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Hundreds of buildings burned around Tigray town, research group says

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Hundreds of buildings burned around Tigray town, research group says

NAIROBI – Fires that appear to have been deliberately set destroyed more than 500 structures this week in and around Ethiopia’s Gijet town, an analysis of satellite imagery shared with Reuters has found, adding credence to reports of continued conflict in parts of the northern region of Tigray.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared victory over a rebellious regional force, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), at the end of November after its fighters withdrew from the region’s main cities and towns. But sporadic fighting continues in some parts of Tigray, according to residents and United Nations assessments.

The government has acknowledged isolated incidents of shooting but has said that most fighting has stopped in Tigray.

Mulu Nega, head of Tigray’s government-appointed interim administration, told Reuters he had sent a team to the Gijet area to investigate.

“According to preliminary information I have received in Gijet there was fighting between Ethiopian federal forces and local militias,” he said later.

The DX Open Network, a security research organization based in Britain, analyzed images collected by private satellite operator Planet Labs on Sunday and Tuesday around Gijet and three nearby settlements, which are about 22 miles southwest of the Tigray regional capital Mekelle.

They showed at least 508 structures that appeared to have been destroyed by fire over that period, the network said, citing the blackening of earth and vegetation, ash circles indicative of roof collapse and debris from collapsed walls and ceilings.

A fire detection service run by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which uses visible and infrared imagery captured from space, detected numerous fires in the area on Monday, according to its website.

The DX Open Network said the absence of fire clusters or scorch marks connecting burnt structures in the images it analyzed makes it unlikely that the fires were all accidental and there was no evidence of craters to suggest they might be the result of shelling.

“These factors support the analytic judgment that this was an intentional effort by a conflict party to destroy this civilian habitation area and not the product of combat,” it said in its analysis. It was not clear from the images who might have set the fires.

The prime minister’s spokeswoman and the head of a government task force on Tigray did not respond to messages seeking comment. Reuters has been unable to reach TPLF officials since early December.

Both sides in the Tigray conflict, which began in early November, have accused each other of abuses and denied responsibility for carrying them out.

Reuters could not reach people in the area by phone. Communications to Tigray remain patchy and the government tightly controls media access.

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Bill Gates said to be growing potatoes for McDonald’s fries

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Bill Gates said to be growing potatoes for McDonald's fries

Next time you savor a McDonald’s french fry, remember to thank Bill Gates for the tasty spud.

As reported in The Post, the soon-to-be single computer magnate happens to own more farmland than anyone else in the United States. Known for loving fast food — although his burger of choice comes from the Washington-based chainlet Burgermaster — Gates, according to NBC News, grows potatoes for McDonald’s in fields so vast they can be scoped from outer space.

Although Gates has focused his energies on saving our climate, he has made clear that the tater patches are strictly money-making operations.

“My investment group chose to do this,” stated Farmer Bill during an AMA on Reddit. “It is not connected to climate.”

Considering that Gates is said to own 269,000 acres of fertile land in 18 states, it’s easy to imagine him keeping track of it all on some souped-up series of spreadsheets. If so, gangs of divorce lawyers — including some who worked on the Jeff Bezos bust-up — have surely been scrutinizing the potato haul. Gates, the fourth-richest person in the world, married his impending ex, Melinda, without a prenuptial agreement, so they will be splitting property via a so-called “separation contract.”

No word on whether or not she will soon reign as McDonald’s potato queen.

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Honeybee worker can produce millions of identical clones, study shows

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Honeybee worker can produce millions of identical clones, study shows

A South African subspecies of the honeybee is reportedly able to produce millions of clones of itself. 

According to new research published in the journal Current Biology and Proceedings of the Royal Society B, one such insect – known as the Cape honeybee or Apis mellifera capensis– has managed to do so many times over the past 30 years. 

It’s a process called thelytokous parthenogenesis, which a group of international scientists said is akin to the “virgin birth of a female.” 

While asexual reproduction is fairly common, genetically identical offspring is not. 

The exchange of genetic material between different organisms, or “recombination,” normally leads to the production of offspring with combinations of different traits.

If there even is only one parent, New Scientist noted, offspring born from thelytokous parthenogenesis will still be born with a slightly different genetic makeup.

And yet, the worker Cape honeybee has reportedly found a way to reduce recombination and remain genetically healthy, whereas asexual reproduction has been lethal in honeybees before, resulting in inbred larvae that don’t survive. 

“For workers, it is important to reduce the frequency of recombination so as to not produce offspring that are homozygous.”

In order to learn more, the paper’s authors “experimentally manipulated” Cape workers and Cape queens to reproduce thelytokously.

“The two female castes of the Cape honeybee, Apis mellifera capensis, differ in their mode of reproduction. While workers always reproduce thelytokously, queens always mate and reproduce sexually,” the researchers explained in the paper’s abstract.

Performing fieldwork at South Africa’s Plant Protection Research Institute in Stellenbosch, the team instrumentally inseminated a queen with the semen of a single male and then introduced a brood comb holding several hundred eggs laid by the queen into a colony to be reared. 

Queens were made to reproduce asexually using what researchers said amounted to a “chastity belt.”

“When the queens were 5 days post eclosion we constrained them in an artificial insemination apparatus [37] without narcosis. We then glued a 5 mm piece of surgical tape (Micropore, 3M, Minnesota) over the sting chamber using nail varnish,” the paper explained. 

The researchers monitored the queens, confirming the chastity belts were intact after each flight around the colony and, eventually, compared asexually reproduced larvae of the queen to those of the workers.

“We monitored the queens closely for the next two weeks, to determine if and when oviposition had commenced. We collected larvae as soon as they appeared into ethanol,” the researchers wrote.

“Not all queens flew, not all returned from mating flights, and not all laid. In the end, we were able to harvest one queen and 25 of her larval progeny into ethanol.”

The group also genotyped four workers and 63 of their larvae.

Ultimately, the authors found that the queen showed levels of genetic recombination 100 times more than seen in the cloned offspring of the worker bees.

“Using a combination of microsatellite genotyping and whole-genome sequencing we find that a reduction in recombination is confined to workers only,” the abstract concluded.

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Russia’s navy kicks off large-scale drills in Pacific ocean

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Russia's navy kicks off large-scale drills in Pacific ocean

Large-scale drills of Russia’s Pacific Fleet began in the central part of the Pacific Ocean, the Russian Ministry of Defense reported on Thursday, June 10.

According to the ministry, 20 warships, submarines and support vessels are taking part in the exercises. In particular the missile cruiser “Varyag”, the large anti-submarine ship “Admiral Panteleev”, the frigate “Marshal Shaposhnikov” as well as other military and support vessels.

In addition, about 20 aircraft are involved in the exercise, including Tu-142mz long-range anti-submarine aircraft and MiG-31BM high-altitude fighter-interceptors.

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