Scientists Grow ‘Model’ Human Embryos From Stem Cells

This undated handout photograph released by The University of Cambridge on June 11, 2020, shows a scan of a model embryos scientists created using human stem cells. – Scientists have developed a human embryo “blueprint” using human stem cells, in a breakthrough that could provide vital insight into the early stages of infant development, new research showed June 11, 2020. Teams from the University of Cambridge and the Netherlands-based Hubrecht Institute said their model will allow them to observe never-seen-before processes underlying the formation of the human body. Naomi Moris / University of Cambridge.

 

Scientists have developed a human embryo “blueprint” using human stem cells, in a breakthrough that could provide vital insight into the early stages of infant development, new research showed Thursday.

Teams from the University of Cambridge and the Netherlands-based Hubrecht Institute said their model will allow them to observe never-before-seen processes underlying the formation of the human body.

The layout of humans — known as the body plan — happens through a process known as gastrulation, where three distinct layers of cells are formed in the embryo that will later give rise to the body’s three main systems: nervous, musculoskeletal and digestive.

Gastrulation is known as the “black box” period of human development as legal restrictions prevent scientists from developing embryos in the lab beyond 14 days.

The team behind the study, published in Nature, said their model resembles an embryo between 18 and 21 days old, around the same time as gastrulation occurs.

Many birth defects happen during this period, and a better understanding of gastrulation could aid our understanding of issues such as infertility, miscarriage and genetic disorders, the researchers said.

“Our model produces part of the blueprint of a human,” said lead author Alfonso Martinez-Arias, from Cambridge’s Department of Genetics.

“It’s exciting to witness the developmental processes that until now have been hidden from view — and from study.”

To create the three-dimensional models, known as gastruloids, the team collected tight bundles of human cells and treated them with chemicals that acted as signals to activate certain genes.

It is the first time, the researchers said, that human stem cells have been used to create a 3D model human embryo, after some trials using stem cells from mice and zebra fish.

The scientists stressed that gastruloids never develop into fully formed embryos because they have no brain cells and lack any of the tissues for implantation in the womb.

Nevertheless, they were able to observe around 72 hours of the models’ development and identify clear signs of the events that lead to the formation of muscles, bone and cartilage.

Jeremy Green, a professor of developmental biology at King’s College London, said the study was a “fantastic window” into the early formation of the human body.

“(It) highlights the amazing power of self-organisation of cells and tissues given the right conditions,” added Green, who was not involved in the research.

AFP

Hydroxychloroquine Ineffective To Prevent COVID-19 – Scientists

(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 20, 2020 a bottle and pills of Hydroxychloroquine sit on a counter at Rock Canyon Pharmacy in Provo, Utah. GEORGE FREY / AFP

 

 

Taking hydroxychloroquine shortly after being exposed to COVID-19 does not help prevent infection in a statistically meaningful way, scientists reported Wednesday following a clinical trial.

The medicine has been touted by US President Donald Trump, who has said he used it as a prophylaxis against the novel coronavirus.

But an experiment involving 821 people across the United States and Canada showed it did not work significantly better than a placebo for this purpose.

The study was led by a team at the University of Minnesota, and their paper was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers enrolled adults who had come into contact with someone who had a confirmed case of COVID-19 for more than 10 minutes at a distance of six feet (about two meters) or less.

The majority of them — 719 — were deemed to have had “high-risk” exposure because they wore neither a face mask nor an eye shield at the time, while the rest were “moderate-risk” because they covered their face but did not have goggles.

All participants were randomly assigned to receive either hydroxychloroquine — which is certified for use against malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus — or a placebo, within four days.

The researchers then looked at how many patients went on to develop COVID-19 over the next two weeks, which was confirmed either by a laboratory test or by clinical signs.

They found that 49 of the 414 given the medicine got the disease caused by the coronavirus, compared to 58 of the 407 on the placebo.

This translates to 11.83 percent on the drug were infected, versus 14.25 percent on the placebo.

The absolute difference of about 2.4 percentage points in favor of the medicine was not considered statistically significant given the sample size, meaning it could have occurred because of chance.

Side effects were more common with hydroxychloroquine than with the placebo — 40.1 percent versus 16.8 percent — but no serious adverse reactions were reported.

“This randomized trial did not demonstrate a significant benefit of hydroxychloroquine as postexposure prophylaxis for COVID-19,” wrote the authors.

The results of the study were eagerly awaited because it was a randomized controlled trial (RCT), a carefully designed experiment that is considered the gold standard for investigating clinical outcomes.

Several previous studies on the drug that have made headlines were “observational,” meaning they looked back at what had already happened. As such, more variables are left to chance and it is generally harder to draw firm conclusions.

Nevertheless, Martin Landray, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Oxford, said more research was needed to know for sure whether hydroxychloroquine might have a moderately positive effect.

“The study is too small to be definitive,” said Landray, who was not involved in the trial.

The results “makes it very unlikely that there is a large effect (e.g. a halving in the risk of infection) but cannot rule out a more modest difference (e.g. a reduction of one-quarter or one-third) which would still be very valuable,” he added.

AFP

World Scientists Meet To Fight Coronavirus

Scientists are at work in the VirPath university laboratory, classified as “P3” level of safety, on February 5, 2020 as they try to find an effective treatment against the new SARS-like coronavirus, which has already caused more than 560 deaths. JEFF PACHOUD / AFP

 

Scientists from around the world are reviewing how the novel coronavirus is transmitted and possible vaccines at a World Health Organization conference that kicked off on Tuesday.

“What matters most is stopping the outbreak and saving lives. With your support, that’s what we can do together,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the two-day Geneva gathering.

WHO said some 400 scientists were taking part.

The virus, first identified in China on December 31, has killed more than 1,000 people, infected over 42,000 and reached some 25 countries.

Participants will also discuss the source of the virus, which is thought to have originated in bats and reached humans via another animal such as snakes or pangolins.

There is no specific treatment or vaccine against the virus, which can cause respiratory failure.

Tedros, who has repeatedly urged countries affected to share their data, called for global “solidarity”.

“That is especially true in relation to the sharing of samples and sequences. To defeat this outbreak, we need open and equitable sharing, according to the principles of fairness and equity,” he said.

“We hope that one of the outcomes of this meeting will be an agreed roadmap for research around which researchers and donors will align,” Tedros said.

Several companies and institutes in Australia, China, France, Germany and the United States are racing to develop a vaccine — a process that normally takes years.

Asked whether scientists from Taiwan would be allowed to take part in this week’s Geneva conference, WHO officials said that they would do so but only online — along with colleagues from other parts of China.

While the WHO does not deal with Taiwan directly and only recognises Beijing, Taiwan was often allowed to attend annual assemblies and sideline meetings as an observer.

But in recent years it has been frozen out as Beijing takes an increasingly combative stance towards democratic Taiwan, which it considers its own territory.

AFP

Half-A-Million Insect Species Face Extinction – Scientists

A locust vendor shows a bag full of edible insects at a market in Al-Rai, northwest of Kuwait City on January 25, 2020. AFP

 

Half of the one million animal and plant species on Earth facing extinction are insects, and their disappearance could be catastrophic for humankind, scientists have said in a “warning to humanity”.

“The current insect extinction crisis is deeply worrying,” said Pedro Cardoso, a biologist at the Finnish Museum of Natural History and lead author of a review study published Monday.

“Yet, what we know is only the tip of the iceberg,” he told AFP.

The disappearance of bugs that fly, crawl, burrow, jump and walk on water is part of a gathering mass extinction event, only the sixth in the last half-billion years.

The last one was 66 million years ago when an errant space rock wiped out land-based dinosaurs and most other life forms.

This time we are to blame.

“Human activity is responsible for almost all insect population declines and extinctions,” Cardoso told AFP.

The main drivers are dwindling and degraded habitat, followed by pollutants — especially insecticides — and invasive species.

Over-exploitation — more than 2,000 species of insects are part of the human diet — and climate change is also taking a toll.

The decline of butterflies, beetles, ants, bees, wasps, flies, crickets and dragonflies has consequences far beyond their own demise.

“With insect extinction, we lose much more than species,” Cardoso said.

“Many insect species are vital providers of services that are irreplaceable,” including pollination, nutrient cycling and pest control.

Biodiversity ‘hotspots’ 

These “ecosystem services” are worth $57 billion (52 billion euros) a year in the United States alone, earlier research has found.

Globally, crops that require insect pollination have an economic value of at least $235-577 billion annually, according to the UN biodiversity science panel, known as IPBES.

Many animals rely on abundant insects to survive.

A sharp drop in bird numbers across Europe and the United States, for example, has been linked to the collapse of insect populations decimated by pesticide use.

Scientists estimate the number of insect species at about 5.5 million. Only a fifth of them has been identified and named.

“The number of threatened and extinct insect species is woefully underestimated because so many are rare or undescribed,” Cardoso said.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species has evaluated only some 8,400 species of insects out of one million known to exist.

Five to 10 per cent of all insect species have died out since the industrial era kicked into high gear some 200 years ago.

Half of the indigenous species of plants and vertebrates are found exclusively in some three dozen biodiversity “hotspots” that cover on 2.5 per cent of Earth surface.

“These hotspots likely harbour a similar percentage of endemic insect species,” said the study titled “Scientists’ warning to humanity on insect extinctions,” published in Conservation Biology.

A quarter-century ago conservation scientists issued a “Warning to Humanity” about the collapse of Nature. In 2017, they issued a second warning, signed by 15,000 scientists.

The new study, titled “Scientists’ warning to humanity on insect extinctions”, was published in the journal Conservation Biology.

AFP

Scientists Successfully Train Rodents To Drive Tiny Cars

These images courtesy of the University of Richmond shows a lab rat driving the “RatCar” on October 1, 2019, in Richmond, Virginia. Scientists have reported successfully training the rodents to drive tiny cars in exchange for tasty bits of Froot Loops cereal, and found that learning the task lowered their stress levels. PHOTO / University of Richmond / AFP

 

Sometimes life really can be a rat race.

US scientists have reported successfully training a group of rodents to drive tiny cars in exchange for bits of Froot Loops cereal and found that learning the task lowered their stress levels.

Their study not only demonstrates how sophisticated rat brains are, but could one day help in developing new non-pharmaceutical forms of treatment for mental illness, senior author Kelly Lambert of the University of Richmond told AFP on Wednesday.

Lambert said she had long been interested in neuroplasticity — how the brain changes in response to experience and challenges — and particularly wanted to explore how well rats that were housed in more natural settings (“enriched environments”) performed against those kept in labs.

She and colleagues modified a robot car kit by adding a clear plastic food container to form a driver compartment with an aluminum plate placed on the bottom.

A copper wire was threaded horizontally across the cab to form three bars: left, center and right.

When a rat placed itself on the aluminum floor and touched the wire, the circuit was complete and the car moved in the direction selected.

Seventeen rats were trained over several months to drive around an arena 150 centimeters by 60 centimeters made of plexiglass.

Writing in the journal Behavioural Brain Research, the researchers said the animals could indeed be taught to drive forward as well as steer in more complex navigational patterns.

As she had suspected, Lambert found that the animals kept in stimuli-rich environments performed far better than their lab rat counterparts, but “it was actually quite shocking to me that they were so much better,” she said.

The rats’ feces was collected after their trials to test for the stress hormone corticosterone as well as dehydroepiandrosterone, which counters stress.

All rats that underwent training had higher levels dehydroepiandrosterone, indicating a more relaxed state, which could be linked to the satisfaction of gaining mastery over a new skill, referred to as “self-efficacy” or “agency” in humans.

What’s more, rats that drove themselves showed higher levels of dehydroepiandrosterone as compared to those who were merely passengers when a human-controlled vehicle, meaning they were less stressed — something that will be familiar to nervous backseat drivers.

The biggest takeaway for Lambert was the potential for new avenues of treatment the work opened up for people suffering from mental health conditions.

“There’s no cure for schizophrenia or depression,” she said. “And we need to catch up, and I think we need to look at different animal models and different types of tasks and really respect that behavior can change our neurochemistry.”

AFP

Scientists Reproduce Coral In Laboratory

Pillar corals in a water tank at the labs of The Florida Aquarium Conservation Center in Apollo Beach where recently the spawning occurred on August 22, 2019, in Apollo Beach, Florida. PHOTO: GIANRIGO MARLETTA / AFP

 

A team of scientists in the US has reproduced coral in a laboratory setting for the first time ever, an encouraging step in the race to save “America’s Great Barrier Reef” off the coast of Florida.

The researchers from Florida Aquarium’s Center for Conservation were able to reproduce endangered Atlantic Pillar coral through induced spawning, a development that could ultimately prevent the extinction of the Florida Reef tract.

“This amazing breakthrough was the first time that we spawned Atlantic corals in a laboratory setting that we’ve had for over a year in our greenhouses,” Amber Whittle, the aquarium’s director for conservation, told AFP Monday.

“It’s been done before at the Horniman Museum in London with Pacific corals, never with Atlantic corals, and the Pillar coral that we spawned is a highly endangered species.”

The Florida Aquarium and the Horniman Museum began working together in 2015 on induced reproduction techniques.

Reproduction was achieved by mimicking the conditions of the corals’ natural environment, including sunrises, sunsets, moon phases, water temperature and quality.

Florida’s corals are deteriorating rapidly due to climate change and a destructive tissue disease that appeared in the waters of the southeastern state in 2014.

Scientists hope to reproduce healthy corals and repopulate the reefs through this technique.

AFP

Scientists Adopt New Definition For Kilogram

 

How we measure the world underwent a quantum leap on Monday as scientists adopted new hyper-accurate definitions for units of weight, electricity, and temperature derived from the universal laws of nature.

The change, on the occasion of World Metrology Day, sees one of science’s most influential objects — a metal cylinder used to define what a kilogram is — retired in favour of an infinitely more precise measurement taken from a quantum ratio.

“Le Grand K”, as the platinum-iridium object is known, stood as the world’s benchmark of the kilogram for nearly 130 years before a decision was taken in November to bring several units of measurement into the 21st century.

“The kilogram is the last unit of measurement based on a physical object,” Thomas Grenon, director of France’s National Laboratory of Metrology and Testing, said after the decision last year.

“The problem is that it’s had a life, it could fluctuate. That’s not good enough, given the level of precision we need today.”

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Instead of relating to the mass of a singular physical object, the kilogram will now be defined in terms of the Planck constant — the ratio of a frequency of light, on the one hand, to the quantum energy of that frequency, on the other.

Put another way,  it is 6.626 x 10-34 joule seconds.

Energy is intrinsically linked to mass, as Einstein demonstrated with his equation E = mc squared.

The Planck constant, combined with two quantum phenomena that allow for the creation of electrical power, can be used to calculate mass based on the equivalent mechanical power needed to displace it.

Proponents of this approach say it will be at least one million times more stable than physical artefacts and will have a range of practical applications, from pharmaceutical measurements to scientific research.

Monday also saw new definitions adopted for the ampere — the rate of electrical current flow; the Kelvin — the base unit of temperature; and the mole — the unit measuring the amount of a given substance.

While changing how we define fundamental units might sound like a weighty affair, the BIPM, the Paris-based international custodian of measurement systems, said much care had been taken to ensure the shift will have “no perceptible impact on daily life.”

“Few users outside national metrology laboratories will notice the changes,” it said.

AFP

Scientists Develop Device To Detect Bacteria In Minutes, Not Days

(Photo: VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images)

 

The era of doctors prescribing patients powerful antibiotics while they wait for lab reports could soon be numbered, with a new device returning results within minutes instead of days.

It was invented by a team at Penn State university and described in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday.

Co-developed by Pak Kin Wong, a professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering, the device uses microtechnology to trap single bacteria cells that can then be viewed under an electron microscope.

The approach allows clinicians to determine in as little as 30 minutes whether bacteria is present and its susceptibility to drug treatment — as opposed to the three-to-five days such lab work currently takes.

“We currently prescribe antibiotics even when there is no bacteria present,” Wong told AFP.

“That is over prescription. That is one of things we tried to express. Can we quickly determine the existence of bacterial infection?”

The researchers’ paper said that in addition to being able to detect whether bacteria is present, the device can begin to classify the type by determining whether the cells are spherical, rod-shaped, or spiral.

“This device determines existence but not what type of bacteria it is,” said Wong. “What we’re working on is a complementary molecular approach such that we can ID the species.”

And after finding bacteria is present, the sample is exposed to antibiotics to determine whether the strain is resistant, in which case antibiotic intervention would prove ineffective.

“Urinary tract infections are the most common bacterial infections,” said Wong.

“However, over 75 percent of urine specimens sent to a clinical microbiology laboratory are negative. Rapidly ruling out or confirming the presence of bacteria at a clinically relevant concentration will dramatically enhance patient care.”

He added that the team had applied for a provisional patent and could bring their device, which they hope to scale down in size so that it can be used in hospitals and doctors’ offices, to market in three years’ time.

AFP

Scientists Unearth 220 Million-Year-Old Dinosaur Fossils

Argentina Foreign Minister Malcorra Resigns

 

A site containing the 220-million-year-old fossilised remains of nearly a dozen dinosaurs has been discovered in western Argentina, researchers said Wednesday.

“There are almost ten different individuals, it’s a mass of bones, there’s practically no sediment,” said Argentinian palaeontologist Ricardo Martinez.

“It’s very impressive.”

According to Martinez, of the University of San Juan, the fossils are approximately 220 million years old, belonging to “an era of which we know little”.

“This discovery is doubly important because there are at least seven or eight individuals of dicynodonts, the ancestors of mammals, the size of an ox,” he said.

He said there were also remains of archosaurs, reptiles that could be the ancestors of great crocodiles “that we do not know about yet”.

READ ALSO: Americans Await Bombshell Mueller Report

The find was discovered in September last year in San Juan province, about 1,100 kilometres (680 miles) west of Buenos Aires.

The site is between one and two metres (yards) in diameter and about the same depth, leading scientists to speculate it was a former drinking hole at a time of great drought, and the creatures died of weakness at the spot.

Argentina has been a rich source of fossils from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous eras over the years — most, of creatures not found in the northern hemisphere.

AFP

Scientists Unveil ‘First’ 3D Print Of Heart With Human Tissue, Vessels

Scientists in Israel on Monday unveiled a 3D print of a heart with human tissue and vessels, calling it a first and a “major medical breakthrough” / AFP

 

Scientists in Israel unveiled a 3D print of a heart with human tissue and vessels on Monday, calling it a first and a “major medical breakthrough” that advances possibilities for transplants.

The heart, about the size of a rabbit’s, marked “the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers,” said Tel Aviv University’s Tal Dvir, who led the project.

READ ALSO: Malaysia Revived China Railway To Avoid $5 Bn Penalty – PM

“People have managed to 3D-print the structure of a heart in the past, but not with cells or with blood vessels,” he said.

But the scientists said many challenges remain before fully working 3D printed hearts will be available for transplant into patients.

Journalists were shown a 3D print of a heart about the size of a cherry at Tel Aviv University on Monday as the researchers announced their findings, published in the journal Advanced Science.

Researchers must now teach the printed hearts “to behave” like real ones. Then they plan to transplant them into animal models, said Dvir.

“Maybe, in 10 years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely,” he said.

But he said hospitals would likely start with simpler organs than hearts.

Scientists Detail Full Genome Of Wheat For The First Time

In a breakthrough that experts say will help feed the growing global population in the coming decades, scientists Thursday revealed they have cracked the full genome of wheat for the first time.

Wheat feeds more than a third of the global human population, providing more protein than meat in the human diet and making about one-fifth of calories consumed by people.

But it is harder to grow in hot, dry weather, and these challenging conditions are expected to intensify as the planet warms due to climate change.

Experts say the world needs more disease-resistant varieties and breeds that can grow with less water in a warmer environment.

“This will greatly speed up our efforts on identification of agriculturally important wheat genes, including those that would help to combat major fungal diseases,” said Kostya Kanyuka a functional genomics scientist at Rothamsted Research.

“This will also be hugely and immediately beneficial for wheat breeders, accelerating development of new elite varieties.”

Mapping a comprehensive wheat genome was an “immense challenge” that took 13 years, because bread wheat contains five times more genes than a human, said the report in the journal Science.

The type of wheat detailed by 200 scientists from 20 countries is Chinese Spring (Triticum aestivum) a variety of bread wheat which is the world’s most widely cultivated crop, said the study led by the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC).

“Wheat productivity needs to increase by 1.6 percent a year to meet the demands of a projected world population of 9.6 billion by 2050,” said the report.

The wheat genome contains 107,891 genes, and its complex genome contains 16 billion base pairs, which are the building blocks of DNA.

Humans, by contrast, have about 20,000 genes and three billion base pairs.

Scientists Create Embryos, Hope To Save Near-Extinct Rhino

A female black rhinoceros one of three about to the translocated, stands in a transport crate, in Nairobi National Park, on June 26, 2018. PHOTO: TONY KARUMBA / AFP

 

Months after the death of Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhino, scientists said on Wednesday that they have grown embryos containing DNA of his kind, hoping to save the subspecies from extinction.

With only two northern white rhino (NWR) known to be alive today — both infertile females — the team hopes their breakthrough technique will lead to the re-establishment of a viable NWR breeding population.

“Our goal is to have in three years the first NWR calf born,” Thomas Hildebrandt, head of reproduction management at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, told journalists of the work.

“Taking into account 16 months (of) pregnancy, we have a little more than a year to have a successful implantation.”

The team’s work, using a recently-patented, two-metre (6.6-foot) egg extraction device, resulted in the first-ever test tube-produced rhino embryos.

Now frozen, these “have a very high chance to establish a pregnancy once implanted into a surrogate mother,” said Hildebrandt.

The hybrid embryos were created with frozen sperm from dead NWR males and the eggs of southern white rhino (SWR) females, of which there are thousands left on Earth.

The eggs were harvested from rhinos in European zoos.

The team now hopes to use the technique to collect eggs from the last two northern white rhinos — Najin and Fatu, the daughter and granddaughter of Sudan. They live in a Kenyan national park.

Risk and reward

By fertilising these with northern white rhino sperm and implanting the resulting embryos in surrogate southern white rhino females, the team intends to create a new, fledgling NWR population.

“Our results indicate that ART (assisted reproduction techniques) could be a viable strategy to rescue genes from the iconic, almost extinct, northern white rhinoceros,” the team wrote in the journal Nature Communications.

The researchers have sought permission to harvest eggs from Najin and Fatu in Kenya, hopefully before the end of the year.

But the procedure is not without risk: “we have to do a full anaesthesia, the animal is down for two hours, and it is quite a risky situation” for the last two of their kind, conceded Hildebrandt.

“We are highly afraid something unexpected would happen, that would be a nightmare.”

In the meantime, the team will practice, implanting some of their hybrid embryos into SWR surrogates “to test the system”.

Any hybrids born as a result may play a crucial future role as surrogates, sharing more genes with northern rhinos than purely southern surrogates.

There is, however, a key obstacle to the team’s envisaged NWR repopulation.

With only two NWR females left and all the available semen from only four dead males, ART alone would likely lead to a population without the genetic diversity required for a species to thrive.

Can it work?

To this end, the researchers hope to use stem cell technology to engineer eggs and sperm from the frozen skin cells of 12 dead northern white rhinos, unrelated to one another.

“This would enlarge the founding diversity of the future NWR population substantially,” the team said in a statement.

There is time pressure, they pointed out, with only two animals still around to socialise the babies in the mysterious ways of northern white rhinos.

“It is a motivating aspect to succeed as soon a possible so the calf that we produce can grow up with Najin and Fatu,” said Hildebrandt.

Terri Roth and William Swanson of the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, in a comment on the study, said ART alone cannot save a species from extinction.

“Impressive results in a Petri dish don’t easily translate into a herd of healthy offspring,” wrote the duo, not involved in the research.

“Achieving the latter requires navigating an untrodden path fraught with obstacles, and it remains unlikely that a viable population of northern white rhinos will be restored.”

For the researchers, however, a combination of ART and stem cell techniques, could “provide a blueprint on how to save highly endangered species that have already dwindled to numbers that make conventional conservation efforts impossible.”

AFP