Tag Archives: mongolia

Along came Alongshan virus, a new tick-borne disease

Blacklegged Tick.

This is what a blacklegged (deer) tick looks like.
Image credits Fairfax County / Flickr.

Tick-borne diseases, which afflict humans and other animals, are caused by infectious agents (viruses, bacteria, protozoa) transmitted by tick bites. As of 2016, 16 tick-borne diseases of humans have been identified, including Lyme diseasetularemiababesiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted fever.

A group of patients in Inner Mongolia likely represent the first identified human cases of a new tick-borne illness — the Alongshan virus (ALSV). A description of ALSV, along with associated cases, was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. ALSV belongs to the jingmenvirus group in the flavivirus family. The first member of the group was described in 2014 and named the Jingmen tick virus (JMTV) because it was isolated from a tick in Jingmen, China.

In 2017, a 42-year-old woman (the index patient) presented to an Inner Mongolian hospital with a headache, fever, and history of tick bite. The woman showed signs of tick-borne encephalitis virus or TBEV but according to the study’s authors, “neither TBEV RNA nor antibodies against TBEV were detected.”

A total of 86 patients were eventually identified with similar symptoms. The patients were infected with an unknown segmented RNA virus, which the authors named ALSV. There were no deaths and all patients recovered with supportive care and the administration of antimicrobials and antivirals. However, 30 out of 86 (35%) patients experienced coma, which suggests ALSV can cause severe illness.

“Our findings suggest that ALSV may be the cause of a previously unknown febrile disease, and more studies should be conducted to determine the geographic distribution of this disease outside its current areas of identification,” the authors concluded. The authors noted the disease has only been found in Inner Mongolia an autonomous region of northern China and carried by Ixodes persulcatus ticks. Mosquitoes in the area, too, also purportedly carry the disease. It is not currently clear if patients are getting the illness exclusively from ticks or from mosquitoes.

New technologies such as next-generation sequencing have greatly accelerated the pace of discovery of new viruses in a wide range of hosts. In a related commentary, experts from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston wrote, “The nature of ALSV, a unique virus in the family Flaviviridae with a vector that has a wide distribution, should warn us of its potential.”

ALSV is only one of the emerging pathogens that has recently been identified in China, in addition to Huaiyangshan banyangvirus (formerly SFTS virus) and Anaplasma capra. There will be more. The experts noted that a far more cost-effective way to understand the emergence of diseases and mitigate their outbreak is a proactive, real-time surveillance of human populations.

In summer months when tick season is at its height, it is recommended to check for ticks daily, especially under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and on the hairline and scalp and shower soon after being outdoors.

New Hadrosauroid.

New species of duck-billed dinosaur discovered in the Gobi Desert

A fossilized, nearly-intact dinosaur skeleton unearthed in Mongolia fills a gap in the evolution of hadrosaurs.

New Hadrosauroid.

Skeletal reconstructions of Gobihadros mongoliensis.
Image credits Tsogtbaatar et al,, (2019), PLOS ONE.

Researchers from the Mongolian Academy of Science and the Royal Ontario Museum, funded by the Hayashibara Museum of Natural Sciences, describe a new species closely related to Hadrosaurids, which they named Gobihadros mongoliensis. The new species will help us better understand the evolution and ecology of the dinosaur family Hadrosauridae, the ‘duck-billed’ dinosaurs.

Quak

“The article describes, for the first time, extraordinary well-preserved fossil material of hadrosauroid dinosaur as a new genus and species from the early Late Cretaceous in Mongolia. We hope that it will be very useful material for further study of the evolution of hadrosauroids, iguanodintians and ornithopods as well,” the authors write.

Duck-billed dinosaurs were quite successful during their day in the Late Cretaceous. They had a wide geographical range over the world as it was at the time and were important large herbivores in their ecosystem. But we don’t really know much about the species during its early days. Some partial fossils found previously are helping us piece together the duck-billed dinos’ family tree, but complete fossils remain few and far between.

Gobihadros mongoliensis was discovered at the Bayshin Tsav Site in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia. Several specimens were found at the site, including one “virtually complete” skeleton measuring almost three meters in length. Anatomical comparisons to Hadrosauridae fossils revealed that this species doesn’t quite fit into the family. The species, however, are very closely related. Gobihadros is the first hadrosaur-like dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous of central Asia known from complete remains.

The team also reports, based on comparisons to later Asian hadrosaurs, that Gobihadros would not make it through the natural-selection gauntlet. Later Asian hadrosaurs are related to species in today’s North America, and likely migrated from there during the Late Cretaceous. The authors caution that we need more fossils from this transition period in order to get a proper idea of what happened — and when. But, from the data we have now, Gobihadros seems to have disappeared from Asia and was soon followed by the hadrosaurs. This suggests that the hadrosaurs ultimately outcompeted species like Gobihadros.

“[…] the relationships of other taxa are well-resolved, and in combination with biostratigraphic data, suggest that hadrosaurids from the Maastricthian of Asia migrated from North America across Beringia in the Campanian, and replaced non-hadrosaurids such as Gobihadros,” the authors conclude.

The paper “A new hadrosauroid (Dinosauria: Ornithopoda) from the Late Cretaceous Baynshire Formation of the Gobi Desert (Mongolia)” has been published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Newly discovered toothless dinosaur was surprisingly cute

Paleontologists working in Mongolia have discovered a previously unknown dinosaur, which belongs to the oviraptorosaur family — a group of diverse, bird-like dinosaurs.

Artistic reconstruction of Gobisaur. The skeleton uncovered by paleontologists probably belonged to a juvenile. Image credits: Do Yoon Kim.

Oviraptorosaurs were feathered dinosaurs from the Cretaceous period. They had parrot-like skulls and feathers, though these were most likely for display and temperature regulation, as oviraptorosaurs were flightless. Some researchers don’t even consider them to be dinosaurs at all, instead grouping them with birds — though this is still a matter of debate. The arms are around half the length of the legs, and several of them have been found in a nesting position similar to that of modern birds. These findings also support the fact that these creatures had wings, as the arms of these specimens are positioned in such a way that they could perfectly cover their eggs if they had small wings and feather covers.

Some of them don’t even have teeth, instead sporting a tough, beak-like mouth. Yet even among these, the newly discovered, the Gobisaur stands out. Named after the Gobi desert where the fossils were discovered, Gobisaur has unusual thickened jaws. This suggests that its mouth was mostly used for crushing, which would imply that it fed on hard food items such as eggs, seeds, or shelled mollusks. However, this is the only species that sports this type of adaptation, suggesting a relatively modern species that was finely tuned to thrive in a particular environment.

The incomplete skeleton was uncovered in the Nemegt Formation, which consists mostly of river and lake deposits, and was dated to be 70-71 million years old. Given this setting, researchers inferred that Gobisaur was adept at surviving in wetland environments, adding to an already impressive Cretaceous fauna discovered in the formation.

This new find adds to the already impressive Cretaceous biodiversity in the area and offers valuable evidence about a group of dinosaurs which covered surprisingly diverse niches.

“The unique morphology of the mandible and the accordingly inferred specialized diet of Gobiraptor also indicate that different dietary strategies may be one of important factors linked with the remarkably high diversity of oviraptorids in the Nemegt Basin,” researchers conclude in the study.

Journal Reference: Lee S, Lee Y-N, Chinsamy A, Lü J, Barsbold R, Tsogtbaatar K. A new baby oviraptorid dinosaur (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Upper Cretaceous Nemegt Formation of Mongolia. PLoS ONE 14(2): e0210867. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0210867

Mongolian herder removing first premolar, or 'wolf tooth', from a young horse during the spring roundup using a screwdriver. Credit: Dimitri Staszewski. Taylor et al. 2018. Origins of Equine Dentistry. PNAS.

Mongolian herders were the first horse dentists, 3,000 years ago

The open steps of eastern Eurasian may have been the birthplace of veterinary dentistry. It is here that scientists at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History found ancient horse remains whose baby teeth had been removed by the local people. Researchers estimate the remains are from 1300-700 BC, making them the oldest known evidence for veterinary dental care.

Mongolian herder removing first premolar, or 'wolf tooth', from a young horse during the spring roundup using a screwdriver. Credit: Dimitri Staszewski. Taylor et al. 2018. Origins of Equine Dentistry. PNAS.

Mongolian herder removing first premolar, or ‘wolf tooth’, from a young horse during the spring roundup using a screwdriver. Credit: Dimitri Staszewski. Taylor et al. 2018. Origins of Equine Dentistry. PNAS.

Mongolia is known as the land of the horses, where the animals occupy a central role in daily life — and have done so for thousands of years.

“It is not possible to imagine Mongolian history without horses,” says J. Tserendeleg, president of the Mongolian Association for Conservation of Nature and the Environment. “I think it is not possible to view the future of Mongolia without horses as well. Mongolia is not Mongolia without horses.”

It was thanks to horses that the nomadic armies of Mongols were able to breach the Great Wall of China and conquer their way to the heart of Europe, where they became known as “Hell’s Horsemen.” Were it not for horses, legendary thirteenth-century warrior Genghis Khan would have never been able to establish an empire that spanned from Hungary to Korea and from Siberia to Tibet.

Even in the twenty-first century, Mongolia still has a horse-based culture and retains much of its pastoral traditions. Its 2.4 million people are semi-nomadic and support themselves primarily by breeding five domestic species.

It’s no wonder that the Mongols were also probably the first to practice horse dental care, seeing how the animals are central to their livelihoods. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesWilliam Taylor and colleagues described horse remains from an ancient Mongolian pastoral culture known as the Deer Stone-Khirigsuur Culture. These ancient people are famous for the impressive horse burials they made, which contained from dozens to even thousands of dead horses.

A horse skull placed next to a deer stone in central Mongolia. Ancient and modern Mongolian herders alike revere both. Credit: William Taylor.

A horse skull placed next to a deer stone in central Mongolia. Ancient and modern Mongolian herders alike revere both. Credit: William Taylor.

By analyzing the remains, researchers found that Deer Stone-Khirigsuur people used surprisingly sophisticated veterinary dental procedures to remove baby teeth that would have caused young horses pain or trouble feeding. Previously, research had shown that the same people were the first in eastern Eurasia to heavily use horses for food products and may have been among the first to use horses for mounted riding. Naturally, these developments led to the invention of equine veterinary care.

“We may think of veterinary care as kind of a Western science,” Taylor said in a statement, “but herders in Mongolia today practice relatively sophisticated procedures using very simple equipment. This results of our study show that a careful understanding of horse anatomy and a tradition of care was first developed, not in the sedentary civilizations of China or the Mediterranean, but centuries earlier, among the nomadic people whose livelihood depended on the well-being of their horses.”

It’s also no coincidence that changes in horse dentistry were accompanied by technological improvements in horse control, such as the incorporation of bronze and metal mouthpieces into bridles used for riding. This technology spread into eastern Eurasia during the early first millennium BC, offering riders better control over their horses, which would have offered them the upper hand during warfare. The horses themselves, however, suffered as the metal in the mouthpieces introduces oral problems, including painful interactions with a vestigial tooth, known as a “wolf tooth.” Herders responded by developing methods for extracting the problematic tooth not all that different from the way many veterinary dentists would remove it today.

“In many ways, the movements of horses and horse-mounted peoples during the first millennium BCE reshaped the cultural and biological landscapes of Eurasia. Dr. Taylor’s study shows that veterinary dentistry – developed by Inner Asian herders – may have been a key factor that helped to stimulate the spread of people, ideas, and organisms between East and West,” said Nicole Boivin, Director of the Department of Archaeology at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

Artist impression of Halszkaraptor. Credit: Lukas Panzarin.

Newly discovered amphibious dinosaur had swan-like body but killer raptor claws

Paleontologists have discovered a new dinosaur species whose appearance is so strange, they could hardly believe it was real. The 75-million-year-old dinosaur used to feature a bizarre combination of body parts. it had the snout and neck of a goose but the claws of a velociraptor. Such contrast between grace and viciousness has rarely if ever been seen in the same dinosaur.

Artist impression of Halszkaraptor. Credit: Lukas Panzarin.

Artist impression of Halszkaraptor. Credit: Lukas Panzarin.

The creature is called Halszkaraptor escuillie in honor of famed Polish paleontologist Halszka Osmólska, who was preoccupied with studying many Mongolian dinosaurs. It was in Mongolia — in Ukhaa Tolgod, to be more precise — that this strange duck-like dinosaur was unearthed.

Duck, ostrich, swan?! Hmm…

Credit: Paul Tafforeau/ESRF.

This was one of the smallest known dinosaurs, as Halszkaraptor was no bigger than a goose. It mainly ate fish and crustaceans but likely chowed on lizards and insects too, according to lead author Andrea Cau of the Geological Museum Capellini in Bologna.

Cau and colleagues used multi-resolution, X-ray microtomography to study the fossils in their most intimate details, both on the outside and the inside, without risking any damage to these invaluable fossils. The fossil is still partly embeded in rock.

“The first time I saw the fossil I was shocked,” Cau said. “It was so unexpected and bizarre.”

Like today’s ducks, Halszkaraptor must have spent most of its life in water. It had a somewhat bird-like bill that was still not a true beak. The long neck likely enabled Halszkaraptor to dart out and grab prey close to the water’s surface. It had curved sickle-like claw on the second toe of the foot but which wasn’t particularly long and likely didn’t proove much use in hunting. To top things off, this man-bear-pig dinosaur had the teeth of a croc.

Researchers say that this odd-looking dinosaur used its killer claws to tear its prey to shreds. At the same time, it likely was preyed upon itself by the infamous velociraptor with which it was a contemporary and part of the same dromaeosauridae group. The group included feathered theropods which are closely related to birds but aren’t their ancestors.

Besides its staggering appearance, Halszkaraptor is important because it proves that raptorial dinosaurs not only ran and flew but also swam. If anything it shows just how amazingly diverse dinosaurs were.

70% of Mongolian nomads now have solar power

In many the vast steppes of Mongolia, some things have remained unchanged for centuries. But some things have changed, and big time: according to a new report, almost 3 out of 4 Mongolian nomads are now using solar power.

Image via Wiki Commons.

Even if your lifestyle is pretty much Medieval, you can still benefit from advanced technology – that’s the reasoning behind a new government initiative that encourages nomads to use solar power. Mongolia is a geographically large but sparsely populated country. Covering over 600,000 square miles, it only has a population of 3 million people. About 1.2 million of Mongolia’s citizens live in the urban capital of Ulaanbaatar, while the remaining population is widely dispersed throughout the country with a large number residing in rural areas. In total, about a quarter of the population consists of nomadic herders.

The per capita income in Mongolia at the start of the millennium was about US$470 per year, with income amongst herders even lower. Sure, it has somewhat grown by now, but it is still extremely low, so the government was faced with a challenging situation: how do you provide access to electricity in to low-income herders that move from one place to the other? This nomadic lifestyle is a legacy of thousands of years of culture, and won’t change in the near future. The Renewable Energy and Rural Electricity Access Project (REAP) helped the Government of Mongolia (GoM) successfully complete its ambitious program.

In 2000, the Government of Mongolia (GOM) began the National 100,000 Solar Ger Electrification Program, an ambitious initiative to improve the lives of about half a million herders by providing modern electricity services. The program provided photovoltaic solar home systems (SHS) that were portable in design making the systems adaptable to the nomadic lifestyle of herders and complementing their traditional way of life. I have to say, if you would have asked me a few years ago, I wouldn’t have believed in this project, but it worked, and it worked big time.

Portable (also eco-friendly) energy is a game changer for these community, for 3 reasons: refrigeration, mobile phones and radio/TV. Communication is extremely difficult when you are trying to talk to someone two valleys across, and that’s where mobile phones come in. Also, children are often sent to a far away or boarding school, and this allows parents to keep in touch. Refrigeration is useful for obvious reasons, and radio or TV is especially useful for short term weather prediction, and also provides a way for people to entertain themselves.

According to Bor, a herder in the Arkhangai province interviewed by Al Jazeera “most countryside children stay in dorms, because their parents are nomads and it is the only way they can get an education. We can call our children who are in the dorms and speak to them. I also have children working in Ulaanbaatar [Mongolia’s capital] and I can speak to them as well. The solar panels are a very useful thing in our lives.”