July 27, 2021.But those freedoms could bring added dangers, according to some scientists.While infection rates have declined in recent days, the relaxation of lockdown rules will likely lead to an increase in transmission, says Emilia Skirmuntt, an evolutionary virologist at the University of Oxford.“I think there will be more infections than we have seen in the last days. With more infections, there is a bigger chance that we will see a new variant which might be even more infectious,” Skirmuntt told VOA.Britain has rolled out one of the fastest vaccination programs in the world. Just over 70% of adults are fully vaccinated, meaning millions of people are not fully protected — and unlike in the United States and parts of Europe, those under age 18 have not been offered the vaccine.“If we have groups which are unvaccinated, they are the danger that the variant, which might be more infectious or better at evading our immune response, will appear there. Teenagers and children are unvaccinated and the new variant might appear among them,” said Skirmuntt.The combination of a high infection rate and an incomplete vaccination program poses considerable dangers, argues Sterghios Moschos, a virologist at Britain’s University of Northumbria.“We do know that the countries which have been the most successful in containing the delta variant or the delta+ variant are now seeing transmission in the population amongst the vaccinated individuals,” said Moschos. “It is creating the most perfect fertile ground for the virus, these variants that are present now, to evolve resistance to the vaccine.”So far, British government scientists say there is no evidence that the virus is becoming more resistant to vaccines. And as more people are vaccinated, total infections should decrease — reducing the scope for the virus to mutate.And Britain has one of the world’s most advanced genome sequencing programs so can quickly identify any new variants of concern.Professor Sharon Peacock poses for a photograph at the Wellcome Sanger Institute that is operated by Genome Research in Cambridge, March 4, 2021.Sharon Peacock, executive director and chair of the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium, says there are twin threats.“The key thing we need to look out for, actually, is not just a new variant emerging, a brand-new variant emerging, but actually delta (variant) changing to have increasing biological characteristics that could lead to more spread or to increased immune evasion,” Peacock told Reuters.Only 14% of the global population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. In some low income countries, just 1.1% of the total population has received a single dose. That poses a risk to everyone, said virologist Skirmuntt.“We need the whole world being vaccinated or having immunity on a certain level. And if only some countries will be vaccinated on that level, that wouldn’t give us this global safety net,” Skirmuntt told VOA.As long as large populations remain unvaccinated, scientists say the coronavirus will continue to pose a risk to the whole world.Some information from this report came from Reuters

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EU: 70% of Adults in Bloc Now Have at Least One COVID Vaccination

European Union leaders said Tuesday that 70% of adult residents have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, hitting the target they set for the end of July.
 
Speaking to reporters in Brussels, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said 57% of all adults in the EU are now fully vaccinated. She said these numbers put Europe among the world leaders.
 
Von der Leyen said that, after falling behind early in its vaccination program, the EU’s “catch-up process has been very successful — but we need to keep up the effort.”
 
She said the Delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 “is very dangerous. I therefore call on everyone — who has the opportunity — to be vaccinated. For their own health and to protect others.” She said the EU will continue to provide sufficient volumes of vaccine.
 
The Reuters news agency reports the EU hopes to have 70% of all adults fully vaccinated by the end of the summer and the current statistics indicate that goal is within reach.
 
From her Twitter account, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides called on all citizens to “trust the science” and get vaccinated to protect themselves and those around them. 

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WHO: E-Cigarettes Threaten Fight Against Global Tobacco Use

The World Health Organization warns e-cigarettes and other novel nicotine and tobacco products threaten progress in the fight against tobacco use across the globe. Many countries are making progress in adopting tobacco control measures to get their populations to quit smoking or to dissuade them from starting to smoke.  But a new World Health Organization report finds governments are no match for the tobacco industry.  For the first time, the WHO is presenting new data on electronic delivery systems, such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products.  The head of WHO’s Tobacco Control Program, Vinayak Prasad, tells VOA the tobacco industry is marketing these products to children and adolescents. He says e-cigarettes, which come in more than 15,000 different flavors, are being promoted to appeal to young people and get them hooked.   “But only three countries have banned the use of flavors and the rest do not.  Also…42 percent of the countries only restrict sale to minors, so children are able to buy cigarettes…Children who start using e-cigarettes are twice likely to become regular tobacco users.  That is dangerous.  It risks the renormalization of tobacco in society” Prasad said.WHO Calls for Stricter Regulations on E-CigarettesConcern about the risks posed by e-cigarettes are increasing as reported cases of deaths and illnesses from these devices spread around the world WHO reports the proportion of people using tobacco has declined in most countries.  However, the total number of people smoking remains stubbornly high because of population growth.  The U.N. health agency estimates the number of current smokers at one billion.   It adds eight million people die prematurely from tobacco-related illnesses every year.Prasad says more than 80 percent of tobacco users live in developing countries.  He says the tobacco industry is fighting to prevent countries from adopting regulations against the use of so-called smokeless products.”The biggest challenge of today is the tobacco industry coming out with products at a fairly high frequency, claiming it to be cleaner, safer, less harmful, and putting the governments under a lot of pressure,” Prasad said.  There is limited evidence that electronic devices are effective in weaning people off tobacco.  WHO recommends the use of conventional quitting regimens.  It also advises governments to implement regulations to stop non-smokers from starting.  It says conventional tobacco control measures can be effective in protecting young people from the harmful use of e-cigarettes.  These include raising taxes, pictorial health warnings, and bans on advertising, promotion, and sponsorship.

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Epidemics Don’t Have to Happen, Expert Says

The number of known deaths from COVID-19 has passed 4 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking both cases and deaths. In the past 100 years, there have been flu and cholera epidemics, the AIDS epidemic and multiple other diseases around the world. VOA’s Carol Pearson says the latest research shows many epidemics either don’t have to happen or can be contained.

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UNESCO Leaves Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Off Endangered List

After much lobbying, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef will not appear on a list of “in danger” World Heritage Sites. Environmentalists call this a “terrible” decision fueled by political pressure. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi reports.

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Fauci Sounds New Virus Warnings

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, sounded new alarms Sunday about the surge in coronavirus cases in the country, especially in regions where people have been resistant to getting vaccinated even as the delta variant spreads rapidly.“We’re going in the wrong direction,” Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union” show. “Fifty percent of the country is not vaccinated. That’s a problem.”“We’re putting ourselves in danger,” said Fauci, the top medical adviser to President Joe Biden.In the United States, hospitalizations and deaths are far below their peaks last winter. But the number of new infections has been rising sharply in parts of the country where skepticism about the need to get vaccinated, the safety of the vaccines and resistance to government suggestions to get inoculated remain a potent force.More than 51,000 new infections were recorded in the U.S. on Saturday, a 172% increase over the last two weeks, and more than 250 deaths have been occurring daily in recent weeks.As it stands, the government says more than 162 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, which corresponds to 49% of the country’s population and nearly 60% of adults.But polls have shown that as many as 80% of unvaccinated Americans say they definitely will not get inoculated or are unlikely to, no matter how many officials urge them to get the shots.Many conservative politicians previously had adopted a more cautious approach toward vaccinations or said whether to get inoculated was a matter of personal choice. Now some are voicing their exasperation at those refusing to get vaccinated.Republican Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama said last week of the unvaccinated, “These people are choosing a horrible lifestyle.”Another Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, has long urged vaccinations in his southern state but it still has one of the lowest rates of inoculations. Two adolescents recently died of COVID-19 in his state. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.“These are alarm bells,” he told CNN. Nonetheless, he noted, “Certainly the resistance (to inoculations) has hardened.”Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson shows a chart on vaccination rates at a town hall meeting in Batesville, July 12, 2021.But Hutchinson voiced optimism that the unvaccinated will change their minds. “People can change their resistance,” he said. “That should be our focus.”Fauci said those vaccinated “are highly protected,” including against the delta variant. But the pace of vaccinations has dropped in the U.S. by more than 80% since mid-April.Some cities, including Los Angeles in the West and St. Louis in the middle of the country, have imposed new orders for people to wear masks in public indoor spaces regardless of vaccination status. Other cities are considering similar directives. 

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Most Deaths from Drowning Are Preventable

On this first World Drowning Prevention Day, the World Health Organization offers life-saving solutions to prevent most of the 236,000 estimated deaths from drowning every year.  The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution in April establishing this international day to raise awareness of drowning as a serious problem.Summertime has been celebrated in song as the season when the living is easy. On a less celebratory note, summertime in the northern hemisphere also is the peak season for deaths by drowning.Over the past decade, the World Health Organization reports 2.5 million people have died in drowning incidents.  It says more than half of all drowning deaths are among people under age 30, with the highest rates among children under the age of five.David Meddings, a WHO medical officer, said drowning is the second leading cause of death among children and youth under age 19 in wealthy countries such as the United States, Switzerland, and France. He notes, though, drowning disproportionately affects the poor and the marginalized.“The rates for drowning in low- and middle-income countries are three times higher than the rates we observe in higher-income countries.  And so, it is really the populations with the least resources to be able to adapt to the threats around them that are at highest risk for drowning.  The Western Pacific region has the world’s highest drowning rates followed by the African region,” he said.WHO reports more than 90% of drowning deaths occur in rivers, lakes, wells, irrigation canals and even domestic water storage vessels in the poorer countries. It says children and adolescents in rural areas are disproportionately affected.Meddings said national surveys in Africa show most drownings occur among young adult men out on fishing vessels.“For example, there was a study done in Tanzania among lakeside communities that show that the risk of death from drowning exceeded the risk of death in that population for death from HIV, TB or malaria.  So, 80% of deaths occurring in young adult men who are in a sense obligated to go out on fishing vessels that often are inherently unsafe watercraft without advance weather warning and without knowing how to swim,” he said.The report does not include statistics on flood-related mortality, deaths due to water transport mishaps such as capsized ferry boats, or migrant deaths that occur while crossing the perilous Mediterranean Sea.WHO recommends a number of cost-effective life-saving measures. It says children should be taught basic swimming and water safety skills, wells and potentially dangerous water areas should be fenced off, and bystanders should be trained in safe rescue and resuscitation. It says safe boating and ferry regulations should be enforced and calls for flood risk management to be improved. 

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