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Cyclone barrels towards Australia’s west coast with damaging winds
8 February 2020, 4:41 AM

Western Australia was lashed by destructive winds on Saturday as a tropical cyclone neared landfall while much of the bush fire-battered east coast faced flood warnings due to heavy rain.Severe tropical cyclone Damien was expected to make landfall on the west coast near Port Hedland, the world’s largest iron ore port, on Saturday afternoon.

Operations at ports in the region were suspended.

At 10 a.m. AWST (0200 GMT), Damien was a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 150 kilometres per hour (93 miles per hour) and gusts of 205 kph (127 mph), the Bureau of Meteorology in Western Australia.

Residents of some coastal areas were urged to seek shelter.

“Very destructive winds, very heavy rainfall and storm surge are expected as Damien crosses the coast near Dampier early this afternoon,” the agency said on Twitter.

Sparsely populated Western Australia was also facing several severe fire warnings with hot temperatures expected in most of the state.

After months of destructive wildfires that have razed millions of hectares of land, Australia has been hit in recent weeks by wild weather that has brought heavy downpours, hail storms and a heat wave.

New South Wales, an east coast state where nearly a third of Australia’s population lives, saw some areas drenched by the heaviest rainfall in almost 20 years, with severe weather and flash flood warnings.

There were still more than 40 active fires in New South Wales on Saturday, half of them yet to be contained, but fire services said the downpours, which are expected to continue into next week, may dampen them.

Day, Mickelson close in on leader Taylor at Pebble Beach
8 February 2020, 4:14 AM

Australian Jason Day and defending champion Phil Mickelson put the pressure on leader Nick Taylor with sizzling play but could not catch the Canadian in a low-scoring second round at Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Friday.

Taylor, with a six-under 66, wound up with a two-stroke lead over Day (64) and a three-shot margin over five-times champion Mickelson (65), whose bogey at the last at Monterey Peninsula disrupted his run for the low round of the day.

Taylor, world number 229, pushed home with birdies at four of the final five holes at Pebble Beach to stay at the top of the leader board at 14-under 129 after an opening 63.

“Made a bogey at 12. After that I gave myself some chances and I made a lot of them,” said the Canadian who collected seven birdies, four of them from the 14th hole on, in another pleasing round.

Day, also playing Pebble Beach, grabbed his sixth birdie of the day at the last for his superb round. He also had an eagle at the par five 14th in seeking his first win in nearly two years.

“I was very pleased with how I drove the ball,” said the Australian world number 46. “Obviously some of the iron shots were nice and I kind of lit it up on the putting green.”

He started the round with three birdies in six holes and added three more after the turn.

“I felt like you could kind of get off at Pebble today with the kind of benign conditions that we had for the good part of 15 holes. Then that wind kind of picked up,” Day said.

Mickelson, playing the back nine at Monterey first, punched new excitement into the round with four consecutive birdies to start his incoming nine to go eight-under.

But the 49-year left-hander who still needs to qualify for the US Open could not find another birdie in the final five holes.

He had made the turn at four-under after three birdies and an eagle that were offset by a bogey at the 15th.

Chris Baker, like Day, shot an eight-under 64 while playing Pebble Beach to tie South African Charl Schwartzel (66) at 10-under.

A bogey at his last, the par-four ninth, spoiled Baker’s big round which included five birdies on his front nine, two more to start his inward nine and an eagle at the sixth hole, his 15rh.

Dustin Johnson (65 at Monterey Peninsula) and Scott Piercy (65 at Pebble Beach) also were within striking distance at nine-under.

The bitter end: Last woolly mammoths plagued by genetic defects
8 February 2020, 3:35 AM

The world’s last woolly mammoths, sequestered on an Arctic Ocean island outpost, suffered from serious genetic defects caused by generations of inbreeding that may have hampered traits such as sense of smell and male fertility in the doomed population.

Scientists said on Friday that the genome of one of the last mammoths from Wrangel Island off Siberia’s coast showed that the population was riddled with deleterious mutations. They resurrected genes from this mammoth in the laboratory to find clues about the demise of this illustrious Ice Age species.

Most woolly mammoths went extinct roughly 10,000 years ago amid a warming climate and widespread human hunting. But isolated populations survived for thousands of years after that on St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea and Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean. The Wrangel Island population was the last, disappearing roughly 4,000 years ago.

The researchers compared the Wrangel Island mammoth’s DNA to that of two older mammoths as well three Asian elephants, a close relative. They pinpointed a collection of genetic mutations in the Wrangel Island mammoth and synthesized these genes in the laboratory to test their functionality.

They found problems with genes responsible for sperm production, smell, neurological development and a function involving the hormone insulin that is responsible for permitting glucose in the blood to enter cells to give them energy.

“We can activate those genes in the lab using cell culture and test whether they are functional or not. In this case not,” said evolutionary biologist Vincent Lynch of the University at Buffalo in New York, who led the study published in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution.

“Mutations happen all the time. But the population that lived on Wrangel was very small and inbred, which leads to an accumulation of mutations that are normally purged by evolution,” Lynch added.

The sperm production-related mutations may have reduced fertility in an already shrinking population. The olfactory mutations may have harmed the ability to forage and to even smell the flowers that made up an important part of their diet.

“Mammoths ate a lot of flowers,” Lynch said.

The woolly mammoth, about the size of today’s elephants but possessing long brown fur and immense tusks, first appeared about 700,000 years ago in Siberia, expanding through northern Eurasia and North America.

The Wrangel Island mammoth genome was previously mapped using well-preserved DNA from a 4,300-year-old molar. The new study built on previous research pointing to harmful mutations in the Wrangel Island mammoth.

With a population of just a few hundred, generations of mating between related individuals – inbreeding – triggered harmful mutations.

“It is indeed a sad thing,” Lynch said. “Mammoths were literally huge and globally distributed, and this massive range was reduced to a tiny island in the Arctic Ocean before their extinction. It should be a warning about the consequences of climate change.”

Twitter says Facebook, Messenger accounts hacked
8 February 2020, 3:10 AM

Twitter confirmed on Friday that the official Twitter accounts of social media giant Facebook Inc and its Messenger platform were hacked.

A Twitter spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the accounts were hacked through a third-party platform.

“As soon as we were made aware of the issue, we locked the compromised accounts and are working closely with our partner sat Facebook to restore them,” the Twitter spokesperson said.

The account of Twitter Inc Chief Executive Jack Dorsey was hacked in August, allowing an unauthorized person to send public tweets including racial slurs and curse words to his 4 million followers before Twitter secured the account.

 

 

White House dismisses idea of US buying Nokia, Ericsson to challenge Huawei
8 February 2020, 2:46 AM

US Vice President Mike Pence on Friday and the top White House economic adviser dismissed an unusual suggestion from US Attorney General William Barr that the United States consider taking control of two major foreign rivals of China-based Huawei Technologies Co Ltd.

Barr, a former general counsel at Verizon Communications Inc, said on Thursday the United States and its allies should consider taking a “controlling stake” in Finland’s Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson to counter Huawei’s dominance in next-generation 5G wireless technology.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow added later on Friday that the United States was working closely with Nokia and Ericsson, saying the companies’ equipment was essential to the build out of 5G infrastructure.

But he said the “US government is not in the business of buying companies, whether they’re domestic or foreign,” adding that “there’s nothing to prohibit American tech companies from acquiring” them.

Pence earlier in the day had suggested an alternative approach when asked by CNBC for his response.

“Great respect to Attorney General Barr, but we believe the best way forward is what Ajit Pai announced just over the last several days,” Pence said, referring to the Federal Communications Commission’s chairman’s efforts to free up more spectrum for 5G wireless use.

“That’s the plan the president has endorsed and will be carrying forward,” Pence said, adding that the United States can expand 5G “by using the power of the free market and American companies.”

The White House, and representatives for Barr and Pai all declined to comment.

Shares in Nokia closed 4% higher on the New York Stock Exchange and Ericsson shares were up nearly 5.4% on Nasdaq. Both companies declined to comment.

Nokia and Ericsson have a combined market capitalization of about $53 billion and it is unclear what source of funds the US government could potentially tap to take stakes in the firms or if foreign regulators would approve.

In a remarkable statement underscoring how far the United States may be willing to go to counter Huawei, Barr on Thursday disclosed proposals “by the United States aligning itself with Nokia and/or Ericsson.”

Barr said the alignment could take place “through American ownership of a controlling stake, either directly or through a consortium of private American and allied companies.”

Barr said that “putting our large market and financial muscle behind one or both of these firms would make it a far more formidable competitor and eliminate concerns over its staying power, or their staying power.”

“We and our closest allies certainly need to be actively considering this approach,” he added.

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