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News Article | February 11, 2017

Robotics is not a new concept in technology but not many people know that the field actually goes back at least 500 years into the past. That is why the Science Museum in London offered a glimpse into the evolution of the field of robotics with its "Robots" exhibit, which was unveiled on Feb. 7. Most people simply associate robots with boxy mechanical contraptions, futuristic Sci-Fi characters like R2D2 and C3PO, and more advanced humanoid androids that mimic the look of famous personalities but "Robots" shows that these marvels of technology has been around far longer than people imagined. People usually look to the future when the topic of robots comes up so Curator Ben Russell patiently charted down the history and evolution of robots from the simplest mechanical contraption to more advanced automatons that are closer to people's imaginations. "Coming face to face with a mechanical human has always been a disconcerting experience. That sense of unease, of something you cannot quite put your finger on, goes to the heart of our long relationship with robots," Russell said. Russell also noted that many of the old robots were used to express faith-an interesting observation that shows religion and science co-exist even in the old days. To prove this, one of the early automatons in the exhibit is that of a mechanical monk built in the 1560's. The monk, which is on loan from the Smithsonian, can walk, lift a crucifix and rosary, move its lips, and beat its chest in an act of repentance. There is also an animatronic baby complete with an umbilical cord on display which is, honestly, a little disturbing as it wriggles about while stuck on a wall. Of course, T-800 from "Terminator: Salvation" is also on display to represent almost everything people fear about a dystopian future caused by the uprising of Artificial Intelligence agents because why not? There are also robots that mimic human actions ranging from walking, singing, and dancing to those which "read" news and tell stories about how robots make decisions. "When you take a long view, as we have done with 500 years of robots, robots haven't been these terrifying things, they've been magical, fascinating, useful, and they generally tend to do what we want them to do," Russell expressed. The exhibit is divided into five sections representing different period in history (and the future) and will remain in London's Science Museum until late 2017, however, the robotic Swan display will only be exhibited until Mar. 23. In the 4th quarter of 2017, the exhibit will pack up to go on tour, starting with the launch of the Manchester Science Festival in mid-October. "Robots" will then be exhibited in Newcastle's Life Science Centre in 2018, Edinburg's National Museum of Scotland in 2019, then go on an international tour until 2021. There are around 100 robots in the exhibit so, if you want to know which ones are the most interesting, you may want to take a look at Russell's recommendations in the video below. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Emblation, a leading expert in the field of microwave ablation, is delighted to announce that the company was awarded the “Innovative Collaboration” award at this year’s prestigious Scottish Life Sciences Awards. Co-founders Gary Beale and Eamon McErlean were presented with the award at the 2017 annual Scottish Life Sciences dinner on Thursday 2nd February, held at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The Innovative Collaboration award is in recognition of the impact Emblation’s patented technology has had within the field of Oncology. In collaboration with one of the world’s largest medical device organisations, Covidien (now Medtronic), Emblation designed and developed a new generation of microwave ablation systems, enabling thousands of patients every month to benefit from cancer treatment where previously, options were severely limited. Gary Beale, Emblation CEO, commented: “It was a great honour to even be nominated amongst such notable companies, but to win this prestigious award both validates our approach and recognises the dedication of our employees and trusted advisors. Working with a global player like Covidien has allowed us to bring a pioneering solution to a global patient population. I’m immensely proud of my team – the innovation, commitment and perseverance that was necessary to bring this product to market typifies the strength and skills of the growing Life Sciences Industry in Scotland.” The Scottish Life Science awards highlight the success and achievements of organisations within the Scottish Life Sciences sector – a globally recognised industry which contributes more than £4.2 billion a year to the Scottish economy. The “Innovative Collaboration” award is added to honours at the “Made in Scotland” awards (Innovator of the Year), British Engineering Excellence Awards (Highly Commended in the Small Business of the Year Category), The Clacks Awards (Award for Outstanding Performance) and a nomination for Innovation of the Year at the British Small Business Awards. Emblation is a global leader in microwave technology with a strong focus on medical devices. Established in the USA in 2007, the company relocated to Scotland the following year to continue research into novel microwave based medical products. Emblation has since manufactured and launched a range of innovative microwave systems for a number of global organisations, meeting the fundamental need for compact, lightweight and portable generators for medical applications. All of Emblation’s microwave generators are built with a number of unique features – allowing for some of the safest and most advanced systems available today. The team is led by some of the world’s foremost medical microwave experts, with a wealth of experience in the design, development and manufacture of microwave applications for a range of medical fields. Emblation is certified to EN ISO13485 standards, and is committed to providing next generation solutions for today’s medical conditions. For further information please contact Jonathan Williamson: jonathan.williamson(at)emblation(dot)com

News Article | February 24, 2016

The flightless dodo bird (Raphus cucullatus) is known for its supposed lack of survival instincts that may have somehow led to its quick extinction about 400 years ago. Add that to dodo bird hunting expeditions, and the population will surely dwindle. Since then, the word "dodo" has been a symbol in pop culture for stupidity. However, new research suggests that these large birds, which were once endemic to Mauritius Island, might have been quite intelligent, at least as smart as a common pigeon. Although the dodo bird has become an example of stupidity, obsolescence, oddity and extinction, some aspects of the animal's biology are still unknown. The research team found that the part of the dodo bird's brain responsible for smelling was enlarged. This was an uncharacteristic trait for birds, which typically concentrate their brainpower for eyesight, scientists said. To further understand the dodo bird's brain, lead author Eugenia Gold tracked down a well-preserved skull from the National History Museum in London. She imaged the skull thru high-resolution computer tomography (CT) scanning. Gold also used CT scan to capture images of the skulls of seven species of pigeons. These species ranged from the common pigeon Columba livia to more rare varieties. From these scans, Gold built virtual brain endocasts to determine the overall brain size and the size of different structures. Her colleagues at the National Museum of Scotland and the Natural History Museum of Denmark sent the endocast for the extinct bird's closest relative, the Rodrigues solitaire (Pezophaps solitaria), an island-dwelling bird that has also turned extinct. Gold and her colleagues found that when comparing the proportion of the dodo bird's brain to its size, the bird was on the right line. "It's not impressively large or impressively small – it's exactly the size you would predict it to be for its body size," said Gold. If the brain size is taken as proxy for intelligence, Gold said dodos had similar intelligence level as pigeons. Pigeons have the ability to be trained, and scientists said this implies a moderate level of intelligence. While there's more to intelligence than just brain size, Gold said this has given them basic measure. Both the dodo bird and its cousin Rodrigues solitaire were found to have enlarged olfactory bulbs, the part of the brain that receives stimuli for smelling. Birds typically rely on their sight rather than smell to move through the world. These birds usually have bigger optic lobes than olfactory bulbs. Gold and her team sugges that as dodos and solitaires dwelled on land, they depended on their sense of smell to hunt food, such as small land verterbrates, fruit and marine animals like shellfish. Additionally, the research team discovered a strange curvature in the dodo bird's semicircular canal, the balance organs in the ear. However, the team has yet to find a good hypothesis for this peculiar feature. Gold said when Mauritius Island was discovered in the late 1500s, the dodo birds living on the island were not afraid of humans. The birds were herded into boats and were used as fresh meat for sailors. Invasive species were also introduced to the island. Because of these factors, dodo birds disappeared in less than 100 years after humans found them. Dodo birds were allegedly last seen in 1662, although someone claimed to have seen them in 1674. A previous study featured in Nature established the birds' extinction time as 1690. "Today, they are almost exclusively known for becoming extinct, and I think that's why we've given them this reputation of being dumb," said Gold. Meanwhile, Mark Norell of the American Museum of Natural History, a co-author of the study, said their study emphasizes the need for the maintenance of natural history collections. "It is really amazing what new technologies can bring to old museum specimens," added Norell. The team's findings are featured in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

News Article | February 22, 2017

Twenty years ago today, a team of researchers from Scotland gathered the world's media together for a major press conference. The scientists, led by Ian Wilmut, Keith Campbell and their colleagues at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, had - the first mammal to be created from a single adult body cell. The sheep's name? Dolly. Dolly had actually been born the previous year - on 5 July 1996. She was a perfectly normal sheep in every way, except that she was an exact genetic copy of another one. Technically, she had three mothers - one provided the egg, another the DNA and a third gave birth to her. Her creation was a biological triumph. Before Dolly, it was believed that animals could only be produced when an egg cell is fertilised by a sperm cell. There's a good reason why nature works this way - it mixes up genetic material from two individuals, decreasing the chance of a weakness being passed from parent to child. That's also the reason why incest is a really bad idea - a small gene pool is dangerous for the long-term health of a population. Genetic diversity is good. Dolly was created in a different way - a process that biologists call " ". No sperm is involved - instead, you use a body cell from an adult animal that you want to clone, and an egg cell. Remove the nucleus from both, pop the one from the body cell into the now-empty egg cell, and you get a cell that's ready to begin doubling. Zap it with some electricity and it'll start dividing. Sounds simple, right? It wasn't that easy - Dolly was the single success in 277 different tries at the process. It took decades of experiments before she was born, but today, we're a lot better at it. Only - though it does depend on the kind of cell used for the cloning, and the species. That's about the same rate as the number of human pregnancies that end in miscarriage, though it's two to three times higher than the abortion rate in livestock, which sits between three and five percent. Dolly lived 6.5 years in Edinburgh, giving birth to six lambs in total, before being euthanized in 2003 because she had contracted severe arthritis and a form of lung cancer. Normally, her species lives 11 to 12 years, but the cancer is common in sheep, and the researchers said there was no connection between her status as a clone and the disease. In 2016, a (including four from Dolly's cell line) found no evidence of a detrimental long-term effect of cloning. After death, Dolly's body was donated to the National Museum of Scotland. While Dolly was a massive step forward in the science of cloning, the field has moved on considerably in the twenty years since she was introduced to the public. Other large mammals have been cloned - in the sport of polo, pony clones have totally transformed how the best players in the world compete. In 2015, Vanity Fair a player preparing to compete on a pony that had died nearly a decade beforehand. In 2004, a maine-coon cat (like the one pictured above) named " " was the first pet to be cloned commercially, kicking off a multimillion dollar industry. Little Nicky's owner, a woman named only as "Julie", paid $50,000 for the procedure. In 2008, Seoul National University created five clones of a dog named "Booger" for the same fee. In the United Arab Emirates, a cloned camel named " " was born in 2009. Since then, the industry has exploded. While the fuss over genetically-modified food in the West has put most farmers off the idea of cloning the tastiest livestock, Asian farmers seem to have no such qualms. Lurid headlines tell of cloning factories in Korea that create 500 new animals every day , or Chinese cloning on an "industrial scale" in an old shoe factory . "If it tastes good you should sequence it," Wang Jun, the owner of the cloning facility in the second of those two examples, told BBC News in 2014. As you might expect, this commercialisation of cloning technology has drawn ethical concerns. The cost of cloning a single animal could save thousands of abandoned pets in shelters from being euthanised, while some have highlighted the lack of knowledge we have of the long-term health effects of cloning in a variety of species. So far, those concerns have not been sufficient to sway public opinion towards an all-out ban on the practice. Meanwhile, researchers have turned their attention to trickier puzzles. Creating cloned animals is not as useful as using to tweak genetic material far faster than could be done using traditional animal breeding techniques. In 2006, for example, biologists . In 2015, that were safe from the most economically-damaging swine disease in the world. De-extinction is another possibility with cloning techniques. Putting genetic material from an extinct species into the egg of a closely-related living species creates a clone of a dead animal. In 2013, Australian researchers of the gastric brooding frog - a species that is thought to have been extinct since 1983 - though the embryos died after a few days. Recently, a story spread about a Harvard geneticist to create elephant embryos with wooly mammoth genes within two years ( one paleoanthropologist questioned the breathless media coverage of the story ). Then there's humans. To date, no-one has publicly announced the successful creation of a human clone. There are two reasons why you might want to clone human genetic material - the first is for medicine (to use in medicine and transplants). We've learnt a lot from the study of human embryonic stem cells in recent years, and it's not out of the question that we could clone individual organs for transplant in the future. Bone marrow transplants are commonly performed using human stem cells, but otherwise the technique is firmly in the research stage, not active medical use, at the time of writing. The second is for reproduction, and this is where things start getting really contentious. In the wake of Dolly's birth in 1997, there was much discussion around the world on the subject of cloning and about 70 countries banned the creation of human clones. The UN General Assembly similarly banned all forms of human cloning in 2005 . But research continues. In 1998, a biotech firm using the nucleus from a human leg cell and the egg of a cow. The embryo developed, and was destroyed after 12 days. In 2008, a different firm using skin cell nuclei and human eggs, which were again purposefully destroyed within a few days. We don't know what would have happened if either had been left to develop. There's no reason to believe that we'd be any worse at creating human clones than we are any other species, and is pretty clear. But no researcher to date has been willing to stick their neck out and take on the thorny ethical issues that the creation of a full human clone will involve. That's where we're at in 20AD -- twenty years after Dolly. It's hard to believe that the status quo around reproductive human cloning will hold for very long, especially while the commercialisation of animal cloning and science of therapeutic human cloning develops. As we gain greater understanding of the processes that govern life, and the technology to control it, there's little doubt that someone, somewhere will take the step of creating the first clone of a human being. The biggest question that remains is: how will we respond?

News Article | November 28, 2016

Name: Bobby Species: Western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) Dates: 1983-2008 Claim to fame: Much-loved zoo animal Where now: National Museum of Scotland In 1994, magistrates from the Italian province of Ancona found the manager of a local circus guilty of importing a gorilla into the country. Bobby (variously also known as Bongo, Bongo III and Bongo Junior) had been captured as a baby in Equatorial Guinea more than a decade earlier and is thought to have been brought to Italy soon afterwards as “a chimpanzee”. Either way – gorilla or chimpanzee – the transportation of Bobby was in direct contravention of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement signed in Washington D.C. in 1973 and eventually ratified by Italy in 1979. CITES binds parties to pass appropriate national legislation to allow its implementation, but it took the Italian Parliament until 1992 to do this (Legge 7 Febbraio 1992, n. 150, if you must know). It was only then that the Italian authorities were in a position “to penalize trade in, or possession of, such specimens,” and “to provide the confiscation or return to the State of export of such specimens.” “The Italian Parliament took thirteen years, one month and 22 days to translate into Italian the Latin expression nulla poena sine lege,” quipped professor of international law Tullio Scovazzi in the European Environmental Law Review. Bobby was confiscated from the circus, but instead of being repatriated to Equatorial Guinea ended up under the custodianship of the Giardino Zoologico di Roma. There, he lived alongside Romana, a female gorilla of a similar age that had been born in captivity in 1980. According to a history of gorillas at Rome Zoo, Bobby’s new situation resulted in “a considerable improvement both in the physical aspect and the behavioural profile.” When the “ape house” finally closed in 2000 and became a restaurant, Bobby and Romana moved to Bristol Zoo. Romana (now known as Romina) remained in Bristol and is still there today. Bobby moved on to London Zoo in 2003, where the silverback became a much-loved resident and star of Gorilla Kingdom, the £5.3 million enclosure that opened to the public in 2007. When Bobby died in December 2008, his remains were given to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. On 9 December, he will return to the public gaze for the first time in almost a decade. He is one of over 60 taxidermy specimens to appear in Monkey Business, an exhibition that will showcase the diversity of the primate family and explore “how primates have evolved and adapted, how they communicate, and the tools they have developed to obtain food.” The exhibition “reveals their complex social systems and looks at the relationship between primates and humans today.” It is easy to be critical of the events that led to Bobby’s capture more than 30 years ago and feel sadness for the life he spent among humans rather than with other gorillas in the wilds of Equatorial Guinea. But the even sadder reality is that he might have been safer in captivity. The possession, hunting, sale and consumption of primates in Equatorial Guinea only became illegal in 2007 and it takes time for a law to result in cultural change. Celebrity animals like Bobby that have moved humans have a lot to achieve, even in death, revealing the beauty and fragility of the natural world and the value of protecting it. Monkey Business will run from Friday 9 December 2016 to Sunday 23 April 2017 at the National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh. Admission: £10 adults, £8 concession, children (age 12-15) £7. Entry is free to National Museums Scotland Members and children under 12. Bobby’s early life as a circus animal in Italy remains obscure. If anyone can shed any light on this period or remembers seeing him in Rome, Bristol or London, please leave a comment or send me a message via Twitter @WayOfThePanda. If there is a zoological specimen with a great story that you would like to see profiled, please contact Henry Nicholls @WayOfThePanda.

News Article | December 22, 2016

Southeast Asia is home to numerous felids, including the Asian golden cat and the bay cat. The two cat species are closely related sister species which split from each other 3.16 million years ago. Yet, their more recent history was quite different. Scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and their international partners could now show that, after a massive volcanic eruption about 73,000 years ago, the Asian golden cat survived only in Indochina, from where it expanded its range in dramatic fashion during the peak of the last Ice Age. The cooler and drier climates at the time pushed its sister species, the bay cat, however, into rainforest refuges on Borneo. These findings are published in the scientific journal Royal Society Open Science. Today, the endangered bay cat only occurs in evergreen rainforests on Borneo. In contrast, the Asian golden cat occurs in habitats ranging from tropical rainforests on Sumatra to temperate forests in the Himalayas and southern China. Living in different environments resulted in the evolution of different colour morphs for the Asian golden cat, such as spotted, reddish and greyish to black. Aided by this variation in colour morphs, up to five subspecies have been recognised in the Asian golden cat. A comprehensive taxonomic assessment, where molecular data and morphological characters are combined, was still lacking for both species, and it was unclear why the two sister species differed so much in their range and distribution. An international team of researchers from the Leibniz-IZW, National Museums Scotland and WWF-Malaysia set out to provide such an assessment by using samples collected mostly from museum specimens and applying a new approach where they combined molecular and morphological analyses with statistical models of Pleistocene species distributions. The results suggest divergent evolutionary histories for the two sister cat species. During the Late Pleistocene and especially towards the end of the last Ice Age, the bay cat became restricted to rainforest refuges on Borneo. The results of the models for the Asian golden cat, however, showed that throughout the same period large parts of Southeast Asia contained suitable habitat. "Although we expected this on the basis of their current distribution, our molecular findings first appeared to contradict these results." says Riddhi P. Patel, PhD student at the Leibniz-IZW. The scientist found a very low molecular diversity in Asian golden cats, which seemed very surprising and at variance in view of the large distribution area. The resolution of this paradox is provided by assuming a dramatic population reduction during the Late Pleistocene. "We think that the Toba super-volcanic eruption on Sumatra, about 73, 000 years ago, destroyed so much forest habitat that it caused a massive population decline in most of the range of the Asian golden cat, with populations surviving only in Indochina. Only a long time after suitable climatic conditions returned during the last Ice Age were Asian golden cats able to move out from their Indochinese refuge and return to former habitats, spreading north to southern China, east to India and, in particular, south to Sumatra", Patel explains. This hypothesis was consistent with data for morphological characters. "We found the greatest diversity in coat colour morphs in Indochina, whereas on the Malay Peninsula and in Sumatra golden cats are almost exclusively reddish," adds Andrew C. Kitchener of the National Museum of Scotland. These results show that despite their close relationship, the Asian golden cat and bay cat responded quite differently to climate change during the late Ice Age. The recent rapid expansion of the range of the Asian golden cat clearly is incompatible with the current taxonomic classification into five subspecies. "We recommend recognising only two Asian golden cat subspecies, one north of the Isthmus of Kra and the other one south of it on the Malay Peninsula and in Sumatra," says Patel. Explore further: Rare Sunda clouded leopard has two distinct types More information: Riddhi P. Patel et al. Two species of Southeast Asian cats in the genuswith diverging histories: an island endemic forest specialist and a widespread habitat generalist, Royal Society Open Science (2016). DOI: 10.1098/rsos.160350

Nicholson D.B.,University of York | Nicholson D.B.,Natural History Museum in London | Mayhew P.J.,University of York | Ross A.J.,National Museum of Scotland
PLoS ONE | Year: 2015

The first and last occurrences of hexapod families in the fossil record are compiled from publications up to end-2009. The major features of these data are compared with those of previous datasets (1993 and 1994). About a third of families (>400) are new to the fossil record since 1994, over half of the earlier, existing families have experienced changes in their known stratigraphic range and only about ten percent have unchanged ranges. Despite these significant additions to knowledge, the broad pattern of described richness through time remains similar, with described richness increasing steadily through geological history and a shift in dominant taxa, from Palaeoptera and Polyneoptera to Paraneoptera and Holometabola, after the Palaeozoic. However, after detrending, described richness is not well correlated with the earlier datasets, indicating significant changes in shorter-term patterns. There is reduced Palaeozoic richness, peaking at a different time, and a less pronounced Permian decline. A pronounced Triassic peak and decline is shown, and the plateau from the mid Early Cretaceous to the end of the period remains, albeit at substantially higher richness compared to earlier datasets. Origination and extinction rates are broadly similar to before, with a broad decline in both through time but episodic peaks, including end-Permian turnover. Origination more consistently exceeds extinction compared to previous datasets and exceptions are mainly in the Palaeozoic. These changes suggest that some inferences about causal mechanisms in insect macroevolution are likely to differ as well. Copyright: © 2015 Nicholson et al.

Ross A.,National Museum of Scotland
Current Biology | Year: 2014

In the study of fossil insects, Chinese amber from Fushun has been largely overlooked. A new study now reveals a highly diverse biota and provides a wealth of new information on the past Asian insect fauna. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd All rights reserved.

Stewart S.E.,National Museum of Scotland
Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh | Year: 2011

Molluscs from the Middle and Upper Ordovician succession of Girvan, SW Scotland are common and diverse in some localities. The mollusc fauna consists mainly of gastropods, bivalves and various univalved molluscs (mimospirids and tergomyans), along with scarcer polyplacophorans, rostroconchs and cephalopods. The present study gives an overview of the distribution and palaeoecology of bivalves, gastropods and univalved molluscs and compares them with mollusc faunas worldwide. Gastropods, mimospirids and tergomyans are present from the Darriwilian (mid Llanvirn) onwards in both siliciclastic and carbonate facies, and increase in diversity through the Sandbian (Caradoc) and into the Katian (Ashgill). Bivalves first appeared in Girvan in the late Darriwilian (early Caradoc) in deep water siliciclastic facies; where they continued to be more abundant and diverse than in equivalent carbonate facies. Molluscs are initially Laurentian in aspect, though peri-Gondwanan faunal elements occur, particularly during the Sandbian. The pattern of bivalve and gastropod diversity found in the Ordovician of Girvan generally follows that of the known global diversity for these groups. Copyright © Royal Society of Edinburgh 2012.

Nicholson D.B.,University of York | Nicholson D.B.,Natural History Museum in London | Ross A.J.,National Museum of Scotland | Mayhew P.J.,University of York
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences | Year: 2014

Explaining the taxonomic richness of the insects, comprising over half of all described species, is a major challenge in evolutionary biology. Previously, several evolutionary novelties (key innovations) have been posited to contribute to that richness, including the insect bauplan, wings, wing folding and complete metamorphosis, but evidence over their relative importance and modes of action is sparse and equivocal. Here, a new dataset on the first and last occurrences of fossil hexapod (insects and close relatives) families is used to show that basal families of winged insects (Palaeoptera, e.g. dragonflies) show higher origination and extinction rates in the fossil record than basal wingless groups (Apterygota, e.g. silverfish). Origination and extinction rates were maintained at levels similar to Palaeoptera in the more derived Polyneoptera (e.g. cockroaches) and Paraneoptera (e.g. true bugs), but extinction rates subsequently reduced in the very rich group of insects with complete metamorphosis (Holometabola, e.g. beetles). Holometabola show evidence of a recent slow-down in their high net diversification rate, whereas other winged taxa continue to diversify at constant but low rates. These data suggest that wings and complete metamorphosis have had the most effect on family-level insect macroevolution, and point to specific mechanisms by which they have influenced insect diversity through time. © 2014 The Authors.

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