Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

NME’s weekly science dose (May 24-30)

Primary school students in Egypt may have a tough time seeing the screen of a computer connected to the internet. That is because for each one of these computers, an average of 441 pupils have to share it.

That is one of the many disconcerting facts that a new UNESCO report highlights. Looking at how ICT is being used in education across five Arab states, the report highlights issues of infrastructure, gender, policy, and teacher preparedness. Among its findings, it reported that less than a third of computers in schools in Egypt and the West Bank are connected to the internet. In contrast, about two-thirds of school computers in Jordan, Oman and Qatar are connected. Click here to read more about the report.

Also, a 3-year initiative to introduce foreign crop varieties and farming techniques was launched in Amman, Jordan, this month. The Dry Systems programme is to be implemented in five vast, dry areas across the planet with the aim of helping the world’s most vulnerable populations survive the damaging effects of climate change. Read more about this initiative here.

Finally, after World Asthma Day this month, health professionals in the Middle East have highlighted the increasing prevalence of the condition in the region. A study led by pulmonologist Mohammed Al Ghobain at King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences found that almost a quarter of Saudia Arabia’s population suffers from asthma. Qatar came next with almost 20% of its population suffering from the condition.

But is this solely the effect of rapid urbanisation in these countries, or is it that the condition is being better diagnosed for what it is? Read more about this issue here.

Beyond the hood

A recently unearthed bird fossil in northeastern China may be the oldest yet at 160 million years. Called Aurornis xui, it predates the official holder of the “oldest bird” title — archaeopteryx  — by 10 million years. The discovery of archaeopteryx in 1861 proved that modern birds evolved from dinosaurs and was the first fossil to support Darwin’s theory of evolution.

The new species adds another branch to the bird lineage. However, while it is clawed, feathered and with a long tail, it is unlikely that it flew due to the absence of fossil traces suggesting it had the larger feathers necessary for flight. Read more about Aurornis here.


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