The future has arrived

Frozen semen may be the key to saving endangered species

July 28, 2014
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What if there were a way to keep endangered species from going extinct?

That's the hope of a new project at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va. Researchers at the institute are putting information about animals threatened by extinction in a "stud book" and chronicling their lives from birth in order to gain as much insight as possible into each animal's family tree.

"We analyze the... birth rate and death rate to predict how many offspring they'll have in a given year," Sarah Long, director of the Population Management Center at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, told The Washington Post. "We need to plan for that and produce more births. We do the family tree to determine who should mate with whom to avoid inbreeding."

The Washington Post reports that zoos face three core challenges with their animals: maintaining populations without allowing inbreeding, replacing animals without diminishing the population in the wild, and replenishing the hundreds of species of threatened and endangered animals that are disappearing. To combat these challenges, more than 400 biologists and researchers are dedicated to completing the stud books.

In addition to encouraging animals to breed naturally, zoos are attempting to freeze animal semen to be used as many as 10 years later. The Post reports that in some cases, scientists have even taken semen samples from the animals after their deaths. The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute is currently studying and breeding 22 animal species, from the Mongolian Przewalski's horse to the American black-footed ferret.

Barbara Durrant, a reproductive physiologist at the Frozen Zoo of semen and biological material at the San Diego Zoo, told the Post that the research is "correcting what human interference has caused" in the animal kingdom.

royals

Australia's knighting of Prince Philip not without controversy

3:48am ET
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Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott is defending his decision to make Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, an Australian knight.

"The monarchy has been an important part of Australia's life since 1788," he said. "And Prince Philip has been a great servant of Australia. He's been a great servant of all the countries of the Commonwealth. Here in this country, he's the patron of hundreds of organizations." Abbott reinstated the knights and dames division of the Order of Australia in 2014, after receiving approval from the Queen, The Associated Press reports.

In a move that angered critics, Abbott made the announcement on Monday, which happens to be Australia's national holiday. "It's a time warp where we're giving knighthoods to English royalty," Opposition Leader Bill Shorten Shorten told Fairfax Radio. "On Australia Day, we're talking about Australia, Australian identity. The government's managed to find a British royal to give a medal to, a knighthood to."

Greece votes

Euro sinks to 11-year low after Syriza victory in Greece

2:54am ET

The leftist, anti-austerity Syriza party could take control of Greece as soon as Wednesday, if Prime Minister–designate Alexis Tsipras is sworn in on Monday and his government is quickly approved by the newly elected parliament. Investors aren't thrilled with Syriza's decisive win in Sunday's snap election.

Tsipras' pledge to renegotiate Greece's sovereign debt, cancel bailout-mandated austerity measures, and perhaps eventually pull Greece out of the euro currency sent the euro tumbling to $1.1098, its lowest level since September 2003. Stock futures also dropped on news of the Syriza's big win. Some analysts say the market fears are misplaced, arguing that Tsipras is unlikely to drop the euro and other European governments have greatly reduced their exposure to Greek debt since 2012, lowering the risk of contagion.

Watch Tsipras celebrate, and outgoing Prime Minister Antonis Samaras warn him not to wreck the economy, below. —Peter Weber

everywhere you look

Full House cast reunites, sings theme song together

2:44am ET

Oh Mylanta and have mercy! The cast of Full House gave their fans a huge treat on Saturday when they sang the theme song to the '90s classic together during a performance worthy of the Smash Club.

The gang — minus the Olsen twins, Dave Coulier, the ghost of Comet, and all of the Rippers — was joined onstage by the tune's original singer, Jesse Franklin, and although they stumbled over some of the words, the enthusiasm more than made up for it. The crew was out celebrating the birthday of show creator Jeff Franklin, but let's all hope that was just a ruse, and they were actually meeting to go over the script for a sanctioned Full House reunion. — Catherine Garcia

Small Earthquakes

New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver agrees to temporarily step aside

1:32am ET
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For the first time since 1994, Sheldon Silver won't be in the role of speaker of the New York State Assembly — if his fellow Democrats approve his new shift-of-power proposal in a meeting on Monday. Late Sunday, Silver agreed to temporarily give up his speaker duties while he fights federal corruption charges. Instead of handing over power to one person, though, he would split his duties among a handful of senior Democratic colleagues.

Silver would "not specifically step down, but step back," an unidentified person "briefed on the situation" tells The New York Times. Federal prosecutors accuse Silver, 70, of trying to disguise $4 million in payments he obtained by abusing his authority; Silver denies the charges.

Awards Show Roundup

Birdman, Eddie Redmayne, Julianne Moore receive top honors at the SAG Awards

12:47am ET
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Birdman, Eddie Redmayne, and Julianne Moore were among the big winners Sunday night at the 21st Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Birdman's Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, and Amy Ryan shared the Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture award, while Redmayne received the Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role award for his turn as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything and Moore took home the Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role award for her work as Alice Howland in Still Alice.

Supporting honors went to J.K. Simmons for Whiplash and Patricia Arquette for Boyhood. On the television side, Kevin Spacey won for male actor in a drama series for House of Cards and Viola Davis won for female actor in a drama series for How to Get Away with Murder, while William H. Macy received the male actor in a comedy series award for Shameless and Uzo Aduba the female actor in a comedy series award for Orange is the New Black. For a full list of winners, visit the Los Angeles Times.

The Last Frontier

White House announces proposal to protect pristine habitat in Alaska

12:16am ET
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On Sunday, the White House announced that President Obama will ask Congress to classify 12 million acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska as wilderness, which would forbid drilling for oil and gas and the construction of roads on the land.

The refuge covers 19 million acres, and is home to polar bears, gray wolves, musk oxen, and caribou. "This is a big deal," Gene Karpinski, president of The League of Conservation Voters, told The New York Times. "Big oil has long wanted to get its hands on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. ... We wholeheartedly agree and celebrate this announcement by the Obama administration."

The proposal is already receiving opposition from several Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who called the proposal "a stunning attack on our sovereignty" and vowed to "fight back with every resource at our disposal." Since the refuge was created in 1980, lawmakers in Alaska have tried to open the area for drilling and development, the Times reports.

weird science

Residents uneasy over genetically modified mosquitoes being released in Florida

January 25, 2015
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Scientists say that by releasing millions of genetically modified male mosquitoes into the Florida Keys, they could slow down the spread of dengue and chikungunya, but area residents aren't very enthusiastic about the plan.

The male mosquitoes have been engineered by the British biotech firm Oxitec to produce offspring that quickly die off; if the female mating partners only produce these doomed larvae, there will be fewer mosquitos and fewer cases of the painful virusus they carry. "This is essentially using a mosquito as a drug to cure disease," Michael Doyle, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, told The Associated Press.

Mosquito controllers say they are running out of ways to kill the Aedes aegypti, which has evolved to resist several insecticides. Since the Keys haven't had a dengue outbreak in years or a chikungunya case ever, however, residents aren't quick to welcome the genetically modified mosquitoes. "If I knew that this was a real risk and lives could be saved, that would make sense," Key Haven resident Marilyn Smith told AP. "But there are no problems...why are we being used as the experiment, the guinea pigs, just to see what happens?" So far, more than 130,000 people have signed a Change.org petition against the release of the mosquitoes.

John Oliver gets excited

John Oliver tamely, passionately auditions for 50 Shades of Grey

January 25, 2015

John Oliver's hashtag #NotMyChristian sounds pretty political/religious, but it isn't. In an online Last Week Tonight video Sunday night, Oliver ardently protests the casting of Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the film adaptation of the erotic E.L. James novel Fifty Shades of Grey, then sort of apologizes for the anti-Dornan hashtag, then films his own audition tape for the already completed movie (or at least its sequel). Steamy? Well, let's just put it this way: Except for one word, you'd be as safe watching it at work as any other non-work video. —Peter Weber

Foreign affairs

At least 18 killed in protests marking the anniversary of Egypt's uprising

January 25, 2015

Over the weekend at least 18 people were killed during protests to mark Sunday's anniversary of the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

At least 17 of the fatalities were on Sunday, in several clashes that also saw at least 35 people wounded. Activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, 32, died of internal bleeding after being shot on Saturday when police broke up a demonstration in Cairo, NBC News reports. Her fellow demonstrators blame al-Sabbagh's death on the police, and Egypt's Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb said in a statement an impartial investigation would take place to determine who killed the activist.

This just in

2 planes in Seattle evacuated due to 'security concerns'

January 25, 2015
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Late Sunday afternoon, two planes were evacuated once they landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport over what a Sea-Tac spokesman called a "security concern."

Upon arrival, passengers on a JetBlue flight from Long Beach, California, and a regional SkyWest jet from Phoenix were bused to their gates "out of an abundance of caution," The Associated Press reports, and an investigation is underway. On Sunday afternoon, a Delta Air Lines flight from Los Angeles to Orlando was diverted to Dallas also due to a "security concern," a Delta spokesperson said. Passengers were removed from that flight and authorities are examining the airplane.

Authorities have not said if these cases are linked to bomb threats made Saturday that targeted two airplanes heading to Atlanta, AP says.

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