Tag Archives: ireland

Ireland’s first-ever dinosaur fossils confirmed

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth, Queen’s University Belfast, and National Museums Northern Ireland (NI) report on a first-ever for the island — the first-ever dinosaur bones to be discovered in Ireland.

Proximal fragment of left femur of Scelidosaurus. Image credits Michael Simms, et al., (2020), Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association.

The two fossils were discovered by Roger Byrne, a late fossil collector and schoolteacher, who donated them (among many other specimens he’s gathered) to Ulster Museum. Researchers were able to confirm that they hail from the early Jurassic, based on where they were discovered — rocks in Islandmagee, on the east coast of Northern Ireland.

Locally-sourced

“This is a hugely significant discovery. The great rarity of such fossils here is because most of Ireland’s rocks are the wrong age for dinosaurs, either too old or too young, making it nearly impossible to confirm dinosaurs existed on these shores,” explains Dr. Simms, National Museums NI, first author of the study. “The two dinosaur fossils that Roger Byrne found were perhaps swept out to sea, alive or dead, sinking to the Jurassic seabed where they were buried and fossilized.”

The only dinosaur bones ever found on the island of Ireland have been formally confirmed for the first time by a team of experts from the University of Portsmouth and Queen’s University Belfast, led by Dr. Mike Simms, a curator and paleontologist at National Museums NI.

Initially, the two fossils were believed to have belonged to the same animal. However, the authors report that they, in fact, belonged to two completely different dinos. One of them, a femur, belonged to a plant-eating species, Scelidosaurus. The other one was a tibia from a theropod, a two-legged predatory dinosaur similar to Sarcosaurus. The team identified their origin starting from high-resolution 3D models of the bone fragments.

. Proximal fragment of left tibia of megalosauroid theropod. Image credits Michael Simms, et al., (2020), Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association.

“Analyzing the shape and internal structure of the bones, we realized that they belonged to two very different animals. One is very dense and robust, typical of an armored plant-eater” says co-author Robert Smyth from the University of Portsmouth. “The other is slender, with thin bone walls and characteristics found only in fast-moving two-legged predatory dinosaurs called theropods”.

Although the specimens aren’t in ideal shape — they are, after all, broken into pieces, they still carry a huge paleontological weight. Not only were they discovered in Ireland, filling a gap in our understanding, but they also hail from an important time in the history of the dinosaurs. During the early Jurassic, about 200 million years ago, dinosaurs were poised to take the crown of the dominant terrestrial lineage and start dominating land ecosystems.

The paper “First dinosaur remains from Ireland” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association.

Ireland sees day of hope with no new COVID-19 deaths

While the neighboring United Kingdom struggles to tackle the virus, Ireland celebrated yesterday some good news amid the coronavirus pandemic – the country reported no deaths due to the virus for the first since March and only 59 new positive cases.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. Credit Flickr

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said it was a “day of hope” and described it as a “significant milestone” for the country. “First day with no reported #CoVid19 deaths since March 21st. This is a day of hope. We will prevail,” he wrote in his Twitter account.

For the country’s chief medical officer Dr. Tony Holohan the declining number of new cases and reported deaths shows Ireland has “suppressed” COVID-19. Nevertheless, he said no new deaths being reported might be down to the weekend and delays in the reporting of fatalities

Holohan warned against “anticipatory behavior” from people moving ahead of advice and perceiving the risk of catching the virus to be lower. He said “it has taken strict measures to achieve this,” adding that in a week it will be clearer whether Ireland can move into a new phase of the lockdown.

The Irish government gave the green light this month to the first wave of relaxations of the lockdown, allowing people of up to four persons not from the same household to meet outdoors while maintaining strict social distancing. The second phase is earmarked for June 8th.

Workers in Ireland such as hairdressers and restaurant owners have recently urged the two-meter social distancing rule to be halved so they can reopen quicker. Holohan said that the State’s National Public Health Emergency Team kept this “under constant review” but felt that two meters was “a reasonable compromise given where we are.”

The second of five phases will allow visits to households and see the reopening of libraries and small shops which can properly social distance. The final phase is set to begin on 10 August. Holohan said small clusters of cases could occur as restrictions are eased but that the country would be prepared.

“This is a highly transmissible virus. The fact that more cases might occur isn’t necessarily a sign that we haven’t succeeded in terms of applying our measures. I think we’d be a much better position to deal with that than we might have been in February had that occurred in that way,” Holohan said.

The 59 new positive cases of coronavirus reported in Ireland brought the total number of 24,698, with a death toll at 1,606. The success in limiting the spread of the virus contrasts with other European countries, including the UK – with the second-worst death toll in the world.

Last week, the UK registered 4,210 deaths involving Covid-19, bringing the total death toll to more than 47,000. Restrictions in the UK have been laxer than in Ireland, with no limits to open-air recreating. Meeting a person from another household is also authorized and non-essential shopping will soon be allowed.

Ireland’s Prime Minister to serve one medical shift a week

Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s Prime Minister, has rejoined the country’s medical registry in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic to help the country heal. He will work one medical shift a week for the Health Service Executive (HSE), a publicly-funded health service whose task is to “provide all of Ireland’s public health services in hospitals and communities across the country”.

Image credits MoneyConf / Flickr.

The current outbreak is placing a so-far-unequaled strain on health systems around the world. In the face of this viral onslaught, the HSE has asked all healthcare professionals who are not currently, actively working in the medical field to register and help the country heal.

Doctors in high places

Leo Varadkar, the country’s Prime Minister, studied medicine at Trinity College Dublin and spent several years as a non-consultant hospital doctor, eventually qualifying as a general practitioner in 2010 before his political career — and he has also answered the call for help.

The politician will work one medical shift a week for the HSE, a spokesperson for his office said on Sunday.

“Dr Varadkar rejoined the medical register last month,” the unnamed spokesperson told The Guardian. “He has offered his services to the HSE for one session a week in areas that are within his scope of practice. Many of his family and friends are working in the health service. He wanted to help out even in a small way.”

According to The Irish Times, the Prime Minister will be doing phone assessments rather than in-person consultations in keeping with current anti-outbreak measures. Unlike their neighbors in the UK, Ireland adopted early restrictions against the pandemic and they appear to have mitigated the worst of its effects, although a surge in cases is expected later this week, The Guardian concludes.

New bacteria strain.

Irish dirt might cure the world of (most) multi-drug-resistant bacteria

Irish soil might win us the fight against drug-resistant superbugs. Literally!

New bacteria strain.

Growth of the newly discovered Streptomyces sp. myrophorea. Although superficially resembling fungi, Streptomyces are true bacteria and are the source of two-thirds of the various frontline antibiotics used in medicine.
Image credits G Quinn / Swansea University

An international team of researchers based at the Swansea University Medical School, UK, reports finding a new strain of bacteria that can murder pathogens that our antibiotics increasingly cannot. The bacteria has been found in soil samples recovered from an area of Fermanagh, Northern Ireland.

Bad bugs get grounded

“This new strain of bacteria is effective against 4 of the top 6 pathogens that are resistant to antibiotics, including MRSA. Our discovery is an important step forward in the fight against antibiotic resistance,” says Professor Paul Dyson of Swansea University Medical School, paper co-author.

The finding is far from inconsequential. The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes rising antibiotic resistance as “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today”. Further research also estimated that antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’ could lead up to 1.3 million deaths in Europe alone by 2050.

The team named their discovery Streptomyces sp. myrophorea. It was discovered in the Boho Highlands, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, hiding in the soil. The researchers investigated the soils there as Dr. Gerry Quinn, a previous resident of the area, became curious to investigate local healing traditions.

Those traditions called for a small amount of soil to be wrapped up in cotton cloth and applied to cure ailments varying from toothaches to throat or neck infections. The team notes that the area has been inhabited for at least 4,000 years — first by Neolithic tribes and later druidic tribes — who may have started this tradition.

Lab tests later revealed the presence of the strain in local soils, and clued the team in on their impressive antibacterial properties. This bacteria inhibited the growth of four of the top six multi-resistant pathogens (those listed by the WHO as being responsible for healthcare-associated infections): Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium (VRE), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Klebsiella pneumonia, and Carbenepenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumanii. It was also successful in inhibiting both gram positive and gram negative bacteria, which differ in the structure of their cell wall. Gram-negative bacteria are, generally speaking, more resistant to antibiotics.

It is not yet clear exactly how the bacteria do this, but the team is hard at work finding out.

New bacteria strain.

Zone of inhibition (light brown) produced by Streptomyces sp myrophorea (brown spot) on a lawn of MRSA.
Image credits G Quinn / Swansea University.

The active compounds secreted by Streptomyces sp.myrophorea could help create a new class of treatment against multi-drug resistant bacteria, the study reports. These pathogens are one of the most pressing threats to public health currently, as doctors are often left powerless to treat them. They’re especially dangerous in hospitals, where the large density of patients (often with weakened or compromised immune systems) means easy pickings for such pathogens.

“Our results show that folklore and traditional medicines are worth investigating in the search for new antibiotics,” Professor Dyson says. “Scientists, historians, and archaeologists can all have something to contribute to this task. It seems that part of the answer to this very modern problem might lie in the wisdom of the past.”

“We will now concentrate on the purification and identification of these antibiotics. We have also discovered additional antibacterial organisms from the same soil cure which may cover a broader spectrum of multi-resistant pathogens.”

The paper “A Novel Alkaliphilic Streptomyces Inhibits ESKAPE Pathogens” has been published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.

The Irish Parliament building. Credit: DeviantArt / Belisarius-10K.

Ireland votes to divest the country’s €8 bn. sovereign wealth fund away from fossil fuels

The Irish Parliament building. Credit: DeviantArt / Belisarius-10K.

The Irish Parliament building. Credit: DeviantArt / Belisarius-10K.

While the United States has put a climate change denier in charge of the country, elsewhere across the ocean leaders are acting responsibly. With a majority vote, a bill that will enable Ireland to divest all of its sovereign wealth fund away from oil, gas, and coal, was passed in the Irish parliament. The fund is worth more than 8 billion euros.

All that now stands before the bill’s final approval is the committee stage, which according to Trócaire and Fossil Free Europe should pose no problem since almost all major political parties support it, except the Fine Gael political party.

“The Irish political system is now finally acknowledging what the overwhelming majority of people already know: that to have a fighting chance to combat catastrophic climate change we must phase out fossil fuels and stop the growth of the industry that is driving this crisis, said Éamonn Meehan, the Trócaire Executive Director, an Irish charity striving to overcome the challenges of poverty and injustice.

Once the bill passes, Ireland will officially become the first country to divest from fossil fuels. Norway also divested its sovereign wealth fund away from coal, which is worth $900 million, but the country still has financial assets tied to oil.

Such remarkable leadership will likely inspire other countries to follow suit just as how the divestment movement, which first appeared in 2011 with modest supporters, has now grown into a genuine phenomenon. Many big companies, NGOs, cults, and municipalities have divested away from stocks and bonds tied to fossil fuels. As of December, 2015, a staggering $3.4 trillion has been divested away from fossil.

“The support of a majority in the Dáil for this bill is an incredibly important moment for the climate justice movement in Ireland and will inspire other countries to follow our lead,” Meehan said.

Scientists find 2,000-Year-Old Still-Edible Hunk of Bog Butter

‘Theoretically the stuff is still edible – but we wouldn’t say it’s advisable’

Very old butter. (Photo: Cavan County Museum)

A prehistoric 10 kg lump of butter was unearthed by Jack Conway in Ireland. The finding has been given to the National Museum, where it will be preserved. Andy Halpin, assistant keeper in the museum’s Irish Antiquities Division, said that the finding isn’t extremely rare, as ‘bog butter’ was actually quite common back in the day.

Until 2003, scientists and archaeologists were not quite sure of the origin of bog butter, but Bristol researchers discovered that some samples of the “butter” were dairy products, while others were animal fat. Preserving butter and fat was difficult without a fridge, so people often went to strange lengths to preserve it. In Great Britain and Ireland especially, people used to put the products in wooden boxes or animal hides and bury them in peat or bogs, where the temperature was cooler.

Before this, researchers had found bog butter from several centuries ago, often going as far as to the 6th or 7th century AD. But this particular piece is much older, and it wasn’t even encased in wood: it dates from 2 millennia ago. But even so, bog burial is so effective that the product is probably still edible today, though Halpin wouldn’t advise it.

‘Theoretically the stuff is still edible – but we wouldn’t say it’s advisable,’ he said

Some researchers have actually recreated bog butter to see what it tastes like. Modern experiments have revealed that the product seems to be an acquired taste, with “flavor notes which were described primarily as ‘animal’ or ‘gamey’, ‘moss’, ‘funky’, ‘pungent’, and ‘salami’. Of course, this is a far cry from the taste of butter we’re used to but hey – after two thousand years, I’d say that’s probably pretty good.

The oldest known bog butter was found in Tullamore, County Offaly, thought to date back about five millennia. It still had a faint smell of dairy.