Dried Meat ‘Resurrects’ Lost Species of Whale


first_imgA gift of dried whale meat—and some clever genetic sleuthing across almost 16,000 kilometers of equatorial waters—has helped scientists identify a long-forgotten animal as a new species of beaked whale. The “resurrection” raises new questions about beaked whales, the most elusive and mysterious of cetaceans.“Literally nothing is known about most species of beaked whales; they are probably the least known family of large mammals,” says Robin Baird, a cetacean biologist at Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia. “So it’s exciting to have this study.”The species, Mesoplodon hotaula, is a dark blue, Volkswagen-van-sized cetacean with the prominent snout that gives beaked whales their common name. It first came to scientists’ attention in 1963 when a single adult female stranded on the coast of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. The director of the National Museums of Ceylon, P. E. P. Deraniyagala, decided that it was different from the other Mesoplodon species known at that time, and assigned it the name hotaula, meaning “pointed beak” in the local Sinhala language. But only 2 years later, M. hotaula was eliminated as a species when other researchers decided that it was identical to M. ginkgodens (another beaked whale which scientists know only from stranded carcasses and have never seen alive in the sea).Sign up for our daily newsletterGet more great content like this delivered right to you!Country *AfghanistanAland IslandsAlbaniaAlgeriaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBolivia, Plurinational State ofBonaire, Sint Eustatius and SabaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of theCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’IvoireCroatiaCubaCuraçaoCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuatemalaGuernseyGuineaGuinea-BissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsle of ManIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJerseyJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontenegroMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorwayOmanPakistanPalestinianPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRWANDASaint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da CunhaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Martin (French part)Saint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbiaSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSint Maarten (Dutch part)SlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsSouth SudanSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwanTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-LesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuela, Bolivarian Republic ofVietnamVirgin Islands, BritishWallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabweI also wish to receive emails from AAAS/Science and Science advertisers, including information on products, services and special offers which may include but are not limited to news, careers information & upcoming events.Required fields are included by an asterisk(*)Forty years later, locals on an atoll in the Gilbert Islands, part of the Republic of Kiribati in the west Pacific, gave a visiting marine biologist dried strips of whale meat left over from a recent festival. The sample was turned over to cetacean geneticists at the University of Auckland in New Zealand who had assembled a database of the DNA of all known beaked whales. “It was a surprise, because the genetic sequences from the meat didn’t match any of the known species,” says Scott Baker, a cetacean geneticist now at Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute in Newport, and one of the authors of the study. “We thought we had a new species.”Then, in 2005, other co-authors collected some whale bone and teeth on Palmyra Atoll, which lies southeast of the Hawaiian Islands and 2600 kilometers northeast of the Gilbert Islands. The genetic sequences extracted from these specimens matched those of the dried meat. “We knew then we were on to something,” Baker says. Finally, in 2009, the body of a beaked whale was found in the Seychelles, in the western part of the Indian Ocean; its DNA also matched that of the dried meat sample, even though this whale lived tens of thousands of kilometers away from the Gilbert Islands.That was the clue the researchers needed. “We immediately wondered, ‘Could it be Deraniyagala’s beaked whale?’ ” Baker says. It was. The team reports its resurrection of the forgotten M. hotaula today in Marine Mammal Science. Counting M. hotaula, there are now 15 known species in this genus, making it by far the most species-rich genus of cetaceans.Overall, the saga of M. hotaula shows “that there are probably even more species of beaked whales that we don’t know about,” says Phil Clapham, a marine mammalogist at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle, Washington. “We don’t see them because they’re very deep-diving and live far from land.” They also live in a poorly surveyed part of the ocean, Baker says, where very few people dwell on remote atolls.      Intriguingly, it is the islanders who seem to know the most about M. hotaula and some other beaked whales. The Gilbert Islands residents who provided the original gift of dried meat reported that it came from one of seven whales they had driven onto the beach and killed. “That was something we didn’t know: that these beaked whales live in groups,” Baker says. “We thought they were solitary” because of the single, stranded individuals that are occasionally found. The scientists also believe that males of M. hotaula fight each other, because this behavior is known in other species of beaked whales, and because the teeth of two adult male specimens were broken. “Other than that, and knowing that Deraniyagala was right, M. hotaula is still pretty mysterious,” says Baker, who hopes to launch an expedition to learn more about them.last_img read more

Big dreams emerge for big brain science projects


first_imgWhile the United Nations General Assembly prepared for its sometimes divisive annual general debate on Monday, a less official United Nations of Brain Projects met nearby in a display of international amity and unbounded enthusiasm for the idea that transnational cooperation can, must, and will, at last, explain the brain.The tribe of some 400 neuroscientists, computational biologists, physicists, physicians, ethicists, government science counselors, and private funders convened at The Rockefeller University on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in New York City. The Coordinating Global Brain Projects gathering was mandated by the U.S. Congress in a 2015 law funding the U.S. Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. The meeting aimed to synchronize the explosion of big, ambitious neuroscience efforts being launched from Europe to China. Nearly 50 speakers from more than a dozen countries explained how their nations are plumbing brain science; all seemed eager to be part of the as-yet unmapped coordination that they hope will lead to a mellifluous symphony rather than a cacophony of competing chords.“We are really seeing international cooperation at a level that we have not seen before,” said Rockefeller’s Cori Bargmann, a neurobiologist who with Rafael Yuste of Columbia University convened the meeting with the backing of the universities, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Kavli Foundation, a private funder of neuroscience and nanoscience. Bargmann and Yuste have been integral to planning the BRAIN Initiative launched by President Barack Obama in the spring of 2013, which, along with the European Human Brain Project, started the new push for large-scale neuroscience initiatives. “This could be historic,” Yuste said. “I could imagine out of this meeting that groups of people could get together and start international collaborations the way the astronomers and the physicists have been doing for decades.” Country * Afghanistan Aland Islands Albania Algeria Andorra Angola Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Barbados Belarus Belgium Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia, Plurinational State of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Bosnia and Herzegovina Botswana Bouvet Island Brazil British Indian Ocean Territory Brunei Darussalam Bulgaria Burkina Faso Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cape Verde Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad Chile China Christmas Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Colombia Comoros Congo Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Cook Islands Costa Rica Cote d’Ivoire Croatia Cuba Curaçao Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia Ethiopia Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Faroe Islands Fiji Finland France French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern Territories Gabon Gambia Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guatemala Guernsey Guinea Guinea-Bissau Guyana Haiti Heard Island and McDonald Islands Holy See (Vatican City State) Honduras Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jersey Jordan Kazakhstan Kenya Kiribati Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao People’s Democratic Republic Latvia Lebanon Lesotho Liberia Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Maldives Mali Malta Martinique Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Mexico Moldova, Republic of Monaco Mongolia Montenegro Montserrat Morocco Mozambique Myanmar Namibia Nauru Nepal Netherlands New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria Niue Norfolk Island Norway Oman Pakistan Palestine Panama Papua New Guinea Paraguay Peru Philippines Pitcairn Poland Portugal Qatar Reunion Romania Russian Federation Rwanda Saint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Martin (French part) Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore Sint Maarten (Dutch part) Slovakia Slovenia Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Sudan Spain Sri Lanka Sudan Suriname Svalbard and Jan Mayen Swaziland Sweden Switzerland Syrian Arab Republic Taiwan Tajikistan Tanzania, United Republic of Thailand Timor-Leste Togo Tokelau Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Uruguay Uzbekistan Vanuatu Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of Vietnam Virgin Islands, British Wallis and Futuna Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwe Click to view the privacy policy. Required fields are indicated by an asterisk (*) Sign up for our daily newsletter Get more great content like this delivered right to you! Countrycenter_img Email Many of the plans and aspirations presented at the meeting were familiar, not least from an April prequel that gathered some 60 neuroscientists at Johns Hopkins University and laid the groundwork for the current gathering. They included China’s ambitious 15-year plan aimed at understanding the neural basis of cognitive functions while developing the tools to diagnose and treat brain diseases early; it is likely to be funded with $1 billion over the first 10 years. There was also excitement about a digital, cloud-based storehouse of troves of neuroscience data that would be accessible to all. This international repository was later the subject of discussion at a meeting of scientific diplomats from several countries, convened at the United Nations itself, and attended by U.S. Department of State representatives as well as by France Córdova, the director of NSF. At the Rockefeller meeting, an important impetus behind the big ambitions—the quest to decipher the gamut of human brain diseases that are still incredibly poorly understood—was evident in the room. “It’s purely getting at the [brain] circuits that’s going to tell us about schizophrenia, autism, multiple psychiatric disorders,” Walter Koroshetz, the director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, told the assembled scientists. Yet our current neuroscience tools are so rudimentary, he noted, that watching the brain function in real time is like “trying to understand what Gone with the Wind is [about] by watching it one pixel at a time over and over again.” The quest to understand the brain is complicated, too, by the profound ethical questions that will inevitably arise as the science moves forward, from worries about the potential hacking of brain implants to the notion that technological advances will ultimately make mind control possible. These are questions that can’t be tackled too soon, one speaker urged. “We should not take an attitude of ‘Wake me up when it gets interesting,’” said Martha Farah, the director of the Center for Neuroscience & Society at the University of Pennsylvania. “Where we start, what we do at the beginning, affects the end.”The participants, from at least a score of mostly wealthy countries, were also reminded that the ambitious agenda they are forging needs to embrace developing countries. “How can these already well-established brain projects help colleagues in developing countries like my own?” asks Mohammad Mustafa Herzallah, a researcher based at Rutgers University, Newark, in New Jersey representing the Palestinian Neuroscience Initiative.The meeting’s attendees were treated at the outset to a round of inspiration from David Shoemaker, the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in Cambridge, who walked them through the observatory’s history as an object lesson in how to succeed with large-scale science. But it is not clear that big neuroscience can duplicate LIGO’s success. The massive complexity of the problems it is tackling, from mapping the functioning brain to making petabytes of data meaningful and accessible to training a new generation of neuroscientists who are equipped to work across disciplines to make sense of it all, do not lend themselves to easily assembled and discretely defined teams and tasks—at least, not quickly. That became clear in the meeting’s closing moments, when both Yuste and Bargmann offered goals and suggestions—like the idea that national agencies fund worthy applicants from any country; and the convening of a committee that tackles the links between international projects—but no specific plan for moving forward. That did nothing to diminish the optimism and energy of the gathering. “What has happened here is magnificent,” declared Rodolfo Llinás, an 81-year-old Colombian-American neuroscientist who is a professor emeritus at New York University in New York City. “Never before in neuroscience have I seen so much unity in such a glorious purpose.”At which point the room burst into applause.last_img read more