Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

NME’s weekly science dose (July 5-11)

It’s often associated with Egypt, but the Nile River’s water resources are shared by eleven countries. It’s a resource that has been at the center of growing tension between Egypt and Ethiopia, particularly as the latter country moves ahead with plans to build the world’s tallest dam, leaving many in Egypt wary of the impact on its primary source of water.

A leaked report shows the degree of disagreement on how to proceed. It is a story where the political continues to overthrow the scientific in an issue that can only move forward using evidence rather than politics. Read more about it here.

Those curious about how animals got to be the way they now are, check out this story on sequencing the genome of an ancient horse.  A team of researchers has produced the draft genome of a 700,000 year old fossilized horse bone that is shedding light on the lineage of horses. Turns out that Przewalski’s horses—a type of wild horse—are the last surviving wild horse population.

Also, the genetic disorder nephronophthisis—a common cause of kidney failure in children–appears to be linked to a protein called ANKS6, new research suggests. Using knock-out animal models, researchers from Germany and Egypt were able to show how this protein is central to the normal development of kidneys. Click here for more details.

Finally, there’s been a bit of mystery as to why a chronic fungal infection called eumycetoma—which leads to the disfiguration of feet—exists in certain areas of Sudan, while the rest of the population does not develop the disease, despite being similarly exposed to the fungus.

Two studies have now attempted to explain this, highlighted here. Firstly, it appears that pre-existing co-infections dispose individuals to developing eumycetoma. Schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease, is strongly linked with also developing eumycetoma. Eliminating the intermediate host of schistosomiasis, the bilharzia snail, could reduce the prevalence of eumycetoma.

On a similar front, researchers also found that the fungal colonies that cause this disease are linked to a family of fungi that are generally found in animal dung. Not stepping on poo, or wearing shoes, may therefore help reduce the chances of infection.

Beyond the hood

Outdoor air pollution is directly causing over two million deaths each year, according to a study just published here in the journal Environmental Research Letters. While climate change has been suggested as an exacerbating factor to the effects of air pollution, this study was able to show that it plays a minimal role in the number of deaths due to air pollution.

Instead, the deaths are caused by human-caused increases in fine-particulate matter composed of tiny particles that can penetrate into the lungs, causing cancers and respiratory diseases.

In less depressing news, astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have identified, for the first time, the colour of an exoplanet. Known as HD 189733b, the huge gas planet has a deep cobalt blue colour, similar to Earth’s colour seen from space. With temperatures over 1000 degrees Celsius and at 63 light years away, it’s by no means a sister planet on any level.

The astronomers determined its colour by measuring how much light was reflected off its surface, and analysed at the change in the spectrum of the system before, during and after the planet passed behind its star. You can read more details about the study when it’s published in the August 1 issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.


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